DANIEL EX MACHINA, PART TWO  BY PHOENIXE
Slash:  Jack and Daniel involved in a loving and committed relationship, which usually involves sex.
Rating: R
Category: Established Relationship, Angst, Hurt/Comfort, Action/Adventure, Drama
Season/Spoilers: Sometime after season 3.  Spoilers for Legacy, Maternal Instinct, Crystal Skull
Synopsis: Is Daniel going insane...again?
Warnings: None
Length:  252 Kb  Originally completed June 2003 for the JD Six Pack #2 Zine.  A slightly revisted version has also been featured in the Six Pack Reprise since May 2004, and here it is, also tweaked a bit yet again, finally making it's debut on JD Divas New Year's Day 2006.  And Happy New Year!

 

Jack hovered nervously at the side of Daniel's bed, shooting helpless, furious glances at the man sitting up in it, wide-eyed and sightless.  Sound asleep.  However, being asleep apparently wasn't cramping his style when it came to shooting his mouth off.  As Daniel started rattling off another incomprehensible stream of words Jack was hugely relieved to see Janet come barrelling around the corner, her heels tapping out such an urgent, emphatic tattoo across the concrete floor Jack was surprised sparks weren't shooting out of them.  And she wasn't alone.  She had a general in tow.

"Za hasa ni rava," Daniel babbled as Frasier and Hammond reached Jack's side.

"You see?" Jack blurted, jabbing a finger at Daniel.  "This exactly what he was doing before."

Except with more clothes on.

"How long has Daniel been in a somnambulistic state?" Frasier sharply demanded, her dark eyes carefully assessing.

"Som – what?" Jack blinked.

"Sleep-walking, Colonel."

"Well, it hasn't been so much sleep-walking as sleep-talking," Jack replied. 

"How long, Jack?" Hammond gently pressed, all too aware of the level of the colonel's distress.

"He started about twenty minutes ago," Jack said after casting a quick look back at Daniel, who'd had resumed speaking again after he'd been silent for several seconds.  "He looked at me, but he wasn't looking at me, you understand.  Whatever, he's not awake.  I tried talking to him but I got nothing back.  Then he started talking, saying all this…stuff, and then he sat up and he's been yapping a blue streak ever since.  I didn't touch him this time," Jack hurriedly asserted as Janet turned stern eyes upon him.  "Haven't gone anywhere near him, I just called you and I've been keeping an eye on him ever since."

"That's good, Colonel," Janet nodded approvingly.  "You've been keeping him under constant observation and you haven't interfered with him in any way."

"Swear to God, strictly hands off," Jack averred, raising his hands.

"And you're positive he hasn't made any attempt to get out of bed or perform any actions or activities."

"What you see has been the extent of the floor show so far," Jack quickly confirmed.  "Funny thing though, if I didn't know better I'd swear he's talking to someone.  Or he thinks he's talking to someone."  Jack grimaced.  "I guess it doesn't help we can't understand even one side of the conversation."

"Does Daniel usually talk in his sleep?" Janet asked without thinking.  Jack's eyes widened with alarm, snapped quickly to the general who was looking at him, awaiting his answer, an inscrutable sparkle in his eyes.

"That you've noticed when you've been off-world," Janet quickly added. "When you've shared a tent – "

"Well, there have been one or two times," Jack admitted truthfully.  "That I've had occasion to hear him do it.  When we've been…off-world.  Or he's been sick.  And yeah, sometimes it isn't English.  But usually," he continued, looking at Janet but keeping an eye on Hammond's reaction, "When he does switch to something else, it's a language I recognise.  Because I've heard it before.  Like Abydonian.  Or Arabic.  He mumbles in French a fair bit for some reason too, don't ask me, couldn't tell ya why.  I might not understand it, but I know what it sounds like.  But this stuff he's been speaking since getting back from P8-youknowwhere I've never heard anything like it before.  I don't know what the hell it is."

"So there are precedents for some of his current behaviour, then," Hammond said thoughtfully.  "You're sure he's never sleep-walked in the past?"

"Daniel swears he never has," Jack loyally asserted.  "He wouldn't lie about something like that."

"I'm not suggesting he would or has, Jack," the general told him with a reassuring smile.  "I just wanted to confirm Doctor Jackson is not, nor has ever been prone to sleep-walking."

"Not that I'm aware of, Sir," Jack meekly supplied.

"Yaza nir abandana." Daniel suddenly emphatically announced, immediately drawing the attention of everyone in the room.  As three heads swivelled at the determined sound of Daniel's voice he closed his eyes, lay back down on the bed and then opened his eyes once more.

"Jack!" the linguist cried, his blue eyes sparking with urgency the instant they alighted on the person they sought.  "Yoso nor agadan.  Meyno ir agadan."

"I think he's awake," Jack said uncertainly.  "Of course, these days it's hard to tell."

"Noki, ni tiramon!" Daniel huffed, sweeping the covers away from his body and sitting up.  "Meyno abada," he insisted, swinging his legs over until he was perched on the side of the bed.  "Iro agadan," he entreated, his right arm describing a wide arc encompassing the empty room.

Daniel peered expectantly at his audience, becoming immediately perplexed as he watched his friends' faces get longer and graver.  Significant glances were briefly exchanged before Jack jauntily observed.

"Well, this in new."

"What?" Daniel demanded and then turned to Cephus.  "I'm sorry, can you ask them," he waggled a hand at the horde of eager Kathosians milling all around the bed, their occasional forays actually into it and through it disturbing and distracting him from being able to focus on the corporeal people in the room he had to convince he wasn't a head case  – "could they step back, just a bit.  I'm feeling a little crowded here."

"There!" Jack frowned.  "Who's he talking to?"

"What's he saying?" Hammond asked, turning to Janet.

"What are they saying what am I saying?" Daniel demanded of Cephus.

"Daniel, can you understand us?" Janet gently inquired, taking a careful step closer.

"Yeah," Daniel cautiously returned, still not certain what was going on but definitely certain when he figured it out he was going to hate it.

"Dahn?"  Jack glared at him.  "What the hell does 'dahn' mean?  Yes?  Does that mean yes?  What does it mean?" he said again, turning to Janet.

"Why are you asking me?" she shrugged.  "How should I know?"

"Yeah?" Daniel said again, hopefully, to be met by another round of uncomprehending eyes.  Once again he appealed to the man only he could see standing at the head of the bed.  "Um, we have a problem here," he said, biting his lip.  "They don't understand me.  Why don't they understand me and how can I fix it?  Any ideas?"

"Okay, this obviously isn't working," Jack muttered.  " Daniel, you want to stop talking to your invisible friend there and focus? I know!" he exclaimed, brightening. "Try stomping once for yes and twice for no!"

"Jack, don't be an ass!" Daniel snarled, crossing his arms and glaring hatefully at his colonel.

"Whoa, I got that," Jack sniffed.  "Obviously there's nothing wrong with his attitude," he dryly observed.  "Pissy as usual."

"So it would seem," Janet lowered her head, smothering a smile.  "Also, I think he understands us, at least."

"Dahn!" Daniel blurted, shaking his head excitedly.  "Dahn yobeyo!  Ah nore yasa," he exclaimed to a patch of empty air by the head of the bed.  "Siri?"

"Ah crap, there he goes again!"  Jack grumbled.  "Daniel, this is getting weird!"

"You're right, Colonel, he does appear to be talking to someone.  Or, at least thinks he is," Hammond mused. "Doctor, could Doctor Jackson be hallucinating? General Hammond's eyes were grave.   "Some delayed reaction to the alien device?  Obviously his mind has been affected in some way."

"Super," Daniel fumed.  "Now they think I'm crazy."

"I didn't see any evidence of it, General, but it's possible we could be dealing with a scenario similar to when Colonel O'Neill had the knowledge of the Ancients downloaded into his brain."

"Oh God, I hope not," Jack shuddered.

"Although when that happened there were observable physiological changes in the colonel's brain functioning but as I said in Daniel's case, there's been nothing."

"Close, but no cigar," Daniel sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose.  "Cephus, please, what's going on here?  Why can't they understand me?"

"I'm sorry, Daniel, I am unsure," the sombre alien replied, his head lowered, expression deeply contemplative.  "Unless the Mitron judged the easiest way for us to be able to communicate would be to teach you our language in place of your own."

"Oh!" Daniel blinked.  "So you're saying all the while we've been talking, even though I think I've been speaking in English I've actually been – "

"That would seem to be the case," Cephus nodded.

"So how do I switch back?"

"Again, I am unsure," Cephus replied, his eyes pained.  "I understand the Mitron's function but I was not responsible for programming it.  Those who did so remained on Kathos so as to be able to assist you when you returned.  I am sorry," he finished, desperately sincere.

"That's not really helpful," Daniel snapped, frustration and worry making him react more sharply than he knew he should have.  "Sorry," he immediately amended.  "Biting your head off isn't going to do any good either.  Think Daniel, think," he berated himself.  "I have to make them understand me somehow.  How do I do that?"

"You keep saying nothing has actually happened to Daniel's brain that you can see," Jack began.  "So to my mind what that says, no matter what it looks like what he's going through isn't the same thing as when I lost the ability to speak English."

"What's your point, Colonel," Hammond asked.

“Here's a thought," Jack offered, turning to the man perched unhappily on the side of the infirmary bed.  "Daniel, you're a linguist, right?  You speak, what – twenty three languages?"

"Dahn," Daniel replied cautiously, eyeing Jack warily.

"Are they still all in there?  In your head I mean?"

Daniel just stared at him, perplexed.

"Colonel?" Hammond demanded.

"Well, think about it for a minute," Jack explained.  "Don't look at me like that," he glared indignantly at Daniel.  "I get ideas.  Occasionally.  From time to time.  Anyway, work with me here. What if – whatever – rather than erasing his brain and filling it with new stuff just sort of confused him a bit?  Added to without taking away? He's still got the ability to speak in all those different languages he could before – including English - but he's stuck on the wrong language track right now.  However if he just tries to switch gears he can get it back."  Jack paused and looked expectantly at the dubious faces around him.  "He's a linguist, right?" Jack insisted.  "So, why doesn't he just – ling?"

More sceptical stares.  "C'mon, Daniel," Jack urged, placing an encouraging hand on his shoulder.  "What have you got to lose?  Try switching to another language.  See if you can."

"My God", Daniel gaped admiringly at Jack.  "That's brilliant.  Is he right?" Daniel asked Cephus without looking at him.  "I haven't actually lost the ability to speak English, or any other language, what the Mitron did was make your language my 'default' language – the one I automatically think and speak in.  So we could communicate without any complications.  I still know how to speak English.  I just have to try?"

"The Mitron will not harm you, nor are its effects permanent," Cephus replied.  "You have lost none of the abilities or knowledge you previously possessed.  It has only added to what pre existed."

"So it's all still in there somewhere.  Good," Daniel nodded.  "That's good.  I should be able to do what Jack said, then, I just have to give it a go.  Oh, okay, let me think; say something else, something else, in another language.  Sure.  I can do this!" he announced, smiling brightly.

"Has he started yet?" Janet muttered to Hammond.

"I don't think so," Jack frowned.  "Sounds like the same gibberish he was talking before.  "Oh Daniel," Jack sing-songed.  "We're waiting."

"Oh, sorry!" Daniel blurted, reddening.  "Um, okay.  What should I say?"

"That sounded different!" Janet said excitedly.

"It did indeed," Hammond nodded.  "You've made a good start, son," he said encouragingly to Daniel.  "Keep trying."

"Okay," Daniel bobbed his head in agreement, his brow furrowing as he concentrated on trying to sift through the confusing tangle of exotic, varied phrases in dozens of different languages tumbling around in his head, in order to pick out the ones he needed.  "I'll try."

"Nope," Jack shook his head.  "Misfire.  Try again."

"Give me a minute, do you have any idea how hard this is?" Daniel sniped at him.

"That sounded like German," Jack mused.  "Cool, a language actually spoken on this planet.  That's progress, right?  Come on Daniel, you're getting warmer!"

"Merde!" Daniel seethed, squeezing his eyes shut.

"Hey, I understood that!" Jack beamed, insufferably pleased with himself.  "You're getting warmer, buddy.  Watch your language though, there's a lady present."

"Stop nagging!" Daniel snapped.  "You're confusing me, I need to concentrate."

"Russian?" Jack frowned.  "Was that Russian?  Cold, Daniel, getting cold."

"Jack – I swear to God if you don't shut up – "

"Yes!" Jack hooted.  We have a winner!  Give the man a kewpie doll!  Way to go, Daniel!"

"That's it?" Daniel exclaimed.  "I'm – I'm – you can – "

"Yep," Jack grinned.  "Now you're making absolutely no sense in a language we can all understand."

"Why doesn't he just ling?" Daniel said witheringly.

"Ling, lang, potayto, potawto, whatever," Jack shrugged. "Hey, it worked, didn't it?"

"Oh for – " Daniel's jaw abruptly snapped shut, he closed his eyes and took a deep breath.  "We haven't got time for this," he muttered, then opened his eyes again and aimed his attention and the full force of his appeal directly at General Hammond.

"General, I'm glad you're here, please, you have to let me go back to P8X-807 immediately," he entreated, the words erupting out of him in a rapid, urgent explosion.  "There are a lot of people here who are going to die soon if we don't get them back home and millions more on 807 – well, they're not going to die, but they're trapped - they need our help – "

Daniel abruptly stopped speaking, realising from the sceptical looks surrounding him he'd made a bad start.  "Um, maybe I should have put that another way," he said with a strained smile.

"What people, son?" Hammond said softly and carefully. Like he was talking to a delusional five-year old.

"You don't have to back away from me slowly I'm not nuts," Daniel sighed, his heart sinking.

"No, but I think you'd better lie back and rest, Daniel," Janet soothed, stepping forward to place a gentle hand on his shoulder.

"No, no," he unhappily insisted, shrugging off her hand.  "Don't treat me like I'm – please, just listen to me for a minute.  It's important!"

"We're listening, Daniel," Jack told him, giving Janet a 'back off, let him talk' glare.  "Calm down and tell us what's going on."

"Okay," Daniel nodded, flashing Jack a grateful glance.  "I realise what I'm about to say, most of it is going to sound pretty – out there – I know that, and I can't help that, nor can I prove any of it but I'm telling you – you have to believe me.  No matter what it sounds like.  Please?"

The almost plaintive ending of Daniel's entreaty made Jack's gut clench with dismay.  As did the obstinate but unconvinced optimism flushing his determinedly resigned face.  Jesus, Daniel was coming out swinging, knowing he had to score a home run but not really believing he was going to get a chance to even step up to the plate.  In fact, he honestly didn't believe anyone was going to take him seriously but he wasn't about to let it keep him from trying.

Crap, it had to break his frigging heart to have to try so hard.  All the damned time.  How the hell had they all grown so careless of Daniel to treat him this way, that no matter what Daniel did, no matter how many times he proved himself, got it right, knew what to do, pulled their asses out of the fire, saved the frigging day, none of it counted for squat in the eyes of those who knew him best and definitely should know better.  Daniel was still right back behind the eight ball the next time out in spite of everything he'd already done to earn not only their respect, but their automatic trust without ever getting it, and in order to get anything done or be taken seriously he had to fight every one of them tooth and nail. 

Every damned time.

Just because he was Daniel, and for no other reason.

Dammit, it wasn't fair.  And it sure wasn't right.  But there they all were, doing it to him again.

Daniel took several deep breaths, visibly collecting himself before launching into it again.

"We know the Goa'uld attacked 807 at some time in the past and we assumed they removed the population.  But that isn't what happened.  The people are still there.  They never left."

"Un hun," Jack grunted, trying to be supportive.  "And you know this because…"

"Because," Daniel continued, his face full of 'oh god, now we get to the part where they really think I'm nuts'.  "I can see them."

"Why?" Jack asked slowly, trying so hard not to slide into condescending it was painful to watch.

Daniel sighed and wearily hung his head.  "Let's start again.  The inhabitants of 807 – which they call Kathos, by the way - knew the Goa'uld were coming and wanted to hide from them.  That's what the tower was for, and why it was the only structure on the planet that was protected.  It contains the device that phased all of the planet's inhabitants – like what Nick's giant aliens did to us – so the Goa'uld couldn't find them and hurt them.  The device was supposed to un-phase them and return them to normal again when the Goa'uld left, but something went wrong.  It never happened and they've been trapped like that, living like ghosts ever since.   They need me to help them fix the device, get it working again, and that's why I got zapped.  Not to hurt me, but to enable me to see and hear them, and to teach me how to fix the machine so it can change them back."

"Why did this machine select you, Doctor?" General Hammond asked quietly.  "Why not the colonel?  Wasn't he the first one to enter the structure?"

"Cephus isn't sure," Daniel weakly grinned.  "Something about my mind made me a better candidate than Jack.  And the fact I was a temporary ‘ghost’ myself for a long time courtesy of Nick’s aliens.  Anyway, it looked us both over and I'm the one it picked."  Lucky me, his bleak eyes mirthlessly proclaimed.

"Cephus?"  Hammond asked again, his expression conveying he was deeply considering everything Daniel was saying but betraying no clue as to his opinion of the reliability of either the speaker or the intelligence he was offering.

"He's the – um  - their leader.  "He's standing right over there."  Daniel waved toward the spot near the head of the bed where he'd been directing his remarks earlier.

"Oh?" Hammond quirked a brow, his face devoid of any other expression.  "You claim this alien is standing over there – and you can see him?"

"Yes," Daniel murmured.  "Not just him.  There are quite a few Kathosians in this room with him.  They're sort of all over the place.  They came through the gate with us when we returned from 807.  And I don't 'claim' anything, Sir," Daniel continued, rallying, raising his head and meeting Hammond's gaze head on.  "They're there, and they're as real as you or I – they're just in a slightly different dimension.

"I know the way this sounds," Daniel continued, his voice becoming more impassioned as his need to succeed for the Kathosian's sakes overrode everything else.  "But really, what I'm telling you, it's not so far-fetched, we know it's possible and technology capable of doing this exists.  We've experienced it – both Jack and  - " He broke off and cast an appealing glance at Jack.  "If you don't believe me and won't let me go back, fine, but these people who are here need to return to their planet or they're going to…well, I'm not sure what's going to happen to them, but they won't exist any more, in any dimension.  If you won't let me go back to the planet at least dial up 807 so they can go home.  Even if you don't believe me and think I'm seeing things, humour me on this point. Where's the harm in just dialling the planet and leaving the gate open for a few minutes?  Can you at least do this for me, General?"

"We're not saying we don't believe you, son," Hammond began in a placating voice making Jack grimace as he remembered, not proudly, uttering a very similar statement to Daniel not so long ago.

"But you don't believe me," Daniel snapped, flushing.

Ouch.  And there was the other shoe, dropping.  Right on his sorry head.

"That you have been affected by the alien technology is not in question," Hammond continued.  "We know you currently believe what you are saying, but given the…mental confusion you experienced directly after the attack, have you stopped to consider what you believe you are experiencing isn't real?  You were under an alien influence causing you to hallucinate before, and you were as convinced of the reality of the phantom Linvris during that incident as you appear to be about – these people."

The resulting sick smile spreading across Daniel's face in reaction to Hammond's comment found an answering echo in the pit of Jack's stomach.

"I wondered how long it would take before we got to that," Daniel said with a bitter burst of laughter.  "Once a nut case, always a nut case.  This is completely different, but I have no idea how I'm going to convince you I'm not crazy or seeing aliens that don't really exist – if I'm the only one who can see…"

Daniel's voice trailed away and he turned towards the spot of empty air he'd named 'Cephus'.

"Doctor Jackson, I don't wish to unduly distress you," Hammond continued as he, like both Janet and Jack looked automatically to where Daniel was directing his attention as if doing so would enable them to see what he claimed to be seeing.  "And I'm certainly taking your request under advisement.  However, before I make a decision I think it would be prudent for you to submit to Dr Fraiser for some more testing, just to confirm the alien device hasn't had any further deleterious effects on you and what you believe you are experiencing isn't in fact being caused by – "

"Aren't you listening to me, I keep telling you we don't have time for that!" Daniel angrily cut him off.  "They – they don't have time!  Dammit," he fumed, smashing his balled fist into his thigh.  "How can I make you understand?  What can I do to convince you? I'm really sorry," he said to the empty air.  "I told you this would happen, they – what?" he suddenly said and then paused for several seconds.  "Do you think that would work?"

"Doctor Jackson?" Janet quietly addressed him, trying to get his attention.

"Doctor, I'd like you to get started on those tests immediately," Hammond murmured, his eyes never leaving Daniel as he delivered his instructions in a barely audible voice.  "I'd also like Major Carter to be in on this.  Her expertise could provide some useful insights into the situation.  Has she reported for duty yet this morning?"

"I checked with security when I arrived, Sir," Janet replied in an equally soft voice.  "According to them she's still here.  She didn't leave the base last night."

"We won't need Sam," Daniel suddenly announced calmly, at last turning to face them once more, his face strangely empty for its seeming serenity.  "You need proof of what I'm telling you before you'll trust me, I think I can give it to you.  We'll try, anyway.  Jack," he said coldly, his voice louder, harsher.  He extended his hand to the man standing behind Janet, waiting expectantly.  " I need you to help me do this."

Daniel's face shone with the serenity of the damned.  It was a look of tired resignation, weary acceptance of the continually reaffirmed reality he was not enough, what he was, knew, and had accomplished was not in itself sufficient for anyone, even the man he loved, for them to be able to take him on trust.  Jack had seen this quiet but very personal disappointment in Daniel's eyes before.  He'd looked just like this as he stood there in Oma's garden and said those words.   The same words implicit in his silent, resigned eyes.

If you're ever going to trust me, now's the time.

Or what, Daniel?  On Kheb he'd lowered his weapon, but not for Daniel.  It was Bra'tac's word he'd trusted, not Daniel's and yet, Daniel had forgiven him.  More than that, Daniel had even found a way to forget about it, put it away, not let it eat at him the way it should have.  The way it would have him, if the people he most loved and trusted treated him the way they treated Daniel.

The way he was treating Daniel now. 

That time he'd failed the test and Daniel had let him off the hook.  And here they were again, bellying up to the same yardstick but this time – it was different.  Jack could feel it, see it in an unaccustomed coolness in Daniel's normally warm and accepting eyes.  Nothing big, hardly discernable at all, just the barely there prescient gleam of fatalistic anticipation.

Daniel was expecting him to let him down again.  He'd asked for trust, hadn't received it and was resigning himself to having to prove himself, once again.  Sure, Daniel had asked him for his help in supplying this proof, but the disappointment lurking in his eyes at being required to – yet again – especially by him…

If he did – if he made Daniel go through with this, made him prove himself… Daniel would never be fully his again.  Jack could see that plainly as well.  Daniel's spirit couldn't support another denunciation of his integrity or devaluation of his word.  Especially by the man who claimed to love him and above all others should be the last one to doubt him and make him do this.  If he made Daniel prove himself this time – it would be the last time.  Daniel would never ask him for anything again.  Look to him, expect anything, he'd pull away, start to close off, retreat and eventually…

It ended here, one way or the other.  Which way – completely up to him.

"Jack?" Daniel asked again, the ghost of a tremor in his voice.

"No," Jack grunted, crossing his arms and planting his feet firmly, his body language leaving no doubt he wasn't budging from the spot he was currently claiming.

"No?" Daniel's voice sounded so small and desolate that for a second, even though he knew it was going to be okay, the momentary shattering of Daniel's faith in him devastated Jack to the core.

"I don't have to, and neither do you," Jack hurried to assure him.  "Prove what you've been telling us, that is.  If you say there's a planet full of people on 807 who need our help and there's a bunch of them standing around in this room whether I can see them or not makes no difference - if you say they're there - that's good enough for me."

Jack could feel Daniel's blinding smile of gratitude bathing his back as he turned to Hammond, a bright 'please see things my way or else' grin on his face.

"General, request permission to lead my team back to 807 for a rescue mission ASAP.  Daniel says there are people there who need our help.  My responsibility, Sir."

"You're sure, Jack," Hammond asked, the gentle quirking of his lips softening the severity of his expression.

"Yes Sir," Jack jauntily retorted.  Truthfully. And, as he abruptly realised as soon as he'd said it to the general it was true.  He really did…believe.  He spared a second to glance back at Daniel and saw every reward he'd ever want in life beaming at him from the blue depths of a pair of quietly shining eyes.

"Aren't you?"

"Very well, Colonel O'Neill, assemble your team.  SG-1, you have a go."


"How much longer is this gonna take?" Jack complained, eyeing the placid, shimmering surface of the event horizon.  Well, here they were, back on 807.  All of them, that is, except Daniel.  Daniel was still in the gateroom, shepherding his invisible buds through the gate.  It was taking freaking forever.  They'd been here for almost ten minutes standing around listening to their hair grow and still no Daniel.   Or any evidence of the intangible horde allegedly exiting the wormhole all around them, but then there wouldn't be, would there, seeing as how they were invisible.

"Daniel won't come until the last of the Kathosians has safely made it back through the gate," Sam said, making herself more comfortable on the wide stone step she was seated on.  "And as he's the only one who can see them…"

"Yeah, I know, he has to stay to make sure they all make it," Jack grumbled.  As soon as they're all safe and sound, then he'll come bopping along and the folks back at the SGC will know it's okay to shut down the gate.  Damn, how many of those guys hitched a ride with us the first time?  They must have been moving pretty damned quick to slip so many on through, because we never leave the gate open this long, not if everyone gets back okay right off.  I mean, what for?"

"Omigawd, I'd forgotten about that!" Sam suddenly exclaimed, realisation rushing across her face.  "The gate!  Now that you come to mention it, Colonel," she began excitedly, rising to her feet.  "You and Daniel don't know this because you were gone as soon as you hit the ramp getting him to the infirmary, but there was a slight glitch with the gate when we returned.  That's why I was called back to the control room, I was checking it out, trying to figure out why the gate wouldn't shut down."

"As I recall you were never able to determine what caused the gate to remain open for approximately fifteen minutes after we returned."  Teal'c smoothly added.

"Seventeen minutes, forty three seconds," Sam corrected.

"What?" Jack gaped.  "It did what? Almost eighteen frigging minutes? You're kidding!"

"Nope," Sam shook her head.  "We ran a diagnostic but couldn't find any reason why the wormhole wouldn't disengage.  Everything was functioning normally and there was absolutely no reason we could determine why it wouldn't shut down.  The gate was behaving as if someone was deliberately keeping it open, but of course that was impossible because…"

She stopped speaking, shamefaced as she realised the 'proof' of Daniel's assertions had been there all along.  Only no one had made the connection.  "And then of course the gate shut down on its own and everything was back to normal," she finished meekly. 

Jack glared at her, furious, images of Daniel's desolate face splattering all over his inner eye.  The whole ordeal they'd just put him through needn't have happened.  The proof they'd expected Daniel to supply before they'd believe him, Daniel already had it and he hadn't known.

"Did it occur to you to mention this, at any time?" he demanded, only just managing to restrain himself from bellowing into her face.

Sam was clearly embarrassed to have missed the connection but she wasn't going to be bullied either.  "With all due respect, Sir," she snapped back at him, meeting him glare for glare.  "I didn't see any reason to.  Sometimes the gate – well, we still don't completely understand how it works and if every once and awhile it does something – odd – we aren't always able to determine why.  We continue to study it and learn more about its functioning all the time, but occasionally it behaves in a way we don't understand and can't explain.  Without knowing what Daniel told you later in the infirmary – it was just another one of those occurrences. That's all the incident was to me at the time, another momentary glitch that straightened itself out.  I didn't think any more of it, certainly didn't connect it to Daniel and because I wasn't in the infirmary the second time, when Daniel was telling you what had happened to him and I didn't know about the Kathosians there wasn't any reason to attach any more significance to the event than it being one of the anomalies in the daily operation of the gate that sometimes occurs.  I forgot about it, okay?" she finished with a steely glare at her CO, daring him to dispute her.

Jack glared right back at her, considering it.  He was still inwardly smarting from the shock of coming face to face with Daniel's belief in their disbelief, unable to deny his friend's low opinion of all of them or evade his own contribution to the undervaluing of the confidence of the best man he'd ever known.  He was angry and he wanted some payback, but keeping to the theme of facing the music the word 'displacement' suddenly came to mind.  Yeah, sure he was pissed, but it wasn't really at Carter, it was at his own dumb-ass self, and dumping on his major in an attempt to expiate his own guilt – well it wasn't cool for starters.  Never mind not being exactly fair to Carter either.

And it certainly didn't help she had his number and there was no way she was going to let him make her the bad guy.

"Yeah, Carter," he grudgingly growled at her.  "I know it's not your fault.  You didn't know.  It's just – it would have been a lot easier to get from there to here – if Daniel had only known about this…glitch…it's too bad you weren't there when Daniel told us about the folks here.  I'm sure between the two of you – what you knew and what Daniel knew, if you'd shared, you would have put it together a lot sooner."

And spared Daniel the humiliation of having to beg us for our trust.

"I think so too, Sir," Sam managed a rueful smile.  "Maybe next time…"

"Yeah," Jack coughed uncomfortably, uncertain of what to say next.

"I wonder how they did it," Sam said unexpectedly, abruptly switching mental tracks and absolving him of the agony of any further awkwardness.

"Who?  What?"

"The Kathosians.  If they are in an incorporeal state, out of phase with this reality, I wonder how they were able to keep the wormhole open.  It's not like one of them could have – I don't know - stuck his arm in the event horizon to hold it open long enough for the rest of them to pass through, but they must have done something to prevent the gate from shutting down.  I wonder how they did it."

"Well Carter, I don't know, but I'm sure once Daniel does whatever he needs to do to fix these guys you'll be able to find someone who'll be just dying to tell you."

"That'd be nice, Sir," Sam grinned.

" – but that's neither here nor there," Daniel said, bounding out of the event horizon.

"Daniel!" Jack beamed at the last member of his team as he skidded to a stop and stared at the three people staring at him.  "Your buddies have all made it through, then?"

Before Daniel had a chance to reply the gate snapped off behind him.

"I'll take that as a yes," Jack said, waving Daniel down the stone stairway.  "Can you table your no doubt fascinating conversation with – whomever – until after we trot back up yon hill and you do your business?"

"Oh good grief," Daniel snickered.  "You make it sound like I'm about to – oh never mind!"

"What's the rush, Sir," Sam teased.  "Do you have plans?"

"I might!" Jack said indignantly.  "What?" he demanded as she made a face.  "Why not?  Why is that so hard to believe?"

"Yes, he's always like this," Daniel wearily told the air beside him as he struck out briskly toward the hill and their eventual destination.  "I have no idea," he chuckled after a brief pause.

"Hey!"  Jack yelled after him.  "I am not!  Well, I'm not," he muttered at Sam and Teal'c.  "Daniel, wait up!" he hollered and then broke into a trot in order to catch up to him.


"Carter is pouting because she still has to sit this one out," Jack tossed back over his shoulder to Daniel as he warily walked through the arch.  No funny blue gas or weird noises this time.  And up ahead, in the tower's interior, the lights were still on.  "I hope your pals will let her come in here and poke around after.  That face she's wearing right now –  ewww!" he shuddered.  "Not a happy face.  It's so not a good look for her."

Jack barely had time to gape at the surroundings once they'd arrived inside the tower's huge inner chamber when Daniel abruptly grabbed him by the arm, spinning him around.

"Forget about Sam," he growled in a husky, lust-laden voice, pulling a startled colonel into a blistering, knee-melting, exquisitely lingering kiss.

Entirely too soon and incredibly reluctantly Jack finally peeled his lips off the luscious ones searing deliciously straight into his soul.  With his eyes still closed Jack rested his forehead against Daniel's brow, holding him close and savouring the taste of his lover tickling his tongue.

"Not that I'm complaining or anything," Jack murmured after letting loose an appreciate sigh.  "But what was that for?"

"Thank you," Daniel fervently whispered, his moist breath teasing Jack's still tingling lips sending delightfully erotic thrills through his body.  The hands tenderly roaming all over his back were pretty darned exciting as well.  "Thank you for what you did back there.  Just – thank you.  You don't know how much it means – "

Daniel's voice broke and he clutched Jack tighter with shockingly emphatic gratitude, once again making with the lips, their lovely, soft ardent brushes all over his face threatening to plunge his brains even further into his shorts.

Which ordinarily would not be a bad thing but this was neither the time, nor the place.  He was still on the SGC's time, not Mister Happy's, unfortunately, but as soon as he got Daniel home…

"Daniel – Daniel," he squeaked, then cleared his throat.  "Daniel, you're welcome but we have to – can you thank me later – WOW!" he yelped and then reared back in shock at coming unexpectedly face to face with a whole bunch more faces he knew damned well hadn't been there like half a second ago.  Dozens of pairs of bemused, phantom eyes benignly blinked at him from over Daniel's shoulder as he sputtered, gasped and pointed. 

The fucking place was lousy with people!  Sonofabitch! Wavering and indistinct, an army of see-through figures fanning out and filling the entire interior space of the inner chamber behind Daniel, flickering and winking in and out but unmistakably there!

And then, just as abruptly they weren't.  The instant he leapt backwards, away from them and Daniel the transparent throng utterly vanished as undeniably as they'd been there.  Jack blinked stupidly at Daniel, so totally unhinged by the unexpected in and outing he hadn't even realised he'd sprung practically clear across the room in his shock.

"What the fuck was that?" he bleated, chest heaving and heart pounding, feeling light-headed and almost sick with shock.

"What's the matter, Jack?"  Daniel said humourlessly.  "Seeing things?"

"Uh – " was as articulate as he could manage for several more seconds until his heart rate started returning to normal.  "I almost had a freaking stroke, there for a second!" he snarled.  "Or maybe I am having one.  People!" he cried, waving his hand around.  "Tons of them all over the freaking place.  First they were there – and then – zippo."

"As soon as you stopped touching me," Daniel offered, a knowing smile touching his mouth.

Jack stared at him again, the light starting to go on.  "That's right," he frowned.  "I was – over there, and we were – and then I – you know, and sort of –  "

"Freaked," Daniel's smile got wider.

"I wouldn't quite have put it that way but now that you mention it, when I – moved – they went poof."

"So, it worked then," Daniel mused.  "Cephus wasn't sure if it would or not, at least not at the SGC, but obviously, it worked here."

"Back up – what worked?"

"Having the Kathosians concentrate on trying to connect with you, even briefly, through me and our connection, while I was touching you.  He said there was a slim chance it could work, because you'd also been momentarily exposed to the Mitron's energy and because of the fact we're – " Daniel paused and suddenly flashed him an almost shy glance.  " We're – "

"Doin' it?" Jack finished for him with a huge, leering grin.  "I'm not going to ask you how these guys knew this, seeing as how we haven't actually done anything since they've been hanging around.  Which I presume they were – the whole time – back at our place too.  Even though we couldn't see them.  Well, at least I couldn't anyway."

Daniel nodded.  "Apparently."

"Well at least they didn't leave a mess.  Mind you, they could have, but if we couldn't see it how will we ever know?"

"Anyway," Daniel continued, deliberately turning his back on Jack and starting to purposefully stride across the large inner chamber.  Jack immediately roused himself and followed expectantly in his wake.  "That's what I was going to do in the infirmary.  To try and prove to all of you, through you, the Kathosians weren't all in my head."

"You were going to kiss me in front of Hammond?" Jack gaped.

"No, of course not!" Daniel snorted.  I was just going to hold your hand, or something.  I needed to touch you, have physical contact in order to….whoa!"

Daniel abruptly stopped walking and then lurched drunkenly sideways for several steps, looking very much as if he was about to keel over and drop to the ground.  Jack instantly leapt to steady him, screwing his eyes shut as he grabbed Daniel by the arms.

"Are you all right?" he anxiously queried.  "What's happening?"

"Yeah, yeah I'm fine," Daniel quickly replied, his fingers fastening around Jack's arms and briefly clutching.  "All of a sudden there was all this – stuff – in my head.  It's okay now, but having it just pop in there – it was a bit disconcerting."

"You're sure this – doohickey isn't going to screw up your brain?" Jack anxiously asked him, still holding tight and keeping his eyes desperately closed as long as he was touching Daniel. 

"I know what Cephus told me and I trust him," Daniel replied, reassuringly rubbing Jack's arm.  "Oh, and Jack?"

"Daniel?"

"You can open your eyes.  You won't see anything, even if you are touching me.  The Kathosians are no longer trying to make you see them.  They – they've made their point."

"You're sure," Jack warily cracked open one eyelid, saw nothing except the two of them and a big empty room and then opened both his eyes and glanced around with a happy sigh.  "Okay, that's better," he announced.  "No offence, uh, guys, but that was just too creepy.  Daniel! They're really here.  Really, really, really for real – here! All over the damned place.  Invisible," he finished with a shudder.

"I know."

"But – but don't you think that's weird?" Jack insisted, fanning his arm vigorously through the empty air.  "I mean, think about it for a minute, they're everywhere. We could be walking through a whole bunch of them right now.  Right through them, Daniel.  Now that's creepy!"

"Jack, grow up," Daniel fondly scolded, extricating himself from Jack's grasp and continuing past what looked to Jack like a huge piece of abstract sculpture sulking in the middle of the room.  He paused by it giving it the once-over while Daniel continued to make for a vast screen embedded in the wall directly opposite the entranceway to the room.  The huge panel hung there, serenely addressing the room, gently illuminated by a shifting, pleasant pattern of oozing and blending coloured lights.

"This the doohickey?" Jack asked, making a face at the butt-ugly monstrosity he was currently contemplating.  The incoherent curves and bulges of the dark, gleaming mass made Jack think of an atrocious lawn ornament somebody with more money than taste or sense might buy and install on his property out of the erroneous conviction it would impress the neighbours.

"Yeah, that's the Mitron," Daniel absently responded as he started touching the screen in various places, making the light change patterns.

"Whatcha doin'?"

"Just – we have to get a few things I'm going to need in order to fix it.  This is going to take us there."

"Where, Daniel?"

"Um, somewhere else.  Underground."

"Are you sure we have to?"

"Yes Jack, I'm sure," Daniel grimaced, rubbing the heel of his right hand into his forehead and giving the screen one last pat.

"There, that should do it.  Uwda," Daniel said in a low, clear voice.

"Whadda?" Jack echoed, blinked and was somewhere else.  Instantly, without experiencing any disorientation or sensation of movement or anything at all.

Oh, good, he hadn't been thrown – wherever, on his own: Daniel had come with.  Which was handy, because not only did Jack have no idea where they were now or how they'd gotten there, it was pretty much a given he also had no idea how to get back.

"Holee Buckets!"  Jack gazed wide-eyed and slack jawed at the new chamber he and Daniel were now standing in.

It was huge.  Ginormous.  Even though he knew from what Daniel had said they were underground he couldn't see any actual evidence of the roof he presumed was overhead nor the cavern walls he also assumed had to be out there, somewhere across the vast void of softly illuminated – space – yawning all around them. 

Yeah, this place was big, all right, but it wasn't empty.  They had arrived in front of a large, featureless black cube with another one of those screens floating over it.  Jack couldn't see anything holding the screen up, but there it was just sort of hanging there in mid air.  Different, but not too freaky.  And sprawling out from the locus of the box and the screen were rows and rows of neatly aligned, ten-foot utterly seamless metal lozenges, completely uniform in shape and size looking to Jack like an army of gigantic cigar tubes.

Although he was pretty sure whatever was in them it probably wasn't cigars.

A soft mutter from Daniel immediately called Jack back from his gaping contemplation of their surroundings.  His attention snapped immediately to the man at his side in time to see him grimace and squeeze his eyes shut as if he was in pain as he forcefully ground the heel of his hand into his forehead.

"What is it?" Jack grated, alarmed by the distress Daniel was suddenly displaying.  Dammit, he knew this had been way too frigging easy.  Daniel might trust this Seepuss character, but how the hell did he know he really could?  These guys could be stringing him along, telling him it was safe to be doing this even if it wasn't, so they could get what they wanted from him no matter what it did to him.  Daniel was a smart guy except when it came to looking out for himself, and then he tended to be pretty damned dumb.  Yeah, sure, Daniel – being Daniel would assume the best and grant these bozos the benefit of the doubt even though all this time his phantom pals might have been lying through their teeth, using Daniel to save their see-through asses and not giving a crap if their damned machine melted his brain in the process, just so long as he did what they needed him to do.

"Nothing," Daniel grated between clenched teeth.  "Don't - don't fuss – I'm fine," he waved Jack away, still massaging his forehead.

"Excuse me?" Jack growled, pushing past Daniel's warding off gesture to grab him firmly by the arm.  "Call me crazy, but you're not looking so 'fine' right now."  He drew closer to Daniel, softening his grip, fingers stroking soothingly, his voice firm but tender.

"Give me one good reason why I shouldn't pull you out of here and abort this deal right now."

Daniel opened his eyes and gazed fondly at his lover.  "You can't." he smiled wanly at Jack.  "For starters, how do you intend hauling me back to the surface if I don't want to go?  Can you operate the virthaz?" he challenged.

"Hell no," Jack snorted.  "I can't even pronounce it and you damned well know it."

"Well then there's no point in you getting all puffed up and Alpha Male on me now is there? You're just going to have to put your  'it's for your own good, Daniel' instincts on hold and trust me, no matter how much you hate what you're seeing.  Besides, even if you could haul me out of here against my will, which you can't, it wouldn't do you any good – or me for that matter - to pull me out with the job undone.  Now that I've come back here I have to finish what I've started.  I've got no choice.  Completing the task," he paused and grimaced again. "It's the only way to get this stuff in my head out of my head."

"I could learn to hate you," Jack said tenderly.  "You'd better be okay and stay that way or I swear to you, if helping these guys hurts you in any way I will find a way to harm them.  Permanently."

"I love you too," Daniel said with a small laugh, momentarily leaning against the strong support of his friend.  "I'll be – I just have to get used to all this…" he paused, breathing deeply for several seconds as if struggling to master some inner conflict, physical or mental, Jack didn't know for sure, only from everything he was seeing something was causing Daniel pain.  No matter how much he claimed it wasn't so.

"The knowledge they've given me," Daniel resumed after opening his eyes and looking to Jack.  "It's a bit – overwhelming.  I'm still trying to sort it all out and things are – confusing.  Not painful in the strictest sense, but….I can't explain it," he finished with a helpless shrug.  "I know the way it must look, but even though it sort of hurts and yet it doesn't, it isn't hurting me."

"Daniel, that makes no sense at all."

"Ya think?" Daniel grinned at him.  "Wait 'til you see what happens next."

"I hate it when you say crap like this," Jack complained, his resolve melting before Daniel's entreating eyes.

"Trust me," Daniel whispered again, reaching out to cup Jack's cheek.  He brushed his lips softly and briefly against Jack's mouth and then moved away, heading toward the cube and the screen.

"You, I trust," Jack called after him.  "It's the see-through guys and their doohickey I'm not too sure of."

"Well, that's neither here nor there," Daniel murmured as he reached the black box and the screen floating over it.  He stretched out a hand to touch the screen and blobs of colour started bleeding all over the formerly blank and inert surface the instant his slender, sensitive fingers connected with it.  As he continued speaking Daniel's hands danced over the screen, caressing it thoughtfully and manipulating the various intermingling shapes. 

"I've kinda got no choice now.  If I was right to trust them, we've got no worries but if not…ooops."

"Ooops?"  Jack glared at him.

"Naturally I'm kinda hoping for the former option," Daniel tossed an impudent grin at him.  "Ah, there we go, got 'em," he announced, obviously pleased with the results of his screen stroking as several smaller cubes of varying sizes suddenly materialised atop the bigger black one.  "This is what we came for," he informed Jack, scooping up the boxes and handing them over to his companion before turning his attention back to the screen. "We can go back to the surface now."

"What's all this, then?" Jack asked, looking down at what he was holding.  Failing to be at all impressed.  They'd come all this way here, wherever here was, to pick up three black boxes.  One about the size of a thermos, except it was square.  The second was larger and would have made a fine looking attaché case if it had a handle.  And a latch. Or hinges.  Or any seams along the side where the lid would have met the bottom if it was indeed some kind of a case and it opened, which it didn't seem to have so it probably didn't, and wasn't.  Damn, this was fun.

The third one wasn't so much like a box as it was a credit card.  It was the right shape and size and like the other two, completely black and blank and whatever it was made of, it didn't feel like plastic.  It was warm and tingly, which was kinda weird.

The other extremely strange thing about all three of the objects nestled in his arms was they seemed to weigh exactly the same, which was practically nothing. 

Daniel was back at the screen, doing his thing all over it again.  "Here we go," he said after several seconds of poking at it.  "Umdar," he sang out, smiling sweetly at Jack.

And they went.  Once again, as effortlessly as before, with no sense of motion, displacement or transition one instant Jack was glancing about the cavern and then he was looking at the doohicky in the room in the tower.

"I gotta get me one of these," Jack said, shaking his head as Daniel turned on his heel and moved quickly to his side.

"Okay, I'll take those now," he said to Jack, his head lowered, eyes averted, his stoic face and body language practically screaming 'please don't ask me'.

Yeah, as if!

"How's the head?" Jack tossed off, deliberately making the question careless and casual.

Daniel darted a brief glance at him, his lips quirking a wary smile.  "Oh, you know, it's weird, but I'll live."

He cut his gaze away, obviously wishing he hadn't just said what he had in quite that way.  Jack watched him carefully as Daniel wordlessly took possession of the boxes they'd brought back, plainly seeing the inner battle Daniel was waging in his stricken eyes, his heart sinking as he realised from the way Daniel was fighting with himself over whether or not to clue him in…

Whatever was going to happen next, he was going to hate it.

"There's no easy way to say this," Daniel began, shuffling his feet and biting his lip.  "What I have to do next – you're gonna hate it."

"I do not want to hear that, Daniel!" 

"Yeah, well, it doesn't make me any happier saying it but there it is and there you are.  I'm sorry," Daniel smiled wistfully at him and then turned his back on him and walked up to the Mitron.

"Daniel, whachadoin'?" Jack asked with an edge to his voice that could cut through titanium.

"Busy, Jack, awfully busy," Daniel muttered, slapping the small black card against one of the Mitron's more bizarre bulges.  "Can't stop to chat right now."

  Daniel kept his hand and the card pressed to the machine and then…  Jack wished he could say he was seeing things, but he knew he wasn't, the whole danged thing, Daniel included, sort of  - shimmied – bent sidewise for a second and rippled almost as if…

Heart-stopping terror leapt up into Jack’s throat as huge red-alert klaxons clanged crazily in his head.

"Daniel – don't!" he cried, leaping forward, hand outstretched to grab him, stop him –

Only to fail, as his hand went right through him…

His enigmatic burdens clasped close to his chest, Daniel looked back over his shoulder, his sombre, burning eyes piercing Jack soul deep with their implacable resolution.

"Trust me, Jack.  I will come back to you.  I won't let anything stop me from coming back to you."

Then he lowered his head, turned back to the machine and walked into it, his body swallowed up and melding with the blackness like the huge, hulking thing had literally absorbed him.

Daniel was gone.  The damned machine ate him!  GodgodohGOD!

Jack struggled to claw back the talons of terror strangling his futile cries of protest in his throat and threatening to drive him to his knees.  Hate this?  Hate was such a little word, entirely too inadequate to convey the magnitude of the fear-driven rage rampaging through him.  No doubt in his mind if that goddamned, butt-ugly pile of shit didn't give him Daniel back he was taking the whole damned planet out. And every wispy, Daniel-stealing bastard floating around on it.

Bastards.  Sneaky, double-dealing, skulking, not-there-when-he-needed-a-few-necks-to-snap bastards.  Yeah, he hated this, all right.

Trust you, Daniel?  What choice have I got? All the times you've been right and I haven't believed you, this is not the time to fuck up and be wrong.  You'd better be right, you hear me?

"You hear me, Daniel?" he roared at the room.  To brooding, impersonal silence.  Stupid, he'd known it was stupid to shout, just as it was equally stupid, it would seem, to be bashing his fists against the gismo like somehow he could beat Daniel out of it, but it wasn't stopping him from doing it either.  He had to do something.  He couldn't just stand there and stare while the seconds ticked out.

It felt like he'd been pounding on the thing forever when the mocking mass beneath his hands pulsed, heaving like it was coming alive and taking a breath.  Repulsed by the sensation Jack snatched his hands away but killed his instinctive reaction to spring back from it.  He wasn't running, wasn't going to let it knock him back.  No matter what it did, he wasn't giving ground; he'd be here, for Daniel.  Just in case.

Jack winced as the shiver building in the machine exploded outward, flinging itself hungrily into the air.  Jack gasped, shaking his head as something passed through him like a herd of elephants tap dancing on his grave.  The air all around him was electric, static danced over his skin and spat at the nape of his neck until it was all he could do to not scream right out of his skin.  Jack gritted his teeth, struggling to hold his ground as the sensation of having a billion angry ants crawling all over his body escalated until he wanted to bolt shrieking from the room, clawing his clothes off.

My God, if it was this bad out here what the hell was happening to Daniel – in there?

It took Jack a while to realise the buzzing in his ears was actually outside his head.  The high-pitched whine clambered up several octaves, loud and cacophonous in the confined space and damned painful slamming against his eardrums.  Something had to give soon, or he would, and yet he couldn't do it – he couldn't give in to this, somehow he knew he had to hold on.  Daniel needed him to be there.

"Sir, Sir, what's going on in there?  Are you and Daniel all right?"  Carter's scratchy, deeply worried voice oozed out of his comm and battled with the buzzing for his attention.  She babbled on some more, begging for acknowledgement but he couldn’t answer her, attempting to even think of a response would have taken more effort than he could spare.  She'd have to wait; he was saving everything he had for Daniel.

Something he couldn't understand but didn't question drew him to move closer to the machine slightly right of where he'd formerly been standing and shivering.  As he reached out to touch a gleaming protuberance five fingers poked through, almost jabbing him in the eye, sheering eerily through the blank, unreflective surface of the machine as effortlessly as if they were waving in empty air.  A hand followed, tautly extended, straining, its long, elegant fingers stretching out desperately as if seeking…

Now.  Daniel needed him now.

All urgency and reaction Jack lunged, seizing Daniel's hand, growling with feral triumph it was substantial enough to hold onto, then hauling back on his precious purchase with ferocious, desperate strength.  He had him now and he wasn't losing him.  They'd have to pry Daniel's hand out of his cold dead one before he'd let go.

Jack tugged and a forearm emerged, followed swiftly by the rapid emergence of Daniel's bowed, tousled head and slumping shoulders.  Jack yanked again, hard, grimly dragging Daniel's body the rest of the way through and stepping in to catch the beloved form pitching unresisting forward, falling out of the machine boneless and heavy, it's inevitable impact with the ground beneath arrested by the pair of strong and determined arms waiting to receive it.

His frantic tugging had given Daniel's inert and not inconsiderable mass plenty of momentum, throwing Jack off balance.  Unconcerned about himself, wanting only to protect the man in his arms he let Daniel's weight bowl him over, rolling both their bodies so his was beneath them, thereby taking the brunt of their tumble to the tower floor.  They slammed to the ground, not gently, leaving Jack slightly gasping and winded with Daniel's dead weight sprawled all over him, pressing him into the floor.

Jack lay where he’d fallen, momentarily stunned, attempting to catch his breath, clutching Daniel tight.  Daniel wasn't moving, even after the shock of the impact he'd only partially cushioned him from.

"Daniel," Jack urgently grunted, shaking off the aftermath of their fall and quickly, but gently rolling Daniel off him.  As soon as he was clear of him and able to spring up to his knees Jack knelt over him, gathering Daniel into his arms.  Daniel hung limply in his frantic embrace, his slack, pale face innocent of any indication he was aware of the desperate entreaties of Jack O'Neill.

"Daniel," Jack continued to plead, gently slapping the side of Daniel's face.  "Come on, buddy, don't do this to me.  You promised and I'm holding you to it."

He was so desperately focussed on the man in his arms, his entire universe contracted and hanging on the hope of the faintest fluttering of a shuttered pair of eyes Jack was completely oblivious the new, reigning silence in the room around them.  Didn't know, didn't care.  All he wanted, all that mattered…

"Uh – uh – I'm okay," Daniel mumbled, his voice thick with confusion.  He took a deep breath and opened his eyes, a lazy, doting smile blooming across his face, crinkling and warming the eyes focussed on the face hovering close.

"Hey," he managed to whisper before Jack's fierce embrace plastered his face to Jack's chest.

"Don't you ever scare me like that again, you son of a bitch," Jack choked into Daniel's hair, his fingers clutching the back of Daniel's head with almost cruel possessiveness.  "I should kick your ass around the block for a month for pulling a stunt like that!  What the hell were you thinking?  What if something had gone wrong – if you'd passed out or something inside that thing and you couldn't get out?"

"Then I guess saying it almost did and I almost didn't wouldn't be incredibly helpful right now," Daniel said, reassuringly rubbing Jack's back.

  "No it wouldn't!" Jack scolded, drawing back so he could look at Daniel, see his eyes to know for sure he was really okay.  "I'd yell at you some more, but you're lucky.  I'm too glad to see you and I don't want to spoil the mood with a lot of depressing shouting and stuff."

"Thank you," Daniel smiled.  

"You're sure you're all right?"  Jack's eyes were humourless, deeply serious as he cupped Daniel's cheek and gently caressed the skin with his thumb.  "In there – it didn't – and you're not – you're – "

"It was a bit weird in there, yeah," Daniel nodded, not holding anything back in his effort to reassure Jack.  "I wasn't expecting it, or I would have told you.  It didn't hurt me, it just took a lot out of me to have to be in there when the machine was activated.  And yeah," he grinned, tapping the side of his head.  "All the extra stuff in there – gone now.  I'm me again.  For whatever little that's worth."

"Shut up," Jack growled, quickly leaning into to plaster his mouth on Daniel's.

They kissed hungrily, greedily, hands roaming, grabbing possessively as both men gave in to their overwhelming need to expel their former fears and find comfort in each other.  Jack would have been more than content to steal more time for the incredible indulgence, but Daniel had other ideas.

"Jack," he gasped, after reluctantly, but resolutely pushing the other man far enough away to be able to speak.  "Um, this is really nice, but in case you hadn't noticed, we have company."

As a matter of fact, he hadn't.  Never taking his eyes off the shining ones beneath him Jack paid enough attention to his peripheral vision to for the first time register they were ringed all around by clearly visible and definitely not wispy or insubstantial figures.  A forest of feet and legs swathed in brightly coloured robes and wacky shoes danced on the edges of his awareness, but he ignored them, still unwilling to divert his attention from the only one he cared about and wanted to see.

"Ah, screw 'em, let them get their own archaeologist," he purred, and bent his head to kiss Daniel again.


"So Carter," Jack addressed his 2IC as she emerged from the tower.  From the expression she was wearing Jack figured his question was moot, but it might be fun to ask.  Besides, he wasn't quite ready to begin attempting to pry Daniel away from his new pals.  He could spare Carter some venting time, giving Daniel a few minutes more to visit.

Hey, the things he did for his kids.

"Did you have fun in there?  Was it worth the wait?" he asked the woman stomping disconsolately to his side.

Carter glared at him sourly before replying.  "No Sir, as a matter of fact it wasn’t.  Given their stated position on not sharing their technology with races using methods they don't approve of – "

"Like us – " Jack interjected.

"Yes, like us – I should have been known when the Kathosians agreed quite readily to me going in there to peek around.  Once the defence shield had been turned off of course."

"Of course," Jack nodded.  "So you're saying they only let you go in there to see because basically there was nothing there for you to see."

"Basically." Sam agreed with a rueful grin.  "I mean the machines are very – interesting looking, but they're all featureless shapes."

"Like butt-ugly lawn ornaments."

"Yeah, there's no exposed technology or mechanisms to study.  No instrument panels, no readouts – nothing.  Just inert blobs of – whatever.  And of course no clue as to how any of it functions.  Not just by looking at it, anyway."

"And of course, they're not sharing." Jack commiserated.

"No Sir, not a chance.  As long as we will insist on defending ourselves by using methods that cause the death of other living beings the Kathosians will be keeping their secrets to themselves."

"Bummer," Jack sighed sympathetically.  "But at least the reason we don't make the grade this time – if nothing else it's an original excuse.  Kind of refreshing for a change."

"Sir?"  Sam glanced at him, not getting it.

"Well, for variety we're being called too violent instead of too primitive.  That's a step up in the insult evolutionary ladder, don't you think?"  Jack grinned at her.  "Are we making progress or what?"

"Oh yeah, that's much better," Sam snickered.

"The big guy seems to be making a few new friends over there," Jack commented, inclining his head toward Teal'c.  Their Jaffa team mate, like Daniel, was several feet away from them, conversing with a small bunch of newly solidified Kathosians who'd stuck around to schmooze with the Tau'ri once most of the rest of them – and damn, but there'd been a bunch of them – had taken off to start taking care of business.  A veritable horde of the recently re-corporeal had trouped down the hill, carrying a dizzying assortment of containers Jack presumed they'd retrieved from the underground caches, and had headed for the nearest ruined city to do – whatever it was they were currently doing.  They had a hell of a job ahead of them if they intended to rebuild what was left of the place, but they didn't seem the slightest bit perturbed by the enormity of the task.  Naturally on behalf of the SGC Daniel had offered them any aid and assistance they might have needed, but the head honcho had politely, almost condescendingly declined.  Kathos didn't need any help from the SGC.  Oh sure, they said that now, but they'd been singing a different tune when their doohickey had put the moves on his archaeologist.

But anyway, there was Teal'c having a nice chat with several new friends, all of which were female, and not too hard on the eyes.  Friendly too, if Teal'c's reaction was anything to go by.  The big guy evidently was having such a good time he was almost smiling.

Interesting.  Carter was grabbing an eyeful of Teal'c's action, and what was with 'the face' again?  Her latest outward indication of the 'I'm so not impressed' mood she'd been in for most of this lovely adventure was by far the scariest to date.  Jack wondered what had set her off this time.  When you added up all this mission's sour looks Carter was by far the clear winner in the pouting sweepstakes.  She had definitely left Daniel in the dust for a change for pissiness, not that that was a good thing.  Even if he wasn't madly in love with her competition and therefore admittedly biased he was nevertheless still of the firm opinion extended lower lippage didn't work nearly as well for her as it did for his dearly beloved.

And this particular face she was presently presenting while scoping Teal'c and his entourage was practically guaranteed to spook a System Lord at twenty paces. Yikes!

"Ah, excuse me, Sir," Carter absently tossed at him as she brushed past him and stalked – yes stalked over to the group surrounding Teal'c.

Jack watched uncomprehending as she elbowed her way to his side and not-so -subtly joined the conversation.  Well, whatever, none of his business, he'd had more than enough fun for one day.  The kids had had a chance to visit, but it was time to go home.   They could hang around here and chew the fat 'til doomsday, the Kathosians certainly didn't seem to mind socialising with them, but they weren't going to learn anything the Pentagon would be interested in, and the Earth wasn't going to get anything out of this but smiles and pats on the back for Team Tau'ri.  Schmoozing wasn't going to help them defend the Earth and he'd rather be using his mouth for something other than talking.  Which also wasn't going to be happening as long as they were standing here, so it was time to pull the plug.

Yeah, time to head back.

Daniel's greeting smile told Jack he was not only happy to see him but he wasn't going to give him any grief about going.

"So Daniel," Jack began, reaching out to pat him fondly on the shoulder.  "Are we having fun?"

"Yes, Jack, Cephus has been telling me some fascinating things about his people and their culture," Daniel enthused, pausing to flash a grateful glance at the tall, serene man by his side.

"We regret we can offer you little else when we owe you so much, but we are pleased to satisfy Daniel's curiosity about us in what ways we can," the Avantor of Kathos announced with a graceful nod of his head.  "Ah, my wife has returned."

Cephus brightened as a slender, dark-haired woman wearing a shimmering emerald caftan and a pleasant, rosy face emerged from the tower and approached them, a black oblong about the size and thickness of a magazine tucked under her arm.  When she reached his side Cephus put an affectionate arm around her shoulders smiling fondly while accepting the object she passed to him.

"This is Aryna," he announced, proudly presenting her to both Jack and Daniel.  "She has prepared a small token we of Kathos wish to bestow upon our benefactor," he beamed at Daniel extending the oblong to him.  "It is a small thing, but within our means to reward him for his kindness and assistance in a way we believe would be most pleasing to him."

"You – you didn't have to do that," Daniel flushed with pleasure, hesitating to extend a hand toward the offered object.  "I was happy to help."

"Nevertheless, we do not wish you to leave us completely empty-handed.  "Please?" he prompted again, extending the thin black rectangle closer to Daniel.

"Go ahead," Jack nudged him in the ribs.  "I don't think it'll bite."

Daniel shot him an assessing look and then finally took the blank black slate.  The instant he touched it, columns of arcane figures and images erupted on the formerly pristine surface.

Daniel gaped at it, his mouth hanging open, his eyes dancing with delight as they devoured the dense rows of alien script.

"Our stories and culture and history," Cephus explained to Jack, as Daniel was clearly momentarily incapable of speech.  "Much of what and who we are.  Daniel expressed a desire to know of us.  This we can satisfy and wish to do so, as a way of expressing our gratitude to our dear saviour."

"This is – this is – this is amazing!" Daniel burbled, touching a spot on the tablet and watching page after page of squiggles scroll by.  There has to be an entire library on this device!  It'll take me years to study all of this!"

"There is much," Cephus beamed.  "You are pleased?"

"Yes!" Daniel gushed.  "Oh yes, very much!  Thank you, I don't know what to say – I – oh wait a minute, I don't understand," he looked down at the tablet and then back up at Cephus and his wife, his brow beetling with incomprehension.

"I can read this.  But that shouldn't be possible.  You said – and as far as I can remember, the Mitron would only leave the knowledge it gave me in my mind long enough to complete the task of repairing it.  And I've done it – so I shouldn't be able – but I can."

"Nir basta vi agada ri tanrarho, Daniel," Aryna said to him, her kind, clear voice one of the nicest things Jack had every heard.  In fact, everything about these people was just so damned nice he'd long repented of every unkind thing he'd previously thought about them and had just about forgiven them everything else to boot. 

"Sono me," Daniel softly replied, his cheeks crimson with pleasure.

"What?" Jack nudged him again, wanting into the loop.

"Daniel is a linguist," Cephus explained.  "Words are his passion and his pleasure.  We allowed him to keep the knowledge of our language, written and spoken.  Another gift we could give him we felt he would appreciate."

"That's cool," Jack nodded approvingly.  "Good choice, too.  Hey Daniel, that makes twenty four!"

Bewildered blue eyes swung his way.

"Twenty-four," Jack prompted.  "Languages.  You told me once you could speak twenty-three.  Well now…"

"Oh yeah," Daniel grinned.  "Twenty four.  I get it now."  He turned back to the Avantor and his wife, their gift cradled close to his chest, his face overflowing with pleasure.  "This is – this is so amazing.  I don't know what to say.  Thank you doesn't seem to be nearly enough.  But…"

He looked down at the object in his arms, his face falling.  "But – I'm a little confused.  I don't understand how I can have this, or take it back with me in good conscience.  The scientists on my world will want to study it, see what they can learn from your technology.  Even if you didn't have a problem with us doing that I doubt I'll be allowed to keep this," he finished with a regretful sigh.

"Your scientists could try," Aryna and her husband exchanged amused glances.  "But I think it will avail them little.  Give the revpor to Jack," she kindly instructed.

"Sure, go ahead, whatever," Jack shrugged and held out his hand. After a dubious glance at the Kathosian couple Daniel passed the rectangle over to Jack.

The instant Jack's fingers made contact with the alien artefact all the writing covering its surface disappeared, as if the words had been sucked back into the substance of the device, and it sat inertly in Jack's grasp, blank, unremarkable, nothing more now that a dead sliver of who knew what.

Grinning knowingly at Cephus and Aryna, Jack handed the rectangle back to Daniel.

"And look, there are the nifty words and pictures back again," Jack nodded.  "Pretty slick.  It'll only work for him, right?  Anyone else touches it, it shuts off and plays dead.  Nothing to see, no way to mess with it.  No good to anyone else but Daniel.  Cool," he nodded approvingly.

"Sam's gonna hate me for this," Daniel made a show of pretending to be sorry of his windfall but his eyes were brimming with satisfaction.

"Trust me, Daniel, enjoy it.  You earned it.  A little gloating might even be in order for a change. Ah – never mind making with the 'who me' look!" Jack chided.  "I'm so not buying it.  Take my word for it," Jack leaned toward the Kathosian couple regarding them with unashamedly blatant affection.  "Mr 'Big wide-eyed who me, I never' over here loves a good gloat as much as the next guy.  Which is usually me.  He'll rub it in all right and have a damned fine chuckle while he's doing it."

Daniel's cup of happiness was currently overflowing which Jack knew, from past experience meant Daniel would be busting to share it all over him later.  Which further meant he was in for one hell of a pleasure-packed evening, so what was he doing still standing here talking to these people?  As nice as they were, they had nothing on Daniel when he was happy, horny and grateful.  But then, who did?

"Well folks, it's been swell, but you've got a ton of stuff to do and we should let you get to it, so if you don't mind I'll be taking my kids home now."

"I don't suppose you're interested in the whole – allies – thing," Daniel asked, making the pitch as he knew he was obligated to, but confident of its upcoming rejection.

"Not in the way your government would wish," Cephus replied, letting him down kindly but firmly.  "We cannot supply you with the means or aid you in any action or circumstance requiring us to be party to actions violating our principles and beliefs.  But we can be your friends.  Rest assured, we will not forget you, or your world.  You are a young race, but one of much promise.  We have high hopes for you.  We will be watching."

"You're sure you're going to be okay?" Daniel asked, genuinely concerned.  "You have so much to do, an entire world to rebuild – you're going to be all right?"

"We will be now, Daniel," Cephus assured him as he hugged his wife.  "Thanks to you."

It took a little more coaxing and pulling but it wasn't much longer before Jack succeeded in extricating his team from the personable and compelling Kathosians.  SG-1 said their good-byes, there was much hugging and waving and more than a few moist eyes – on both sides – and then the four of them began their descent of the hill, their departure saluted by the Kathosians remaining atop the hill, watching them go.

All in all, it had been a damned fine day.  One or two scary bits, but Jack had to admit he felt pretty good, even if he had had the crap scared out of him there, several times.  It had all worked out, that was the main thing, and it was obvious to the tired, but contented colonel the other members of his team were similarly inclined to be smugly satisfied with the way this particular mission had gone down.

Nice for a change, to have nothing more taxing ahead of them than a gentle descent to the gate and home.  Jack was feeling so mellow he felt like sharing. As well as satisfying a few lingering wisps of curiosity he hadn't been able to follow up on, what with the business formerly at hand requiring him to table all non-relevant concerns.

Nothing stopping him from following up now, though.

"So Carter," he suddenly quipped as the foursome reached the bottom of the hill.  "You spent the night in the mountain.  So you didn't take the slinky black number you were wearing out on the town after all?"

"No Sir," Sam answered.

"Got sucked into another science trap, huh?  Couldn't just let it go and walk away?"

"I guess not.  I don't know what I was thinking, Sir."

"Shame the dress went to waste," Jack said consolingly.  "You looked pretty good.  I think I said that before, did I say that before?"

"I believe you did, O'Neill," Teal'c observed from his position at the head of the pack.  "To which I must add, I concur."

"Come to think of it, so did you, big guy," Jack called ahead to him.  "Was that a new hat you were wearing?"

"You are very observant, O'Neill.  It was indeed.  It was a present from a friend who informed me it was most becoming."

"It definitely had a certain je ne sais quoi," Daniel agreed with a grin.

"I am unfamiliar with that phrase, DanielJackson.  "What does it mean?"

"I don't know what," Daniel absently replied.

"If you are uncertain as to its meaning then why do you use it?"

"No – that's not what I  - I mean, I know what it means.  I don't know what," Daniel protested, trying to explain.

"I do not understand," Teal'c persisted.

"Yadda yadda and who's on first," Jack interrupted.  He wasn't finished with Carter yet.

"Carter, if it would not seem to you to be too presumptuous, I'd like to give you some advice, if I may," Jack started to explain as they approached the DHD.  "No really," he continued, ignoring the looks Daniel was shooting him.  "I hope you don't think I'm out of line, here, but if you don't mind me saying so, don't you think it's time you put down the crystals and reactors, and – well, just gave the whole – science thing – a miss now and again?  You tried the other night, I'll give you that, made a good start, but you gotta follow through.  Just say no to the doohickey of the day or whatever, your gizmo is going to be there in the morning, or whenever you get back to it, but that shot at a good, hot time, well, it might not be.  Trust me, I know, life is short, Carter, every once and awhile, just put that puppy down and walk away, you know you have to get right out there and just grab – what?"

Jack's fervent exhortation was abruptly interrupted as Daniel started to giggle.  He lowered his head and increased his stride, pulling ahead of both Sam and Teal'c, shooting them a sidewise glance as he passed them, which only seemed to make him giggle louder.

Baffled, Jack stopped walking for a moment, watching Daniel reach the DHD and drape himself over it, nearly splitting his sides laughing.  And if that wasn't weird enough, Sam was starting to snort as well and Teal'c was definitely looking tickled.

"Okay, what's so funny?"  Jack sourly demanded, resuming his former forward motion.  Daniel howled anew, by now so incapacitated with laughter the DHD beneath him propping him up was the only reason he was still on his feet.  Sam and Teal'c had joined him and whatever the hell the three of them were guffawing about they were all in on it.

Apparently.

"What?"  Jack snapped once more, unable to shake the feeling whatever was going on with his kids, that joke they were so happily laughing their asses off about was in fact, on him.

Oh well, so what else was new?

Return to Part One

FINIS




Feedback not obligatory, but appreciated; if you want to drop me a line please contact me at olorien56@gmail.com
©  Copyright
Biblio, PhoenixE, babs, Brionhet, Darcy, Devra, Fabrisse, JoaG, Kalimyre, Marcia, Rowan and Sideburns, 2001-2008.
Disclaimer
Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Stargate Productions, Sci Fi Channel, Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. These stories are for entertainment purposes only. No copyright infringement is intended. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author. These stories may not be posted elsewhere without the consent of the author. Copyright on images remains with the above named rightsholders.
[an error occurred while processing this directive]