"Doesn't matter, Sam," the man slumped in the front passenger seat replied. "Just - drive. You checked this crate out, right? It's clean?"
"Yes," Martouf piped up from the backseat, sparing a moment to glance uneasily at the pair flanking him on either side, neither one seeming to grant him more than a grudging tolerance of his presence.
"Well, that's something," Jack continued. "Just - just gimme a moment folks. I'll be with you in a minute. Hope it's not too cozy for you back there."
"We will be fine, O'Neill," Teal'c's deep voice rumbled through the passenger compartment.
Wish I could say the same, my friend.
Sam continued to guide the vehicle down the road as its occupants silently waited for its owner to be able to speak to them. Jack was leaning forward, resting his head on the hands gripping the dashboard. He was breathing deeply, clearly fighting for control. Sam took her eyes from the road to spare him a sidelong glance of concern as his head finally came up.
He was whiter than a sheet, the lines of his face deeply etched with the strain of what he was enduring, but his eyes were clear and burning with determination. She had seen that look a thousand times. Never failed to give her sagging spirits a sudden, much-needed boost of confidence whenever she did. It meant the colonel had a plan.
"Okay campers, " he began, his voice suddenly sounding stronger, more certain than it had in quite a while. "I suppose you're wondering why I've called you all here."
"Well, it is a nice day and all," Sam quipped, feeling heartened by the visual evidence the colonel was rallying, "though somehow I think you have more than sight-seeing on your mind."
"Figured right. We had to get away from the base because we've been a pack of idiots. What we've been looking for has probably been under our noses the whole time, we've just been looking for the wrong thing."
"Please explain, O'Neill," Teal'c said.
"We've been looking for this Ashrak. Assuming he was someone we could find. A Goa'uld - masquerading as one of the SGC. And that's wrong."
"What makes you say that, Jack?" Luena asked.
"Well, let's just think about this for a minute," Jack replied, rubbing his eyes and grimacing. "A Goa'uld would have the best chance of infiltrating the complex by hitching a ride in someone already cleared to be there, but that's too risky. Right now, sitting in this vehicle are no less than four people who can make him. No way he could've gotten close enough to either Danny or me as he needed to and not get rumbled. No way it could've happened. Doesn't make sense.
"And then there's the problem of the impersonation itself. If he was hiding in someone like say - oh - the Doc. Just for instance. And it would have to be someone like the Doc. Someone who would have a regular reason to be in the more sensitive areas of the complex. Would have to walk and talk like the Doc - act like her all the time. 'Be' her. Perform her duties, her tasks, and be tied down to where the Doc could reasonably expect to be at any given place and time. Too restrictive. Also too risky. Any slips, any attempts to step outside the Doc's role would draw attention. Especially now. We're all looking at each other pretty close. The mountain's a pretty paranoid place.
"Then there's the logistical problems of making reports and getting stuff back and forth while operating behind enemy lines. Okay, he could use one of those - long distance... crystal ball... thingees, I suppose, to stay in contact with his boss, but the other stuff? Danny's stuff that's gone missing?
"We can only assume he took it, although I can't think of anyone else who would want it. And if that's true we can only assume his stuff was taken because, for whatever reason, Chronos wanted it. If that is in fact the case, then how did the Ashrak get it to Chronos? How did he even get here in the first place, for that matter?
"No time for Chronos to have set up anything sophisticated. Besides, why bother when it's already here."
"Don't follow you, sir," Sam murmured.
"He's using the Stargate," Jack replied grimly. "Our Stargate. Right under our noses. The same way he is just walking in and out and all around as happy as you please, without anyone even suspecting he's there. It's why I had to get us away from the base. Only way I could be absolutely sure he wasn't in the room, listening to every word."
"Oh SHIT!" Sam expostulated, slamming her hand on the steering wheel in a gesture of self-directed anger. "The stealth device! A human using one of the phase-shifters! Man - why didn't I - so stupid! Of course! He could wait until a team was going off-world, just walk through the gate with them, wait till they were gone, do what he needed to do and then go back through when they came home."
Her voice died away as she realised something else. She turned, looked at Jack, saw the warning in his eyes.
Let me tell him. We've got them where we want them.
"Marty!" Jack began in a bright voice, turning in the seat so he could look back at their Tok'ra guest. "By now you must be wondering why I wanted you along on this little joyride. Especially as you can't have missed the fact you and yours are not my most favorite - whatevers - at the moment."
"The phrase 'no love lost' certainly does spring to mind," Martouf replied dryly. "I presume you are now about to tell me."
"Got it in one. You're here, my friend - and I use the term loosely - because you are going to help us get Danny back, cause if you don't you aren't going to make it back to your buddies to warn them."
"Warn them?" Martouf's voice was puzzled.
Clearly enjoying himself, Jack flashed Sam a rakish grin before he turned his attention back to the Tok'ra in the back seat.
"See, having a snake doesn't make you as smart as you would like to have people believe. Yeah, Marty, you guys have a big problem. Right now, Chronos could know where your new base is. That Ashrak could've followed you and Sam out when you left - could've gotten the address you dialled from the decoy destination. Right now, all your buddies could be on the endangered species list. And unless you go back there and tell them, they're not going to know, are they?"
"What do you want?" Martouf's eyes flashed golden as Lantash's clipped, angry voice launched itself at Jack.
"I WANT that Ashrak!" Jack shot right back at him. "And I want Danny. I'll let you go back and warn the others on one condition, and one condition only. I have your solemn word the Tok'ra will help us unreservedly to rescue Danny. I don't care about your agendas and your plans - you guys OWE us. I expect you to make good on the obligation and I warn you - if you don't, I personally will not rest until I have hunted every single one of you down - and burned you!"
"What do you need from us?" Lantash said quietly.
"It's a deal?" Jack pressed.
"We need to find that Ashrak, but we need to do it on the sly. His little cloak of invisibility is our ticket through the gate. We could find him using the TERs, but that is not the best way to go on two fronts. Just in case he has any more tricks up his sleeve - not saying he does, but don't want to take the chance he can teleport out of there or something if he gets wise to us. Don't want him to know we are looking for him.
"Also don't want any of our guys to know what we are doing either, cause if they do, when we catch him they'll just take the stealth device away and we'll be right back where we started. Grounded."
"You wish to know if we have a less.conspicuous.. version of the detection technology," Lantash replied, a small smile on his face.
"Given what you guys do for a living I figured it would be a fairly safe bet," Jack countered, still not giving an inch.
"You are correct. We can furnish all of you with such a thing. Much smaller, easy to conceal, extremely effective."
"Okay, now we're talking." Jack's grim expression softened slightly. "So, here's the next offer. To sweeten the pot a bit. Again, you guys gotta give your word you're with us when it comes to Danny. The stealth device. You help us get it and help us to duplicate it - you get to keep it. Can't be any fairer than that."
"Indeed," Lantash smiled. "An extremely useful piece of technology. We have very much wished to acquire it. Your terms are agreeable."
"Glad to hear it," Jack allowed a faint smile to visit his face. "Glad you decided to see it our way, guys. Otherwise I was going to tell Sam here to pull over and shoot you. She'd do it too."
"And if she would not, I would be more than happy to oblige," Teal'c intoned ominously.
"Pick a number," Luena echoed in a low, throaty voice, beaming a feral grin at the man sitting beside her.
"We're not usually this bloodthirsty but it's been a bad week, you understand." All traces of amusement were gone from Jack's features. "Just keep this conversation in mind, should you or your buddies have any funny ideas about double-crossing us. Don't make us mad. Trust me. You don't want to see us mad."
"Okay, Sam, head it back," Jack turned away from Lantash, allowing himself to finally sink back into the support of the seat back. "You guys keep on pretending to look for the Ashrak. Sam, you and Marty head back as you are supposed to. Round up the portable TERs and hop on back here as soon as you can. We'll just hang tight until you return. By the time the Tok'ra have finished pulling up stakes and relocating, we should have bagged the Ashrak. We'll work out some sort of rendezvous details and I'll send Lu with the device out to you, she won't be missed as much as Teal'c or I would be. You can make a few more, keep one for yourselves, bring the others back and SG-1 is on the way. Think that just about covers it."
"I think I should not like to have you for an enemy, O'Neill," Lantash said in a quiet, sincere voice. "I should like to apologise for the circumstances resulting in this barrier of mistrust between your people and mine. Given what has already happened it is probably unlikely, still, I hope one day to be able to call you friend."
"Anything is possible," Jack replied softly. "We get Danny out of this in one piece and if you have anything to do with it you've definitely got a friend for life. But I still wouldn't let you date my sister. If I had one. Christ, Carter, who taught you to drive, your grandmother? Step on it, will ya? We there yet? I gotta lie down.."
They were fighting a war. Bringing a quick, decisive end to an interstellar conflict bitterly raging for a number of years about the rights of ownership to the planet the two factions had been fighting over. The dispute was about to come to an end. The matter was about to be settled. The will of Chronos would prevail in this situation. He was intervening at the request of those he sought help from as the price of their aid. There would be peace at last for a race that had not known it for many, many years.
All for the sake of one man.
Chronos had barely paused upon learning of the disappearance of the doctor. He had not dared use the sarcophagus for fear of causing further problems and the sudden absence of any other shipboard options for medical intervention instantly decided him; spurred by his fear of Daniel's unchanging condition, he'd quickly headed the ship towards the nearest planet in the sector possessing a technologically advanced human civilisation.
As she had hoped.
They were currently orbiting Toris Nar. A planet not in the gate network, colonised by humans who called themselves the Asar. The Asar currently possessed technology slightly more advanced than the Tau'ri but not quite at par with the Goa'uld. Also at approximately the same level technologically as the Asar were their enemies, the Res, a non-human, reptilian species looking to expand their interests into the sector by establishing a colony for their race on Toris Nar. The fact the planet was already inhabited was a minor technicality the Res had been seeking to rectify for a number of years, much to the dismay of the current residents.
She wasn't in a position to know the details of the battle; what little she had been able to learn had been from listening to snatches of conversations caught in passing, and by watching the martial activity galvanising the ship. Squadrons of def-gliders had been launched. Squads of Jaffa marched through the corridors. She had even heard two other motherships had joined them in answer to Chronos' summons.
The thought of being able to summon such power at a whim made a thrill of excitement enervate Kirma's restlessly roving thoughts. It was so hard to stand here meekly, so hard to be still, head slightly bowed in deference to the presence of Chronos as she watched him silently ministering to the burning man in the bed.
Chronos seemed perfectly content to leave the waging of his war to his First Lord of War and his First Prime. Instead of being at the head of his forces, instead of leading the way into battle he was sitting here, wiping the fevered brow of the insignificant Tau'ri who had seemingly caused him to completely lose all sense of reason.
The situation was beyond her comprehension.
Soft moans issued from the suffering man; it seemed as if Daniel was waking up again. For the last day he had briefly surfaced from his coma to drift incoherently through small patches of consciousness dominated by the pain and confusion of fever-induced delirium. He'd known nothing, been incapable of any sort of coherent response.
Since the time he had originally fallen unconscious to this moment Chronos had barely left his side. What matters could be attended to without leaving Daniel he had personally addressed. What could not, he'd sent forth Nah'tak as his proxy to act in his stead.
Once again, Kirma found she could not fathom this. How a being with Chronos' power and authority could be so unmindful, so uncaring of it for the sake of one man. Such a paltry, limited creature at that. It seemed to demonstrate a fundamental weakness in the System Lord she had never suspected existed. While it was useful for her purposes still, she found discovering it existed vaguely disappointing.
How it could be Chronos' weakness was a thing so - ordinary and trivial. Extremely disappointing. She had expected much more from a System Lord who had achieved the power and status of Chronos. The weakness he displayed uncaring to her was - unseemly and sickening.
All the more indicative he did not deserve to hold the power he wielded.
The Tau'ri's moans of pain were becoming louder, more frantic. He began to thrash about. With revolting tenderness Chronos gathered him into his arms, whispering lowly to him as he sought to calm him.
"Daniel," he said gently. "It's all right. Be still. We will get help for you very soon. This will end. I promise."
"Jack." The utterance was a barely audible exhalation. "Hurts..Jack."
Chronos flinched at the sound of the name. The other Tau'ri. His 'friend'. In his time of need Daniel called not to the one with him, the one who cared for him, but called instead to another. More irony. More reason why everything she was seeing made no sense.
For in the face of this blatant betrayal the System Lord did not forsake him. Quite the opposite; Chronos began to gently stroke his head, the soothing touch seeming to calm him. The Tau'ri began to cease his restless movements, his cries grew quieter.
"Better," Daniel murmured. "Feels good, Jack."
"I'm here, Daniel," Chronos replied. "Rest now. You're safe."
"Good...love you, Jack."
"I love you too, Daniel."
Love! Is that all it was? Kirma had no doubt now, Chronos was doomed.
Nah'tak entered the suite, moving quietly, making his way to Chronos. Ah, no doubt bringing more news of the battle! Kirma struggled to quell her rising excitement as she impatiently waited for Nah'tak to speak.
Chronos did not immediately acknowledge the man who stood patiently beside him, awaiting his pleasure. He quietly stroked Daniel's hair a few moments longer, then turned to look at Nah'tak before addressing him.
"They are ready for me?" he said in a flat, dull voice.
"Yes, my lord," Nah'tak bowed deeply. "With Lord Xantos' compliments, he has sent me to advise you the matter is successfully concluded. Your presence is required to decide the fate of the Res. The Asar delegation is also aboard; they are more than eager to know your wishes so as to know how to please you."
No! So soon! Time! Need more time.
"As well they should be," Chronos murmured, a faint smile stealing across his face. "The Res will serve to emphasis the fragility of their position. I allowed the Asar to make demands of me because taking the action they wished served my purposes. I believe it is now time to show them what befalls those who earn the anger of Chronos. As a way of underscoring the importance they not fail me in the service I have duly purchased from them."
Chronos leaned down, kissed Daniel on the forehead and then laid him gently back down on the bed before rising to face his First Prime.
"Very well. Take Daniel to the Asar delegation and go with him to the surface. They are immediately to devote all their resources to helping him. I will join you as soon as I have given Lord Xantos his instructions. Make sure the Asar understand the price of failure. They will only have to look as far as the fate of the Res to see the future of their own race should they be unable to help Daniel.
"Attend him!" Chronos snapped at Kirma as he walked past her.
Then he was gone; leaving her feeling deeply angered and frustrated. She had been counting on the war lasting longer, having some time away, time alone to make her arrangements. No time. There had been no time. She'd hoped to have her new ally's forces already on Toris Nar before Daniel was brought there, hoped Chronos would be distracted by the war and therefore not as vigilant over his pet. The fool was not making this easy.
She continued to plot and fume in frustrated anger as she watched Nah'tak tenderly wrap Daniel in a silken coverlet and then lift him carefully into his arms. The delirious man stirred only once during the process. After calling to his friend he was quiet again.
She hated him. Ridiculous, weak human. If this stupid, insignificant man who seemed to steal the reason of everyone who met him wasn't essential to her plans she'd deal with him the same way she'd dealt with the other fools who'd tried to stop her. She'd still see Daniel dead the instant she was through with him.
"Come, then," Nah'tak said gruffly to her as he started up the stairs.
I'll see you dead, too.
"Gentlemen, you have had several hours to arrive at a determination of Daniel's condition. I have asked you a simple question. I expect an answer. What is wrong with him?"
The esteemed director of Toris Nor's most prestigious medical and research facility trembled beneath the searing gaze of the System Lord. Several hours, several days, several lifetimes, he doubted it would make any difference. This maniac was going to burn their entire world to the ground the same way he had eradicated the Res unless they had an answer for him. Which - they did not. Nor were they in any way close to having what Chronos wanted of them.
It was as much as they deserved. As much as was their due for making a deal with the Bringer of Woe. The demon Hatak's representative was a fit minion of his dark master; surely now they would know the folly of seeking salvation from an oppressor worse than those he had defeated for them.
Think, Tallin, Think. There must be something...
"Forgive me, my Lord Chronos, Tallin Ni blurted out finally as his mind groped desperately for his response. "This is indeed a challenging medical problem. I - I would not wish to make a diagnosis until we have completed..all our tests. We detected a faint anomaly during his last seizure. Certain irregularities at a quantum level. I think we need to do a complete quantum resonance scan. To be completely thorough. Such a scan will..will take..time, my lord."
"How much time?" Chronos replied in a low voice.
"Five or six hours," Tallin Ni replied, barely suppressing the urge to run screaming from the piercing glare of the demonic golden eyes.
Chronos smiled menacingly at him as he gently stroked the head of the comatose man on the diagnostic couch in a manner not unlike the way Tallin Ni habitually stroked his pet li-na when it curled up in his lap.
"Then your world has six hours. After that time, if you do not have an answer for me you may expect to no longer have to worry about the problem. Or any other."
Tallin Ni stared at him, wondering if six hours was enough time to complete the catalogue of his transgressions for its presentation to the Divine Nyah Non at his final assessment. As his shortcomings flashed before his eyes the entire room was filled with an intense white light obliterating the senses of everyone standing in it, carrying them off into unconsciousness.
Hot, so hot. Awake? Hard to tell. Hurts. Must be.must be awake. Someone... touching... Jack?
"Well, that's put everyone out for a while. Finally, some peace and quiet!"
Voice. Man's voice. Not Jack. Who? Voice...familiar...
"Sorry it took me so long to get here, Daniel. You wouldn't believe the way the work has been stacking up. Bloody universe is in such a dreadful mess. And my counterpart took his sweet time telling me you were here. When your distress signal showed up in the system we didn't know WHAT to think for a minute! Personally I have enough problems worrying about what is going on in my own reality without worrying about everybody else's!"
"Easy now, don't try to talk. Just relax. I'm going to set you to rights just as soon as I..Holy Hannah, what have these Philistines been doing to you? Bloody primitives!"
Voice...who IS it? Almost...almost have it... Wait! What...What is he saying?
"Damn, what a mess! Wasn't expecting this! Give me a minute..ah, I see what the problem is. Damn! Healing device, right? Bloody thing has creamed the camouflage subroutine. You're stuck on 'sick,' Daniel. The program is continuing to make your body simulate the conditions of the last stimulus it received, which doesn't seem to be anything too pleasant from the looks of you.
"And that's just part one. Ah. NUTS! Perfect! This was all we needed. Next time I see the other me I'm gonna punch him in the face! He didn't fit you with a compensator before he sent you over here, Daniel. Probably figured as it would be at least a year before the cascade tremors started hitting I would pick up the slack. But he wasn't counting on you getting zapped by some rather harsh Goa'uld technology in the interim. Oh good, doesn't look like you've had a session in the sarcophagus, let's just all give thanks for small miracles, would've really complicated things, and they're plenty screwed up enough already, believe me. Bloody hell, damn and crap!"
Daniel finally managed to push his eyes open. The image of the man above him swirled madly for an instant as Daniel struggled to focus. Black, all in black. White hair. Knew this man.
"Dreaming?" Daniel was barely able to get the word out.
The night-clad man raised his eyes from the instrument in his hand and smiled kindly down into the feverish blue eyes beneath him.
"Yes, Daniel," he said kindly. "You're dreaming. Don't worry about it; just close your eyes and rest. I'll fix you up in no time."
Still puzzled, not reassured, Daniel tried to fight his way through the confusion clouding his awareness, tried to focus on what the man was doing and saying. No matter what he had just said.wasn't a dream. He was awake. Barely, but awake. The man was saying things, strange things. Whatever he was saying, it was important. Had to listen. Had to understand.
"Cascade?" he gasped. "Camouflage? Other - other you? What - what are you talking about?"
The silver-haired man grinned at him. "Crikey - he wasn't kidding! You're a sharp little tack, aren't you? See it's not going to be easy staying one step ahead of you! You see, Daniel, you're not really from around here, and this has caused some unforeseen problems. Nothing we can't handle, but this little sortie isn't going to be quite as cut and dried as I'd originally figured."
The man with the kind grey eyes ran the instrument over him a few times, frowning slightly as he did so. "Really should have you back in the shop to completely take care of this, but that's not possible right now. So I'm just going to have to make do for the moment." He smiled reassuringly and patted Daniel on the shoulder. "But don't you worry, I'm an old hand at thinking fast on my feet. And you should see what I can do with a rubber band, a bobby pin and a wad of chewing gum! All right, now, Daniel, just lie still. This will straighten things out a bit, take the pain away."
Daniel did as he was told; sighing with relief as his body was filled with a sudden feeling of lightness followed by the immediate cessation of pain. Not hurting anymore. Didn't feel sick. Felt - so much better not to feel bad.
A gentle hand was patting him on the head. "There you go now, lad, better now, isn't it? This will hold you for a while until we can take you home and set you properly to rights. That will have to wait for a bit. I'm sorry, but it can't be helped. Also sorry I'm going to have to leave you here. If it makes you feel any better, I argued for taking you out, but was outvoted. We've run quite a few probability projections, done some checking in a few alternate realities where the timeline is a little different. Don't get a swelled head or anything, but you've made quite a splash wherever you've been. More than made a difference. You're not done here yet, Daniel. Not by half.
"Going to put you to sleep now, my brother. When you wake up, you'll be fine, but you won't remember any of this. Won't remember me, or anything you've heard. Sorry I have to do this, but believe me, it's better this way. You'll be much happier.not knowing.
"Wait!" Daniel cried, trying to open his eyes, not succeeding. Hard, so hard, trying to stay awake when all he wanted to do was sleep. "What... what am I?"
"Never mind," the voice said from far, far away. Getting farther. "It doesn't matter. Just..sleep. Forget.."
Couldn't resist the voice. Too strong. Do what it says..
To be awakened again by the feeling of strong arms around him, hugging him fiercely. Confused, disorientated, Daniel opened his eyes to find himself crushed in the embrace of the System Lord. Chronos was almost hysterical with the euphoria of his relief and happiness. Relief about him.
He - he'd been sick. Guess he had been. Guess it was bad. Not bad now, feeling fine. Where was he? What was going on? Not on the ship. Didn't feel like the ship. Surroundings were strange. Didn't look like any Goa'uld décor he had ever seen. Bunch of people over there, wearing long, shiny coats. Looked human. Also looked pretty scared.
Well, Dorothy, this definitely wasn't Drasha anymore. This was just a guess, but it would seem matters had moved on since he was last conscious. Before Daniel had a chance to voice any questions Chronos was swinging him off the - table - he was lying on, clutching him close, kissing him hard and full in plain sight of everyone looking at them. He removed his mouth from Daniel's long enough to cry, "You are well again!" before launching yet another attack of osculation upon the almost overwhelmed man in his arms.
Nah'tak pushed away the smile of satisfaction at his god's happiness from his face and turned to gravely address the group of Asar medical personnel and dignitaries.
"The God Chronos is most grateful for your assistance in the realisation of this miracle. You may be assured he is every bit as generous in his gratitude as his anger. You may now count yourselves a very fortunate people indeed."
The head of the Asar government stepped forward, nervously licking his lips. He was a tall, sparely built individual, well past his prime. His long, timeworn face was deathly pale; his light blue eyes darted nervously about the room before finally coming to meet those of the man addressing him.
"The Asar wish to extend our most heart-felt gratitude for the assistance the - ah - God Chronos has rendered to our people and - and may we also express our pleasure at being able to be of some small service to him."
Nah'tak bowed slightly to him. "Well spoken, Regulator Naus," the Jaffa intoned.
Orin Naus gulped, and risked a look back at his colleges who were arranging to look elsewhere. Finding no help there he turned back to Chronos' representative.
"If we might be so bold as to presume..we wish to inquire if the god would deign to accept our hospitality. We would show our gratitude. Thank the saviour of our planet. There would be a celebration, a ceremony.that is.if it would be pleasing.."
With a growing sense of alarm Daniel felt himself being resolutely pushed back onto the table by the relentless advance of Chronos' ardour.
God! He's going to ravish me right in front of the whole company if I don't get him off me! Now!
Daniel gritted his teeth, placed his hands firmly on Chronos' chest and pushed him away. Hard. The System Lord reeled back a step, hot anger flared in his dark eyes, but Daniel was ready for it, and him.
"Not now!" he said a little coyly, inclining his head toward the group behind them. "They're waiting for you. You did just save their world."
That's what the tall guy said, anyway. Why do I have a feeling there's more to the story and I'm not going to like it?
Daniel held his breath, hoping he'd read the situation right, hoping he hadn 't overstepped himself. Chronos glowered darkly at him a moment longer, his expression no longer as angry as it was - petulant. The System Lord was...pouting!
"You are correct to remind me of this," he said grudgingly. "This is such a bother. I disposed of the Res for them, now they must fawn and shower me with tokens of their gratitude. Tedious. But unfortunately necessary. Now that you are well again, I want only to be with you."
Chronos moved in close to him again, caressing his cheek tenderly, his eyes shining with a strange combination of lust and adoration.
"You will be very pleased with me," he said softly. "My only desire was to help you, but that need has resulted in great goodness for these people. I liberated a world for you. Brought an end to a war. Does this not make you happy?"
Something about the way Chronos said the words made Daniel's blood run cold. His heart raced with fear in his chest, the hand on his face, the arm pulling him close made his skin go cold.
"What have you done?" He could barely get the words out, dread squeezing his throat almost shut. "What do you mean - liberating a world - stopping a war - disposing of the Res? Oh my God, what have you done?"
Smiling as if he was presenting Daniel with a priceless gem, Chronos told him exactly what he had done.
"I did it for you". That's what he said. Did it for me? My god, my god..an entire race...wiped out...for...for me? Can't - can't deal with this..monstrous! This is monstrous! All dead...my fault. All my fault.. What am I going to do?
Daniel had no idea what was going on around him, was barely aware of being shunted out at Chronos' side as he was taken - somewhere - and cleaned up. Completely uncaring of where he was and what was being done to him he submitted to Kirma's non-too-gentle ministrations and in due course was hosed down and dressed up.
Still deeply immersed in his shock and misery, he sleepwalked beside Chronos through the nightmarish parade of ensuing events. Oblivious to everything. Oblivious also to the long looks Chronos was giving him, glances becoming increasingly less indulgent, more puzzled, more frequent and finally, impatient and angry.
Daniel was unaware of Chronos' growing discontent with the manifest unhappiness of his companion. Nor did he suspect the reason.
Now they were at some kind of banquet. Daniel was only dimly aware of his surroundings. Unable to look at the food or anyone at the table he sat at Chronos' side in miserable silence, bowing his head over the hands in his lap, trying not to see visions of burning children in his mind's eye.
He didn't notice when someone spoke to him, was briefly distracted from his unhappiness when he was grabbed roughly by the arm and shook. But he didn't care; all he wanted to do was tumble back into his pit of despair and was well on his way to achieving this when the unexpected shock of real pain rudely intruded. The gripped arm was wrenched; he was jolted painfully back to full awareness by a sharp, stinging blow across his face snapping his head around and alerting him, finally, far too late, to the very real danger he was in.
Chronos was seething with anger, shaking him. "What is WRONG with you?" he hissed. "Regulator Naus was speaking to you! ANSWER him!"
Daniel looked up at him uncomprehending. He didn't even know who Regulator Naus was.
"I'm - I'm sorry.what?" It was all he was able to say.
There was a voice on the other side of him, a man trying to say something to smooth over the incident, but Chronos was having none of it. He was pissed. Oh boy, he was definitely pissed. Oh god. He was in trouble.
"Does NOTHING I do please you?" Chronos growled menacingly at him. "I tend to you night and day, I save your life, - I save a world for you and still - still you will not even LOOK at me. What have I done wrong THIS time? How have I offended? I tire of this! This is no longer acceptable. I will tolerate this no longer."
Chronos got to his feet, pulling Daniel up with him. The System Lord turned to cast a haughty gaze at the now quiet, quite frightened members of the Asar seated about the table.
"My business is concluded here," he said curtly to his new subjects. "I take my leave of you. Lord Ister will remain here as my proxy. He will instruct you as to what will be expected of you as a member of my Protectorate. I have every expectation you will treat him with the same degree of respect and obedience you show me. I will return soon to see how things are progressing. You may continue with your meal."
Chronos whirled and stalked away from the table and out of the huge banquet hall. He dragged Daniel bobbing helplessly behind him like a buoy caught in the wake of a battleship, the fingers clutching his bicep digging in so deeply they were threatening to cut off the circulation.
Chronos said nothing, simply continued to stride across the huge open foyer of the - Daniel assumed it was some sort of official building, but had to admit he didn't honestly know where they were - until he reached the middle. The entourage came to a stop behind them, forming around them. Daniel couldn't spare them a moment's attention. Chronos had pulled him around, was holding his arms tightly, not letting him escape, and not letting him look away. Fury burning in his eyes, such rage. Golden glow around them, guess they were going back up to the ship, but he couldn't look away from the dark coldness blazing at him. So much trouble. He was in so, so much trouble...
He'd pushed the System Lord too far this time. Gotten stupid, gotten careless, complacent. Forgotten exactly who and what he was dealing with. Stupid mistake, Daniel. Really, really stupid. Possibly even fatal. Oh yeah, he was in trouble.
Chronos dragged him stumbling and breathless through the sterile, echoing corridors of the vast ship. The System Lord stalked rapidly forward, hurling commands left and right at the minions he encountered during his swift, determined passage. Daniel knew where they were going. He knew also, from the foaming fury Chronos was working himself into, once they got there, if just getting raped and beaten again was the worst thing to befall him he'd be getting off lucky.
He was surprised at how calm he felt. Part of him was scared, well, who wouldn't be and yet, and yet...
Wasn't just because Jack was there, though it certainly helped. Wasn't just because he'd already been through so much he should be practically numbed well past the point of caring. That wasn't it. He was just calm. Not resigned. Calm.
Well, whatever he was, it wasn't going to do him a damned bit of good now. They were here. Back in Chronos' pristine white, private chamber of horrors, he was dragged across the floor by the scruff of his neck, down the stairs, and hurled on the bed.
Oh dear, this again? Sure I couldn't interest you in a nice game of Crazy Eight's instead? How about Old Maid?
Was this where his life started flashing in front of his eyes? Last moments of existence stuff? Could he have someone else's life? Oh, then he'd have to pick someone, wouldn't he? If he could have someone else' life play to out in his last moments, who would it be? Socrates? Ramses the Great? Hatuspset?
Yosemite Sam? Really, Jack?
Daniel lay sprawled on the vast white bed where Chronos had tossed him, watching with increasingly detached disinterest as the System Lord paced back and forth in front of him, gesturing and screaming. Daniel struggled to pull himself back, to focus, to try and understand what he was saying. Was probably important to pay attention now. Best also not to start giggling. Probably wouldn't go over too well.
Chronos had stopped in front of him, was screaming at him, his face red and swollen with fury.
"Answer me!" he shrieked.
Oh crap, what was the question?
Gaping stupidly at him obviously was the wrong move at this point. Chronos howled, darted a hand forward, fisting it brutally into the material of the front of his robe, yanking him off the bed and toward him. His other hand went back in preparation for its return connection with his face in an open-handed slap.
Well, go ahead, do your worst. Not like I can do anything to stop you. Knock yourself out. Oh, poor choice of words, Daniel.
The hand began to move, describing the arc toward his face. Daniel didn't flinch, didn't let his eyes waver from the anger-inflamed, sinking black pools of darkness in front of him. Here it comes. No fear. Strange, so strange.
Chronos blinked, hesitated. The approaching hand wavered. Something in his eyes. Was it doubt? Fear? Of what? Of - of him?
Chronos was afraid of him?
Gone. It was gone. Now all he could see was unending blackness, more anger and a bottomless, rapacious hunger galloping within the Goa'uld. An unanswered desire getting larger and greedier the longer it was unsatisfied. It had been there for thousands of years, screaming for fulfilment, driving Chronos to give it what it wanted. Knowing it needed - something - but never finding it.
There was nothing else inside him but need. And fear. It drove him. Fuelled his rage. Was the inspiration for all his wanton cruelties. Impelled him to commit endless atrocities in the hopes what he gained from feeding on suffering and the fear of others would satisfy the emptiness within himself.
Hell had a name and a face and he was looking straight into the depths its soul. Far from being its master, Chronos was the slave. The poor unfortunate before him was nothing more than one of the ranks of the damned, a soul shackled and burning in the perpetual fires, writhing in unending torment, every unspeakable act he performed in hopes of slaking the flames only serving to bank them all the hotter.
Poor lost trapped bastard. Who knew how pathetic and futile 'evil' was! If this was what it meant to be immortal - he could keep it!
Well, he knew what Chronos was now. What he couldn't figure out was what Chronos wanted from him. But it looked like he was about to find out.
The hand originally bent on beating him had joined its fellow clutching his clothing. "Mine!" Chronos was shouting, shaking him violently as he did so. "You are MINE! You belong to me! I am your Master! You will confess this! You will swear this! I command you! You will obey me!"
Daniel let his body go limp. Held erect only by the support of the infuriated man before him, Daniel slowly shook his head and smiled.
If he thought Chronos was angry before, it was nothing compared to the slavering, hulking rage instantly possessing the System Lord at the sound of his small but obdurate defiance. Chronos threw back his head and howled again, the primal, keening sound making his bones vibrate. Almost completely mad now, Chronos grasped the hilt of the ornate dagger sheathed at his waist and swiftly withdrew it. Daniel didn't let the blade flashing menacingly over his head distract him.
Don't lose eye contact, no matter what. Stay with him, don't let him get away from you, no matter what he does to try and distract.
The knife quickly descended, met the collar of the robe, and started slicing through it, shredding the garment as Chronos began to madly, wildly hack it from his body. Daniel didn't react as he felt the sharp metal bite into him several times in the process, inscribing thin, clean red lines across his skin. Barely felt the cuts, was unconcerned as his covering was slashed from him, would not let his concentration lapse or falter as the knife was danced shining and red across his vision. Didn't lose the calm control as he was grabbed and hoisted up from the bed while what remained of his clothing beneath him was swept out of the way, as he was turned and hurled naked, face down and bleeding on the soft whiteness beneath him. Still unafraid as he heard the unmistakable sounds of the man behind him struggling to shed his own garments.
If he was going to place an order for the life-of-your-choosing last minute instant replay he'd better make up his mind pretty soon.
Grunting and panting Chronos straddled him, then yanked his head brutally back by pulling on a fistful of the hair. He felt the thin, cold keenness of the knife pressing against the vulnerable expanse of his up-turned, exposed throat.
"You are mine! You belong to me!" Chronos hissed. "Say it! Say it now!"
Daniel closed his eyes. This was it. He said it, or he died. No door number three.
He was not only calm, but also more lucid than he had ever been. Nor had he ever been, while fully conscious, more aware of Jack and everything he was not only feeling, but also thinking. It was almost as if, here, at the end, they were finally, truly one.
And yet, still so very different in who and what they each were. Even now.
He knew what he had to do. Wasn't what Jack wanted him to do. He was sorry about that. But even now, in the very last moments, he couldn't turn away from what he needed to do. Not even for Jack.
...do what he wants, Danny! Say it! Stay alive!
...can't, Jack. Wouldn't be true. Would be a lie.
...who the hell CARES! Tell him what he wants to hear! Jesus! Don't go all noble on me now, baby, lie through your teeth if you have to, just stay alive!
...no. I care. I can't. I won't. I'm sorry. Please try to understand. Some things are more important than survival. They just are. I might die by saying no, but if I buy my life with a lie you'll lose me just as surely. Can you understand that, Jack?
...no...but I love you anyway...
There was more Daniel wanted to say, last moments of knowing the sweet bliss of Jack's thoughts entwined with his own but there was no more time. He still had to face the howling terror outside him seeking to destroy what it could neither possess nor understand. Sending him a kiss flavoured with mingled love and regret Daniel reluctantly pulled free from the touch of Jack's mind and prepared to make his stand.
His eyes flew open and he was back on the bed, the knife at his throat, his life seemingly suspended on the whim of the man who still demanded his surrender and awaited his answer.
However, things weren't always the way they seemed.
"No," Daniel finally responded.
The knife pressed to his throat trembled, as did the man atop him. "How dare you!" Chronos shrieked. "How dare you defy me? Don't you understand? I can kill you - I will kill you!"
Oh, he understood. Chronos sought to camouflage the truth behind a smokescreen of rage, but Daniel heard the fear in his voice. Knew also, as did Chronos, no matter what happened, he'd already won.
"No, you can't," Daniel said quietly, with absolute conviction. "You can't. You won't."
"Obey me!" the voice trembled, faltered.
The body atop him began to shudder with terrible tremors. The hand holding the knife to his throat quaked.
"You will fear me!" the System Lord sobbed. "You will obey me. I am Chronos! No one dares to defy me!"
Daniel was silent, still. For several moments the only sounds were those of Chronos' rapid, terrified breathing.
The voice, when it came at last, was small, almost mournful.
"I don't want to kill you, Daniel."
"Then don't," Daniel said softly, reaching up and putting his hand over the one holding the knife. Chronos didn't stop him as he firmly wrested the weapon from the System Lord's grasp and threw it across the room. The sound of it hitting the floor seemed to release something in Chronos; with a deep, shuddering sob he collapsed on top of Daniel, clutching him tightly as he shook and gasped out the toxic force of his rage and fear.
The danger was past. Daniel lay quietly beneath the man hugging him fiercely as he trembled atop him. He absently stroked one of the arms encircling him, vast wonder possessing him. He wasn't sure exactly what had happened, but one thing he did know now - he had nothing more to fear from Chronos. Chronos hadn't hurt him and couldn't. Not now. Not any more.
What was even more amazing - that Chronos knew this as well.
They lay there a long time. Chronos had calmed, his breathing returning almost to normal when he began to move away enough to allow Daniel to turn toward him. Enabling him to see the eyes of the man beside him for the first time since he'd been thrown here at his apparent mercy.
They were different. Less empty. Something lived within them now, something which had never been there before, newly born, faintly gleaming. Understanding? Hope? Daniel wasn't sure what he was seeing, but knew something had happened to Chronos. That made two of them.
Chronos was looking deeply at him as he lay beside him, his eyes wide with wonder. He reached over, lightly touching the cheek he had bruised on Toris Nar, looking down at the cuts on Daniel's chest, then back up into his eyes.
"I have hurt you again," he murmured, his voice heavy with genuine regret. "You should hate me, but I think you do not. Nor do you fear me."
Daniel shook his head slightly. "There's no reason for me to do either anymore, is there?"
"No," Chronos' words continued to issue forth in an almost dreamy, languid tone, while his eyes roamed reverently over Daniel's face, his own visage rapt with awe and the need to understand.
"How could I have thought I could possess you? I must have been mad. I was mad. Mad to think I wanted to hurt you - could have hurt you. Who are you, Daniel? What are you to have such power over me while I have none over you? You do not fear me. Truly, do not fear me. I never thought knowing this would ever make me glad, but it does.
"I must understand this. Where this courage, this power comes from. I must understand you. Will you help me, Daniel? Will you help me understand?"
Chronos was earnest, ardent, hungry, pleading. Desperate to grasp what he instinctively knew he was seeking and needed. What would truly quell the emptiness within, not what he had formerly looked for to do so in its place.
Unable to speak, but knowing what he had to do, Daniel merely nodded and opened his arms. Chronos looked away as if he did not dare take what was being offered, but then moved toward him, laying his head on Daniel's chest to lie there quietly beside him as Daniel wrapped his arms around him and drew him close.
Chronos was asleep. Right out of it. Snoring like a buzz saw. Wasn't too damn light either.
The man beneath him was far away from such absolving oblivion. He was fully awake and aware. His mind was screaming with the urgent need to get up, move away, put as much distance as he could between himself and the slumbering man sprawled atop him.
Just have to get up, get out of here, go for a walk around the block, I think it's okay to panic now, what in the hell did I just do, and how the hell did I get away with it?
Gritting his teeth, and moving with infinite caution, Daniel held his breath and eased his body out from underneath the System Lord's. Swallowing his impatient need to get up NOW he doggedly moved with excruciating care until he had succeeded in extracting himself without disturbing Chronos.
He stood beside the bed for a moment, wavering dizzily, uncertain of where he was planning to go only knowing he had to go - somewhere. Anywhere..else. Goddamn white room. Everything was white. White and red. White all around, red from him. Hated it. Hated white. Green. Wanted green.
Daniel felt cold and looked down at himself, feeling stupid, clumsy, and dense as he did so. Oh. Maybe he wanted some clothes before he thought about anything else. Christ, almost seemed like a wasted effort these days. Spent more time flapping in the breeze than anything else. Oh well. Clothes. Find some.
Shaking his head to try and clear it Daniel stumbled up the stairs, meaning to make for the room where all the dresses were hanging. He was so oblivious to his surrounding he walked quite unknowing into the strong, wide chest of the man standing at the top of the stairs. Nah'tak's powerful arms enfolded him, almost crushing him.
"Daniel!" The deep voice almost broke with relief. "You are unharmed! I was so afraid for you!"
Nah'tak. What was he doing here? How did he - had he been...had he been outside? Listening? Why?
Daniel could feel the Jaffa shaking as he hugged him fiercely, nearly smothering him with his emphatic embrace. He was plainly mighty relieved about something. Daniel didn't understand the reason for his deep distress, nor his equally vast relief, or even the reason for his very presence. He struggled to understand what Nah'tak was saying, uncomfortable with the idea the First Prime should be in any way upset because of him.
Nah'tak was stroking his head fondly, the action causing Daniel to look up at him. He searched the brimming eyes above him, still not finding the comprehension he needed.
"I am so pleased he did not hurt you." Tears were slipping from the golden eyes now, tracing twin, wet tracks down the dark, lined face. "He was not as angry the last time and he hurt you terribly then. I saw it. Saw everything. I tended to you afterwards, with him. It is part of my - function. To wait upon him, and remove all evidence of his displeasure. Ah, you did not know that. I can see it in your eyes. But why should you?
"I waited outside for it to be over tonight. As I have so very many times before. I was afraid for you. I feared when I entered what I would see this time would be..worse." Nah'tak's face grew soft with wonder as he loosened his grip, unfolded his arms, took Daniel's face in his hands and peered into it as if he could make sense of things simply by looking deeper.
"And yet, you are unharmed." Nah'tak continued in a hushed voice. "Somehow you have tamed him. You have stilled the wrath of God. How? How have you done this, Daniel?"
Daniel found he had no answer, and wasn't capable of speaking even if he did. As Nah'tak continued to cup his face in his huge black hands, the golden eyes lanced deeply inside him. He felt suddenly inadequate, crudely unworthy of the admiration bathing him, the skin of his face burning with denial.
Nah'tak shook his head, his voice tender with realisation and regret. "Forgive me for my part in this. You do not deserve this. You should not be here, Daniel. And yet, so much has changed because you are. Almost as if there is a purpose for your presence; as if it was intended by something larger, wiser than the only will I have ever considered to be divine."
He heard that. That was important. He shouldn't let that go. But first he had to get out of this place. Just get away. Maybe then, he could think more clearly.
"Nah'tak," Daniel blurted, finding he could finally speak. "I want to go to the Arboretum. I - I have to go there. Get out of here. Can you take me?"
Nah'tak smiled fondly at him, putting his large hands on Daniel's naked shoulders to kindly emphasis his point. "Of course, but I should think you would want to go somewhere else first."
Daniel blinked stupidly at him for several seconds before it hit. "Oh yeah," he smiled sheepishly at the amused man before him. "No point in giving the natives any more cheap thrills."
He lingered where he was, swaying slightly, knowing what he had to do, but somehow still unable to come up with the volition to set his body in motion. Nah'tak nodded, squeezed his shoulders and then released him as he said simply, "Wait here." Then he was gone.
Daniel barely had time to miss his comforting nearness before he had returned with a robe and a pair of sandals. Seeing them made Daniel remember he'd lost the ones he'd previously been wearing somewhere along the way whilst being dragged through the ship. Whatever.
With Nah'tak's capable assistance he was soon decent again. And more than anxious to be on his way. The Jaffa gently took his arm and began to lead him from the suite. Daniel looked up at him, grinned faintly and said, "Nah 'tak, I'd really like to start talking to your people, but first, what say you and I have a little conversation about a man called Teal'c, and..God..."
Nah'tak sat cross-legged in the grass beside the man who lay there quietly breathing, lost in a deep, peaceful sleep. Daniel had been a long time coming to this state; many words had passed between them before exhaustion had silenced him. They had spoken of many things which deeply troubled him.
Nah'tak had lived long, seen much. He was a man of much experience, but very limited perspective. He had lived almost three times as long as the man beside him and yet the scope of his vision and awareness was barely half.
He had come into the world knowing a single truth. What he was here for, what he was meant to do, what he was to believe clearly delineated for him by this basic certainty. Living his entire life, judging every experience, finding the basis for every action within the framework provided for him by this one, central truth.
Chronos and his kind were gods. His gods. He was made and born to serve them. That was his one and only purpose. That was all there was. That was all he believed - all he ever needed to believe.
How could this be so when beside him slept a man who was wiser and stronger of heart and will than the one he had always believed was a god? How could Chronos be a god, and yet be a manifestly lesser being than the man he sought to possess? Daniel made no personal claims to be any greater than what he was, and yet had demonstrated in thought, word and deed he was much more than he believed himself to be. Certainly a larger being than the god who had tried to best him and could not.
Daniel was a child in years compared to the ones he had seen, but was infinitely older and wiser in the diversity of his understanding. Daniel's vision was wide, encompassing many truths. Some of which he had taken the patient time to share with him just now.
Daniel had told him much. Much about the other gods he had seen, known, personally been responsible for defeating. Another surprising contradiction. True, stories of these deeds had been circulated by those of his kind, but they had been only stories. Barely whispered rumours of possible events, scarcely more than shadows.
Shadows no more. They were fact. They had indeed happened. He had this from the very man who had not only witnessed them, but had been an integral part of them, a man Nah'tak knew did not lie.
How could a mere man kill a god? Not just one! Ra, Hathor, Seth. All had fallen due to the efforts of this man and his companions. The power of Apophis broken, his queen killed, Nertii's, treachery exposed, Heru'ur denied, driven back. The mightiest of the gods - all defeated. By three 'insignificant' Tau'ri and one of his own kind. It was not possible unless, as Daniel had told him, those he had worshipped and served all his life as such were not gods at all.
The Sho'va who walked at Daniel's side did not believe in the divinity of the god he had betrayed. Teal'c was a name well known among his people. Well-known, reviled - and no longer allowed to be uttered. He was Sho'va. Traitor. Fit only to be cast from the company of his people and killed when he was captured.
So the gods had declared him. Such his people believed of him because it is what they had been told to do. So Nah'tak had thought of him. Until today.
Daniel walked with the Sho'va. Fought beside him, knew his heart and mind, could recount the truth of his actions. Daniel said his name was Teal'c. Teal'c was an honourable man who had seen the truth and burned with a desire to free his people from an oppression they suffered and abetted in unwitting ignorance.
Nah'tak did not know Teal'c, but he knew Daniel. Daniel was an honourable man. Daniel spoke the truth. Daniel had just told him he trusted him as much as he trusted Teal'c. That he was as honourable, noble and brave as the man his god had told him he should hate and despise as Sho'va.
He felt unworthy of the compliment Daniel had just paid him. Nor did he feel he deserved to be compared to a man who rightly wore the epithet assigned to him like a bright badge of honour.
Nah'tak did not know Teal'c. But because of the man who valued them both, he now very much wanted to. Almost as much as he now desired to lift the stain of ' Sho'va' from a name which should never have been touched by it.
There were many things for him to consider, along with Daniel's desire, which he now shared, for his people to hear of these matters as well. Much to consider, but then he saw Chronos making his way through the trees toward them, looking strangely lost and anxious. Looking not at all like himself. This would have to wait.
Nah'tak felt the stirring of a strange sadness within him. Though some things could now never be the same, he suddenly realised his service to Chronos had been based on much more than fear and respect for his divinity. That had become secondary to the larger, more encompassing current basis for his loyalty.
It was this foundation which would serve him now in helping him to decide how to best help the master he had come to love find out what he really was.
"Forgive me, my lord," Nah'tak began as he quickly got to his feet. "I did not mean to distress you. Daniel asked me to bring him here. My god did direct me to obey his Favoured in these small desires, did he not?"
Chronos frowned slightly at Nah'tak's last statement, shaking his head and motioning for his First Prime to sit back down on the grass. The Jaffa instantly complied, looking up at Chronos as he came to a stop by his side, his head bowed. Chronos looked past him, at Daniel, his eyes clouded and distant.
"Don't call me that," he murmured absently before slumping to the grass on Daniel's other side.
"My.." Nah'tak began hesitantly, pausing as he was not sure which 'that' Chronos had been referring to.
"Don't call me a god," Chronos continued in a barely audible voice as he began to stroke Daniel's hair with fierce concentration and devotion. "I have claimed to be such, but it is not so. I am not a god, Nah'tak. I do not know what I am. Except I know I am nothing when I look at him."
Nah'tak said nothing, not wishing to break the amazing silence with words which would mean nothing.
"I must discover what I am," Chronos finally began to speak again. "He has promised to help me do this. I am not what I thought I was. That much is clear to me now. As this is so, I am confessing it to you. I wish to ask your forgiveness for deceiving you, and also to ask, if it is not from believing me to be a god - is there any other reason you would wish to continue to serve me? Now you know there is no reason you should fear and worship me I will not compel you if you do not wish to remain in my service."
Chronos lifted his eyes from Daniel, levelling a look of tired desperation at the man he had all but begged not to desert him. Its naked courage astonished Nah'tak, as did the new, frank openness of the man the Jaffa now knew he could, indeed, continue to serve.
"There is, my lord," Chronos' First Prime informed him with an answering look of quiet pride and deep devotion. "I would be honoured to continue to pledge my loyalty and service to you."
"I thank you," Chronos replied quietly, his eyes bright. "I have much to learn. There is much to do. Much I must change. I am grateful I will have your help."
"I would give it to no one else, my lord."
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