Pure of Heart
Part Three


Jacob and Martouf exchanged brief glances. When the younger man turned back to look at the other people in the briefing room, his eyes emitted the golden light which signified the ascendancy of Lantash as the dominating consciousness of the body. The Tok'ra's unnatural voice added a dread and solemn import to the information it delivered.

"We are glad to hear the colonel is resting unharmed. However, we would like to speak to the concerns he raised which his sudden attack prevented us from addressing. We realise how much Doctor Jackson means to you, and understand why you would think what we propose is harsh, unfeeling, even selfish. Please understand the Council did not arrive at this decision lightly. The Tok'ra consider the Tau'ri not just allies, but friends as well, particularly its representatives who have fought at our side and come to our aid and assistance in the past."

Lantash paused, smiling at Sam as he said this, trying to elicit a response in return. She looked away, keeping her face impassive. His eyes flickered slightly with disappointment; he smoothed the rejected smile from his face and continued.

"Know that we do not abandon our own lightly, and we have come to think of you as part of us. Certainly those of us who have come to know Doctor Jackson respect and admire him deeply. We call him friend - do not think this is any easier for us than it is for you, no matter what you may believe you know about us or our motives.

"However, having said all that, you must also be aware there are times when what we want matters little against - what must be done. You are all soldiers; these are not concepts you are unfamiliar with. I am sure you all have taken oaths - as have we, to lay down your lives, if necessary, in the service of your race and its greater good."

"Daniel isn't a soldier," Sam blurted out suddenly. "He took no 'oath' to justify his abandonment."

"No, Sam, he isn't," her father answered her in a soothing voice. "But he understands what it means to serve a higher purpose. And he's already demonstrated he is more than willing to die for his world. When we ask him to help us, you know what he's going to say."

Yes, I damned well do, and so do you. Damn you! Damn all of us.

Sam fought back an urge to follow the colonel's example and storm angrily from the room. She forced herself to sit and listen, resolutely blinking back the beginnings of angry, frustrated tears as Lantash continued to speak.

"I know this will be small consolation for the loss of your friend for a second time, if it should come to that - but we thought you should know - why. What is at stake here - why we are asking this of him - how important he has suddenly become, because of where he is - to all of us.

"As yet you do not appreciate how serious a threat the Goa'uld represent to the peace and stability of the entire galaxy, nor do you understand the scope of their ambitions and what their realisation would mean for your race - and many others. The Tok'ra's opposition to the System Lord Alliance is not simply a war of ideological differences; we are fighting for all of our futures. The Alliance must be controlled --the key to this is Chronos.

"Chronos is not only the most influential of the System Lords, of all of them he is the one most responsible for maintaining the Alliance's current state of unity - however tenuous. Without his influence and the checks and balances he maintains on the other System Lords the Alliance would soon crumble and the System Lords would fall amongst themselves, destroying each other and most of the worlds they control in a vicious, senseless internecine war which would eventually spill out and ravage the galaxy.

"This is not what we wish to accomplish. We have a plan for dealing with Chronos and through him altering the ambitions of the Alliance which will prevent this from coming to pass. However, lacking a crucial element to its execution, we have not been able to implement it. We believe the missing piece has been supplied in the person of Doctor Jackson. The time has come. As strange as it may sound, it very well may be your friend has just become the most important person in the galaxy. The lives of billions may literally depend on what he decides - and what he does in the next little while."

"Whew - no pressure!" Sam snapped - the strident remark earning her a glare from the general. "Well - what with the colonel not being here and all, I just thought someone.." she allowed her voice to trail away as the general glared at her again.

"Chronos is that most dangerous of creatures, an ambitious, powerful man who is also shrewd and intelligent. He has gained power and maintains it because he understands it - how to use it to inspire fear, maintain control, and instil fanatical loyalty in his followers. He tempers ambition with realising the importance of holding onto what he already has. He is skilled in the motivation of others through appropriate reward and punishment, and addresses the need for power in the lesser ones who serve him. He also understands the power of - terror. And knows well how to use it.

"One hundred and fifty years ago Chronos learned a hard lesson about the folly of neglecting all of those things I have just mentioned when he very nearly did not succeed in putting down a rebellion led by his queen and several of his more ungrateful offspring. In summarily executing all of them once he had triumphed over them Chronos sent out a strong message to all who watched, waiting to take their turn at trying to take him out. He gave them no such opportunity, swiftly taking steps to correct all the mistakes he had made which had made him so vulnerable in the first place.

"He largely abandoned his pursuit of power through overt outward expansion and conquest in favour of seeking it through consolidation, administration and internal control of his own interests. As well as seeking to solidify his control over his fellow System Lords through covert manipulation. He handsomely rewarded the loyalty of his remaining children by giving them autonomous control over their own pieces of his empire, which he apportioned equally and meted out to each of them.

"All but one of them continues to preside over their individual holdings from their own homeworlds, nominally directing the governments he set up and set up in motion for them. I say 'nominally' for even though the efficient bureaucratic machines and those who maintain them report to their respective governors, in reality all the administrators and said governors answer to Chronos. All proceeds as he wishes, both in his realm and in the larger area of the Alliance itself, because of the other steps Chronos has taken to establish his instrument for the effective utilisation of terror.

"I refer of course to the Ashrak. That most efficient, ruthless and fanatically loyal guild of assassins and spies is unique in the Alliance. Because of it, Chronos has eyes and ears - everywhere, as well as a reach which extends galaxy wide. As he wills, he speaks but a word, and people die. Silent, deadly, covert, everywhere and no where, the Ashrak ensure Chronos is heeded and obeyed without question. All listen to him few dare to oppose him - those who do - die.

"The last part of his plan concerned the dissemination of his own personal influence over those who serve him. As I said, Chronos understand the proper application of power and terror when it comes to dealing with subordinates on a distant as well as a personal level. He is unique among the System Lords in the degree of genuine personal loyalty he inspires in those who serve him. He takes the role of god he has assumed very seriously, and as a rule is not given to being as heedlessly arrogant, callously cruel or capriciously indifferent to the well fare of his underlings as his peers. He is generous to reward loyalty and success, equally generous to punish failure. He imagines himself to be fair and just - perhaps in his own mind he is. Certainly those who follow him do not dispute his claims, nor are they slow to - love him and serve him with genuine devotion.

"His sphere of influence is unique in the Alliance in his 'enlightened' attitude toward his Jaffa and humans. Both are extremely well treated - there is no poverty, neglect or deprivation on any of the Jaffa or human colony worlds in the realm of Chronos. Many humans serve him willingly on a personal level, in the Ashrak and in the daily administration of his empire. He does not raid human colony worlds for hosts, they offer themselves up willingly for implantation after having been trained and conditioned for their fate upon entering into service in 'The Temple.' There are many such 'temples' in his realm, where both human and Jaffa tend to the larval Goa'ulds and the humans prepare for the ultimate bliss when they will be granted the supreme honour of being a receptacle for divinity. The implantation ritual takes place in the Temple as well. He's built a whole cult around it. Quite clever, in a terrifying sort of way.

"As for his treatment of the 'ruling class' - the members of his own race, again, reward and punishment. He is not afraid to share his power. Those who are loyal and serve him well can hope to achieve and enjoy serious power and influence if they are unswervingly in their service to Chronos and do as they are told. Believe me, few oppose him. The benefits for doing so are too uncertain, and it is rarely even contemplated, as the rewards for being good are much too lucrative to risk losing.

"Ironically, the events which unfolded here on Earth during your recent summit have worked to his favour in providing Chronos with new territory and positions of power to generously bestow to many seeking more. By unmasking Nirrti's plot and delivering her into the hands of her fellows, you Tau'ri provided Chronos with a bloodless and elegant solution to the problem of the growing restive expansionist ambitions of his children, as well as giving him a much needed excuse to finally eliminate a troublesome neighbour. As a rule he prefers to negotiate with his fellow System Lords, but he will eventually kill those who will not see things his way.

"Nirrti was such a one - making no secret of her designs on Chronos' empire, or her disdain of him and his policies. Unfortunate for her she was not nearly as clever as she was ambitious. Upon her execution her territories became forfeit, and as the injured party Chronos benefited from the majority of what she ruled over, thus there were worlds and positions and more power to hand out to the waiting willing.

"Chronos himself no longer has any fixed, set, planetary base of operations. He directs his empire from the safety of his flagship. He's impossible to track, tie down, predict; with the mobility of the ship and the Stargate it contains he can be anywhere at any time, and conversely he can dispatch instruments of his will at his leisure as it suits him. As you can well imagine, security within the vessel is - complete and very nearly impregnable.

"That is why Nirrti took the chance she did - daring to try to assassinate him here, away from his place of power where he was the most vulnerable. Affixing the blame on the Tau'ri in the process, thereby eliminating any possibility of retribution from his children or his loyal followers. We have three operatives remaining aboard that ship - they are the only ones who have managed to survive and it took them years to get them where they are. Losing even one of them would be a tragedy of enormous proportions. Yet we would sacrifice all of them to protect your friend and give him his chance to do what only he can do.

"The will of Chronos is the cement which holds the Alliance together. No System Lord wishes to risk offending him, so all allow themselves to be strongly influenced by and sensitive to his wishes. He is the heart of the Alliance. Therefore, anyone who is close to him can literally have their finger on the pulse of that Alliance. Do you begin to comprehend how important Doctor Jackson may have become? Do you appreciate what he might have the opportunity to discover? Do you understand now why we are asking him - to do what we wish him to do?"

"Chronos has it all sewed up in one neat, tidy package," Jacob added. "There's only one chink in the armour - one small area of vulnerability. And Daniel is standing right in the middle of it."

The solemn black man seated beside Sam who up until this time had taken in the proceedings without making a sound suddenly spoke up. "You spoke of a plan for dealing with Chronos that would not cause the fabric of the Alliance to collapse without his influence. What would this plan entail?"

"Sorry Teal'c." Jacob answered him. "We're under strict instructions from the Council not to discuss this."

"So what you are saying is - you can't tell us what you want us to support, but you want us to go along with you anyway?" Sam shot the remark across to her father, the rage simmering within her making her feel extremely thankful the colonel was not sitting in the room listening to this right now.

"Sam," Jacob began in a conciliatory tone.

"Well - it sucks!" she cut him off. "All of this. Just - sucks."

"I concur," Teal'c's booming voice echoed.

"As do I," the general finished, flashing her a stern, but not unsympathetic look. "Although I might have phrased it a little more diplomatically. I am equally unhappy with this situation but unfortunately, my opinion is entirely irrelevant. The decision whether or not to support your proposal to deliberately render no aid to Doctor Jackson and to encourage him to work covertly for your interests is not up to me. However if it was, in light of your last statement, even after everything you have just told us, I am not so sure I personally would agree to this. No, that's not right. I'm damned sure. Damned sure I wouldn't!"

"I'm sorry you feel that way, George," Jacob Carter turned to look into the eyes of his long-time friend and colleague. "You might not know whether or not you can trust the motives of the Tok'ra but I'd like to think, after all this time, you know you can trust me." He paused to look briefly across at his daughter before shifting his eyes back to the general again.

"I might be carrying around a passenger now but I'm still me, and I'm still the same as I ever was - as you are. A soldier, just following orders. Maybe I can' t tell you what we plan to do, but dammit - you know me. Do you honestly think I would betray my country, my world - and lead it into supporting something which would in any way harm or compromise it? If you think I would, then I guess none of you ever knew me at all."

"But what about Daniel, Dad?" Sam said in a quietly imploring tone. Wanting to believe him, wanting to trust him. "What is your 'plan' going to do to him? What is it going to call for him to do?"

"Whatever he needs to do, Sam. Whatever it takes. For as long as he can. Don't ask me what that means. I think you already know."

"Of COURSE she knows! We all know! And not one of us has the guts to come out and say it!"

All heads turned toward the door of the briefing room in response to the strident, unexpected voice. Jack O'Neill stood in the doorway; hands clenched at his sides, his dark eyes cold and dangerous, his entire body taut with the effort of restraining the rage that burned within him. No one had heard the door open, had realised he was there. No one knew how long he had been there. Or how much he had heard.

Jack continued to speak, his voice as menacing and tightly controlled as the rest of him. Wisely, no one watching him attempted to interrupt him or stop him from speaking.

"Well - I've got the guts. I'll say it. Too damned ugly to hide it behind inferences and euphemisms. Too damned ugly by half. Especially as it has already started.

"You want us to leave him there. Want to ask him to let that bastard FUCK him for the good of the entire galaxy. Well guess what, he hasn't bothered to wait for permission. You'll be happy to know while you've been sitting here spouting higher principles and asking us to feel sorry for you for having to be the ones to make all these hard choices Daniel was being raped and beaten within an inch of his life. That's the reality. That's what we're really talking here. What all your 'rationalisation comes right down to. Raped. Do you hear me? RAPED. I can spell it for you, if you like. You want to ask him to give himself over to a lifetime of this kind of abuse - for the good of all the rest of us. Well, isn't that special? All the rest of us get a better galaxy to live in - well, what the hell does HE get? I'll tell you what he gets. Fucked over. In more ways than one!

"Your reluctance to consign Danny to this fate touches me, guys. It really does. Glad to see you are having some small twinges of conscience over this, but Marty, Jacob, do me a little favour. Look at Sam over there and tell her honestly it would make no difference to you if she was the one being asked to play 'hide the salami' with Chronos instead of Daniel. Tell her it would still be 'okay' - still be acceptable and necessary and that you could ask her to do it - and see if you can make her believe you.

"And while you're at it, guys, why don't you tell her the truth? Why don't you tell all of us the truth? Let's just cut the crap right here and now. You have no intention of taking Daniel out of there. Never had any either. Been lying through your teeth to us about that, and hoping we wouldn't figure it out. No intention of ever saving him - not now, not a month from now - not ever. You don't want to tell us about it, but you've got a 'plan'? I'll say you damned well do, and I can see why you want to keep your mouth shut about it. You want Danny to stay close to Chronos so you can pull his strings through him. You want Danny to help you run the whole Alliance, make Chronos dance to your tune. You want him to stay there and be your puppetmaster - for the rest of his life. Don't you! Lying bastards!

"I don't care what you call yourselves, you goddam Snake Heads are all the same. Tok'ra, Goa'uld - it makes no difference we're NOTHING to you - just something to be used as it suits you. Insignificant little pawns in your big important struggle. Save the galaxy! Sure, why not, nothing else pressing on the calendar today. My life's not worth shit anymore now that you've sold off the best part of it. And then you turn around and have the nerve to expect me to THANK you for it!"

Jack's voice was still low, and incredibly controlled, but he jabbed an angry finger at the two silent, still representatives of the Tok'ra sitting at the table.

"Just so you know - that man you are so quick to use and sell down the river is worth more than every single one of you stinking Snake Heads put together. You THINK about it, and while you're at it enjoying the freedom he is paying for with his body and soul, I hope you'll have the grace to feel ashamed of yourselves! Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I'll go out and get some fresh air. Something smells pretty rotten in here, and I've had just about as much of it as I can take." Pausing only to smile weakly at his team-mates, Jack turned on his heel and stalked from the room.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Luena was waiting for him a couple of steps away. "C'mon, Broadzilla," he grunted, grabbing her by the arm. "Let's go topside and get some air. This place is making me sick to my stomach."

"Okay, Jerk," she replied, falling into step beside him.

"That's Jack," he smiled back at her, in spite of himself.

"Sorry," she shrugged slightly, mocking him with a pert grin. "I keep getting that wrong, don't I?"

They said nothing more until they emerged into the cool night mountain air. Jack found the first spot which suited him and stretched out on the grass so he could look up and see the stars. Out there. Danny was somewhere out there, lost amidst the sea of twinkling lights. Lost...

"How are you doing?" Luena asked him as she settled gracefully down beside him. "How is he doing?"

"The pain is gone," Jack replied absently. "Chronos must have healed him or something. I don't feel it anymore. Scared. He's so scared. That's all I feel - is fear.." Jack sat up abruptly, wrapping his arms around the legs he drew up tight to his chest. "Danny's all alone - and he's terrified. I don't know what to do. God, Lu - what am I going to do?"

Jack turned his head to look at the woman sitting cross-legged in the grass beside him, the single tear suspended on his cheek glistening in the pale moonlight.

"You know what the hell of it is?" he began in a wavering, breaking voice. "I know what I said to those guys back there, but I can't help thinking - they may be right. I love Danny more than life itself - I want him back more than anything in this world - but - is this just being selfish? As horrible as it sounds - could they be right? Could Danny really make that much of a difference where he is? If anybody could tame that Goa'uld - Danny could do it. I know he could. They know it too. Is that what he is supposed to do - and am I wrong for wanting to get him back - for myself? Is this what he was really brought back for - not for me - but for this?'

Jack let his head drop to his knees as the misery threatened to overwhelm him. "I promised him I would find him. Promised him I would bring him home. But - do I have the right? What is one man's life really worth - when you weigh it against billions? Even, God help me, if that man is Danny? God, Lu - I miss him so much."

Luena put a comforting hand on his shoulder, and then cuffed him across the back of the head. Hard.

"Je-SUS!" Jack howled, his head snapping up with startled indignation. "What the hell was THAT for?"

"I wanted to get your attention," the Telshar woman said sternly to him. "Make absolutely sure you are listening to me. First thing I want to say to you, Jack O'Neill - if I hear any more of that kind of talk out of you I'll hit you again and next time it'll be hard!"

Jack's mouth gaped open as he looked at the grim woman beside him. For once, he had nothing to say.

"I don't know how we are going to do it yet, but I do know we are bringing him home. This is why I was taken to serve as Amonet's host. This is why he found me. This is why he saved me - so I would be able to be here to help you get him back. With you or without you, it's all the same to me. I'm bringing him home. Either way Jack - I am not leaving the man who gave me my freedom enslaved himself.

"The arguments of the Tok'ra are like smoke to me. They have no meaning. I don't know about the 'good of the galaxy'. I don't know these billions of people. I do know Daniel. He is my friend. He needs my help. That's all I need to know. All you need to know too. There is nothing else that needs to be said."

Jack looked at her deeply for many long minutes. At last, a crooked smile creased his face. "Know what, Lady? I really like your style. If I wasn't a married man, you'd be in serious trouble."

Luena pulled a face at him and punched him soundly on the arm. "Save your lines for Daniel, O'Neill," she laughed. "They work on him."

"Yeah, they do, don't they?" he smiled fondly. "Never could quite figure that one out. So," he said curtly, pulling himself around to face her, "Now that's all settled, what do we do?"

"Your government is going to support the Tok'ra," she said in a tone which carried the conviction of prescient certainty. "They will forbid you from interfering, seek to keep you here so there is no possibility you will be able to take action on Daniel's behalf."

"Pretty much worked that much out for myself," Jack muttered. "Which gets us exactly nowhere."

"I said they will TRY to keep you here," Luena returned. "Trying is not the same as succeeding. They will also try to keep me here. We will let them think they can, for the meantime. We will wait for a little while. Make our plans. Something has yet to happen. I don't know what yet, Matarei was the one who saw it in the dreaming. She will tell me when the time has come. Then, we will go. They will not be able to stop us. I promise you this Jack.

"For now, we are not powerless to help Daniel even as we wait. The bond between you will intensify as time passes. It will become easier for you to reach him through it and comfort him. He will know he is not alone, and he will draw strength from that. You will give him the courage to endure until we can go to him. I'll show you how."

"So, even though I can't be with him, I'll always know what's going on with him?" Jack asked her. "What he's feeling, what's happening to him? Not quite as good as being there, but believe me, I'll take it!"

"Good!" Luena announced as she stood up. "Now, I don't want to hear any more of this 'maybe we should leave him there for the good of the galaxy' foolishness. "I'll knock your block off first, before I let you start thinking like that again."

"Ah, remind me never to get you pissed off at me," Jack remarked ruefully as he got to his feet while rubbing the back of his head. "So let's get back and see what sort of mischief the kids have been getting up to since we've been gone."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Coffee. He could smell coffee..

Pulled rapidly to consciousness by the siren song of the blessed aroma Daniel opened his eyes. The confused disorientation of new wakefulness assailed him. Where - not familiar - not home - white, everything was white - Chronos!

The terror of the realisation shocked him fully awake, causing him to hurl himself up in a clumsy attempt to spring from the bed. In his haste he very nearly upset the small table beside it upon which sat the object emitting the aroma which had roused him.

There was a pot of coffee sitting on the table. His throat contracting with longing, Daniel nevertheless made himself look around the room before he dared to touch it.

Alone. He was alone. Chronos had been with him last night, that much he remembered. So much pain, he had thought himself about to die, and then it was gone. Daniel put his hands to his face. Some spots were still sore, but he seemed okay. He looked down at himself, running his hands across his chest and stomach. Nothing wrong, he looked fine all that stuff spilled all over him was gone. Everything was gone, except the memory..

There were other memories too. Memories of Jack - so real, coming to him, holding him, healing the hurts of his heart and soul - sweet memories soured and twisted by the cruel reality he had awakened to of the beast who had used him once in violence and sought to use him again while hiding behind the guise of his Jack. Daniel closed his eyes and shuddered as he suddenly remembered hearing the dead, hollow voice speaking words of love to him, saying Jack's name, pretending to be him.

It had all been a lie, a strange, temporary illusion, and yet - it lingered still. As soon as his panic began a comforting warmth began to fill him. Jack. It felt like Jack. Jack's presence was palpable; filling him, surrounding him with his strength and reassurance. Daniel felt himself beginning to calm, felt the fear drain from him, felt his mind beginning to clear as whatever this was that felt like Jack smoothed over the terrible memories of the night before, removing their power to hurt him, pushing them back harmless into the recesses of his thoughts.

Daniel didn't understand it, but he was certainly glad of it. The strong assurance of Jack singing in his mind, he dared to look about the room once more. He was still in Chronos' chamber, but he definitely was alone. He was alone, and there was coffee on the table beside him. He could do coffee. Oh yes, he could definitely do coffee. Worry about how it got here later.

As he leaned forward to move toward the table his hand fell upon something resting on the bed. Some kind of bathrobe. Good - this was good too. Expending a precious moment to quickly pull it on and fasten the belt firmly around his waist, Daniel finally reached for the carafe and poured some of the hot, fragrant liquid into the mug resting there.

His hands clutching the mug as if he feared it would be taken from him at any instant, he greedily gulped the hot, black ambrosia completely uncaring it was almost too hot to drink. Welcoming the way it seared down his throat he consumed the first mugful in mere seconds and was reaching for the carafe to pour a second when his mind registered exactly what it was he held in his hand.

Wait a minute - this was his mug - his coffee mug - the one from his office in the SGC - the one Jack had given to him. His favourite mug.

That realisation brought an even more troubling one. The bathrobe he was wearing - this was his as well. The one he kept in his locker on the base. What the hell..

"I took the liberty of procuring some of your personal possessions." Daniel started as HIS voice sounded suddenly behind him. Daniel whirled to see Chronos standing in front of the curtain shielding the bathing area from view. His hair was still damp from his morning ablutions, he was freshly shaven and wearing a deep red robe richly detailed with heavy gold piping.

One thing you could say about the guy he was sure big into personal hygiene..

"I thought you would feel more comfortable if you had some familiar things about you." Chronos continued with a warm smile as he began to walk toward him. "You will find more of your possessions in your wardrobe. It adjoins mine. It is your private room to use to attend to your personal needs. You will not be disturbed there, if you do not wish to be. You will also find a wide selection of garments which are yours to chose from."

By this time Chronos had reached him, was sitting down on the bed beside him, reaching out a hand to clasp him by the back of the neck in order to pull him closer.

"If you do not mind, I have presumed to make a selection for you. It is laid out for you." Chronos' eyes grew larger as he pulled Daniel's face closer to his own. "I think you will find the blue will suit you very well."

Daniel closed his eye, shuddering with terror and revulsion as he braced himself for the inevitable.

It didn't come. Sighing deeply, Chronos caressed Daniel's cheek with his free hand, making him flinch at the contact. Sighing again he said, "You make it very hard to resist you, but I can see I frighten you. Very well, we will leave this for now."

As soon as Chronos released him Daniel quickly scrambled away from him, turning to watch him warily from his new vantagepoint on the far side of the bed. Chronos took in the mug and carafe on the table.

"Ah, I see you found the beverage. Did you enjoy it? I understand you are particularly partial to it. It has an interesting flavour. I took the liberty of sampling it as it was being prepared."

"Yes," Daniel answered cautiously. "I am partial to it. It's very good coffee. Thank you."

"Good," Chronos half-turned so the man behind him could see the expression on his face. "I am pleased to see you feeling so well this morning. I had not thought you would be awake again this soon."

So soon after you nearly killed me.

Chronos nodded as he took in the thinly veiled resentment in Daniel's eyes evoked by his slight reference to the events of the night before.

"You are correct to be angry with me," Chronos confessed to him with unashamed frankness. "You were afraid. I should have seen that. I should not have disciplined you so severely. Though it is scarcely a defence I was quite mad with desire for you and angry with you for denying me. Still - what I did was excessive, - far more of a punishment then I should have meted out to you. I can only tell you how deeply sorry I am for the harm I caused you. If you will permit me, I will try to make amends."

"I can't imagine how you could possibly do that other than agreeing to let me go," Daniel ventured. "Somehow I don't think that is going to happen."

"You are correct. I am unwilling to grant you that particular desire. However, I do have a gift to give you which I think will please you just as much. I possess a certain piece of information which will bring you much joy. You believe your friend Jack to be dead. Will you forgive me if I tell you I know he is alive?"

"Jack - Jack is - alive?"

Daniel looked into the glowing eyes of the man who sat on the opposite side of the bed, trying not to scream aloud with the joy thrilling through him. Alive alive alive..

Almost as quickly as it had come the joy was ruthlessly crushed by the realisation of - from where the source of this information had come. Daniel turned away, hunching over and in on himself as the bitter pain shot through him. Lies. Had to be lies. This had to be another cruel trick - another game Chronos was playing with him. He was a fool to believe it - a fool to believe anything that came out of the System Lord's mouth.

A hand touched him on the shoulder and he cried out in shock. He wrenched his shoulder violently away from beneath the hated hand, falling to the floor in his panicked haste to escape from him.

"Lying to me!" he screamed. "Stop lying to me!"

Chronos made no move to touch him or approach him. "I never lie, Daniel." he said in a very quiet voice. "The two things I value above all others are honestly and loyalty. The two things I will never forgive are the speaking of falsehoods and betrayal. You should know this. You should remember it. Those who have not - have not lived to repeat their error."

Daniel turned until he was pressed up against the side of the bed. He leaned against it for support, keeping his eyes averted, not wanting to meet the ones of the man sitting above him.

"Stay there if you wish," Chronos said finally, "But you will hear me. I speak the truth. However, if my word is not enough for you - you may seek confirmation of what I say from Nah'tak. He has received the reports from the Ashrak I sent to infiltrate your headquarters. O'Neill lives - ah - I see that piece of information has gotten your attention."

"What did - what did you just say?" Daniel looked up at Chronos as the implications of what he had just heard filled him with dread. Licking his lips nervously he searched Chronos' face and saw the truth of his words there, as well as the sudden explanation for certain other mysteries.

"Ah," Chronos smiled as he saw the frightened comprehension in Daniel's eyes. "You understand now. How your possessions have come to be here. How I know the things about you I know. How I was able to know how to find you on - what do you call it - D3G-678 the day my minions failed to bring you to me. How I knew to lay the trap for you on Abydos - the one place you would think yourself safe.

"I know many, many things about you, Daniel. About you, and the man you shared your life with. Information is life itself. One does not achieve what I have without knowing much, nor do they live to enjoy what they have achieved without the security of constant, accurate intelligence. My Ashrak serve me well in this capacity. They are everywhere I need them to be, constantly seeing for me, learning for me, imparting to me everything they discover in my service. The Ashrak I dispatched to learn of you for me is even now in the very heart of your SGC. He will remain there for a time. I desire him to stay there, to stay very close to your Jack."

The smile on Chronos' face was as deeply self-satisfied as the purring quality of his voice. Daniel willed himself to keep the fear out of his eyes, meeting those of Chronos without flinching.

"I see," he replied. "I understand the reason for your 'gift' now. You didn't tell me about Jack to make me feel better. You told me he was alive to threaten me with that fact. To use it against me."

"It would be a very effective inducement, would it not?" Chronos answered him with inscrutable expression on his face. "Tell me, Daniel - what would you do to keep Jack alive?"

Daniel answered him without hesitation. "Anything. Anything you want."

Chronos' eyes were hooded, his expression unreadable as he looked down at the man who faced him unflinching, his body taut with resigned courage.

"We shall see," he murmured finally. "Very well. We shall see if you speak the truth. Kiss me, Daniel."

He had known it was coming - this or something very nearly like it. Still, it was all Daniel could do to still the shuddering revulsion in his body as he dutifully rose from the floor, sat beside Chronos and touched his lips to those of the System Lord.

At first he could do no more than that, no more than simply not move away as Chronos' mouth began to move hungrily into his, crushing his lips forcing them apart. Chronos knotted a hand in his hair, using his purchase to pull his head slightly back until he was able to look into Daniel's eyes.

"I said - KISS me, Daniel," his voice rumbled through Daniel, making him shake. Gulping down his fear, he moved his face back forward, renewing the contact he dreaded, forcing himself to respond to the man kissing him.

With a throaty chuckle Chronos pushed him back down on the bed. Still kissing him passionately his hand fumbled with the belt of Daniel's robe, loosing it, pushing the garment aside. Daniel clutched the bedclothes beneath him; grabbing fistfuls of the bedding, trying to use the anchor to still the scream rising within him as he felt Chronos' hand begin to glide across the skin of his chest. Light, sinuous as a snake the hand continued to move downward, sliding across his stomach which heaved in terrified revulsion at the assault. The hand continued downward, questing, knowing, supreme in its confidence it would this time, not be denied.

God - now he was touching him - fondling. Making noises that made him want to scream. Every nerve in his body shrieked at him to fight - to push Chronos away - do everything he could to make him stop touching. Couldn't - couldn't. Had to get through this - had to let him. For Jack. Jack would understand - why. Didn't mean anything - was against his will, was for Jack. Couldn't let anything happen to Jack.

Chronos squeezed him - bit the side of his neck - hard. In spite of himself, as much as he tried to hold it back, Daniel felt a whimper of fear escaped him. Memories of the night before came flooding back into his consciousness. God, what was he going to do to him.

Suddenly, mercifully, Chronos stopped kissing him. The hand insulting him withdrew, moving up to wrap around his throat. Chronos pulled away until he could look at the man who could no longer keep the fear from racking his body or plainly pouring from his eyes. A strange smile rested upon his lips.

"My touch disgusts you, doesn't it, Daniel?" Chronos began in a quiet voice. "I warn you - I wish the truth."

Daniel tried to plumb the depths of the dark eyes above him, feeling the hand about his throat tighten as Chronos awaited his response, knowing his life hung upon the next words he uttered. Chronos said he wanted the truth. But what if the truth was not what he wanted to hear..

"Yes." Daniel replied, his eyes as brave as he could make them.

Still no clues to be gleaned from the man leaning over him. "And yet - to save the life of your Jack, you would let me do this to you?"

"Yes," Daniel replied again.

There was something. It crossed the face of the System Lord so quickly, flashed fleetingly and was gone so swiftly Daniel was not exactly sure what he saw. Sadness, envy - regret?

He must have been seeing things.

"Your Jack is a very lucky man," Chronos said finally. "Enough, Daniel," he said kindly as he drew Daniel's robe back around him to cover him. "I have learned what I needed to know."

Chronos rose from the bed, walked away. Daniel sat up, pulling the robe tightly about himself, trying to stop himself from shaking. He didn't know where Chronos had gone, had no idea what he was doing, and what was more, didn't care. He continued to sit there numbly, almost past the point of being capable of being aware of his captor's return. Something was thrust into his hands; a familiar smell roused him. Daniel looked down and saw Chronos had given him a mug of coffee.

"Drink now," he said kindly. "Are you hungry? I can have food brought immediately."

Daniel shook his head as he took a sip from the mug in his hand. He still was too stunned and confused to speak.

"Very well," Chronos continued as he sat himself back down beside him. "You will eat later, I am sure. Finish your beverage, have more if you wish, then you must bathe and dress. We have much to do today. Do you need assistance? Delios has assigned you a personal attendant. Do you wish me to summon her?"

Daniel shook his head again. His head was swimming; he felt as if he was about to be violently ill. What - had all of that been about? What had just happened? What was Chronos going to do to Jack?

As if reading his mind the System Lord began to absently play with his hair. Daniel started, nearly spilling his coffee all over himself, but recovered as the man beside him began to speak again.

"You need not have any fear for your friend. He is safe. I will not harm him - that would only make you hate me more. I would not wish that. I made you aware I could cause him harm to discover what sort of man you are. I know what you are now, Daniel Jackson. I suspected it, but now I know. I am pleased."

Daniel gritted his teeth as Chronos moved his hand down to his shoulder. He started to massage it as he leaned over and nuzzled his cheek. "This distresses you, I know," he breathed into Daniel's ear. "But I cannot be near you and not touch you. You will get used to it. You will see. In time, you will welcome my touch."

Daniel closed his eyes as Chronos took the mug from his hand, set it on the floor, and then turned his face around.

"Kiss me once as if you do not hate me and I will let you go. You have my word."

Daniel drew a single, shuddering breath, feeling tears slip from his eyes as he forced his mouth to meet the one of the man beside him in order to render him the price of his temporary freedom.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Well, Luena sure had called it. Word from the top had come down and the Tok'ra had gone home with everything they wanted. Along with a certain Major who, at the President's request, was going to be keeping an eye on Earth's interests, making sure we got the straight scoop on what was going on out there. He didn't envy Sam her assignment, but he certainly was glad she was there. Bet she was tearing a strip off Jacob and Marty even now.

Go get 'em, Sam.

I tried, Danny, I really did. But Luena called that too. SG-1 - what's left of it - has been grounded. Wings clipped, benched, removed the rotation for an 'indefinite period'. They're not letting me through the gate no time no how. Not letting me out of their sight. Went to Hammond. God - I even begged. Hands and knees, practically. Stuck here, Danny. Nothing I can do. Sorry. So, so sorry..

Jack lay in Daniel's bunk in the darkness, remembering the first time he had cried for him after he had died. It had been almost two months after the memorial service - the second one he had had to go through for his friend. Second one like the first. No body - no stone to mark what was left, that he had even once been. But unlike the first - this time no mistake. No doubt he was gone. No doubt at all..

It was shortly after he had finally been able to go back home for the first time. For a month and a half he had stayed on base, never leaving it, doing what he was doing now. Sleeping in Daniel's room, working in Daniel's office. Only leaving either place when he absolutely had to. Avoiding going home because he couldn't bear to face what wouldn't be waiting for him there.

His eyes had been as dry and dead as he was inside. Nothing came forth - nothing moved within him. Until that day...

He had been looking for something in the hall closet. Couldn't even remember what now, not that it really mattered. Something which had been resting on the shelf above came falling down on top of him, something soft, covering his head, his face. Something which pressed against his skin and smelled like Daniel.

His sweater. The cobalt blue one. The one Jack liked so much to see him wear because of how good it looked on him - how it made his skin, his eyes glow. Never thought it was weird he should notice that - how something about the way Danny looked in this sweater made his heart jump.

Jack didn't even know how it had come to be there, but then Daniel was always abandoning things in strange places. Laying something aside in his preoccupation, forgetting where he had put it, finding things he had didn't even remember he owned in places he least expected to find them. So who knew how the sweater had gotten there. However it had, now it was in his hands and it was full of the smell of Daniel, the mixture of spice and sandalwood, the little bit of Abydos he had brought with him and still wore as a connection to his lost home. Had worn. Had worn..

The beloved scent assailed him, the memories biting deeply into his heart, lancing the brittle callused shell he had erected around it. As he clutched the sweater, buried his face in it, inhaled the man he had lost and would never have again, the tears fell from him. A flood had torn from him. He had cried, cried, cried. Wept until he discovered it was actually possible to run out of tears. Hadn't known that before. But it was. Still he cried. Dry eyed, broken hearted, the sweater had absorbed a river of woe.

That day he cried for Daniel. And then he never cried again.

He'd taken the sweater and the tears it carried to bed with him that night. Clutched it tightly to him as he slept. That night, and every other night which followed. Never cried again, but never was without his tear-soaked talisman in the night. Never without the reminder of his loss and sorrow until the day Daniel came back to him again. Just before Daniel came home he had taken the sweater, washed it - cleansing it of all the tears and pain, folded it careful and put it back in Daniel's drawer. Daniel never knew..

Clutching one of Daniel's jackets, Jack lay in Daniel's bunk in the dark, remembering a blue sweater and the man who owned it now twice taken from him, and cried for Daniel.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Daniel lowered himself into the bath, quickly immersing himself, just as quickly emerging again. The water was warm, soothing, he wouldn't have minded staying in it longer, but didn't dare. Despite what Chronos had said about leaving him to do this himself, he didn't believe him. Couldn't let himself be caught that vulnerable, unprotected, inviting more looks, more touching, more invasion... Still dripping he clambered from the pool, snatched up his robe, drew it back on again. Clutching it tightly to his wet body he crouched where he was, warily looking around. Alone. He was still alone. Nobody else here. No one else looking - touching - intruding.

He was wet, cold, shaking. Knew he had to do something, had to move, but couldn't think what it was, couldn't make himself budge. His stomach heaved, an overwhelming wave of nausea rose within him. He doubled over, trying to stop himself from retching, realising with dismayed misery he was about to be violently ill. Humiliatingly all over himself - all over this place because even if he could move, he didn't know where to run.

He clamped a hand over his mouth trying to stop it, knowing it was futile. He was going to spew and there wasn't a damned thing he could do about it.

Only seconds before launch he felt an arm curl around his waist, felt himself being hoisted from the floor and carried into the room where he had been taken to be 'prepared' the night before. There, behind a screen he hadn't been in any condition to notice before, were 'the facilities'. He was supported by the arm around him, his head positioned over the bowl held by a hand on his forehead. Above the sounds he was making as he upchucked with uncontrollable vigour he heard a deep, familiar and very welcome voice saying, "So I see you are not feeling any better this morning, Daniel."

Nah'tak. Nah'tak was here. He'd be okay for awhile.

The Jaffa held him where he was for a few moments after he had finished vomiting, giving the trembling in his limbs time to subside. When Daniel nodded he was able to, Nah'tak gently helped him to his feet.

"Thank you," Daniel said shame-faced to the man beside him. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand before adding in a bitter voice. "It seems I'm not going to be spared any kind of indignity or embarrassment so I guess I'd better get used to the idea of personal dignity being a thing of the past."

"I am sorry," the Jaffa said abruptly in a genuinely contrite voice, beginning to back away from him, out of the room. "I only thought to elp - I did not mean to intrude or humiliate you. Chronos sent me to look in on you, to see if you were well. He was concerned for you, but thought you would be less frightened by my presence. I have offended - I will go."

"NO!" Daniel cried out to him, louder than he wished to, his protest energised by the sudden terror the thought of being alone again with Chronos engendered in him. "Don't - don't leave - I wasn't talking about you - didn't mean - " He let his voice die away as he felt himself slumping to the floor. "I don't know what to do." he said in a small voice.

Nah'tak knelt down beside him, put a kind hand on his head and said softly, "Come then, I will help you."
 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
General George Hammond had never thought he would ever see the day when he would hate his job, but it had come. Though it had been his privilege to have been in command of this facility during times when he was proud of the SGC and what it stood for; he now stood in what he knew was not his command' s finest hour. It was very possible everything they had accomplished in the past three years, every high ideal they had aspired toward, every moral advantage they claimed over the 'enemy' in this fight was all irretrievably compromised by what they seemed fully prepared to do to one of their own.

If George Hammond had ever had any cause to doubt the correctness of 'following orders' he only had to remember the look in the eyes of the man who had stood in this office not long ago.

He had been expecting the visit ever since he'd had to relay the president's decision to the people who awaited it. Though it was the answer he had been anticipating, it was not the one he wished. He'd learned many years ago there was often a vast difference between what one wished and what one had to do. Even knowing it didn't help. It never got any easier. You would think with time and practice it would - but it never did.

What was wrong was still wrong. Being able to hide behind the shelter of responsibility once removed in that the decision was not yours to make - only to live with - didn't make it any easier either..

Oh, it was fancily worded in properly turgid militarese, but it was pretty plain as to what it came down to. He was to do nothing. The SGC was to take no action in this matter. None. Major Carter was to accompany the Tok'ra to represent the Earth's interests and to provide the President with accurate and timely intelligence as to the future development of the situation, and pending these reports a final decision would be made with respects to Doctor Jackson's disposition but for the moment, they would all just sit on their hands and do - nothing.

Given the past precedents for independent action demonstrated by certain individuals under his command, he was further sternly admonished to ensure no member of the SGC was to be given the opportunity to take any sort of independent action. No exceptions.

He laid it all out for them. Couldn't make it any plainer than it was. Knew it wouldn't stop Jack from trying. Wouldn't be who he was if it did.

It gave him no joy to see that proud man stand before him and say those words. See the pain and desperation in his eyes as he said, "I'll beg if that's what it takes." Gave him no pleasure to say to him, "Even if I could let you go - where would you start to look?"

Hammond found himself feeling he had lived too long if it meant he had to live to see this day. He admitted he hadn't much cared for Doctor Jackson when he'd first met him. Was more than furious with both of the men who had perpetrated the deliberate deception about what had gone on during the first mission to Abydos - and had persuaded the other members of the team to support it. He took a very dim view about that sort of collusion and it had significantly coloured his initial attitude toward the young archaeologist.

Then he had gotten to know him.

If you were looking for someone to fit the label of 'just plain decent human being' there were few candidates more deserving of the epithet than Daniel Jackson was. He could be impetuous and ill considered - but even if at times his way of doing things was not exactly by the book - there was nothing wrong with his instincts or intentions. Somehow he always knew how to do the right thing. Why did it seem life and its circumstances were never prepared to do the right thing by him?

That's what really made this whole thing so horrible; of all the people who could have been called upon to make this terrible sacrifice - why did it have to be him? The day he had been recruited to make this whole program happen - even then he'd had no understanding of the sort of life he would be called upon to lead, no desire to make the kind of sacrifices he'd been required to make, no ambition to become - a warrior for the sake of this world and many others. Unlike his fellow team members he'd never made the conscious decision to dedicate his life to the preservation of others - it was a role which was thrust upon him by fate, but one he'd not shied away from when it was required of him by circumstances.

He was an ordinary man with ordinary dreams and desires who'd become something larger and more possible than himself because he'd had no choice. He'd never sought it, never dreamt of it for himself, and yet he'd done everything it asked of him. And much more besides. Over and over again, without complaining, faltering or turning aside.

Now they were asking more of him than even one who had sworn to serve and die should have been asked to do. Assuming he would just - do it. Because of who he was. That ordinary man who had become something - extraordinary. Someone who deserved a lot more than what he was getting. But kept on being what he as - anyway..

What of the other man, the one who had chosen the warrior's path, who had made a conscious decision to serve and defend - and had faced and made the sacrifices that choice had required of him as well? Who now knew, because of this strange bond between them, everything happening to one he would gladly die for and now was powerless to help.

George Hammond was neither stupid, nor was he blind. The feeling between those two men went deeper than simple friendship, farther than either one of them could publicly admit. Their conduct had always been exemplary, and as long as they gave him no cause to, as their commanding officer he had no opinion, but as their friend he had wished them well. How much harder had it been then, knowing what he knew - to turn Jack O'Neill away.

He knew Jack would die for Daniel, change places with him if he could. Not rest until he had done everything in his power to deliver him. What man wouldn't - for a friend, for the one they loved? What man had ever been asked to give up so much - in the line of duty? It might not be right, might not be fair, but it was the way it was. One of the hardest choices which came part and parcel with the oath they had both sworn was the choice to adhere to it no matter what - even when doing one's duty deeply conflicted with the conscience and the heart.

He'd sworn to obey - he'd follow orders. Would make damned sure Jack O' Neill followed them as well. Would hate himself enough for both of them for doing it, but he would. That didn't mean he would completely silence his own conscience in the process. They might be able to tell him what to do but not what to think. There had to be ways to take a stand, to bend the law without breaking it. There had to be ways. He would find them. He owed his country his loyalty, but he owed something much more personal to those two men and he was going to find a way to help both of them.

Weary in both body and spirit, Hammond was preparing to leave his office when Jack O'Neill suddenly burst into it once more.

"My report, Sir!" he announced slapping a couple of sheets of paper on his desk with a flourish, then drawing himself back fully to attention.

"What is this, Colonel?" Hammond looked at the man standing staring stiffly into space.

"My report, Sir. I thought it only appropriate, if the President wished to be apprised of the most current intelligence in this situation, he should be made aware of ALL of the facts."

Hammond picked up the papers, but didn't look at them. "Would you mind explaining that, Colonel?"

"Not at all, Sir!" Jack continued in his clipped, correct military delivery. "I possess a unique source of first hand information about the situation which I believe the President should be apprised of. Can't get any more first-line than this. This is what has happened to Doctor Jackson today, Sir. I will continue to submit these reports on a daily basis. I would be gratified if you would forward them to the President and also make sure the Tok'ra get a copy of them as well. I do not believe it is inappropriate for them to be made aware of the true nature of the situation. So they may be better informed of all the factors involved. Better to help them formulate further policy. You understand, don't you, Sir?"

Hammond smiled wryly at the man who still would not look at him. "Oh yes indeed, Colonel, I understand completely. This is exactly what I have been looking for. Thank you, Colonel, I will make sure the parties concerned receive these reports as long as you care to make them."

"Thank you, Sir," Jack answered him in a softer voice, blinking, but not looking at him.

"That will be all, Colonel. Dismissed."

Hammond didn't watch him as he exited the office. He was looking at the papers in his hand, dreading what he would find in them, but knowing he had to read them. He would indeed pass them on - but not before he made himself completely aware of what they contained. He would read them. He would keep on reading them. He wouldn't forget what they said, until the day it was over, one way or the other. Then depending on the way it went, he would remember them for the rest of his life.

His penance, for following orders...

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"He sleeps?" Chronos asked his First Prime as he sat down beside the man who slumbered peacefully in the grass of the huge shipboard Arboretum. "That is good. He did not sleep very well last night. He is not yet fully recovered. I was pleased to see him awake - I should not have expected him to be feeling well enough to attend me quite yet." The System Lord stretched forth his hand as if to touch the man beside him then turned and looked up at Nah'tak. "I am curious - why did you bring him here? If he wished to sleep, would he not have been more comfortable in our rooms?"

Nah'tak shook his head. "No my Lord," he began in a careful tone. "He became very distressed at the suggestion. He did not wish to return there. I thought of this place. I like to come here, as often as my duties will permit. I find the atmosphere soothing. I thought - he might as well. I hope I was not in error in making that presumption."

Chronos shook his head. "No - no, this was wise of you. I too enjoy the serenity of this place. " He turned his attention back to the sleeping man. "You have done well."

"Thank you, my lord," Nah'tak bowed deeply, his gratitude plain in his voice. Chronos merely nodded, saying nothing. He did not move, did not speak, merely stared raptly at Daniel for a very long time.

"Is he not beautiful?" Chronos finally sighed. "I sent them all away. I found myself quite unable to concentrate on anything, once he left me. It's a most peculiar feeling - I have never felt anything quite like this before. I believe I could forgive him anything - I would give him everything, but he will not take it. I have been kind - I have promised him I will not hurt him, and yet he shrinks from me." The System Lord sighed again. "I do not understand."

He reached forward, finally touching Daniel, stroking his cheek lightly with his fingertips. Almost immediately Daniel began to stir, moaning softly, his face beginning to contort with his growing distress.

"You see!" Chronos took his hand away and turned to Nah'tak, a look of puzzled consternation on his face. "Even when he sleeps! This is impossible! Why is he being so difficult?"

"Do you wish an answer, my lord?" Nah'tak queried. Sometimes the god's questions were rhetorical; it was wise to ask.

"Yes, if you believe you have some understanding of this I do not."

"Only the simple understanding which comes from being a lesser being, and therefore more familiar with the mind and emotions of my peers than one as exulted as yourself."

Chronos smothered a smile at the carefully diplomatic reply of his subordinate, and motioned for him to continue.

"Daniel does not understand your ways. He does not realise the depths of your concern, nor does he comprehend his good fortune. All he knows is that he has been torn from his life, the people he loves, has had his freedom taken from him. The Tau'ri put a great price on freedom. They value it above all other things."

"Freedom!" Chronos scoffed. "They are fools to believe in such illusions. There is no such thing as freedom. There is only order, control and the power one derives from being the one who controls, imposes the order. One commands or one follows. There is nothing else. All else is self-delusion."

"That may be so," Nah'tak nodded faintly in agreement. "Yet they believe in it. They fight passionately for it, die for it. They dare to attempt to defy you and the other gods in the name of it."

"An amusing arrogance," Chronos smiled faintly. "Children presuming they may tell their parents what is best for them. We will let them have their paltry rebellion for a little while. But the day will come when we will draw these unruly children back into line. Then they will understand how ridiculous their notion they were ever truly free really was."

Chronos lapsed into another silent contemplation of Daniel for a few minutes. When he spoke again, it was in a softer voice, not looking at the man he was addressing.

"There is more, isn't there?" he asked a little sadly. "Come, you can tell me. I know he talks to you."

Nah'tak did as he was bidden, knowing he was safe in speaking the truth.

"You hurt him, my lord. He fears you. He does not believe you will not hurt him again."

There was genuine unhappiness on the face of the man who turned to look at Nah'tak.

"I tell you truly, I have never in my life regretted a single thing I have done. But I regret this." He looked back at Daniel as he continued, as he could not bear to have his eyes leave his face for more than a few seconds. "I regret that moment of foolish anger more than you will ever know. "

"Then perhaps you should tell him that," Nah'tak said gently, moved to great concern by the manifest unhappiness of his god. "As you have spoken it to me. If you express yourself as plainly, as honestly, I am sure he will listen. I know it would be difficult - to speak to him as a mere man - but perhaps that is what you must do if you have any hope of gaining his trust and understanding. He is afraid of the god. Perhaps he would be less terrified of a man."

The expression on Chronos' face clearly conveyed he was intrigued by what his First Prime was saying.

"Is that why he trusts you, then - because you are merely a man? I know he trusts you - he likes you. He does not cry out when you touch him."

"That is a part of it," Nah'tak nodded. "But only a part. He trusts me because he knows I expect nothing from him in return for my service. He may freely take the help I offer him because he knows it will not cost him anything. He is free to accept it. He is also free - to refuse it."

"You serve him the same way you serve me," Chronos added quickly, an excited light in his eyes. "Because you wish to. Out of love. I begin to understand."

Chronos went silent again, deeply pondering what he had just heard. Nah'tak waited, equally silently.

"This freedom - this ability to choose - it is that important to him?" the System Lord finally said. "I must contemplate these concepts. They are very strange to me. Service for its own sake - with no expectation of gain or reward...

He broke off suddenly.  “Did Daniel ask you if his Jack was alive?”  The question was asked quickly, in a sharp, almost cutting tone.

“He did,” Nah’tak returned mildly.  “I answered him truthfully.

“I almost wish it not so.  But I promised him I would not hurt this Jack.  I am bound by my word.  I will let him be.”

Chronos lay down beside the sleeping man, very close to him, but not touching.
“Nah’tak,” he asked softly in a tone almost wistful.  “Do you think Daniel will ever love me?”

“That I cannot say, my lord,” Nah’tak replied in a voice touched with compassion,  “There is no knowing or predicting the mysteries of the heart.  I do believe I can tell you that kindness, patience and time will greatly help in making him more kindly disposed toward you.  But love – I do not know.”

 “I will stay here for awhile,” Chronos murmured. “You may leave us.  Come back in an hour.  Have Delios bring that woman he has assigned to Daniel.  She will attend him.  I need you with me.  Unfortunately, we must go back to work.”  The System Lord sighed, reached out a hand to touch Daniel, and then put it back down at his side.  “The evening cannot come soon enough….”

Luena closed the door to Daniel’s room gently so as to not disturb the man who slumbered within.  That accomplished, she turned to smile reassuringly at the tall black man at her side.  “Daniel sleeps now.  Therefore, so can he.  Come, walk with me, talk.  Jack will not need us for a little while.  We have time.”

“Do you not require sleep as well?”  Teal’c asked her in a slightly curious voice.

“Eventually, she returned.  “But not quite yet.”

They walked down the corridor, neither one speaking for a few moments.  “Daniel suffers greatly,” the Telshar woman said finally.  “Jack has been able to be of much help to him.  He has grasped the technique rather quickly.  I am most impressed with his progress.  I don’t believe he will be able to actually affect the description, that requires a dreamer of much power – but he might eventually be able to see as well as feel.  Very impressive.  Interesting,” she paused and favoured the Jaffa with a crooked smile.  “I’m a little surprised he was able to pick this up so quickly.  Powerful emotional motivations aside, Jack doesn’t strike me as the meditative type.”

“It was once necessary for me to instruct him in a Jaffa meditative technique called Kal-noo-reem,” Teal’c answered.  “He proved to be an adequate student.”

“Sure he’d be thrilled to hear your assessment,” Luena said with a small laugh.  “Still, explains a few things.  I knew he’d done it before.”

“I do not understand this dreaming you refer to,” Teal’c continued.  “You imply it is a meditative technique, and yet it would seem it is much more than that.”

“Dreaming is dreaming,” Luena shrugged.  “I’ve never had to explain it before.  Not sure if I can.  I just – do it.”  She was silent for a few moments.  “Let me think….” She murmured.

“All right.  What you see all around you – is illusion,” Luena began.  “We only think it is real, when what it really is is merely a description we all have agreed on and all maintain through constant internal repetition.  But we have so convinced ourselves of the reality of the description we are all trapped in it.  When in truth, what is ‘real’ – the true ‘reality’ is everything which is not included in the description.  What is true, what is real – can be found and known in the dreaming.”

“I do not believe I understand you,” Teal’c said slowly.  “What is real is really illusion and what is in dreams is what is really real?”

“Ahhhh, not quite,” Luena laughed.  But close.  The dreaming isn’t merely that which can be accessed in dreams – and yet dreams are a part of it.  You can learn to use your dreams to enter into the dreaming, and effect changes in the description through your activities in your dreaming dreams.  This is very difficult, but it can be done.  I happen to be very good at it.  Not as good at seeing.  Matarei – she sees the clearest of all of us.”

“Explain what you mean by seeing,” Teal’c said, his interest evident in his tone and expression.

“This is even harder to explain.” Luena frowned. Everything that is and will be is outside of the description.  It exists, in reality, exists in the dreaming.  Being able to see it is not quite enough.  You also have to be able to understand what you are seeing – and that’s the really difficult part.  People ‘see’ all the time, even in their ordinary dreams.  But they don’t know what they are seeing, don’t remember what they dream, at best are able to bring forward what they learn as a vague sense of knowing something they don’t know how they know.  A feeling, a premonition.  If they are sensitive or in any way knowing, they heed the information and act appropriately.  Most people dismiss these feelings and hunches, and thereby lose opportunities.”

“I find this very fascinating,” Teal’c looked at the Telshar woman beside him and smiled.

“Do you?”  she returned, giving him a deeply assessingly look.  “Your Jaffa meditative techniques just might give you an edge.  You just might be able to – would be interesting if you – I could certainly use the help…. ”  She was silent for a few moments, the expression on her face clearly indicating she was thinking something over.

At last she seemed to reach some sort of a decision.  “Teal’c, how are you about trying new things?”

“What did you have in mind?” the Jaffa responded, one eyebrow climbing rapidly, indicating his uncertainty over the nature of her request.

“ Teal’c - how would you like to learn how to dream?”  she grinned at him, her green eyes glinting mischievously.

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