EPILOGUE, PART ONE  BY PHOENIXE
Slash:  Jack and Daniel involved in a loving and committed relationship, which usually involves sex.
Rating: R
Category: E/R, H/C, Angst, Drama, AR, (that's Alternate Reality), Meridan Free, Ultimate Denialist Fic
Season/Spoilers: Season 6/7 - ish?  Spoilers for SoG (teeny tiny)
Synopsis: Jack awakens in a hospital offworld to find himself alone, abandoned and
presumed dead, and up to his neck in mystery and intrigue.
Warnings: Extreme Happy Ending
Length:   70 Kb  Completion Date Jul 05, originally appeared in the JD Divas Zine from Yadda Press  Posted to the net 30 May 2010

( From JD Divas) Notes: This story has had an extremely long and chequered history. It seems as if I've been writing it forever, it was stuck in writer's block limbo for well over a year and honestly, I didn't think I'd ever finish the darned thing. I started with wanting to explore a scenario where Jack has supposedly perished in an offworld incident, and everyone believes he's dead except Daniel, and no one will take Daniel seriously when he keeps insisting Jack is still alive. It kind of evolved into a 'retirement' story, because the scenario I ended up with was so extreme it just seemed to lead Jack in that direction. I've always wanted to write a 'retirement' story for the boys so I went with it, and what Jack wanted to do. I hope it all turned out okay, but for whatever any of it is worth, here it all is. You will also find the epilogue of this story deliberately and defiantly populated with every character we have loved and TPTB have so pointlessly and needlessly killed off over the course of the series. Everyone is alive and everyone lives happily ever after.

Notes:  Updated for 2010.  As you can see, this story has been around for awhile, because I completely forgot about it.  Although I found the premise really interesting, the actual act of getting it out of my head and onto the page was absolute torture, took forever, and was one of my least favourite writing experiences.  Well, I've resurreted the poor thing, spiffed it up, trimmed it of some excess verbiage, and now I like it a little more.  Re - the epilogue, to Epilogue.  When this story was written no one had any inkling TPTB planned to off the Asgard, and Cameron Mitchell was only a name.  We hadn't met him yet.  I made some choices for him, and a few other of our beloved supporting characters I hope you find interesting.  Lovely accompanying illo by Bibilo, for JD Divas. Thanks for reading and enjoy!

epiloguegraphic

 


 
Teal'c stepped silently into the cool dankness of the pyramid, his eyes quickly adjusting after the merciless assault of the unremitting radiance of the Abydonian sun. He swiftly descended into the welcoming darkness, his booted feet barely whispering over the familiar, age-worn stones. Though he knew no true deity had ever been housed within these massive walls he could not completely quell the faint stirrings of reflective awe the magnificent edifice automatically evoked in him during his swift transit through the ancient structure.

When he reached the DHD he quickly dialled and slapped the centre crystal, reaching for the transmitter key of his comm while the wormhole he summoned boiled greedily into the serene air of the chamber.

"General Hammond," he said, the lightly undulating glow of the gate's shining core dancing over the stones around him.

"Receiving you five by five, son," Hammond's warm greeting issued from the device in his vest. "It's good to hear your voice again."

"As it is yours.”

"How is Doctor Jackson? You have good news for us, we hope."

"I do indeed. Doctor Fraiser's medicine has proven to be most beneficial. The fever has broken and is quickly abating. Skaara was able to persuade DanielJackson to take some nourishment as I was departing."

"That's good, Teal'c." Janet Fraiser's voice replaced the general's. "I was sure this new antibiotic would do the trick. Keep administering the medication according to the schedule and watch him closely. His resistance is still low. We don't want him having a relapse."

"It shall be as you have instructed," Teal'c asserted. "You need not be concerned for DanielJackson's welfare. I will take care of him."

"I don't doubt that for a minute, Teal'c. I know I can trust you to do everything you can for him. I just wish…" Her heavy sigh was clearly audible. "I'd feel better if he were here under my supervision. It's a doctor thing," she finished quickly, and not entirely convincingly.

"We all wish Doctor Jackson could be here with us at the SGC where he belongs," Hammond interjected.

"That is not his wish at this time.”

"We understand that, Teal'c, and no one means to compel him to return, no matter how much he is missed."

"That would not be wise," Teal'c gravely rumbled.

"How is…" Hammond's voice faltered, but he quickly recovered. "The other situation."

"There is no change," Teal'c's flat reply was ominously heavy in the stillness.

"Well, that's as much as we were expecting, Teal'c." Although the Jaffa could not see the face of the man seeking to reassure he could hear his intent. "It's early days, yet. Barely two months…since… We're all having a hard time accepting - "

"I still can't believe he's gone." The grief in Janet's voice was unattenuated by the billions of miles between them.

"None of us want to believe it, Doctor," Hammond sighed. "As difficult as it is for us, we don't have the history Doctor Jackson had. We can't even begin to imagine how traumatic this loss must be for him."

"Their bond was indeed unique," Teal'c told the lightly lapping surface of the event horizon. "Still, it has happened, and he will not return. These are truths we must all reconcile ourselves to, including DanielJackson. Though we may wish it otherwise, that will not make it so."

"I'm sure Doctor Jackson will come around to the reality of the situation eventually," Hammond continued. "He's a remarkably strong young man, and unfortunately no stranger to loss. He'll get through this. He just needs time and the support of his family and friends."

"He has it and more," Teal'c fervently averred. "Of that, you may be certain."

"We didn't doubt it for a minute, son," Hammond warmly continued. "Doctor Jackson couldn't be in better hands. Please assure him he's not been forgotten, and he has a place ready and waiting for him whenever he is ready to return."

"Tell him we miss him," Janet mournfully added.

"I shall convey all your messages to him, as well as your continuing concern."

"Major Carter sends her regards," Hammond said.

"Indeed." A subtle, pleased smile tugged at the corner of the Jaffa warrior's mouth when he thought of the team mate he had not seen since he and DanielJackson had forsaken the Tau'ri homeworld, at the archaeologist's insistence, after the memorial service. "Is she still on the Navvik Prime?"

"She is. And we're all extremely pleased with the way the technical exchange program is proceeding. You might want to pass that along to Doctor Jackson, seeing as how he is the one largely responsible for making it happen. The Major will be happy to learn he's on the mend."

"Please convey to Major Carter my hopes for her success."

"I'll do that. But tell me son, what are your plans for the immediate future?"

Teal'c had been expecting the question, and had spent much time considering his answer.

"DanielJackson is safe with his Abydonian family. He is where he wishes to be. However, it will be some time before he is truly himself again, and I believe my presence here, for a time, will provide him with a connection to his previous self the others cannot give him. Although the incident on Astira has caused him to turn his back on his former life, he seems to draw comfort from my presence. He looks to me in ways he does not the others, and will also communicate and cooperate with me more readily. I cannot always prevail over his will and persuade him to behave in ways that further his own best interests, but as a rule I have a higher rate of success than anyone else."

"That doesn't surprise me Teal'c," Janet kindly interjected. "You're his friend. He trusts you. You've been through a lot together no one else can understand. That, especially now, has to be an enormous comfort to him."

"I cannot help him in the way he needs me most," Teal'c stonily responded.

"We talked about this." Janet's voice regained its professional timbre. "It does him no good to support this fantasy he clings to the colonel is coming back. He's not. Colonel O'Neill is gone. I know it's hard, maybe even cruel to keep reminding Daniel of this but he's never going to heal until he comes out of the denial phase and faces the truth. Teal'c, the day he can you in the eye and say the words - 'Jack is dead,' and mean them - then we'll know for sure he's going to be fine."

"I will endeavour to lead him towards that realization," Teal'c soberly promised her. "In the interim, General Hammond, I will…stay in touch. If you need me I will be at your disposal."

"As we are at yours, Teal'c."

 



Teal'c hesitated by the coarse curtain, his keen eyes barely able to pierce the murky blackness behind it to discern the figure slumped on the pallet lining the tent wall. DanielJackson infrequently slept, therefore if he was now, indeed resting, the Jaffa was loathe to rouse him even though he had promised Doctor Fraiser he would ensure her long-distance patient took his medicine according to her schedule. He hovered before the curtain, uncertain, and then the decision was taken from him.

"Teal'c," a soft, sleepy voice issued from the pallet. "What are you - oh God, do I have to take more of that crap?" The reclining man groaned and rolled over, turning his back to the Jaffa.

"I have promised Doctor Fraiser her treatment schedule will be adhered to," Teal'c smoothly replied. "Therefore, I assure you, you will take it."

"You take it," Daniel muttered. "I'm tired. I'm going back to sleep."

"Major Carter sends you greetings from the Navvik Home World."

"Sam!" Daniel exclaimed turning back and sitting up. "How is she, is she okay?"

"She is well, DanielJackson," Teal'c assured him, heartened by the life flaring in his friend's eyes at the mention of the woman they both esteemed and missed. "Her mission is proceeding satisfactorily."

"That's great," Daniel mused, lying back down, a fond expression on his face. "The Navvik are good people. We could learn a few things from them."

"General Hammond wishes me to tell you also you have many friends in the SGC. They miss you very much and - "

Daniel's smile died. "I'm not going back," he stubbornly grunted, turning his face away.

"You have said this before."

"They did this," he whispered to the uncaring fabric of the tent wall. "They took him from me. I won't help them do their dirty work any longer."

"This you have not said before. To whom do you refer? General Hammond? Surely you do not mean - "

No," Daniel snapped. "Not the SGC. Not Hammond. Higher. Dirtier. Hammond - he means well, but he doesn't get it. They're the one, the ones giving the orders, pulling the strings…"

"I do not understand, DanielJackson."

"He's not dead, Teal'c," Daniel turned desperately imploring eyes upon him, seeking an accord the Jaffa could not grant him. "Jack's not dead. I know he's not. I know it."

The two men stared at each other both equally implacable in their refusal to give credence to the other's point of view. Finally the Jaffa slid his gaze away from the pained blue eyes looking up at him, unwilling to further witness the bitter disappointment haunting them.

"DanielJackson," Teal'c began gently, hating himself for what he was about to do but knowing the words had to be spoken. "If this is true, if O'Neill did indeed escape the conflagration we believe consumed him, then why has he not returned?"

Daniel was silent for several precious seconds, a shiver of doubt momentarily dancing in his eyes.

"I – I don't know," he ventured at last. "Perhaps…perhaps he can't," he finished, rallying stubbornly once more.

"He cannot," Teal'c continued, uttering each syllable with unrelenting precision. "Because he is dead."

"You'll see," Daniel muttered," lancing one final, scathing look at him before he once again turned away, huddling disconsolately on the pallet.  "You'll see I'm right when Jack comes back."




"Good morning, Kerris. How are you this morning? It's a lovely day. I wish you could see it. I've very sorry you can't, but take my word for it, it's a great day."

Ow. Ow. Ow. His head felt like a ton of cement was flattening his forehead into the back of his freaking skull. The roots of his hair were aching and the insides of his eyelids were lined with sandpaper. He hadn't had a hangover this bad since his bachelor party.

"Oh, you don't have to get up, it's only me. I'm just here to get you set for the day. Yes, it's that time again, time to waken and warble. Well, in your case metaphorically speaking."

And who the hell was the insanely chipper psycho case with the whiny voice? If she didn't stop yapping in tones high enough to make dogs' ears bleed he was going to have to kill her. With the nearest blunt instrument he could lay his hands on.

"Terrin! Young man, stop fooling around and get in here! We need to change Kerris' bedding today and we still have the rest of the floor to finish before Doctor Haddac starts his tour."

What?

"All right, all right I'm coming. Don't get tever. It's not like he's going anywhere. Why do you call him that anyway, it's not his name."

"I think it's a very nice name. It's my father's name. It's certainly better than 'Patient 359'."

"Whatever, 'dru. Coma cases give me the zikes. They're just so - non."

Coma? What? What the hell was going on?

"Terrin, don't be crude! For all we know this poor man can hear us. Such a tragedy. I wonder who he is."

"Why don't you try asking him?" Jack grated, and forced his eyes open.

"Andsik!" the woman shrieked, the sound lancing into Jack's throbbing head making him wish he'd stayed unconscious. It took him several more seconds to focus, to discover he was flat on his back on a hard, narrow bed staring at the bare pastel green walls of a very small, windowless and completely unfamiliar room. An older, slightly rotund woman with short, straight grey hair and a white, deeply shocked moon-round face clutched a tall, thin, badly-complexioned teenager with curly dirty blonde hair. They were both dressed in matching yellow jumpsuits not doing a damned thing for either one of them but however unflattering, their duds were definitely some sort of uniform. Which would make sense, as it would seem from what he'd overheard he was in a hospital.  But where - and why - and what the heck had they been saying about coma, again?

He'd - he'd been in a coma? And what the hell – something on his face, wrapped about his head. Bandages? Bandages?

What the hell?

"Where the hell am I?" Jack demanded of the wide-eyed duo staring at him like he'd just come back from the dead.

Or something.

"You're - you're in Section C of the Central Health Facility," the woman explained with a trembling smile and an equally uncertain voice. "You were brought here after your - "

"Central Health Facility?" Jack barked suspiciously. He'd never heard of it before but whatever this place was, whatever branch of the government was behind it, he didn't like the sounds of it. "Where are we, in the Springs? DC?"

The woman and the boy exchanged puzzled glances. "No," she said, smiling benignly at him as if he was three. "You're confused, dear, but that's understandable. You've been in a coma for over two months."

"What!" Jack roared, making the woman flinch and the boy take a quick step toward the door.

"Gommit, 'dru," the boy said, shaking his head and continuing to back toward the door. "This is fractious. This scrant looks like he could bleem all over us.  I'm going to get the skulls."

"Terrin, you stay right where you are and watch your language!" the woman scolded, turning her full attention back to Jack, her eyes softening with compassion. "He's a good boy, but he's very young. He didn't mean to insult you," she explained with a smile.

"I'm sure," Jack grimaced back at her, rubbing his pounding forehead. "Now would you please tell me where the hell I am? What city, that is?" he added, suppressing a groan.

Her round, plump face immediately morphed into a daunting mask of overwhelming maternal concern. Jack couldn't help thinking he felt infinitely sorry for any kid trying to put one by this particular mother.

"You're in Astiria, dear," she gently explained, in a tone of voice so conciliatory Jack had to quell an overwhelming impulse to apologise to her for daring to doubt her. "Where else would you be? Where else could you be?"

Then he was able to push back her daunting concern long enough to realise what she'd just told him - and furthermore, what it meant.

Astiria. Crap, that's what the folks on P6S-297 called their city. He was - he was off world? Still on 297? For two months? Two? His team had packed up and gone back to Earth and left him here - on 297 - Daniel - his Daniel - had left him behind on 297 - with Mary Worth and her sidekick Dennis the Menace – wrapped up like a mummy and in a fucking coma?

What the fuck?

"Hey, 'dru, don't you think we should diz the doc?" the youth fiercely whispered. "Now that the non has cracked his code?"

"Do you remember your name, dear?" the woman asked, ignoring the boy.

"Yeah," Jack answered her without thinking he was still so astonished by the enormity of his seeming abandonment. "Colonel Jack O'Neill."

"Bondar!" the kid snorted. "He's skiving us!" he sneered, curling his lip "That crat is cancelled!"

"No, no I don't think he is," the woman murmured, her eyes troubled. "He's not being deliberately deceitful. Though it isn't possible he could be who he claims, he certainly believes it."

Jack found he could find nothing to say to this as the woman, her eyes never leaving his, raised her left wrist to her mouth and spoke into the thick metal band encircling it.

"Doctor Haddac, if you could come immediately.  Patient 359 has awakened, and is claiming to be Colonel Jack O'Neill."




 

"Kezit, dorf, it was maximal!" the kid he had just learned was named Terrin enthused. "You should have seen it – it was all over the vids. The whole place – zoinked!" he finished, blowing out his cheeks and emphasising the rumbling, explosive sound he emitted with a wide sweep of his arms.

"And that's...bad?" Jack asked hopefully, feeling slightly overwhelmed by the cacophony of confusing colloquialisms being fired at him with such speed and enthusiasm.

"Zoner!" Terrin emphatically nodded, the door behind him opening to admit a short, slightly stooped older man with thinning grey hair and smudged wire-framed glasses. He was wearing a long yellow coat over the same type of jumpsuit as the other two and had a bundle of worn and dog-eared file folders tucked under his arm.

Terrin fell silent at his entrance; both he and the woman, who had yet to identify herself turned to face the new arrival. He shot Jack a momentary glance before directing his attention to the waiting staff members of Section C. A pair of mild, but plainly worried hazel eyes begging him for his silence and co-operation instantly communicated to Jack this very frightened man knew who he really was.

Not simply frightened, but scared shitless, not to put too fine a point on it.

Doctor,” the woman announced primly. “Patient 359 has regained consciousness.”

Yes, Doran Emzon, I can see that.” the doctor's mild voice sounded as tired and plain as his lined, care-worn countenance. “Thank you for so very promptly summoning me. You may leave us now, but before you do..." His voice suddenly gained a surprisingly authoritative edge completely incongruous with the servile and defeated aura he projected. Arrested by the quiet, yet unmistakable command, the boy and the woman froze, their eyes wide and curious, and firmly fixed on the doctor, awaiting his next pronouncement.

Jack perked up at the suggestion of the spirit of the wolf peeking out from behind the wearily placid eyes of the lamb. He wondered if he was going to have to rethink his first impressions of this man, further speculating their impending ‘discussion’ might prove to be more interesting than he’d originally expected.

Dorzon, Mister Abik, when you leave this room it is absolutely imperative you do not discuss what you have seen and heard here with anyone. This patient has been placed in our care by Bureau H, and all information about him is Red File.” He lowered his head and shot them a stern glance over the top of his glasses. “I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what that means.”

Oh no, Doctor, of course not,” the woman gulped, all the colour draining abruptly from her cheeks. “We won’t breathe a word to a soul, will we Terrin?”

Kezit, I’m waffed!” the boy crowed, obviously incredibly excited by this unexpected revelation. “Never even scanned the dorf!”

"See that you don’t,” the man nodded, his gaze still not releasing either of them. “Astiria's good is our satisfaction," he intoned formally.

"Astiria," the pair responded in unison, their faces shining like they were witnessing the Second Coming.

One thing Jack had noticed during the brief time he'd spent rubbing shoulders with the locals before being coma-tosed, almost every Astirian he'd met had been patriotic to the point the average American looked apathetic by comparison.

It appeared his two new friends were no exception to their race.

Waaaz!” the boy wheezed, obviously terribly awed and impressed. “This is maximal!”

That’s enough, Terrin,” the woman firmly chided, having recovered enough to take control of the boy by grasping him firmly by the arm. “I assure you, Doctor, nothing we have seen here will leave this room,” she fervently vowed, with a fond but meaningful glance to the boy. She started to move her charge toward the door and then stopped, remembering the man in the bed behind her.

If we don’t meet again,” she began, favouring Jack with a kind smile, “I’m glad you’ve awakened. “We’ll miss you. Ardis see you safely on your way.”

The doctor closed the door behind them, leaning wearily against it and tightly hugging the stack of folders he held to his chest. “Please Ardis they keep their mouths shut,” he closed his eyes and sighed. “Their seeing you – talking to you – complicates things. It would have been better if you hadn’t regained consciousness quite so soon. But it can’t be helped,” he opened his eyes and looked regretfully at Jack. “Still, the Dorzon is a discreet and very conscientious woman. Highly trustworthy. That’s why I put you in her care.”

You don’t say,” Jack quipped. “Doctor Haddock, I presume?"

"Haddac," the man corrected absently, looking away. Jack waited, surprised at his own patience given the situation and the number of questions bouncing around in his brain, while his potential source of information wrestled with whatever the heck it was scaring the crap out of him. Jack sensed he was looking at a man capable of rising to the occasion when he had no other choice, but he wasn't a routinely courageous or bold individual. Jack didn't want to risk shutting him down by coming on too strong right off the hop, even though he had plenty of cause to be ranting his head off at someone he was sure – just from the way the guy was having a hard time meeting his eyes – had been a part of however he'd ended up here. At least he knew damned well where the bodies were buried.

Jack ruthlessly swept the uncomfortable analogy aside as the doc took a deep breath, stiffened his back and with a small grimace met his gaze head on.

"And you, of course, are Colonel Jack O'Neill," he said quietly, his brow wrinkling, his soft eyes abashed and apologetic.

"Why yes, I am," Jack answered equally quietly, keeping his voice and expression reasonable. For the moment. "Nice to know we agree on that one point, anyway. But seeing as how you do seem to know who I am, I have to ask, why exactly was I made a guest of this facility as a John Doe – excuse me, Patient – whatever – " he amended at the doctor's momentary look of confusion at the unfamiliar term. "And how the hell did I end up here in the first place? The last thing I remember was bunking down in that nice room your president so kindly made available to me while my team and I were doing the negotiating…thing – two months ago, apparently, if I understood what that kid was saying to me correctly, another thing of which I’m not at all sure. But I do know who I am, all right. Youbetcha.”

I’m not sure where to start,” the doctor replied, a faint flush of colour making a desperate attempt to perk up the man's grey pallour.

How about let’s go with why those two didn’t believe I'm me because apparently Jack O’Neill was blown to itty bitty bits in an explosion that took out that brand new power plant you were gonna show us.”

Ah,” the doctor smiled weakly. “Mr Abik is a very loquacious young man.”

One way of putting it,” Jack returned dryly.

So you already know some of it.” Haddoc wiped a shaking hand across his brow. “Yes, as far as most of Astiria and your SGC is concerned, Jack O’Neill was indeed killed in that explosion. You died in the line of duty, single-handedly frustrating a Komankor plot to destroy our citizenry's confidence in this government and take over our country by destroying the plant and blaming your people for the explosion."

"You mean, it goes boom, evidence is discovered pointing to the SGC as the saboteurs leaving you and your government looking like idiots or worse for playing footsie with terrorists and invaders. Then these Kokamo guys step in to send us packing and save the city from your incompetence and woo hoo, instant coup. That's what I supposedly found out  about and put a stop to? Apparently getting myself blowed up in the process?"

"You’re a national hero,” Haddoc supplied with a small shrug. “The Assembly has just finished voting for a suitable monument to commemorate your heroic sacrifice. They plan to erect a huge statue of you in front of the Presidential Palace. I’ve seen the proposed model currently on exhibit in the public foyer. It’s very impressive.”

A statue?” Jack was completely unable to suppress an inane grin. “Of me? Cool!”

Oh yes, no expense will be spared to honour the Saviour of our people. Thanks to your timely and selfless sacrifice not only was our off world alliance with your people preserved but public outrage in the aftermath of the incident completely changed the attitude of the our citizens toward the current government. Our president now has the unreserved backing and support of the people of Astiria and the Komankor threat has been completely neutralised. With the assistance of our properly incensed populace the Komankor leaders were betrayed to the Protectorate and most of their hidden cells discovered; the members taken into custody. Trying and sentencing the lot of them will probably take years.” Haddac sighed deeply, his eyes mournful. “Thanks to you for the first time in decades the country is united and at peace, and our citizens need no longer live in fear of the random acts of violence of the Komankor. Therefore I’m sure you can appreciate how…” he paused and gnawed on his bottom lip. “…awkward it would be for the president and the government if it became public knowledge your ‘death’ was staged – a deliberately created and manipulated scenario, originating not with the Komankor at all, but instigated by a certain faction of your government and executed by them in collusion with ours in the hopes of creating exactly what it achieved.”

Hold the phone!” Jack snapped. “You’re telling me the whole thing – the plant blowing up with me supposedly in it – my guys are the ones who did the deed, not your terrorists?”

No, not the members of your team,” Haddoc quickly replied, taking an impulsive step forward to calm Jack’s swiftly escalating agitation. “They were completely ignorant of the plot although Doctor Jackson - " the doctor broke off, a sad smile flitting across his features.

What about Daniel?” Jack demanded. He was far from getting the whole story but what little he did know he didn’t care for. Hero’s death, statue or no, dead meant dead – that meant everyone thought – Daniel thought –

Daniel thought he was dead. Crap. Why they'd all buggered off and left him – starting to make a lot more sense now. If they believed he was dead…

Daniel thought he was dead. Dammit, he had to get through this fast and get to Daniel. But if the bad guys came from the SGC...

That could be a problem.

He had to calm down and get all the facts. Get himself a plan. If everyone back home who could help him already believed him to be dead and the wrong people caught wind of his miraculous return to life before the good guys…

He'd be screwed.

Those who'd wanted him dead in the first place and brokered the deal to achieve it – or so they thought would have nothing to lose by correcting their original oversight. If the wrong people got wind of his resurrection and decided to reverse it he really would be dead and no one would be the wiser. He didn’t give himself a plugged nickel for his life expectancy if he tried to go home without some heavy-duty insurance.

He needed to find out who his friends were, here, in Astiria. Other than Doc Haddock. Who'd gone back on the deal, commuted his death sentence, and had hidden him away here to hide the fact. Why was he still alive? What did he have to do to stay that way?

And last, but not least, who from back home had ordered the hit.

Someone in the government who wanted him dead. Gee, who could that be?

The doc was still talking, about Daniel. Jack roughly dragged himself back to focus.

Doctor Jackson didn’t believe you would embark alone, on a covert mission without telling anyone.”

Without telling him.

No, I wouldn't. Not since the Tollan affair. Not after I promised him, no matter what they asked, or ordered me to do – no secrets. Not from him. I've kept my word ever since.

Although Major Carter pointed out to him you’d previously done so, on at least one occasion.”

Yeah well, she didn’t know better. But Daniel sure did.

Even after the forensic evidence was released, stating conclusively one of the bodies found in the wreckage was yours, he refused to accept it. He was quite – insistent – you were still alive and we had to find you. He was so insistent and persistent he proved to be a problem to both governments.”

God bless you, Dannyboy!

His inquiries came perilously close to exposing the entire collaboration. Your government had to recall him to Earth to prevent him from making his suspicions public and jeopardising the entire alliance.” Haddac paused, smiling fondly. “He really is a remarkable young man, and he cares for you a great deal. Had he not been stopped, I have no doubt he would have discovered the truth, and he would have found you. I deeply regret having to hurt him the way we did.”

Alarm spiked through Jack at Haddac's last, mournful statement. “What? What do you mean 'hurt' him? What did you bastards do to him? Is Daniel okay?”

I honestly don’t know.” Haddoc shook his head. “We had no more news of him after he was recalled to Earth. Your remaining team members went with him and those who came to replace SG-1 to conclude the negotiations, other than saying certain members of your government were extremely displeased with him.”

Yeah, I’ll bet they were,” Jack snarled. “Got a pretty good idea who, too. The same scum-sucking bureaucrat who’s wanted me dead for a few years now. I guess he saw a chance to score a few points and get me knocked off in the bargain so he went for it.” Jack paused, his eyes narrowing while he sized up the man before him, plumbing his pale eyes for the secrets still lurking behind them. “But I’m guessing, seeing as how I’m still breathing things didn’t go exactly the way he planned, did they? And that’s where you come in.”

You are a clever man, Colonel O’Neill,” Haddac murmured.

Depends on who you talk to,” Jack snorted. “But I’m seeing a plot within a plot, here. The left hand didn’t know what the other side was up to. Which is fine for me, don’t get me wrong, not only am I totally grateful to still be breathing but I’d like to stay that way once I blow this joint and head back home. And I’m thinking you and whoever you answer to – we can work something out so we all get out of this clean and stick it those who’ve got it coming to them.”

My government would be most appreciative of your understanding and cooperation.” Haddac sagged with relief at Jack's evident understanding. “We are willing to grant you whatever assistance you require in securing your situation in return for your cooperation. And silence. You appreciate how…unfortunate…this matter could prove to be for Astiria should the true facts come to light.”

Oh, I have an idea or two. Because I do, the fact I am still breathing is impressing the hell out of me. There may have been a distinct shortage of scruples on one side of this equation but some of you guys - ”

Political necessity may at times compel governments to sanction some extremely distasteful policies but even with so much at stake – we are not murderers!” Haddac protested hotly, his faded eyes suddenly flaring with seldom accessed passion. “I am but a humble citizen, and therefore don't know many of the details of how and why we were drawn into this conspiracy - ”

Better for you,” Jack soothed. “I’m guessing what little you do know is already enough to get you in some serious shit. After you give me your share of the intel I'd be grateful if you put me in touch with someone who can connect the next set of dots for me."

"Gladly," Haddac nodded vigorously, tiny beads of sweat blossoming across his forehead and scalp. "I'll tell you everything I know."

Jack frowned. "Let's start with the last thing I remember. Like I said, that was turning in for the night after we'd spent a fun-filled day getting squired around your fair city. I was feeling pretty beat; almost passed out on the way to my room. Daniel had to put me to bed." He stopped, scowling at the doctor. "No wait, don't tell me, let me guess, drugged, right?"

"Yes," Haddoc murmured. "I wasn't involved in that part of the operation so I don't know how it was done."

"The 'coma' thing," Jack said. "Drugs too?"

"Yes," Haddac blinked and shoved his glasses back up his nose. "You were brought here already sedated and…disguised…" Haddac paused as Jack touched his fingers to the bandages covering his face. "…admitted, as was pre-arranged, to this facility as a victim of an assault without identification rendered comatose as a result the beating. Which of course was not the truth. You were in fact not injured at all, merely…"

"Drugged. And gift-wrapped."

"Yes. The operatives who were assigned to remove you from your room brought you here – instead of – "

"Instead of taking me to where I was supposed to go out with a bang. After I was drugged," Jack finished grimly.

"That is correct," the doctor smiled weakly.

"So, your guys pulled a fast one on my guys, letting them think I was in the power plant when it blew; thereby buying the farm two months ago when all the while I've been sleeping it off – here. You mentioned there were bodies – one of which was supposedly me. How – "

"Unclaimed corpses from the Body Depository, I expect," the doctor sighed. Again, I don't know much about that part of it, my job was to get you admitted, make sure you were cared for and constantly monitored and to administer the drug keeping you sedated."

"Ah!" Jack exclaimed. "So you stuck some stiffs in the building to stand in for me and – whomever. How did you pull off the 'positively identified as Colonel Jack O'Neill' bit? Obviously you did because everybody bought it"

Everyone except Daniel, that is.

"Reports can be faked, tissue samples substituted, records replaced," the doctor told him, rubbing his eyes. Jack grimaced; the man looked like he was about to come unglued. "Again, I'm sorry, I don't know the specifics of how it was done."

"So what went wrong?" Jack frowned. "You got me in here okay, by signing me in as a no-name and," he paused, fingering the bandages covering his head, "keeping anyone from recognising me by turning me into the Mummy's Uncle here, but if you'd already kept me sleeping for two months, presumably you could have arranged for me to sleep my entire life away and keep the whole business under wraps right along with me so how come I'm not still snoring and we're having this conversation?"

"I don't know." Haddac blinked miserably at him. "I was given instructions to discontinue the medication, to allow you to regain consciousness but I warned them your biochemistry is slightly different from ours, enough so I couldn't guarantee you'd continue to sleep until we'd transported you to a secure facility, and in fact I'd just gone to report I'd discontinued the sedative and confirm the transport was en route when I received the Dozon's call. You were supposed to stay unconscious until…no one else here was supposed to see you, talk to you, I warned them – it's not my fault - " Haddac gobbled hastily, his tenuous bravado and composure beginning to crumble.

"Hey, hey, it's okay," Jack awkwardly offered.

The door behind them abruptly opened to admit two tall, broad-shouldered, square-jawed men clad in the pastel leisure suits passing for casual male attire in Astiria. They might not have been wearing black, but Jack knew a spook when he saw one and right now he was looking at a pair of them.

"Thank you, Doctor Haddac," but we'll take it from here," Spook number one said while securing the door. His partner strode over to the bed, and placed the small white case he carried on it. He efficiently opened it and began extracting garments.

For him, no doubt.

Also pastel. Baby-blue, for god's sake, Jack noted with distaste.

"Put these on," the second spook crisply instructed, tossing the clothing towards Jack. "You've got an appointment with the president."

 



"Yanno, pastels just don't work for me," Jack quipped, fingering the light blue material covering his right knee.   He beamed a nasty smile at the spook seated across from him before he realised the jerk couldn't see it because of the bandages.

The spook didn't even blink.

Jack waited a beat and then aimed his next remark at the second spook. The one driving.

"Hey! How about some tunes?"

Nothing.

"You know, something to listen to. To pass the time. In lieu of conversation. This tub got anything in it resembling a radio? CD player? Anything that makes noise?"

The second spook kept on driving while the first continued with the staring and the not-blinking.

"You guys are a real barrel of laughs. Not that I'm not enjoying your company, but are we there yet?"

Silence.

Jack gazed irritably at his empty wrist where his watch was supposed to be – and wasn't - and then crossed his arms, staring sullenly at the spook. Bastards took his watch. His tags, too.  Three guesses where they'd ended up. No doubt they'd played a big part in helping to identify his supposed corpse.

He guessed it had been about twenty minutes, give or take since his new buddies had shoved him into a wheelchair, trundled him down a bunch of deserted corridors to a service elevator bottoming out into an equally deserted underground parking garage where he'd been bundled into their current conveyance. A larger, and he assumed probably more executive model of the motorized pod thingees the folks on this planet zipped around in.

Twenty minutes. Five or six clearing the building, fifteen or so actually in transit. Jack spent a moment trying to recall the few sketchy details of the layout of the city he'd been able to absorb from their various orientation tours before realising he was wasting his time. Even if he could remember what he'd seen of the city, he had no idea where he'd started from, which direction they'd gone, how fast they were going, even. He couldn't see a damned thing outside the pod. The overhead canopy in this half of the dome was completely opaque and with virtually no sensation of movement – impossible to know how fast they were travelling. All his attempts to orient himself or keep track of their movements were pointless. Having commenced this journey from an unknown point of origin they were now proceeding in an arbitrary direction at a completely undetectable rate of speed to practically anywhere, a pick a place on the planet destination.

Yippee. Oh, well, bright spot on the invisible horizon; at least he was still alive.

For the moment.

He decided to relax and enjoy the ride; he'd get his answers soon enough. He wasn't in any actual danger. They'd had plenty of opportunity to eliminate him; if they'd wanted him dead he already would be. No question. That he obviously wasn't meant they needed him. Alive. For what, he didn't know, but then he didn't need to; the very fact he was still breathing against all the odds told Jack no matter how it looked he was probably the one with the most leverage in this situation.

Cool.

Jack pointed to the bandages covering his face.

"Listen, do you mind if I – is it okay to –" he inquired hopefully, not actually expecting a response. At least, not a verbal one.

The spook shrugged.

"I'll take that as a yes," Jack said, his fingers already working the clasp at the back of his skull securing the material swathing his head.

"I assume there was nothing actually wrong with me." Jack worked the clasp free, and commenced unravelling the rounds of confining cloth. "I mean, this was only necessary to prevent anyone from seeing my face and possibly recognising me. I didn't actually need…I'm not gonna take these things off and find my face is all messed up or anything? Right?"

No, of course not. He was fine. Still, even the possibility the bandages could be concealing as yet unsuspected facial horrors was deeply unsettling and Jack ripped the remaining gauzy strands from his face in his haste to verify it wasn't so.

The bandages tossed aside, Jack's fingers flew to his face. After a slightly shaky self-examination of its entire surface he withdrew his hands, clenching his fists and lowering them to his lap in an effort to regain his composure.

"Everything present or accounted for," he grinned sheepishly at the spook. "I guess I don't look any scarier than normal."

The slightest quirking of the corner of the spook's mouth cracked his stone-cold demeanour.

"Yeah, well you're no Arnold Schwarzenegger yourself, bucko, Jack muttered and settled back in the seat, his gaze fixed on a point to the right of the spook's head, his mind uneasily whirling.

 


 

Another anonymous parking garage, an generic elevator and a few more stark, featureless corridors later Jack found himself in front of unenlightening metal doorway, completely blank except for a large, black eye-level triangle in the centre. One of the spooks lifted an arm, aiming the high tech watch-like device on his wrist at the triangle. He touched a button on the device, causing it to emit a tight beam of light striking the triangle dead centre. Almost instantly Jack heard a small click, and the door slid open.

"Easy!'' Jack groused after spook number two gave him a small shove into the newly revealed room. "No need to push! I get the idea."

"This is where you get off," the man who'd given him the powered assist suddenly, unexpectedly said.

"Better days," the second added, his voice surprisingly warm while he uttered the formal Astirian benediction Jack had heard mouthed at him many times by Astria's citizens before he'd gone from being a guest of honour to an honorary coma case. "You have our apologies, and our thanks."

Jack could only stare and stutter as the door slid silently between him and his former escorts. "Keep in touch," he muttered at the indifferent portal before turning his attention to the room about him.

It was big. Big room with no windows almost entirely occupied by a big, shiny table long enough to skate on ringed with a smattering of standard issue matching comfy chairs. Yet another of the long string of conference rooms he'd spent entirely too much of his life in since becoming a member of SG-1. Funny how whether they were located at the bottom of a terrestrial mountain or in some unknown location on a world billions of miles from the one he'd once erroneously believed was the only populated sphere in the entire universe, if you stripped away the incidental embellishments unique to whomever was throwing the official party they all looked pretty much the same.

Except this particular briefing room had something he'd not been expecting but was mighty glad to see, especially as his newly-roused stomach abruptly decided to remind him he'd not eaten since receiving his reprieve from the Rip Van Winkle routine.

The big shiny table sported a modest buffet, Astrian style. He could actually even recognize some of the dishes. He thought. Whether the eats on display were meant for him he didn't know, but he was here, so was the food, he was hungry and there didn't seem to be anyone around to slap his knuckles for bellying up to the trough, so…

When in Rome; pig out.

Jack snagged a plate, one of the large serving spoons and helped himself to a generous dollop of the contents of several of the colourful, food-laden bowls. The smell made his mouth water. Astirian cuisine didn't look like much, but was surprisingly edible. Certainly a far sight more palatable than some of the blue-plate specials he'd been obliged to sample in the interests of intergalactic peace and harmony. He didn't know what any of what he was currently avidly tucking into was called, but he didn't care. Food was food, especially when you were hungry and you had no idea from where, when or if your next meal was coming.

Or if you were going to be around much longer to worry about it.

Jack ate quickly, his eyes roving over the room, missing nothing. Not that there was anything to see, really. The white, featureless walls all around him were glaringly bare. Though there was no overt evidence he could detect of surveillance technology Jack had no illusions he was enjoying his rapid repast in private. The Astirians were more advanced technologically so the odds of them having some sort of a spy eye in here he couldn't detect were –

Pretty good.

Jack had almost finished wolfing down his first helping and was contemplating seconds when the door he'd previously been conducted through clicked. That meant…

Jack was instantly on his feet, moving toward the door while it slid silently open. He was moving so swiftly he had to frantically back-pedal to avoid bouncing off the barrel chest of the man inserted into the room before the door slid shut behind him.

"Jack!” General Hammond gasped, eyes gaping wide in his round, shocked-pale face. He stood where recognition had frozen him, his feet planted implacably as if they'd spontaneously sprouted roots.

"Surprise," Jack quipped. "Rumours of my death – "

Hammond surged forward, grabbed him by the arms and shook him. "Jack!" he whooped, his smile so wide Jack thought for one horror-stricken second Hammond was actually going to kiss him. "Jack! You're alive! You son of a bitch, you're alive!"

"Well, yeah, apparently," Jack grinned back at him. "Although believe me, Sir, no one is more astonished at this than I."

"I can't believe it," Hammond finally released Jack and stepped back, shaking his head. "Doctor Jackson was right – he kept insisting you were still alive in spite of the overwhelming evidence – Jack, we had conclusive forensic proof you died in that explosion!"

Jack knew Hammond had a thousand questions, but as far as he was concerned, they could all wait. He had only one. And he wanted it answered immediately.

"General," he said earnestly.  "Daniel.  How is Daniel?"

Hammond's eyes abruptly dimmed. He blinked, then cut his gaze away, clearing his throat before answering.

"Your…loss… hit all of us hard, Jack," he began slowly, as if carefully weighing every word. "As you can well imagine. However in Doctor Jackson's case…"

"You don't have to draw me a picture, General," Jack muttered. "I get the idea."

Hammond nodded, his mouth tight with concern. "We did all we could for him, Jack, I swear. He wouldn't accept it. He kept going on about conspiracies and cover-ups and insisting we continue looking for you on Astiria and demanding the truth from both governments, so much so he became a problem and I had to order him to return to Earth before the negotiations could continue."

"That's my boy," Jack said with a weak smile. He felt sick enough as it was, but he could see from Hammond's troubled expression there was more.

"He became…obsessive about returning to Astiria and irrational when I wouldn't permit it," Hammond continued after a brief, awkward silence. "To the point there were serious reservations expressed about his psychological stability and the possibility of him becoming a security risk. A lot of pressure was exerted on me from high places to have him committed, for evaluation, and his own protection," Hammond admitted, his eyes bleak with guilt. "And of course, for the good of the program," he finished bitterly.

"Crap, General, you didn't!" Jack blurted, horrified. My God, he didn't even want to think about it: Daniel, not knowing for sure if he was alive or dead, and locked up somewhere, helpless, afraid and alone. Really, really alone. "Please tell me you didn't do that to him!" Anguished, he  grabbed Hammond by the arms.

"No Jack," the general said quickly. "It didn't come to that, thank God, but it was a near thing. By the time the orders came down leaving me no choice Doctor Jackson had already tendered his resignation and had gone to Abydos, in Teal'c's custody. I informed my superiors in my estimation the commitment was no longer necessary. He was safely off world and contained. Teal'c had instructions to deny him any access to the gate and in the unlikely event he made an attempt to go to Astiria the personnel at the gate control station there had explicit instructions to return him to Abydos. Therefore, in my opinion the situation was resolved and no further action needed to be taken."

"And they bought it?" Jack demanded suspiciously.

"They had no choice," Hammond said with a pensive frown. "Of all things President Atkar intervened on the Doctor's behalf."

"The head honcho here?" Jack blinked, surprised. "Interesting."

"Although I won't deny I appreciated the back-up, I thought it strangely opportune at the time," Hammond smiled wryly. "However, in light of in this new development," he paused, gesturing toward Jack, "his actions suddenly seem less…bizarre. He knew Doctor Jackson was right."

"Yes he did," Jack frowned. "And had some sort of crisis of conscience about Daniel being discredited. Or something. We'll probably never find out what.  But getting back to the…" he gestured for Hammond to continue.

"Apparently Atkar had been keeping apprised of Doctor Jackson's situation via our diplomatic liaison. He delivered a statement to the effect the Astirian government were extremely sympathetic to Doctor Jackson's grief, and deeply regretful for having caused it, and in honour of the memory of the Saviour of Astiria it was the desire of the people his dear friend be allowed to continue his retirement in the manner of his choosing and if his wishes were not respected in any way – "

"Like being shoved into a buckle-up-the-back suit with wrap-around sleeves and stashed in a white padded room with no doors," Jack snapped bitterly.

"Just like that," Hammond continued. "In short Jack, if I'd been compelled to lock Doctor Jackson up Astiria would have severed all diplomatic relations."

"Which would mean no more Agonite."

"That is correct."

"Which would have brought the Prometheus Program to a screeching halt," Jack mused. "Not to mention any hopes of continuing to expand our fleet of ships capable of deep space travel. Those hybrid hyperdrives won't work without it. Nice."

"Yes, in that regard it would seem Astiria definitely has us by the short and curlies," Hammond agreed. "Still, there were numerous communiqués between Astiria and an undisclosed source over my head before the matter was finally resolved to Astiria's satisfaction, and Doctor Jackson's benefit."

"You don't say," Jack eyed him, his mind working furiously assessing the intel he was receiving. "You didn't, perchance, manage to find out what was in any of those communiqués, General?"

"Not a thing, Jack. But don't think I didn't try."

"But Daniel's okay?"

"He's still on Abydos. However, his emotional state continues to be…"

"It's not your fault, Sir." Jack awkwardly patted the general's shoulder.

"I'm sorry Jack, but I can't help feeling extremely responsible for a great deal of Doctor Jackson's current emotional distress," Hammond continued sadly. " He was right. He was right all along and we wouldn't believe him. Not the first time we've treated him like that. But in our defence, cold hard facts and all logic said you were dead. There was absolutely no reason to believe otherwise, the chain of the events and the evidence the Astirians presented us was totally irrefutable. We trusted them, Jack, believed everything they told us. Why would we not? They've been absolutely reliable and accommodating in every other respect. Why would the Astirians have lied to us, why would they engineer such a complex deception?"

"Ah, well that's the sixty five dollar question, isn't it, Sir?" Jack grimly muttered.

"I would be more than pleased to answer it, and any others you might have, Colonel," a deep, low voice, very familiar voice sounded behind them.

"Crap!" Jack yelped, whirling around.

The President of Astiria, politically correct smile firmly in place, sat at the far end of the long, shiny table. Like he'd just popped in of thin air.

How the hell did he do that?

From day one Jack had entertained an irrational aversion to Atkar because the Astirian president bore a creepy resemblance to Jack Nicholson. When he was doing the Joker, but without the makeup. It was the smile. Atkar did it a lot, like now, even, and to Jack's mind the expression screamed 'unnatural progeny of an unholy union between a sleazy used car salesman and Satan'. He was equally unimpressed with the pepto leisure suit.

Jack was willing, just barely, to concede the possibility he was reacting irrationally to the man, his smile and his suit, but given where he'd just spent the last two months, presumably with this man's full knowledge, consent and co-operation?

Maybe not.

"Mr President," Hammond said curtly, moving quickly up the right side of the table. Jack trailed his commanding officer up the table's left side, making no attempt to moderate his hostile expression while they approached the head of the Astirian government.

"I apologise, General, for the unorthodox summons and the way you were subsequently detained and conveyed here without explanation. I'm confident you understand the concept of security and the necessity of keeping sensitive matters of state absolutely secret."

"I have a nodding acquaintance with both concepts," Hammond dryly responded.

If the President took offence to Hammond's tone he didn't show it. "I also wished to give you some time to become reacquainted with your officer, and to adjust to what is undoubtedly a considerable shock at discovering he is not as you have been lead to believe."

"He means not dead, Sir," Jack made an exaggerated show of mouthing at Hammond. The general shot him a fond glance, and then turned back to the President.

"May we presume you intend to give us an explanation for all of this?" Hammond said curtly, lowering himself into the chair at the President's right.

"Yes you may," Atkar nodded. "The time has come for total truth between us."

"That'll be the day," Jack snorted, plopping into the left hand seat.

"Colonel," Hammond warned, before turning his full attention to the man at the head of the table. "President Atkar, what has your government been playing at?"

Suddenly Atkar wasn't smiling. "General Hammond, and especially, Colonel O'Neill, I can but extend our humblest apologies for the deception we were forced to perpetrate upon you and your people, and the tremendous inconvenience we caused Colonel O'Neill – "

"Inconvenience?" Jack roared. "Yeah, you could call sleeping through the last two months of my life inconvenient! Me, I'd call it – "

"Jack," Hammond said wearily.

"No.” Atkar's expression was genuinely contrite. "I do not begrudge the Colonel his anger. Although we've done nothing to earn it, on behalf of my people I would beg his forgiveness and understanding. What we did to you was unforgivable, Colonel, still, you cannot know what an enormous service you've done for my people by submitting to this brief, albeit not voluntary sacrifice."

"I heard about the statue," Jack grumbled. "That's…kinda cool. And of course, the still being alive and all, thing, even better. Definitely thanks for that one."

"We went to great lengths to protect you. From the beginning we intended you should come to no harm, despite the wishes of our co-conspirators from your world."

"So, what you're saying, whoever put you up to all this wanted me dead from the getgo? It hurts me to hear that, but I could be persuaded to get over it. Feel like naming some names?"

"You will get those names, and more." Atkar laced his fingers together and spent some time studying his joined hands resting on the gleaming surface of the table. "You must forgive me, gentlemen, this is not an easy tale to tell. I'm not proud of what we've done, even if it was agreed to and entered into with the hope it would deliver my people from years of terror and suffering."

"Yanno," Jack coldly interjected. "Where I come from, we have a saying. The end doesn't justify the means."

"Point taken," the President sighed, and then lanced a searching look at the colonel. "And yet, you cannot tell me you've never been faced with the necessity of following questionable courses of action to save the lives of the people in your care, not to mention your world."

"You got me there," Jack conceded grudgingly. "So, now we've established neither one of us can claim moral superiority.-"

"When you first arrived here you have no idea how desperate our situation was, because we hid the extent and frequency of the terrorist attacks from you."

"You suspected if we were aware of the reality of the instability of your political situation we would be reluctant to become involved with your people." Hammond nodded to signify his understanding.

"We couldn't take the chance you would cease relations with us," Atkar continued. "We are not an adventurous people, like yourselves, curious about the universe. We have not journeyed as you have, made the allies you have, and yet we wanted to benefit from the audacious nature of your race.”

Meaning?” Jack challenged.

Your allies. We hoped if we helped you, shared our technology, you would facilitate opening diplomatic relations between us. We believed the solution to our problem lay with them; we had no idea our deliverance would come from those we originally saw as simply the messengers."

"Now we're getting to the good stuff," Jack observed to his commanding officer.

Atkar allowed himself a faint smile. "When I journeyed to your planet to meet your president I was contacted by an individual representing the interests of an organization we have since learned operates clandestinely within your government, without the knowledge or sanction of your leaders."

"Bingo," Jack muttered. "Wild guess, just off the top of my head, here, but would his name be Kinsey?"

If his salvo surprised Atkar he didn't show it. Jack had to admire the his aplomb. It wasn't easy to look cool wearing pepto pink pastel, but the man had composure for miles.

"An evil man," the Astirian president darkly observed. "He aspires to attain your country's highest office. Were he to succeed, if such a man were to achieve so much power, the consequences not only for your world, but countless others would be incalculable."

"And yet you made a deal with the devil," Hammond said softly.

"This is so," the president paused, pinching the bridge of his nose as if the admission caused him actual, physical pain. "This Kinsey came to me, and offered me a solution to the Komankor problem. By implementing the deception, and with the help of his organization, I could finally bring peace to my beleaguered people. The price was one man's life. Yours," he said to Jack, genuine sadness haunting his expression.

Hammond and Jack exchanged glances. Jack could see from the spark in the older man's eyes they were definitely on the same page.

"Thanks again, for not sticking completely to the conditions of the agreement," Jack began. "But it seems to me, you've got just as much to lose, if not more, if I suddenly show up, walking around and breathing and being inconveniently alive. You getting and keeping the approval of the people all hangs on me being dead. If you blow the whistle on Kinsey he can turn around and rat you out."

Atkar shrugged. "So it would seem. And yet, here you are."

Jack glanced at Hammond again. The general gave him the nod to continue.

Definitely on the same page.

"You didn't just keep me alive for my health," Jack levelled the president a steely glare. "You knew the devil you were dealing with, and they wouldn't hold up their end of the original deal. If you got into bed with Kinsey and his pals, it wouldn't be a one-night stand. Sooner or later he'd come looking to stick it to you again, because he could."

"Very good, Colonel," Atkar praised, punctuating his admiration with one of his Jack-as-Joker smiles. "Continue."

"I was insurance. And now I'm gonna be a weapon. I presume, you too are a man with a plan."

"Senator Kinsey has indeed, as you surmised, changed 'the deal'. As we expected, he has not kept his promise to leave us to conduct our own affairs in peace."

"What doe he want?" Hammond abruptly joined the conversation.

"He wishes to establish a secret base of operations on our world from which agents of his choosing would venture out through the gate to steal technology from your allies. He wishes to use us, our Stargate, and our technology and resources to plunder the universe. This is an enterprise we have no desire to support or in any way to become involved with."

"Good choice," Jack nodded. "You don't wanna mess with the Asgard and you definitely don't want to piss them off. And they're just for starters."

"Am I right in assuming it would serve all of our purposes if this man's activities are exposed, as well as those of his associates, and he is removed from power?"

"It would indeed," Hammond agreed, his eyes gleaming with interest.

"We have planned carefully for this eventuality, and we believe we can achieve this in a way that will expose the conspiracy without further imperilling Colonel O'Neill. He can be 'resurrected', returned to his former life – "

"Umm, hold that thought," Jack said softly.

Once he'd figured out where Atkar was going Jack listened to the exchange with only half an ear. His mind worked furiously, weighing his options, as he realised, with a bolt of stunning clarity, he hovered on the cusp of an incredible opportunity.

He had a decision to make. This life Atkar was about to give him back – what did he want to do with it?

Jack had no doubt Atkar had worked out all the angles. The guy was a player. He'd figured out a way for Jack to walk out of this smelling like the proverbial rose, go striding into Washington, take Kinsey and the NID out at the knees, collect all his medals and his 'glad to see you's' from everyone who'd be tickled pink to see him alive and breathing, return to the SGC the conquering hero and pick up the reins of SG-1 like he'd never been gone, in short, get back to and on with his old life safe from reprisal, recriminations or assassination and still be able to get back to Daniel in time for dinner.

Except, Daniel wasn't at the SGC. Daniel was on Abydos, alone, shattered, desperately grieving. For him. While he'd been sleeping it off Daniel had been going through a hell of grief he was all too familiar with and never wanted to experience again. He didn't want to go there, and he sure didn't want to put Daniel through it either.

Never again.

Not even for the Earth, the Universe and everything that big, round ring had to offer.

Aside from the routine perils inherent simply being a member of SG-1, he had to face the fact if he went back, if he let everyone – including all the new enemies he'd make once this particular barrel of shit hit the fan - know he was alive and kicking there was a very real chance one or more of them would come after him eventually. And they'd probably find him. Atkar meant well, but he couldn't guarantee his future safety, or Daniel's for that matter.

If Kinsey's cronies knew he was still alive, sooner or later, they'd make him pay. It might not be tomorrow, it might not be next week, it might not even be for years, but as long as he was out there, if he did this, if he went home, it was the same as painting a bulls-eye on his back. Not only did he not want to put Daniel through losing him again, he sure didn't want to spend the rest of his life looking over his shoulder and waiting for the proverbial score-settling axe to fall on him.

And then there was the whole 'every time we go through the gate we might not come back' thing to consider. Yeah, he could keep on doing the SG-1 thing, but after this, the cost of this mission, and what could have happened, namely, really dying in that fire if the Astirians had been less intelligent about covering their own asses…

He'd really, really beat the odds this time. There was no way he could bank on having that kind of luck forever. Maybe he should stop.

Maybe it was time to quit while he still had a head.

Yeah. That felt right. It was time. George could wrap up things on Earth without him. Daniel needed him. And right now, he needed to see, and be with Daniel, more than anything else.

Officially, he was dead. Getting that reversed was a ton of paperwork. There was some poor clerk in Washington still trying to sort out the bureaucratic snafus resulting from Daniel's numerous reactivations. Nah, he wasn't going to exercise the resurrection option.

The trees he'd save save alone would thank him.

"General." Jack took a deep breath. "If it's all the same to you, I think I'd like to stay dead."

Besides, this way he'd get to keep the statue.

 


 

"Jack?" Hammond said the instant Atkar left the room to prepare for their departure. "Do you mind telling me what this is all about?"

"It's about Daniel, Sir," Jack answered, meeting Hammond's gaze head on.

"Doctor Jackson?" the general frowned. "I don't understand."

"It's not complicated. I love him, General. I'm in love with him. And he, with me. We've been…together…for the last three years."

"Together?" Hammond swallowed. "As in…"

"I could draw you a picture, Sir, but I'm really hoping I don't have to."

"No, no," Hammond said hastily, holding up a hand. "That won't be necessary. I think I get the picture, without the visual aid." He expelled a long sigh. "Well, Jack, I must say this is…unexpected."

"Yeah," Jack nodded. "I know, Sir, and I'm sorry to spring this on you, out of the blue, but fate has handed me this opportunity and I'm going to take it."

"And here I thought Major Carter was the one I needed to be concerned about."

"I know, and I'm sorry about that too."

"Diversionary tactic?" Hammond smiled faintly.

"Something like that."

 "It can't have been easy for you. For either of you."

"No, Sir," Jack cleared his throat and stared at his hands, splayed upon the gleaming surface of the table. "It hasn't been. Daniel has put up with a lot over the last few years, but most especially me. We knew things would be different when our saving the world days were over; with that hope to sustain us we were making the best of a crappy situation until the day eventually came when we wouldn't have to hide what we are to each other. I promised him a better life someday, General," Jack said earnestly, looking up at the grave-faced man across the table from him. "I think it's just about time I made good on that promise, don't you?"

Hammond said nothing for several seconds, his eyes full of compassion and regret. "He's a good man, Jack, but then, so are you. I wish you both the very best, son. I've always considered it an honour and a privilege having both of you in my command. That has not changed."

"Thank you for that, Sir," Jack murmured. "And thank you for looking after him while I – when I couldn't."

"You will be – are missed," the general quickly amended. "You're absolutely sure you want to do this, Jack?" Hammond felt duty-bound to ask the colonel to carefully consider his course of action even though he already knew it was a waste of time.

"Yeah," Jack nodded. "I've dedicated my life to serving my country, until I finally gave it for my world, or so everyone believes. I've done my duty. By rights I shouldn't be here, but I am, and the life I've been given back belongs to Daniel, now. Not the Air Force. Him. I love him, General. Believe me, I'm sure."

"Well, then, rest assured, your secret is safe with me. The fact of your continued existence will not go beyond this room – and Abydos, of course."

"Of course," Jack murmured.

Daniel. It won't be long now, Daniel, and you'll never be alone again.

"However, I do think it might be appropriate to apprise at least one more individual of your status."

"That would be good," Jack smiled. "I think we can trust her."

"I'm sure she'll be very happy to see you both again. I'll get right onto making everything happen once I return to the SGC."

"Gentlemen," the President of Astiria announced from the doorway. "If you are ready, it is safe to proceed to the Stargate now."

Wordlessly the men rose to their feet and walked to join him.

"Colonel O'Neill," Atkar said warmly, extending his hand to Jack. "May I say again how deeply grateful we are for this further service you are doing for my people."

"Thanks," Jack shrugged, eyeing the offered hand, but still not taking it. "But I'm not doing it for you. Or your people."

"Nevertheless, though we had no real hope you would choose to keep our secret it is the best possible outcome we could desire."

"It'll certainly make things easier for you," Jack said. "Not having to come clean to your own people about how they were manipulated. No nasty truths to take the edge off your shiny new peace. Not to mention everybody keeps their jobs. Especially you."

"I won't deny full public disclosure of the actual details of the incident would have caused some difficulties. It's possible it would have resulted in a lack of public confidence in this administration. But I believe the resignation of all persons involved in orchestrating the deception, including myself, would have sufficiently appeased public opinion. An action I would not have hesitated to take, should it have proven necessary. However we achieved it, Colonel, we are now finally at peace for the first time in over a hundred years. The Komankor are gone. And that, my friends, was worth every risk we took and every sacrifice necessary to achieve it, even if in the end it meant mine as well."

Atkar stood before him, his hand still extended. Jack stared at it, contemplating his next words.

"Yanno, you still could have achieved all this; taken care of your civil unrest problem, gathered the goods, brought Hammond here, handed over the incriminating evidence and cut your deal to get Kinsey and his pals off your back without keeping me alive. In fact, making sure I went up in that blast was the very best way to cover all your bases. You've given Hammond more than enough to put everyone involved on our end away, him being able to pull me living and breathing out of a hat is neither here nor there. He doesn't need to produce me to make his case, that's why I'm going to be able to exercise the continuing to stay off the books option. However, seeing as how you had no way to know I'd want to stay 'dead', logically, to ensure you would be fully covered, you should have made sure I'd never live to tell any tales."

"Yes, Colonel, I know," Atkar smiled. "But we didn't."

Jack nodded, smiled broadly, and finally shook Atkar's hand.

"No, Sir, you sure didn't," Jack said once he released the President's hand. "Oh, and by the way, it's O'NEILL, with two L's. Make sure you get it right."

"Colonel?" Atkar looked at him, baffled.

"O'Neill, two L's. For the statue. Don't screw it up."

"Two L's it is, Colonel," the President laughed. "You have my word."

"That's good enough for me," Jack beamed.

 


 

"DanielJackson, this is most unwise," Teal'c darkly rumbled, his entire body radiating massive disapproval.

"You're probably right," Daniel groaned, sitting on the edge of the pallet, head hanging. Just getting this far had left him feeling weak and dizzy, but he was determined to push through it, get up and get going. "This probably isn't the smartest thing I've ever done but I don't care. I've been lying around here long enough. I need to get back to the gate and wait for Jack."

"DanielJackson – "

"Don't!" Daniel hissed, his head shooting up, eyes crisp with cold anger. "Don't. I don't want to hear it. Please, Teal'c," he sighed. "You can either help me, or you can get out of my way, but whatever you do, don't try to stop me."

"I am only concerned for your well-being," Teal'c said stiffly, his steely gaze resolutely fixed on a point in space well above Daniel's head.

"I know that," Daniel gritted his teeth, pushing away from the pallet, in an attempt to stand. His body rose a few inches and then his strength broke. Before he crashed back on the pallet the Jaffa intervened, stepping forward and seizing him firmly by the arm, drawing him to his feet.

"Thank you," Daniel gasped, barely able to stand, trembling and wavering, leaning heavily against Teal'c's comforting solidity.

"You are welcome," Teal'c said fondly, holding the shaking, sweating man as tenderly as he would a child. "You are certain I cannot dissuade you from this unwise course of action?"

"What do you think?" Daniel gulped, sucking in a deep breath, closing his eyes and willing his arms and legs to stop trembling.

"I think O'Neill would not wish you to injure yourself on his behalf," Teal'c said softly, a large, black hand cupping the back of the head resting on his shoulder.

The sob tore out of Daniel before he could stop it. "That was a cheap shot, Teal'c," he finally managed to murmur. "You fight dirty."

"I do not wish to fight you at all," Teal'c mildly replied. "Nor do I wish to hurt you, or watch you hurt yourself. You are my friend, as was O'Neill. I cannot give him back to you but I can honour him, and watch over you in his place."

"Oh God, Teal'c I miss him so much!" Daniel cried, clutching the Jaffa fiercely. Teal'c tightened his embrace around his friend, knowing this time it was not physical weakness causing Daniel's body to shake.

"It was so for me also," he soothed the shuddering man. "When my soul mate was taken from me."

"What?" Daniel stilled. "No," he stuttered. "It's not – Jack's – Jack's my friend, he's – "

"There is no need for this, Daniel," Teal'c reassured him. "I have long known the truth. I think I was aware of the profound affection between you before the two of you came to it yourselves. And each other."

"You knew?" Daniel sniffed. "You did. Were we really that obvious?"

"You were not. I am your friend. It was my duty to know, and to protect you both. As I have always endeavoured to do, and will continue, if you will allow me."

"He's alive, Teal'c," Daniel stubbornly whispered. "I have to be at the Stargate when he comes back. Please…help me."

The Jaffa heaved a huge sigh and said nothing.

"As you wish," he finally acceded, releasing Daniel and helping him to make his uncertain but determined way out of the tent.

 


 

The interior of the pyramid was dimly lit and unoccupied, as Hammond had said it would be. While the gate shut down behind him Jack scanned the familiar surroundings, soon seeing the evidence of the vigil Daniel had been maintaining since he'd arrived on Abydos. The blanket-covered mat on the floor, books and scattered papers on the one side, the pile of clothes and provisions on the other.

Food, water and clothing, on hand for him. Just in case he would need it. All these items testifying to Daniel's faith in his continued existence and his eventual return were here waiting for him. But not the man himself. How ironic, after all this time of fruitless faithfulness, the day Daniel's patience was finally rewarded he wasn't here to see it.

According to Hammond Daniel had been brought down by a virus, bodily removed from his post by his guardian Jaffa and returned to Nagada to recuperate, all the while tirelessly attended by that same six-foot plus ministering angel. And Daniel was on the mend, Hammond had been quick to assure him. Teal'c had kept Janet fully apprised of his progress.

Jack started to examine the provisions Daniel had left for him, smiling at the thought of an ailing archaeologist. As much as he loved Daniel, bitter experience and nursing him through everything under the sun had taught Jack his beloved was one pissy patient. Being confined to his bed wasn't a fate Daniel would have submitted to without a fight, but Jack had every confidence Teal'c was up to the task. If he had to tie him to the cot the big guy would keep him in bed for as long as it took, to get him well again, no matter how much Daniel kicked, screamed and held his breath.

Ah, now this was good news. Daniel had left him a full set of BDUS, boots, socks, underwear and some lovely complimentary Abydonian robes for good measure. Excellent! He hadn't relished greeting his dearly beloved attired in the powder blue monkey suit he'd been issued on Astiria. Him, not his dearly beloved. Daniel, he was sure would be wearing a suitable set of robes making him look entirely too hot and under which, Jack happened to know, Daniel frequently went commando.

Well, whatever Daniel was wearing, Jack was sure it would be merely a technicality five minutes after they laid eyes on each other, provided of course, privacy and the state of Daniel's health permitted. However, until the happy moment when he could get naked with the man of his dreams he was glad to get well rid of the blue nightmare he was currently sporting.

Good riddance to sad rubbish.

Jack quickly shucked the last reminders of Astiria, vowing to burn them as soon as conveniently possible, and happily donned the familiar trappings of his former occupation. Yeah, that was right. Former. He was officially retired. Technically, still, although thankfully not actually – dead.

You couldn't get more retired than that.

He was free. As far as almost everyone who knew or cared about him was concerned, he was dead. Had ceased to be, was pushing up the daisies, bereft of life, he was no more. He was an ex-colonel. For two months. Dead, buried, done the memorial service, didn't have to settle for a lousy T-Shirt, he was getting a statue. Sure, he'd never get to actually see it, but the Prez had promised him it would be nice. And if the dude was nothing else, he had certainly demonstrated he was a man of his word.

Whatever, now all Jack really cared about was throwing his arms around the one person who hadn't been taken in by the Astirian hustle and given him up for dead. Daniel. Just a short stroll across the sand, not far away, all he had to do was just…go…

Though he wasn't hungry Jack grabbed a power bar from Daniel's cache, freed it from its wrapper with shaking hands, and started gnawing. He was suddenly seized by a tangle of emotions: uncertainty, self-doubt, apprehension, a potent emotional cocktail taking him completely by surprise like a serious case of the 'about-to-be-hitched' jitters.

It suddenly occurred to Jack he'd made an awful lot of assumptions. Not that Daniel wouldn't want him back, never that, he knew Daniel would be overjoyed to see him, but what he'd assumed and gone and done for both of them without asking – now he'd really burnt his last bridge and rejected his best chance to rejoin the living – what he didn’t know was if Daniel would be okay with his retirement scenario and willing to traipse off into anonymity with him.

Once he knew Jack really for sure wasn't dead, would Daniel be on board with retiring? Would Daniel be okay with trading in a future of all the meaning-of-life stuff he could still discover through the big silver lifesaver for staying in one place for pretty much the rest of his life with only his ugly mug to wake up to every morning?

Was Daniel ready to give up the gate, the team, the whole freaking universe, you might as well say – for him?

The irony of experiencing this particular insecurity while sitting in the maw of the Abydos pyramid was not lost on Jack. He also wondered, in a way not making him feel either confident or comfortable, if he was not the first to be here, sitting in this very spot, asking the gate the same question.

Sha'uri had received her answer when her husband had sent an empty box of Kleenex with a message scrawled on the side through the gate back to Earth. And his? What was his answer going to be?

Why was he suddenly so sure he wasn't going to like it.

Don't be a schmuck, O'Neill, the guy risked getting readmitted to the funny farm to keep you alive. You think if he was prepared to go that far for you once he got you back he'd ever let you go?

Get real, would you give up the gate – for you?

Jack sighed, reached over, snagged the robes and put them on over his newly donned BDUs. They'd serve not only to keep the desert heat at bay, but would be a good disguise. As much as he ached to make an immediate bee-line for Nagada, announcing his presence with arms open wide, even here, even amongst friends, probably not smart. Until he and Daniel were alone and safe in a place no one could get to them, the fewer people who knew he was still alive the better.

Every ounce of him screamed to go rip snorting over the sand to Daniel, but he knew it couldn't happen. He had to sit tight and wait for Daniel to come to him.

Or the next best thing, his bigger-than-life Jaffa guardian.

According to the general since Daniel had fallen ill Teal'c made the trip to the gate daily to send status reports back to the SGC. Due to the length of the Abydonian day he made the journey at different times so his visits would correspond to the day shift on good old Mother Earth, but knowing that didn't help him much, because Jack didn't know what time today's visit would happen. Or if he'd already missed it, and Teal'c. If so, he'd be camping out here overnight. Well, he'd done worse. It wasn't so bad here. Roof over his head, a place to sleep, some blankets, water and food, heck, even some reading material.

Everything he needed, except the one thing he wanted the most.

Daniel. God, he wanted Daniel so damned bad! Even though from his perspective it had only been a few hours since he'd last closed his eyes to that gorgeous face, suddenly, in this eerily quiet place where Daniel had spent so many comfortless hours, it was like he could feel every particle of sorrow his lonely lover had steeped into the silent stones.

Okay, now he was creeping himself out.

Jack began to look at his watch, swearing softly at the sight of his empty wrist. He kept forgetting the damned thing had ended up on a corpse on Astiria wearing his dog tags. However, his attempt to ascertain the time on Earth was a waste of time. Wouldn't give him the Abydonian time of day. He'd need to step outside the pyramid, take a look at the position of the sun.

Jack slowly made his way through the cool interior of the pyramid, his spirits inexplicably lifted by the glowing rectangle of outer brightness. He reached the enormous limestone lintel, the demarcation line between dark and light, and was about to step into the evolving Abydonian day when what he'd most hoped for but hardly expected to see stopped him cold.

Two robed men advanced toward the pyramid along the wide stone approach avenue. Their pace was extremely slow, set by the shorter man. He was clearly struggling, his posture stooped and straining, but even at a distance his determination to make his way without the assistance of huge black man hovering practically on his heels was painfully obvious. It was a good thing their journey was almost over, Daniel didn't look like he had much left in him, but the way he was stubbornly soldiering onward Jack knew he'd make it to his post if he had to crawl the rest of the way.

Damn him, anyway, for pushing himself like that and bless him twice as much for being so blessedly stubborn.

Jack was still hidden in the black maw of the pyramid's entrance. Daniel hadn't seen him yet, didn't know he was here.

Hey honey, I'm home!

Heart hammering, chest heaving, head swimming, legs like silly putty, Jack stepped out into the light, stood, and waited.

Daniel's head came up and he abruptly stopped; then staggered back like he'd been kicked in the head. His brief, retreating reel ended when he banged against the Jaffa's massive chest, momentarily unheeded by the huge man staring unbelieving at someone he never thought to ever see again.

"O'Neill," Teal'c gasped, immobile with disbelief.

Daniel lurched forward, his face the colour of an albino sheet. "Jack!" he screamed, as his legs crumpled and he dropped heavily to his knees.

Jack took off at a dead run and was halfway to Daniel before they hit the stone.

Jack charged down the avenue, the intervening seconds it took him to cover the rapidly decreasing distance separating him from Daniel the longest in his life. Rooted by amazement, Teal'c towered over the wavering archaeologist. Daniel didn't move, just stared, his body slumped with shock, his arms hanging heavily by his sides, eyes wide with longing while they devoured the robed man loping swiftly toward him.

Not giving a crap who saw what, Jack threw himself to his knees and hauled an unresisting Daniel into a fierce and passionate embrace. For him, it was yesterday when he last said goodnight to this man, audaciously stealing a kiss from him while he'd been gently tumbled, half asleep into his bed on Astiria. But during the time he'd been hidden far away in a dreamless, enforced slumber Daniel had endured two months of aching, inconsolable hell; he'd suffered lonely days and nights full of fear, uncertainty and unanswerable grief. Jack knew exactly what Daniel needed right now, he fully intended to give it to him and he didn't care who saw or finally knew the truth about the exact nature of their relationship.

None of that mattered now; the reasons they'd had to hide their feelings for each other no longer applied. No more pretending, no more holding back. If Teal'c had a problem with what he was about to see, well, that was just too damned bad.

"I'm here, baby, I'm here," Jack choked, crushing Daniel to his chest and frantically kissing the side of his face and neck. "Everything's gonna be okay, now, I'm here!"

"Jack," Daniel gasped, clutching the man whose continued existence he'd believed in past all logic and reason, the firm, warm, breathing reality of his faith bruising his ribs with the vehemence of his embrace, his hot, hungry mouth avidly seeking its starving mate.

With Jack holding him tightly and supporting him Daniel kissed back greedily, egged on by his partner's answering urgency. Though all his accumulated grief was not immediately purged by the unrestrained passion of their reunion, it was certainly taking the edge off.

They kissed and touched each other until Daniel finally had to break from the intense intimacy, to rest heavily against Jack, his breathing laboured, the fingers of one hand irrevocably knotted in Jack's robes, the others gently stroking his face.

"Jack, where have you been?" he panted against his neck.

"On ice in Astiria," Jack answered, nuzzling Daniel's hair. "They pulled a switch, put a stiff in my place in the explosion, drugged me up and have been keeping me in a hospital ward in a fake coma ever since. A few hours ago they woke me up, turned me loose and here I am."

"I knew it!" Daniel hissed. "I knew they were holding you prisoner somewhere, keeping you from coming back to me!"

"You better believe it!" Jack growled into his hair. "Trust me, baby, that's the only reason why any of this happened, as long as there's breath left in me I'll never stop – never rest – I'll always make it back to you!"

"I know – I – I know," Daniel gulped, shaking like he was about to fly apart.

"I'm so sorry for what they put you through, Daniel. You know it never would have happened if I'd had anything to say about it."

"I know, I know," Daniel muttered fiercely. "You promised me, Jack – you promised – "

"Yeah, I did," Jack crooned, rocking the man in his arms. "I meant it too. Never gonna happen again. Never."

"I tried to look for you. I tried to make them listen. I tried, Jack, I really – really – "

"He did indeed, O'Neill," Teal'c quietly interjected. "DanielJackson would not allow himself to be dissuaded from his conviction you were alive. He was alone in this certainty. I must confess, to my shame, that I, along with everyone else, did not believe him."

"You should have," Jack snapped, before he could stop himself. "You all should have known by now, Daniel is always right."

"As you have often said, O'Neill," Teal'c admitted in a barely audible voice.

Jack sighed deeply, regretting his harsh words. None of this was the big guy's fault, and taking out his frustrations on him wasn't cool.  Especially considering he'd stood by Daniel through all of this, taken care of him, watched his six.

For that alone Teal'c deserved a lot better from him.

Jack cupped the nape of Daniel's neck with a comforting hand and glanced up to beam Teal'c a rueful grin. "It's okay, Teal'c. It's not your fault. From what I understand the evidence supporting the premise of my wrongful extinction was pretty convincing. Daniel just happened to possess some insider information he couldn't share making him right and all the rest of you wrong."

"A fact for which I am deeply grateful," Teal'c observed, inclining his head in a solemn salute.

"Hey, you and me both," Jack fervently agreed.

"It is good to see you alive, O'Neill."

"Backatcha, big guy. So," Jack grinned gently rubbing Daniel's back. "I guess you've just gotten an eyeful. "Surprise!"

"Not so much, Jack," Daniel giggled, fiercely hugging Jack around the neck. "Teal'c figured us out."

"Excellent. So, we don't have to waste any time on unnecessary explanations. How you doing, Daniel? You rested up enough to travel?"

"I'm fine, Jack," Daniel nodded, pushing himself up from Jack's chest, firing him a blinding smile. "Everything's fine, now."

"That's my boy." Jack gave his neck an affectionate squeeze before helping him to his feet. He kept an arm firmly around Daniel's waist holding him pressed closely to his side while turning his attention to Teal'c once more.

"Thank you for staying by him, Teal'c, but I'll take over now. Daniel and I need some quality time. Alone. We've got some catching up to do, some things to discuss about the future."

"Indeed," Teal'c gravely rumbled, his dark eyes full of understanding. "I presume you do not wish to return to Nagada."

"You presume…correctly," Jack acknowledged with a tight grin.

"What?" Daniel murmured. "We're not going back to – why…not?"

"May I then suggest you proceed to the sanctuary in the caves. The emergency shelter is well-provisioned."

"Yeah," Jack nodded. "Thanks. That will do just fine. We'll do that. Hammond wants you to report directly back to him at the SGC. He has a job for you."

"Once I arrive there I am to speak to no one but the general of what has happened here today," the Jaffa flatly stated.

"You got it," Jack told him with a smile. "As far as seeing me is concerned, mum's the word."

"I understand," Teal'c responded with an inscrutable look of his own.

"Jack?" Daniel cast a puzzled glance at both of them. "What's going on?"

"We'll go, we'll talk, I'll fill you in," Jack reassured him with a tender kiss. "Teal'c, we'll be waiting for you in the caves when you get back."

"We will?" Daniel echoed.

"Yes, we will. And Teal'c, just – don't show up right away. Daniel and I, we need some time…to…talk."

"I understand, O'Neill."

From the warm gleam of Daniel's eyes Jack could see at least this much he understood, too.



 

 


On to Part Two




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