ILLUMINATION BY BIBLIO AND PHOENIX E: PART TWO


Slash: Jack and Daniel involved in a loving and committed relationship, which usually involves sex.
Rating: NC-17
Category: Angst.  Drama.  First Time.  Hurt/Comfort.
Season/Spoilers: Season 4. Based around the events of Absolute Power and The Light
Synopsis: The arrival of the Harsesis child causes both Jack and Daniel to see themselves - and each other  - in a completely different light
Warnings: Intense situations.
Length: 640 Kb Download a printer-friendly PDF version of the story


DANIEL

You should have listened to me, Sam. You really should have. I did try to warm you. But you always did know best, didn't you. You didn't leave me any choice. I had to take action, I had to save you from the consequences of your own arrogant, misguided ambitions.

No hard feelings?

You've been a very busy, naughty girl, Samantha. Very naughty! You've waxed venomous all over the Pentagon and Capitol Hill, whispering sweet poison into the ear of anyone who would listen to your 'selfless' concern for DAN-iel's welfare and your paranoid, completely groundless fears about fate of the world. Oh dear. Playing the megalomania card was just so - obvious. Not to mention trite. Clichéd. Dated. Ridiculous. But then again, very much in keeping with the rather conventional and unimaginative way your mind works. You've more than demonstrated a considerable inability to think outside the box.

Or outside the cell.

I'm so touched by the faith the military machine has shown in me, their anxiety to assuage my concerns for your welfare. You'll get the very best of care, Sam, dear. The very best. Although, as I cue the security camera monitoring your cell 24/7, I have to admit your surroundings are far less salubrious than the mental health ward DAN-iel once found himself consigned to, and the orange is an unexpected touch of cruelty given your skin tone, but still, the very best of care. I made sure of it.

There's a pleasing symmetry to disposing of Sam in this way. Quite delicious, actually. An eloquent object lesson for the good Major Doctor on the perils of being perceived as the flake, the emotive little romantic always 'doing the right thing', of being the sole voice of 'reason' crying all alone in the wilderness only to have the scientist come in and overwhelm intuition and accusation with facts. I've seen your theory and raised you a proof, Sam.

Ah, if only she had the wit to perceive the point of the lesson, we could share the exquisite irony of consummate role reversal.

I've been monitoring all the phone calls and outgoing messages she's been relentlessly sending in the vain hope of getting someone, anyone to pay attention to her delusions. She's already exhausted the 'A' list during her rapid descent into the cell she's gracing and there's only one name of note on the 'B' list.

Frankly, he won't be at all happy to learn just how far down the pecking order he comes these days. Poor Jack. It's almost in me to feel sorry for him. The rapidity of his self-inflicted slide from apex to nadir made Sam's subsequent tumble look leisurely by comparison. I've been curious to see if he'd turn up. It's not like he has anything to distract him from his own redundancy.

Ah, well what do we have here? Speak of the devil. Looks like today's the day we all get lucky.

Jack came through for her after all. I see. That's the way it is - still. He refused to answer any of my calls and yet, the moment she crooks a finger, he comes running. He's so utterly reliable in his mundanity.

"Sir, thank you for coming," she says to him as Jack walks up to the bars separating them.

"What are you doing Carter?" he asks in a tired voice. Maybe this isn't as bad as I thought. He sounds like he's humouring her. Maybe this is simply a professional courtesy call. The least he can do for someone who once served under him. No matter how much of a nutbar she's become in the interim.

Maybe. Still, it's a lot more courtesy, professional or otherwise, than he's shown me.

"I'm trying to do what's right," she starts to whine. "I've talked to everyone I know. No one's answering my calls, responding to my e-mails, even my letters."

"Because they think you're NUTS!" Jack cuts her off with his unique and entirely refreshing knack for stating the blindingly obvious.

"What do you think?" she asks him pointedly.

Ah, now THAT'S really the question, isn't it? What DO you think, Jack? Enlighten us, please.

"We're talking about Daniel here," he tells her with a small shrug. Daniel -- "Sometimes he can be a little odd. Every once in a while he gets carried away, but he's not gonna do anything to jeopardise the entire planet."

That was unexpected. Approval, of a sort, from the man's own lips. He still believes in me. Correction, believes in DAN-iel. Not the same thing. Not even close. Not any more.

He's looking good, though. Looking very good. A little tired, but boredom will do that to you. Especially to someone who's seen as much action as Jack. Needs as much constant stimulation, needs to be - needed. It's good to see him. Haven't seen him in such a long time. What the hell, it's so good to see him I'll overlook the fact he called me 'odd'.

"I'm not so sure, sir," Sam tells him with all the studied directness of the stupidly determined.

There's a news flash. I already know your views on the subject. I want to hear what Jack has to say.

I wish I could see his expression but unfortunately he's keeping his back to the camera. Looking at HER.

"There are a lot of very smart people who believe in this," Jack reminds her. Way to go, Jack. Tell her the way it is. Say it with me. 'Sorry, Sam, but you're NUTS'.

"He's got them brainwashed!" she snaps.

So I'm persuasive. So sue me.

Jack tries to placate her but she's not quite ready to be patted on the head and placated. Not going to admit she's beaten without a fight.

"What about Teal'c?" she challenges. "You don't still blame Daniel for that?"

Yes, Jack, what about Teal'c? Is he still coming between us?

I don't have to be able to see his face to know that one went home. His back stiffens, he pauses a moment before replying. When he finally manages to get the words out his voice lacks the conviction he is trying to convey to her.

"I couldn't prove anything. Can you?" he says uneasily.

So, not being able to prove anything doesn't mean he still doesn't suspect. Still doesn't hold me accountable. Dammit! Guess that means the answer is still 'yes'.

It's just like that useless, bothersome slave to go on giving me grief even after he's dead. I want to kill him all over again for the trouble he's still causing me.

As to that 'proof' you're looking for, sorry, she won't be able to help you out there, Jack. No one is ever going to be able to prove anything. I'm much too smart for that. Teal'c took the truth of the circumstances of his unfortunate demise with him when he - went. I'm the only one who knows what really happened, and wouldn't you know it, I'm not telling.

Ask me nicely, however, and I might tell you.

"No," she admits. "I just have my opinion. But that used to be worth something to you."

Sam, that's not bad! You've been practising! Hit his guilt button. Appeal to the good ole team loyalties. Not bad at all. Especially as it seems to be working on him.

Ah, Jack, you always were a sucker for a sob story.

"Look Carter, you helped Daniel create these weapons," he reminds her.

Not bad yourself, Jack. Assigning blame. Your speciality. As well as shifting the load. You're one of the best when it comes to active and creative avoidance. Nothing sticks to you once you start flinging responsibility around. You've got her there, fair and square, dead to rights, she's admitting she's partially responsible for creating the 'monster' she's now bound and determined MUST be destroyed. For the good of the world. Of course.

Sam, your selfless dedication to your cause in the face of your own complicity astonishes me.

Or does your driving determination to 'stop me at all costs' stem from an even simpler motivation than that? Are you just pissed off with me 'cause once again, I thought of it first?

"Well you couldn't stop it, what do you expect me to do?" Jack asks her in his best 'bottom line it for me' voice.

Okay, here it comes. What do you really want here, Sam? What do you want from Jack. Why is he here? What are you hoping he will do for you?

"Talk to him," she says earnestly.

Talk to me? That's it? You want Jack to try and intercede for you? Put in a good word with Doctor Jackson for you? You want Jack to try and wheedle a get out of jail free card from his good old forgotten friend and one time pal DAN-iel?

It just might work. At least it would be interesting to see just how far Jack is willing to go to persuade me to turn you loose. And there's a certain satisfyingly fitting irony inherent in the scenario that frankly appeals to me.

Appeals to me a lot!

"Sir, you have to try. Somebody has to stop him before it's too late."

Oh, sorry, back to this, are we? I knew it was too good to be true. Why Sam, I'm impressed. How selfless. Not 'oh sir, please get DAN-iel to let me out of jail', but 'I don't matter, stop him before he takes over the world'!

How truly noble of you. Getting all misty-eyed here.

They talk some more, but I'm no longer listening. Just looking at them. At him. With her.

After all this time it seems Jack O'Neill is finally going to be coming to see DAN-iel. Going to be paying a visit to his late-lamented friend.

Ordinarily I'd be quite happy about this, but I'm afraid this conversation has cast a bit of a pall on my elation about the impending blessed event. I'd be viewing Jack's imminent return into my life as a lot more significant if I was a little surer of his motives. It would definitely be more meaningful if I knew he was doing it because he genuinely wanted to see me. Not because he was doing it for her.

The whys and wherefores are going to have to wait. Whatever's driving him to come, it seems he's on his way.

Jack is going to be coming to see DAN-iel. Doctor Jackson will be waiting. Between the two of us, we'll get to the bottom of things. Once I have him I'm not letting him go until I know the truth.


He's here. After all this time, he's finally come to me.

I'm annoyed I'm not as calm about this as I should be. A little disconcerted by the fact I find the prospect of seeing him again, face to face -- exciting.

It's nothing I can't handle. Nor am I kidding myself. He's not exactly shown up on my doorstep with the purest of intentions.

Nor the most impure, more's the pity.

Still, it's all I can do to smother a smile as I walk into the room and see him nervously fumbling with the flowers on the mantle. Bending over to pick one up as it falls.

He stands up quickly, whirling about to face me, a startled, slightly guilty expression on his face. Which abruptly turns into one of self-conscious horror as he realises I've walked into the room in time to catch him standing there waiting for me apparently bearing flowers.

Well, flower, anyway.

A pleasing thought, if only it was really true. However, we both know while you weren't planning to say it with flowers, you haven't exactly come empty-handed, have you, Jack? You've brought me a gift, but it's not one you want to show me, not until the moment when you finally let me have it. The moment I'll know why you've REALLY come to see me.

"Jack," I say to him, smiling now as I watch him grimace and hurriedly stuff the flower back into the arrangement behind him. " Nice to see you."

It is. It really is. Not that I've needed you around or anything. I've had plenty to do to keep me occupied. Tons and tons of subservient, pliant people more than willing to fulfil my every - whim.

I've got it made, Jack. Can have anything I want. Any ONE I want. All I have to do is crook a finger and people come running. People who've made satisfying my every desire nothing short of their life's work.

Can't tell you how bored I've been.

Somehow it's all been too easy. Nobody gives me any grief. Talks back. Gets in my face. It's all my way and it was okay for a little while, but, I have to admit, seeing you again, it hasn't been the same without you.

I've missed the battle. The constant confrontations we used to have. The give and take. Mostly you taking. Daniel giving. He was an idiot in that respect as well.

I've missed your crap. You were a pain in the ass and a constant, gnawing irritant under my skin but the one thing you NEVER were, Jack, was boring.

And now, here you are. You've come back into my life, just like that. After months and months of 'return to sender, no such address, sorry wrong number, no one by that name lives here', you've just up and waltzed through my front door, wearing that same old 'hey, it's me, Jack!' smile, figuring as always, that's all it's going to take? Give Danny the twinkling, rakish, bad-boy grin and he'll take you back, no questions asked?

You might have a better chance of getting me to play along with your 'no fault' approach to friendship if you hadn't gone to see HER before you came back to me. You see, and I know this is going to shock you, Jack, that I could even THINK to doubt your sincerity after all the trust, support and faith you've shown me, but I find myself wondering why you're really here. Danny would clasp you to his bosom without a second thought, but Doctor Jackson is a little less trusting and a LOT more pragmatic.

So, why ARE you here, Jack? Thinking you're on some kind of mission for Carter, her knight in shinning armour, or looking to get back into my good graces? Which is it, Jack? What's it going to be?

Let's suck it and see, shall we?

Let's play.

Jack's started out with a definite tactical disadvantage, being caught with the pansy in his hand and all, but he quickly shows me although it's been a while since we've danced together, he hasn't forgotten the steps. He quickly rallies and responds to my greeting with an enthusiastic pseudo-sincere rejoinder of his own.

"You too!" he says emphatically, with a nod. "It's been a while, huh?" Shrug, his 'sorry' face, then he gestures around and launches into the big compliment. "I love the place. Love what you've done with it."

A little too big, a little too forced. But, still, not bad. My turn, now.

"I'm sorry I haven't kept in touch." Giving him back just a hint of DAN-iel. Not too much. Just enough to pique his interest. Don't want too shoot my entire load too soon. Save some for later.

"Ahh, you've been busy," he returns, bigger shrug, tossing it off but still letting me see the 'pain' he's pretending he's not been feeling and further pretending to be unaware he's let slip out. 'Yeah, I'm hurt you forgot your old friends when you made it to the top, but hey, that's life.' No hard feelings?

"Well, the truth is we couldn't have done any of this without your help and I probably should have been more appreciative." Okay, Jack. I'll take the responsibility you're trying to give me. Once again, it's all DAN-iel's fault. Mea culpa. Like always, Jack is the injured party, here. Some things never change, do they?

Never mind it was YOU who walked out on ME.

"The fruit basket was nice."

Indeed. Glad to hear you enjoyed it. Glad to hear you GOT it. Your thank you note must have gotten lost in the shuffle. Along with your replies to my phone calls, invitations -

"Can't be a coincidence you showed up here on the day of the launch." Getting a little side-tracked, here. Time to get to the point.

"Is that today?" he returns, feigning surprise. Badly.

"Yeah, it was supposed to be top secret." Supposedly. Obviously you still have a source or two of information I don't know about. Interesting. I'd be looking into it, but after today, there won't be any need.

"Who knew?" he grins at me in such an obvious, endearing way I can't help but forgive him the lie.

"You wanna stay and watch?" I dangle the invitation before him. He's clearly been looking for an opening, an opportunity to worm his way back into the 'inner sanctum' but has been painfully unsure of his welcome.

Not sure he could still count on having as much pull with me as he did before. I've got no intention of setting his mind at ease on this score. No intention whatsoever.

I'll let you in, Jack, but if you want to stay, you're going to have to ASK.

"You got a big screen?" he grins in anticipation at me, taking a hesitant step forward. For a second, I can see something gleaming in his eyes. I still don't know why he's really here but suddenly he seems to have forgotten it as well.

He's in the grip of that inchoate 'something' both of us were always aware of, but neither one of us would own or admit to.

But something, it would seem, neither one of us can ever completely turn our backs on. Whether we're actually on the same team or not.

For a brief instant he's forgotten his 'mission'. Whatever brought him to me, it's not what's making him come to me now. He's here, reaching to me across the space between us without moving, not because he has to be, but because he WANTS to be.

Time to let him in on it.

"Come here." I say softly, commandingly.

He stiffens immediately at the sound of my voice. Stares startled into my eyes as if suddenly surprised to hear me speaking his own thoughts aloud.

Which means of course he has to immediately deny he was thinking any such thing.

"Why?" his mouth says suspiciously, eyes looking me over warily while his feet are shuffling him, unwilling, but still coming.

"You'll see." I smile provocatively at him. He inches uncertainly toward me, taking a few more hesitant steps, his eyes never leaving my face.

Oh, that's not true. He's looking me over. All of me. Licking his lips, wanting to, hopeful and yet terrified of his own covetous attraction. Come just a little closer, Jack. We both know you want it. You've ALWAYS wanted it. You've yearned for it from the moment we met, suffered years of maddening desire deadlocked by adamantine denial.

"What?" he says stubbornly, glaring at me. Not coming any closer, huh, Jack? Won't show me yours 'til I show you mine?

Hold onto your ass, we're going for a trip.

The look on his face when the rings drop down around us is truly one for the books. Definitely the last thing he was expecting.

"Elevators are such a pain in the ass." I say teasingly to him before turning away at his open-mouthed astonishment and striding over to my command chair in the middle of the bunker. It takes him a minute to recover but then he follows me, almost meekly, clearly overwhelmed as he takes in our surroundings.

Welcome to my place, Jack. My humble little home away from home. Better than state of the art, more than cutting edge, the best, the most advanced, the biggest, every square inch of it conceived of, designed and realised by yours truly, every aspect of its construction personally supervised by your dear little Dannyboy. I thought it up, they built it for me, just the way I wanted. Just the way I told them to. Because I told them to. Mine.

Sure beats the hell out of your rec room, don't it, Jack? Go on, take a good look around the joint and tell me you're not seriously impressed. "What do you think?" I ask him as I bring the chair into position and start checking my monitors. Things are going well, everything is on schedule. I'm aware of this immediately, but continue to appear as if I'm completely focussed on the data I'm receiving and the status reports of the technicians.

When really I'm nothing of the kind. I'm watching Jack. Watching. Waiting. If he's going to make his move, it'll have to come some time soon.

Let's see where the game takes us.

My mind registers every piece of information being relayed to me by my people as I watch Jack surveying the new playing field. He's doing his best country bumpkin impersonation, gaping about like he's just come up to the big city from the farm, but he's not fooling me.

Jack's a much better tactician than he likes to let on. Threat assessment is his middle name.

He's doing plenty of 'assessing' at the moment. From the looks of it he's not too pleased with what he's seeing.

"It's cool," he observes casually, with a slightly vacant grin. "Kinda like Vegas." Duh, don't mind me, moron here. I've never been in a top secret military ultra high tech missile launch monitoring site before. Haven't got a clue what I'm looking at. Don't have the foggiest what any of this stuff means.

Sure, Jack. Save it for Sam. Doctor Jackson wasn't born yesterday. But you are very cute when you're playing the buffoon.

"Actually we've got three to one odds in favour of the launch going off without a hitch," I inform him with a rather satisfied smile.

"Hey, I'll take some of that action," he quips.

No sooner said than done. You want action, Jack, I'll give you a run for your money. Take you for everything you've got. And more.

"Put Colonel O'Neill down for a hundred." I toss over my shoulder to one of my techs. To an instant, efficient acknowledgement of my wishes.

He doesn't miss it. Doctor Jackson speaks, people jump. Was a time it used to be you, huh Jack? How times change. Doctor Jackson is a much bigger deal than you could ever hope to be. Question is, are you man enough to admit I'm a better one than you?

Can you deal with it Jack? Can you handle me? You had DAN-iel under your thumb. Doctor Jackson is nobody's blue-eyed boy. You're going to have to learn a whole new set of ground rules and I'm more than up for teaching them to you.

Can you take what I'm going to give you?

"Dollars, right?" Jack adds nervously. What's the matter, my friend, suddenly not so sure of yourself? Don't know if you've got the balls to play with the big boy? Can only take a chance when you've got the home advantage? Doctor Jackson making you nervous?

Let's find out where we really stand.

"I'm glad you're here, Jack." I tell him with a rueful smile. "After what happened to Teal'c, I thought I'd never see you again."

Straight up, Jack. That was the truth. Every single word. No games, here, just me, levelling with you. What have you got for me?

"Ahh, ancient history," he brushes what I've just said aside with a casual wave of his hand. "Besides, I didn't want to miss watching you save the world."

Or pass up an opportunity to stop me from doing it.

"Yeah, actually Sam thinks I'm trying to take it over." Hah, hah! That's a laugh, huh? Imagine your very own sweet, stoic take it up the ass every time but keep right on tickin' little DAN-iel trying to take over the world! I mean, even if he could, what would he DO with it? The meek are supposed to hang in there, suffering in dignified silence and justified expectation until somebody finally gives them their fair share for all their patience, tolerance and forbearance. Oh, they get what's coming to them all right. Not what they're expecting, but exactly what they deserve for standing by and doing and saying nothing in their own defence while stupider, louder, more aggressive people fuck them over and throw them aside.

Nice guys finish last. It's a cliché, but there it is.

"Oh, how ARCH," Jack ripostes. Trying to convince me he thinks it's a ridiculous idea. To imagine Daniel capable of it, certainly. DAN-iel? A threat? Furthest thing from his mind.

Not so sure of Doctor Jackson, though. He's a completely different story.

You have no idea. But very, very soon, you're going to be gaining some first hand knowledge. Up close and profoundly personal.

"Yeah," I give him a noncommittal grunt.

"So you threw her in jail, huh?" he asks as he takes another look around the bunker. No mistaking the meaning behind that one. He thinks he knows what's going on but he wants to hear me say it.

"She was getting dangerous," I tell him a little tersely. I'm slightly disappointed he needs me to explain my actions. Still expects me to justify myself to him. Doesn't accept my judgement. Once, just once I wish he would take me on trust.

I don't want to hear 'why did you do it' from you, Jack. What I want to hear is 'I don't understand why you did it, but if you thought you had to, Danny, it's good enough for me.'

THAT's what I want to hear from you, Jack.

"You think the military didn't take all kinds of precautions to make sure I couldn't just control everything?" I finish patiently. Stating the obvious. We both know DAN-iel is smart, but even he's not smart enough to out-manoeuvre the best scientific and technical minds of the United States Military! Not DAN-iel.

"Ahh. So what is all this?" Jack asks with a wave of his hand. Cautiously sceptical. Not buying what Doctor Jackson is selling.

"Basically a big screen TV so we can watch and fix things if it goes wrong." I reply.

Fine, let's cut the crap, shall we? So we both know I'm lying. Still nothing wrong with your instincts, it would seem. But where's it written taking over the world is a BAD thing, Jack? After all, it's me. Of all the people in the world, you've got the least cause to be apprehensive of the impending new order. You've got an in like no one else if you're finally man enough to take it. Trust me. I know what I'm doing. It's for the best.

Maybe Sam did send you to stop me, but you're both presuming I NEED to be stopped. That what I'm planning to do isn't in the Earth's best interests. This all could have been so much different for her if she'd only trusted me. Worked with me. Instead of trying to supplant me.

Well, now she's reaped the rewards of her own short sightedness. Don't be as stupid as she has been, Jack. Don't make the same mistake. I'm offering you the world on a platter. Literally. Take it. Trust me.

Don't be dense.

Like you were over Sam. You never fucked our own dear Sam, did you, Jack? Afraid of whose face you'd see, whose name you'd call if you were to let go with that pale, rigid imitation? I've got news for you. You were a pale imitation to her too, her own need and fear of not belonging made manifest. If the other Carters had you, well, why shouldn't she? And you saw it all clearly, the way she needed you to after she pointed it out to you so forcefully, in front of an audience.

You didn't know DAN-iel knew all about it, did you? Didn't know the poor, stupid, caring schmuck figured out something was wrong and wanted to help his friends. Didn't know he went and watched the tape of the whole sordid scene, did you?

No, of course you didn't. Didn't have a clue. The same way as you never had the slightest clue about ANYTHING where DAN-iel was concerned. Well, he did. He watched it. He saw the whole thing. The stupid, dumb, trusting fuck. He knew everything that went on, everything that was said. Everything YOU said. Everything YOU never bothered to tell him. The whole time you were carrying on and billing and cooing with Sam and giving him the boot. After you'd been browbeaten into thinking the whole thing was YOUR idea.

Carter is smarter so if she told you that you were in love with her - not like she could be wrong or anything - follows therefore you HAD to be? Right? Even poor DAN-iel could have pointed out the flaws in that hypothesis. If you'd ever given him the opportunity. Or half a chance, even. But of course, you never owned up. You just acted out. As always. Why DO you find it so easy to take professional responsibility whilst at the same time opting for the 'not gonna deal' fork in the personal responsibility path? Easier for you to be the colonel than the man?

Or is it simply a matter of plain not having the guts to face the music after all?

Marla informs me I've got a call from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and sure enough, there he is, General Vidrine, bright eyed and smiling all over my nice big, wide screen. All ready to share the joy on this our proud and shining day of achievement.

He won't be so happy if things go the way I'm expecting them to. But that would be putting the cart before the horse. Right now, I'm still playing the part of Doctor Jackson, dedicated servant of the Earth. I pull out all the stops as I talk with Vidrine, fully aware Jack is watching my every move.

Not missing a damned thing.

You go ahead, Jack, you get the whole story. Gather all the intel you need. You've got a big decision ahead of you. Let's hope you've got enough sense to chose the winning side.

"Congratulations, Dr. Jackson," Vidrine's self-satisfied voice booms through the bunker. Great sound to go along with the picture. "We've all worked very hard for this day."

"Thank you and congratulations to you," Kiss, kiss smoosh, smoosh, my people will be taking over for your people, but I'll get back to you about it, 'kay?

Jack is looking a tad - superfluous. Little colonel lost, reduced to being a spectator, nothing to do but watch history being made before his eyes. Right in the middle of things, privileged to be one of the select few present in the pulsing heart of the action, front row and centre for the main event but having a hand in nothing happening all around him. I feel for him, but he's going to have to play with himself for the next little while. The Doctor has to go to work right now, big, grown up important work, but don't go away, Jack, I'll have time to play with you real soon.

All the time in the world.

"We're a go for launch," Vidrine announces. "Commencing twenty-second countdown."

"All systems are go. The clock is running," my lead tech reports. Jack's eyes are dancing over the monitors, taking in everything. I can't resist a little bragging.

"We've got twenty four delivery systems all launching concurrently. Each one is carrying twelve AG3's that will disperse once they reach orbit," I inform him as I continue to monitor my own telemetry system. In spite of himself, Jack's impressed. Damned impressed. He looks me over, takes in the imposing spectacle of Doctor Jackson ensconced in the centre of his power, his attention seemingly completely devoted to the monitors he's scrutinising and the switches he's confidently flicking, and even Jack has to give me a moment's grudging respect.

It's something, but is it enough? Not sure. Jury's still out, I'm thinking. He's evidently still thinking as well, as he frowns slightly and turns his attention back to the big screen.

Lift off! Showtime! I can't help but feel a thrill of excitement lance through me as I watch my babies leap up from the Earth and throw themselves into the sky. It's a major turn on, I admit it. I've worked damned hard for this day, why shouldn't I get off on watching it happen? While also getting off on knowing I'm the only reason it IS happening?

You think this is exciting Jack, wait till you see what happens next.

It all goes like a charm. Naturally. I watch him watching the flawless dispersement of the system when the missiles reach their correct orbital altitude. With perfect, clockwork precision the technology performs exactly as I designed it, the monitoring system coming on line without a hitch, a glitch or so much as a whimper, bang on schedule. The network is officially in place.

GOD! That was good!

All according to plan. My plan. My baby. Couldn't be prouder of it if it was an actual child. The fruit of my mind. My gift to the world. Mine.

And Jack's been right here beside me to watch its coming into being. Born right in front of his eyes. He turns to me, awed and quite speechless. He's stunned by what he's just seen, especially as it really hits him, I think for the first time, that he's looking at the man solely responsible for all of it.

Me. Doctor Jackson. The most powerful man in the world.

"That's it. Pay the winners." I smile proudly as I look to him and share the fullness of my elation only with him.


Jack's not getting into the spirit of things. He's still worried. I'm doing my best to show him he's got no cause. I pop the cork on the bubbly, pour the first glass and offer it to him. He shakes his head and stands uneasily at my side.

"You sure?" I cajole gently. " It's two thousand dollars a bottle." Nothing but the best for Doctor Jackson and his friends. Come on, Jack, loosen up!

"No thanks," he shakes his head again. Maybe he's not comfortable with all these people around. He's going to have to get used to being the centre of some very focused attention. Better bring him up to speed on a few other ways his life is going to be changing for the better, all thanks to me.

"Come on, Jack, you're about to become an international hero," I inform him in a lightly teasing voice.

To which he reacts with a pointed look of alarm.

"How do you mean?" he asks me suspiciously.

"Well, now that we have a way of defending ourselves against the Goa'uld, the President is gonna make the Stargate's existence public knowledge." Should be doing so any minute, actually.

Ah, there we go. I'm informed the satellite news feed is coming in, right on schedule and both Jack and I turn to the big screen.

Hmmm, what's this? Not the press secretary. A reporter. Oh, how annoying. I hate it when people are so numbingly predictable.

Sorry, Jack, looks as if your guest shot on Letterman is going to have to be postponed. The Russians are freaking. Better get Vidrine on the line and go through the whole 'pretending to need presidential approval' riff to deal with this song and dance.

I turn my back on Amy Jensen whittering on about international crises and head back for the big chair. Jack's eyes follow me as I sit myself down and start working the seat. I don't really need to mess with all the buttons I'm pressing, but doing it sure seems to press a few of his. Ah, there we go, press another one and Amy goes away and Vidrine comes back.

Wish dealing with all life's problems were as easy as making them go away with a little finger action. One single button - nothing but good times. But come to think of it, very shortly it all might very well be coming down to just that.

Depends on how far anyone planning to get in my way tries to push ME.

"What's going on?" I demand brusquely of Vidrine.

"The Russians have gone on high alert," he responds quickly. Not panicking. Not concerned. That's good. No need to lose our heads over this, people. This isn't a big deal. I've anticipated all of this. "The Chinese are following suit. The Russians are repositioning one of their anti-satellite weapons. Looks like they're going to try and take out one of our AG3's."

Okay, so it doesn't look so good. But still not such a big deal.

"Did they respond to the statement?" I ask him as I look over my own telemetry.

"The Russian parliament considers the secret development and deployment of this new alien technology weapons system to be a direct violation of prior agreements to share all information garnered through the Stargate programme. Unless control of this system is relinquished immediately it will be considered an act of aggression and will be responded to as such."

"That's pretty much what we expected," I calmly remind him, and he agrees. "Then my advice to the President is we have to demonstrate what we are capable of." Next logical step in the progression of the 'Russians getting out their guns' scenario, which I've previously meticulously plotted out for you. Well in advance of it actually happening.

I've given you the script, people. All you have to do is follow it.

"I have suggested that to him already and the President agrees."

Good, good man. Doing exactly what you are told. Excellent. So far the President has also shown himself to be worthy of the position of authority he is currently holding. We'll see if he continues to be half the man he needs to be when push really comes to shove.

Jack has settled into a chair at the console in front of me and is watching me while pretending not to watch me going through the motions of waiting for the launch codes for the system. I get 'permission' from the Prez to bring out my brand new gun and away we go. It's the work of a few seconds to take care of the Russian missile.

Missile go boom. Score one for Doctor Jackson. Thunderous round of applause, if you please. And for my next number -- What'cha got for me now?

"Very effective," Vidrine says approvingly "Everyone here is very impressed."

Dammed well should be. I've got the biggest damned gun on the whole planet, now, and I'm not afraid to use it.

"Let's hope the Russians are as well." I wave away his praise with the correct air of self-deprecation. Oh, it's nothing. Really.

Vidrine, however, like me, is a realist.

"We predicted their next step would be to launch more anti-satellite weapons and that's exactly what they're doing. I'm sure they're moving rockets into position as we speak."

Oh, you can count on it, General. They've already demonstrated they're idiots by sending out the first missile. Seeing how far that got them, only makes sense they'd not learn from their mistake and try, try again.

One of the major failings of arrogance is how unbelievably stupid unwarranted belief in your own omnipotence makes you.

"And your next step?" I say wearily to him as I bend my head and rub my eyes in an effort to disguise my impatience. Let's stop playing games with these losers. Wrap this up so we can get down and party. I'm keeping an old friend waiting, one who doesn't look like he's having a good time, and, frankly, I'd rather be someplace else so I can give him that quality time he's always wanted with me, thanks.

"We're preparing a proportional response. I'm recommending we take out their launch site."

No, no Vidrine. Too conservative. Thinking too small. Wasting more time. Let me help you out a little, here.

"This is all leading to a full-scale nuclear attack though, isn't it?"

I don't mind stating the obvious if doing so helps others get to where I need them to go.

"Unless we comply with their demands, yes, that would be a high probability."

Ya think? I'm starting to get a headache from all this foolishness. Not to mention losing what little remaining tolerance I have for idiots and cowards. I really would have preferred not to have had this unfortunate set of circumstances spoil what otherwise has been a most satisfying day but now that we've got no choice, it's time to stop messing around.

"Shouldn't we just nip this in the bud?" I tell Vidrine bluntly. Also can't help noticing the way Jack sits up and focuses on me. He's been sitting there trying to make like the boob once more, but in truth his eyes have barely left my face the entire time.

He's been watching me, studying me. Trying to make up his mind. We're coming to the moment of truth in more ways than one.

The next few minutes should prove to be very illuminating indeed.

Vidrine is talking again.

"Given our new ability to defend ourselves we don't see the need to jump the gun. The President is currently rethinking our position on unilateral control of the system."

"I see." NOT what I wanted to hear. But again, pretty much what I was expecting. Politicians and bureaucrats. Fools and weaklings, the whole lot of them. Well, fortunately I've set things up so I don't need any of them. I hit my personal override turning the control of the system over to me, locking out all other access.

Permanently.

Vidrine is making 'what the hell are you doing noises' which I barely hear as I explain the new facts of life to him.

"As I suspected the President is obviously failing to overcome a lack of necessary leadership abilities. So I'm gonna have to step in and prevent a global nuclear war."

Should be clear enough, even for you.

"You're not supposed to be able to do this!" he protests. "You CAN'T do this."

My monitors tell me otherwise, General, how about yours?

"I've already done this," I brusquely inform him as I continue to bring the rest of the system under my personal control. "This bunker is well protected. Don't even think about sending a cruise missile our way."

You won't like the way I respond to such discourtesy.

He's trying to say something else but I cut him off at the knees. Bye bye, General, can't say it's been great.

"I don't know about the rest of you, but I had about enough of that guy," I quip lightly to the room in general, Jack in particular. I almost want to laugh. Maybe later. Got work to do right now.

"Daniel? What are you doing?" Jack is walking up to me, a worried look on his face. I'm a little busy at the moment, but I can spare him a moment or two so he can fully appreciate exactly what sort of decisions I'm faced with. Perhaps it'll be easier for him to understand precisely what's going on if I give him the rest of the picture.

"Proportional response only makes sense when the playing field is even. We have a distinct advantage here. Problem is the other side just doesn't realise how wide the gap is. What they really need is a visual aid."

Bear in mind, Jack, this isn't my fault. I didn't start it. But I'm damned well going to finish it. Quickly and cleanly. What's more, as you just saw, I'm the only one who's got the vision and the balls to do what has to be done.

Jack is absolutely still, watching the monitor, until my lead tech announces the AG system is targeting Moscow. Then he quickly turns to me, a strange, expression on his face.

"Daniel," he says softly.

This is it, isn't it Jack? The moment of truth? This is when you chose. Her, or me. Who's it going to be?

"Don't worry," I tell him as he turns his back on me, "there's no threat of residual radiation spreading, it's quick and clean, it's like cutting your enemy's heart out with a scalpel."

I find the image suddenly, strongly appealing. To actually DO it. Remove a living, beating heart with my own hands. It's an interesting thought. What would it feel like? How would it really be done? How much blood? In my mind I'm seeing it as an almost antiseptic event. Simple, elegant, clean. Beautiful. But it wouldn't be anything like that at all, would it? Not really. Reality would be so much more vital. And satisfying. It'd be messy, gruesome, painful. Dreadfully painful. I wonder how much. Wonder how much it would hurt, how much she would scream --

That's when Jack abruptly spins about, the gun in his hand, firing point blank at me, right between the eyes. I see the bullets impact off the force shield, see where he would have hit me. If I'd let him - or anyone else - take me by surprise.

He continues rapidly squeezing the trigger, emptying the entire clip in his grandly futile gesture. When he's given me all he's got he stands quietly, staring at his useless gun for an embarrassed second before looking at me with rueful regret.

Regret for having crossed the line or regret for having failed to kill me I can't say. Guess we'll never know. Not that it would make any difference now.

I can't find it in my heart to hate him, even after this. Even though what he's just done has excised what little heart I realise I still had left.

"Don't you think it was strange you got through security with a loaded gun?" I ask him gently. None so blind as those who will not see, Jack.

"A little," he acknowledges with a slight shrug.

"You never were that bright." I tell him sadly.

"No." he assents, with equal sadness. For once, not arguing with me.

It's quite a moment. Maybe the most honest one we've ever shared. He never saw. Never got it. Never understood me. Thought he did. But now, for the very first time he gets it. He knows exactly what he could have had, right up until the very moment he wantonly threw away his last chance.

One thing I don't think he gets, though. He could have stopped me. He never needed that gun. All he had to do was ask.

All you ever had to do was ask, Jack. Say the word - I'd have given it all up to you. For you. But - that was then. This is now.

He glances nervously at the monitor before him as the system targets Moscow. Life goes on. At least, for some of us.

"Daniel, think about one thing before you do this," he says quickly, turning back to me, desperation flaring in his eyes. "We never proved that kid was a Harsesis."

"What are you talking about?" I'm thrown by this. Admittedly, Jack's forlorn last-ditch attempt to 'reach' me has taken the last direction I was expecting what little conversation was left between us to go.

"Everything he put in your head," Jack continues fervently. "The Goa'uld have used mind control before."

I gaze at him intently, with interest. Appear to be giving what he is saying careful consideration. "You think this is some elaborate Goa'uld plot to get me to destroy the world?"

"We've seen them use kids too!" he urges.

"They used Shifu to put a bunch of stuff into my head in order to build the weapons only to eventually turn them on Earth?" Interesting idea, Jack, my expression seems to say to him. He's very encouraged - thinking no doubt he's finally gotten through to me.

"It's possible," Jack says hopefully, still trying to appeal to a better nature he erroneously believes I still possess.

Maybe once. Maybe only seconds ago. But no longer, Jack. You just saw to that yourself. Maybe you didn't do what Sam asked you to, maybe you didn't 'stop' me, but you did succeed in killing something.

Daniel. Daniel is finally dead. By your hand.

"There's only one flaw in that theory," Doctor Jackson tells him. Watching the fear and the horror in Jack's face grow with every advancing syllable. As he realises, finally, at the very last, how completely he's failed. "You're assuming this is not what I wanted all along."

All of you, every single one of you, needed to understand. You're only getting exactly what you deserve.

You made me. You created me. You could have had Daniel. But you didn't even bother to see what you had - didn't have any APPRECIATION at all. Shut him out, cast him aside, ridiculed him, none of you worthy of the smallest part of what he suffered for you. None of you. I despise all of you.

And now you're MINE. To do with as I please. Believe me, you should have appreciated Daniel. He had a heart. More fool him. You should have treated him better. Every damned one of you, but most especially you, Jack. Well, now you're all choiceless in the matter. Now every single one of you is going to pay for the sins of the colonel. Starting with the man himself. Get ready to take what Doctor Jackson has for you, Jack. Where you once sought to control, you will learn to submit.

Daniel's gone. You never knew what you had, but believe me by the time I get through with you, you're going to miss him. You'll learn the true meaning of loss.

You'll find Doctor Jackson slightly less than compassionate in the teaching of this much-needed lesson.

"Don't. Don't." Jack mutters desperately, shaking his head. He still can't do it, still can't say what Daniel needed to hear. Even in the last second. Not that it would matter. Too little, too late. Too bad.

Our eyes lock in an instant of consuming clarity, of aching, thwarted need too long denied. And now never, ever to be consummated. It's far too late for both us now. The ship has sailed and we're both left forever stranded on opposite shores.

My finger hovers over the button as we share the moment. Know a sudden, strange fusion of mingling understanding. He's been here, where I am right now. I watched him all those years ago, with his finger on another button. We come together at last, over the one thing we can finally claim we both have in common.

A mutual moment of genocide.

He did it without a moment's hesitation. While I watched. Flicked a switch, condemned thousands of innocents. Sealed the fates of people who'd trusted him, people who'd helped him - saved him, people who'd served by his side and called him friend. Consigned them all to oblivion with no more thought or consideration than I'm about to use in sending those millions of faceless souls beneath us on their way.

At least I didn't lie to them and make them believe in me before I blew them up.

He can damned well stand there and watch me do it. Fair is fair, after all. He's got no grounds to judge me. He hasn't got a shred of moral superiority to stand on. He knows it. Besides, I'm about to go him one better. His one bid for acceptance into the mass murderer fraternity got called on account of Ra. His bomb only got one for the price of five thousand. Maybe he shot a big blank, but I'm not only loaded, I'm fully functional.

I don't expect any form of divine intervention to interfere with my consummation.

I break our connection as I push the button, my entire focus on the screen before me.

"System is firing," my lead tech announces. Pristine fire lances from the heavens, my divine coup de foudre descending swiftly to cleanse the mundane earth and clear my path. An incendiary flower blossoms where Moscow used to be.

"Target has been eliminated."

So. I did it. Blew them all away. Poof. That's all she wrote. The fat lady can start singing any time now. Somehow, I feel strangely disappointed. I just killed a couple of million people with the touch of a button and it wasn't nearly as much fun as I thought it was going to be.

Bummer.

Strangely anti-climactic after all the foreplay. I was hoping for a much bigger bang.

I turn my eyes to the man standing in front of me. So, there it is. It's done. Over. My grand concerto, played out to the last, sweet note, exactly as I planned it. Now, in my moment of triumph, as we watch Moscow burn, are you finally going to give me what I want, Jack?

What I said before, about sticking it to the world for sticking it to DAN-iel? It's a nice fringe benefit and I'm definitely going to enjoy collecting it, but it wasn't the first item on my personal agenda. One of my motivations, but not the only one. Or the real one. Not what I've really wanted all along.

What do I really want, Jack? I want you to give it to me. What you've always wanted to give to me. How little use you've always had for me. Your hate. Your loathing. Give it all up to me and give it to me now. I want you to finally be honest with me and let me see how much you despise me. DAN-iel worked for years to earn your love, never suspecting the truth. He tried, he gave you everything, but he never clued in it didn't matter what he did. Whatever it was it would never be good enough, never been enough to earn your simple respect, never mind your love.

I'm not DAN-iel. I'm Doctor Jackson and I know what he could never face. The truth is a bitch, but there's no getting away from it. And the truth is the best we can ever hope to get from you is your contempt.

Well, I want it now. I've worked hard for it; I've earned it. I want what's due me. That's what this is all about. I've done all of this for you. So you can give me everything I've got coming to me. I want to see your disgust, your loathing, want to see just how low I've fallen in your estimation.

I'm the vilest creature on the planet. Everything you despise. HATE ME! Show me how right I've always been about myself! GIVE me what you OWE me!

Sadness in his eyes. Regret. Not hate. Not what I want to see. Pity? Where do you get off - who the hell are you to pity ME? Not playing by the rules, Jack - not playing fair! I did what you wanted, lived up to all your worst expectations, did my part - now you have to give!

Turning away, he's turning away from me! BASTARD! You can't DO this to me! I offered you the chance to save a world and it wasn't enough to earn me your love so give me my due for having the will to destroy it!

Where's the payoff, what's the point - don't - don't leave me like this! I need you - I - I -- Don't leave --

It's all for nothing without you. I'm nothing - without you.

I can't hear the music anymore.

// The music does not play the musician. //

Normally, there is truth in that? But not - not this time.

Oh God - what have I done? I must have been insane! I - I never wanted any of this - never believed any of this. Don't think he - don't want - this isn't me - isn't what I - I would NEVER do this! This isn't me!

Oh God - and yet it is. It has to be! I'm here - I've done it. This is some kind of bad dream - a nightmare. Can't be happening! Sam, Teal'c - the things I said to them - did to them. Jack -- Oh God, all those people --

What have I done?

My own words ring in my ears as the truth reverberates soundlessly in the echoing emptiness within me. Crap. I've been played for a fool. The great and powerful Doctor Jackson? Biggest big shot on the planet? Vilest creature going? Contender for Goa'uld of the year?

I don't even rate an honourable mention. Architect of all I survey? The Maestro? I wish. No such luck. I'm not even the musician. I'm an empty, hollow reed, inconsequential, a mere conduit, simply the means to an end. A pathetic little collection of paltry grievances and faintly sputtering woes lied to, seduced and lured onto the shoals of my own ruination by the siren song I thought I was the master of. Tricked into thinking I composing the concerto when all the while I was merely doing a mindless buck and wing to the melody of another's orchestration.

The unsuspecting dupe of a far more powerful and sinister will and agenda. Played up to until I was all played out.

I'm nothing but a broken whistle with delusions of grandeur. Used to perform the entire, sick symphony from the opening strains to the last, discordant note and then cast aside. What, no encore? Bravo! Show's over. Nothing more to see here. The only accomplishment I can claim as my very own with indisputable pride and certainty, is all my critics to the contrary, I've forever removed any doubt I can carry a tune.


JACK

I slouch sullenly against the console in the control room. Hammond took one look at my stony face, après Janet's suggestion I find someplace else to be other than under her feet in the Infirmary, and wisely didn't insist I accompany him to greet our 'guest'. Carter and Teal'c are rolling out the SGC welcome wagon right now. It's that Aldwin guy. I remember him. He's the one who wrote us off for dead on Netu. Oh, joy. Can't wait to renew our acquaintance.

I watch Carter do the meet and greet and thing. Daniel's thing. Cannot watch this mockery for another minute. Hope Carter has better luck with Aldwin than she did with Shifu. The kid is three for three, so far, though Carter didn't limp out minus a goodly portion of self-respect not at all balanced up by a shit load of unlooked for and furiously resented self-knowledge.

As the SFs scatter from my path I realise the bad news has spread. Colonel O'Neill is in that whole other realm of Not Happy. Lock down the breakables and keep a respectful distance. Sorry guys. Another galaxy isn't respectful enough, mood I'm in.

My subconscious must have some kind of masochistic streak. It's leading my unwilling feet in a bee line straight for the Infirmary and Daniel. I should have swung a left for my office and instead I'm in the elevator punching twenty one.

Glutton for punishment.

I sidle in through the entrance and no, I'm not gonna sneak past the Chief Medical Officer. She's with Daniel right now. I stroll over and stand beside her.

"Still nothing?" One hundred percent sure this is a rhetorical question, but, even knowing it could get me booted straight back out the Infirmary door, the inner masochist just can't leave it alone.

"No. There's nothing physically wrong with him, or at least anything I can find."

"Except for the fact that he's in a COMA." It's out before I can stop it.

"It's not really a coma," Janet explains patiently, for maybe the twentieth time today, "he still has rapid eye movement."

Janet, putting aside for JUST a moment the fact I'm known the galaxy over for being dense, I mean, it may be just me, but if it looks like a coma, acts like a coma, feels like a coma, it goddamn well IS a coma. Get over it and more importantly, FIX it.

I shrug her off and walk away without another word since I suspect the next word will be from her and it will be 'leave'. I'm too tired to make nice and get back in her good books.


When I reach the briefing room, punctual to the second, the general gives me a hard look. Okay. Hands up. Just call me - irresponsible. I do NOT trust these Goa'uld-Lite boys any more than I trust the snakes themselves. Less in some cases. We're nursing these vipers to our bosom, in spite of the fact they've already bit. More than once.

I slump into a chair next to Teal'c and turn my head to watch Aldwin.

"The fact is, he may not be the Harsesis at all."

I'm still watching him as he walks back over to the table and sits next to Carter. I like a healthy dose of scepticism as much as the next man, but that whole tornado thing? The riddles? Dead giveaway this kid has been spending quality time with Mother Nature herself. The question isn't whether he is the Harsesis or not, the question is what we do about neutralising the threat he represents.

"Are you saying this could be some sort of Goa'uld trick?" Hammond asks.

"As we have seen, General Hammond, the Goa'uld are not above using human children as weapons," Teal'c answers calmly.

Thank you! Glad I'm not the only one seeing the potential threat here. Teal'c should know, we all should know, this one has hit us all close to home at one point or another. Charlie, Ryac, Cassie: all used against us in differing ways by the Goa'uld and other enemies.

"Well, all Shifu would say is that he is teaching Daniel," Carter fills in the general and snakeboy.

I know she gave it her best shot and then some, and still she got nothing. We're no further ahead than we were. "So? What do we do?" I ask, shrugging and raising helpless hands. If I had any answers, I'd have used 'em by now.

"As you know the zatarc detector's original purpose was to detect deception," Aldwin says.

As I KNOW? Is he being sarcastic? Am I ever frigging likely to forget one of the lowest of low ebbs in the whole of my life? It ain't malingering in my conscience for the entertainment value.

"We could at the very least determine whether the boy is actually Harsesis and possibly what he did to Dr. Jackson."

Oh, that's right, throw the dumb Tau'ri a bone, whydontcha? Like that wasn't a palpable afterthought and you're not hoping whatever he did to Daniel you can learn to do it too. Bastards.

"Basically a lie detector test," Carter supplies helpfully for the hard of thinking.

"No harm would come to him," Aldwin assures us. Missing the point completely.

"And what? Just hope he doesn't explode in the meantime?" I'm withering. Daniel's been ATTACKED and this bothers precisely no one? Maybe I should fall into line with the others, make like an ostrich. I'm not good at standing idly by and hoping the worst doesn't come to pass. If Shifu does blow up in our faces, will anybody at this table be able to say honestly we did everything we could to prevent it?

I brought Shifu here and look what he already did to Daniel. And that's not even touching what he did to me, helping me set up shop in my own little personal slice of emotional hell. If the lesson Shifu is teaching Daniel is ANYTHING like the one he got me to learn, we'll be picking up tiny bleeding pieces for months to come.

"Hope he really is who he says he is," Aldwin replies.

Not like you've got a hidden agenda, or anything, is it? The Tok'ra want their weapon. They want their weapon full stop, no matter what it takes, no matter who has to be hurt, riding right over anybody in their path. I roll my eyes at Hammond, letting him see the disdain I can't choke down.

"And maybe help Dr. Jackson," the general suggests quietly.

Aldwin gives a tiny nod.

I grimace. Real subtle. They'll help Daniel, all right. Sure they'll get round to him in the fullness of time. Providing they've got nothing more important to do crops up in the meantime. Like tidying out a sock drawer or something.


DANIEL

It's so dark. So quiet. Silence of the grave kind of quiet. No such luck. That would be way too easy. I'm not dead. Can't be dead. It hurts too much.

I don't know where I am, only know I'm not where I was before. I'm not WHO I was before, but who am I now? That's a good question. Wish I had an answer.

// Daniel. //

What? Someone calling me? Calling me - calling me Daniel. Daniel. I'm Daniel. Daniel.

// Daniel. //

What? What is it? What do you want? Who's calling? The voice is so familiar, like a bell, ringing inside me, but I can't place it. The pain is receding a little. It's getting easier to be, not hurting as much to remember. Remember.

Dreaming. It was all a dream. Shifu, touched me - did something. Not real. A dream. Felt so real. So real. God - the things I did - thought -felt. Oh God - what AM I?

Dreams teach. That's what Shifu said. He tried to tell me, but I wouldn't listen. Wouldn't understand what would really happen to him if he let me use him the way I was planning to. What would happen to ANYONE who tried to dance with the devil thinking he would be able to lead. So he had no other choice. He showed me.

Oh, Sha'uri, I'm so sorry. The only thing you EVER asked of me, and I failed you. You asked me to promise to SAVE him from what I just went through. How could I have been so blind? You lived in the heart of that darkness for three years. Had to deal with having that obscene evil in your mind with no relief or surcease. You knew what would happen to your child if anyone tried to use him - tried to make him dip into that pit of seething evil. Total, absolute, utter, corruption. Not only of the vessel, but of anyone who tried to exploit it as well. You wanted to spare him from having to endure the same horror you did. Wanted to save him. That's why you told me what he was - not so I would use him, but so I would know why I had to make sure he COULDN'T be used. By anyone. You trusted me with your CHILD. I failed you.

Of course you wanted to spare him this! You were his mother. You loved him - how could you not have? He was your child, no matter how he was made. He was yours, he was you. Is you.

He's the living proof of your goodness. That your spirit was strong, loving; defiantly uncorrupted to the very end. You gave your life for him, used your last moments to reach out to me, trusting I would love him and protect him for you, knowing you no longer could.

And all I could think of was how I could use him to further my own selfish, selfish ends. Twisting your good intentions to suit my own agenda. Seeing him only as an instrument of my own need for personal vengeance. No matter how I tried to wrap the whole thing up in my 'it's for the good of the world' justifications.

Lies. The whole thing was a big, fat lie. Even me telling Shifu I was fighting the good fight as a way of honouring you. Another big fat lie.

Seems I've been lying to myself about a lot of things for a very long time. Starting from the first moment I ever imagined I was worthy of someone as wonderful as Sha'uri. A moment in time, a single decision, a path chosen, a path not taken --

// Daniel. //

There it is again. The voice. Coming from the light, up ahead of me. Strange, wasn't there before, but there's definitely a light. Big light, getting stronger. Pool of light. Drawing me closer.

Looks like the Stargate. Oh, how Jungian. Well, I shouldn't be surprised my subconscious should be bringing me full circle. Right back to the circle starting all of this in the first place. My own personal circle of woe.

Guess if you want to be strictly accurate everything that's happened in the past four years is all my fault. If I hadn't been so damned smart and figured the damned thing out --

But I was. I did. It's done. I went through, and now it's calling to me again. The circle, and someone standing within the sphere of its illumination. There is someone there, I can just make out the figure. But can't see who it is.

// Daniel. //

Calling to me. They're calling to me. A hand, reaching out toward me. Want to reach back, take it, but suddenly --

No. I - I can't. I know what you want but you don't understand. I'm not - I'm not what you think I am. Not - not worthy of you. Not worthy of this. I should have the first time, but, but I didn't and it's too late. Too late now.

I failed to honour her before, the whole time I was telling myself I was, but I won't fail her now. Won't betray her by betraying what she purely gave to me, even when I didn't deserve it. Shouldn't have - shouldn't have taken it.

I can't have you. I'm sorry. I'm going to have to find another way. The path not taken is barred to me by my failure to be worthy of the alternative.

So sorry.

I turn away from the light, making myself forget the face I just looked into.

"Doctor Jackson?"

"DANIEL!" I cry, the vehemence of my denial shocking me back to full awareness. "I'm Daniel!"

I open my eyes to see myself looking into Janet's slightly startled, but vastly relieved face.

"Welcome back, Daniel," she smiles warmly at me. "You gave us quite a scare." Her expressive, dark eyes fill with sudden concern. "Are you all right?" she asks gently.

I'm confused, then realise my face is wet. Her eyes follow the track of a tear I feel trickling down my cheek and I hurriedly eradicate the evidence of its existence with a self-conscious brush of my hand.

"Fine", I say gruffly, sitting up quickly. "I'm fine." I look down at myself. Hospital scrubs. Damn.

"Why don't you let me be the judge of that," she soothes, putting a gentle but firm hand on my shoulder, trying to push me back down onto the bed.

"No," I say, a little too forcefully as I push her hand away. "I have to go to Shifu. I need my - my clothes. Where are my clothes?"

I do. I have to go. Now. Don't know how I know, I just do. I don't want to get pushy with you, Janet, but I will get up and walk out of here dressed like this if I have to.

After what I just 'lived' through my personal dignity is the very last thing on my mind. Making sure that boy is not harmed in any way is all that matters.

She sees the determination and desperation in my expression and doesn't try and fight me.

Good plan, Doc. Now point me to my clothes, please.

I make short work of getting dressed. Janet fills me in on what's been going on while I've been 'dreaming'. Tells me what they're doing to Shifu right now.

Over my dead body. Not that I don't think, after what I just experienced, Shifu can't take care of himself. But still, I'm going to make tracks and get down there fast. Just in case.

From the looks of things my Doctor is coming along for the ride. Whatever.

It's very strange and disorienting, walking through the halls of the SGC once more. Feels as if I haven't been here in a long time. Like I've been away forever. I'm still in a bit of a Twilight Zone state, some last, lingering residuals of the dream I just woke up from, but the more I keep my thoughts focussed in the here and now and most specifically on Shifu, the more I am feeling like ME again.

Good ole, dumb -- Daniel.

Funny, Doctor Jackson had the hissy fit to end all hissy fits at the expense of the entire world because he told himself he was avenging every wrong ever done to Daniel, but the sad truth was he hated me every bit as much as he imagined everyone else did. Had no more use for DAN-iel than he had for every other 'idiot' he stepped on and over on his relentless climb to the top.

While I'm not fond of the good Doctor either, I'm hopefully going to be a little smarter than he was. Hopefully. For while I don't like him much, I'm not going to make the mistake of hating him. Or trying to pretend he doesn't exist. I'm going to try and learn from his mistakes. And take a good hard look at some of the things he showed me about myself.

Most particularly the things he showed me about how I've been letting some unresolved issues with the people closest to me fester inside me unexamined and unresolved for far too long.

For starters I owe Sam and Teal'c one HELL of an apology.

I hear Sam's voice as I approach the threshold .

"What did you do to Daniel?" she demands.

God! They've already got him in the chair, already started to use that THING on him! Have to stop this.

"Dreams sometimes teach," Shifu says confidently. " I am teaching him,"

Okay. He still looks okay. They haven't started to ask him any of the bad stuff yet. Not too late.

"Teaching him what?" Sam asks him.

"That the true nature of a man is determined in the battle between his conscious mind and his subconscious, and that the evil in my subconscious is too strong to resist."

Too strong for ANYONE to resist. Certainly too strong for Doctor Jackson to resist. For all he imagined he could be the master of the evil that enslaved HIM to it's own ends.

Shifu turns and smiles at me, welcoming me back.

"The only way to win is to deny it battle," I tell him solemnly.

I understand, now. I get it. I'm sorry I didn't understand before. Nothing like a visual aid to drive the lesson in. God --

Shifu bows. "As Oma teaches," he acknowledges with serene grace.

Janet has come in behind me, joining the others, bringing them up to speed. I'm not listening. My full attention is focussed on the child.

The miracle I'm seeing for the wonder he is. That and only that. For the very first time.

"One of these days I'm gonna figure out if she's worth listening to," I tell him with rueful regret as I walk up to him.

"What happened?" Sam asks me.

"I was having a dream," I tell her without looking at her. Can't. Not yet. Can't face any of them yet. Especially not -

"About what?" she presses.

Especially not Jack.

"That's not really important," I say quickly. Nothing to see here, Jack. Nothing you need to know about. Move on. "The important thing is it's time I chose a new path."

Got a bit of an idea about that. Not so much 'new' as the old one I was claiming I was on, when I really wasn't. Only this time, I'll be doing it for real.

"And it is time for me to continue on mine," Shifu tells me. A little sadly, maybe? Maybe not, maybe only wishful thinking.

"Wait a minute, if he really is Harsesis -- " the Tok'ra - Aldwin. Almost forgot he was here.

Forget it. You can't have him.

"He is," I tell him bluntly. For all the good it will do you.

"We can still extract some very valuable information from him," Aldwin insists.

"No, you can't," I assert. You can't. You won't. End of story.

You really, really can't. Any more than you can pour salt in pure water and hope to be able to drink the end result. Both substances are altered by the very act of combining them, and the new product resulting from the blend is quite unfit for human consumption.

Nothing good can come of what this boy has within him. Better for everyone it stays safely buried where it will never hurt anyone, especially the innocent burdened with it. I am profoundly grateful a being far wiser than myself has been his custodian and teacher. So grateful for everything she's done for him. For Sha'uri.

"I don't understand," Aldwin says blankly.

"I know," I answer softly. I didn't either. I do now. Take my word for it, you don't WANT to understand. Trust me on this one.

"Thank you for telling me of my mother," Shifu says with quiet, profound sincerity. Pretty much the way he says everything, actually. Which doesn't mean he doesn't mean every word, though.

"She would have been very proud of you."

I've never said a truer thing in my life. Very, very proud.

"Of you as well." Shifu tells me. He means well, saying that. Know he does. But he has no idea what he's saying.

Proud of me? I hardly think so. Not after the way I let her down, betrayed her misguided trust and faith in me and almost let them take you. Hurt you. I'd have done it, gone through with it if you hadn't - hadn't shown me the consequences of my 'good' intentions.

Consequences. God. What have I done? Proud of me? Sha'uri would have been better off without me in her life. If I hadn't stayed with her she'd be alive right now. They'd have buried the gate behind us, forever, and she'd be alive. Probably happily married, having babies. Little Abydonian babies with her wonderful, beautiful eyes and gentle, loving spirit. Alive, right now, this instant, living the life she should have lived, happy, content, Daniel Jackson only a distant, vague memory.

The way he should have stayed.

But then you wouldn't be here either, would you? So maybe - it wasn't ALL bad.

"Will I see you again?" I ask Shifu, wrenching my mind away from the pain of a past I can't undo.

"All roads eventually lead to the great path," he tells me with calm certainty.

"Eventually."

"Many cross on the way."

So maybe. Maybe some day. There's always hope. Isn't there?

I find myself less certain of this as I stand in the control room and see him ablaze before the event horizon. A small, regal figure in a nimbus of light even more impressive than the power of the brilliance he is about to give himself over to. Twin sources of light, both of them bottomless founts of mystery in their own rights.

I doubt very much we will ever fully comprehend the extent of either of them. Nor - should we.

Shifu leaves me with the memory of a dream and the weight of its lesson. I might not have the evil of the Goa'uld lurking in my subconscious, but as I once was told and glibly failed to comprehend, I do indeed have my own burdens. Such evil as Daniel Jackson carries within might be small in comparison to the genetic memory of the Goa'uld, but it's more than sufficient for MY corruption. As I have so painfully seen.

The seeds the song played on were already planted. All the 'evil' I was given did was feed and nurture what was already inside me. Added fuel and focus to a pre-existent spark. Gave it something to sing about. I can't blame it for everything. Can't blame it for anything. Because in the end I was the one who took it all the way and made the choice to press that button.

Me. Daniel Jackson.

I'm going to have to learn how to live with that. I'm not sure how, yet, but I do know it starts right here and now. I'll take the first steps on the path to finding the way to atone to Sha'uri for what I've done to her. This time I truly will honour her strength. Her life.

I WILL make her proud of me. If it takes me the rest of my life.

I turn away from the gate, my eyes sliding by the man at my side. Jack's been standing there, watching me. Damn. He's got that 'look' in his eye. The 'I smell a secret, something the kid's not telling me' expression which means I've got some grief coming in my future. My immediate future.

Please, Jack. Not now. Not so soon. Please, for once in your life, give me a break. Leave me alone and let me tell you what I want to tell you when I'm ready. In my own time. Please trust I will, and let me.

Please. Let me be.


JACK

I bound into the observation room a little late, but better late than never. It came pretty close. I'm not in the habit of neglecting my duty, but I've already had one completely miserable experience in this room and in that infernal machine. Already had my dignity shredded and my emotional life cut to pieces in public. Once was once too often, thanks, don't want to go through it again even vicariously.

Hammond gives me the exact same look Janet's been giving me since my first visit to the Infirmary. Pardon me for not rushing back here with open arms.

Ah. I see they've started the show without me. Aldwin is getting Shifu ready. I wish I knew what the hell was going to happen. I don't even know what I want him to say or be or do. If he's on the level, then this is torture of a minor in my simplistic book. If he's actively hostile, with what he knows, what he can do, the SGC could buy the farm at any moment.

If Shifu is on the level, I won't be able to hide behind him. I'll have to resolve this deadlock with Daniel, face up to the galling grief of wanting as my lover a man I've driven away from being my friend. Find the strength from somewhere not just to make the friendship right, but to let go. Let go of the past and the future, let go in Daniel. Trust in HIM.

If Shifu is the abomination his heredity predisposes him to be, then the things he made me face about myself, the self-knowledge he inflicted on me were an act of deliberate cruelty.

It doesn't really matter, not to me. Not now. It's gone too far. I'm fucked either way. Damned if I do, and doubly damned if I don't. Daniel doesn't want me, and I'm not strong enough to selflessly eat my heart out in silence. Something will - give. I will say or do something and it will end us, right there and then. Not a question of if. WHEN.

"This will hurt a little. After that I promise you will feel no pain. I will merely ask you some questions," Aldwin assures Shifu.

"Questions are plentiful. Answers are few," Shifu replies confidently.

"We'll try and keep it simple. Ready?"

Aldwin attaches the disk-thingy to Shifu's forehead and walks over to the machine, by Carter. Teal'c is just standing down there with them, observing proceedings and offering support with his usual majestic calm. Am I the only one thinking we may as well bend over and kiss our asses goodbye for all the tactical response we could muster if Shifu turns out to be a Trojan Horse?

"Direct your vision here. First question, what is your name?" Aldwin asks.

"Shifu."

"Are you Harsesis?"

Yeah, sure. Just cut to the chase, whydontcha? You even able to spell 'subtle'?

"I am many things," Shifu responds calmly.

It occurs to me this kind of answer may very well confuse the shit out of the machine. Shifu could tell the absolute truth, tell us every damn thing we want to know and because we're only capable of listening in incomprehension we won't know the difference. He can pass the test, tell us everything and leave us understanding nothing. Given my own track record in that contraption, I have to say that's pretty cool.

"Do you possess the genetic knowledge passed on to you by Apophis?"

Ask a straight question get a…

"Yes."

Straight answer? That's a first.

"What did you do to Daniel?" Carter pounces on the unexpected opening.

Good girl.

"Dreams sometimes teach. I am teaching him," Shifu being - Shifu. Again. Same old same old.

"Teaching him what?" Carter sounds as thwarted as I feel.

"That the true nature of a man is determined in the battle between his conscious mind and his subconscious, and that the evil in my subconscious is too strong to resist."

At that, he turns to the doorway. I follow his gaze.

DANIEL. Oh, Christ, oh, thank Christ, he's awake, he's up, on his feet, he's OKAY. The relief coursing through me is so profound I can hardly take in the solid reality of his presence.

"The only way to win is to deny it battle," Daniel says gravely.

Shifu bows to Daniel. "As Oma teaches."

"He woke up a few minutes ago." Janet's voice yanks me back to the here and now as she darts in between Hammond and I. Get a grip, O'Neill. Not the time or place to be coveting Daniel.

"One of these days I'm gonna figure out if she's worth listening to," Daniel comments dryly as he walks over to Shifu's side.

"What happened?" Carter asks, fascinated.

"I was having a dream," Daniel replies.

There's nothing and no one in that room for me now but Daniel. I stare and stare, avidly tracking every animate inch of him. I don't like what I see. Hands tucked deeply in pockets, NOT making a lot of eye contact. Body language shut down, defensive. NOT happy. Not happy at all.

"About what?"

I'll second that, Carter. Make him GIVE. Used to be a time when I would do that, but not now. It's a small grief, but his eyes haven't searched me out once. Was a time when he would look for me and to me first. First, last and foremost. A time that's passed now. Another tie between us I've wilfully severed.

"That's not really important. The - important thing - is it's time I chose a new path." Daniel is dancing around the issue.

Not really important? I'm getting a GOOD look at his face for the first time, and I think he's just lied through his teeth. Daniel looks like I feel, like he's lost that one solid thing to hang onto in a shaking universe. I can't bear to see him so sombre, his spirits so oppressed. Like the weight of the world is bearing down on him.

"And it is time for me to continue on mine," Shifu tells Daniel.

"Wait a minute, if he really is Harsesis…" Aldwin protests.

"He is," Daniel says flatly.

"We can still extract some very valuable information from him."

Extract, huh? Gloves coming off as the prize slips from your grasp, snakeboy? Guess there's a sell-by date on all that tender 'this won't hurt a bit' concern. Like I didn't see it coming. Ah, bite me.

"No, you can't."

Er, yeah, gotta believe the evidence of my own ears. That WAS Daniel, being God's own definition of authoritative. He does assertive, he does passionate, hell, he even does indignant. All adorable, Daniel style. That wasn't adorable. I look from him to the kid and back. Looks like papa's got himself a brand new bag. I guess Danny is looking like I feel because he feels like I feel. He's had an epiphany of his own while he was - dreaming.

Just a stab in the dark, here, but I'm guessing at no point did this epiphany suggest to him he should get naked and hurl himself at me ASAP. Or even bother to notice if I'm here.

"I don't understand."

Shocker. One of our snake friends not grasping the milk of human kindness as epitomised by the one and only Daniel Jackson.

"I know," Daniel informs him calmly.

"Thank you for telling me of my mother," Shifu says softly.

"She would have been very proud of you."

"Of you as well." Shifu still has that tiny smile playing around his lips.

I'm still staring at Daniel, of course, so I see the moment his guard slips. See and ache for his unutterable desolation, a misery so profound it's clenching at MY gut. He doesn't agree with Shifu. Doesn't think Sha'uri, who loved him with all her heart and soul, would be proud of him. What happened to him? What's hurting him so? What possible 'lesson' could Daniel, my Daniel, have needed so badly the very learning of it leaves him in such pain?

"Will I see you again?"

"All roads eventually lead to the great path."

You'll see him again when you're dead. A cheery thought to keep you warm at night, all alone in that big, empty bed.

"Eventually."

Thank God, a little warmth there, a little of my Daniel peeking through the solemnity.

"Many cross on the way."

Better and better. That sounded like a promise to me, and Shifu has made Daniel smile. It's kinda embryonic, but it's there, for those with eyes to see. The sole exception in the room is sounding forth to Carter.

"What's going on? We're not just gonna let him leave?"

"I don't think we have a choice," Carter confirms.

My heart bleeds for snakeboy there. He's finally buying a clue he isn't controlling the agenda. However, I'm not putting money on the Tok'ra NOT beating the bushes to find the Harsesis now they know he's out there. Oma couldn't happen to a nicer nest of vipers.

Shifu is - I bite back an insane urge to yell, 'I'm melting, I'm melting!' - Shifu is evanescing into incandescently pure white light.

Daniel lets him get a safe distance, then bolts out after him with Carter and Teal'c in hot pursuit.

Part of me notes that Janet looks dazzled as I turn to Hammond. "General, I highly recommend you order all personnel to stand down and get the heck out of the way," I kinda order him.

"Are you sure, colonel?"

I don't blame him for trying to second guess, lives could be on the line here, lives he's responsible for. "The alternative might not be so pretty," I say emphatically, turning on my heel to follow Daniel. I pound along the corridor and catch sight of Teal'c bringing up the rear of the cavalcade. I guess I'm more motivated, 'cause I rapidly pass by both him and Carter to arrive in the control room right behind Daniel as he halts abruptly in front of the window. The gate is already open. Damn, wish we could do that.

"The Gate just opened, sir." Davis calls from the console.

At the event horizon, the light solidifies and Shifu waves at Daniel, smiling for a moment. Daniel waves back, his eyes never leaving the gate.

He hasn't looked at me once. I haven't STOPPED looking at him. Can't tear my eyes from his face. He's got something going on in there, something eating him alive. This isn't one of those classic Daniel stoic 'I'm not fine but I will be' moments. He manifestly ISN'T fine, in fact he's manifestly WRETCHED, not to say brooding. Thinking furiously about something, thinking about it over and over and over, trapped suffering beneath some leaden weight crushing down on his mind. On his SOUL.

I can't leave it. I can't leave HIM, not like this.


I hesitate at the doorway. Daniel is slumped at his desk, face shuttered, exhausted; brooding over the photograph of Sha'uri.

"Knock knock?" I say lightly, trying to cover for the fact I'm not at all sure of my welcome.

Daniel deliberately places the photograph back in its accustomed place, and only then does he acknowledge me. "Jack."

I smile and slouch over to the desk, hop up and sit next to him. He doesn't actually move away from me physically, but emotionally, spiritually I guess, we're worlds apart.

"How are you feeling?" I ask quietly, staring down into huge, wounded eyes.

"Fine," he says brusquely, looking down at his nervously dancing fingers. Stilling them.

"Fine? You don't LOOK fine." I keep my tone nice and even, no teasing, no irritation. Trying for soothing.

"Don't start with me, Jack!" he snaps. "If I say I'm fine, that's what I am."

And missing by a mile.

"Fine." I agree mildly. "Just concerned, here. You've been in a de facto coma for quite a while."

"A de facto coma?" Daniel asks in spite himself.

"You were in a coma, Janet just wouldn't admit it." I risk another smile, invite him to share the joke. I hate this wariness, hate seeing him sitting here so tense, just waiting for the other shoe to drop. I let it drop, put him out of his misery. "So, about this dream - "

"I told you. Not important," he interrupts.

"Not important? So not important it's not even worth talking about?" I suggest.

"Not to you," he says coldly.

"Well, in that case, spill. It IS important to me. You're important to me," I contradict. "I hate to see you like this -- "

"Please!" Daniel snorts.

I frown. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means go back to your office where you won't have to see me like anything, Jack. Shouldn't be too difficult. You have a lot of recent experience on which to draw."

I'm not used to biting sarcasm from Daniel, though he's used to it from me. There isn't a whole hell of a lot I can say to that accusation, since to my eternal shame, it's true. I've avoided seeing him hurting because I've often been the one inflicting the hurt. I change my tack and go on the offensive again. "Well, what about your behaviour in the briefing, then?"

"What about it?"

"It was totally out of character, Daniel." Nothing. He's giving me nothing. I plough on regardless, feeling like my words are dropping into a vacuum for all the reaction I'm getting. "I kept expecting you to jump up and tear us all a new one for even SUGGESTING extracting Shifu's memories, never in a million years thought you'd be the one to go out and try to talk him into it. Thought I'd wandered into the Twilight Zone."

"Just let it be, Jack. I made a mistake. It's over now."

He sounds so weary. I'd like nothing more than to hug him but I'm terrified of what the proximity would do to me. My hormones are already insisting my blood should rally round the flag and just head south for an incursion into virgin territory.

I can't let it be. All I have are questions, no answers. "Why -"

"Just because for once I took YOUR position, because for once it was me saying it and not you, I'm suddenly the bad guy?"

The words tumble out in a strained voice barely recognisable as his, and before I can respond he gasps and pales, shooting me a stricken look. I grab him by the shoulders. "What! What the hell is hurting you, Daniel? Tell me!"

"You shouldn't hold me to a higher moral standard than you hold yourself to, Jack. It isn't fair, not to either of us. I'm not your picture in the attic. I'm not your get out of moral turpitude free card," he says in a bitter, rapid monotone.

"I don't!" It's my turn to gasp. I do, oh God, I do. I do exactly that.

"I can't win with you, Jack, and I'm tired of trying. I need a break."

"From me?" It tumbles out before I can stop it. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Why don't I just put it up in neon lights? Desperate horny lovelorn.

Daniel is so agitated he doesn't even hear me. He frees himself with an impatient jerk of his shoulders and jumps up, pacing restlessly.

"SG-5 have an interesting assignment coming up. They've found a palace with inscriptions in a new Goa'uld dialect. They've asked me along and I want to take them up on it."

"They're shipping out tomorrow." I can't believe this. It's all so much worse than I was prepared for.

"Please, Jack. I just need some time, away from - from," he trails off.

I gotta look down for a moment. Away from me. Yeah. Got you the first time. Turning into Colonel Sensitive, here, letting this hurt my feelings. Hurt them this much. Not like I have any claim on him. He's not my personal property. Let go. Got to let go. When I look up and meet the weight of his anxiety, I smile, let him know it's okay. He relaxes infinitesimally. "A little time away from the crowds. To process. I understand. SG-1's loss and all that."

"Thank you," Daniel says simply.

"Just remember, you're never alone with a bedside MALP. Keep in touch."

Now he musters a smile. "I promise."

I nod, lightly, and leave him then. I can't wait to get away from the crowds too. To process the fact I don't have to let go. I've got nothing to hold on to.

Back to Part One / On to Part Three

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Biblio, PhoenixE, babs, Brionhet, Darcy, Devra, Fabrisse, JoaG, Kalimyre, Marcia, Rowan and Sideburns, 2001-2008.
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