The Prince of Sleep by Alison
[Reviews - 0] Printer
Category: Jack/Daniel
Genres: Drama, First Time
Rated: Mature
Warnings: None
Series: None
Summary: Daniel's sense of isolation leads him into danger.

- Text Size +
Author's Chapter Notes:
We were singing Walter de la Mare's The Prince of Sleep. It starts; 'I met at eve the Prince of Sleep, his was a still, sad, lovely face. He wandered through a valley steep. Lovely. In a lonely place.' The imagery caught me, and I found myself thinking of a plot for a new J/D story. Someone giving feedback likened it to the story of Tam Lin, and thinking about it, it certainly has echoes in that classic fairy tale. I like this one. Thanks go again to the wonderful Sarah for the beta, and quercus, the Americaniser, for eliminating any lurking Briticisms. July 02
The Prince of Sleep


Daniel couldn't remember how long he'd felt unhappy. It wasn't as if he fell asleep at night crying his heart out, or that he was constantly depressed, it was just a bone weary sense of isolation that at times threatened to overwhelm him. His latest 'disagreement' with Jack over the handling of the Enkarans had just reinforced his sense of not belonging and for now he wanted out. Out of SG-1, the SGC, out of Colorado. Anywhere the Goa'uld, the military, the Stargate and especially, Jack were not, he wanted to be.

He sighed as he rewrote his resignation letter for the fifth time before saving the file and heading to his kitchen to make coffee. Decisions like this should not be made in anger or even from frustration. He'd sleep on it then perhaps ask for leave and go away and think, because he needed to understand just what it was about Jack's current attitude that he found so... he searched for an apposite word and could only come up with painful. It would have to do because quite honestly he'd had enough introspection for the time being.

The phone rang as he was measuring out the coffee. As soon as he heard the Texan twang, he knew he was going to have to head back to the mountain. He listened to General Hammond and gave his affirmation, sighing as he replaced the receiver. For now any decision would have to wait as SG-1 were required back on duty.

General Hammond looked grim as he joined the rest of his team in the briefing room. "I want you to listen to this recording," he said, and nodded at the technician.

Daniel listened carefully to the recording of Major Brandt's voice. The Major sounded frustrated as he explained their situation.

"Captain Lewis is out cold, sir, injured in the tussle that broke out around us. As he was the only one who could translate, we are still completely unsure what we are supposed to have done, and why we are suddenly prisoners. I need a translator urgently. We aren't being threatened in any way, but my men are locked away and I will join them after I sign off." His voice broke off to the sounds of shouting and rapid speech and the transmission ended abruptly.

General Hammond looked at Daniel. "Captain Lewis determined that the natives were speaking Latin. Can you translate, Dr Jackson?"

Daniel nodded slowly. "I can translate, but while I've certainly improved since our own little 'Groundhog day' scenario, I'm out of practice." He looked over towards Jack and Teal'c. "Do you remember any of the Latin you learned?"

Jack shook his head. "You know languages aren't my thing, Daniel."

"A few phrases, Daniel Jackson. Little of significance," Teal'c said gravely.

Daniel nodded returning his attention to the General. "To be honest, sir, I am not as fluent as I would like to be, but I'll certainly do the best I can."

General Hammond nodded. "Good. I have faith in your abilities Dr Jackson. SG-9 are involved in important negotiations off world so I can't ask them to accompany you. Do you think you can negotiate SG-7's freedom?"

"I can try, sir," Daniel said.

Jack sat up. "Are we in a hostage situation, sir?"

General Hammond nodded. "I want you to proceed on that basis, colonel. Which is why I want Dr Jackson to be given the opportunity to negotiate before we do anything more active."

Jack nodded.

"What were SG-7's objectives?" Sam asked. "Could they have some relevance?"

General Hammond shook his head slowly. " As you are aware, SG-7 is our scientific team. Dr Summers was curious about some of the plants their healers were using, and wanted to explore their properties further. Some of the minerals were also exciting interest, and generally the planet was considered ripe for exploration. The natives, in the form of a King and council, appeared friendly, and Major Brandt reported no signs of tension or concern on his last sign in." He glanced round the table. "This may be an isolated incident, whatever it is, I want my men back home as soon as possible. Any other questions?"

Jack looked round his team, shook his head. "We can be ready in under an hour, sir."

General Hammond rose to his feet. "Good luck, SG-1. Get our people back by whatever means seem necessary."

Kitted out and ready to go with his team, Daniel mounted the ramp and headed out into the relative unknown. The reception committee on the other side was small and select, stiff with wounded pride and perceived abuse of their hospitality. He introduced himself and SG-1to the individual he assumed by his demeanour, and the others' deference, to be the leader. He bowed low. "I beg to be assisted to understand the nature of your grievance," he said formally, hoping he was using the correct tense and that he was making himself clear.

The leader nodded slowly and gestured to a shaded grove a little distance from the Stargate. "Your companions may wait here," he replied. "You will come with us."

"May we meet with our imprisoned colleagues first?" Daniel asked. "We are concerned as to their health and well being."

"They are well, but secured from the rest of us. The nature of their transgression is such that were they our own they would be dead by now," the leader replied.

Daniel looked at Jack. "They want me to go with them, but they won't let us see SG-7," he said quietly.

Jack frowned, tightening his hold on his P-90 and shook his head. "No dice until we know SG-7 are safe."

Daniel nodded, turning back to the leader and bowing again. "Forgive me, but my leader insists that we are permitted to check on our colleagues' welfare before I come with you."

The leader frowned and considered. "The woman may visit them, but no other. She will be accompanied and returned here immediately after she has spoken to them."

Daniel quickly conveyed the information to Jack.

"I don't like this," Jack muttered. "Carter, keep in radio contact."

Sam nodded, moving towards the natives. A tall thin man detached himself from the group, tipped his head towards her and moved off. Sam glanced back at her team, and followed.

Daniel returned his attention to the leader, who was watching Sam curiously. He turned back to Daniel and asked. "Do many of your women act so?"

Daniel wondered what in particular had caught his attention. "We have women on many of our teams," he answered carefully.

The leader looked surprised. "She is an attractive woman. Does her family not worry for her safety?"

Daniel frowned. "We are her family. We know how able she is to defend herself."

The leader raised his eyebrows. "Our women would not be put at risk in this way."

Daniel inclined his head respectfully, but said nothing further.

"What's he saying?" Jack hissed. "I got a few words but nothing made sense."

"Asking about Sam, and commenting on her being female."

"Ah." Jack nodded. "Tell him Carter can look after herself."

Daniel nodded. "I have, more or less." He returned his attention to the leader who was watching the conversation between him and Jack with some interest.

"He is your leader, yet you show little deference to him," he remarked.

Daniel blinked. "Colonel O'Neill is our team leader, it his responsibility to make decisions on the basis of our expertise." The leader nodded and gestured to him to continue. Daniel thought for a second, trying to remember half forgotten words and meanings. "While the Colonel may lead we are not his inferiors."

The leader nodded slowly. "I see."

Daniel looked at the silent group behind the man and suspected that his definition of leadership was somewhat different. He muffled a sigh, wondering if the supposed insult by SG7 was a result of the limitations of such rigid, inflexible rules and whether he really did have a chance of negotiating SG-7's release.

Jack's radio crackled. "Confirm seen SG-7, sir." Carter's voice was loud in the silence. "Captain Lewis has come round and the rest of the team appear unharmed. Over."

"Have you spoken to Major Brandt? Over."

"No, sir, but they know we are here. Over."

"Okay, Carter. Get back here. Out." Jack looked at Daniel and nodded. "Go ahead."

"Come," the leader demanded, and strode off towards the grove beyond the gate. As Daniel followed he saw that the grove was more a bower, the trees (he didn't recognise the species) bound and plaited together to create a roof and sides. The leader walked directly to the cushioned dais in the centre and sat down. Daniel waited to see what the other men would do, groaning as they stood around in a protective semi circle facing him. He was tired and wanted nothing more than to sit, but by doing so he would be putting himself at a greater disadvantage than remaining on his feet.

"My name is Zandibar, Dr Jackson," the man said unexpectedly. "I am the king of this realm. These men are of my court. You are permitted an audience to offer explanation and restitution for the grave insult that has been offered me and my people."

Daniel kept his face impassive with difficulty. He was astounded that the king would make the effort to greet SG-1 personally, and re-evaluated his opinion of the man seated in front of him. "What is the nature of your grievance against my colleagues, my lord?" he asked politely.

Zandibar frowned. "It is sufficient for you to know that they trespassed on holy ground."

Daniel nodded appeasingly. "But had they been warned of this, my lord? My colleagues would do nothing to knowingly upset their hosts."

Zandibar waved his hand dismissively. "It matters not. The trespass has occurred and the consequence is death."

Daniel took a deep breath and blinked slowly. "You mentioned restitution what can we do to make amends for such a trespass?" He watched the king closely. He had been given little time to do any research, what information there was had come from SG-7's initial visit, and he wondered if the supposed outrage about the transgression was merely a front to hold SG-7 hostage and start bargaining, as Jack had suggested.

Zandibar looked down at the floor before returning his attention to Daniel. "My people have lived here for centuries," he said slowly. "We have grown and developed over time, but have become lazy in our observances as the ones we were told to obey failed to answer our prayers." He was silent for a few seconds, his attention focused on Daniel's face. "We keep the faith and observe the rituals, but to be honest I doubt that many of my people have any understanding of the reasons why we do so. Your colleagues walked into a temple that has, for as long as we can remember, been denied to any but a special group called the scribes. It is to our detriment that we have no scribes in my city, and it is to my shame that I cannot give you an explanation for your colleagues' crime." He stopped, watching Daniel who was staring at him in total fascination. He gave a brief smile and continued. "My court are unhappy at my decision, but I will let your colleagues depart from here with their lives if a man of learning will agree to be our scribe."

Daniel stood still, wondering if he had correctly understood what the king had said. He had not expected anything like this from the stiff arrogant man he had first met. Zandibar seemed to be appealing to him to accept this. Startled, very aware that the king had said that the consequence of SG-7's actions was death, but desperate to understand what exactly was being requested he took a deep breath and began his questions. "I am grateful that you would allow this," he said diplomatically, " but I do not understand exactly why you are asking this of us. Have you no man that could become a scribe?"

Zandibar shook his head. "My people are convinced that the scribes died out for a very good reason," he said quietly. "Histories, of which we have few, talk of them vanishing." He shrugged and moved restlessly on his cushion. "We are stagnating, fading away. Our glories are all in the past, Dr Jackson. In times past the scribes offered the ruler advice, information, divination from the gods and many things that have become almost fables to us." He sighed, looking ruefully at the standing men around him. "Few of my nobles can read, Dr Jackson."

Daniel shook his head in amazement. "You have no learned men among you?"

Zandibar shook his head, glancing at the men around him. "My court are the best educated men in my realm, Dr Jackson, and that was due in part to my father's insistence that reading was an essential requirement for advancement at court."

Daniel nodded; dazed at the information he was receiving. "Are your holy men not literate?"

A few of the courtiers shuffled nervously at his remark and Zandibar frowned. "Our 'religious' men have been reduced to mere automatons that parrot words they do not comprehend," he said sharply.

Daniel blinked. This was fascinating, for a moment he toyed with offering to become the man's scribe and discovering the history of his world, but then cautioned himself. It was likely that he would only be swapping one form of isolation and loneliness for a different variety. He bit his lip in thought then returned his attention to the king. "I think that some kind of arrangement could be made between us," he offered. "We have many learned men who would be delighted to assist you in discovering your past." He halted, trying to gauge the man's reaction. Zandibar nodded and gestured for him to continue. "I would need to discuss this with my leader back home, and we would need to come to some kind of compromise and to agree to an alliance between our people."

Zandibar frowned in thought, his eyes never leaving Daniel's face. Slowly he nodded. "I find myself liking and trusting you, Dr Jackson. You have a honest face and manner."

Daniel slowly exhaled. "May we take our people home and return with others to negotiate the terms of our alliance?"

Zandibar frowned. "You make take the man who was so unfortunately wounded, but I will need to keep the other men to ensure your return."

Daniel looked at him. "Then keep me for the duration and allow my colleagues to return. I am a man of letters and would be only too pleased to stay and learn about you."

Zandibar looked at him carefully before slowly nodding. "That would seem acceptable," he said slowly. He looked over towards the Stargate, and Sam who had just returned. "Would your fair colleague be interested in staying with us as well?"

He smiled as he said it and Daniel realised just how charming the man could be. "Sam can't speak your language," he said, fighting and losing the battle to grin in response.

Zandibar gave a wicked grin. "But she would look very decorative," he replied.

Daniel shook his head. "I won't tell her that," he warned gently. He turned his attention back towards Zandibar. "My lord, you appear to be a reasonable man, tell me, was the imprisonment of my colleagues really necessary?"

Zandibar gave a small nod. "Please believe me, Dr Jackson, your colleagues' trespass was real, and the penalty, as written. is death. However, the reports I have had of your people, their ability to speak across long distances, their attitude and curiosity convinced me that I was likely to find educated people among you, so I chose to bargain." His eyes held Daniels and made their own appeal. "Do not judge us too harshly, Dr Jackson."

Daniel looked at him carefully, and finding the man to be sincere slowly nodded.

Zandibar looked relieved. He rose from the dais and touched Daniel on the shoulder. "I thank you for your offer to stay with us, and look forward to knowing more about you as well, Dr Jackson, but for now I think we'd better return to your leader. He has been looking impatient throughout our talk." He looked over at Jack and returned his gaze to Daniel. "It is fortunate for him that he has your skills at his disposal, I cannot see him being as graceful or as diplomatic as you."

Daniel felt a surge of amusement as the pair of them turned to watch Jack as he bounced on his feet, his P-90 loosely grasped to his side and his attention focused on them. "Jack's diplomacy comes from the barrel of a gun," he said a little snidely, feeling ashamed of himself immediately he had said it. He guessed he had a lot of unresolved issues involving Jack, but being rude about him in front of an alien was neither necessary nor fair. "He's an excellent leader," he amended," and cares deeply about the safety of those he commands."

Zandibar nodded. "An admirable trait in a leader," he said mildly. "Come Dr Jackson, please convey our agreement to your colleagues.

Jack, predictably, was neither impressed by the solution nor willing to leave Daniel without argument. They talked with General Hammond over the link as SG-7 were released, and Daniel was given permission to stay and have a few books and provisions sent through the Stargate. SG-9 were due to return in seventy two hours, and General Hammond wanted to give them a brief rest before ordering them onto another mission. Daniel assured him that he was happy to remain off world until SG-9 were ready, and it was with a sense of relief that he saw the rest of his team and SG-7 return through the wormhole.

The following days were both exciting and exhausting. Zandibar had given his blessing to his stay, and no one was overtly hostile, but he was conscious of some mutterings and discontent. He made the decision not to request permission to enter the scribe's temple, and contended himself with listening to Zandibar and his closest advisors as they gave him the known history of the kingdom.

As they spoke he became more excited as their tales mentioned the Goa'uld knowing that any evidence he could provide to prove to the powers that be that the libraries and scribe's temple had relevant and hopefully useful information, would help General Hammond in justifying the terms of his verbal agreement with Zandibar. He wondered when the Goa'uld had last visited, and if the decline in literacy and learning had been as a direct result of their intervention.

He wandered round the small, beautiful city, choosing to wear native clothing in order to blend in. The people were naturally friendly, although the women were shy and a little reserved. He had wondered at their status, following Zandibar's comments about Sam, discovering that they were relatively free but confined very much to 'womanly' pursuits. Daniel watched them chatter and flirt in the marketplace, and wondered what they would think of Sam, his beautiful, intelligent and warrior friend.

Time flowed past quickly. He spent his days in observation and research and his evenings discussing earth's history, literature and art, finding that Zandibar's curiosity knew no bounds. The king opened up to Daniel in a way he could not do to his courtiers or even his advisors, and asked for Daniel's advice on a number of matters. Daniel was flattered, but cautious about being seen to influence Zandibar when he was uncertain as to the extent and security of the king's power. He attempted to make contact with the local religious leaders, but having watched and listened to their ill-informed ranting understood Zandibar's contempt. Still, like the king he felt wary of their ability to cause trouble.

By the end of the week, he was sad at the thought of leaving. Unexpectedly, he had made a friend in Zandibar, and was flattered at the sorrow he saw in the other man's eyes as the Stargate came to life and disgorged SG-9. He returned to the SGC to a greeting and thanks from General Hammond and a hug from Sam. He couldn't resist the urge to tease her about Zandibar's interest in her, but she just grinned and turned the conversation to other topics.

One by one his team found him, and by the end of the day he was feeling happier than he had done for a long time. Perhaps I just need to take more off world breaks, he thought as he headed for the surface, exchanging friendly banter with Jack.

His good mood survived until the inhabitants of an ice planet decided to play fast and loose with SG-1's memories. His slow realisation that he was not Carlin, but Daniel Jackson had disturbed him. Carlin had lived to serve, and it frightened him to realise that someone could stamp another personality on his and effectively destroy what he was. He wasn't sure that he liked Carlin, and he was disconcerted by Carlin's desire to lead. He was also disturbed by Jack's apparent willingness to accept his Jonah persona and apparently cuddle up and live with Sam as Therra.

Back home he was a little puzzled by the almost furtive looks Sam and Jack continued to exchange for a while, but decided that if they wanted to tell him anything they would, and until then he'd try not to leap to any conclusions.

A few missions where he felt something of a spare part, more military than first contact situations, blunted his sense of wonder and the feeling of isolation began to return. He fought it, as he had fought his desolation when Sha're had first been abducted, but the loneliness fought back and at times threatened to affect his ability to function effectively as part of the team.

His deep sense of loss at the death of Dr Jordan, his archaeology professor, pushed him into asking and receiving permission to attend the funeral, but the subsequent rediscovery of Sarah only to lose her to Osiris, did nothing to restore his equanimity. He was glad to have had Sam and Janet's support, but was very surprised at the deep resentment he felt at Jack for seemingly abandoning him. He was also beginning to realise that Sam and Jack were involved with each other, and while he felt he should be pleased for them, he wasn't sure that he was. He just felt profoundly saddened by the way he felt even more isolated and sidelined.

While he was with Sarah, and even Steven, he had felt at home. Looking and investigating the archives and handling the artefacts had brought home to him just how much he missed being purely an archaeologist. He didn't mind the danger, archaeology was not a particular safe occupation, but at times he hated the guns and military mind set with a passion. He thought he'd reconciled the choices he'd made in joining the SGC. He had also thought that what he gained more than made up for what he had lost, but at this particular moment in time he could not feel anything but nostalgia for his profession and the contentment it had once brought him.

In the meantime a treaty had been agreed with Zandibar's planet and an exchange of knowledge approved. Scientists, Latin speakers and historians had already started work on a cultural and scientific exchange. Daniel had kept his ear to the ground, pleased that the SGC was taking the cultural aspect as seriously as the scientific research that their botanists were taking about in huddled ecstatic whispers. He grew very excited at the news of ancient settlements and ruins that Zandibar had given his permission to be excavated and documented.

Reflecting on his recent experiences and sense of alienation, Daniel decided that he needed to return to his first passion. He was attracted by the idea of pure research without a gun in sight, or at least hidden from view. The initial feedback from SG-11, and an accompanying archaeological team, was highly positive. The site looked very promising and according to some texts, was meant to hold information regarding some secret weapon that had been used, successfully for a time, to repel the Goa'uld.

He headed for General Hammond's office and wrangled himself a couple of weeks down time to 'play in the sands'. Heartened by General Hammond's understanding of his need to keep his skills up to date, he packed his kit and books, sorted out the necessary clothing and resources, and informed Jack, via email, that he had requested time off.

Zandibar greeted him like a lost friend, insisting he stayed at the palace, and cancelling appointments to spend time with him. Daniel began to relax. "How are your people coping with our people?" he asked curiously.

Zandibar grimaced. "Most of my people are delighted that we can hear about our history and learn of new ways and knowledge. However, our priests," he spat the word, "are accusing me of defiling the holy ways by allowing intruders to read our holy works and thoughts."

Daniel sighed. "I'm so sorry."

Zandibar nodded. "I know of your thirst for knowledge, Daniel," he said smiling with genuine affection, "I have spoken about you to some of the educated men, and even to one or two of your warriors."

Daniel looked up questioningly.

"What does 'geek' mean?" Zandibar asked in English

The voice sounded innocent but Daniel saw the sparkle in Zandibar's eyes.

"Because apparently you are a 'geek, but okay for all that', and I quote directly." He continued.

"Your sudden grasp of English is remarkable," Daniel said with gentle sarcasm

Zandibar gave an open grin. "I and my court have a working knowledge of English, Daniel. It is the language of trade."

Daniel frowned and shook his head. "I'm not sure I appreciate being misled, Zandibar." He shrugged his shoulders. "A geek is a bookish intellectual with poor social and physical skills."

Zandibar frowned. "That does not describe you, Daniel."

Daniel smiled gently. "They mean it affectionately, or mostly affectionately," he said. "When Jack, my leader, calls me a geek what he means is I'm always seeking knowledge and have my head in a book."

Zandibar smiled. "That I can understand." He sat back as servants brought in food and waved Daniel to eat. "And now I gather you wish to 'dig around' in one of my kingdom's mysteries?"

Daniel helped himself to one of the spicy dishes, using the unleavened bread as a spoon and scooping the creamy mixture into his mouth. He took a bite, chewed, then wondered how the hell he'd managed to get the spiciest one before hastily reaching for a glass. The heavy taste of the liquid shocked him, and it was some minutes before he recovered his composure sufficiently to respond to Zandibar's question. Zandibar looked highly amused at his discomfort but refrained from saying anything. Daniel shook his head, peered at another of the dishes and carefully savoured it before chewing. "I would," he answered agreeably. "Can you tell me anything about the site or how old it might be?"

Zandibar shook his head. "We were forbidden to go near it as children and it is quite some distance from the city. My mother talked of tales of ghosts and it was rumoured that people were lost in the ruins, but I have no other knowledge of it." He reached for more food and chewed contentedly. " Your learned men should be able to tell us about the ruins sometime."

Daniel nodded. "What is the state of the books and scrolls?"

Zandibar shrugged. "One scholar said that considering the amount of time that they have lain undisturbed, they were remarkably well preserved. He said something about the microclimate but I did not really understand," he swallowed a mouthful of drink. "Or to be exact, I was no longer listening." He grinned at Daniel's look of mock outrage.

"I'll try to remember not to bore you," Daniel said dryly.

Zandibar smiled. "You have never bored me, Daniel," he said sincerely. "My life has felt considerably richer since I first came in contact with your SGC and yourself. I only wish my father was alive. He would be happy to know that our histories are to be revealed to us."

"Some of your history might come as a shock to you," Daniel warned quietly.

Zandibar nodded, "I have heard of the Goa'uld, and know that there is evidence of them having come to our city in the past. I am also aware that the 'gods' that we pay lip service to may well have been Goa'uld."

"They may," Daniel agreed. "Or they may prove to be entirely separate. I have heard rumours that the ruins once contained a weapon that was effective against the Goa'uld."

Zandibar shook his head. "I know nothing of that." He took a long drink and burped. "I forgot to tell you, Daniel. I am to be married before the end of the summer. I would like you and your team to be my guests."

"We would be delighted."

"Good," Zandibar smiled happily, rubbing his stomach contentedly. "Tomorrow I will introduce you to her before you journey to the ruins. She is sweet and shy, but I am very fond of her and she will make a good wife."

Daniel nodded, thinking of Sha're. She had been sweet and shy initially, but once her awe and reserve had worn off, she had been a tigress in her defence of her husband's privacy and remarkably passionate in bed. He sighed, the pain of her loss was still recent enough to cause him a sharp stab of longing for what could have been.

Zandibar looked at him knowingly. "You think of your Sha're?" he asked.

Daniel nodded, still bemused that Zandibar had broken through his reserve, and found out so much about him in the week he had been his guest. He looked at him fondly, ruefully amused that he could have found it so easy to reveal himself to a man from another planet when he found it so hard to talk about himself with his team, the closest things he had to friends on earth. "I wish you and your bride as much happiness as Sha're and I found together," he said quietly and raised his glass.

Zandibar raised his glass in salute and they sat together in companionable silence.

******

Jack was not a happy camper. He felt somewhat affronted that Daniel had upped and left for an archaeological dig without even having the courtesy of discussing it with him first. That neither Sam or Teal'c had been aware of Daniel's request made him feel a little better, but still he was angry. He took his feelings out on his locker and stomped towards the briefing room.

General Hammond gave him a brief glance as he sat down, but said nothing. Jack leafed through the papers in front of him and sighed. He hated administrative duties, he knew that they were a necessary evil but he didn't see why he had to suffer them with equanimity. He had no doubt if Daniel had been here with him he would have informed Jack that there was nothing he suffered with equanimity, but he told his snide internal Daniel to go to hell, and glared menacingly around the table. Major Paul Davis looked back apologetically, but remained unfazed by his hostility. The desiccated looking man on General Hammond's right stiffened in his seat.

General Hammond frowned and began the introductions. "Major Tyne, may I introduce Colonel O'Neill, team leader of SG-1. Colonel," he glanced warningly at Jack, "Major Tyne is here with Major Davis to look at the budget. I would like you to describe a typical month for SG-1 to help Major Tyne get a clear picture of where the money is going."

Jack gave a large internal sigh, sat up straight and began his account of the amazing adventures of SG-1.

Several hours later, tired, snappy as a crocodile and hungry, he headed for the dubious delights of the commissary and consumed sufficient carbohydrates to give him a sugar buzz. He then trudged down to Sam's lab intending to annoy her. He left her lab about half an hour later admitting to himself that Carter baiting wasn't anywhere near as enjoyable as Daniel baiting, because she couldn't be as down right rude as Daniel. He grinned; in fact the supposedly mild mannered archaeologist could become so snarky he bounced with annoyance. Jack sometimes lit the fuse, retreated a few paces and just enjoyed the results, although Daniel was getting wise to him after all these years.

Jack returned to his office and slumped in his chair. He had no idea why, but he felt totally put out by Daniel's desertion, and yes, that was how he saw it. He'd known things were a little off between them, and he suspected that this was because Daniel had heard rumours of his and Sam's affair, if their brief dalliance could be accorded that title. He supposed his attention had been on Carter rather than Daniel, and their occasional evenings together had become more and more infrequent, but that was no reason for Daniel to just disappear at the first opportunity without talking to him first.

He shrugged, checked off the date two weeks ahead, and decided that he and Daniel were going to have a long talk when Daniel returned. In the meantime he had to read some damn stupid report on cost cutting in the SGC and get his response to it on the General's desk by eighteen hundred hours. He viewed the document with disgust, and began reading.

******

Daniel found that the ruins were more extensive than he had imagined. The archaeological team, already trying to catalogue the site before preparing an in-depth survey, were delighted to see him. He joined their team meeting and revelled in the delight of talking with people who were as excited as he was by what lay before them. He could see that years could be spent excavating this one site and wondered how long General Hammond and the powers that be would give them before they pulled the plug. He supposed it would depend very much on whether they discovered anything about the secret weapon/defence system. Tired but happy, he snuggled down into his sleeping bag in his one man tent and fell into a deep sleep.

Two days into his cataloguing Daniel had formed his own impressions of what they had found - namely some type of large building, possibly a palace and the surrounding buildings that supported it. The size of the assumed palace was amazing and the deep foundations suggested that it had been very tall. The age was hard to gauge, but it was agreed by all that it was far older than Zandibar's residence. Daniel found himself becoming more and more absorbed in the mystery of the place. He walked around the perimeter of the site, thinking about all the perimeters he had patrolled as part of SG-1. His fellow scientists teased him about his military habits, making a few cracks at Jack and his team. He was surprised at the anger their good natured jibes elicited from him, but hid it in witty comebacks he'd learnt at the feet of a master.

Two and half days into the survey he found what appeared to be a small room decorated with the remains of mosaics. The biggest feature of the room was a table-like stone slab deeply embedded in the stone floor. Daniel didn't know why, but he found the stone table fascinating, wondering at the meaning of the carved runes surrounding almost the entire surface. His colleagues were less impressed, mapping the room and continuing on. Later that night Daniel found himself heading back to the place, flashlight in hand. The room was surprisingly well preserved, having a roof, and three walls. Daniel hunkered down next to the table and began exploring the stone pillar that supported the tabletop. Carved runes covered it also, and he stroked down the column feeling the inscriptions in the stone. He sat cross-legged by the table in silent contemplation, wondering at the significance of the object. Was it religious, akin to church altar, a meetings room or something entirely specific to the culture of the time? It was some time later that he felt the cold seep into his bones, and he reluctantly left the room to sleep.


He dreamt of the palace. Marble walls soared high into the blue sky, buttressed by more marble columns supporting arched roofs. The place shimmered in the sun, dazzling all who saw it. Beneath the pure white beauty of the majestic walls a city, built in brick and stone, spread. Daniel walked up the silent marble road to the entrance. The golden gates were unmanned and swung open at his approach. Without hesitation he walked in, mounting the marble steps to the large doorway. The doors were solid wood, simple in design but beautiful with the images of men he assumed to have been past rulers on both sides. Daniel stood on the top step and turned away from the doorway to look back on the road. The road ran through the valley disappearing into the distant hills, pure and white for miles and miles, but he could see no one on it.

He returned his attention to the doorway, and pulling the door open firmly, walked in to a vast entrance hall. From the ceiling hung candles in metal candelabras, the chains supporting them clamped firmly to the walls. Daniel inspected one curiously, wondering at the manpower required to raise them up. He moved through the beautiful but austere hall into what he took to be an audience chamber. Chairs lined the sides of the room and a vast comfortable 'throne' took pride of place at the top end of the room. A slightly smaller chair was placed to the left and Daniel could imagine the scene as the king and his queen received guests, petitioners, merchants and ambassadors.

Daniel continued to wander the palace, constantly amazed at the sheer quantity of marble this one building must have used in its construction. From the highest to the lowest rooms, every surface was marble. He found the entrance to the kitchens and could almost smell the spit roast as it cooked over the open hearth. Vast ovens lined the walls, their blackened interiors revealed on opening the metal doors. Here the marble was limited to the floor, which was spotless, but still the room was well ventilated, clean and organised.

Starting to feel overwhelmed by the sheer size of the palace, Daniel moved out into the gardens and immediately fell in love with them. Where he had expected formality he found a restrained wilderness. A stream flowed at the borders, its course strewn with rocks and boulders. Daniel felt a wild urge to remove his boots and clamber among them. Succumbing to it, he paddled in the cool shallows before climbing precariously over the misshapen boulders until he perched in the middle of the stream. Feeling lazy and content he sprawled over the stone and lay contemplating the clouds in the sky above him. He felt a strange sense of peace wash over him, and within his dream he slowly succumbed to sleep.

The dream stayed with him all the next day. Every time he looked at the ruins he was certain he could see the outlines of the palace he had seen. He found it hard to concentrate, surprising both himself and his colleagues with his restlessness. By the end of the day he felt wrung out with weariness but stayed with his colleagues talking by the fire until it was time to sleep. He wrote in his journal and settled down to rest. Some hours later, weary beyond measure, he took his tent and sleeping bag to the small tiled room, settled on the floor and fell into his dream.

This time he headed straight for the gardens and the stream, removing his boots and retracing his steps to the centre rock. He lay down on the smooth, warm surface and allowed the weariness to be drawn from him as he fell into a deep sleep. He woke at sunset, sitting up to watch the sun dip down behind the hills, bathing the marble of the palace in a deep rich red. He stretched and made his careful way back to the bank. As he prepared to jump to the last rock, a hand reached for him and pulled him across. He stumbled and was held upright. Surprised, and a little spooked, Daniel turned to face his 'helper'. The man before him was tall, taller than Teal'c. His eyes were a deep green and his features handsome and clean cut. He was dressed in grey silk, and wore a circlet of burnished gold, which glinted red in the sunset, over his long, dark hair.

"Daniel Jackson," the stranger said, and smiled, revealing pristine white teeth.

Daniel nodded slowly wondering how the man knew his name. "And you are?" he asked carefully.

The man smiled again. "I am the prince of this realm, Daniel. These are my gardens and my house."

Daniel nodded looking around him. "Are you alone?"

The man laughed. "It seems as if I am never alone, although that does not stop me from feeling lonely." He smiled enigmatically. "The palace itself has over five hundred staff but they seldom come into the gardens or sit sunning themselves on boulders."

Daniel frowned. "I am sorry if I have intruded," he apologised automatically, wondering why this dream was turning out so different from before.

The man smiled. "You do not intrude, Daniel in fact your presence is more than welcome." He held out his hand and pulled Daniel towards him. "Come, let me show off my home to you."

Daniel fought his automatic instinct to pull his hand back reasoning that hand holding between males must be commonplace in this society. He laughed at himself. He was dreaming, he could end this any time he wanted. He relaxed and allowed the hand to feel reassuring and comforting. "What is your name?" he asked his companion as they reached a side door.

"I am called Alexion," the man said opening the door with a flourish. He pulled Daniel through the door and into a small vestibule. It was full of plants and statuary and smelt beautiful. Before he had time to absorb the odours and enjoy the beauty, he had been dragged into a hallway and escorted, hand still firmly clasped in Alexion's, into a beautiful brightly lit room he had not explored in his first outing. "This is the music room and art room," Alexion informed Daniel as he marched through it.

"Please stop," Daniel begged, his eye caught by a wooden instrument that looked similar to a lute.

Alexion laughed. "We have far more interesting places to see, Daniel. I want to show you everything, we can come back another time."

"I might not dream it right," Daniel muttered a little bewildered by the speed of his guide and the difficulty he had in controlling his own subconscious.

Alexion carried on the tour, flinging open doors, pulling Daniel to see particularly interesting pieces of furniture or ornaments, whisking him past writing and icons he wanted to explore until he was fit to scream with frustration. "Please, Alexion," he begged. "I want to stay some time in one room, get to see things slowly. Explore properly." He gave Alexion a pleading look.

Alexion moved nearer to him and hugged him before stepping back still holding his hand. Daniel blinked, no one but Jack had touched him like that since Sha're's death, and he wasn't sure that he wanted to feel the emotions such a gesture wrought in him. He swallowed and pulled gently at his hand. Alexion tightened his hold.

"We will choose some rooms and explore again tomorrow, Daniel," Alexion promised, bringing Daniel's hand up to his mouth and kissing it gently. "For now I am too desirous of your company to be willing to share your attention with anything."

Daniel stopped still, frowning at Alexion in puzzlement. "I haven't seen another soul, Alexion," he said carefully. "I thought you said that five hundred servants were needed to maintain the palace."

Alexion nodded. "I have asked them to keep their distance, Daniel. I told you, I have no desire to share you with anyone."

Daniel looked at him incredulously. "Five hundred servants can remain so quiet and elusive that I neither see nor hear sight or sound of any of them?"

Alexion grinned. "They are well trained, Daniel. Now come, I need to find you a bedroom and appropriate clothing. We will eat alone tonight, but soon my court will want to meet you."

"I may not be around for too much longer," Daniel said diplomatically.

"But of course you must stay, Daniel. Come." Alexion waved his hand towards a flight of marble stairs and escorted Daniel to a beautifully presented room. He let go of Daniel's hand and flung open the shutters, waving him over impatiently. "This is one of the best guest rooms in the palace and I wanted you to have it, look at the view."

Daniel looked out cautiously. The gardens lay below him shadowy in the twilight. Beyond them he could see the hills and he thought he caught the sparkle of water on the far horizon. "It is beautiful," he acknowledged, "although it is getting dark."

Alexion grinned. "We will explore it in the morning, Daniel." He clasped Daniel to him again and squeezed him. "I am so delighted to find you, I've been lonely without a companion."

Daniel smiled tentatively, still a little overwhelmed by Alexion's enthusiasm and his apparent need for bodily contact.

"Clothes are in here, Daniel." He fingered Daniel's fatigues. "These must wear well but they are not suitable and do not flatter you. Come, let me chose something more appropriate."

He dragged Daniel over to a huge closet and flung open the doors. Silk clothing similar to Alexion's hung in abundance. Alexion reached forward and grabbed dark blue pants, top and jacket. "These will suit your colouring, Daniel, and you will find sandals to fit. The bath is over here and I have ordered a servant to fill it so you can soak in comfort until the meal is ready." He gave Daniel a hug again and smiled brightly. "I am so excited you have come, Daniel." He gave one last hug, patted Daniel's hand and left the room.

Daniel stood in stunned silence. He had no idea how old Alexion was. He looked to be in his late twenties, early thirties; he acted like a teenager and was as excitable as a toddler. He shook his head and grinned. He supposed that dreaming himself welcomed into a large marble palace was one up on the sorts of dreams he'd been having of late. He slowly stripped off his uniform as he contemplated explaining how he knew so much about the palace layout to his archaeologist colleagues.

The meal was reminiscent of his last meal with Zandibar, and the wine as potent. He sipped carefully listening with amusement to Alexion's excited babble as he talked about his family, his interests and hobbies and his thoughts for the future. The wine, the food and the company all contributed to his general comfort, and before he knew it he was fast asleep.

He awoke in a large canopied bed, and lay looking up at the elegance of the material and the intricacies of the design in fascination. A noise at the door caught his attention and he grinned as Alexion flew in the room.

"I've had the grooms saddle up two horses, Daniel," he said in a rush. "We will ride to the river I showed you last night and bathe there." He tugged at his hand. "Come lazy bones, dress and eat breakfast with me."

Daniel blinked slowly looking round the room with interest. "I think I have something I should be doing, Alexion," he said slowly. "Although breakfast sounds wonderful."

Alexion clapped his hands. "I remembered your favourite drink, and had it brought to the kitchen."

Daniel frowned, his face clearing slowly as he caught a faint smell of roasted coffee. "I need to wash, then I'll be with you." He struggled to sit up looking around for his glasses and his clothes.

Alexion handed him his glasses with a flourish. "Do not be long, Daniel," he warned. "Or I will eat everything in sight."

Daniel nodded and headed towards the bathroom.

Refreshed and comfortably full, Daniel followed Alexion to the stables. He kept seeing movement out of the corner of his eyes and was beginning to feel a little dizzy as he tried to track the elusive movements. The horses were large and handsome; Alexion hoisted himself into the saddle of his, and smiled down at Daniel. Daniel contemplated his mount and placing his foot in one of the stirrups mounted with an ease that surprised him. He grinned at Alexion and tentatively squeezed his legs. His mount trotted forward and Daniel relaxed; the horse seemed to know where they were going.

The river was beautiful, wide and wild, streaming past their feet noisily. Daniel had a sudden urge to play Pooh sticks, and decided his companion's immaturity must be catching. He laughed, shaking his head at the thought.

"I like to drop twigs over the bridge and watch them swirl away," Alexion said brightly.

Daniel glanced at him somewhat taken aback. "I was just contemplating that very thing."

Alexion grinned. "Grab some sticks, Daniel and see who wins."

Shaking his head in bemusement, Daniel gathered his sticks and joined Alexion on the bridge. Some time later, tears of laughter streaming down his face, Daniel couldn't remember the last time he'd had such fun doing something so mindlessly simple. The bridge hid whirlpools and logs, and many a time he'd dropped his twig only to see it descend to the depths and disappear. He'd experimented with timing, distance and velocity, eventually developing numerous strategies to outwit his opponent. Alexion had laughed himself sick as Daniel tried to explain his antics and they'd eventually ended up on their backs in the grass still chuckling, watching the clouds float past.

Although happy, Daniel had this constant niggling worry in his head that he was forgetting something important. "How did I meet you, Alexion?" he asked slowly.

Alexion looked at him and patted his face. "Zandibar introduced us, Daniel. He is a cousin of sorts, although we seldom meet. I met you during your first visit." He reached behind him and pulled out a flask from a bag Daniel couldn't remember noticing. "Come, refresh yourself Daniel."

Daniel frowned, he had no recollection of meeting Alexion there, but the mention of Zandibar eased his worries a little. He reached for the flask and drank slowly, enjoying the citric taste on his tongue. He wiped the flask and handed it back to Alexion who took it with a bow. "But what am I doing here?" he questioned further.

Alexion laughed. "Resting, Daniel. Taking a break from your work. Don't you remember collapsing on that dig you joined?" He threw his head back and swallowed loudly, burped, grinned ruefully and handed the flask back to Daniel.

Daniel grinned and took a long sip himself. He thought for a few minutes. "Actually no I don't." He contemplated the flask and took another sip. "Shouldn't I have gone back home, been checked out?" Alexion held out his hand for the flask and Daniel passed it over. He folded his hands behind him and looked up at the sky feeling unaccountably tired since he had only been awake for a couple of hours by his reckoning. "Does Jack know I'm here?" he asked slowly and yawned.

Alexion face loomed over him. "Everyone knows you are here, and everything is fine. Now sleep, Daniel," he heard him say, and watched as a hand touched his face and stroked his eyes closed. "Sleep," he heard faintly before he fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.

He woke to the sounds of drapes being drawn, catching a faint outline of a person as they disappeared from the room. Immediately after, Alexion appeared. "Daniel," he called cheerfully. "Come sleepyhead, your mount grows restless and we have much to explore."

Daniel blinked. "Where are we going?" he asked sleepily.

"To explore my realm silly," Alexion teased. "Do come on, I've been ready for ages." He threw Daniel's bedclothes back and hauled him naked to his feet.

Face reddening, Daniel tried to grab a sheet, but Alexion held both his hands and looked down at him in amusement. "Don't hide, Daniel," he said, sounding far less immature than before. "You are beautiful, and you know that I have wanted you from the moment I saw you."

Daniel didn't think he could get much redder. "You have?" he stuttered helplessly.

Alexion gave a feral grin that made Daniel feel even more off balance. "But of course," he whispered, letting go of Daniel's hands and pulling his face up towards his. He bent forward and placed a chaste kiss on Daniel's lips. "I will wait for you to grow accustomed to my desire." He gave Daniel another kiss, stepped back and grinned, reverting to the na´ve, youthful companion of before. "Coffee is ready and I will drink it all if you don't come soon." He stuck his tongue out at Daniel and left the room.

Daniel sat down slowly on the bed and shook his head in stunned amazement. Life was beginning to get more and more interesting and potentially awkward. He was still a little unclear why he had been given permission from the SGC to be here; if as Alexion said he had collapsed on the dig. He assumed it was partly so that he could cement relations with Zandibar and his fellow rulers, considering the interest in the planet's minerals and botany. Whatever the reason, and he was too happy to question it further, he was sure that General Hammond would prefer that he worked via social intercourse rather than sexual. Laughing helplessly, Daniel headed for the bathroom and with a brief pang of wistfulness, wished that Jack was with him to share the joke.

******

"Colonel O'Neill." The sergeant saluted as he caught up with him. "Sir, General Hammond wants to see you in the debriefing room immediately."

Jack nodded his dismissal and changed direction wondering what the problem was. As he rounded the corner and headed for the stairs he caught sight of Sam and Teal'c heading his way. "What's up?" he asked curiously as they seated themselves in the empty room.

Sam shook her head. "Don't know, sir. I was just told to get here fast."

"As was I," Teal'c confirmed.

They rose as General Hammond walked him, taking their seats and waiting. General Hammond looked directly at Jack as he spoke.

"The archaeological team have 'lost' Dr Jackson," he said gravely.

Jack sat up in his chair and looked incredulously at his CO. "Lost Daniel?" He glanced at Sam and Teal'c. "What the hell do they mean by that, he's been gone ten days at least, when did this happen?"

Hammond sighed. "To all accounts we have King Zandibar to thank for the information. As you know, Daniel requested permission to join the archaeologists excavating a large ruin some thirty kilometres north of Zandibar's city."

Jack nodded. "I would have preferred that Daniel discussed it with me rather than just informing me," he said heavily.

General Hammond nodded. "I am aware of that, Jack. I hope you and your team will discuss things with Dr Jackson on his return, but to get back to his disappearance. Dr Jackson stayed with Zandibar for a few nights." He looked at Jack. "I assume you were aware that he and Zandibar have become good friends."

Jack felt something akin to jealousy shoot through him at the words but nodded.

"Zandibar loaned him a horse and escort and the escort confirmed his arrival at the site on his return to Zandibar. The archaeologists are accompanied by SG-11 who report in on a forty-eight hour basis. Their report confirmed Dr Jackson's arrival. Subsequent reports were as usual, and it wasn't until Zandibar sent a messenger with food and drink for Daniel and his colleagues that his colleagues appeared to realise that he wasn't with them."

Sam looked horrified. "They forgot about Daniel, but how?"

General Hammond shook his head. "The message Zandibar got was that Dr Jackson had come and departed within days. On hearing the message Zandibar requested to be put in contact with me, and in more than adequate English I might add, explained his concern."

Jack nodded. "We can be ready in half an hour," he said briskly, receiving confirming nods form Sam and Teal'c. "Daniel's been taken, or hurt or something's happened to him. He does not wander off."

General Hammond nodded. "Permission to go, Jack, find Dr Jackson and get to the bottom of this. I want explanations or heads are going to roll." He stood up and left.

Sam coughed slightly. "Daniel never wanders off?" she asked somewhat incredulously.

Jack grinned, looking over towards Teal'c who sat as patiently as ever. "Anything to add, Teal'c?"

Teal'c raised an eyebrow. "Daniel Jackson never does anything without reason," he said calmly.

Jack shook his head. "He doesn't wander off, he explores possibilities." He gave a small grin. "At least that's what he informed me last time I tried to call him out on it."

Sam laughed. "I can hear him, sir," she said dryly.

Zandibar had them escorted to his presence as soon as they came through the Stargate. He looked worried as he sat them down and pressed drink and food on them. "Daniel was keen to explore the accursed place," he said angrily. "I told him my mother would never let me go there, but I had nothing substantial to explain her fears. Your scholars can find little of its history other than what is already known, but I fear that Daniel is in some danger."

Jack looked directly at him. "Why do you say that?" he demanded. "And how come you can suddenly speak English so well?"

Zandibar coloured slightly, but ignored the question continuing with his explanation. "I was talking with my nanny, she is an old lady now, but she remembered a nursery rhyme that talks of someone called 'The Prince of Sleep'." He looked uncomfortable but continued. "The gist of the rhyme suggests that this person invades people's sleep and takes them to his shimmering palace." He shrugged his cheeks colouring even more. "My nanny was reluctant to say much more, but I got the impression that this prince always took young men."

"I see," Jack said diplomatically, shooting a questioning glance at Sam who looked as confused as he felt.

"Would your nursery rhymes be based on real accounts?" Teal'c asked, surprising Jack. "In my conversations with Daniel Jackson, he has always warned of dismissing so called rumours and fairy tales and advised that we should look closely at what they are trying to tell us." He raised his eyebrow at Jack's stunned look. "Have you not heard Daniel Jackson say much the same, O'Neill?"

Jack blinked, dismissing a snort from Sam as beneath his dignity to acknowledge. "Sure, Teal'c." He shrugged, "You know me and my attention span when Daniel yacks on about mythology."

"You would be wise to listen," Teal'c said sternly.

Jack caught an amused grin creeping out in Zandibar's face and felt it was time to reclaim lost ground. "General Hammond was surprised at how well you spoke English. I believe you might have some explaining to do."

Zandibar nodded, his eyes expressing sadness that Jack felt only too well. "Find him first, Colonel O'Neill," he begged. "I want him and you to be honoured guests at my wedding. He has become dear to me in the brief time I have known him."

"He kind of sneaks up on you unawares," Jack agreed, and ignored yet another snort from his second in command.

Accepting the loan of horses and a guide, the three of them set off to the archaeological dig, arriving at dusk to an embarrassed welcome from both SG-11 and the archaeologists on site. Questioning produced the consistent claim that Daniel had arrived, walked the perimeter a few times, explored with enthusiasm, then vanished, leaving nothing behind. Pressed, all of them admitted to a faint sense of unease but agreed en masse that somehow something had kept them from talking about it among themselves. In fact Daniel's absence had never been raised for discussion between them.

"Something is seriously screwed here," Jack muttered to Sam and Teal'c as they set up camp some distance from the others. "It's almost as if Daniel was never here."

Sam shivered. "They all say they were delighted to see him but he appeared distracted. Do you think he discovered something and got lost in it?"

"I hope not, Carter," Jack murmured. "We're talking five to six days here. He'd never survive without food or drink."

"But his backpack and tent are missing as well."

Jack sighed. "I know." He looked at Teal'c. "I feel really screwy asking this, but Zandibar's tale. Do you think it might have some basis in fact? Say there's a place that puts you to sleep. Maybe this prince was a Goa'uld in disguise and needed hosts?"

"Daniel Jackson would say that all of your suppositions could be plausible," Teal'c returned gravely.

Jack shook his head. "You've been hanging around Daniel far too much Teal'c. We need to get you out and show you round more."

"Daniel Jackson has taken me to places of historical interest, O'Neill."

Jack shuddered. "That's what I mean. We need to get you out more, go bowling, take in a film, go jello wrestling, that sort of thing."

Teal'c inclined his head while Jack was certain that he'd caught his third snort in as many days from his normally prim and proper Major. "You agree, Carter?"

"Certainly, sir," came the prompt but somewhat muffled reply.

"Good. Carter you take the first watch, Teal'c second I'll do last shift. First thing, we're going through these ruins with a fine-tooth comb. My gut instinct is that whatever's happened to Daniel, the explanation is somewhere here." He looked round his team, received nods and headed for his tent.

At first light they were all ready. Jack sought out one of the archaeologists and obtained a map of the site from him. He whistled in dismay as he realised just how large the ruins were. He called Sam and Teal'c over and grimly showed them the map. They decided to split up and survey the site between them. Jack estimated that they should be able to cover most of the site in the day. "Keep in contact on the half hour," he told Sam and Teal'c, and moved off to start his search.

Eight hours later, he felt tired and dispirited. Teal'c and Sam joined him to discuss their lack of progress and to consider their next move. Jack was certain, without knowing how, that Daniel's disappearance was linked with the place. It appeared that his teammates were willing to go along with him without dissent.

He took off his cap and itched his head wearily. "Eat then plan," he ordered, glancing at the reconstituted mess with distaste. He ate without tasting, his mind still worrying over Daniel's disappearance. Sam and Teal'c remained monosyllabic and the still of the evening did little to raise their spirits. Jack sat up as footsteps made they way towards the camp. "Can we do anything for you?" he asked the man facing them.

The man blinked, smiling nervously at the three of them. "You could eat with the rest of us," he offered nervously.

Jack nodded. "We'll join you later, we need to plan tomorrow."

The man nodded. "I wish you luck, Dr Jackson's a nice guy. I really don't understand how we could be so indifferent about him leaving." He gave a nervous laugh. "It's almost as if we were bewitched or something."

Jack remained poker faced as he nodded his agreement. "General Hammond is certainly keen to understand how communication broke down so dramatically," he observed impassively.

The man nodded again, his eyes alert. "Dr Jackson got quite excited about something the day before he vanished," he said quickly. "Well I think it was the day before he vanished, to be honest I can't remember when he was here and when he left."

Jack nodded, keeping his impatience to himself.

"All I can remember was that it was somewhere in the palace itself." He looked at the three of them and shrugged his shoulders apologetically. "I'm sorry, it's not much and we have looked, but I thought I'd pass it on." He smiled at them and slipped away.

Jack sighed looking over his shoulder at the ruins. "We concentrate on the palace tomorrow. Now we go and make nice and see if we can uncover a little more. Okay?"

Teal'c inclined his head. "I have not found the archaeologists helpful, O'Neill," he said, a slight frown lining his forehead.

Sam sighed. "I think they get a little tongue tied around you, Teal'c," she offered. "It's not that they're hiding anything, I think they sincerely don't know what happened and are all feeling very guilty about it."

"I will bear that in mind," Teal'c said gravely.

Jack hid a grin as he stood and stretched. "Go for it, Teal'c," he said brightly, giving the Jaffa a punch on the arm, returning the slight smile Teal'c gave him.

The next day, two hours into the second exploration of the palace site, Jack's morning optimism was dissipating. They'd looked everywhere but found nothing. He glanced round the site angrily, his fear for Daniel beginning to mass in the pit of his stomach. His looked around for his teammates, discovering Teal'c in a deep trench squatting to inspect something.

"Found anything?" he called out.

Teal'c straightened. "I can see the faint imprints of air force boots by this barrier of soil. A set in and out, but another set that does not reappear."

Jack hurried down the flight of steps to join him peering closely at the dust. "I'll take your word for it, Teal'c." He opened his jacket pocket and pulled out the map of the site spreading it up against a wall as Sam came to join them. "Where are we?" he muttered as he viewed the map.

After a minute, Sam pointed to an area. "Here." She peered at some small writing in the corner. "And that looks very much like Daniel's writing." She leant forward to read it. "Mosaic room ?Religious significance."

"Sounds like Daniel," Jack muttered. "Everything's of some damn religious significance." He peered again at the map and back at the site. "So where is this place?"

Teal'c pointed at the earthen wall. "Behind here."

Jack shook his head. "Are we saying that Daniel found this room and got trapped in it following some kind of earth slide?" He looked at his teammates. "Surely someone would have noticed."

Sam prodded the wall with her spade. "The soil isn't compacted, sir, which suggests that this was buried recently."

Jack frowned. "This doesn't look good." He folded up the map and viewed the earth wall appraisingly. "We dig."

Sam and Teal'c made no further comment before gathering their spades and beginning the digging. In less than half an hour they had revealed an opening sufficiently wide to allow a person through. Jack halted the works and surveyed the opening, prodding the surrounding earth cautiously. He flipped on his flashlight and peered into the darkness. The beam picked out part of a tile. He looked back at the silently watching Sam and Teal'c and slowly entered. The interior looked bigger than he had expected and covered in the mosaics Daniel had noted on the map. He shifted his position and played the light across the room. A shape in the beam caught his attention and he moved a little more forward until he realised that he was facing Daniel's backpack. He played the light over it and above until slowly he took in the large stone slab occupying the centre of the room. As the light glanced over it, he caught sight of material, and edging closer to the table he followed the material along to catch sight of a leg, torso and finally a pale face.

He slowly exhaled as the light revealed Daniel's motionless figure. He was laid out on his back, arms folded over his chest and his eyes closed. Jack took a deep breath and stepped toward his head, resting a hand on Daniel's chest and leaning forward towards his mouth. A few seconds later a warm breath of air convinced him that Daniel was not dead, but apparently sleeping. He took a deep, shaky breath stroking the pale cheek with surprising gentleness. "What have you got yourself into now, Danny?" he whispered. "I've missed you, you idiot. Why did you run away from me, from all of us?" He stroked the short hair and sighed, straightening up. Stepping towards the entrance he called out. "I've found him, it looks safe enough to come in." Almost before he'd finished talking Sam had squeezed past and was by Daniel's side, touching his face gently.

"He feels cold," she murmured. She reached for his wrists. "Pulse is slower than normal, I'm sure." She lifted his eyelids and taking out her pen torch shone it in Daniel's eyes before pinching his finger and ear. "His pupils are reacting to light but he is not responding to pain, sir. He appears to be in some kind of coma."

Jack nodded, her observations confirming his fears. "We need to get him back to the SGC." He glanced at the door where Teal'c stood guard, his eyes fixed on Daniel. "We need a stretcher or a travois, but first we have to get him off this cold slab and into the warm." He looked at Teal'c who put his staff weapon down and reached forward to pull Daniel's arms and up and support him under his arms. Jack took Daniel's pelvis and Sam took hold of his knees and on Jack's command they lifted. Sam gave a small quickly muted shriek.

"He just slipped away," she said horrified.

Jack touched her arm in comfort, and looked at Teal'c. "He was solid until we tried to raise him off the table," he said slowly. He looked between Sam and Teal'c and sighed. "Teal'c, remind me what Zandibar said about this place."

Teal'c peered at him in the gloom, shining his flashlight at Jack's face before shifting and pointing it down on Daniel. As he did so Jack realised that Daniel looked almost translucent and had to touch his face again to reassure himself that he was in fact solid and substantial.

"If you are referring to the person named the Prince of Sleep," Teal'c answered calmly. "I believe we all heard the same thing, O'Neill." He looked down at Daniel solemnly. "I am unhappy to conclude that the tale must have some basis in fact."

Sam shook her head. "It's impossible, Teal'c, it's just a fairy tale told to frighten children, or a tale the Goa'uld twisted to suit superstition."

Jack sighed. "Normally I'd be agreeing with you, Carter, but let's face facts. Daniel's here in front of us, but we can't lift him because he slips through our fingers as if he isn't there. Now that's not normal - not that much we come up against can be termed normal." He scratched his head. "We need to get Janet here, and we need as much information about this damn place as we can get. Teal'c, return to the Stargate. Report to General Hammond and ask Zandibar for any relevant information. Carter and I will keep a check on Daniel and try and prise some information out of these archaeologists."

Teal'c inclined his head. "I will go now." He placed his hand gently on Daniel's shoulder and gave it a squeeze. "I have missed Daniel Jackson's presence, O'Neill."

Jack nodded. "We'll get him back, Teal'c, and when we do we're going to sit down with him and find out just why he felt he had to go off without us."

Teal'c inclined his head and left.

"What do you want me to do, sir?" Sam asked.

"Get our tents and equipment down here. We need to keep an eye on Daniel."

Once tents and equipment were set up near Daniel, Jack relaxed a little. He sent Sam off to find an archaeologist, and settled down outside the room, but near enough to keep an eye on Daniel while reading Daniel's journal entries in the hope of finding some clues. He felt a little like a voyeur to Daniel's thoughts, the writing style being so similar to the manner in which the archaeologist spoke. One passage caught his attention.

It is peaceful out here. My peers and I sit and discuss the excitement of the survey and the wonders that we might discover. Despite this, I find myself missing my friends. I wonder how they feel about my taking leave from them. I wonder what went so wrong that I needed to go without telling anyone first, especially Jack. I wonder if Jack and I will ever get our friendship back on track or am I doomed to keep losing those important to me?

I suppose those questions must be sidelined for the moment. To be honest the palace and the site as a whole have become very 'alive' to me. I dreamt that I was in the palace last night. I explored it marvelling at its beauty. I met no one in my dream but the palace looked as if people were living in it. I felt restless today, as if something was about to happen. Perhaps I will dream of it again tonight. I hope so. I wish I could show Jack, Sam and Teal'c what I have seen here. Maybe they would understand my excitement at archaeological mysteries if they could 'see' what I see. But I know I'm fooling myself as I can imagine Jack blanking out already! He'd be bored stupid.

Jack grimaced, Daniel was probably only writing the truth, but he didn't enjoy seeing his friend's feeling of isolation written out in black and white. He read through the rest of the journal finding little else pertaining to the problem in hand, but considerably more food for thought. He closed the slim book and placed it carefully back in Daniel's backpack.

Feeling a need to connect with Daniel, he walked back into the room and shone his light on Daniel's face. He felt convinced that the skin looked even more translucent than it had previously. Worried, he touched Daniel's forehead then wet the back of his hand holding it above Daniel's lips, the faint brush of air a reassurance to him. He sighed again, putting his hand on the stone table and wishing he could put Daniel on something softer and warmer. The table shifted. Alarmed, Jack stepped back holding onto Daniel's arm as he did so. The table creaked and moved again. An ominous groan in the ceiling above the table made Jack move back towards Daniel's body. He looked up and felt something trickle down his cheek. A second later the trickle had turned into a stream and Jack realised that the roof was caving in. He looked at the entrance and back up to the ceiling and knew he had no time to do anything except cover Daniel's unconscious body with his own. With a muttered prayer to anything or anyone that might be listening, he leant over Daniel's chest and face and took a deep breath. As he waited for the roof to collapse on him he whispered, "We'll get you home somehow, Danny," and placed a kiss on Daniel's cold cheek. The table titled crazily and Daniel, Jack and the stone slab slid into a deep hole.

******

Daniel pulled on the reins and brought his horse to a slow trot. He grinned at the rider behind him who shook his head as he approached.

"You have learnt well, Daniel," Alexion said cheerfully.

Daniel laughed. "I've ridden before, Alex, I told you. Some of the digs on my own world were inaccessible without horses or mules."

Alexion nodded, concentrating on keeping his horse from trampling a small child who appeared from nowhere and ran whooping into the undergrowth on the other side of the road. A few seconds later, a breathless woman appeared. She bowed to Alexion and ran towards the child, sweeping him up in her arms while promising retribution. The child giggled and waved his grubby hand at Daniel who grinned and waved back. Daniel watched the pair of them as they moved towards a wagon and returned his attention to Alexion.

Alexion waved him forward and they walked the horses toward the city. Daniel looked at the marble palace and felt peaceful. His stay with Alexion had awoken his more playful side, and he was revelling in the opportunity to explore on whim. He knew he would have to return to work soon, but reasoned that anything he found out here could only help Zandibar's people find out about their past.

Alexion held up his hand as they approached the city gates and directed them towards a small covered courtyard a few feet in from the city walls. "I have something I want to show you, Daniel."

Daniel dismounted and led his horse towards the opening, smiling down at the two grubby urchins who materialised from the doorway ready to hold his horse's reins. "Thank you," he murmured waiting for Alexion to enter first.

The courtyard was cool and beautifully tiled. A slender woman bowed at Alexion and led them towards a curtained door opening it for them and bowing as they passed through. Daniel's mouth dropped open in amazement as he took in the intricately carved boxes displayed around the walls.

Alexion tugged at his sleeve and walked towards a centre pillar supporting a beautiful oblong box carved in a dark ebony coloured wood. Alexion picked it up and offered it to him. Daniel traced his finger over the smooth exterior and traced the pattern on the edge of the box.

"Do you like it?" Alexion asked.

Daniel nodded, holding the box up to the light and turning it around, marvelling at the smoothness and beauty of the grain. "It's beautiful," he said slowly.

Alexion laughed. "That is just the beginning Daniel. When you find the right place, you can open the box and uncover another, then another, then another." He laughed. "We call them Intriguers."

"I can see why," Daniel said absently, carefully passing his fingers back and forward along the smooth surface trying to find a gap, edge or something that would suggest an opening.

"I had this made especially for you," Alexion said placing his hand on Daniel's chin and gently pushing his head up to face his. "When you discover its secret you will see why." Daniel looked at him questioningly but Alexion shook his head and turned towards the man who had just entered.

"Are you pleased with my work, my lord?" he asked.

Alexion nodded. "It is superb."

Daniel turned towards him still cradling the box. "Did you make all of these?" He asked curiously.

The man nodded.

Daniel held his box out. "This is magnificent, the skill and craftsmanship is exquisite."

The man smiled warmly. "I am grateful for your admiration," he said simply.

Alexion flapped his hands. "Wait for me outside, Daniel and take your present with you."

Daniel nodded, smiling again at the craftsman and left holding his box carefully. He was fired with curiosity, and considered the problem throughout their ride to the palace, and as he handed his horse over to the grooms. Alexion guided him out of the stables and towards his favourite place by the stream. He sat in the grass and contemplated his gift. He remembered seeing Japanese puzzle boxes and wondered if the Intriguers were of similar design. Delicately he explored the surface closing his eyes and let his fingers give him tactile feedback. For some minutes he remained absorbed in his task oblivious to anything until Alexion spoke.

"See what happens if I give you something else to think about?"

His eyes flew open and he smiled unapologetically. "You named them intriguers," he reminded Alexion. "And I'm intrigued. Why give me something so fascinating if you do not expect me to explore it." He returned his attention to the box.

Alexion sighed. "I am jealous of a box."

Daniel opened his eyes again and laughed. "That's just sad."

Alexion lay down and placed his head in Daniel's lap. He looked up at Daniel. "I'm also very intriguing, Daniel. You can explore me anytime."

Daniel shook his head in rueful amusement. "Alexion, can you even remember what subtle means?" He grinned down at his watchful host and pushed his head off his lap. "I'm grateful for the box, I'm suitably intrigued, but I am a guest in your city and will have to return to my work at some point."

Alexion sat up. "But you aren't indifferent to me, are you Daniel?"

Daniel looked down at the box in his hands and was silent. He wasn't too sure how to answer Alexion. He knew his attitude to Alexion's declaration of desire for him had gone from extreme embarrassment to a slow understanding that he could be attracted to his own sex. Alexion was handsome, intelligent, amusing and even more importantly a fascinating companion. Daniel could not remember feeling so happy and content for a long time, and he was highly amused by the very different facets of Alexion's character. But realising that he was in some way attracted to the man did not equate with wanting to act upon his interest. Despite his enjoyment, there was something about Alexion that unsettled him.

He looked into the watchful eyes and shook his head. "No, Alexion, I'm not, but that doesn't mean I want to take our friendship any further." He shook his head as Alexion began to speak. "Let me finish please. I come from somewhere very different from your gentle and peaceful little world. I have a job I mostly enjoy and friends that mean a great deal to me. I have enjoyed every second of my sojourn here and I have enjoyed your company far more than I would have ever expected." He gave the frowning man a small smile. "I was married Alexion, to a woman I loved dearly. Before that I had a few lovers, all women. I have friends that are important to me, Jack, Sam and Teal'c are three such people, but in my culture it is rare for men to talk of loving their friends. In my culture being in love or even just being in lust with friends of the same sex is still frowned on and I can assure you that any suggestion that you and I have become 'more than friends' would not help my career or make you an acceptable ally."

"That does not worry me," Alexion said.

"Then it should," Daniel said firmly. "Go and annoy someone else, Alexion because I want to open this box and I can see it is going to take me some time." He smiled to take the sting out of his words and then returned his attention to the box.

A groan from Alexion broke his attention and he turned to see him standing above him clutching his head. "What's wrong?" he asked, putting the box down and standing up.

Alexion stared at him glassy eyed before shuddering and blinking. "A sudden ache, Daniel, nothing to worry about." He reached into his robes, pulled out a small flask, removed the stopper and took a sip. Rubbing the neck he passed the flask to Daniel and with a smile encouraged him to drink. "I'll leave you then, Daniel. Try not to get so absorbed you forget to return for dinner."

Daniel smiled and sat back down again, yawning as he did so. "I can't promise anything," he admitted. He picked up the box, yawned and rubbed his eyes under his glasses. Looking back up he saw Alexion watching him and waved a hand. "Go, I'll be fine."

Alexion nodded and strode away. Daniel sighed with relief returning to his exploration of the box before him.

******

Jack opened his eyes and met darkness. He took a deep breath and reached out touching something cold and smooth. He returned his hands to his pocket and patted himself down in an attempt to find his flashlight. It was missing. A further inventory proved he was weaponless as well. He took another deep breath and tried to marshal his thoughts. Slowly he remembered the roof collapsing and throwing himself over Daniel's body. He stood up expecting to feel bruised and battered, but to his surprise he felt fine. He put out his arms and explored further. As his eyes adjusted to the lack of light he caught sight of tiled walls and he knew, despite a deep desire to deny it, that somehow he was in the room they'd found Daniel in, but now it was complete and whole, and more importantly missing Daniel. He took one last careful look round the room and slowly headed for the door. Keeping a hand on the wall he edged his way towards the only patch of light and went up the stairs that appeared in front of him. The stairs led into a hallway and then beyond into a large room that appeared to be a laundry. Clothes lay on the surfaces and vast vats of water bubbled around the edge of the room. Jack glanced round but could see no one so he returned to the hallway and looked for an exit. A small door stood slightly ajar and Jack took little time in slipping through and making his way outside and into a courtyard. Something touched his arm and he whirled round to face a tall, dark imperious stranger.

"You are not welcome here, Colonel Jack O'Neill," the stranger said. "I did not call you."

Jack stared at him wondering how he had managed to creep up on him unawares. "I don't remember being asked if I wanted to come," he said dryly.

A faint smile touched the tight lips. "That is undeniably true, Colonel O'Neill."

"Glad we're in agreement," Jack said, watching the man closely. His whole posture shouted arrogance and control. "You have me at a disadvantage," he said easily. "You appear to know my name but I don't even know where I am, never mind who you are."

The stranger's mouth relaxed again and he nodded. "My name is Alexion, Prince Alexion, ruler of all that you see before you."

Jack's gaze flicked up to take in the large imposing building before him and nodded. "Nice place," he said coolly. "Where did you say it was?"

Alexion's lips twitched again. "I didn't," he said pleasantly. "Let me introduce you to a part of my palace I'd like you to remain in for a while." He took his gaze off Jack and raised his right hand. Within seconds four men armed with swords surrounded them. "My men will accompany us back to the basement. I'm afraid I'll have to keep you locked up until my business with your companion is completed."

Jack glanced at the men and checked his surroundings. He was out of options for the present and highly unlikely to be able to take on the four well-muscled men before him without being badly hurt. He allowed Alexion to usher him back the way he had come and submitted to being pushed into a dark, gloomy cell with minimal resistance.

Alexion waved his men back and stood watching Jack curiously. "He talks about you," he said cryptically.

Jack looked directly at him. "What do you want Daniel for?" he asked not too sure that he expected a proper answer, but hoping that the man was confident enough in his superiority to give him some details to work on.

Alexion smiled. "An interesting question, Colonel O'Neill. From what Daniel has told me of his world I doubt that you would be very sympathetic to my desires for your handsome companion."

Jack raised his eyebrows. "You think?" he said sarcastically. "Come on, I'm not stupid. Daniel's looks aside why do you really want him?"

Alexion laughed. "Don't doubt that I do desire Daniel, Colonel." He looked Jack up and down appraisingly. "I can also appreciate you although you're not quite my type."

Jack blew out his cheeks. "There's just no accounting for taste, Alexion. Come on stop playing. Why do you want Daniel and why Daniel and not any other of the archaeologists?"

Alexion grinned. "Are you telling me you'd chose any of them over Daniel?"

Jack shook his head in exasperation. "Get to the damn point. Why did you take Daniel?"

"Because he was drawn to me," Alexion said simply. "As I was drawn to him."

Jack watched him with narrow eyes wondering why Alexion took him for a fool. "And...?" he demanded.

Alexion smiled. "I read his dreams and thought his thoughts and directed him to where he could find me. I need his life energy to keep my kingdom alive. It has slowly faded as each of my partners has died. For many hundreds of years I and my subjects have lived only in shadow and dreams until Daniel sought us out."

Jack grabbed him by the neck, oblivious to the shouts of the guards and the blows to his unprotected back. "You're sacrificing Daniel so you can live?" he demanded. "Is that it? Tell me you bastard!" He was wrestled off Alexion and onto the ground still fighting.

Alexion gave an abrupt hand signal and the guards released him and stood back. "I admire your loyalty to your friend, Colonel, and that is why I forgive your outburst." He straightened his clothing and stepped back towards the exit. "Daniel will not die. He will just no longer exist in your world. He will become part of my world and immortal."

"Until his life force isn't enough to keep you going and you have to trap some other damn fool," Jack said understanding slowly flooding him. "But he hasn't accepted you yet has he otherwise why would you need to hide me?"

Alexion nodded. "But he will, Colonel. Very soon." He laughed as he closed the door looking between the bars at Jack. "Daniel has grown to like me and even opened himself up to the possibility of loving me." He smiled "He will eventually of course, but first I must bind him to me." He looked shrewdly at Jack. "I wonder what will happen to you when he finally leaves your world. You shouldn't be here you know." He gave Jack another wide smile. "I'm sure we could make good use of you though." He turned and left Jack who bit back a smart-ass remark.

Jack kicked the bars of the cage until Alexion and the guards had gone. He explored his pockets more thoroughly coming up with little of use except for a small penknife he carried more out of habit than anything else. He opened the blade, looked at the construction of the bars and then at the lock. The lock was old and slightly rusty. Jack doubted that the cells were used very often. He felt round the door and bars pushing each one as hard as he could. Nothing moved. The hinge was located on the exterior, which left him with the lock. Sighing he picked up the knife, and began to attack the mechanism.

Half an hour later he decided he'd worked at the lock for long enough. He stood back and readied himself to kick. The first kick did nothing although the door groaned. The second certainly moved something and the third bust the door open. Silently thanking the USAF for its sturdy boots, Jack headed back up the stairs and outside into the garden. He half expected to see a guard or two, but nothing stirred. He crept forward and looked up at the tall imposing building and wondered where the hell he should start looking.

The sound of sandaled feet made him duck into a nearby tree and he watched as a young woman passed by carrying a basket. She slipped into the door he'd just left. Jack considered. Alexion had spoken English, or certainly Jack had understood him. He could do little harm in asking for information. He slipped out of his hiding place and headed for the laundry. His guess at the content of the basket proved correct. The young woman was in the process of adding the basket contents to the boiling vat of water.

Jack took off his cap and gave a small bow. "I have lost my friend and Prince Alexion," he said loudly. "Can you direct me to them?"

The girl gave a loud squawk and dropped the basket. Jack hurried over and set the basket right before picking up the clothes and handing the basket to her with a smile.

"I'm sorry, sir," she said breathlessly. "You startled me, few people come down here."

Jack smiled charmingly and looked hopeful. It appeared to be working because she blushed and gave him a tentative smile. "I don't know the doings of the prince, sir, but his companion likes to sit down by the stream at the end of the gardens." She gave Jack a small smile. "Your friend and now you are the first strangers we've seen for many a long time, sir. We've all been very interested in him." She dimpled up at him. "My friend thinks he is very handsome." She appeared to be gaining confidence as she spoke because she looked at Jack directly. "Are you staying as well, sir? We would make you very welcome."

Jack grinned and winked. "I may be." He gave another small bow of thanks and headed for the door. "My thanks."

"My pleasure, sir," she curtsied and watched as he left.

Jack headed outside again, moving through the bushes until he was some distance from the building. He walked on through woodland keeping away from the more manicured lawn. He had travelled for about five minutes when he heard the sound of running water. He followed it; until he found a very large stream that he would almost have labelled a river. Seeing no one, he decided to follow the stream and had gone less than a couple of hundred yards when he heard voices. He crept forward and saw Daniel propped against a large tree his attention firmly centred on something in his hands. Alexion lay beside him, his head pillowed on his arms. Jack watched the scene for a second than walked forward towards Daniel. He was actually casting a shadow over Daniel before he even noticed him.

"Jack!" Daniel sat back and blinked at him. "What are you doing here? Are Sam and Teal'c okay? Is something wrong?" He began to look worried.

"They're fine, Daniel," Jack said. "Missing you, wondering why you never told us you were leaving. But otherwise fine."

Daniel nodded. "Right." He looked a little happier but still concerned.

Jack glanced at Alexion who had sat up and was glaring with unconcealed hostility at him. Jack grinned. "Nice to see you again, Alexion. Think you need to take a look at your security."

Daniel glanced between the two of them. "Would you care to explain that comment, Jack?" he said calmly.

"Your pal here decide to lock me in his dungeons. Didn't want me making contact with you, Daniel."

Daniel looked at Alexion curiously. "Jack's my friend, Alexion. What's going on here?"

Alexion stood up. "He said he'd come to take you back. I don't want you to go just yet."

Jack raised his eyebrows and waited to see how Daniel was going to handle that comment.

"Does General Hammond want me back at the SGC, Jack? Because otherwise according to our agreement I still have just under a week here." Daniel asked.

Jack shook his head. "I'm not certain what agreement you're talking about," he said easily. "As far as the General is aware you're missing from the archaeological dig you left Zandibar to visit. By the way Zandibar's worried sick as well."

Daniel frowned. "But Zandibar introduced me to Alexion, they're cousins." He looked between the two men and shook his head. "Just what is going on here, Jack?"

"You'll drop the box, Daniel," Alexion said slowly. "You just said you were near to solving it."

Daniel looked down and grasped the box tightly holding it up to the light and showing it to Jack. "Alexion gave me this, Jack. They call them Intriguers, and they merit the name. Look, all I need to do is slide this piece here, and voila it opens." He smiled happily up at Jack and then to Alexion. "It is a masterpiece of craftsmanship." He peered in the box and tipped it up dropping something into the palm of his hand

Jack sighed impatiently. "Daniel, will you listen to me?"

"I am listening, Jack."

Jack watched as Daniel fiddled with the box as he looked up at Jack. " Damn it Daniel. Will you quit that and give me your full attention."

Daniel frowned and carefully set outside the opened box and the very small package contained inside.

Alexion has you here under false pretences," Jack started feeling ready to breath fire as Alexion interrupted yet again.

"Open the package, Daniel," Alexion ordered quietly.

Daniel frowned but did just that. Jack glanced sharply at Alexion wondering exactly what control he had over Daniel. "Daniel, don't."

Daniel stopped with the package half opened. "Why do I get the feeling that I'm being played?" he asked quietly. "Why do you want me to open this Alexion? What is it that you want to stop Jack from telling me?" He looked over to Jack. "Tell me exactly what you want me to do and why, Jack."

"I want you to get up and come home with me, Daniel. I want you to understand that Alexion has you imprisoned in some kind of half life and that he's feeding off your life energy to enable him and his people to live." Jack put his all into making Daniel understand how much trouble he was in.

Daniel stood up watching as Alexion did the same. He handed him the box and the half opened parcel and moved towards Jack. "I thank you for your hospitality, Alexion but Jack's words are beginning to clear my mind. How did I get here?"

Alexion eyed Daniel warily. "I called and you came, Daniel," he said simply. "You were lonely and sad. I felt your call for companionship and showed you how to find me."

Daniel bit his lips and frowned, and Jack closed his eyes momentarily in pain that Daniel should feel so alienated from his team that he had been made susceptible to the likes of Alexion. "I see," Daniel said steadily. "And when were you contemplating telling me that your so called desire was a need for my life?"

Alexion glanced angrily at Jack, and moved closer to Daniel. "I do desire you, Daniel, it's just that I and my people need your strength and your vitality to live. I want you to join with me and live with me here forever. By doing that you will have eternal companionship and love and you will give fresh hope and life to my subjects." He pointed at Jack. "He talks only of duty and responsibility. I offer you love, friendship, joy, and laughter. There is so much Daniel that we have already experienced together."

"But you lied to me, Alexion," Daniel said clearly. "What Jack offers might appear less than rewarding, but it's honest. When were you going to tell me the truth?"

"He wasn't," Jack said dismissively.

"Had you told me, Alexion, I might have been able to help you. I might have been sympathetic if I had known the full facts." Daniel looked at Alexion regretfully. "What did you do to get stuck in this half life?"

Alexion closed his eyes wearily. "The Goa'uld came and threatened our lands, our livelihood and our people. I had a wise man, a seer and a man of magic. He talked of a stone of power that would protect us from the Goa'uld. My lover was his disciple." He opened his eyes and looked searchingly at Daniel. "He was a lot like you, Daniel, I think that is why I connected with you so easily."

Jack let out an impatient sigh. He really didn't want to hear all this, but knowing Daniel as well as he did he knew he'd have to let Alexion say his bit. He glanced at his watch and wondered how much time had elapsed in the outside world and just how exactly he was going to get Daniel and himself back there.

Alexion ignored Jack and continued looking pleadingly at Daniel throughout his speech. "My lover left me and searched the lands around us for the stone the wise man spoke of. He returned as the Goa'uld began to demand tithes and take hosts. The wise man used the stone and we slept. When we woke, the wise man was dead and the stone split. We didn't realise for some time that we had lost years and become separated from the real world." He reached out to Daniel who remained still and impassive. "You will stay, Daniel. I cannot let you go, you are too important to the survival of my people and myself. Please understand, you will be loved and honoured here."

"But I won't be free, Alexion, nor will I see my home world or my friends again." Daniel said quietly.

Jack sighed a little impatiently. "Daniel," he said urgently. "Could you put your willingness to be so damn understanding on hold and get with the program? We need to get out of here."

Daniel glanced at him and to Jack's surprise smiled faintly. "Ready," he said quietly, moving to stand near Jack.

Jack pointed towards the direction of the palace. "Follow me," he said simply and began running back the way he'd come.

"Guards," Alexion cried his voice seeming to gather strength and volume as they ran.

Jack kept his head down and continued aware of Daniel at his heels. He slipped into the trees as they heard the sounds of feet converging on where they had been, and they kept hidden all the way towards the building. Confident that Daniel was watching and copying him Jack didn't look back, but concentrated on finding the way back to the cells and the strange room with the stone slab. Logic dictated that what he was doing was foolish, but he couldn't see that logic had much to offer in the bizarre circumstances he and Daniel found themselves in. As far as he knew, the stone table had both pulled Daniel and him into this world yet kept Daniel tied to the real world. By being next to it when, hopefully, Carter dug them out of the collapsed building was the only way he could think of getting home.

"They're catching up on us, Jack," Daniel gasped. "Where are we heading?"

"Down," Jack said succinctly. He heard Daniel sigh, and despite the circumstances felt a brief glimmer of amusement as he heard Daniel mutter, "Well that was illuminating."

They continued towards the palace, their chances of being discovered increasing as the cover became lighter and the sightings of guards became more frequent. Jack stopped and grabbed Daniel's arm. "We need to get in that door over there," he whispered. "When I give the signal just run for it and keep going down. We're looking for that stone slab."

Daniel gave him a sharp look and nodded. Jack returned his attention to the door and waited. He had been worried that Alexion might have it guarded, but it was clear. He took a deep breath, touched Daniel's arm and ran. Shouts nearby urged him to greater speed and his relief when both of them were through the door was palpable.

"Down the steps," he urged and took them as fast as he could manage. Within seconds they were engulfed in darkness. He stood still for a few seconds and turned to where he knew the tiled room was. "Hold onto me," he whispered and using the wall as a guide edged towards their hoped for escape. He could feel Daniel's hands lightly touching his back and he felt a surge of affection for the man and a willingness to forgive him almost anything if they both got out of this alive and intact.

The room loomed up as he remembered it and he edged into further darkness until he was touching the stone slab. "We just need to pray for a miracle now," he said lightly.

He could feel Daniel nod and then a hand grasped his shoulder. "Thank you, Jack," Daniel said slowly. "Whatever happens I want you to know just how glad I am you came after me." He stopped and Jack could hear the quiver in his voice. "And how much I miss you when you're not around."

Jack turned and engulfed him in a warm hug. "And I miss you," he said quietly, convinced that the darkness was making him braver than usual when it came to expressing strong feelings. "So do Teal'c and Carter. We function much better when we're all together, Daniel."

"I know," Daniel said quietly. He shifted but didn't move out of Jack's embrace. "This is the room I slept in?"

Jack nodded, quietly enjoying the embrace. "We found you in a coma on the stone slab. When we tried to lift you, you slipped through our hands." He felt Daniel shiver and tightened his hold on him. "Carter and Teal'c will find us, Daniel."

Daniel nodded. "I know." He was silent for a few moments. "I love you all, Jack," he said in a rush. "All of you, Sam, well who couldn't love Sam. Teal'c because despite what he has done he comes through for us every time, and you." He stopped suddenly and then shrugged." And despite the fact that you're a pain in the ass I wouldn't be without you either. You're like my family."


"Gee thanks," Jack said dryly resisting an urge to laugh. "Same back at you, spacemonkey." He felt Daniel sigh in exasperation and grinned. "Thought I'd forgotten that little moniker didn't you?"

"I'd hoped." Daniel said fervently.

They both heard movement and saw the light of a flaming torch at the same time. Jack moved so he was almost sat on the table and placed his arms over Daniel's shoulders as Daniel turned to face Alexion. He saw Alexion's expression as he took in their stance and grinned.

Alexion turned to Daniel. "I have a ring here, Daniel," he opened his hand and the stone embedded in the top flashed in the torch light. "You can wear it on your finger willingly, or it can become a collar with all that entails. The choice is yours Daniel."

Jack felt Daniel stiffen and stand straighter. "I will not be threatened, Alexion."

"Then you have made your choice, Daniel." Alexion handed the torch to one of the accompanying guards and held the ring between his hands. Jack watched as the ring stretched wondering what he was going to do now.

"The stone at the centre is part of the stone of power I told you about," Alexion murmured as he held the slowly enlarging ring up to Daniel's face. "It will bind you to me and my people."

Daniel backed further into Jack, and without thinking further about it Jack gathered him into a tight embrace. "He does not and will not belong to anyone but himself," Jack snapped out, frustrated at his inability to do anything.

Alexion smiled his eyes glittering and raised the ring up to Daniel's neck. "It will soon fit, Colonel O'Neill, then we will see who Daniel belongs to."

Jack felt his anger build, but before he'd even realised that he was reacting to Alexion's jibes a gentle pressure on his arms stopped his sudden movement. "Wait," Daniel whispered. "Have faith in Sam and Teal'c. Trust them, Jack."

Jack slumped forward and rested his head on Daniel's shoulder. He took a deep breath and willed them both to be free of this place, to be broken out of the remains of the building, to smell fresh air and to see his teammates' faces. "Come on," he murmured desperately as Alexion held the thin enlarged ring up to the light and touched the stone. "Damn it, come on," he almost yelled as the ring fell open and Alexion turned to beckon to two of the guards. He felt Daniel brace himself to fight, and relaxed his hold on him slightly torn between a need to fight his way out of this and painful certainty that if he didn't keep in contact Daniel would be left behind when he was brought back. A sudden pain in his back distracted him, he groaned unconsciously tightening his grasp on Daniel. The pain increased and moved to his arms. A hand touched him and he groaned again.

"Colonel O'Neill, we've got you, sir." Hands swept debris away and gently moved him cradling his neck as they did so.

"Daniel," he gasped.

"We're digging him out now, sir,"

"Good," Jack murmured, and lost consciousness.

******

The infirmary and Janet Fraiser occupied most of Jack's awareness for the first few days until he felt well enough to complain and demand to know how Daniel was. The sight of Daniel, although pale and bruised, whole and very solid had given him the reassurance he required, and he spent the following few days annoying the hell out of Janet and her nurses. His discharge beat Daniel's by a day and even his knowledge that a report, and a long briefing loomed on the horizon could not reduce his pleasure at leaving the mountain, and heading for home comforts and the sports channel.

The debriefing was followed by a metaphorical - Jack would have died rather than enact a physical one - SG-1 team hug as they revelled in being back together. Daniel was grateful to all of them for rescuing him and determined to return to Zandibar with as much information as he could give him, in the hope that Alexion and his people could be assisted in some way. Jack remembered the girl in the laundry and managed to remain positive in the face of Daniel's enthusiasm.

He remembered his promise to himself to talk with Daniel about everything and suggested that Daniel should stop by on his way home. He caught a flash of something like fear in Daniel's eyes and was relieved when Daniel finally agreed.

The evening was bright and clear, and he decided to take Daniel up on the roof to talk. He often felt at his most mellow and relaxed there, and he wanted his talk with Daniel to fix things between them. Daniel arrived ten minutes late clutching some beers and a bottle of wine.

They exchanged small talk until Jack ushered Daniel up the ladder and into the deckchairs. He snapped the lid off a bottle of beer, took a long drink and asked. "Why did you feel so isolated, Daniel?"

Daniel stilled and looked down at his hands. Jack waited patiently while Daniel thought, and looked up at the night sky. Dusk was still some time away, but the sun was beginning to descend and cast a deep glow over parts of the town and the mountains.

"I've being feeling cut off for a little time now, "Daniel said eventually. "You and I seemed to have grown so far apart that we could hardly talk without snapping at each other." He rolled his beer bottle in his hands and looked up at Jack. "I was hurt that you and Sam couldn't tell me about your relationship, and even more hurt that I only found out via the gossip."

Jack wriggled uncomfortably in his chair.

"I've got no problem with the idea of you and Sam, Jack. Or I thought I didn't, but while Sam and I remained friends it seemed to distance you and me even more and I didn't understand why."

Jack opened his mouth to answer but Daniel was on a roll. "Then the missions," he sighed. "I began to wonder why I was on the team at times. I'm more than adequate with a gun, despite my reluctance, but if you want a soldier I'm not really the best man. Then every time I tried to give you options you shot me down and one day I just realised I'd had enough. If Zandibar and his planet hadn't come up I'd have resigned from the SGC or a least SG-1. Zandibar renewed my faith in what I was doing." He looked up at Jack, "but it didn't last for long, unfortunately. The Osiris/Sara business, and you cutting me off when I rang Teal'c for help with a translation kind of summed up my feelings about what was left of our friendship, so I asked General Hammond's permission to go off world and the rest you know."

Jack nodded, relieved to be finally allowed to respond. "Carter and I do have feelings for each other," he said, deciding to go to the nub of the matter. "She's a wonderful woman, a great soldier and she's special." Daniel nodded in agreement. "We decided not to take those feelings outside of the SGC, but, believe me Daniel, it wasn't just the chain of command stuff. Realistically I don't think Carter and I have much of a future between us. I'm sure I'd annoy the hell out of her very soon, and however much I love her, her negativity would drive me mad."

Daniel frowned." Sam's not negative," he said slowly. "Okay she tends to look for the negative but give her a problem and she'll work her ass off trying to solve it."

Jack nodded. "Hell I know that, Daniel. I owe being here to that character trait, one that you share as well I might add. Okay, so I'm laying it a little thick. Look I like Carter, I do love her, I'm just not 'in love' with her and I'm sure that we'd never be right for each other and I certainly have no intention of hurting her." He sighed and took a deep drink." This feelings stuff is hard work."

Daniel laughed. "We've hardly got started here, Jack."

"Right," Jack took another gulp. "As to our friendship Daniel. Now this is what I think in retrospect. Believe me I wasn't thinking this through at the time. I think I probably realised that I felt as strongly about you and Teal'c as I did Carter. Now Teal'c was easy, a comrade in arms. A buddy. You though," he shook his head and eyed his drink seriously. "You are different, Daniel. The nerd that grew up and I claimed as a friend. I don't think I was ready to understand the implications of those thoughts, so I ran." He looked up and smiled at Daniel. "It was seeing you lifeless on that damn stone slab and knowing I wanted you back so damn much, and the jealousy I felt when you and Zandibar became so friendly that kind of clued me in."

Daniel's face remained impassive, but Jack saw him blink very fast. Heartened he continued. "Was Alexion right when he told me that you were attracted to him?"

Daniel nodded briefly his face averted.

"Have you ever been attracted to men before?"

Daniel shook his head.

"Do you think you could be attracted again, Daniel?"

Daniel flinched and looked up at Jack his eyes narrowing. "Why are you asking me this, Jack?"

Jack smiled softly. "Are you attracted to me, Daniel?"

Daniel stilled and a faint flush of red appeared on his face. "Yes," he said evenly.

"I believe I've just admitted the same about you, so my conclusion is that the reason for our falling out isn't too hard to find." Jack savoured the look of total amazement on Daniel's face. He waited a few seconds before asking, "do you agree?"

Daniel ducked his head and fiddled with his bottle again. Jack watched him in appreciation, delighted to have beaten Daniel at his own game, talking. He bet the other man was regretting his haircut and with it the ability to hide his face. Eventually Daniel sighed. "You're probably right, Jack. Maybe I've been sublimating my, previously unacknowledged, desire for you and it rolled over into other areas of my life." He looked up at Jack. "I told Alexion that any suggestion a relationship between him and me would not help my career or assist in developing relations with our country." He sighed. "Couldn't that same be said for us two?"

Jack shook his head slowly. "I'm not entirely sure, Daniel. The idea of Carter and me is totally against regulations. You're a civilian advisor which kind of muddies the water a little and leaves the answer somewhat open ended."

"So what are you suggesting, Jack?" Daniel said slightly sharply. "I wasn't going to explore my newly discovered feelings about you with you. I was going to patch up our friendship as best we could and carry on like a good soldier. Also, because I love Sam, I was going to smile and give you two my blessing."

"Carter and I don't need your blessing because both of us have decided it isn't going to happen." Jack looked up at the darkening sky and shivered slightly. "Let's take this conversation down in the house, accompanied by a coffee, Daniel."

Daniel nodded and followed him down the steps, sitting himself on the couch as Jack busied himself with the coffee filter and thought about what he was going to say. Words and thoughts tumbled through his mind and he found himself unable to think straight. He took two mugs down from the cupboard, filled them, and left the jug on the hotplate. He carried them through and sat on the opposite end of the couch.

He blew on his coffee and began talking before fear removed his ability to speak. "Carter and I don't need your blessing, Daniel, but you and I now that's a different matter. There's a lot about you that annoys me, but unlike Carter and me we've got years of, okay up and down, friendship behind us as well as a shared history with Ra, and mutual respect. I respect Carter, but we've got the soldier/CO thing against us. She can't just tell me I'm an idiot like you can, and have done I might add."

Daniel smiled slightly and sipped his coffee. "And you've deserved it," he said provocatively.

Jack glared at him and raised a cushion menacingly. Daniel grinned before returning his attention to his coffee. He took a couple of sips while Jack waited him out. He'd said far more than he'd anticipated, but he'd promised himself that he was going to have everything on the level with Daniel from now on.

Daniel put his cup down and turned to face Jack. He looked at him solemnly. "I need your friendship far more than I need anything else."

Jack nodded encouragingly.

"However, if you think that that we can have a deeper friendship and all it involves without screwing with your career and to a lesser extent mine, I'm curious enough and open enough to admit I wouldn't say no." He smiled again. "Let me phrase that a little more positively, Jack. I would very much like the idea of getting to know you more intimately."

"Positively toe curling with passion," Jack said smiling at Daniel to take the sting out of his sarcastic retort. "Can I hug you, Daniel?"

Daniel licked his lips and nodded quickly. "Please," he said faintly.

Jack scooted over towards him and engulfed him in a hug waiting for the strong arms to wrap themselves round him. He leant into Daniel's warmth and sighed. "This feels a little like coming home," he murmured in Daniel's ear. Daniel shivered and Jack thought for a second and blew on Daniel's neck and ear, Daniel shivered again. Jack released his arm and little and sat back grinning at Daniel.

"So," Daniel said defensively. "It's a sensitive spot."

Jack laughed. "Any more nearby?"

Daniel raised his chin and grinned. "You don't ask, I won't tell, but maybe I'll let you discover."

Jack laughed again and returned to the hug. "This is going to be a lot of fun," he whispered in Daniel's ear and leant forward to kiss that sensitive spot.

Daniel's groan and grumbled, "Jaaaaack!" delighted him so much he did it again.

"A lot of fun," he repeated and was silenced pleasurably when Daniel grasped his chin and kissed him.

"Laugh it up flyboy," Daniel said a little breathlessly. "Do you always talk so much when you're making out? Because I'm warning you I going to be rethinking my initial enthusiasm if ..."

Jack shut Daniel up the only way he could think of, and as he settled into the unfamiliar, but very pleasant, sensations of kissing his male best friend, he decided that he'd got the best of both worlds. A renewed friendship with the man in his arms coupled with an effective and apparently foolproof method of keeping Daniel quiet. Next time Daniel mentioned helping out Alexion he'd suggest sending him a thank you note.

They broke off the kiss and sat back and looked at each other with apparently mutual expressions of smug satisfaction on their faces. Jack went in for the kill. "My spacemonkey," he crooned and pulled Daniel towards him again. As he began kissing the half opened lips, he wondered what comebacks the inventive mind, currently absorbed in extracting his tonsils, was thinking up. Whatever they were, as long as they involved a hell of a lot of kissing and making up, he was willing to suffer them although he could foresee that he and his dictionary would be becoming further acquainted.

What sacrifices, he thought happily, and lost himself in the kiss.


The end
July 2002
































1
You must login (register) to review.