General George Hammond opened his drawer and pulled out the large manila folder with the ubiquitous ‘TOP SECRET’ stamped on the front. He stared at the folder and felt his stomach flutter and his mouth go dry. He had done a lot of distasteful things during his career in the U.S. Air Force. He had sent many good men and women to their deaths. Unfortunately, things like that went with the job. But this? Putting the burden contained within this folder on the shoulders of a young man whose strength, bravery, resourcefulness, and downright brilliance had been nothing short of amazing. Well, this left a taste so bitter, George doubted he would ever be able to wash it out.
A rapid knock on the door roused George from his thoughts He glanced at his watch and smiled. No one had ever accused Doctor Daniel Jackson of being early.
“Sorry I’m late, General,” Daniel said hurriedly as he came in and closed the door behind him. “I wanted to make some last minute additions to the translations you requested on P2C-9V2. I think you’ll find that I’ve—“
“Done an exemplary job as always, Dr. Jackson,” Hammond interrupted kindly.
“Oh, uh, thank you, sir,” Daniel murmured, frowning slightly.
“Sit down, please.”
Daniel sat down and placed his thick file in front of him. He finally noticed the folder under the general’s hand; he frowned and looked up.
“I’m not here because of P2C-9V2, am I?”
“No, son, you’re not. You’re here because of P7B-1N3.”
“P7B-1N3,” Daniel murmured, shaking his head. “I’m sorry, I don’t remember that one.”
“That’s because we haven’t gone there,” Hammond replied, smiling at Daniel’s bewilderment. “According to the Tok’ra, the planet is called Dendera.”
“Dendera,” Daniel repeated. “Dendera was a neighboring city to Abydos in Ancient Egypt. They honoured Hathor,” he added with a scowl.
“It’s unlikely these Denderans worship her,” Hammond said.
“Considering she’s dead,” Daniel said.
“No, considering you,” Hammond corrected.
“I’m sorry for the subterfuge, Dr. Jackson, but I’m sure you’ll understand after you read this,” he said, pushing the folder towards the younger man. “I thought long and hard about whether or not I should even show this to you,” he said gravely, “but you deserve to see it.”
Daniel stared at the folder, a million thoughts flying through his mind.
“Shouldn’t Jack be here?” he queried.
“The information contained in this file is on a ‘need to know’ basis, Dr. Jackson. Colonel O’Neill does not fall into that category.”
George recited the words in an even tone. He’d done this before and not too long ago. In that case, Colonel O’Neill had been in the loop and the rest of SG-1 were out. George had seen what that undercover operation had done to the members of SG-1, specifically Daniel Jackson and Colonel O’Neill. It had taken the young archaeologist a long time to recover from the lies necessarily perpetrated by his friend and CO. Now, Dr. Jackson was the one in the know, and he was plunged right back into the mire.
Daniel shook his head slowly, his eyes focused on Hammond’s. He did not want to proceed.
“Read the report, son,” Hammond said gently, reaching over and opening the folder.
Daniel looked down at the report and, with a feeling of trepidation, he began to read.
George watched in wary silence as Daniel began to read. He observed the rigidity in the shoulders and the increasing tenseness around the mouth. Sometimes, I hate this job.
“This is absurd,” Daniel said, shaking his head.
“Read all of it, son,” Hammond ordered quietly.
Daniel’s mouth was grim as he continued to read, and it took all of his self-control not to fling the report into the trash.
“Where did you get this?” he demanded, closing the file in disgust. “From Maybourne?”
“From Jacob,” Hammond replied, “and before you jump to any conclusions, Dr. Jackson, don’t think for one second I believe you are in any way responsible for what’s happening on that planet.”
“Thank you,” Daniel said quietly, his outrage diminishing.
“According to Jacob, the Tok’ra received rumors of a planet where the people were eager to become hosts. As you know, the Tok’ra are in dire need of hosts, and procuring willing hosts is not an easy task. They sent two operatives by ship to investigate, and what you see in that report is what they discovered,” Hammond explained. “This intel is already three weeks old. God knows what’s happened in the meantime. The only good news is, we know there is a Stargate and we have the gate address.”
Daniel sat back in his chair, his arms wrapped tightly around his middle. “So, somebody claiming to be me is convincing the Denderans the Goa’uld are now a benevolent race just because a few System Lords have been destroyed? That the Goa’uld never wanted to be these terrible beings, but they were slaves themselves to Ra and the rest?” he said incredulously.
“That would appear to be the case, yes,” Hammond replied. “This man, claiming to be you, the liberator of Abydos, is telling these people the symbiotes will give them eternal life and good health. In short, they are benign creatures who wish to serve only the host.”
“How can these people be so gullible?” Daniel asked.
“You read the report,” Hammond said gently. “The population is diseased. Hundreds have died already and there is no cure. Desperate people will believe almost anything, Dr. Jackson, especially if it’s what they want to hear.”
“What they need to hear is the truth, and they need to hear it from me,” Daniel said. “Not an imposter pretending to be me. Does this, whoever he is,” he said, waving his hand, “even look like me?”
“Some things were left out of that report,” Hammond explained, “but the individual claiming to be Dr. Daniel Jackson has been observed by the Tok’ra, and he looks nothing like you. However, I think you will agree that the man in question can be very convincing,” he said, pulling out a photo and sliding it, face up, to Daniel.
Daniel stared at the photo. There was no mistaking who it was, or more correctly, who it looked like: the ‘devil may care’ look; the smile as welcome as an embrace; the expressive brown eyes that could warm your soul and make you feel like you were the most important person in the world. The same dark eyes that could look right into you and not waver while a beloved voice told you there was no foundation to your friendship. Yes, this man could be persuasive.
Daniel closed his eyes and shook his head. “You don’t really believe this is Jack.”
“No, I don’t, Dr. Jackson. That photo was taken two months ago while SG-1 was busy relocating the Enkarrans, but even if Colonel O’Neill had been on vacation, or had gone AWOL at that time, I wouldn’t believe it,” Hammond said fervently.
Daniel nodded, grateful for the shared sentiment and then his eyes widened. “A mimic device? Like in the foothold situation?” he suggested hopefully.
“I’ve already had Major Davis check that out. The devices we know of have been accounted for at Area 51. Truth is, we have no idea what we’re dealing with,” Hammond admitted. “It could be clones or androids for all we know.”
“What do we know, other than whomever or whatever it is has a somewhat distorted familiarity with me and Jack?” Daniel asked.
“Damn little, I’m afraid. We don’t know what Goa’uld is behind this, and we don’t know where the hosts are sent. But as I said, we know there is a Stargate, and Jacob has obtained the address.”
Daniel looked down at the photo in his hands and felt his stomach clench. “And you don’t feel Jack has the right to know about this?” he asked, looking up at the general.
“To inform Colonel O’Neill of these findings and then forbid him to participate? No, Dr, Jackson, I will not do that to him, or to Major Carter and Teal’c. You read the report,” Hammond reiterated gently. “Intel states there is no evidence of English being either spoken or written.”
“But a dialect similar to Abydonian is, which makes me the obvious choice,” Daniel said. “When do I leave?”
“I’m not ordering you to do this, son,” Hammond said.
“You don’t have to. I’m volunteering,” Daniel replied.
George’s heart swelled with pride at the civilian scientist’s courage.
“I won’t think any less highly of you, Dr. Jackson, if you don’t want to do this.”
“I couldn’t save Sha’re and Skaara from being taken as hosts, General. If I can make a difference to these people, I want that chance,” Daniel said passionately.
Hammond met Daniel’s clear blue eyes and nodded. “Jacob can be here in four days. Selmak understands the language, and he believes he can slip you in unnoticed. These are examples of the local writing,” he said, pulling out a thick folder from the pile on his desk. “I’m afraid that’s the only backup I can provide.”
“Jack isn’t going to like this,” Daniel said, taking the folder.
“I’ll deal with the colonel, Dr. Jackson.”
“How are you going to keep this a secret,” Daniel asked.
“SG-1 is due for some well-deserved down time. I will insist everyone, including Teal’c, leave the base. You will be attending an exhibit on Egyptian artifacts in London, England,” Hammond said. “If I understand correctly, you’ve tried twice to get to that exhibit.”
“Something always came up,” Daniel said as he stared at the papers in front of him. “No, Jack isn’t going to like this at all,” he repeated absently.
“I’m sorry to lay this on your shoulders, son,” Hammond said sincerely. “If I could think of anyone else who would remotely have a chance of diffusing this situation—”
“I’d lock them in a closet and throw away the key,” Daniel said with a small smile. “I’m not one to blow my own horn, General, but I’m your man. It’s also my reputation and Jack’s on the line, and that’s worth fighting for. If news spreads or pictures get out, the consequences could be irreparable.”
“Thank you, Dr. Jackson. Once again, we are in your debt.” Hammond said sincerely.
“Well, I better start studying,” Daniel said, standing up. And avoiding Jack.
With a heavy heart, George watched Daniel leave.
“I’m sorry, son,” he said, shaking his head sadly.
“You don’t know what you’ll be missing, Daniel,” Jack said for the third time in as many days.
“Jack, I told you, it’s not because I don’t want to go fishing or watching the water or whatever it is you do,” Daniel said, waving his hand, “but this exposition in London is only on for two more weeks. I’ve had to cancel twice already in the past six months. Catherine says it’s wonderful and I’ll regret it for the rest of my life if I don’t go. If I’d known you were going to do this then maybe—”
“Fine, have it your way,” Jack grumbled, closing his locker with more force than necessary. “At least I can count on Carter and Teal’c. They understand the meaning of ‘team’,” he snapped as he strode out of the locker room.
Daniel flinched at the words and their implication; he felt a rush of anger. Damn you, Jack. You have no right to judge me. He slammed his own locker shut. It wasn’t as if he didn’t want to go to the lake with his team. He felt hot, bitter tears well in his eyes. Of all the times Jack could have organized an impromptu team retreat, he had to pick now.
“Why now, Jack?” Daniel sighed.
Daniel knew why and it certainly didn’t make him feel any better. Jack was doing it for Daniel. The past year had been the shits, to put it mildly. It started with his burst appendix and then everything seemed to go downhill from there. SG-1 risked their lives battling the Replicators, thus saving the Asgard and Earth, while he lay recuperating in the infirmary. SG-1 functioned perfectly well without him. Daniel had been ecstatic when they returned home, but with the exception of Teal’c, they had barely acknowledged his presence. The chilly reception had hurt, but he had been too happy and relieved to see them alive to dwell on it. Then, to turn a triumphant situation almost tragic, he had basically sent Jack and Teal’c onto the doomed submarine to destroy the Replicators that had landed on Earth. Worse, he ordered the sub blown up while they were still on it. Thank God, Thor came through when he did. That had been the highlight of Daniel’s year. What followed was pretty much a series of personal losses and failures with very few bright spots. Daniel had lost his protégé, his mentor, his ex-lover, and in some ways, Sha’re’s son. But the loss that cut deepest was the growing estrangement between him and Jack. Daniel didn’t know when it all started to unravel, but if he had to put money on it, he’d say it started with the Replicators and his absence from the team.
“Are you unwell, Daniel Jackson?”
Daniel looked up sharply.
“Teal’c! Uh, hi. No, no, I’m fine. I was just…thinking,” Daniel said lamely.
“Your thoughts appear troubled,” Teal’c said solemnly.
“I’ve just got a lot on my mind, Teal’c.”
“O’Neill tells me you will not be joining us on our retreat.”
“No, no, I won’t. I have a, uh, prior engagement,” Daniel said uncomfortably.
“An exhibition of Egyptian artifacts.”
“Yes,” Daniel said, a little more testily than he meant.
“I see,” Teal’c replied. “I wish you well on your journey, Daniel Jackson.”
“Thank you,” Daniel sighed as he watched his teammate leave. Et tu, Teal’c?
Daniel took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose.
One more day. One more day to perpetrate the lies and the deception.
He looked at the backlog of paperwork piled on his desk. There was no point in starting anything because the truth was, he didn’t know if he’d be back to finish it. What he had agreed to do was extremely dangerous and any manner of things could go wrong. He could quite easily be captured on the spot and put to death; but that was a risk every SGC member accepted when they walked through the Stargate.
Daniel sat back in his chair and gazed at his myriad collection of artifacts gleaned from the four corners of the world and beyond. He stood up and walked over to the bookshelf that always seemed to attract Jack. There was a time when, on any given day, Daniel would be guaranteed a visit by a bored or hungry colonel. Daniel had even toyed with the idea of locking his door, but he didn’t have to do that because Jack had just stopped coming. He still showed up now and then, but the easy camaraderie Daniel had taken for granted was gone; a thing of the past. Daniel missed it. He missed Jack. A lot. He reached out and picked up a fertility figure with a large belly and even larger breasts; she was one of Jack’s favorites. He smiled sadly and blinked through a haze of tears. He couldn’t leave things the way they were. He was about to embark on a solo mission that could very well be his last. His friends deserved better.
“Daniel, hi!” Samantha Carter said, surprised but pleased to see her teammate. “How’d your meeting with General Hammond go? Is he anxious for my report?”
“It went fine, and no, he didn’t ask about your report.” Daniel said, glancing away.
“Oh,” Sam said with disappointment. “Oh well, more time to work on these,” she said with an impish smile.
“What are you working on?” Daniel asked, peering over her shoulder.
“Just trying to make sense out of those crystals SG-3 brought back,” she replied.
“Getting anywhere?” Daniel asked.
“Not really, but it’s still fascinating,” Sam grinned.
“Yeah, um, I was wondering if you’d like to go for lunch, say in an hour or so?” Daniel queried.
“Sure, I’d love to. What’s the special today?”
“Actually, “Daniel said, chewing his bottom lip, “I thought maybe we could go off-base somewhere.”
“Just the two of us?” Sam asked in surprise.
“Uh, no, not necessarily,” Daniel said, wondering when it became so awkward to invite Sam for lunch.
“I’m sure Teal’c would love to come,” Sam said, wondering why she felt uncomfortable with the idea of being alone with Daniel.
“I’ll go and ask him right now,” Daniel said, heading towards the door.
“And the colonel?” Sam inquired.
“Uh, sure,” Daniel acknowledged. God, this is not what I had in mind. Daniel figured he deserved it though. Sam was just reminding him they were a team.
Daniel turned and looked at Sam whose eyes seemed very bright.
“If you don’t get any takers, I’d still love to come,” she said.
Daniel smiled. He’d take what friendly overtures he could get. He sure as hell wasn’t going to get any from Jack.
“Thai food?” Daniel suggested.
“Perfect,” Sam smiled. And maybe I can convince you to go fishing with us.
Daniel left the room, closing the door behind him.
Sam slumped in her chair. When had it become so difficult to talk to Daniel? She felt ashamed of her knee-jerk reaction to his request, and she promised herself she wouldn’t try to shamelessly manipulate Daniel into canceling his trip so he could join the rest of them at the colonel’s cabin. She sighed wistfully. She knew the retreat would be so much more fun with Daniel along. She loved the colonel and Teal’c, but Daniel was special. There was so much they could talk and laugh about.
“What the hell am I doing?” she muttered to herself, wiping her eyes. “We’re just about to have lunch together and I’m acting like he’s dead. Where’s that damn calendar?” she mumbled, shuffling papers on her desk. “Did I miscount again?”
“Teal’c, there you are,” Daniel said.
“Indeed I am, Daniel Jackson,” Teal’c replied, stretching his legs.
“Just starting or just finishing?” Daniel asked, looking around the gym. With Teal’c he could never really tell.
“I am concluding my workout.”
“Great. Sam and I are going out to lunch to that new Thai restaurant. Do you want to join us?”
“It would be my pleasure, Daniel Jackson,” Teal’c replied. “Will O’Neill be joining us as well?”
“I’m about to find that out, but Jack’s not too pleased with me at the moment.”
“Indeed,” Teal’c said simply, his face impassive.
Daniel fidgeted and looked at his watch. “Shall we meet up top in one hour?” he suggested.
“I will be there, Daniel Jackson,” Teal’c confirmed.
“Great. I’ll, uh, go and ask Jack,” Daniel said, taking his leave.
“Daniel,” Jack acknowledged, glancing up from his report.
“I was, uh, wondering if you’d like to join Teal’c, Sam and me for lunch. We’re going out for Thai food,” Daniel explained, his words coming out in a rush.
“A mini retreat?” Jack asked with a trace of sarcasm.
“No, just lunch,” Daniel said evenly.
“Well, thanks anyways, but I’m busy,” Jack said, looking down at his report.
Daniel frowned and stared at the bowed head.
“Jack, I’d really like you to—”
“Three words, Daniel,” Jack said, sitting back and fixing Daniel with his dark eyes.
Daniel shook his head in confusion. “I don’t know—”
“New York City,” Jack said, his voice clipped and even.
Daniel frowned and shook his head again.
“Doesn’t ring any bells?” Jack asked.
“Should it?” Daniel asked, feeling the acid in his stomach burn.
“Ask Catherine.” Jack said. “I was just talking to her.”
“Catherine? Why?” Daniel asked, suddenly feeling claustrophobic.
“Because she’s a friend and that’s what friends do, Daniel. They talk. Ah, I see you’re familiar with the concept,” Jack said in response to Daniel’s ‘cornered’ look.
“If you’ve got something to say, Jack, then say it,” Daniel said, his anger beginning to rise.
“New York City,” Jack repeated, the words like bullets shooting into Daniel’s chest. “Your ‘be all, end all’ exhibit in London is going to be in New York in November. That’s less than five months away.”
“Jack, everything’s booked and paid—”
“The Air Force paid for your fucking tickets and hotel. Re-book,” Jack said, standing up and leaning heavily on his desk.
“Why? So I can go to this ‘be all, end all’ fishing trip of yours?” Daniel retorted.
Jack glared at the man standing across from him and shook his head.
“No. You know what? Forget it, Daniel. You’re not invited,” Jack said decisively, sitting down and effectively dismissing Daniel.
Daniel’s shoulders slumped in weariness and defeat. This wasn’t the way things were supposed to go. He stood there, unsure of himself and even more unsure of Jack.
“Why are you still here?” Jack muttered, not looking up.
Because I want you to understand, Jack. Because I want to tell you everything. Because I hate this … this thing between us.
Daniel blinked his eyes rapidly and cleared his throat.
“We’re meeting up top at one o’clock. I hope you’ll come,” he said, and then turned and left Jack’s office.
Jack heard the soft click of the door closing. He sat up and threw his pen against the wall.
“Damn it to hell,” he muttered. He hadn’t meant to come down hard on Daniel. He had planned to be fair and reasonable, but Daniel’s obstinacy always seemed to bring out the worst in him.
Daniel returned to his office, locked the door and leaned against it.
“Shit, shit, shit,” he murmured, sliding down to the floor and fisting his hands in his hair.
God, Jack, you don’t understand. I can’t tell you the truth. I want to, but I can’t. Please don’t hate me.
Daniel now understood what Jack must have felt like when he went undercover for the Asgard, the Tollan, and the Nox. Lying to your teammates; lying to your friends. He wasn’t any happier for the knowledge. Right now, he despised his knowledge. It was what got him into this mess in the first place.
“You’re going to have to trust me, Jack,” Daniel whispered.
Jack checked his watch: ten minutes until 1300 hours. He’d have to be fast. He decided to join his team for lunch and maybe teach Daniel by example. Something was going on in that overcrowded brain of his, and if Jack could shake him up a little, well then that was what he would do.
Jack grabbed his jacket and headed for the door. The phone rang; he stopped, debating whether or not to answer it.
“Damn it,” he muttered, deciding he better answer it because he couldn’t remember if his voice mail was on or off.
“O’Neill,” he said, picking up the phone. “Hello, General. Now, sir? I was just about to head out for—” Jack listened quietly and rolled his eyes. “I understand, General. Yes, I’ve got the report here. I’m on my way, sir.”
Jack put the phone down heavily.
“Crap. I knew I shouldn’t have answered it.”
Daniel purposely showed up five minutes late hoping Jack would be in attendance.
What the hell was I thinking? he thought dully as he saw Sam and Teal’c waiting patiently, and not a Jack in sight.
“Daniel, is Colonel O’Neill coming?” Sam asked.
“No, I guess not,” Daniel said. “He was pretty busy.”
“Well, that’s his loss,” Sam enthused, slipping her arms through Daniel’s and Teal’c’s.
“Are we off to see the wizard, Major Carter?” Teal’c asked, looking down at their linked arms.
“Only if he’s cooking Thai,” Sam laughed. “I’m starving. Let’s go.”
Daniel felt his heart lighten. He was going to treat his friends to lunch, and he was going to enjoy himself. He’d put Jack and the upcoming covert mission out of his mind, at least for awhile.
Sam was still laughing as she, Teal’c, and Daniel stepped out of the elevator.
“Oh, God, I can’t remember when I’ve laughed so much,” she gasped, holding the stitch in her side.
“I, too, enjoyed myself, Daniel Jackson,” Teal’c said solemnly. “Thank you.”
“We should do this more often,” Sam said. “It’s a shame the colonel couldn’t make it.”
“We’ll get him next time,” Daniel said.
Sam reached out and clasped Daniel’s arm, stopping him in the hallway.
“Daniel, I promised myself I wouldn’t ask this, but are you sure you can’t change your plans and join us at the colonel’s cabin?”
Sam regretted her words the instant she said them. The light in Daniel’s eyes went out and he seemed to shrink before her eyes.
“Forget I even said that,” Sam cried, flinging her arms around him. “I know you have your reasons. It’s just that I’m going to miss you,” she said fervently, hugging him tight.
“I’ll miss you, too, Sam,” Daniel said, surprised at the display of affection.
Sam pulled back and smoothed out Daniel’s shirt.
“I hope you have a wonderful time, Daniel, and I really mean that.”
“I know you do, Sam, and thank you,” he said sincerely.
“Your absence will be keenly felt, Daniel Jackson, but I wish you well,” Teal’c stated, bowing slightly.
“Thanks, Teal’c,” Daniel said, placing his hand lightly on Teal’c’s chest, “and you’ll be fine without me. Just take lots of bug spray and ear plugs.”
“Oh, that reminds me,” Sam said. “I have to gather up my CD’s and stock up on batteries. I like opera, but…”
“I could lend you my copy of Gadmeer music,” Daniel said, the sparkle back in his eyes.
“You want the colonel to throw me in the lake?” Sam laughed.
“Actually, I wouldn’t want Jack to get anywhere near that music; it’s irreplaceable.”
“You talking about me?” a familiar voice asked.
“Jack,” Daniel said, turning around in surprise.
“How was lunch, kids?” Jack asked.
“The food was excellent and the company was even better,” Sam said, smiling brightly at Daniel.
Daniel, uncomfortable with the compliment, looked at Jack and shrugged.
“I’m sorry you couldn’t make it, Jack,” Daniel said.
“Yeah, well, the general had other plans,” Jack said.
“The general?” Daniel inquired, hoping against hope that Jack was now in the loop.
“Yeah. Short guy, balding, heavy-set. He runs the place,” Jack explained. “I’ll introduce you sometime.”
Daniel’s hopeful look vanished in an instant, and he gazed down at the floor.
“I do not understand your behavior, O’Neill,” Teal’c said.
Jack didn’t miss the note of disapproval or latent anger in Teal’c’s voice, and the truth was, he couldn’t blame him. He was being an ass again.
“It’s just a joke, Teal’c,” Daniel placated, looking up.
Intuitively, Jack knew Daniel was trying to help, but invariably, it rankled to the core.
“Thank you for that clarification, Dr. Jackson,” Jack said acidly.
Daniel sighed inwardly at the nomenclature. Jack was obviously pissed and wanted Daniel to know it.
Newsflash, Jack. I’ve known for months.
“Uh, Daniel, I’ve got some experiments I need to attend to before I leave,” Sam said, clearly wanting to avoid witnessing a scene. “I’ll see you later, okay?”
“Sure, Sam,” Daniel said, not blaming her one bit for desiring a hasty retreat.
Sam looked at Jack. “Sir,” she said curtly, dismissing herself.
“Major,” Jack nodded and watched her leave.
“Teal’c, you don’t have anywhere you need to be?” Jack asked, turning his attention to the Jaffa.
“Indeed I do, O’Neill.”
Teal’c didn’t move and Daniel found himself automatically looking at Jack to see if he perceived their teammate’s behavior to be a bit strange.
“Well?” Jack said, raising his eyebrows.
“Well what, O’Neill?”
“Shouldn’t you be going where you need to be going?” Jack suggested impatiently.
“I am already here,” Teal’c replied, fixing Jack with a dark stare.
Oh boy, Daniel thought. “Uh, Teal’c, can I ask you a favor?”
“Of course, Daniel Jackson,” Teal’c replied, looking benevolently at Daniel.
“Jack and I need to talk.”
Teal’c looked at Jack and then back to Daniel.
“Are you quite sure, Daniel Jackson?” he asked, clearly displeased with the request.
“Yes, yes, I’m quite sure. Please, Teal’c,” Daniel said.
“Very well. I will be in my quarters, Daniel Jackson.”
“Thank you. I’ll come by soon,” Daniel said.
The two watched Teal’c walk down the hall and around the corner. Daniel could feel Jack’s eyes boring a hole into his skull.
“What the hell have you been saying to them?” Jack asked vehemently.
“What do you mean?” Daniel asked in surprise.
“Cut the crap, Daniel,” Jack growled. “Carter couldn’t wait to get away from me, and Teal’c, hell, he was ready to eat my balls.”
“Jack, I haven’t said anything to them. What the hell have I got to say anyway? It’s not like we’ve been sharing any secrets lately.” Oh, dumb, Jackson. Really dumb. “Or anything for that matter,” he added.
“Which is precisely the point of the fucking fishing trip,” Jack snapped.
“Damn it, Jack. I promise I’ll go the next time, but I can’t do it now. It’s just not possible,” Daniel insisted.
“There won’t be a next time,” Jack said coldly and walked away leaving a dejected and weary Daniel.
This is just peachy, Jack thought dismally as he glanced at the dark profile of his silent passenger. He looked in the rear-view mirror and saw Carter looking like she’d lost her best friend. Yeah, just peachy. He turned the wheel sharply and pulled over to the side of the road.
“Sir?” Sam said, snapping out of her depression.
“Is there a problem, O’Neill?” Teal’c asked.
“Yes, there’s a problem. There’s a big honkin’ problem, but it’s between me and Daniel.”
Jack twisted around in his seat so he could see both of his teammates.
“Look, you may not believe it, but I miss him, too. I wish he was here, but he isn’t. Now, we can go to the cabin, kick back and relax, or I can take you guys back, and I’ll go alone. It’s up to you,” Jack said.
Sam felt immediately ashamed of her selfish indulgence, Daniel’s parting words ringing loudly in her mind: Sam, help Jack and have fun yourself. This trip is important to him, and he’s doing it for all the right reasons.
“I wouldn’t miss this for the world, sir, honestly,” Sam said.
“Teal’c?” Jack queried.
Teal’c, too, had received a request from Daniel to ‘make’ Jack’s trip.
“Undomesticated equines, O’Neill,” Teal’c replied with a knowing smile.
“All right,” Jack grinned. “So, who’s ready for Carmen?”
Dual sounds of misgivings caused Jack to chuckle as he slipped a CD into the player.
“Okay, Pink Floyd it is.”
“It’s good to see you again, Daniel,” Jacob said, shaking the younger man’s hand warmly.
“You too, Jacob, although I wish it were under different circumstances,” Daniel replied.
“Amen to that,” Jacob agreed solemnly. “George,” he said, turning to Hammond, “we need to talk.”
“My office,” Hammond replied, his chest tightening at the grimness in Jacob’s eyes and voice.
“Ah, excuse me, but I presume you mean me as well?” Daniel queried.
“Of course,” Jacob said, an unmistakable sadness in his voice.
“Things have gotten worse, haven’t they?” Daniel asked.
“It’s not good, Danny,” Jacob acknowledged.
“Let’s go to my office,” Hammond said quietly.
“Oh, my God, I’ve got something!” Sam cried, clutching her fishing rod.
“What?” Jack said, pushing his hat up off his eyes.
“I’ve got something!” Sam repeated excitedly.
“Are you certain you have not snagged the bottom, Major Carter?” Teal’c asked as he came over to assist her.
“Teal’c, I have been fishing before. I know what a fish feels like,” she said.
“You have?” Jack asked.
“Of course, sir. My father used to take me and Mark all the time,” Sam explained as she grappled with her prize.
“You never told me that,” Jack said indignantly. “Teal’c, did you know Carter used to fish?”
“I did not, O’Neill.”
“Carter, why didn’t you ever tell me you liked to fish?” Jack asked, hurt evident in his tone.
“I didn’t say I liked it, sir,” she said pulling back sharply on her rod.
“Do you require assistance, Major Carter?” Teal’c asked.
“No, Teal’c, I’ve almost got him. Boy, he’s gotta be fifteen pounds at least,” she bubbled.
“Carter, let me help. You’re giving him too much lead,” Jack said, reaching for her rod.
“I’m fine, sir,” Sam said, moving out of Jack’s reach.
“Damn it, Carter. Let me—”
“Major Carter, look out!” Teal’c warned.
“Carter!” Jack shouted, snagging Sam’s sleeve.
Teal’c watched in bemused fascination as his teammates went over the edge of the dock and splashed noisily into the water.
“Teal’c, my rod!” Jack gasped.
Teal’c leaned over and deftly plucked the rod, minus a fish, out of the water.
“I’m afraid you fish is gone, Major Carter.”
“Damn it, Colonel,” Sam said, shaking the water off her face. “You did that on purpose.”
“Hey, I was just trying to help,” Jack said defensively. “Here, you’ve got something in your hair. Crap, it’s moving,” he said, snatching his hand back and grimacing.
“Get it off!” she yelled. “What is it?”
“Hold still,” Jack ordered.
Sam held her breath while Jack leaned over carefully and then liberally splashed her in the face.
“Gotcha!” he crowed.
“You bastard!” Sam sputtered, spitting out water.
“That’s ‘bastard, sir’,” Jack reprimanded.
“Cannonball!” a voice suddenly boomed.
“Teal’c, no!” Jack and Sam shouted as they backpedaled frantically from the sight of a two hundred fifty pound Jaffa hurtling towards them.
“This changes things,” Hammond said gravely. “I’m sorry, Dr. Jackson, but I can’t allow you to go.”
“General, we can’t just sit here and do nothing. Innocent people are being destroyed,” Daniel said. “Not to mention both Jack and I being used as pawns.”
“It’s too dangerous, Doctor. You heard Jacob. The Stargate is now guarded around the clock, and I can’t provide you with backup,” Hammond said firmly.
“I’m not asking for backup,” Daniel insisted. “I may be a civilian, but I’m not a ‘babe-in-the-woods’. Not anymore. I’ve learned from the best. Besides, I have no intention of dying.”
“Doctor Jackson, I’m not questioning your abilities. The Tok’ra pulled their last operative out of Dendera because the situation became too volatile. He was damn lucky to get out alive. You’d likely be killed as soon as you set foot on that planet. Whoever this ‘Daniel Jackson’ is, he’s not going to welcome any outsiders,” Hammond explained patiently. “He knows he was under surveillance.”
“That means he’s scared, General,” Daniel insisted, “and if there’s some opposition to him I can work with that.”
Daniel turned to Jacob. “Jacob, Selmak, can you get me through the Stargate?”
Jacob’s eyes flashed and Selmak spoke.
“We can get you through the Stargate, Dr. Jackson. However, we can not guarantee your safety.”
“I’m not asking for guarantees,” Daniel said. “Just get me in.”
“Danny,” Jacob said, accepting control from Selmak, “I can disguise you as a Denderan, but if he suspects you, he won’t hesitate to kill you, or worse, make an example of you. He looks like Jack; he sounds like Jack; he—”
“But he isn’t Jack,” Daniel said. “I can deal with that.” I just won’t think about it too much.
“General, please. I deserve the chance to clear my name and Jack’s. I can’t do my job knowing someone out there is convincing innocent people to become hosts. I couldn’t save Sha’re. Please, let me try to help these people,” Daniel entreated.
George looked at Jacob and saw the same reservations in his old friend’s eyes, but he also saw the same pride and resignation. Daniel deserved the chance. He returned his gaze to Daniel.
“Make the necessary preparations, Dr. Jackson.”
“Thank you, sir,” Daniel said sincerely.
“I wish I could send you more backup, son,” Hammond said.
“I know, sir,” Daniel smiled, absolving the older man of his guilt.
Jack finished stringing up a line on which they could all hang their wet clothes. He could not believe Teal’c had done that. Where the hell did he learn about cannonballing? And the resulting water fight was a sight to behold. Who knew Carter could hold her breath that long?
“The shower’s free, Colonel,” Sam said, toweling her hair.
“Thanks, Carter. You can hang your stuff here,” Jack said.
“I still can’t believe Teal’c did that,” Sam smiled, draping her clothes over the line.
“That’s what I was just thinking,” Jack said.
“I wish—” Sam bit her lip and shook her head.
“Yeah, I wish Daniel was here, too,” Jack said.
Sam smiled and nodded, surprised but pleased with her CO’s admission. SG-1 was going to be just fine.
“O’Neill, do you require more firewood?” Teal’c asked.
“Couldn’t hurt,” Jack said. “I’ll give you a hand.”
“There is only one axe,” Teal’c said.
“Crap, I keep forgetting to bring another one.”
“I do not require assistance,” Teal’c said stoically.
“Never doubted it for a second, big guy. By the way, where did you learn to cannonball?” Jack asked.
Teal’c smiled. “Daniel Jackson.”
“Daniel?” Jack and Sam said in unison.
“Indeed. He told me if I got the chance I was to do it. He said it would be most pleasurable, and indeed it was.”
Jack smiled. Maybe Daniel found a way to join them after all.
“General, if something happens to me, if I don’t come back, would you please see that Jack gets this,” Daniel requested as he handed Hammond a sealed envelope. “Jack is, uh, a little angry with me right now,” he said awkwardly. “I understand his anger and I know it’s not personal. I need Jack to know that, too,” he said earnestly.
George took the envelope and turned it thoughtfully in his hands. He looked up at Daniel with clear blue eyes.
“I pray to God the colonel will never have to see this, son,” he said huskily.
“So do I, sir, but…” Daniel’s voice trailed off.
“If it comes to that, I’ll make sure Jack gets this letter,” Hammond assured him, “and that he understands.”
“It won’t come to that,” Jacob said firmly, looking at the two men.
Daniel smiled gratefully and turned back to Hammond.
“I’ll look after it, son,” Hammond promised.
“Thank you,” Daniel whispered.
“General Hammond, we’re ready, sir,” Sergeant Davis announced.
“Dial us in, Sergeant.”
“Yes, sir,” Davis responded, clearly unhappy with recent developments. He hated covert operations. Someone always got hurt and they always involved his favorite SG team. He said a silent prayer for Dr. Jackson as he dialed the coordinates.
The Stargate engaged and the event horizon appeared.
George’s eyes met Jacob’s and an unspoken message sent and received: Jacob would bring Daniel back or die in the process.
Jacob walked up to the wormhole and threw two shock grenades into its midst.
“Are you ready, Dr. Jackson?” Hammond inquired softly.
Daniel looked up at the control room, the briefing room, and the general’s office. He didn’t know if he’d be coming back, and he wanted to remember it all.
“I’m ready,” Daniel said, looking back at Hammond. “Goodbye, sir,” he said, extending his hand.
George took Daniel’s hand and then pulled him into a rib-crushing hug.
“God speed, son,” he whispered, his voice faltering.
“I’ll be back,” Daniel vowed, his own voice thick with emotion.
George stepped back and saluted his young subordinate sharply.
Although the hug was worth more than a thousand salutes, Daniel knew there was no greater honour the general could offer. He nodded in appreciation, quickly turned before his emotions betrayed him, and joined Jacob. Together they walked through the Stargate.
George remained at attention until the wormhole disengaged. He brought his hand down slowly and thought, not for the first time, that it may be time to retire. He’d let himself get too close.
Daniel looked from the unconscious guards on the ground to the remains of the shock grenades that had temporarily incapacitated the two sentries.
“I hate having to be grateful to Goa’uld technology,” he muttered as he pulled the hood of his robe up over his head.
“You must speak only in the local dialect,” Selmak warned. “We will follow this path as it is rarely traveled. Keep your face hidden.”
Daniel nodded and walked silently behind Selmak as they entered what Daniel could only describe as a rabbit trail; a very much-unused rabbit trail.
After twenty minutes of getting his robes entangled in brambles, Daniel had enough.
“Selmak, this path, and I use that term lightly, is rarely traveled because it hasn’t been used in years,” he grumbled. Who the hell could find it?
“Your grasp of the Denderan language is admirable,” Selmak said as he helped Daniel free his robes from a stubborn bush. “Perhaps we should have taken the road.”
Daniel stiffened and fixed Selmak with a thorny gaze.
“You mean we’re in this…vegetation because you didn’t trust me with the language?” Daniel asked heatedly.
“It was a precaution, Daniel,” Jacob said, assuming control.
“I was talking to Selmak,” Daniel said, his lips tight.
“Selmak felt you were getting a little edgy and thought you’d rather talk to me,” Jacob explained.
“Passed the buck, did he?” Daniel muttered.
“Pretty much,” Jacob smiled. “I told him you wouldn’t go anywhere unprepared, but you know the Tok’ra.”
“I also know that if anyone catches us in here we’re going to look pretty damn suspicious. I mean, who in their right minds would be in here unless they were blind or hiding from something?” Daniel said.
“You are correct,” Selmak said. “Please, forgive us.”
“Us?” Daniel said, unable to hide a smile as he could imagine what Jacob was saying to Selmak.
“We’re taking the road,” Jacob said, assuming control once again.
“Thank God,” Daniel sighed.
Thirty minutes later, they were on the outskirts of the town. They had passed a few individuals and exchanged pleasantries without causing concern. Daniel was starting to feel that maybe things wouldn’t be too bad.
“You’re telling me this now?” Jacob growled.
“Excuse me?” Daniel said, furrowing his brow.
“Not you, Danny,” Jacob said, waving his hand. “Damn it.”
“What is it?” Daniel asked.
“Selmak says you have to go on alone. We have to go back to deal with the guards when they wake up,” Jacob said, clearly not happy with the news.
“What do you mean ‘deal with’?” Daniel asked, desiring to avoid bloodshed. The guards were clearly not Jaffa, but Denderan.
“I will flash my eyes and say they have passed the test for potential hosts for only the blessed would have survived the blast,” Selmak explained.
Daniel scowled, but nodded.
Selmak’s eyes flashed briefly and then Jacob smiled.
“Take care, Danny. I’ll find you,” he whispered.
Daniel smiled at Jacob’s use of English. “I’ll be fine,” he assured the older man.
Daniel thought he was prepared, but his first glimpse of his ‘double’ still came as a shock. Worse was the adulation being showered upon the man and the chanting of ‘Jackson’. Daniel shivered and looked around at the people, careful to remain hidden in his robes. He had to find someone with that ‘look’. The look that said, ‘You are full of it. I’ll go through the motions, but when your back is turned…’
The crowd suddenly parted to open a path for the false Dr. Jackson and his entourage to sweep by them. Daniel hung well back, not ready to meet the eyes of this man, but not wanting to appear obvious, he made an attempt to look like he was eager to get a closer look. It was easier to do than he thought. To his surprise, he was roughly shoved back as desperate people reached out and begged for the chance to become hosts. Daniel wanted to yell at them and tell them the truth of the horror that awaited them if they succumbed to this man’s charms. He looked at their faces and saw the desperation Hammond and Jacob had warned him about. He also saw the ravages of a disease. He glanced down at his own arms and the burns Jacob had put on his unblemished skin so he would blend in. Daniel had always wondered if the healing device could wound as well as heal. Now he knew.
A hand suddenly gripped his shoulder and Daniel stiffened.
“It’s about time you showed up,” an English voice whispered in his ear. “We need to talk.”
Daniel turned, and his eyes widened at the familiar face. Aris Boch?
“Meet me at the well when you hear the gong,” Aris said, reverting to the local language. “That should be in about two of your hours.”
Daniel nodded and returned his gaze to the imposter and his entourage, but his mind was whirling. Oddly, he felt his spirits lift at the sight of the bounty hunter. He also had a funny feeling Aris Boch had something to do with the savior looking like Jack and being called Dr. Jackson.
After their hero had departed, the crowd began to drift away by ones, twos, and threes. Daniel spotted Jacob and wondered how long the older man had been watching his back. Smiling, he strolled up to the man.
“A bounty hunter I know wants me to meet him at the well when the gong sounds,”
“You don’t mean Aris Boch?” Jacob said, familiar with SG-1’s run-in with the bounty hunter.
“The one and only,” Daniel replied. “I have a hunch he’s involved in all this. He said it was about time I showed up.”
“Do you trust him?” Jacob asked, his brown creased in concern.
“Strangely enough, I do,” Daniel shrugged.
“Well, he did save one of us,” Jacob murmured, “But still…I’ll come with you.”
“No, I think I should go by myself. We don’t want to attract attention, remember. But stay close, okay?” Daniel requested.
“We won’t let you out of our sight,” Jacob said.
“What does the gong signify?” Daniel asked.
“As far as we know, it seems to signify a siesta of sorts. Everyone drifts back to their homes, or finds a quiet place to meditate. The well is half a mile down that road. You’ll have to throw in a few luts for good luck.”
“Luts?” Daniel queried.
“Here, you’ll need this,” Jacob said, handing Daniel a heavy pouch. “It’s the local currency. The gold pieces are called ahkans. One ahkan is worth ten luts, which are the red ones.”
“Am I rich?” Daniel asked, feeling the weight of the bag.
“You won’t starve,” Jacob smiled, “but don’t spend it all in one place.”
“I think I’ll go and mingle,” Daniel said, tying the pouch to his belt. “There has to be someone here who thinks Dr. Jackson is full of it,” he remarked.
“Be careful and stay in sight,” Jacob warned.
Daniel nodded and flashed his most charming smile, which did nothing to ease Jacob’s concern.
“Jack, how do you do it?” Jacob muttered as he watched Daniel walk away.
After perusing the vendors and their wares, Daniel bought two spicy meat kebabs and a gourd of refreshing sweet water for himself and Jacob. He returned to the older man and handed him one of the kebabs.
“Thought you might be hungry,” Daniel said. “The food is delicious here.”
“Thank you,” Jacob said, touched by Daniel’s consideration. “Our operatives put on ten pounds while they were here.”
“I can see why,” Daniel said, licking meaty juice off his fingers.
“Have you learned anything?” Jacob asked, pulling off a morsel of meat.
“Nothing we didn’t know already. These people are sick, dying, and scared. They look at this Jackson as their only means of survival. I did detect, however, a little grumbling about who gets selected,” Daniel explained.
“Let me guess,” Jacob said, “the young and the beautiful.”
“Pretty much,” Daniel said. “They have selected a few elderly people, but I doubt very much if they were allowed to live.”
A loud gonging noise suddenly resounded through the square.
“There’s my cue,” Daniel said, finishing his meal and washing it down with some water.
“Don’t try to lose me,” Jacob warned.
Daniel smiled and headed down the road.
Daniel found the well without difficulty. There were a few people sitting around it, and he quickly spotted Aris Boch. He casually walked up beside the bounty hunter and tossed a few coins into the well.
“May your wish come true, friend,” Aris Boch said.
Daniel lowered his head and murmured, “What have you done?”
“You wound me,” Boch replied, placing his hand over his heart.
Daniel glowered and Boch smiled.
“Okay, let’s get to it then. Who’s your shadow?”
“Fair enough,” Daniel replied. “He’s a Tok’ra. Major Carter’s father, in fact.”
“There’s a story here,” Boch said appreciatively. “Let’s go for a walk, and bring your friend.”
Daniel motioned to Jacob and the three men walked idly down the road.
“So, are you going to tell me why someone who’s a dead ringer for Jack is going by my name and convincing people to become hosts?” Daniel asked quietly.
“I needed something to attract your attention,” Boch responded reasonably.
“I knew it,” Daniel murmured.
“How did you know he’d get the news?” Jacob asked.
“Once I knew the Tok’ra were sniffing around it was just a matter of time before the Tau’ri knew. No offense, but your Tok’ra operatives could use a little more training in the art of concealment,” Boch said. “The last one damn near got himself killed. Had to pull in a few favors to get him out in one piece.”
“What are you doing here?” Daniel asked. “Other than the self-appointed savior, there doesn’t seem to be anyone here who’d have a bounty on their head.”
“I live here,” Boch replied. “I’ve retired. I’m even married.”
“I don’t believe it,” Daniel said.
“I hardly believe it myself,” Boch smiled.
“Mr. Boch, perhaps we could get back on track,” Jacob suggested.
“Is he always this pushy?” Boch asked, looking at Daniel.
“He used to be a general in the US Air Force,” Daniel shrugged.
“That explains it. Okay, as I said, I’ve retired here. I came quite by accident. Emergency landing; disgruntled clients on my tail; boring story,” he said, waving his arm. “I was injured and these people were kind enough to take me in. The woman who cared for me is now my wife. I fell in love with her and this planet. Also, I’m not getting any younger. Figured it was time for a change.”
Daniel nodded, unsure of the explanation. He had a hard time believing a man like Aris Boch would give up the thrill of the hunt for marriage and retirement on a benign planet. Then he thought of Sha’re and found it easier to believe.
“What about roshna?” Daniel inquired.
“That’s why I was being chased,” Boch replied, a glint in his eye. “I have enough to last a lifetime.”
“So you settled down in this idyllic world and then a snake appeared in the garden,” Daniel surmised.
“Damn Goa’uld,” Boch growled. “And to think I used to work for those bastards.”
“He’s not a Goa’uld,” Jacob said.
“You mean that prima donna, Jackson? No, he’s a shape-shifter,” Boch replied.
“A shape-shifter,” Jacob murmured.
“A real shape-shifter?” Daniel said, his excitement obvious. “We thought he might have been an android or a clone, but a shape-shifter, yes, that makes sense. We met one before. Well, sort of. I guess it was more of a hallucination thing. Very nice. He was being persecuted by the Goa’uld. I wonder if it’s the same species? Then there was that time with the Coast Salish spirits. Have you seen its natural form?”
“Danny,” Jacob said with patient exasperation.
“What?” Daniel asked, glancing at the older man.
“He hasn’t changed a bit,” Boch said to Jacob. “But to answer your question, no, I haven’t seen it in its natural state. It looked like a friend of mine when I first encountered it. Long story short, it’s working for a Goa’uld called Khepri. He’s not a System Lord, but if he succeeds in his plan he’s going to be very powerful.”
“Khepri,” Daniel said. “God of creation.”
“And he’s creating his own army,” Boch said.
“Why this planet? Why these people?” Daniel asked.
“It’s small, harmless, has a Stargate, but basically, it was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Boch explained.
“And the people are dying and easy pickings,” Jacob added.
“They are now,” Boch said darkly, glancing around to ensure they were still alone.
“You mean Khepri did this?” Daniel asked in horror.
“That damn Goa’uld purposely exposed them to a deadly pathogen,” Boch said grimly.
“Food or water borne?” Jacob asked, thinking of the meal he and Daniel had just ingested.
“Skin contact as far as we can tell,” Boch said. “You can’t see it or smell it. It’s also genetically engineered for the physiology of the inhabitants so you can rest easy on that score,” he explained. “The first signs are blisters, usually on the extremities, and then it starts eating you from the inside. I see you’ve done your homework,” he added, gesturing to the burns on Daniel’s and Jacob’s arms.
“Your wife is ill,” Daniel said softly.
Aris Boch’s countenance changed dramatically and Daniel saw the grief and fear before the professional mask of the bounty hunter once again looked out.
“The blisters appeared ten days ago,” Boch confirmed.
“Long after you tried to get our attention,” Jacob said more to himself than anyone else.
“No one deserves this except the damn Goa’uld,” Boch hissed. “I know you care for the hosts, Dr. Jackson, but I can’t be worrying about them, too.”
“How did Jack and I get involved?” Daniel asked.
“The shape-shifter recruited me to help convince the people to cooperate. It knew I was different and had been around. It can be quite inventive and persuasive,” Boch added grim-faced.
Daniel didn’t need the man to elaborate. The uneasiness in his eyes told enough.
“So,” Boch said, dismissing his experience, “I wondered who else in this universe hated the Goa’uld as much as me.”
“And you thought of us,” Daniel said.
“The destroyers of Ra, Hathor, Seth, Sokar, and Apophis. Did I miss anyone?”
“Chronos,” Daniel said.
Boch whistled in appreciation, but his face was grim. “I also heard about your wife, Dr. Jackson. I am sorry.”
“Thank you. Sha’re is free now,” Daniel said, but deep sadness shone in his eyes.
“Yes,” Boch said uncomfortably, “well, anyway, I still had my computer graphics and voice imprints of you and the rest of SG-1. I—”
“Wait, wait, wait. You have voice prints and graphics of us?” Daniel asked incredulously.
“I am a bounty hunter, or was,” Boch corrected. “Give me some credit.”
Jacob patted Daniel on the arm and nodded to Boch to continue.
“I played to the creature’s ego and convinced it if anyone could influence these people, it would be Dr. Daniel Jackson: the man who unlocked the Stargate, spoke Goa’uld, and killed System Lords. If anyone knew there was a good Goa’uld out there, it would be him, and if anyone could pull off the deception, it would be it.”
“Sweet,” Daniel grimaced, unconsciously mimicking Jack.
“Your exploits are legendary here,” Boch said, “and if Dr. Jackson says Khepri is a decent, loving Goa’uld just wanting to help, well …” he said, shrugging his shoulders.
“Lambs to the slaughter,” Jacob murmured.
“And you switched identities of me and Jack because?” Daniel queried.
“I knew a Daniel Jackson look-alike would draw attention once I got the information out there, but a Jackson that looked like O’Neill? Well, that would be a mystery too good to pass up,” Boch explained. “I used my connections to get the information out there as much as I could.”
“In the hopes the Tau’ri or Tok’ra would hear about it,” Jacob said.
“And we’d come running,” Daniel finished.
“And here you are,” Boch smiled. “I have to admit, I am surprised Colonel O’Neill isn’t with you.”
“He doesn’t know,” Daniel said quietly.
“I see,” Boch murmured thoughtfully. “I sense another story. Just as well. This is a very volatile situation. I have the utmost respect for Colonel O’Neill, but he can be a little abrasive.”
“A little,” Daniel smiled.
“What exactly do you expect Daniel to do?” Jacob asked.
“Tell the truth,” Boch said, looking at Jacob. “Convince these people the Goa’uld are all the same: parasites who care nothing for the host. Creatures that are pure evil. I know what you’re thinking, ‘How the hell is he supposed to do that?’” Boch turned to Daniel and resumed.
“There is a small underground resistance movement. They can help. The shape-shifter is an opportunist. Believe me, I know the type. Once things get difficult for it, it’ll be out of here faster than—”
“How are dissidents treated?” Jacob interrupted.
Boch looked uncomfortable, but said, “Not well. If they’re lucky they’re killed outright.”
“That’s encouraging,” Daniel murmured.
“How many have been caught?” Jacob asked.
“Five and they’re all dead,” Boch said flatly.
Daniel looked at Jacob. Both men knew it would come down to this, and they knew the possible consequences. Jacob had Selmak to help him through the worst. Daniel had his innate tenacity and fierce sense of justice. It would have to be enough. Daniel nodded and looked back at Aris Boch.
“I think you should start introducing me,” Daniel said.
Aris Boch smiled and felt an odd sense of pride in the young Tau’ri. Maybe when this was all over, and assuming they were all still alive, he would be lucky enough to think of Daniel Jackson as a friend.
“I knew I picked the right man,” he said quietly. “I’d like you to meet my wife before we get started. I want her to meet the real Dr. Daniel Jackson.”
Daniel, embarrassed, glanced at Jacob who smiled paternally.
“The burden of being a legend, Danny,” he shrugged.
Daniel shook his head in surrender and wondered what Jack would do if he were here. Ruffle my hair, probably, he thought ruefully. Daniel sighed; he wished Jack was here. No, not here, but aware of what he was doing. He wanted Jack to be a part of this.
“In the immortal words of Jack O’Neill,” Jacob said, “Let’s move out, campers.”
Daniel’s spirits lifted, and he smiled. In his own inimitable way, Jack was a part of this and it gave him some comfort.
“This way,” Boch directed.
Jacob clapped Daniel on the back. He knew Daniel was missing Jack, as well as Sam and Teal’c. If he could fill in just a little bit then he was more than willing.
You’re a good man, Jacob, Selmak said in his mind.
I’ve got good friends, Jacob replied. They’ve rubbed off on me.
You feel the task is too great for Daniel Jackson, Selmak prodded gently.
I fear Daniel will not give up. If he dies…Jacob’s thought trailed off.
It will be over our dead bodies, Selmak said gently.
You really know how to cheer a guy up, Selmak, Jacob said affectionately.
I do what I can, Selmak replied with a martyred sigh.
Aris Boch’s wife, Cora, was lovely. Daniel couldn’t describe her any other way. She was warm, gracious, and vibrant. Even the ugly blisters marring her skin couldn’t hide her gentle beauty.
Daniel watched as Boch administered to his wife’s sores. The man was besotted, and his hands trembled slightly as he touched her wounds.
“Aris, I am not made of Gorian crystal,” she chided fondly.
“Gorian crystal?” Jacob queried. “You’ve seen it?”
“Had some,” Aris said. “It was a long time ago.”
“What’s Gorian crystal?” Daniel asked.
“Just the rarest and most fragile crystal in the known universe,” Jacob explained. “The material is actually spun by a spider, now extinct. There haven’t been any crystals made for centuries. A person could make their fortune with just one piece.”
Daniel’s eyes widened, and he looked knowingly at Aris Boch.
“You gave it up,” he said softly.
“For a fortune, yes,” Boch murmured, dabbing ointment on his wife’s face.
Cora’s eyes twinkled and she beamed at Daniel.
“My people are very secular, Dr. Jackson. No outsider has ever been allowed to stay here. To marry one was unthinkable,” she said, clasping her husband’s hand firmly. “To even consider such a union, the dowry would have to be extraordinary.”
“Like Gorian crystal,” Daniel said gently.
“Yes,” she smiled. “My father was a merchant, but ill health had ended his career early. He had seen places on the other side of this world that haunted him in his dreams. He longed to return before his death, but the cost was beyond anything we could ever hope to achieve.”
“Until Aris Boch,” Daniel smiled.
“Yes,” Cora smiled, caressing her husband’s stubbled cheek.
“Yes, well dear, I don’t think they are really interested in all this personal stuff,” Boch said blushing.
“We can talk later,” Daniel said impishly, “but right now I think it’s time I made my presence known.”
Things were going too well for Jacob’s comfort. Aris Boch had introduced them to a number of individuals who were more than willing to listen to the real Daniel Jackson, but emotions were high, and living proof of their being deceived was threatening to make them reckless. One slip, one misspoken word to the wrong person, or within hearing distance of the wrong person, and Daniel would be exposed before he was ready.
“Daniel, I don’t like this,” Jacob whispered, steering Daniel away from a young couple whose child was covered in blisters.
“This is genocide,” Daniel said darkly. “You’re not supposed to like it.”
“You know what I mean, Daniel,” Jacob sighed. “The rebellion is growing too fast. Someone is going to make a mistake.”
“We can’t leave now,” Daniel insisted. “Look at these people.”
“I’m not saying we should leave. I’m just saying step back a bit. The seed has been planted. Let it take root and see what comes to fruition.”
Daniel looked quizzically at Jacob, and the older man nodded.
“All right, all right, so Selmak said the seed has been planted etc., but I agree with him. You’ve done more than enough, Daniel. Let’s see if these people can do the rest.”
“What about the disease?” Daniel said. “Even if the Denderans do rebel and overthrow this shape-shifter and Khepri, they’ll still have the disease to deal with. We have to help them.”
“We will,” Jacob assured him. “We can get blood and tissue samples. Between the Tok’ra and the SGC we’re bound to find something to help them.”
“Then do it, Jacob. Do it now. Get the samples and go back through the Stargate,” Daniel insisted.
“And leave you here alone?” Jacob said incredulously.
“I’m not alone, and besides, I’ll be fine,” Daniel said.
“Well, I won’t be,” Jacob countered. “Not after George and Jack get hold of me. Not to mention Teal’c and my own daughter. Hell, it’s bad enough I left you earlier.”
“Aris Boch will keep me safe,” Daniel said.
“He couldn’t keep his wife safe,” Jacob pointed out.
“All right,” Daniel conceded, “but we can at least get some samples through to Janet and get her started on something.”
“I’ll see what Boch can rig up for us,” Jacob said. “You stay here.”
Daniel watched Jacob leave and was tempted to call out, ‘What, you’re leaving me alone?’ Instead, he sat down and thought about his friends. Were they enjoying themselves at Jack’s cabin? He hoped so, but a little selfish part of him also hoped they missed him. A bigger part of him wished he were with them. Wished he were there for Jack and for their friendship. It wasn’t easy for Jack to take the fist step in a personal issue, and his call for a fishing trip had been a major step. Daniel just hoped he’d have the opportunity to explain to Jack and to apologize for any misunderstanding or damage his absence may have caused. That Jack would be angry was a foregone conclusion. Going behind Jack’s back was never a good idea. Going behind his back to do something dangerous might just as well have been the ultimate sin. Dangerous, Daniel thought with a shiver of guilt, Jack would call this suicidal.
Jack stared at the coffeemaker as it burbled away brewing yet another pot. He was surprised at how much coffee they were going through considering he and Carter were the only ones drinking the stuff. He suspected they were both taking up the slack for Daniel. In a crazy sort of way, he felt Daniel was with them when he had a cup of coffee in his hand.
“This is nuts,” Jack muttered.
Jack turned to see Sam standing in the doorway, her own cup in her hand.
“Hey, Carter. You’re not finished already, are you?”
Sam shrugged. “It must be the fresh air, sir. I can’t seem to get enough of the stuff.”
“Call it what it is, Carter,” Jack sighed, taking her cup and refilling it.
Sam looked at him in confusion as he handed back her cup.
“It’s called, ‘missing Daniel’,” Jack said.
“I’m sorry, sir,” Sam said, looking down at the floor. “I really am having a wonderful time.”
“But?” Jack prompted.
“I can’t explain it, sir,” she said, looking up flustered. “I just feel, I don’t know, guilty.”
“Guilty for having a good time without Daniel?” Jack asked.
“I know it’s silly, but—”
“Carter, it was Daniel’s choice not to come. It’s not like he wasn’t invited. Besides, he’s probably having the time of his life in London.”
“I do not believe he is, O’Neill,” Teal’c said, entering the kitchen and the conversation.
“Not you, too,” Jack groaned.
“Why do you say that, Teal’c?” Sam asked in alarm.
“Oh, come on you guys,” Jack groused.
“I believe Daniel Jackson is in danger,” Teal’c said.
“In danger? From what? Coming home with an English accent?” Jack cried.
“I do not believe he has gone to London,” Teal’c stated. “I believe he has gone off-world.”
“Oh, my God,” Sam exclaimed. “It all makes sense now.”
“What makes sense?” Jack asked in exasperation.
“Daniel,” she replied, looking at Jack. “It’s been ages since we’ve gone out for lunch.”
“For crying out loud, Carter, you’re losing me here,” Jack said.
“I’m sorry, sir, but it seemed very important to Daniel that we got together. Some of the things he said,” she murmured, deep in thought.
“Indeed, Major Carter,” Teal’c agreed.
“All right, would somebody please clue in an aging colonel here,” Jack urged.
Sam looked at Teal’c and the concern in his dark eyes caused her stomach to spasm. She looked at Jack.
“Colonel, I think Daniel was trying to say goodbye,” she said in a horrified whisper.
Jack’s heart hammered in his chest, and he felt his blood rushing in his ears. Daniel was fine. He was in London having the time of his life. He wasn’t off-world risking his life for God knew what. That was absurd. Wasn’t it?
“Son-of-a-bitch,” Jack muttered. Carter was right. It did make sense. It made perfect fucking sense and he should have damn well seen it. Deep down he knew Daniel was aware of how important this trip was to Jack and to their friendship. No exhibit, no matter how exotic, would entice Daniel away from the chance to ‘clear the air’. What would keep him away would be a situation he didn’t want to think about.
“You’re just mentioning this now?” Jack said tersely, his dark eyes on Teal’c.
“It was only a feeling, O’Neill. It was not until I was unsuccessful in achieving kel-no-reem I felt compelled to speak of this matter.”
“Teal’c, you think he’s gone on a mission without us?” Sam asked in concern.
“I do, Major Carter. One he could not tell us about because—”
“Because he damn well knew I’d never let him go,” Jack interrupted. “Goddamn him.”
Sam and Teal’c both knew Jack’s anger was directed more at himself than at Daniel.
“Sir, General Hammond must have known,” Sam said.
“Of course he knew,” Jack growled. Well-deserved down time, my ass. “Did you bring your cell, Carter?”
“I’ll get it,” Sam said, hurrying to her room.
Jack whirled and threw his mug against the wall. Any enjoyment he’d been having had just been sucked right out of him. If it was true; if Daniel was off on another world with Hammond’s knowledge and approval, and SG-1 in the dark, then it had to be something Hammond knew Jack would not allow, even over his dead body Christ, Daniel, what have you done?
Jack looked up to see Sam holding out her phone. He took it and dialed the general’s direct line. He waited, swore, and hung up. He punched in another number.
“This is Colonel O’Neill. I need to speak to General Hammond.”
Jack waited impatiently for his connection to be completed. He felt a twinge of guilt as Sam and Teal’c began to clean up his mess. Abruptly, he returned his attention to the phone.
“Tell him it’s an emergency, Sergeant!” Jack bellowed. His jaw clenched as he listened to the response.
“Give the general my regards,” he snapped, closing the phone with a snap.
“He won’t speak to you?” Sam ventured.
“Would you?” Jack replied, fixing her with a determined glare.
“Are we going back to the SGC, O’Neill?” Teal’c inquired.
“We’re going back,” Jack confirmed.
Daniel got quickly to his feet when Jacob returned. “Can Boch help us?”
“He can, but there’s a problem,” Jacob replied.
“What kind of problem?”
“There are adequate supplies for what we need, and no shortage of willing donors,” Jacob explained. “The problem is in delivery.”
“You mean ‘gate access,” Daniel guessed. “Can’t you just do what you did before?” he asked, waving his hand around.
“Too risky,” Jacob said, “but Boch says he can access the Stargate. He’s in pretty tight with one of the bodyguards, a fact that doesn’t fill me with a lot of confidence, to be honest.”
“You don’t think he’s actually working with Khepri?” Daniel asked in surprise.
“Daniel, I don’t know what to think. Boch has been a bounty hunter, mercenary, smuggler, or whatever, for most of his life.”
“He gave up this Gorian crystal for love,” Daniel said. “That has to count for something.”
“Not if she’s in on it,” Jacob said.
Daniel stared in shock at the older man and shook his head. “No,” he said firmly, “I refuse to even consider that.”
“Which is why it’s my job to consider it,” Jacob said.
“It doesn’t make any sense, Jacob. What would be the point? Go through this whole charade to get me here, and then what? Kill me? Well, I’m here, and no one’s attacked me. No one’s even interrogated me. No one’s—”
“I didn’t say I understood it, Daniel,” Jacob interrupted wearily. “I just don’t like it.”
“You sound like Jack,” Daniel said, annoyed and bemused at the same time.
“Is that a bad thing?” Jacob asked.
Daniel considered the question. “No, it’s not a bad thing,” he replied softly.
“Daniel, I know you wish Jack was here, along with the rest of your team, but right now, I’m the only one you’ve got.”
“And I’m grateful you’re here, and Selmak,” Daniel said in earnest. “Please, don’t think otherwise. I just think the longer we procrastinate, the harder it’s going to be for us to succeed. We have to act before our presence becomes common knowledge because when that happens, well, the ‘shit hits the fan’ as Jack would say.”
“I’m afraid I have to agree with you and Jack on that score,” Jacob sighed.
“You said Boch could help with the ‘gate. What exactly did you mean by that?” Daniel asked.
Jacob frowned and then reluctantly explained.
“Boch sometimes delivers goods to where Khepri is. Once there, he says he can access that Stargate and send the samples to Earth.”
“That would mean giving him the gate address and a GDO,” Daniel said, seeing the problem instantly.
“Which we can’t do,” Jacob said. “Even if I trusted him implicitly, we couldn’t take the risk.”
“No, but you could do it,” Daniel said. “You could take the samples to the SGC.”
“So could you,” Jacob replied.
“I can’t leave these people,” Daniel insisted. “How would that look? They believed Khepri, or Jackson,” he winced, “had the solution to their disease, and now I’ve turned their world upside down by telling them he’s the devil incarnate.”
“Khepri turned their world upside down,” Jacob corrected.
“The point is: I will not leave these people,” Daniel said passionately. “You’ll have to take the samples to the SGC.”
“And leave you—”
“Damn it, Jacob, you have to! We came here to convince these people to stop throwing themselves at the Goa’uld and to expose this imposter for who, or what he is. But even if everyone believes us, what’s the point if they’re still diseased? They’ll die regardless, and we’ll have let it happen. I am not going to stand by and do nothing.”
Jacob looked into the blue, determined eyes and knew he was beating his head against a brick wall.
“This is why Jack has gone grey,” Jacob muttered to himself.
“Jacob, we have to take this chance,” Daniel said, his voice softening.
Daniel Jackson is right, Jacob, as you well know. To stop now undermines everything we have tried to do.
“Damn it, Daniel, and damn you, too, Selmak,” Jacob growled.
“Selmak agrees with me,” Daniel said, tasting victory.
“Just promise me you’ll stay hidden until I get back,” Jacob pleaded.
Daniel smiled. “I promise I’ll do my best to stay hidden.”
“I don’t know how Jack does it,” Jacob murmured. “The man should have an ulcer the size of Colourado by now.”
“Incoming traveller,” Sergeant Davis announced. “It’s Dr. Jackson’s IDC, sir.”
“Open the iris,” Hammond ordered. “Be alert, people,” he said to the SFs in the gateroom.
Once the wormhole engaged and Jacob stepped through, Hammond was in the gateroom in record time.
“Stand down,” he ordered the guards.
“George, I don’t have a lot of time. I have to get back; I don’t want to leave Daniel any longer than I have to,” Jacob said in a rush. “Daniel’s making amazing headway, but the people are dying from a disease genetically engineered by the goa’uld. These are blood and tissue samples from healthy and sick individuals,” he said, holding up a large container. “Get Dr. Fraiser working on this right away and send some to the Tok’ra. If we can find a cure, it’ll make our job a hell of a lot easier.
“Slow down, Jacob,” Hammond said. “How is Dr. Jackson? Have you made contact with the imposter?”
“Daniel’s doing a bang-up job, George. We haven’t confronted the imposter, but he’s a shape-shifter.”
“A shape-shifter? How do you know this?” Hammond asked.
“Aris Boch told us,” Jacob said, wincing.
“Aris Boch? The bounty hunter? The one who kidnapped SG-1 and—”
“He’s different now,” Jacob said. “He’s the one who—” Jacob shut his mouth, deciding the less George knew, the better.
“The one who what?” Hammond demanded.
“It’s a long story, George, but trust me, he’s on our side. He got me through the Stargate to the goa’uld’s world. His name is Khepri. He’s a minor goa’uld with big ambitions. This is the address,” he said, handing Hammond a piece of paper. “From there I went to Cimmeria, just in case. If anyone followed me, or saw the address, I figured with Thor’s Hammer back in place, Cimmeria would be safe. I wish I could explain everything, but I have to get back to Daniel. And don’t forget to contact the Tok’ra. If we can’t find a way to fight this disease, those people are dead, and even life as a host will hold more appeal to some than death.”
“All right, Jacob. I’ll get Dr. Fraiser on these right away.” He turned and leaned into the intercom. “Sergeant, dial in the coordinates for Cimmeria.”
Davis nodded and began the dialing sequence.
“Thank you, George,” Jacob said. “I know this is a lot to take in.”
“You and Selmak do what you have to do, Jacob, and bring yourselves and Dr. Jackson home.”
“We will,” Jacob promised, shaking Hammond’s hand firmly before sprinting up the ramp and through the event horizon.
“What is it, Sergeant?” Hammond asked.
“Colonel O’Neill, Major Carter, and Teal’c have just signed in.”
“Of course they have,” Hammond sighed to himself. “Thank you, Sergeant. I’ll be in my office.”
“Yes, sir,” Davis replied in sympathy. He wouldn’t want to be in the general’s shoes right now for anything.
With the exception of a few words exchanged with Jacob upon their arrival on P7B-1N3, Daniel had studiously avoided speaking English. Therefore, when Aris Boch entered the room speaking English, his senses went on double alert.
Daniel looked up and shook his head. “I do not understand,” he replied in the native tongue.
“Come on, Dr. Jackson, you can speak freely here,” Boch said in English, gesturing to the empty room.
Daniel glanced around and wondered when the room became deserted. He felt his skin crawl, and when he looked back at Aris Boch, he was looking into the dark, familiar eyes of Jack O’Neill.
“The Colonel’s been in there a long time,” Sam murmured, glancing at the general’s closed door.
“Indeed, however, the decibel level has decreased considerably,” Teal’c observed.
“Maybe we should wait somewhere else,” Sam suggested.
“A wise decision, Major Carter.”
They turned to go when Hammond’s voice suddenly boomed over the intercom.
“Major Carter and Teal’c, report to the Briefing Room immediately.”
Sam practically tripped over her own feet to get to the Briefing Room and away from the general’s door, whereas Teal’c moved swiftly and with a natural poise that Sam envied. They sat down and waited.
“So, you’re Dr. Daniel Jackson,” the shape-shifter said quietly. “It’s true then: Aris Boch lied to me. No matter. He’ll live long enough to regret that. That must mean I’m the other one. Colonel Jack O’Neill, is it?”
“Show your true form,” Daniel said, giving up the pretense of not understanding English.
“And spoil the fun? I think not,” the creature replied, staring at Daniel with a cold, mocking stare.
“You’re not me, and you’re not Jack O’Neill,” Daniel said evenly, trying not to flinch from the familiar brown eyes.
“You won’t know who you are after I’m finished with you,” the not-Jack replied ominously as he pulled a harmless looking object out of his robe; an object Daniel knew would be anything but harmless.
“Do you know what this is?”
Daniel looked from the object to the creature.
“No, but I’m sure you’ll enlighten me,” Daniel replied casually.
“I like your attitude, Dr. Jackson. It’s quite simple, really. The best torture devices often are: maximum pain with minimal external damage. Takes a lot of the fun out of interrogation, actually. The internal damage, however, can be quite…exquisite,” the shape-shifter mused. “Shall I demonstrate?”
“I’d rather you didn’t if it’s all the same to you,” Daniel responded dryly.
“Perhaps Aris Boch’s lovely wife would make an ideal test subject. Shall I send for her?”
“That won’t be necessary,” Daniel said.
“Noble as well as brave,” the creature mused, circling Daniel and caressing the object in his hand. “Just the sort of qualities to rally the masses. I’ll give Boch credit. Your name did carry weight. It made my job so much simpler. But now, thanks to you, I have to watch my back.”
“My heart bleeds,” Daniel said sarcastically.
“Oh, it will, Dr. Jackson. Believe me, it will.”
“It seems our haste was unnecessary,” Teal’c stated, addressing the lone occupant in the room.
“What’s taking them so long?” Sam muttered, drumming her fingers on the table.
“Perhaps O’Neill is not ready.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Sam murmured. If the general was waiting for the colonel to calm down, it was bad news indeed for Daniel.
“They are coming, Major Carter,” Teal’c whispered.
Sam looked up as she heard the general’s door open, and the breath she unconsciously held whooshed out of her as both men entered the room, wearing rigid masks of anger and concern. She feared the worst.
“Major Carter, Teal’c,” Hammond said solemnly, acknowledging their presence. “The information you are about to receive does not leave this room. Understood?”
“Yes, General,” Sam said, unnerved by Hammond’s ice-cold eyes.
Teal’c bowed his head in acknowledgement.
Sam looked at her CO, but Jack was not making eye contact with anyone.
Oh, God, Daniel. What’s happened to you?
The pain was as brutal as it was sudden. Daniel opened his mouth to scream, but as with the debilitating effects of the ribbon device, no sound issued forth. He wrapped himself into a ball as gut-wrenching cramps incapacitated him. Only when he could hear his own ragged breathing did Daniel realize the device had been removed. He swallowed convulsively as blood pooled in his mouth. He had bit the inside of his mouth quite badly.
“Ah, good. It still works. Do I have your attention, Dr. Jackson?”
Daniel looked up and blinked through tears as the blurry image of Jack morphed into Jacob. A panicked thought raced through his mind: what if it wasn’t Jacob who left with the samples, but the imposter?
“You look a little confused there, Doctor.”
Daniel looked away and spit out another mouthful of blood. He wiped his mouth with a shaky hand.
“Why … are you doing this?” Daniel asked, his voice weak in his own ears.
“Torturing you?” the creature queried.
Daniel shook his head. “Working for the Goa’uld.”
“Oh that. As Aris Boch would say, the usual: ‘fame and fortune,’” the creature smiled.
“If you know the Goa’uld then you know you can’t trust them,” Daniel said, looking once again into the face of Jack.
“Are you trying to convert me?” the mocking voice of his friend asked incredulously.
“Khepri is using you,” Daniel said. He tried to get up off his knees, but the ensuing cramps immobilized him. He slumped back to the ground.
“We’re using each other,” the shape-shifter corrected. “Believe me, I no more trust the Goa’uld than you do, but enough about me. Where’s your friend?”
Daniel watched with trepidation as the body before him transformed into Jacob.
“I don’t know,” Daniel answered truthfully.
The figure before him altered back to Jack.
Daniel swallowed hard as the creature knelt and placed the device against Daniel’s shoulder.
“You know something? I believe you. You know something else? I don’t care.”
Fire seared through Daniel’s shoulder and down to his fingertips. Pain radiated through his chest and back. He fell forward onto his hands, gasping for breath after the device was removed. He wondered how long he could go through this.
“The beauty of this thing,” the creature said, fingering the device thoughtfully, “is the pain can be localized or magnified. It has a number of settings, you see.”
Daniel stared at the ground, his peripheral vision catching glimpses of different colours emanating from Jack’s hand. Not Jack. Not Jack.
“Look at this: black. What do you think, Dr. Jackson? Black for mild or black for extreme?” his tormentor mused. “Well, I don’t want to kill you accidentally, so let’s test this out…here.”
Daniel’s hand exploded in pain. His fingers curled convulsively into the dirt as the device pinned his hand to the ground.
“Ah, extreme, wouldn’t you say, Dr. Jackson?”
Daniel’s hand spasmed violently long after the device was removed. He stared at it dully as Jack’s voice continued to taunt him.
“The really remarkable thing about this is that it can also heal. Wouldn’t that feel nice, Dr. Jackson? Let’s see, now what colour was that again? Green, I believe.”
Daniel screamed hoarsely.
“Oh, dear, it must be yellow then. There, how’s that?”
Daniel fought hard not to sound grateful for the healing warmth that melted away his pain, but his whimpers of relief betrayed him.
“I bet that feels nice, doesn’t it? Are you ready to cooperate? No? Tsk, you Tau’ri are so stubborn. What’s your favorite colour, Doctor? Or should I call you Daniel? Surely O’Neill must call you Daniel. He’s your friend, isn’t he? Is he your best friend? Look at me, Daniel. Look at your best friend.”
Daniel stubbornly refused to look up. Jack’s voice, his Jack, rang in his ears. Damn it, Daniel. Look at it, for crying out loud. It’s just yanking your chain. Don’t give the bastard any more excuses to hurt you.
“Play it your way, Daniel,” the creature sighed. “Blue’s a nice colour, don’t you think? Blue sky; blue water; blue eyes. Show me your eyes, Daniel.”
Daniel looked up and glared into the creature’s dark eyes.
“You’re nothing but a puppet. A simple toy used by the goa’uld,” Daniel said, his voice as icy as his eyes. “Once he’s finished using you he’ll break you and throw away the pieces.”
The creature’s eyes darkened, and Jack’s voice echoed in Daniel’s mind: Damn it, Daniel. Now you’ve pissed it off. Daniel’s heart beat a little faster when the familiar-looking lips twitched upwards into a smile that was anything but merry.
“Red, I think.”
“Are we dismissed, General?” Jack asked tightly.
“Yes, Colonel, you’re dismissed,” George replied, his voice grim.
Jack rose from his seat and left the room without a backward glance.
Sam looked worriedly at Teal’c and then at the general.
“Sitting on the sidelines is never easy for a commanding officer, Major, especially one of the colonel’s caliber.”
“Nor for anyone, General Hammond,” Teal’c said solemnly.
“No, of course not. Jacob assured me Dr. Jackson was safe,” George reiterated, wondering if he repeated it enough times, he’d actually believe it himself.
“No disrespect, General,” Sam said, “but we all know how quickly circumstances can change, and in a situation such as the one Daniel and my father are in—”
“I understand and share your frustration, Major Carter, believe me, but this was a strictly voluntary assignment. Dr. Jackson knew the risks as did your father.”
Sam bit her tongue, as she knew her response would only belittle herself and her rank.
I wouldn’t buy that bull, either, Major, George thought as he watched her control her emotions.
“Is there nothing we can do, General Hammond?” Teal’c asked.
“Yes, there is, Teal’c. We can pray for their safe return,” he said quietly.
Teal’c bowed his head, but the general’s words did little to ease his mind.
“Son-of-a-bitch,” Jack growled, slamming his fist into the heavy bag.
Jack was hard-pressed to say whom he was angrier with: himself, Daniel, or Hammond. Hell, throw Jacob in there, too.
Jack ripped his gloves off and threw them down in disgust. He wasn’t accomplishing anything hiding in here. Daniel would tell him he was behaving like an ass. He was a commanding officer, for crying out loud. He had people depending on him; on his strength. He wasn’t Daniel’s only friend. Carter and Teal’c were feeling like hell, too. He couldn’t help Daniel, but his team still needed him, and he needed them; all of them; especially that pain-in-the-ass archaeologist who he missed like hell even when he was mad at him.
“Damn it, Daniel. You could’ve told me,” Jack whispered.
And then what would you have done? Jack’s mind taunted. Tell him what an idiot he was? Insist on going with them and getting everyone killed because you couldn’t speak the freaking language? Grow up, O’Neill. He didn’t tell you because he knew you’d make his life miserable; more miserable than you already have. He put his life on the line for a race of strangers, again, not to mention your sorry-ass image. And he didn’t want you to worry. You should be grateful you selfish son-of-a-bitch.
Jack sat down heavily and massaged the back of his neck.
“God, Daniel,” he murmured, “watch your back.”
A thousand angry bees buzzed in Daniel’s brain. He retched again, a dry, hacking spasm tearing at his insides like razor blades. He wrapped one arm tightly around his ribs while the other shook violently as it sought to hold him up off the ground. He flinched as strong arms encircled him.
“Daniel? Daniel, what happened?”
The language was Denderan and the voice familiar. Daniel looked up through pain-ridden eyes into the concerned face of Jacob.
“Shape-shifter,” Daniel said hoarsely. “He knows.”
“Where’d he go?” Jacob asked, reverting to English.
Daniel shook his head, the effort to talk too much. He needed to clear his mind.
“We should get out of here,” Jacob urged. You’ve done your best; it’s up to them now.”
“Won’t…won’t let us leave,” Daniel rasped.
“I can get us out. You’ll have to dial while I distract the guards. Can you do that?”
Even in Daniel’s condition that didn’t sound right, and he didn’t need Jack’s voice to tell him to be alert.
“We should—” Daniel grimaced as his insides spasmed. “We should talk to Selmak,” he gasped.
There was a moment’s hesitation, and Daniel prayed Jacob was passing control over to Selmak.
“There’s no time,” Jacob said. “I’ll catch up with Selmak after I get you home.”
Daniel nodded as his heart beat faster in his chest. “Give me a minute,” he whispered. He needed time to think. Where was Jacob? Had he delivered the samples? Had he been captured? No, he didn’t know Jacob was Tok’ra. Was Aris Boch a prisoner?
“I know you’re hurting, Daniel, but we don’t know when he’ll be back. Everyone seems to be heading towards the square. He might be getting ready to make an example of you,” the pseudo-Jacob explained.
“I think he’s done that already,” Daniel said, straightening up gingerly. He had a high pain threshold, but he also thought the shape-shifter had done a little healing on him while he was unconscious. “We can’t dial home; it’s too risky,” he said. “We’ll have to go to the Gamma site first.” There was no such thing as a Gamma site, but it wouldn’t know that.
“Whatever you say. Let’s just do it.”
Daniel nodded slowly, trying not to show his elation at tricking the shape-shifter.
The imposter grabbed his arm and hoisted him to his feet. “Come on, let’s go.”
“I can’t go fast,” Daniel gasped. He was still very much in pain. “I’m going to need rests,” he said, hissing through a spasm.
“That’s okay. I don’t think anyone will stop us.”
Daniel glanced briefly at the familiar eyes that shone with a glint that did not belong to his friend. He masked a shiver as a wince of pain and pressed his hand to his abdomen.
“Gotta love these things,” Jack said, picking up one of the spent shock grenades and gazing at four unconscious Jaffa. “Let’s tie these jokers up and send their weapons back to the SGC.”
“O’Neill, this one bears the mark of Apophis,” Teal’c said, turning one of the bodies over.
“And Cronus, sir,” Sam added, kneeling beside a Jaffa.
“I’ve got the lovely Hathor over here,” Jack grimaced. “Teal’c, who does number four belong to?”
Teal’c approached the last Jaffa. “Khepri, O’Neill.”
“That’s our snake,” Jack said, walking over to Teal’c. “That’s a scarab,” he said, looking at the emblem. “Khepri’s a beetle guy?”
“Indeed,” Teal’c replied, his eyebrows raised as both he and Sam looked at Jack in surprise.
“Hey, I read,” Jack exclaimed. “Besides, Daniel’s got one he uses as a paperweight, and they’re running all over the place in The Mummy. Bugs,” he muttered, shivering. “So, if this Khepri has a bunch of displaced Jaffa working for him, he’s probably keen on keeping a low profile.”
“Until he is ready to take his place among the System Lords,” Teal’c said.
“Sweet,” Jack muttered. “Well, come on, kids, let’s see what we can find out before these guys wake up,” he ordered. “You’re sure they’ll be out for awhile Teal’c?”
Teal’c immediately zatted the four unconscious Jaffa.
“I am sure, O’Neill.”
“Okay, just checking,” Jack murmured, as he took point.
The trip to the Stargate was long and arduous. Daniel stumbled several times, but the shape-shifter was never more than a foot away and caught him every time, albeit roughly and impatiently.
“There it is,” it whispered.
“Why aren’t there any guards?” Daniel panted, trying to catch his breath.
“I don’t know, but I’m not going to complain.”
I bet you’re not, Daniel thought glumly.
Daniel swayed on his feet as he tried to get his fuzzy brain back on track. If he screwed up now he was toast.
“Come on, we’re almost there,” the pseudo-Jacob grunted, gripping Daniel’s arms with a force the real Jacob would never use.
Daniel winced from the pressure as he was taken to the DHD. He’d run every address he could remember through his mind. There had to be one he could use that wouldn’t endanger anyone, but would still give him a chance to survive and see this mission through to the end.
“First the Gamma site,” Daniel said, leaning heavily on the DHD. He took a deep breath and then quickly depressed seven symbols. He didn’t need to look at the man beside him to know that his fingers were being watched like a hawk.
The wormhole engaged and Daniel’s heart beat faster.
“Let’s move,” Jacob said, grabbing Daniel and pushing him towards the event horizon.
“Easy, Jacob,” Daniel gasped, as recent injuries all screamed at once.
“Sorry, I just want to get away from here. Our luck can’t last forever,” Jacob said, easing his grip, but not letting go.
Tell me about it, Daniel thought grimly. Gathering his waning strength, Daniel limped to the Stargate. He sighed in gratitude as the imposter released its hold on his arm. They entered the event horizon and exited onto a barren landscape.
Daniel immediately headed away from the Stargate and the DHD. He hoped that as long as he looked like he knew what he was doing, the shape-shifter would tag along for fear of tipping its hand. Daniel took some satisfaction in the fact he must be confusing the hell out of this Jacob by not dialing Earth first. Daniel did not intend to reveal Earth’s coordinates to anyone, least of all someone working for a Goa’uld.
Daniel passed the familiar fire pits and could see the water’s edge in the distance. God, please be there.
“So Teal’c, why would a goa’uld want to surround himself with a bunch of other snakeheads?” Jack asked, kicking a rock out of his path.
“He would not, O’Neill,” Teal’c replied.
“Okay, so what’s Beetlehead really up to?”
“I do not know,” Teal’c said gravely.
“But you have a hunch, don’t you, Teal’c?” Sam asked.
“I do not do hunches, Major Carter.”
“No, but you do have experience in the wacky world of Goa’uldom,” Jack said. “If you were a Goa’uld, why would you want a bunch of sick, dying people around you?”
Teal’c stopped and turned to face his comrades.
“Slaves,” Jack repeated. “Okay, but why the song and dance? Why not just take them by force?”
“Maybe Khepri only has a few Jaffa, Colonel,” Sam suggested. “Only one of the guards at the ‘gate had his symbol. Maybe he can’t take anyone by outright force. Or, maybe he just takes perverse pleasure in having them come to him.”
“That would please a Goa’uld greatly,” Teal’c acknowledged and resumed walking.
“And then what, he cures them by reversing whatever he did to infect them in the first place?” Jack asked, following Teal’c. “And they’re so grateful for their lives that they stay and serve? They don’t even try to contact their families? It doesn’t smell right,” Jack frowned.
“They are unaware he is the one causing their sickness,” Teal’c stated.
“Were unaware, Teal’c. I bet they sure as hell know now where the disease came from,” Jack said.
“Daniel,” Sam murmured, taking comfort in voicing her friend’s name.
“Yeah,” Jack said. “And why the hell is it posing as Daniel?”
“Actually, sir, it’s you posing as Daniel,” Sam corrected. “In a matter of speaking.”
“Boch,” Jack spat. “He’s got to be behind this. When I get my hands on him I’ll—” Jack was stopped short by Teal’c’s immoveable bulk.
“What is it?” Jack whispered, his skin prickling.
“Do you not smell it, O’Neill?” Teal’c asked softly.
Daniel limped along the water’s edge, studiously avoiding eye contact with his companion who seemed to have an aversion to the water.
“You know,” Jacob said.
“Know what?” Daniel asked innocently, continuing to walk slowly, his eyes scanning the water for any signs of disturbance.
“Don’t play games, Dr. Jackson,” the creature hissed as it grabbed Daniel’s arm and spun him around.
Daniel watched with a feeling of trepidation as the creature morphed from Jacob to Jack, and then back-handed him painfully across the face.
“Where the hell are we?” it asked.
Waiting for a friend.
“Where are we?” it roared, the pain device appearing in its hand like magic.
“How the hell should I know? I just dialed a lucky number,” Daniel said obstinately.
The ensuing pain forced Daniel to his knees. He swallowed bile and looked desperately out to sea. He saw the water boil, and he gathered his strength.
“I don’t need you or the Goa’uld,” the shape-shifter snarled. “Look upon the face of your friend while he kills you.”
“Go to hell!” Daniel shouted as he lurched to his feet to distract his tormentor from seeing the creature emerging from the sea.
Daniel screamed as white-hot pain burst in his chest. It was over. He had failed.
Nem looked from Daniel, writhing on the ground, to the other who he remembered as a friend of Daniel. He looked back at Daniel, opened his mouth and roared.
Jacob listened in stunned silence as the young Denderan reported recent events.
“No,” Jacob said, shaking his head. “I didn’t go through the Stargate with Daniel. I left him here.”
The Denderan insisted he saw Jacob leave with the young Tau’ri and the cold truth hit Jacob hard.
Oh, God, it’s got him.
It is not your fault, Jacob, Selmak prodded gently.
I left him alone, Selmak. He’s hurt, and he thinks he’s with me.
Daniel Jackson knew the risks.
That doesn’t mean anything, Selmak, and you know it, Jacob shot back.
How could everything have gone so horribly wrong in the space of an hour? Daniel was missing. Aris Boch was missing. Did Boch trick them all? Was he really working for the Goa’uld?
We will find him, my friend.
Danny’s smart. Maybe he knows it’s not me, Jacob sighed, trying to banish unsavory images from his mind.
Jack winced at the sight: an open pit containing bodies in varying states of decay.
“Oh, God,” Sam said, her voice muffled by her hand.
Teal’c stared impassively at the carnage, his face grim, but his hand clenched tighter around his staff weapon.
“Not slaves then,” Jack said, breathing through his mouth.
“Not slaves,” Teal’c repeated and moved forward.
“Teal’c, stay back!” Jack warned.
“My symbiote will protect me, O’Neill,” Teal’c replied as he carefully entered the pit.
Jack sighed and looked at Sam. “One of these days, Junior’s going to surprise him and take a hike.”
Sam nodded but stared in horrid fascination as Teal’c approached the bodies, sending up waves of buzzing insects.
“Christ, let’s move downwind,” Jack muttered, grimacing from the foul odor wafting towards them.
Sam obediently followed, her fascination having give way to horror and dismay.
“Sir, what if—”
“They’re not there, Carter,” Jack said adamantly.
“Yes, sir,” she replied, praying the colonel was right.
They watched in silence as Teal’c rejoined them minutes later..
“Daniel Jackson and Jacob Carter are not among the dead,” he reported.
“Thank God,” Sam breathed in relief.
“What killed them?” Jack asked, breathing his own sigh of relief. “The disease?”
“I believe they were murdered,” Teal’c replied. “Some of their internal organs have been removed.”
“Their organs?” Jack frowned.
“Oh, God, sir. Maybe Khepri is harvesting and selling organs,” Sam said in horror.
“For transplant?” Jack asked, scowling at the thought.
“No, O’Neill,” Teal’c said.
“What does that mean?” Jack asked, not looking forward to the answer.
“It is a ritual that has not been performed for many centuries, but human organs were once a great delicacy among certain System Lords,” Teal’c explained.
“Now, that is just sick,” Jack said in disgust.
“Nevertheless, O’Neill, it is true.”
“Why humans organs, Teal’c?” Sam asked, her curiosity piqued in spite of the grisly topic.
“A Goa’uld who can harvest humans for their organs instead of their bodies as hosts, or as slaves, is a very wealthy and feared Goa’uld,” Teal’c said.
“Those folks aren’t human,” Jack said, gesturing to the bodies in the pit.
“Okay, this whole thing is getting way out of hand,” Jack growled. And Daniel’s in the thick of it. Crap. “Let’s get back to the SGC and report to Hammond, and why the hell didn’t you tell us about this little snakehead quirk before?” Jack asked with a raised eyebrow.
“I did not wish to cause you undue alarm,” Teal’c replied placidly.
“Undue alarm,” Jack muttered. “So, what, we’ve just been lucky that so far no one’s wanted to shish kebob us?”
“I am unfamiliar with that term, O’Neill, but if you are referring to ‘chowing down’, it is because your notoriety precedes you, and you are of more value alive than on a plate.”
“Well, I feel a whole lot better, already. Carter, how about you?” Jack asked glibly.
“Not really, sir,” Sam grimaced.
“Take cover!” Jack shouted.
Teal’c and Sam did not have to ask why. The unmistakable sound of transport rings descending had them diving into the trees.
Jack peered through the foliage to see three figures standing twenty feet from where he and his team had just been standing. He assumed the haughty-looking one with the scarab on his head was Khepri, the Jaffa with the staff weapon his minion, and the third, looking a little the worse for wear, was undoubtedly Aris Boch.
Jack’s fingers tightened around his weapon. So help me, Boch, if you’re a part of this, your ass is mine.
“Take a look at your wife’s future, Aris Boch,” Khepri commanded imperiously, pointing towards the pit. “I do not tolerate disobedience.”
The Jaffa prodded Boch forward with his staff weapon and then stepped back to stand beside Khepri. The Jaffa and Khepri disappeared in an array of rings.
Jack signaled to Sam and Teal’c to remain concealed; he wanted to observe Boch. In spite of what he’d just heard, he still wasn’t convinced of the man’s motives.
Aris Boch approached the pit with trepidation; the stench of death was heavy around him. He looked down into the carnage and fell to his knees.
“No,” he murmured. “No, no, no, no, no.” He lurched to his feet and looked up at the sky. “You can’t do this!”
“Boch!” Jack yelled, revealing his position.
The distraught man whirled around to see Jack, Sam, and Teal’c emerge from the woods.
“Colonel O’Neill!” he cried. “Major Carter and Teal’c. Your timing is impeccable,” he said, obviously pleased. “We have to go back. We have—”
“What the hell’s going on Boch?” Jack demanded. “You’re supposed to be with Daniel and Jacob, and that snakehead just threatened to kill your wife, which begs a whole other question: someone married you?”
“Colonel, I don’t know what to tell you,” Boch said, assuming the last question to be rhetorical. “Things are not going according to plan.”
“No kidding. Then tell me this, are Daniel and Jacob all right?” Jack asked dangerously.
“I don’t know. Jacob, probably, but I don’t know for how long. He kept a pretty low profile. Dr. Jackson, well, I doubt it, not if Khepri suspects me. I tried to protect him as much—”
“You used him!” Jack accused angrily. “You used his passion and humanity to trick him into helping you with this mess which you probably created in the first place.”
“I’ve done a lot of unsavory things, Colonel, I’ll admit, but I did not contribute to the genocide that’s happening on my planet,” Boch retorted.
“Your planet?” Sam queried.
“Yes, my planet. My wife’s to be exact, but that makes it my home and my planet, too,” Boch said defiantly.
“A bounty hunter with a heart. How touching,” Jack said acidly.
“Look, we can stand here and debate the merits of my character and former profession, or you can help me try to save your friends and my wife,” Boch said.
“Our friends wouldn’t need saving if it wasn’t for you,” Jack said hotly.
“You’re right, but I did, so it’s a moot point,” Boch said. “Colonel O’Neill, I know you don’t trust me as far as you can spit, but I’m the only chance you’ve got to save Dr. Jackson and Major Carter’s father.”
Jack studied Boch closely, hating the fact the bounty hunter was right.
“What’s your plan?” he asked.
“For starters, we go to Dendera.” Boch said.
“From what we’ve just seen, you’re in the Goa’uld’s bad books, too,” Jack said. “What makes you think you won’t get shot as soon as you step through the gate?”
“You’ve got those handy-dandy gou’ald grenades, don’t you?” Boch inquired.
“We’ve got a few,” Jack said.
“Well, then?” Boch said.
“Does the shape-shifter not have any people loyal to him?” Teal’c asked.
“I doubt it. He’s a coward, and he knows the people are on to him,” Boch explained. “I bet both he and Khepri are history now. We had a small resistance unit, but the numbers just exploded once Dr. Jackson got going. He was a sight to behold, Colonel”
Damnit, Daniel, you didn’t have to do this alone.
“Colonel, maybe my father’s learned something,” Sam said helpfully, but there was an edge of desperation in her voice.
Jack took a deep breath. It wasn’t just Daniel that was missing. “Let’s get back to the Stargate,” he ordered.
“Everybody down!” Jack ordered as the Stargate lit up. “Now what?” he muttered as he concealed himself behind some boulders.
“Dad?” Sam whispered when Jacob emerged through the wormhole.
“Carter,” Jack hissed, grasping her arm as she started to stand.
Sam winced at her rookie mistake, and she glanced apologetically at her CO as she hunkered down.
Jack nodded and then returned his attention to their visitor.
Jacob glanced around at the unconscious Jaffa. “This makes things easier,” he murmured.
Jacob noticed the cable ties around the wrists and ankles of the Jaffa and his eyes widened. An SG team? He scanned the vicinity and then called out.
“Hello? Is anyone there?”
Jack motioned to Sam, Teal’c, and Boch to stay put. He stood up slowly, his P-90 in position.
“Jack! What in God’s name are you doing here?” Jacob asked, confused but clearly pleased.
“Okay, you can come out now,” Jack said over his shoulder.
“Dad,” Sam said as she and Teal’c revealed their positions.
“Sam,” Jacob said, moving towards her.
“Wait,” Jack said. “Just to be sure, humor me,” he said, pointing to his eyes.
Jacob lowered his head, and when he lifted it, the voice of Selmak spoke.
“It is us, Colonel O’Neill.”
“Okay,” Jack said, lowering his weapon. “No shape-shifter could do that. Now, why are you here and why the hell isn’t Daniel with you?”
Selmak returned control to Jacob.
“Daniel was seen going through the Stargate with me. Obviously, it wasn’t me so it had to be the shape-shifter. Aris Boch disappeared too. I thought Daniel might be here, and—” Jacob’s words died in his throat as he saw Aris Boch. “What the hell happened to you?” he asked accusingly, advancing on the bounty hunter.
“I was grabbed,” Boch explained, backing up slightly, “and taken aboard Khepri’s ship.”
“How do we know you’re even you?” Jacob asked. “Did you find him here?” he asked, looking at Jack. “He could be the shape-shifter.”
“Easy, Jacob,” Jack said. “He’s for real.”
Jacob relaxed, but then he saw the look on Jack’s face.
“Jack, I know what you’re thinking,” he said.
“What the hell were you thinking?” Jack retorted. “You left him alone.”
“And you don’t think it’s tearing me up inside?” Jacob countered, his remorse obvious and genuine.
Jack reigned in his anger. He pushed back his cap and scrubbed his fingers through his hair.
“He talked you into it, didn’t he?” Jack asked quietly, a gentle smile gracing his lips.
“He’s got this way about him,” Jacob muttered.
“Tell me about it,” Jack sighed. “All right, so what do we know?”
“Daniel Jackson and the imposter were observed going through the Stargate on P7B-1N3,” Teal’c stated.
“And there’s no sign of them here,” Sam added.
“Or on Khepri’s ship,” Boch said. “If he had Dr. Jackson, he would have flaunted him in front of me. Of that, I have no doubt.”
“Then where did they go?” Jack asked.
“Perhaps to the shape-shifter’s home world,” Teal’c suggested.
“Wherever the hell that is,” Jack muttered.
“Dad, do you know if it was, well, you who dialed, or Daniel?” Sam asked.
“Good question, Sam. I assumed it was me, but maybe not. We have to find that out,” Jacob said, turning to Jack.
“Okay, and you think Daniel convinced enough of these folks that their Jackson was a fraud so it’s safe for us to go there?” Jack asked, addressing Aris Boch.
“Relatively safe,” Boch said.
“Relatively,” Jack muttered.
“Dr. Jackson did an amazing job, but there are always risks,” Boch said.
“Right. So, does anyone have a problem going to Dendera?” Jack asked.
A resounding chorus of negatives caused Jack to smile.
“Let’s do it,” Jack said. “We’ll take them with us,” he added, gesturing to the fallen Jaffa. “They can tell those folks what the snake was really up to.”
“Daniel already told them,” Jacob said in confusion.
“Not everything,” Jack said grimly.
“He didn’t want them for hosts, Dad,” Sam said quietly. “Teal’c thinks he used them to harvest their organs.”
“Their organs? My God. For what purpose?” Jacob asked, appalled.
“Don’t ask,” Jack said.
Daniel opened his eyes slowly and moaned as various body parts informed him of their displeasure. He groaned and closed his eyes as nausea assailed him.
Daniel forced his eyes open and blinked several times as he focused on the speaker. A blurry image settled into a familiar and extraordinary visage.
“Nem,” he whispered. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know where else to go.”
“You are safe,” Nem said.
Daniel closed his eyes and swallowed with difficulty. I must be dying. I can’t feel this bad and not be dying.
“You are…dying,” Nem said.
Daniel, surprising himself, found the strength to smile. Good call, Nem. He nodded in response.
“That creature did this to you?” Nem inquired.
“Yes,” Daniel rasped.
“With this,” Nem said.
With this? God, yes! The device!
Daniel’s eyes fluttered open and the familiar device wavered in and out of focus.
“Yellow,” Daniel gasped. “Yellow heals.”
Nem looked at the strange device, accessing his memory of English as he studied the array of colours.
“This one,” he said, a webbed finger poised over the yellow button.
Daniel felt blood enter his mouth. He gagged and swallowed.
“Yes,” he choked.
“I will heal you, Daniel,” Nem said as he pressed the yellow button.
Daniel closed his eyes and relinquished his body to Nem’s care.
“Jack, wait a minute,” Jacob said, snagging his sleeve. “Maybe you shouldn’t go.”
“What? Are you nuts?” Jack cried. “Daniel could be on that planet.”
“No offense, Jack, but your face isn’t exactly going to be too popular with those people,” Jacob explained.
“He’s right, sir,” Sam said. “If they think you’re the fake Daniel, you—”
“Oh, for crying out loud,” Jack growled in irritation. “Boch, you created this damn mess, you can damn well vouch for me.”
“I’ve got my own back to watch, Colonel,” Boch said, “but I’ll do what I can.”
“As will I, O’Neill,” Teal’c said, his solemn gaze vowing protection.
“Thanks, Teal’c, but you may have your own problems. Jaffa may not be high on their list either,” Jack said.
“I am willing to take that risk, O’Neill.”
“And I’m willing to risk my neck, too. We don’t leave our people behind,” Jack said gravely. “Boch, dial out.”
“You can stop now, Nem. Thank you,” Daniel said, his hand gently grasping the alien’s forearm. He wasn’t completely healed, but he didn’t want to risk over-exposure. He could handle a little pain.
“I do not think you are yet healed, Daniel,” Nem observed.
“I’m fine, really. Thank you,” Daniel lied as he sat up with Nem’s assistance. He closed his eyes as vertigo washed over him. “I just … I just need a minute.”
Cautiously, Daniel lifted his head and saw an amazing sight: an exotic insect-like creature encased within a bubble. Daniel’s eyes widened and he looked at Nem.
“Is that it?” he asked.
“That is what the creature turned into on the beach,” Nem explained.
Daniel stood up and walked unsteadily towards the bubble.
“You should rest, Daniel,” Nem admonished.
“Is it…is it dead?” Daniel asked, scanning the strange creature for some sign of life.
Daniel looked back at Nem.
“Did you…” Daniel shook his head and glanced away. “I’m sorry. Thank you for saving my life.”
“I did not intend for it to die,” Nem said. “I believe the saltwater environment was detrimental to its physiology.”
“That’s why it kept its distance from me on the beach,” Daniel murmured. “It was afraid of the water.”
“What creature is this?” Nem asked.
“I have no idea,” Daniel said. “It changes its shape at will, but it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before.”
“Why was it trying to kill you?” Nem asked.
Daniel blew out a long breath. “That’s a long story, Nem.”
“I have time, Daniel. You will eat this time?”
“Yes, yes, thank you,” Daniel said.
“What fate, Sha’re?” Nem asked as he presented Daniel with a plate of food.
Daniel blinked rapidly, touched that Nem remembered his beloved wife. “She’s dead,” he said quietly.
“I am sorry, Daniel. She is free,” Nem said.
“She is free,” Daniel smiled.
“One day, you will be with your love as I will be with mine,” Nem said.
“Omaroca,” Daniel acknowledged with reverence. “Yes. Yes, Nem, we will.”
“Tell me your story, Daniel.”
Daniel, you never cease to amaze me, Jack thought with fond pride as he and his teammates were plied with tasty morsels of food and drink. After a couple of minor skirmishes and some fast talking by Aris Boch and Jacob, Jack and his team had been readily accepted by the Denderans, and Jack knew it was all due to his missing friend. Jack also knew it was important to be patient, but Daniel’s life was at stake and all this merry-making was not going to bring Daniel home.
“Teal’c, can you understand anything of what they’re saying?” Jack asked.
“They are speaking a dialect I am unfamiliar with, O’Neill,” Teal’c replied.
“Jacob, help us out here,” Jack hissed, motioning to himself, Carter, and Teal’c.
Jacob excused himself from his present conversation and turned to Jack.
“It was Daniel who dialed out,” Jacob confirmed, “and no one has seen him or ‘you’ since this morning.”
“That’s because ‘I’m’ with Daniel,” Jack growled.
“I know, and those that still believed in the shape-shifter are pretty choked. I don’t think we’re going to find co-operation a problem,” Jacob explained.
“Dad, have you told them what’s really waiting for them on the other side of the gate?” Sam asked.
“Not yet,” Jacob grimaced. “I’ll let Boch do that. They’re his people. News like that should come from someone they know.”
“Speaking of which, where the hell is he?” Jack asked, scanning the crowd.
“He’s gone to find his wife and make sure she’s safe. Khepri did threaten her, you said,” Jacob replied.
“What of Daniel Jackson?” Teal’c asked.
“Nothing, other than corroborating witnesses that saw Daniel go through the gate with ‘me’,” Jacob scowled.
“To where we just were,” Jack said.
“No. According to witnesses it was an address they’d never seen before,” Jacob said. “No one remembers what it was, just that it was different.”
“You don’t think…” Sam didn’t finish her thought, but her expression spoke volumes.
“Daniel Jackson would not do anything to endanger the SGC, or the Tau’ri,” Teal’c stated emphatically.
“No, but he would try to fool the bastard,” Jack said.
“And gate somewhere safe,” Sam said, her spirits lifting.
“To a world that would endanger the shapeshifter, but no one else,” Teal’c insisted.
“I went to Cimmeria before I dialed Earth,” Jacob said. “I figured the hammer would take care of any unwanted Jaffa.”
“Daniel wouldn’t go to Cimmeria,” Jack said. “We’ve messed with those folks enough. No, it’s got be somewhere that’s virtually uninhabited, but somewhere he would have a chance,” Jack murmured.
“Oannes,” Teal’c said.
“Nem’s world!” Sam said. “Colonel, that would be a perfect place.”
“I don’t know, Carter. Daniel liked the fishy guy. He wouldn’t endanger him,” Jack said.
“I believe it would be the shape-shifter who would be at risk, O’Neill,” Teal’c said.
“I agree with Teal’c, sir. Nem is far advanced beyond us,” Sam said.
Jack looked at Jacob who shrugged.
“Don’t look at me. I never met the guy.”
“Okay,” Jack said, “at least it’s somewhere and anything’s better than sitting here doing nothing. Does anyone know the address? No? Crap. Well, we have to go back and tell Hammond what’s going on, anyway,” he muttered.
“As much as I hate the thought, I think I should stay here, Jack,” Jacob said. “These people have been through hell and I don’t want them to think we’re abandoning them. It’s what Daniel would want.”
“All right, but watch your back,” Jack warned.
“It’s time for me to leave, Nem,” Daniel said. “I have to go back and help the Denderans.”
“You have done enough, Daniel. They must now help themselves,” Nem said reasonably. “You must return to your friends. They will be angry you deceived them.”
Daniel lowered his eyes.
“That’s a given,” he said, smiling sadly, “but I couldn’t involve them. As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t allow it. It was too dangerous.”
“It is not me you have to convince, Daniel,” Nem said.
“No,” Daniel smiled, “but practice makes perfect, right? Sorry, it’s an Earth saying,” he apologized, wincing as he stood up.
“You are not fully healed,” Nem said, “and the journey to the surface will be difficult. I will take you.”
“I am grateful for your concern, Nem, but I’ll be fine,” Daniel insisted.
“I will take you to the surface,” Nem repeated.
“Um, okay,” Daniel agreed, not wishing to upset his host. “So, are you going to knock me out?” he asked warily.
“No, but you will be immobilized,” Nem explained. “It will not be unpleasant and you will be dry,” he added.
“Okay, that sounds, um, nice,” Daniel said, still unsure.
“I will be back with your transport.”
“I’ll be here,” Daniel said to his host’s retreating back. “Transport? Some kind of pod, maybe?” he mused to himself.
Daniel walked over to the bubble containing the shape-shifter.
“Who are you?” he murmured. “Where did you come from?”
They were questions Daniel knew would go unanswered, and he wondered if he could have done things differently so that the creature would still be alive. Perhaps they could have come to an understanding. Become allies. Daniel reached out and touched the bubble.
“What a waste,” he said sadly.
“Colonel O’Neill, do you truly believe Nem’s planet is the most likely place Dr. Jackson would have gone?” Hammond asked.
“Yes, sir. We all do,” Jack said. “Daniel wouldn’t just give up and gate somewhere where he wouldn’t have a chance. Not without saying goodbye first,” he added. He was aware of Carter’s gaze on him, and he thought of what she had said about Daniel trying to say goodbye. He immediately dismissed it from his mind.
General Hammond thought of the letter locked in his desk with the colonel’s name on it and banished that thought from his mind.
“SG-1, you have a go,” Hammond declared.
“Thank you, sir,” Jack said.
This is different, Daniel mused as he passed through the watery caverns of Nem’s underwater world, encased in a plastic tube and strapped to Nem’s back like a papoose. The Babylonian’s speed in the water was amazing. He was also taking a much different route than the one Daniel had taken years earlier. He’s giving me a tour, Daniel thought, staring in awe at the alien architecture around him
All too soon, Daniel’s voyage was over, and he was looking up at the clear blue sky of Oannes. A few minutes later they were on the beach.
Daniel clambered out of his pod with Nem’s help.
“Nem, that was incredible,” Daniel enthused. “Your world is beautiful. I can’t thank you enough for allowing me to see it.”
“I am pleased you enjoyed it, Daniel. I wanted to show you a little of my world,” Nem said.
“I am honoured and humbled by your generosity. I will never forget this, or what you’ve done for me,” Daniel said fervently.
“I wish you well, Daniel. Perhaps, one day, under better circumstances, you will visit me again.”
“Yes, yes, I’d love to,” Daniel enthused. “Thank you, Nem for everything,” he said, touching the creature lightly on the arm.
Daniel watched Nem return to the ocean and dive into its mysterious depths. Not so mysterious now, he thought with a smile. He waited for the ripples from his friend’s departure to dissipate and then turned to began his journey to the Stargate. He couldn’t help but remember the last time he walked up these dunes: he had just been reunited with his friends and teammates; his family, and in spite of his exhaustion, he had felt on top of the world. This time, however, he could not go home. Even if he wanted to, he didn’t have a GDO; Jacob had that. He didn’t even know if Jacob was still alive, or whether they had compromised the SGC. He also wondered what effect the shape-shifter’s disappearance would have on the Denderans, and what Khepri’s retaliation towards the gentle people would be.
By the time Daniel reached the Stargate, he had managed to thoroughly depress and exhaust himself. Irritated at his self-indulgence, he sat on the warm sand to recoup his strength. Nem had been right: he was still injured. He reached into his cloak, pulled out the alien device and debated whether to give himself another shot of healing energy. Would he be able to turn it off once he started? Frowning, Daniel tucked it away. He had had enough addictions, thank you very much. He forced himself to his feet and approached the DHD.
Daniel experienced a flicker of panic when he thought he’d forgotten the address for P7B 1N3. He stared at the glyphs, his mind blank, but then, like a storm cloud passing, his mind cleared and everything clicked into place.
“Stay with it,” he murmured. He reached out to depress the first glyph when the Stargate began to light up. He jumped back, startled. Had he been followed? Who would come here? He looked around wildly, but short of burying himself in the sand, there was no place to hide. He could hightail it down to the beach again. Correction, he could amble down to the beach. He knew he couldn’t run more than a few feet before collapsing. He’d have to stand and fight.
Daniel backed away from the DHD, the shape-shifter’s device clutched in his hand. Maybe it could work from a distance. The wormhole engaged. Maybe they’re peaceful explorers. Maybe it was…Jack?
Daniel stood in stunned amazement, the device falling from his fingers.
Of all the images Jack expected to see, the image of Daniel Jackson standing behind the DHD in glorious Technicolour was not it.
Sam and Teal’c materialized behind Jack.
“Daniel!” Sam called, her smile wide.
“Daniel Jackson,” Teal’c said, relieved.
“Easy,” Jack said, cautioning his teammates. “Remember what we might be dealing with here. Watch my back,” he ordered as he slowly approached Daniel who was still looking dumbstruck.
“Jack?” Daniel said, stepping out from behind the DHD.
“Daniel, are you you?” Jack asked.
“What?” Daniel said.
Jack hid a smile as he neared his missing teammate.
“Why-why are you here? You’re supposed to be fishing,” Daniel said.
“And you’re supposed to be in London,” Jack countered, stopping within inches of Daniel.
Guilt instantly transformed Daniel’s face, and if Jack needed further proof that this was his friend, he just witnessed it.
“Jack, I’m sorry. I—”
Daniel’s words choked off as Jack suddenly, and possessively, embraced him.
“I’m just glad you’re okay,” Jack murmured, tightening his hold even more.
“Jack,” Daniel whispered as he wrapped his arms around him and hugged him tight.
Sam and Teal’c glanced at each other and smiled; nothing could have pleased them more. They approached the reunited friends slowly to give the two men some privacy.
Jack felt a tremor from the man in his arms, and he released his grip and stepped back.
“Did I hurt you?”
“No,” Daniel mouthed, shaking his head at the same time. “No,” he reiterated, his eyes moist. “How-how did you guys find me?” he asked as Sam and Teal’c now gathered around them.
“Hell of a story,” Jack said, “but now isn’t the time. We’ll sort it all out back home.”
“Home,” Daniel said, savoring the word. “I can’t, Jack,” he sighed. “Not yet.”
“Daniel, I don’t want to hear it,” Jack said with fond exasperation. “Jacob’s taking care of things and you’re coming home with us. End of discussion.”
“Jacob? You’ve seen him? He’s okay?” Daniel asked in a rush.
“He’s fine,” Jack said.
“Aris Boch is well, too, Daniel Jackson,” Teal’c said.
“Wow. You do have a story to tell,” Daniel said, impressed.
“So, Daniel, you want to dial us home?” Jack asked.
Daniel smiled and once again moved towards the DHD.
As Teal’c watched Daniel move, he spotted a familiar-looking object on the ground. His expression darkened, and with barely concealed anger, he strode over and picked it up.
“Was this used on you, Daniel Jackson?” he asked.
Daniel’s eyes flickered from Teal’c to Jack, and then to the ground. “Yes.”
“Teal’c, you know what that is?” Jack asked, mentally preparing himself for the worst.
“Indeed, however, I have not seen one in many years. They are very rare and very expensive,” Teal’c replied.
“What is it, Teal’c?” Sam asked, fearing the answer.
“It is a torture device used to interrogate prisoners,” Teal’c said. “Great pain is inflicted, depending on the setting used. It leaves no external damage, but the internal damage can be extensive and fatal,” he added solemnly.
“Damn it, Daniel. I did hurt you,” Jack muttered, remembering the tremors vibrating through his friend’s body as he held him.
“No,” Daniel said, meeting the dark eyes. “No, you didn’t. What you felt, Jack, was exhaustion and relief, and believe me, I am very relieved to see you,” he added with a smile.
Jack’s stricken look softened at Daniel’s declaration. “Same here,” he smiled.
Daniel licked his lips and glanced down at the alien device in Teal’c’s hand. “It can cause a great deal of pain, but it can also heal. I had Nem use it on me.”
“Daniel Jackson is correct,” Teal’c said. “It may be used to alleviate pain.”
“To prolong the torture,” Jack said darkly.
“Daniel, are you sure you’re all right?” Sam asked.
“I’m not a hundred percent,” Daniel confessed. “I didn’t know how far to let Nem take it. This thing is like a portable sarcophagus. I didn’t want to risk it,” he said quietly. He looked at Jack and whispered, “I couldn’t go through that again.”
Jack stared into the bright blue eyes and saw the fear and uncertainty that still haunted his friend from his encounter with the sarcophagus so many years ago.
“Carter, dial us out,” Jack ordered quietly, his eyes still on Daniel.
“Yes, sir,” she replied.
Jack draped his arm around Daniel’s shoulders and pulled him in close.
“Let’s go home,” he said.
“Incoming traveller! It’s SG-1, sir,” Sgt. Davis reported.
“They just left,” Hammond murmured. “Open the iris.”
Hammond watched from the control room, and he could not suppress a grin when Daniel appeared, snug under the arm of the colonel.
“They got him, sir,” Davis said, grinning.
“Yes, they did,” Hammond replied. He clapped the sergeant on the back as he hurried to the gateroom.
“SG-1, I see your mission was a success,” he said, beaming at Daniel. “Welcome home, son.”
“Thank you, sir,” Daniel said, shaking the general’s hand. “Your prayers worked,” he added under his breath.
“Daniel’s a little under the weather, sir,” Jack said.
“Report to the infirmary immediately, Dr. Jackson. We’ll debrief when you’re ready,” Hammond said paternally.
“Jack, I can—”
“Infirmary, Daniel,” Jack interrupted.
“Right, the infirmary,” Daniel muttered. “Um, General,” Daniel said, looking at Hammond, a questioning look in his eyes.
“I’ll take care of it, son,” Hammond murmured.
Daniel nodded in gratitude and then proceeded out the door.
Jack looked curiously at Hammond, but the general’s expression was one of a doting commander who had his team whole, home, and safe. Jack couldn’t find fault with that and turned to follow his teammates to the infirmary.
“You going to tell me how badly you were hurt?” Jack asked, leaning against his locker, his arms folded across his chest.
Daniel sighed as he buttoned up his jacket. He didn’t want to talk about it with Fraiser, and he really didn’t want to talk about it with Jack. “No.”
“For crying out loud, Daniel. Fraiser said you were bleeding internally, and that was after Nem healed you,” Jack grumbled.
“I told you, I probably cut him off too early,” Daniel reasoned. “The important thing is I’m fine now.”
“All right, I can’t argue with that,” Jack sighed, knowing he was beating his head against the wall. “Tell me one thing though.”
Daniel looked askance at Jack. “What?”
“Did he…it…hurt you while looking like me?”
Daniel lowered his eyes and looked away from the pain and worry in Jack’s eyes.
“Ah, hell,” Jack murmured.
Daniel heard the helplessness and remorse in his friend’s voice, and he looked up.
“Jack, I knew it wasn’t you. I never lost sight of that. Even when he …” Daniel stopped and licked his lips.
“Even when he what?” Jack asked, his voice a mere whisper.
Daniel swallowed hard and looked at Jack.
“Even when he got sexual.”
“Jesus, he raped you?” Jack muttered.
“No!” Daniel said quickly. “No. I doubt if he could have. He just, you know, made me think he could. Tried to make me think he could,” he amended.
“Crap,” Jack muttered, at a loss for words.
“Actually, it helped me to withstand his torture,” Daniel said.
Jack frowned. “How the hell do you figure that?”
“Because I wasn’t going to let any bastard turn our friendship into some sick game,” Daniel said, his voice low.
The passion and conviction in Daniel’s voice caused Jack’s eyes to sting. He reached out and lightly brushed the side of his friend’s face.
“You could have died,” Jack said, lowering his hand.
“I could have,” Daniel agreed softly, “but we both know I’m damned hard to kill,” he added with a smile.
“Crap, my last words to you—”
“Don’t Jack,” Daniel said. “I knew what you were trying to do and you had a right to be angry, but I couldn’t tell you the truth. God, I hated how that felt.”
“It sucks, doesn’t it?” Jack asked with a self-deprecating smile.
Daniel nodded. “I never really understood how you must have felt. I guess we’re even now,” he said with a brief smile.
Jack didn’t think they’d ever be even, not after the hurtful words he purposely used to drive Daniel away two years ago. Then, he hadn’t really put his life in danger like Daniel had.
“Apples and oranges, Daniel. Besides, I was never in any real danger when I went undercover, but you could’ve died,” Jack reiterated. “How do you think that would’ve made me feel?”
It was a rhetorical question, and Jack didn’t want to make this about him, but it haunted him nonetheless.
“That’s why I left a letter for you. You know, just in case,” Daniel shrugged.
Ah, Daniel. Always watching my back.
“Is that what that thing back in the gateroom was about?” Jack asked, feeling a rush of affection for his stubborn friend.
“I couldn’t leave without saying goodbye, Jack,” Daniel said. “Not the way things were,” he added.
“Yeah,” Jack said, swallowing the lump in his throat. “Well, that was then, this is now.” He didn’t want to think about Daniel dying; he’d done enough of that. “You taught Teal’c well,” he said, abruptly changing the topic.
“I did?” Daniel said, puzzled.
“Cannonball,” Jack said.
Daniel’s eyes lit up with glee.
“He did it? My God, he actually did it?”
“Practically caused a tsunami,” Jack grinned.
“I wish I’d been there,” Daniel said with a wistful sigh.
“Me, too,” Jack said quietly.
Daniel looked at Jack, guilt in his eyes, but Jack waved it away.
“You had to do what you did, Daniel, and as much as I hate to admit it, I would’ve screwed things up royally if I’d known. Just don’t ever do it again.”
“With pleasure,” Daniel said.
“Just out of curiosity, why aren’t you guys still fishing?” Daniel asked as he closed his locker.
Jack smiled and shrugged.
“Teal’c couldn’t kel-no-reem, Carter was turning into a caffeine junkie, and someone was missing.”
Daniel smiled and ducked his head.
“So, does that mean I’m invited to the next one?”
“Of course it does. You knew I was just blowing smoke back then, right?” Jack asked worriedly.
“I’m pretty familiar with your moods,” Daniel smiled.
“Moods?” Jack grumbled. “I prefer to think of them as idiosyncrasies.”
“I know you do.”
Jack narrowed his eyes but said nothing.
Daniel smiled and looked at his watch. “I should call the general. Let him know I’m ready for debriefing.”
“Not until you eat,” Jack said, “and I can fill you in on what we know.”
“I am kind of hungry, and I can’t wait to hear how you met up with Aris Boch,” Daniel said, his eyes twinkling.
“I can’t believe what that bastard did,” Jack growled.
“His heart was in the right place, Jack,” Daniel said.
“Yeah, yeah, whatever. Come on, I’m starving,” Jack said, clapping Daniel on the shoulder.
“Do you want anything else?” Jack asked, eyeing Daniel’s empty plate.
“No, I’m full. I’ll just get some more coffee,” Daniel said, grasping his mug.
“I’ll get it,” Jack said, taking the mug from Daniel’s fingers.
“Uh, thanks,” Daniel said. Okay, and now for the bad news.
Daniel waited until Jack resumed his seat and had taken a sip of fresh coffee.
“What haven’t you told me, Jack?”
Jack sighed. “That mood thing again?”
“Pretty much,” Daniel smiled.
“Okay. Well, remember that part where we saw Boch appear with Khepri and one of his goons?” Jack asked.
“Yes,” Daniel replied.
“Well, there was this pit the snake told Boch to look in,” Jack said.
“A pit,” Daniel repeated quietly.
“Yeah. We’d already seen it, and Teal’c checked it out,” Jack continued.
“What was in the pit?” Daniel asked.
“Bodies,” Jack said, his voice grim. “Some had been there for awhile. Others were pretty recent. We assume they were Denderan. Boch confirmed it.”
“They weren’t being used for hosts,” Daniel murmured, his mind racing.
“No. Maybe some were, but the bodies in the pit all had some organs missing,” Jack explained.
“Organs?” Daniel said, aghast.
“Yeah. Teal’c said the sale and consumption of human organs used to be a big thing in the good old goa’uld days,” Jack grimaced.
“Oh, my God,” Daniel whispered.
Daniel closed his eyes and inhaled deeply.
“Is there anything else I should know?”
“No, that brings you up to speed.”
Jack eyed his friend with concern. Daniel looked like he was being swallowed up by the news, and he was no doubt second-guessing his actions and looking for fault where none was to be found.
“Actually, there is one other thing,” Jack said, grim-faced. “I should have mentioned it earlier considering its importance.”
Daniel opened his eyes and looked stricken as his mind conjured up all manner of horrible images and scenarios.
“What?” he asked weakly.
Jack clenched his hands together and leaned over the table.
“You did a hell of a job, Daniel, and I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud,” he said quietly.
Daniel stared at the serious, compassionate brown eyes. He felt very moved and very vulnerable.
“I, uh, thank you,” he whispered. “That-that means a lot to me.”
“But pull a stunt like that again and I will kick your ass to Abydos and back,” Jack promised.
Jack got his desired reaction as Daniel emitted a soft laugh. It wasn’t a lot, but it was something.
Satisfied, Jack sat back. “I’ll call Hammond and arrange a time for the debriefing. Can I get you anything else?”
“No, thank you. I’m fine,” Daniel said.
“Okay, I won’t be long.”
The second Jack left, Daniel’s mind was back on P7B-1N3. How would the Denderans react to the news that their friends and families were being slaughtered to satisfy the greed and depraved habits of a goa’uld? How would they react to his presence again or to Jack’s? Was Jacob safe? Were Aris Boch and his wife safe?
Daniel looked up and saw the reprimand in his friend’s dark eyes.
“You are not alone in this anymore,” Jack said, “and you are not responsible for what happened. At least, none of the bad stuff,” he amended.
“I know,” Daniel sighed. “I just wish…I don’t know,” he said, his voice trailing off.
“This should cheer you up,” Jack said, sitting down. “General Hammond just contacted the Tok’ra, and they think they found a cure for the disease.”
“That’s fantastic news,” Daniel said, his face lighting up.
“Yeah, I’d thought you’d like that,” Jack grinned. “They’re going to send someone to talk to Fraiser and hey, where are you going?” he asked, snagging Daniel’s elbow.
“To talk to the general,” Daniel said in an ‘isn’t it obvious’ tone.
“Daniel, he doesn’t know anything now that he didn’t know five seconds ago,” Jack said fondly. “Just sit down and try to relax. We’re debriefing in one hour.”
“I’m going to need more coffee then,” Daniel said, sitting down with reluctance and drumming his fingers on the tabletop.
“I’ll get it. You stay put,” Jack said. “Although more caffeine is the last thing you need,” he muttered to himself.
Jack poured the coffee and looked over his shoulder to check on his teammate. He smiled at the dramatic change in Daniel’s posture the news of a potential cure had wrought. Maybe something good would come out of this mess after all.
“Before we proceed,” General Hammond said, making eye contact with each member of SG-1, “I want to thank Dr. Jackson for his unwavering determination and bravery in diffusing a situation that could have been catastrophic on many levels. Once again, we are in your debt, Dr. Jackson,” Hammond added affectionately.
“Hear, hear,” Jack enthused, clapping his hands.
Sam and Teal’c readily added their ovation, much to Daniel’s already acute embarrassment.
“You all would have done the same thing,” Daniel mumbled, self-effacingly.
“I also want to apologize to you, Colonel O’Neill, Major Carter, and Teal’c, for keeping you in the dark on this mission.”
“We understand, General,” Jack said. “We certainly don’t like it, but we understand how it had to go down.”
“I’m glad to hear that, Colonel,” Hammond said. “I know it hasn’t been easy on any of you, and especially you, Dr. Jackson,” he emphasized.
“We’re a team, General,” Daniel said. “We work things out together.”
“Very well,” Hammond said, elated with the affirmation. “Now, on to the business at hand.”
The briefing was well into its second hour when the klaxons rang out.
“Unscheduled off-world activation!” Sgt. Davis’s voice announced over the intercom.
“Now what?” Jack muttered, following Hammond out the door.
“Maybe it’s the Tok’ra with the cure,” Daniel said.
“Easy, the Stargate’s not going anywhere,” Jack chastised, as Daniel trod on his heels.
“Sergeant?” Hammond queried as he arrived in the control room.
“It’s Dr. Jackson’s IDC, sir,” Davis reported.
“Jacob!” Daniel said, excitement and anxiety in his voice. “It must be Jacob.”
“Stay alert, people,” Hammond ordered the SFs in the gateroom.
Jack could almost feel Daniel vibrating with repressed tension, and he knew the archaeologist would bolt as soon as Jacob appeared. If it was Jacob. Daniel assured them the shape-shifter was dead, but there was no law that said there wasn’t another one out there.
“It’s Jacob,” Daniel exhaled breathlessly as the older man emerged from the event horizon.
“Daniel, wait!” Jack called, grabbing the younger man’s sleeve. “We go together when the general gives the okay.”
Daniel couldn’t quite hide his impatience, but he succeeded better than Jack had expected. After the order to ‘stand down’ was issued, Jack and Daniel entered the Gateroom with Hammond, Teal’c, and Sam close behind.
“Danny!” Jacob shouted. “Thank God,” he murmured, rushing down the ramp and hugging the startled man. “Are you all right?” he asked, standing back and studying Daniel from head to toe and back up again.
“I’m fine, Jacob,” Daniel said smiling and shrugging apologetically to Sam, who was waiting to be greeted by her father. “I went to Oannes. Nem helped me, the shape-shifter’s dead, and Jack, Sam and Teal’c found me. What’s happening on Dendera?”
“I think I just got the Reader’s Digest version,” Jacob said, grinning at Daniel’s rush of words.
“Jacob, what’s happening” Daniel asked impatiently as the older man turned to hug his daughter.
“Things are going well. Far better than I ever expected,” Jacob said. “Aris Boch is a smooth talker, but more importantly, he’s honest. The people are rallying to help each other.”
“You know, I still can’t wrap my mind around that,” Jack grumbled. “Aris Boch and honesty just do not go together.”
“You haven’t met his wife,” Daniel grinned. “Boch didn’t have a chance.”
“Cora is quite ill, Daniel,” Jacob said quietly.
“No,” Daniel said in shock. “She-she was just starting to show signs. The disease shouldn’t progress that fast.”
“It’s not the disease,” Jacob explained. “Apparently, the shape-shifter used some device on her. She’s damaged internally,” he said, scowling. “The doctors are doing everything—”
“I’ve got it!” Daniel shouted. “The device he used. I’ve got it.”
“You have it?” Jacob asked in surprise.
“Yes, yes, yes. It also heals. We can go back and heal her. Jack, General, you have to let me go back now,” Daniel exclaimed, appealing to the two men. “I can save her.”
“Easy, Daniel,” Jack said, placing his hand on the agitated man’s shoulder. “General?” Jack queried, meeting his superior’s gaze.
“Permission to return to P7B-1N3, Colonel,” Hammond said. “Dr. Jackson, get what you need,” he said, turning to the archaeologist.
“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir!” Daniel shouted over his shoulder as he ran from the gateroom.
“God, I thought we lost him,” Jacob said gravely, watching Daniel disappear from view.
“It was damn close,” Jack said, his voice equally grave.
“SG-1, you have a mission to prepare for,” Hammond said.
“On our way, sir,” Jack replied, leading his team out.
“Let’s go to my office, Jacob,” Hammond said. “I’ll fill you in on Dr. Jackson.”
Daniel didn’t waste any time as he emerged from the Stargate on Dendera. He began to run, only to be yanked up short by a hand gripping the back of his vest.
“Jack!” he complained, knowing whose hand was holding him back.
“Daniel, slow down. Set an easy jog,” Jack cautioned. “You’re barely healed and my knees would appreciate it.”
Daniel knew Jack was right, but he also knew Jack could run circles around him, bad knees or not. “Okay,” he nodded, accepting and appreciating the gesture. He took a few deep breaths to allay his anxiety.
“That’s better, now lead they way,” Jack said, clapping Daniel on the shoulder.
The town erupted into a hive of activity at the sight of SG-1, and Daniel knew some fleet-footed messenger would be at Aris Boch’s home in no time flat. Within minutes, he was rewarded with the sight of the bounty hunter.
“Dr. Jackson! It’s true! I thought that bastard—”
“Your wife, how is she?” Daniel said breathlessly, leaning over to catch his breath.
“You’ve seen Jacob,” Boch said quietly, his crestfallen look telling Daniel all he needed to know.
“We can help her,” Daniel said, straightening with difficulty. “The shape-shifter’s dead, but, I have the device.”
“Follow me. I can wait for the details later,” Boch said, as he turned and set off at a run, not bothering to see if anyone followed.
“Oy,’ Jack murmured. “Carter, Teal’c, don’t lose sight of him.”
Daniel felt Jack’s hand, heavy and comforting on his shoulder.
“I’m okay, Jack,” he replied, smiling at his friend’s concern. “Aris doesn’t live far from here.”
“Okay, let’s go,” Jack said, “but you’re going to rest after this, no matter what.”
Daniel nodded and jogged after Sam and Teal’c..
A short while later they entered Aris Boch’s home, which was eerily quiet.
“Aris?” Daniel called softly.
“Just give me a minute,” Boch’s voice answered from a darkened room.
Jack immediately thought of a sick room, and he hoped to God they weren’t too late, or that Daniel wasn’t exaggerating the healing powers of the alien technology. He didn’t know Boch’s wife, but it was obvious Daniel was fond of the woman and Jack didn’t think Daniel could handle a worse case scenario right now.
“Daniel,” Jack said gently.
“I know, Jack,” Daniel said. “But it will work.”
Jack nodded and waited with his team. He could hear Boch moving around in the room, and the swish of curtains being opened. Sunlight shone into the bedroom, and Jack felt his anxiety diminish slightly. Soon, he heard gentle but unintelligible words, and then his eyebrow shot up.
“Did he just call her ‘honey’?” he asked incredulously.
Daniel merely smiled in response as he paced the floor. “Come on, come on,” he murmured, clutching the device in his hand.
“Okay,” Boch said, emerging from the room. “Dr. Jackson, she’s ready.”
Daniel bolted into the room. He couldn’t hide his shock at the sight of the once vibrant woman now lying pale and dying on the bed.
“Cora,’ Daniel whispered, kneeling and taking her hand.
“Daniel, I am so sorry,” Cora whispered. “At first I thought it was Aris. I was not strong enough to resist. Please, forgive me for any pain—”
“No, no, no, no,” Daniel said, horrified at her guilt. He squeezed her hand gently. “God, please, there’s nothing to forgive. Just close your eyes and try to relax,” he soothed. “My friends are anxious to meet the woman who tamed Aris Boch,” he smiled.
Cora laughed gently and reached out for her husband’s hand, clasping it with what little strength she had left. She sighed and closed her eyes.
Boch looked desperately at Daniel. “She’s getting weaker,” he whispered, his voice trembling.
“She won’t leave you; she’s strong,” Daniel assured. “Lay her hand down.”
Boch reluctantly released his wife’s hand and placed his future in Daniel’s hands.
Daniel said a silent prayer, licked his lips and activated the device. Yellow light enveloped his hand as he bent to his task.
Jack paced the outer room, mimicking Daniel’s earlier behaviour. He glanced into the bedroom now and then to see an eerie yellow glow. Once in awhile he’d hear Daniel speaking softly in the local dialect and Boch’s quick reply.
“Colonel,” Sam whispered.
Jack stopped his pacing and noticed the absence of the yellow light.
“It is done,” Teal’c stated solemnly.
A few minutes later, an exhausted but ecstatic Daniel emerged from the room.
“She’s going to be fine,” he announced.
“Never doubted it for a second,” Jack said, exhaling loudly.
“Colonel O’Neill, Major Carter, Teal’c, I’d like you to meet my wife, Cora,” Aris Boch said proudly as he emerged from the room, his wife at his side.
Immediately struck by the grace of the woman’s features and movements, Jack stared speechless.
“Um, Jack?” Daniel said. “Aren’t you going to say hello?”
“Right, um, hello,” Jack said, giving himself a mental shake. “Jack O’Neill,” he said, holding out his hand.
“It is a pleasure, Jack O’Neill, to finally meet you. Aris has told me so much about you,” Cora replied, clasping his hand warmly.
Jack looked questioningly at Daniel who translated her words. Jack looked back and smiled.
“I bet he has,” he said, giving Boch a dubious look.
“Nothing but good things,” Boch said, holding up his hands.
Cora laughed gently at the exchange. Although she did not recognize Jack’s words, she understood the intent. She turned and greeted Sam and Teal’c with equal warmth.
Jack shook his head and murmured to Boch, “You’re a lucky bastard.”
“Every single day since I met her,” Boch replied, his eyes shining with love.
Jack’s eyebrows rose and he looked at Daniel who shrugged and said, “I told you.”
Jack smiled and clasped Daniel warmly on the back of the neck. “Good job, Daniel. Now, it’s your turn to heal.”
“I’m ready to go home,” Daniel said tiredly.
Two days later, SG-1 returned to P7B-1N3 laden with medicine for the afflicted. The Tok’ra had provided them with the much-needed vaccine, and Dr. Fraiser had provided them with ointments that helped soothe the burning and itching of the sores. They accompanied the local healers as they made the rounds to administer what aid they could, and they were pleased to discover their medicines worked synergistically with the local medicines.
“Jack, could you hand me that box, and could you lighten up a little?” Daniel added, gesturing to the P-90 clutched in the older man’s hands.
Although they met with no hostility, Jack still kept a light hold on his P-90. He never forgot for a moment it had been his face that had instilled so much hope and then horror into the lives of the people they were now assisting.
“No, Daniel, I can’t,” Jack replied, unfastening the clasp on the box. “I don’t understand a frigging word they’re saying and it’s driving me nuts.”
“Could you at least smile a little more? Even Teal’c looks happy compared to you,” Daniel murmured as he smiled and distributed medicine to a family of five.
“I think my smiling makes them nervous,” Jack replied. “I don’t exactly have the face their dreams are made of. Nightmares, on the other hand,” he muttered.
The remorse in Jack’s voice jolted Daniel, and he looked sharply at his friend.
“God, Jack, I’m sorry,” he said. “I got so caught up in everything I didn’t stop to think about what this is doing to you.”
“Don’t sweat it,” Jack shrugged. “It’s not the first time I’ve been Mr. Unpopularity.”
“Jack, you did nothing to these people but help them,” Daniel insisted. “They know that.”
“Yeah, but you can’t deny some of them seem a little spooked by me,” Jack said quietly, smiling at a young girl peering out from behind her mother.
Daniel watched as the little girl giggled at Jack then ducked behind her mother.
“Yes, I can see she’s terrified,” Daniel said dryly.
“You know what I mean,” Jack grumbled.
“Try not to let it bother you,” Daniel said. “Look at Teal’c. He’s a Jaffa, and they’re not leery of him.”
Jack did not fail to notice Teal’c’s surprising popularity with the locals, and he scowled at Daniel.
“Is that supposed to make me feel better?”
“Um, no, now that I think about it,” Daniel frowned.
“Thank you, Dr. Jackson,” Jack said. “Carter, how many deliveries do we have left?” he asked, turning to his second.
“We have enough for ten more people, sir. Janet should have more kits ready by tomorrow,” Sam replied.
“Okay, I guess our luck can hold out that long,” Jack muttered.
Now that he was aware of Jack’s unease, Daniel tried to hurry things up. He finished quickly and moved on to the next household.
The normally quiet streets were filled with people; some seeking help, others clamoring to see the real Daniel Jackson.
Jack, Teal’c and Sam heard someone call out unintelligibly. Daniel and everyone else in the vicinity heard a cry of “Murderer!”
Daniel spun around to see a distraught young man throw something at Jack, the latter oblivious to imminent danger.
“No!” Daniel shouted, leaping in between Jack and the upset Denderan.
Jack whirled just as Daniel’s weight slammed into him, almost knocking him to the ground. His arms automatically encircled his friend to hold him upright while simultaneous shouts of warning and dismay from Sam and Teal’c echoed in his ears.
Daniel gasped as his breath was knocked out of him. He gazed curiously at the sight of Jack’s arms around him, then his eyes widened in panic as he saw blood blossoming on his chest. He grasped feebly at the hilt of the knife sticking out of his chest, but then the pain hit. He cried out and sagged in Jack’s arms.
“Daniel,” Jack murmured, sinking to his knees, clutching his friend. “What the hell?” He looked up and instantly recognized the attacker had been subdued and Sam and Teal’c were in control. He looked down at the man in his arms.
“Jesus, Daniel,” he whispered as he carefully eased his injured teammate to the ground.
Blue eyes fluttered weakly. “Jack? Okay?”
“Shh, don’t talk, Daniel. Just try to relax,” Jack said quietly, one hand cradling Daniel’s head, the other checking for a pulse.
Daniel made a choking sound and grimaced in pain.
“Easy,” Jack soothed and caressed Daniel’s cheek. He looked up and shouted, “Get Boch here now!”
Several people hurried away, understanding Jack’s demand.
“He’s bad, Carter. Barely a pulse. I don’t dare pull out the knife, but if he doesn’t get medical attention stat he’s not going to make it,” Jack said in a low rush.
“Jack,” Daniel gasped.
“Right here,” Jack said, squeezing Daniel’s arm.
Daniel focused pain-filled but steady eyes on Jack. “Didn’t go through all this to die,” he rasped. “Fishing trip to go on.”
Jack smiled with difficulty as his eyes filled with tears. “Damn straight. Nobody gets out of my fishing trips,” he said, his voice cracking.
Sam looked away from the scene as her own eyes filled with tears. She looked at Teal’c and saw anger, sadness, and helplessness. God, she hated this. A blanket suddenly dangled in her line of vision. She quickly grabbed it from the local woman and carefully draped it over Daniel. She could not look into the colonel’s eyes. She did not want to see the desolation.
Aris Boch roared into the crowd like a bull elephant, shocked and outraged at the turn of events.
“Boch, you’re the only voice we’ve got,” Jack said leaving Daniel’s side to confer with the bounty hunter. “Daniel needs help now. He’ll never make it to the Stargate. Can that device he used on your wife help him?”
“No, it only works on injuries inflicted by the device itself.” Boch replied. “Things might seem a little primitive here, but the doctors are excellent. I’ll take care of it,” he promised.
Jack returned his concentration to his injured friend. Peripherally, he was aware of Boch giving instructions, and Sam and Teal’c hovering nearby, but he focused on the man on the ground.
“Daniel, Boch is getting help. He says the doctors here are top-notch,” Jack explained. “Don’t worry about a thing, okay? You’re gonna be fine.”
“C-cold,” Daniel whispered.
Jack tucked in the blanket Carter had supplied moments before. His face was grim as Daniel shivered uncontrollably under the heavy blanket.
“Daniel Jackson,” Teal’c said softly, kneeling at Daniel’s head.
“T-Teal’c?” Daniel murmured.
“I am here. Calm your breathing, my friend,” Teal’c intoned hypnotically, “and listen to my voice. Go to Abydos. Feel the warm desert sun on your face. Feel the warm sands beneath you.”
Jack felt Daniel’s tremors subside, and he nodded gratefully to Teal’c.
“Can you feel the warmth, Daniel Jackson?” Teal’c asked.
“Yes,” Daniel whispered. “Yes.”
Jack stood up and swiped at his eyes. He squeezed Teal’c’s shoulder, encouraging him to continue helping their friend.
“Carter,” Jack murmured, ushering her to the side. “What have you found out?”
“Sir, the man who tried to attack you just found—”
“Excuse me?” Jack interrupted. “Attack me?”
“Yes, sir. I-I thought you knew,” Sam said hesitantly.
“Son-of-a-bitch,” Jack muttered. “God damn him, he did it again.”
Sam stiffened at his response. “Colonel, Daniel saved your life. You weren’t aware of the threat. None of us were. He did—”
“The only thing he could do, Major,” Jack said, his voice soft. “Believe me, I know Daniel. Just tell me what you know.”
“The man who tried to attack you identified his brother and sister this morning. They were in the pit,” Sam explained.
Jack looked over at the would-be killer. The man was down on his knees sobbing, and Jack didn’t have the heart to blame him for his action. He looked over at Daniel, pleased to see Teal’c talking softly and holding their young friend’s hand. Jack ached to be with Daniel, but he didn’t want to interfere with Teal’c’s ministrations which were clearly benefiting their teammate. He sighed and looked around.
“Where the hell is Boch?” he snapped.
“Shouldn’t he be awake by now?”
“Normally, I’d say yes, Colonel, but this is alien medicine at work here,” Dr. Janet Fraiser explained as she checked Daniel’s vitals.
Jack gave her an impatient wave. “I know all that, Doc, but it’s been two days.”
“You should be thankful, Colonel,” Janet chided. “That wound was deep. He’s going to be very sore for a long time.”
Jack visibly flinched at the words and the reprimand. He looked down at the still figure of his friend and teammate.
“Damnit, Daniel,” he muttered.
Daniel was aware of voices; soft-spoken words drifting lazily into his consciousness. Two voices: male and female. They weren’t talking to him, but to each other. He felt himself drifting away. Damnit, Daniel.
Daniel struggled to stay awake. He knew that voice; he knew it well and there was pain in it.
“I’m sorry, Colonel,” Janet said, regretting her choice of words. “I know you’re worried, but his vitals are improving.”
“He does look better,” Jack said. Of course he looks better, you idiot. He doesn’t have a friggin’ knife in his chest.
“Considering all he’s been through, he looks remarkable,” Janet agreed.
“And that’s only what he’s told us,” Jack said. “Ten to one there’s a shitload of bad stuff in there he’s never going to tell us about. Isn’t that right, Daniel?” he asked sadly.
They both stared at the unresponsive man in the bed. Janet placed her hand lightly on Jack’s forearm.
“Colonel, why don’t you go and help Sam and Teal’c. I’ll let you know if there’s any change.”
“Want me out of your hair, don’t you?” Jack teased.
“Don’t go putting words in my mouth, Colonel,” she laughed.
Jack looked down at Daniel and nodded. “Okay, but any change, you call me.”
“You have my word,” Janet promised.
Jack turned to leave when a whispered voice called out.
“Daniel?” Jack said, whipping around. “You coming back to us, buddy?” he asked as he leaned over his friend.
“Daniel, can you hear me?” Janet asked.
Daniel’s brow wrinkled slightly, but he couldn’t seem to open his eyes.
“Yes, Daniel, it’s me,” she said, smiling up at Jack.
“Home?” Daniel queried.
“No, Daniel. We’re still on Dendera,” Jack said. “How are you feeling?”
“Chest feels heavy,” Daniel murmured.
Jack glanced at Janet, and she nodded her encouragement.
“You were injured,” Jack said gently. “Took a knife to the chest, but you’re going to be fine. As soon as you feel up to it, we’ll take you home.”
Daniel nodded, but Jack wasn’t sure if he was acknowledging the stabbing, the trip home, both, or neither.
“Tired,” Daniel murmured.
Jack glanced at Janet, his dark eyes worried, but she was smiling.
“Go to sleep, Daniel,” she said. “Rest is the best thing for you. We’ll talk when you’re feeling better.”
“I’d like to sit with him for a bit,” Jack said. “Make sure he’s really sleeping.”
“Very well, Colonel,” she said, understanding his reluctance to leave. “I’ll be outside if you need me.”
Jack nodded his thanks and sat down next to the bed. He let out a long sigh as he studied his unconscious friend who was breathing long and deep. Jack smiled. He did look much better.
“Put another ten years on me, Danny,” he whispered. “Trying to push me into retirement? It’s not enough you risk your life to save my dubious reputation, but then you risk your life to save my sorry ass. Crap, keep this up and I’ll have to marry you.”
Daniel twitched in his sleep, and Jack chuckled. “Sorry, pal. Didn’t mean to scare you,” he said as he fiddled with Daniel’s sheet and tucked it in.
“Seriously though, Daniel, I don’t know whether to kiss you or shake you till your teeth rattle. This impulsiveness of yours is going to kill me,” he said, his voice thick.
“Kiss,” Daniel murmured.
“You’re supposed to be sleeping,” Jack chastised.
“Someone keeps talking,” Daniel mumbled.
“Sorry,” Jack snickered.
“Kiss,” Daniel repeated, his eyes fluttering open. “Don’t want my teeth to rattle.”
Jack’s eyes stung and he looked into the bright blue eyes. “What am I going to do with you?”
“I’m waiting,” Daniel said, his voice a mere whisper.
Jack glanced around the room and shrugged. “Oh, what the hell. Close your eyes.”
Daniel’s mouth twitched as he closed his eyes.
Jack cleared his throat and leaned over.
Daniel’s eyes snapped open. “Not on the lips.”
“For crying out loud, Daniel,” Jack groused. “You’re ruining the moment.”
“Sorry,” Daniel laughed gently, closing his eyes.
Jack stood and watched; making sure Daniel wasn’t going to open his eyes again. Satisfied, he took a deep breath, leaned over and kissed Daniel gently on the forehead.
Daniel smiled, and Jack could not help smiling in return.
“Goodnight, Daniel,” he said softly, patting his friend on the arm.
“Night, Jack,” Daniel whispered, his facial muscles going lax as he succumbed to sleep.
Three months had passed since Daniel’s almost fatal stabbing on P7B-1N3, and Jack didn’t think things could be any better. The situation on Dendera had all but resolved itself. The Tok’ra had come through with a cure and even the most badly afflicted bore very little trace of the disease that had ravaged their bodies. Longer to heal would be the emotional wounds from being so brutally treated and misled. Support groups in that regard were well-established and well-attended. The young man who had inadvertently stabbed Daniel was making progress in his acceptance of his siblings’ death and in his actions. Surprising no one, Daniel refused to lay charges and established a friendship with the man. Daniel’s popularity with the people grew steadily, but it only humbled the archaeologist further. He often glanced at Jack with an apologetic look, but Jack just grinned and said no one deserved it more. To say he was proud of Daniel was a gross understatement. He was in awe of Daniel, and the fact Daniel valued his friendship and sought his companionship often left the older man humbled and sometimes bewildered. Unfortunately, it also left Jack hard-pressed to say no to Daniel.
“It would be nice to take one last look around, Jack,” Daniel said, his voice hopeful.
“For crying out loud, that’s what you said two days ago,” Jack groused.
“I wouldn’t mind spending a little more time with Cora, sir,” Sam said.
“And Aris Boch has not yet shown me the aircraft he has designed,” Teal’c stated.
“What do you say, Colonel?” Boch said. “One more night. That’s all I’m asking.”
“A mutiny,” Jack said in mock anger, throwing his hands up in the air, “that’s what this is. Okay, one more night and that’s final, and that is an order,” he emphasized.
“Yes, Colonel,” Sam said promptly.
“Indeed, O’Neill,” Teal’c said, bowing his head.
Jack looked at Daniel who was smiling at Sam and Teal’c.
“Daniel?” Jack prodded.
“What?” Daniel said, glancing at Jack. “Oh, right. Sure Jack,” he said, nodding solemnly.
“Oy,” Jack sighed, failing to look upset because he was feeling too good.
“It’s settled then,” Boch said, clapping his hands together. “Tonight at seven, there’ll be a feast,” he said.
“Another one?” Jack muttered.
“We’ll be there,” Daniel said, elbowing Jack.
“Wouldn’t miss it,” Jack said, smiling and rocking on his heels.
“Good, I’ll spread the word,” Boch said, taking his leave.
Daniel could feel Jack’s eyes on him. He glanced sideways, flashed a quick smile, and made a hasty exit.
“Daniel,” Jack whispered into his teammate’s ear, “this isn’t a feast, it’s a gourmet’s orgy. Where the hell do they get all this stuff?”
Daniel smiled and poured Jack some more wine. “I can show you the UAV reports. They have ranchland about one hundred kilometers west of here, and there’s a fertile valley where they grow their fruits and vegetables. This wine is last year’s vintage. Good, isn’t it?”
“Good? It’s great,” Jack enthused. “Hell, if I drink any more I may even start to understand what they’re saying,” he said, gesturing to the locals.
Daniel grinned and turned to Sam. “More wine, Sam? Jacob?”
Sam automatically looked at Jack who held up his glass and said, “Always follow the example of your CO, Major.”
“Fill us up, Daniel,” Jacob said, grinning and winking at his daughter.
Daniel obliged and then turned to Teal’c. “Sure I can’t entice you, Teal’c?”
“I am sure, Daniel Jackson. The water is exceptional,” Teal’c said.
“Oh, oh, looks like Boch is about to make a speech,” Jack said, nudging Daniel’s arm.
“That’s my cue,” Jacob said, rising to his feet. “If you’ll excuse me.”
Jack looked curiously at Sam, but she seemed just as surprised at her father’s sudden departure.
“Can I have everyone’s attention?” Boch called out.
“What’s he saying?” Jack frowned.
“Can I have everyone’s attention,” Daniel whispered.
“I kind of figured that one out,” Jack grumbled.
As Aris Boch continued to speak, Daniel translated.
“He’s going to switch to English so the guests of honour will understand,” Daniel whispered. “Jacob’s going to translate for everyone else.”
“First of all, we would all like to thank everyone who contributed the wonderful food and beverages for this auspicious occasion,” Boch began.
“Here! Here!” Jack called, applauding jubilantly, much to the delight of the audience.
“No more wine for Colonel O’Neill,” Boch laughed.
Jack tried to look suitably put out as gales of laughter followed Jacob’s translation.
“Okay, now to get serious,” Boch said. “We are here to celebrate our freedom from the Goa’uld, and to do that we have to thank the one man, who more than anyone else, made this possible. I’m speaking, of course, of Dr. Daniel Jackson.”
There was a slight pause while Jacob translated then the cheers and applause were deafening as everyone, including Jack, Sam, and Teal’c, stood up to applaud Daniel.
Daniel’s face had gone the colour of the wine, and he looked like he wanted to crawl under a rock, but Jack hauled him to his feet.
“No one deserves it more, Daniel,” Jack said, his eyes shining with pride. “You did a helluva thing,” he said, clapping Daniel on the back.
Once the noise died down and everyone resumed their seats, Daniel, gratefully sat down, relieved the worst was over.
“I feel I’ve known Dr. Jackson a long time, although I’ve only met him once before,” Boch continued. “We won’t go into my checkered past, but suffice it to say, I wasn’t exactly gracious in my dealings with Dr. Jackson, or with the rest of SG-1,” he added. “But I did learn enough to know that if anyone could, or would help us, it would be Dr. Jackson.”
“Oh, God,” Daniel murmured. “How much has he had to drink?”
“Suck it up, big guy. You’re a hero,” Jack said, ruffling Daniel’s hair.
As Daniel tried to hide his embarrassment, Boch continued to extol the virtues of the beleaguered archaeologist.
“I don’t know anyone with more integrity, passion, honour, or courage,” Boch said. “I’m humbled. Yes, you heard me,” he said to the ensuing laughter after Jacob’s translation. “I am humbled to be in this man’s presence.”
“No, no, no, no, this is too much,” Daniel whispered. “This is a set-up, right?”
“You’re the one that wanted to stay another night,” Jack reminded.
“I didn’t think it would be like this,” Daniel muttered. “It was supposed to be a feast for you guys.”
“Boch told you that?” Jack inquired.
“And you believed him?” Jack asked in astonishment.
Daniel looked at Jack and saw the glint in his eye.
“You knew,” he accused. “You just played along.”
“Scout’s honour, and everyone’s looking at you,” Jack whispered.
Daniel sucked in a breath and looked up at Aris Boch.
“Dr. Jackson, you were brutally tortured, physically and emotionally, in your efforts to help us, and for that we are truly sorry and none more so than me. I brought you into this mess and that is something I have to live with for the rest of my life. We can never repay you for what you’ve done for us, but we can promise you and our allies, no one will ever forget your sacrifice or your selflessness. To that end, I am pleased to announce we have commissioned our best architects and engineers to construct a garden, a sanctuary if you will, a place where your story and ours will be inscribed for us, our children, our children’s children. Well, you get the picture,” Boch laughed.
Jack watched in bemused fascination as Daniel’s face coloured an astonishing array of reds.
“Please, tell me he’s finished,” Daniel murmured, his lips barely moving and an uncomfortable smile pasted on his face.
“Well, if he’s not I’m going to need an insulin shot,” Jack chuckled.
“It’s a wonderful idea, Daniel,” Sam whispered. “I can’t wait to come back and see what they’ve done.”
“Indeed, Daniel Jackson. I will look forward to kel’nor’eeming in your garden,” Teal’c stated.
“Teal’c, that sounds positively indecent,” Jack grinned rakishly.
Daniel rolled his eyes. “Ja-ck.”
Sam giggled and hugged Daniel. “It’ll be beautiful, Daniel. You deserve it.”
“Dr. Daniel Jackson, would you come up here, please?” Boch requested.
Daniel groaned, but the sound was lost in the cacophony of cheers and applause, not to mention an ear-shattering whistle. He glared at the offender who was enjoying his discomfort way too much.
“Want me to hold your hand?” Jack kidded.
“Want your fingers broken?” Daniel replied sweetly as he stood up.
“You asked for it,” Jack grinned and began to chant, “Daniel! Daniel!”
The crowd took up the chant immediately, and Daniel practically sprinted up to Boch and the Denderan dignitaries.
“Slow down, Danny! Where’s the fire?” Jack called out. “Boy, he’s gonna kill me when we get home,” he snickered.
“Poor Daniel,” Sam sympathized, her eyes twinkling.
“Daniel Jackson is strong, Major Carter. He will endure,” Teal’c stated sedately.
Daniel shook hands with the dignitaries and exchanged pleasantries. He smiled gratefully when Jacob leaned over and whispered, “It’s almost over.”
“Daniel Jackson and his friends will be leaving us tomorrow,” Boch said, “but I hope they will honour us by returning for the commemoration of the gardens,” he said, looking pointedly at Daniel.
“I, um, we wouldn’t miss it,” Daniel said. “We, I, would be honoured, to say the least.”
Tumultuous applause followed the translation, and Daniel blushed once again. God, get me out of here.
Aris Boch turned to the crowd once again.
“In keeping with the Tau’ri tradition, no garden of this importance would be complete without an eternal flame. I now ask my beloved wife, Cora, to join us.”
Daniel smiled with genuine pleasure as Cora ascended the dais, her graceful hands holding a large, draped object.
Boch nodded to some men behind him who then wheeled out a large, ornate stone bowl. He smiled at his wife who, in turn, smiled at Daniel and requested he approach the bowl with her.
Daniel readily complied, wanting to both please Cora and to get the ceremony over with as quickly as possible. He stood next to her and watched as Boch stepped forward and removed the cloth, whereupon gasps and excited murmurs filled the air.
Daniel’s eyes widened at the exquisite sculpture and he looked over at Jacob, the question evident in his eyes. Jacob’s own eyes were round in surprise, but he nodded and mouthed, “Gorian crystal.”
Daniel looked at Aris Boch who shrugged. “It was my wedding gift to Cora.”
Daniel looked stricken, and he turned to Cora. “Oh, no, please. You can’t. I–”
“Hush, my dear Daniel,” she laughed. “The perfection of the crystal cannot capture the beauty of your heart and soul, but I can think of no better object to immortalize your selflessness. Please, help me place it.”
Daniel swallowed his emotions and carefully assisted her in placing the delicate object in the bowl.
“Won’t it break?” he asked quietly.
“It is very fragile, but the flame will give it strength,” she explained in a soft whisper. “It will not break, Daniel, just like your spirit, and thanks to you, the spirit of my people.”
“I-I don’t know what to say,” Daniel stammered
Cora laughed and kissed him on the cheek.
“Now, there’s a shade of red I haven’t seen before,” Jack murmured.
Sam heard a distinct thickness in the colonel’s voice, and she looked at him with bemusement in her eyes.
“Hey, this is as bad as those Hallmark commercials,” Jack groused, clearing his throat.
“Yes, sir,” she replied, her own eyes moist.
“Daniel Jackson is most uncomfortable,” Teal’c observed.
“Yeah. Don’t ya love it?” Jack said.
Teal’c raised an eyebrow, but bowed his head, a small smile gracing his lips.
“I think they’re going to light the flame,” Sam whispered.
Daniel’s fascination with the crystal momentarily alleviated his discomfort at being singled out as a heroic figure. He watched entranced as liquid fire encased the sculpture, causing it to look alive.
“Amazing,” he murmured.
Applause erupted after the lighting of the flame, and Daniel once again became aware of his situation. He glanced at Boch who gestured to him to ‘say a few words’.
Daniel was no stranger to speaking in front of crowds, but they had usually been academics, bored students, bored military personnel, hostile aliens, bored aliens, anything but people who seemed to adore him.
A raucous call of “Speech! Speech!” caused him to glare daggers at a beaming colonel. Then his features relaxed, and he addressed the crowd.
“Thank you. Thank you all for this wonderful honour and for this wonderful reception,” Daniel said, “but I couldn’t have done it alone,” he insisted, trying to be heard above the crowd’s enthusiasm.
“Just tell everyone to go back to the feast,” Boch suggested with a gleam in his eye.
Daniel did just that, and much to his surprise and relief, it worked.
“If I’d know that earlier,” he mumbled after taking his leave of Cora and the dignitaries. He made his way back to his team, shaking hands with enthusiastic locals as he went.
“Don’t say anything,” Daniel warned as he resumed his seat.
Jack grinned and clapped him on the back.
“What was all that ‘oohing and aahing’?” he asked. “It looked nice from what we could see, but we couldn’t hear a damn thing Boch was saying.”
“It was Gorian crystal,” Daniel said.
“Impressive,” Jack murmured. “Jacob told us about that.”
“It was Cora’s wedding gift from Boch,” Daniel explained,
“Oh, Daniel, that’s so beautiful,” Sam exclaimed.
Daniel shrugged and looked very uncomfortable.
“Here, have another drink,” Jack urged, pouring his teammate a glass of wine.
“Don’t mind if I do,” Daniel replied, accepting the glass.
“To the best damned diplomat in this galaxy or any other galaxy,” Jack enthused, holding up his glass.
“To Daniel,” Sam said.
“Daniel Jackson,” Teal’c added with a nod.
“Can I get that in writing?” Daniel asked.
“Are you nuts?” Jack retorted. “Drink your wine. Boch guaranteed me there’s no hangover.”
“And you believed him?” Daniel asked with a twinkle in his eye.
“I know where he lives,” Jack growled.
“I wonder what the inscription will say,” Sam mused.
“Actually, they gave me a rough draft,” Daniel said, pulling a piece of paper from his pocket.
“Doesn’t look like much,” Jack said, squinting at the nonsensical squiggles.
“Well, it is in point form,” Daniel explained.
“Crap, what’s that supposed to mean?” Jack asked, pointing.
“What?” Daniel replied.
“That there,” Jack said, tapping the paper. “That thing that looks like a dog licking its balls.”
“Oh, that,” Daniel said, trying not to smirk. “Um, actually, Jack, that’s you.”
“What?” Jack exclaimed.
Daniel shrugged. “Trust me, Jack. The people who can read this won’t see a dog licking its —”
“Never mind,” Jack said, waving his hand. “So, where are you?”
Daniel pointed to several bold, stylish symbols. “Here, here, um, here, here, and—”
“Yeah, yeah, I get the picture,” Jack grumbled, but his eyes were smiling.
“Colonel, you show up a few times,” Sam said helpfully.
“This is Jacob,” Daniel said, pointing to another figure.
“He’s all over the place,” Jack observed. “Not as much as you, of course.”
“And this is SG-1, and you’re over here, Sam, and this is you, Teal’c,” Daniel said.
“For what reason, Daniel Jackson?” Teal’c inquired.
“We didn’t do anything,” Sam added.
“Of course you did,” Daniel insisted, “and in more ways than you know. I couldn’t have done any of this without you guys.”
“Just can’t take the credit, can you, Daniel?” Jack said, smiling at his earnest friend.
“I’m serious, Jack,” Daniel insisted.
“Of course you are. To SG-1,” Jack said, raising his glass. “May we live long and prosper.”
Daniel smiled and then hiccupped. He was starting to feel a bit giddy with all the excitement, but he felt good. “To us,” he said, hiccupping again.
Sam giggled and burped. “Excuse me,” she said, covering her mouth and blushing at her stunned teammates.
“Teal’c, anything to add to this illustrious conversation?” Jack asked dryly.
“Indeed, O’Neill,” Teal’c said, leaning forward and rising part way from his seat.
“Teal’c, no!” Sam cried in horror.
“Oh God, he’s gonna blow!” Daniel said, grasping onto Jack and almost knocking him over in his attempt to hide.
Teal’c smiled, nodded to Jack, and sat down. “I was merely trying to frighten you, Daniel Jackson,” he said solemnly.
Daniel looked cautiously over his shoulder, his hands still clutching Jack’s shirt.
“Oh, well, that’s okay then, I think,” he frowned.
“Daniel, your hiccups are gone,” Sam said.
“You’re right,” Daniel said, beaming. “Thanks, Teal’c.”
“You are welcome, Daniel Jackson.”
“Um, Daniel?” Jack said.
Jack gave the younger man a pointed look, and Daniel suddenly realized he was practically in the older man’s lap.
“Sorry,” he said with a lop-sided smile. “Hope I didn’t, um, hurt you,” he said, blushing slightly as he flapped his hand at Jack’s lap.
“For crying out loud, they’re not made of Gorian crystal,” Jack groused, slapping Daniel’s hand away and rearranging himself after being divested of 180 pounds of archaeologist.
“Sir!” Sam said, shocked but amused at the intimation.
“What?” Jack said. “He started it.”
“Did not,” Daniel countered.
“Did too,” Jack retorted. “You hiccupped.”
“Well, Sam belched,” Daniel said.
“It was a burp, not a belch,” Sam corrected demurely.
“And then Teal’c, well, pretended,” Daniel said, casting the Jaffa an accusing look.
“Consider yourselves fortunate,” Teal’c announced. “You may not be so lucky next time.”
Jack, Daniel, and Sam all looked at Teal’c and then at each other.
“No more water for him,” they said in unison and burst out laughing.
“Whatever you’re having, I want some,” Jacob said, joining the group. “I could hear you all the way over there,” he said gesturing to the dais.
“Just relieving a little stress, Jacob,” Jack grinned. “Pull up a stump.”
“Maybe I should go and mingle,” Daniel said, looking thoughtful. “They’ve gone to so much trouble to—”
“You’re staying put,” Jack interrupted, grasping Daniel’s shoulder firmly. “You can do the rounds tomorrow.”
Daniel was surprised to see the serious, almost pleading look in the dark brown eyes. I’ve scared him again. He felt Jack’s grip lessen, and Daniel smiled and nodded. This was where he wanted to be, with his friends and family, and this was where he belonged.
“This is it?” Jack asked, gazing at the lush vegetation and the breath-taking view.
“This is where it will be,” Boch corrected. “The Daniel Jackson Sanctuary.”
“Oh, please, don’t call it that,” Daniel pleaded.
“Sorry, Dr. Jackson, but the vote was unanimous: Daniel Jackson, it is,” Boch smiled.
“Suck it up, big guy,” Jack grinned.
“Daniel, it’s beautiful,” Sam said.
“Indeed. This location is most conducive to meditation,” Teal’c stated.
“I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but couldn’t you just put a bench here?” Daniel suggested. “It would be a shame to tear any of this up,” he said, waving his hands at the scenery.
“Is he always this obstinate?” Boch asked, looking at Jack.
”My hair should give you a clue,” Jack drawled.
“I thought as much,” Boch said knowingly.
Daniel sighed knowing he was fighting a losing battle.
“I can assure you, Dr. Jackson, we have skilled artisans here, and nothing of what you see will actually be destroyed. Trees and plants will be uprooted, of course, but they’ll be replanted elsewhere. I guarantee you’ll be happy with the results.”
Daniel’s face brightened at the news. “I must admit, I am looking forward to seeing it,” he said.
“Are you not concerned about theft or vandalism of the Gorian crystal, Aris Boch?” Teal’c asked.
“No one would dare,” Boch said adamantly. “But just in case, a little energy shield I picked up on my travels will give them a nasty jolt they won’t soon forget. Don’t mention it to Cora though,” he added. “I don’t want her to worry about such things.”
“You know, this marriage has really mellowed you,” Jack said, shaking his head in wonder. “Either that or you’ve been zatted one too many times,” he added good-naturedly.
“I surprise myself sometimes, Colonel,” Boch said, “But then I look at her, and well,” he said, throwing his hands up.
“Don’t you miss it?” Sam asked. “The hunt, the excitement of the chase?”
“Sometimes,” Boch admitted, “but I think I’ve had quite enough excitement to last me a good while. Besides, once I get my ship finished, Cora and I plan to explore our own world. Be a tourist on our own planet,” he grinned.
“I’m happy for you both,” Daniel said. “Enjoy every moment, and don’t take anything for granted.”
Jack heard the wistfulness in Daniel’s words. Sharing the sights with Sha’re was something his friend would never be able to do again. Jack knew he was also guilty of taking things for granted, specifically, Daniel. He wasn’t going to make that mistake again. Who was he kidding? Of course he would. It was what humans did. How many times had had he vowed not to take his friend for granted? At least as many times as Daniel had been lost, killed, or injured, and that was a hell of a lot of times.
The soft, worried query penetrated Jack’s troubled thoughts. He looked at the concerned blue eyes that knew him so well and smiled.
“I think it’s time to go home, kids. We’ve got our own trip to plan, right Daniel?” he said, placing his hand warmly on Daniel’s shoulder.
“Um, you and Sam won’t try to get back at me for the cannonball thing, will you?” Daniel asked.
“They will not, Daniel Jackson,” Teal’c stated emphatically.
“Is that a challenge, Teal’c?” Jack asked, a glint in his eye.
“No, sir, I think it’s a warning,” Sam said, furrowing her brow.
“Oh, no, Major,” Jack grinned, “that was a challenge.”
“Uh, you know, I should probably stay here awhile,” Daniel said. “I’m sure Aris Boch could use my help. Right?”
“You’re welcome to stay forever,” Boch said.
“Nothing doing, Boch. You’ve had him long enough. It’s time for Daniel to come home,” Jack said, squeezing possessively the shoulder still under his hand.
“You will have nothing to fear, Daniel Jackson,” Teal’c promised.
“You heard the man,” Jack smiled, giving Daniel’s shoulder a friendly pat before releasing it. “Nothing to fear. Nothing at all.”
“Do you promise?” Daniel asked, pinning Jack with his soulful blue eyes.
All Jack’s plans for revenge vanished when he looked into his friends worried eyes. He wanted Daniel to look forward to the trip, and more importantly, he wanted him to enjoy it. He didn’t want him looking over his shoulder every minute expecting to be ambushed.
“Yeah, I promise,” Jack said sincerely. “Teal’c, on the other hand, you better watch your back, my friend,” he said, looking pointedly at Teal’c.
“Bring it on, O’Neill,” Teal’c said implacably, meeting Jack’s gaze.
“Sam, I think we better take some extra medkits,” Daniel whispered.
“Men,” Sam harrumphed.
Aris Boch suddenly laughed, and all eyes turned inquisitively.
“What?” Jack asked, his eyes narrowing.
“This,” he said, waving his hand to encompass SG-1. “You guys are nuts, but after all these years you’re still close. It’s nice. Who knows? Maybe if I’d had a group of friends like you my life would have taken a different path,” he mused.
“I think you’ve done pretty well for yourself,” Daniel said, smiling.
“Can’t argue with that, Dr. Jackson,” Boch agreed, “and you haven’t done too shabby yourself.”
“Hey, what about us?” Jack groused.
“Not to be maudlin, Colonel, but you’ve got this man here as a teammate and a friend,” Boch said, gesturing to Daniel. “Hard to beat that.”
Daniel blushed and ducked his head. Teal’c raised an eyebrow and inclined his head in agreement. Sam’s eyes filled with tears as she looked at Daniel. Jack stared at Boch and muttered, “Oh, for crying out loud.”
Daniel winced and glanced up, afraid Boch had finally gone too far.
“Tell us something we don’t know,” Jack said gruffly, as he ruffled Daniel’s hair.
“Jack,” Daniel murmured, pleased but embarrassed.
“Goes with the territory, Danny boy,” Jack smiled. “Well, Boch, it’s been a slice,” he said, holding out his hand, “but screw around with us like that again, and you’ll wish you were never born.”
“Always a pleasure, Colonel O’Neill,” Boch said, shaking Jack’s hand. “Come back anytime.”
Boch turned to Daniel and held out his hand. “Dr. Jackson, I can’t thank you enough,” he said. “What I did —”
“You did for the Denderans and your adopted home,” Daniel said shaking his hand. “Believe me, I understand, and please, call me Daniel.”
Jack watched in awe as the former bounty hunter’s face went soft at Daniel’s words, and he could have sworn he saw tears before Boch quickly brought his emotions under control.
“Major Carter, Teal’c,” Boch said, shaking their hands.
“Good luck and we’ll see you soon,” Sam said.
“Daniel, can we go?” Jack asked. “Jacob must be getting lonely at the gate.”
“Don’t worry about him, Colonel,” Boch said. “He’s keeping busy.”
“What does that mean?” Sam asked.
“You’ll see,” Boch said. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some architects to meet.”
“Jack, what are you doing?” Daniel asked, perplexed by his friend’s odd behavior as they made their way back to the Stargate.
“I’m looking for pods. That can’t be Aris Boch back there so there’s got to be some pods here somewhere,” Jack explained.
“Pods?” Daniel repeated.
“You know, Invasion of the Body-Snatchers?” Jack replied. “Aliens invade Earth and replace people. They leave pods behind.”
“Ah, I guess I missed that one,” Daniel murmured.
“It was most amusing, Daniel Jackson, “Teal’c said. “I would be happy to view it with you sometime.”
“Uh, thanks, Teal’c. I’ll keep that in mind,” Daniel said.
“Make sure it’s the original version,” Sam said.
“Of course,” Daniel said, not intending to view either version.
“What the hell?” Jack muttered as he and his team came within sight of the Stargate.
“What is all that?” Daniel asked, his eyes widening at the multitude of crates piled up near the gate.
“Let’s find out,” Jack said, picking up the pace.
“Dad, what is all this?” Sam asked as they neared the gate and her father emerged from behind the crates.
“Gifts, courtesy of the Denderans,” Jacob grinned. “Wine, water, dried meats, fruit, vegetables, soil, minerals, plants, medicinal ingredients, books, art, you name it,” he said.
“Books and art?” Daniel said excitedly.
“Stop salivating, Daniel,” Jack said. “You said wine. How much wine?” he asked, looking at Jacob.
“Lots and lots of wine,” Jacob grinned.
“All right!” Jack said, rubbing his hands in glee. “Way to go, Daniel,” he said, once again ruffling his friend’s hair. “Minnesota, here we come!”
“Where’s Daniel?” Jack asked, fresh from a shower and scanning the room.
“He’s outside, sir. Said he whooped my ass enough times, and it was Teal’c’s turn,” Sam said, studying the board in front of her, wondering which jackal to take.
“I believe Daniel Jackson is ready for a refill, O’Neill,” Teal’c boomed.
“Gotcha, T. Subtle as a sledgehammer,” Jack said, heading for the kitchen and the coffee pot. He poured one for Daniel and grabbed a beer for himself.
Daniel stood by the lake, enjoying the sounds of the night creatures as he gazed up at the star-studded sky. He heard Jack’s presence and then smelled the coffee. He turned and smiled.
“That for me?”
“Either that or I’m into coffee with beer chasers,” Jack replied.
Daniel grimaced and accepted the mug of coffee. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome.” Jack said, standing next to Daniel and joining him in star-gazing. “Itching to go back?” he asked.
Daniel looked sideways at his companion. “To Abydos?”
“That’s a given,” Jack said dismissively. “No, I mean to the SGC.”
“We’ve only been here two days,” Daniel frowned.
Jack shrugged. “You seemed awfully quiet this evening,” he said, still staring up at the sky.
Daniel took a sip of his coffee as he tried to formulate an answer. He looked back up at the sky.
“Sometimes I just think too much,” he said. “Over analyze things.”
Jack gaped at Daniel. “You’re kidding, right?”
“No,” Daniel said, looking at Jack. “Sometimes I get so caught up in things I can’t see the trees for the forest,” he said earnestly.
“Hell, we all know that,” Jack said, “but you’re still kidding, right? Teal’c put you up to this, didn’t he?” he asked, looking around for his Jaffa teammate.
“Jack, I’m serious,” Daniel insisted.
Jack heard the earnest and almost desperate tone in his friend’s voice. He looked back at him in concern.
“What brought this on?” he asked softly.
“I don’t know,” Daniel shrugged. “Maybe I’m going through early menopause or something,” he said lightly, sipping his coffee.
“No, this is about Dendera.”
“It’s about a lot of things, Jack,” Daniel sighed. “I look back at what we’ve done. You know, what we’ve accomplished; what we’ve lost; what we’ve sacrificed. Everything’s getting harder. We beat one Goa’uld and three more show up. And just when I think they can’t get any worse than they already are, something like Dendera happens.”
“Daniel,” Jack said gently.
“I’m doing it again, aren’t I?” Daniel asked with a rueful smile.
“Hell, Daniel, if you want to over-analyze things, then what about what we’ve gained?” Jack asked. “The friendships we’ve made out there, thanks to you,” he said, gesturing to the sky, “and the most important ones: the ones right here,” he said, looking straight into Daniel’s eyes. “I know I haven’t always been there for you, and that’s something I have to live with, but you’ve taught me more about friendship in the short time I’ve known you than I’ve learned my whole entire friggin’ life. Crap, Daniel, if they gave out ribbons for patience and understanding towards ornery colonels, you’d be a walking rainbow.”
Daniel stared at Jack, surprised and moved by the sentiment.
“What I’m getting at is you’re the best damn friend I’ve ever had, and I don’t know what I’d do without you,” Jack said in a rush.
Daniel blinked a few times and looked out at the lake.
Jack frowned and fiddled with his beer. He hadn’t planned on getting all emotional. That was the thing about Daniel. Things just kind of happened when he was around.
Daniel looked down at his mug and sighed. “My coffee’s cold,” he murmured.
“Your coff—” Jack bit his tongue. I spill my guts and he whines about cold coffee? No, I am not going to get mad. Jack took a deep breath, and that’s when he saw the small upward twitch of Daniel’s lips.
“Anyone else and I’d throw them in the lake,” Jack grumbled. “Here, give me your mug.”
“Thanks, best friend,” Daniel smiled, handing his mug to Jack.
“For crying out loud,” Jack muttered, trying not to laugh as he took the mug and headed back towards the cabin.
“Yeah?” he said, turning around.
“Ask Sam and Teal’c to join us. I’ll set up the chairs,” Daniel requested.
Jack smiled and nodded. “You got it.”
Daniel smiled and looked back at the sky. What adventures awaited him and his friends? What obstacles and hardships would they have to face?
“Bring it on,” Daniel murmured. “SG-1 is ready for anyone or anything.”
“Ouch! Damn it! Teal’c, you left this out here on purpose, didn’t you?” Jack bellowed.
Jack’s muffled curse and accusation caused Daniel to grin. “Well, almost anything,” he amended as he went to assist his friend who was cursing and hopping on one foot.
|Genres:||Action/Adventure, Angst, Drama, Friendship, Hurt/Comfort, Smarm, Team|
|Summary:||Daniel goes undercover to diffuse a deadly situation on a benign planet.|
Author's Chapter Notes:
This story first appeared in Foundations 6 by Pyramids Press.