Pure of Heart
Part Eight


"They were warned to surrender or die. They would not comply. They only had themselves to blame for their extermination."

Daniel closed his eyes and expelled a weary sigh. Okay, he'd known this wasn't going to be easy. And it certainly wouldn't happen overnight. However, he hadn't really realized just how difficult a task it was going to be to help Chronos understand certain concepts of basic human morality. None of which he seemed to be even remotely familiar with.

Especially the most simple one having to do with the value of life.

He opened his eyes again to see the System Lord still staring at him with puzzled expectation. It seemed as if they had been at this for hours. He'd awakened in the Arboretum to find Nah'tak gone, Chronos sitting beside him in his place. He'd also awakened to happily discover food laid out on a large cloth, waiting for him to wake up and dig in.

He'd done so quite unashamedly. He was ravenous.

Chronos ignored the banquet, feasting instead on the sight of his companion. Daniel had endured the hungry, uncertain looks, was untroubled by the awkward silence as he devoted his full concentration to stuffing his face. The way Chronos was shifting around and flicking distractedly at various food items he was not happy at being ignored, but he was putting up with it. Hell with him. He could wait.

Eventually they'd gotten to the main event. Talking about yesterday. Not about last night - Daniel doubted either one of them had enough of a grasp of exactly what had happened to be able to talk about it. Nor did they particularly want to. Well, he sure didn't want to anyway. Chronos still had trouble looking him directly in the eye, so best guess he felt the same way.

Much safer to talk about why it had happened. Talk about the Res. Talk about why killing them had been A Bad Thing.

He'd been trying for ages. Chronos was clearly not getting it, staring at him with the same glazed incomprehension he'd seen in Jack's eyes innumerable occasions when Sam had tried to explain some finer point of astrophysics to him. He was starting to run out of analogies. Damn!

"Chronos, you just can't going around - killing people - simply because they don't agree with you!"

"Why not?"

A fair question, asked with all the ingenuous curiosity of a small child. Only fitting, for in many ways the System Lord seemed to think like one, for all the millennia he'd been kicking around.

"Wha..? Because!"

Brilliant, Daniel. Really insightful. How do you explain a concept which should be self-evident, requiring no explanation, to someone to whom it obviously - wasn't. Maybe he wasn't just being stupid - maybe it wasn't possible. Maybe Chronos really wasn't capable of understanding this. Maybe the Goa'uld didn't possess the capacity to form a moral sense. Maybe they were truly devoid of even the rudiments of compassion, conscience or the ability to be merciful.

Damn, better hope not!

Okay, breathe, think, you've had to reason your way around worse situations than this there HAS to be a way to make him understand. Maybe you've been making this too hard.

"It's wrong to kill."

"Why?"

The question stunned him. Momentarily driving all other thoughts out of his head before the power of this small word. Why? Why - was it wrong to kill?

He knew why. He thought he did. But - what did he know? Why it was wrong all the time? Why it was wrong - except under certain circumstances. Why he thought he was better than Chronos because he imagined he knew the answer and the System Lord didn't?

Was the reason he had taken life in the past any 'better' than the reasons Chronos had done so if it was in fact all wrong? Why did he think he had any right to be talking to him about any of this? Where was all his imagined moral superiority now?

Given the proper circumstances or motivation, all were killers, under the skin. No difference between him and the Goa'uld beside him, watching him carefully, waiting for an answer he no longer felt he had the right to give him. No difference, except Chronos was, if anything, more honest about the way he did it. He just - did it. He didn't clutter the act up with the smokescreen of moral pretentiousness.

Okay, Okay, Daniel, don't lose your head here. You've done wrong, you know that - and you know why. You might even do it again, there's no way to know that - but you can try - not to. That's what matters. That's what makes the difference. Trying. Knowing and trying. And trying some more, when you don't quite make it. That's what makes you - human. What makes the difference between you - and him.

Chronos doesn't know there's another way. Doesn't know - he has a choice. No one has ever told him, or tried to show him. He should at least have the opportunity to decide. He still might not change, but if he doesn't know there any reason to, how is he even going to be able to try?

"Everything which exists has as much right to do so as you do. You are no more inherently valuable than..than the insect you thoughtlessly tread underfoot. Because you can do so - it might appear you are more important, but that appearance is an illusion, a self-justification you use to excuse the fact you have arbitrarily chosen to end a life. For no other reason than - you can."

Chronos smiled mockingly at him. "The same argument compels me to believe I am in fact superior to the insect by virtue of the fact I can destroy it as I wish. Power determines superiority." He shrugged his shoulders, as if seeking to apologise for so blatantly stating what to him was a self-evident truth. "The strong survive through being strong. The weak fall to them because they are weak. It is the way of things."

"It still doesn't mean you are better," Daniel persisted stubbornly. "Only bigger. Chronos, the Res were sentient beings, unique beings. They had a right to exist. Surely there were other - solutions - then genocide."

"Their clear lack of intelligence dictated otherwise," Chronos replied, a faint look of annoyance flickering across his face. "By their refusal to submit to a superior power they demonstrated they were weak and inferior."

Too stupid to live. Might be something in that. God, this is so - frustrating!

"The Goa'uld consider humans to be an inferior species, do they not. You have said this much to me yourself."

"Yes," Chronos returned cautiously.

"And yet, you use us as hosts. Doesn't that seem to you to be a little inconsistent? Aside from anatomical inconveniences, if all you need is a body, well, why not use - a dog? A horse? A bird? A simian species? Why do you use humans and humanoid species as hosts?"

"It is not possible," Chronos said slowly. "It is not a question of anatomy, but rather the development of the brain. The host's brain must be sufficiently evolved, have achieved a certain order of intelligence of..."

"Of self-awareness?" Daniel returned softly.

"It is so." Chronos would not look at him as he answered him.

"So, even though the Goa'uld are 'strong' enough to over-ride the awareness of the host, you admit for you to even be capable of inhabiting the body, that awareness you subsequently chose to believe no longer exists once you've suppressed it has to be there in the first place. The host is not inferior to the Goa'uld, in that it is every bit as self-determining and aware, it simply can't stop the Goa'uld from taking over. Mind you, I can understand why your species has had to believe it is superior, and has had to try to convince us of that fact as well. Tell me something, Chronos. If I was able to reach in and pull you out of Alexander's body and throw you on the ground, here, how long do you think you would last?"

Chronos said nothing. Simply stared at him. Definitely seemed to have his undivided attention now!

"Not long, I would think. Alexander and I could get up, walk out of here and you'd be just a dead snake in the grass. Kinda puts a little different spin on it, when you think about it in those terms, doesn't it? I'm a human, Chronos. Do you consider me to be an inferior being?"

The System Lord was smiling, shaking his head. "No Daniel, I do not. I think, however, you are a very dangerous one. You are fortunate it is already far too late too kill you."

"Thank you, I think," Daniel smiled tightly back at him.

"Why do you love him?"

The question had come out of nowhere, hitting him as hard as an anvil impacting into the middle of his chest. "What?"

"Why do you love Jack?" Chronos repeated patiently.

Startled, embarrassed, Daniel started to move away but was stopped when Chronos quickly reached out and caught his chin between his thumb and first finger. Holding it tightly Chronos forced him to look at him, his eyes clearly conveying he expected and wanted an answer to his question.

Which was the last thing Daniel wanted to give him.

"I - I just do," he finally mumbled.

"Why?" Chronos persisted in a slightly louder, more insistent voice; his fingers tightening slightly on Daniel's chin.

Damn - sometimes the System Lord was like a dog worrying a bone. Terminal stubbornness. Something else they evidently had in common. How was he going to talk his way out of this one?

"Because...."

"How does he please you? What does he do that makes you happy? How was he able to win your affection? What does he do I do not?"

Oh boy. Don't like the way this is going!

Daniel tried to pull back from Chronos' grip, but found he couldn't. The System Lord wasn't hurting him, but he also, definitely, wasn't letting go. Not simply of the grip he had on his chin.

"It's not like that," Daniel finally answered, trying to weigh every word very carefully. "It's not because of what he does, although that's certainly a part of it. I can't explain it. It's.. he's..he's..Jack..."

Chronos considered the response for a moment. "This is not very helpful information for learning to become like him."

Daniel could not hold back the short burst of laughter elicited by the System Lord's statement.

"I'm sorry!" he said hastily, afraid he had offended the Goa'uld. "It's just - you have no idea - how - what you just said.." Shit! He was going to start laughing again. Jack would be having kittens if he was here right now.

"You are too delightful," Chronos sighed, starting to move toward him, not only unperturbed by Daniel's laughter, but also seemingly excited by it. "I have killed men for being not half as bold with me as you have been. You say things to me I would not suffer from anyone else, and enchant me utterly in doing so. If this is how your Jack makes you feel, perhaps I understand the reason why you love him better than you know."

Chronos was pulling him closer. Daniel was still laughing, even though it looked like he was about to get kissed. Quite thoroughly if the expression on Chronos' face was anything to go by. Not like it hadn't happened before. No problem. Close your eyes and think of Jack...

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

He was dreaming.

Dark. It was so dark. Cold. Wherever he was, it felt so cold, empty. Like some friendless, lost limbo.

Or a tomb.

Wherever he was, suddenly he wasn't alone. A tendril of warmth and hope curled about him, caressing him as surely as the thoughts it carried with it.

...where have you been? You've been so far away. At times I can hardly feel you any more.

...sorry, Jack. Trying so hard...don't want...

...don't want me to know? How alone you feel, how scared, how much you want to come home? How unhappy you are? I know, I know. Doing something, trust me, won't be long, promise.

...can't be, Jack, can't. Won't let you. Won't let you do this. Destroy yourself, betray everything you believe in. Not for me.

...don't care.

...yes you do. Yes you do. Understand now. Understand you. Some things matter more than anything. Love you so much. Too much to let you do this to yourself. Especially for me.

...won't abandon you, Danny, don't ask me to. Please..

...have to Jack, must. Can't wait. Something is happening; he's up to something. Don't know what, don't know, but you have to move now. Time's running out. More at stake here than me. Much more. Can't have anyone else hurt because of me. Can't have that on my conscience. Do it Jack! Please! Before it's too late!

...can't see you, Danny, can barely feel you. Want to see you, hold you.

...promise me you'll do it! Promise me, Jack!

...no...no I can't...don't make me.

...promise me!

...no...no...

Reaching blindly through the darkness, trying to catch, touch, pull him close. Only to feel the warmth and hope slipping through his fingers, plunging him back into solitary darkness, spinning helplessly, falling, lost...

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

Having Daniel in his head like this was really proving to be damned inconvenient. Made it almost impossible to bend the rules with Mr. 'Do The Right Thing' breathing down his neck.

Especially when he knew in his heart Danny was right.

There was just too much at stake. Too much at risk to hold back what he knew. Especially after Sam had told him what she had learned from her father. Had been a brave thing to do, had nearly killed her to do it. She knew what it could mean, knew too what it could cost all of them. But, she was also a soldier, and a damned fine one. Damned fine. She knew where her duty lay.

So did he. Yet, it still hadn't been enough to make him go. To make him do it. Hadn't been enough until..

The longer they were apart, the stronger the connection grew. Lu had told him this would happen, but he hadn't understood what it would mean. How it would affect him. How it would change him. It was more than knowing and being known. More than it being impossible to hide anything from Danny, or have him experience the same totality of knowing.

It was like having the essence of his lover permeate every cell of his being. Like having Daniel inside his skin, looking out through his eyes, Daniel's unique perceptions colouring the way he experienced everything. Shaping his thoughts, his reactions, his very way of thinking. Not overwhelming or 'overwriting' that which was Jack O'Neill, but rather enhancing and expanding it. Enabling him to see and experience things in a way he had never ever dreamed was possible.

There was very little ambiguity in Danny's worldview. Also, strangely, not a lot of latitude, when it came to certain things. Especially those things having to do with what mattered more in the 'grand scheme of things' - almost everybody and everything else, or Daniel Jackson.

In a hopefully happier time and place Jack fully intended to strongly debate some of Daniel's more erroneous, deeply held convictions with the man in question, but unfortunately, in the here and now, there was no getting away from the fact he was right. In this one, there really was no other choice but to do the right thing. No matter what that would mean for both of them.

It didn't help at all, not one damned bit, that Danny not only knew exactly what he had to do and why, but was the one pushing him to do it. Didn't help at all.

Please stop forgiving me, Danny. Just - stop. Only makes it worse...

So he'd done it. He'd taken Sam by the arm, and together they had both gone to see the General. He'd made her spill her guts to their commanding officer and then he'd gone and done the same.

Everything. All of it. Everything he'd figured out, everything he'd arranged with Martouf, everything he knew from Daniel about what was going on where he was. Everything. Given it all away. His plan, his one shot at escaping. His one chance to save Danny. No choice.

It was just getting too big. So much bigger than the two of them and what they wanted. Too much at stake to try playing a lone hand in the furtherance of selfish desires. Seeing the terrible truth of this was what having Danny in his head had done to him.

Hadn't taken George long to act. To first issue the order to seal the mountain and sweep it from top to bottom with TERs before getting on the phone to his superiors with the rest of the good news.

When he'd finished spilling his guts George had stopped him before he'd left the briefing room. Took him by the arm, turned him around, looked at him with one of those looks where you could see the wheels turning, but couldn't tell what fuel they were spinning on. All he'd said, after all the looking, was, "I'm proud of you, son." That was it, nothing more. Just as well. He couldn't have stood anything else.

Proud of him. Yeah, right.

That had been hours ago. Base was swept. They hadn't turned up a damned thing. The bird they sought had apparently flown the coop. Bastard was still once step ahead of them. He'd waited too long, given the Ashrak the time he needed to escape. Really blown it this time.

Well, wherever the hell he was now, the Ashrak was not on the base. Also not getting back on it. So if the gate really was the way he had gotten here, he was stranded. A piece of speculation neither helpful nor comforting. And oh boy, did he ever feel oh, so secure to think there was some whacko alien loose somewhere out in the world, probably more than pissed at the lot of them for blowing his cover and cutting off his escape route.

Christ, he was turning into quite the ray of sunshine these days. Maybe he should knock off moping, get up, unlock the door and venture out to see if there was anyone else's day he could ruin.

Or not.

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

"You have your orders, Major. Deliver the President's message to the Tok'ra High Council and return as quickly as possible with their response."

"Yes sir," Sam said quietly as she stood at the foot of the ramp with General Hammond, waiting for the gate to finishing dialing to the staging destination Martouf had chosen as their first stop on their journey to the Tok'ra's secret base.

Martouf himself stood several feet away from them, his gaze averted, his posture stiff and formal. His face was an expressionless mask, but Sam had come to know him well enough to realize he was more than aware of how unwelcome he had become in the SGC. Even though the General had said nothing to indicate this was the case, she was also sure Martouf was aware the alliance between the Tok'ra and Earth had just become more than strained, and she was the reason.

Best to just get out of here and get this all over with. She didn't know what was in the message she was carrying, nor did she know what the higher-ups had decided. Wasn't her place to know, she was only the messenger, but she was more than frightened all the same.

Even though she knew she'd had no choice, had her confession closed the door not only on Daniel, but on her father as well? If the President had chosen to sever the alliance, would she ever see either one of them again?

It was time to go. As soon as the event horizon stabilized, Martouf started toward it. Sam looked up at the control room one last time. No sign of the colonel. She'd hoped he would come to see her off, but no. No one had seen him since he'd left the briefing room. She hated to leave like this, hated to leave him after what he'd had to do, but she had no choice. She'd have to trust one of his other friends would lend a hand.

Nodding to the general Sam walked up the ramp and into the blue.

Martouf was standing in front of the DHD, his back to her, preparing to dial up their next destination as soon as the gate deactivated. She was just as glad he didn't turn around. Really didn't want to face him or make conversation. Just wanted to get there, deliver her message and then find somewhere to be alone for a while.

What she really wanted was to be the bearer of good news for a change, instead of bad.

The clearing where the gate stood on the world where they had arrived became silent as the gate deactivated. Sam waited for the sound of the first chevron being keyed in which would signify Martouf was dialing in the address of their next destination. It didn't come. Martouf continued to stand motionless at the DHD.

"Martouf, is something wrong? Why aren't you dialing?"

"There's been a slight change in plans, Samantha," Martouf replied in a strange, quiet voice.

Before she had a chance to react Martouf whirled around, a Zat gun in his hand, ready for firing and aimed right at her. As much as she didn't like the sight of that, she liked the strange look on Martouf's face even less.

Whatever was going to happen next, she probably wasn't going to like it any better either.

"Colonel O'Neill is very clever," Martouf continued in that same, quiet voice. "But not nearly as clever as he thinks he is."

Then he pulled the trigger, sparing her the dilemma of having to decide whether or not she really wanted him to explain what he was talking about.

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

Jack stood in the control room, staring down at the dark, quiescent Stargate. He'd missed Sam leaving. Hadn't meant to do that. Hadn't meant to let her go without letting her know she'd done the right thing and he was proud of her for it. Had meant to try and show her he was okay. Even though he wasn't. Which was why he'd missed her. Okay? That's a hot one. From where he was standing right here and now, Jack didn't know if anything was ever going to be okay again, least of all him.

Sighing, Jack looked away from the strangely mournful sight of the silent gate only to turn back again as it began to sing its whining song of activation.

"Incoming traveller," Simmons dutifully chimed, a slightly troubled look on his face. "We haven't got any teams off world, sir," he commented, glancing at Jack.

Hammond joined them before the last chevron started glowing. An armed SF team thundered into the embarkation room, forming a protective barrier at the base of the ramp as the event horizon stabilized.

"We have an incoming traveller, sir," Simmons addressed the general, a little nervously, as Hammond reached his side.

"I can see that, son," Hammond replied, putting a reassuring hand on the lieutenant's shoulder as he and Jack both looked over him, waiting to see what signal, if any, would be transmitted through the newly active wormhole.

What they awaited swiftly registered on the monitor. An SG-1 signal. At first, at the sight of it, Jack's heart leapt with an impossible hope. Daniel! Oh, please, let it be Daniel!

Don't be stupid, Jack, Daniel doesn't know the new code. Even if he did have a GDO.

He could know it. He could've learned it from you.

Of course it wasn't Daniel. Couldn't possibly be Daniel. Hammond was looking at him. Did he know, did he guess what he was thinking?

"Colonel, maybe we'd better see why Major Carter is returning so soon after leaving."

Sam. Of course, it's Sam. Who else could it be?

Followed closely by the general Jack walked into the embarkation room as Sam stumbled down the ramp. Alone. She looked as if she was about to fall; one of the soldiers lowered his weapon and quickly stepped forward to lend her an assisting arm.

By the time Jack made it to her she was already trying to move away from the man, saying she was fine, turning to flash her commanding officer a slightly tremulous attempt at a reassuring smile. Right behind him, Hammond dismissed the SF contingent to the accompaniment of the sound of the gate deactivating.

"Carter?" Jack put a supporting arm around her shoulders she tried not to look as if she was grateful to receive. "Are you all right? What the hell happened? Why did you come back? Where's Marty?"

"One question at a time," Hammond admonished gently as he focused his own level look of concern upon the major. "Major Carter, are you in need of medical assistance?"

"No sir," Carter shook her head emphatically. "I'm okay. Just the after effects of a zat blast. Shook me up a bit, but it's wearing off."

"Zat gun?" Jack cried. "What the -"

"It was Martouf," Sam blurted out, shifting her gaze from one man to the other as she waited for their reactions. "As soon as the gate deactivated, he turned on me. He said something about the colonel not being as smart as he thought he was, then he fired at me. I must have temporarily lost consciousness due to the effect of the blast. When I came to, he was gone. Martouf must have used the Stargate to get away, but I don't remember hearing it. That's why I think I was unconscious for a short time. I don't know where he gated to. Sorry, sir. I checked out the DHD, but it was too late to catch the last address. I came back as soon as I could walk."

"Martouf!" Jack snarled. "That stinking, slimy, putrid piece of Tok'ra - "

"Easy, Jack," Hammond said quietly, but firmly, his eyes never leaving the blue ones of the woman before him. "You're sure you're all right, Major? He didn't harm you in any other way?"

"No sir, I don't think so sir," she replied quickly. "Really, I'm fine."

"Sonofabitch!" Jack fumed, rounding angrily on his commanding officer. "We're not going to let him get away with this! Sir, request permission to kick some Tok'ra ass, sir!"

Hammond struggled to keep the smile off his face as he responded to the clearly angered colonel. Not that he blamed Jack for wanting to run amuck in some sort of retributive action.

Considering all the ass kicking he'd needed to do and had not been allowed to do, it was a small wonder he hadn't already exploded. Considering also his past history of loose cannon behaviour against the amount of provocation Jack O'Neill had already been subjected to, the degree of personal self control he had so far demonstrated in this matter had been astonishing. More than that, it had been highly commendable. Jack had more than worked with him in this. More than proved no matter his personal feelings and considerations, he could be trusted. Hammond more than appreciated this fact; he had a great deal of respect for the man because of it.

Time to find a way to show Jack virtue does indeed have its own reward. And there were compensations for continuing to be a team player even when you most didn't want to be one.

Jack didn't know this yet, but the man who commanded the SGC was going to find a way to get him and his team through that gate if it killed him. However, this wasn't it.

"I have no intention of letting this matter go unaddressed," Hammond began as he fastened his best 'stern but steadying' commanding officer's stare upon his seething subordinate. "We have to ascertain whether or not Martouf was acting on his own or upon instructions from his superiors. To that end I intend to send a signal to the Tok'ra and 'invite' them to provide an explanation for this incident. But first I would like you to take the Major to the infirmary to have her checked over. Just in case."

Jack was clearly unhappy with this response, but also had the grace to look faintly guilty he had not thought to look to Carter's well being first himself.

"Of course, I'll do it right away, sir," he mumbled grudgingly.

Overriding her faint protests he started to steer her toward the exit, but didn't leave the room without throwing a parting comment over his shoulder.

"All we'll get from them will be double-talk out of both sides of their mouths! Just give me five minutes. Locked room, me, snakehead, no questions asked. I'll find out what's going on!"

Hammond shook his head sadly as he walked after them. Definitely had to find a way to send the lad on his way soon. The man was only human, after all.

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

He didn't know how much more of this he could take. He was only human. One feeble flame of faltering resistance pitted against an implacable and insatiable will honed to deadly perfection over thousands of years, oh so much better than he was at this. Having had so much more time to practice, to get really, really good at getting what it wanted.

His head ached with the constant, penetrating questions. Like slivers of steel being driven into his brain. Like being slowly nibbled to death. No rest, no respite, no escape. Nowhere to turn, nowhere to hide.

It was the same question. Over and over and over. Framed a myriad different ways, but always the same question.

Why did he love Jack?

Over and over, constantly asked of him, an answer constantly required of him. It was as if, for the Goa'uld, every other consideration in the universe had fallen away before his driving determination to learn the full nature of the pre-existing intimate bond daring to defy him. Enduring without his consent, a blatant barrier to his will.

As if being able to define it would give him the power to make it not so.

That wasn't what terrified Daniel so much. He was beginning to understand how Chronos' mind worked enough to realize the strategy he was now employing was indicative of a larger problem. The invasive questioning wasn't Daniel's biggest concern. The 'plan' behind it all was what was worrying him.

Chronos had one. He definitely had one. He always had a 'plan'. The System Lord's mind was like a series of interlocking boxes, layer upon layer of deep, hidden plots, schemes and secret machinations. A room full of spiders couldn't weave as may webs as he did, while not losing track of a single thread in the complex work. That mind was fully focused upon him now. The web was closing in, cutting him off, coccooning him alive and screaming.

Helpless, unable to do anything as he was held fast and slowly, irrevocably sucked dry..

He had to figure it out. Had to find out what Chronos was really up to. He'd tried to warn Jack, felt him finally, grudgingly, comply, but still wasn't sure if he'd been in time. The feeling of dread was just so full upon him, coupled with an inchoate sense - he'd missed something. Something important. But what, he didn't know. Just couldn't seem to think straight. Just needed a minute to himself. Then he'd figure it out. He'd stumble on what he'd missed. It would come to him. It had to.

But it was as if Chronos knew this and was as determined not to give him the breathing space he needed to work it out. War of nerves, war of wills, tense stalemate, neither winning nor losing. Eyeing each other warily, circling about as the questions were hurled, deflected, hurled again.

He didn't know how much longer he was going to be able to keep it up. And yet, something told him he did not dare give ground, for even an instant. Too much at stake.

"It is time for you to understand what must be," Chronos said suddenly, the change in his voice instantly alerting Daniel. He'd heard Chronos use this tone of voice before. It was never good.

Shit! Here it comes!

"Daniel, come here."

Chronos indicated a spot on the couch beside him. Daniel ceased his restless movement across the white carpet and turned wary eyes upon the seated System Lord.

"I can see you fine from over here," he said carefully.

"That may be," Chronos returned, a slightly amused smile on his face. "However, you cannot see what I wish you to see.from over there." Still smiling he reached forward and activated the interface monitor on the table before him. As he sat back against the cushions once more he repeated his demand. This time, definitely not smiling.

"I said, come here."

Every cell in his body screaming to run the other way, Daniel complied.

As he sat a careful distance from Chronos Daniel could not help but remark the screen was blank. Whatever it was Chronos wanted him to see, evidently he was going to work up to showing it to him. Big set up before springing the surprise. Not good. Definitely not good. The more Chronos smiled and put off showing his hand, clearly savouring the build-up as much as the revelation, the deeper the pile of doo-doo Daniel knew he was going to end up in.

Chronos enjoyed gloating almost as much as he relished winning. The Cheshire Cat himself couldn't compete with that grin. This was so not good.

"That's better," Chronos said softly, smiling widely at him, but not touching him. A state of affairs Daniel was incredibly grateful for. He hoped he could hang onto the unaccustomed feeling a little longer, but something about the predatory gleam in Chronos' eyes rather put the boots to the feeble, futile notion.

"I have given you ample opportunity to freely declare your unconditional allegiance to me. You have not done so. It occurs to me you mistakenly believe you have some choice in this matter."

Daniel knew it was stupid, but he couldn't help the violence of his response. Just when he thought Chronos couldn't possibly get any more arrogant, the Goa'uld went and upped the ante.

Made him crazy. Maybe Chronos knew that, maybe that's why he did it. Really didn't care anymore.

"Listen, we've been down this road so many times I'm surprised you haven't got it memorized. Okay, one more time. Not going to happen. Never going to happen. You are holding me here against my will. I do not wish to be here, I never wanted to be here, I certainly don't want to stay here. I'll do whatever I need to, however long it takes, to someday, somehow get away from here and there is no way in hell you are ever going to get me to promise I will stay here of my own free will."

The golden glow suffused Chronos' eyes as fierce triumph possessed his face. "Oh, but you will, Daniel. You will. You will swear to me you will never leave me. You will give me your solemn promise no matter what happens, whatever opportunity should ever present itself to you to do so, you will never leave my side. You will do this, and you will do it now."

"Bite me. Can't make me. Won't happen," Daniel retorted angrily, crossing his arms and shaking his head. "No matter what you do to me."

"Who said anything about doing anything - to you?" Chronos held his eyes, still smiling as he barked a command at the monitor, compelling it to come to life.

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

Two days had gone by since they'd sent the first signal to the Tok'ra without receiving a response. As per Hammond's instructions Carter and Teal'c had made the trip to the surface with the Tollan signalling device to send out the call three additional times. The kids were up there even now, Luena with them this time, giving it one last try.

Maybe Hammond was willing to give the snakeheads every benefit of the doubt, but Jack wasn't at all surprised by the silence. Guess this more than answered the question about whether Marty had been acting on his own or not. Goddamn lying, backstabbing weasels. Bastards didn't even have the guts to own up to what they'd done. As to why - well, he had a pretty good idea about that.

Goddamned snakehead. Shoulda let Teal'c and Luena each grab an arm and make a wish...

Carter wasn't letting on, doing the brave soldier thing as only she could, but she was more than cut up about all of this. Christ, her own father was one of them, for crying out loud! How was she supposed to feel about that? And Martouf? The major's mixed feelings for the Tok'ra who had been Jolinar's mate had not gone unnoticed by those who knew her best. At the very least, Sam considered Martouf to be a friend, moreso than any of the rest of her team-mates. Because of her connection to him via Jolinar, she had trusted him implicitly.

Far more, it now seemed, than she ever should have. She must be feeling like an A number one chump right about now. For that fact alone Jack wanted to take Marty out back and whale on him till he couldn't get up again for a very, very long time. Nobody, but nobody played around like that with his friends. When he caught up with Marvellous Mart, he was one little Tok'ra who was going to wish he'd never been born.

Not that Jack wasn't genuinely honked with the whole sub-species and Martouf in particular for Sam's sake, but he knew he was deliberately focusing on the implications of this latest, freshest transgression to keep himself from going too much deeper into what else all of this meant. Didn't want to think about Daniel. About losing yet another link to him. Didn't want to think about it at all.

Think about Marty. Think about Jacob. Think about Sam. Think about how good it would feel to blow the whole stinking nest of them to kingdom come. Think about that. Don't think about Daniel...

God.

Jack was teetering on the verge of plunging into a rather formidable pit of despair when his descent was abruptly interrupted by the energetic arrival of six feet of slightly pissed Telshar womanhood closely followed by a Jaffa and a certain blonde air force major, all with equally annoyed looks on their faces.

Jack stared blankly at the doohickey Luena was waving heatedly at him. Looked like the Tollan signalling device. He'd seen it before. So?

"This object has been interfered with!" Luena announced emphatically.

Jack turned uncomprehending eyes upon Carter as she moved past Luena to reach his side.

"Luena is claiming someone has tampered with the signalling device, sir," Carter replied quickly, supplying the explanation he needed. "She says the signal we are sending out isn't getting to the Tok'ra. That's why they haven't been responding."

"Is she right?"

"I don't know, sir," Carter returned, clearly unhappy. "I haven't been able to determine how it works, never mind being able to ascertain whether or not it's working properly. She could be right. I honestly don't know. It appears to function exactly the same way it always has. I haven't seen any indication there is anything wrong with it." She paused, giving Luena a tight, apologetic smile. "I'm afraid the basis for Luena's belief the device is malfunctioning isn't very scientific and isn't anything I can verify."

"It doesn't feel right," Luena stated flatly, flashing Carter an impudent grin. "You're going to have to trust me on this one, Jack. Someone's thrown a hammer into the works."

"The proper term would be 'monkey wrench'," Teal'c intoned gravely, looking straight ahead, his face just about as impassive as it could get.

Carter and Jack stared at him, unbelieving, then looked at each other and burst out laughing.

Teal'c crossed his arms and favoured his team-mates with a mildly amused expression.

"You are surprised? During the three years I have been exposed to the various idiosyncrasies of the Tau'ri language I have managed to learn a few commonly employed idiomatic expressions. Just because I do not use them, it does not mean I do not know them."

Jack leaned up against the tall Jaffa standing beside him, putting a hand to his chest as he struggled to get his laughter under control. God, he couldn't remember the last time he'd laughed.

"Point taken, Teal'c." he chuckled. "Just, give me a little warning when you're about to spring a surprise like that on me again. Don't know if my poor old heart can take much more of this."

Teal'c inclined his head, looking at the man beside him, his dark gaze warm and sparkling. Jack met the eyes of the tall, black man, feeling a surge of quiet gratitude well up inside him.

Know what you're doing, buddy. Thanks. Appreciate it.

"But if I was to inform you in advance it could hardly be called a surprise."

Jack nodded and gave Teal'c's shoulder a pat as he turned back to his team and the business at hand. He felt more than a bit lighter for the momentary diversion and quite grateful for the positive effect it had had on him. His mind was clearer, more able to focus. Much more capable of dealing with the issue at hand.

"We'll finish this later, Teal'c. Right now let's get back to our trick box here which might or might not be working right."

Jack glanced at Luena who simply shrugged and cast an 'I know what I know, take it or leave it your choice,' look at him.

Shifted his eyes over to Carter who also shrugged, while her face said 'Damned if I know and I'm not too happy about it, guess it's up to you to decide.'

Peachy, ladies. Go ahead, put Jack in the middle. What did I ever do to you? Who the hell do I believe?

Jack scrubbed his face with his hands as he quickly mentally ran his options.

"Okay," he began, once he knew how he wanted to come at it, "Carter, is what Luena saying possible? Could someone have tampered with the device?"

He could tell from the look on her face she'd been thinking along the same lines before he'd even asked the question.

"The device is secured whenever it isn't in use. To get to it, the saboteur would have to be able to bypass our security alarms and monitoring systems and find a way into the vault. Which isn't beyond the realm of possibility, because anyone who would possess the technical expertise to tamper with the device in the way Luena suggests probably wouldn't find either obstacle much of a barrier."

"So we're talking probably our buddy the Ashrak, here," Jack replied grimly.

"Oh, I think he's the only possible explanation," Carter answered. "If in fact any sabotage has occurred, which we haven't definitely established. I know I couldn't do it sir."

Which means there isn't anyone else currently working for the SGC who could mess about with it either.

"I hear what you're saying, Carter," Jack continued. "While there's no way to be sure whether or not the device has been compromised we sure'n hell know the base has been. So that doesn't rule out the possibility the Ashrak could've and did get to it. We can't ignore the possibility, especially as it could mean we've got the Tok'ra all wrong. And we're being played for suckers. Again."

"It would be impossible for the Tok'ra to acknowledge a signal they did not receive," Teal'c intoned in a deep, quiet voice. "While their failure to respond would be interpreted by us as a betrayal." Teal'c nodded thoughtfully before continuing. "It is a cunning strategy. A very clever way to plant suspicion and mistrust between two allies one wishes to drive a wedge between."

"But it still doesn't explain Martouf's actions," Sam said in a small, rueful voice.

"No, Sam, it doesn't." Jack responded to her comment in a kind voice. "I'm not ready to let the Tok'ra completely off the hook, but the possibility Luena is right is something we shouldn't ignore. Don't know what we're gonna DO about it, if she is right, but we should at least inform the general - "

The rest of Jack's statement was cut off by the strident sound of the alarm klaxon.

"SG-1, report to the control room, ASAP!" Hammond's amplified voice reverberated through the bunker.

"Crap, now what?" Jack muttered as he hastened his team out of the office in response to the general's summons.

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

As a response to the time-honoured cliché it never rains but it pours, Jack found himself desperately wishing for an umbrella.

A really huge, honking umbrella.

They had company. Unexpected, uninvited company. Not the kind of guest you'd take home to introduce to mother.

That is, not unless you weren't too fond of the old girl. Or the planet she happened to be living on at the time.

They'd no sooner received confirmation of the existence of the Goa'uld mothership orbiting Earth when the gate had come to life delivering a report from SGC Abydos of a similar vessel doing exactly the same thing there. Hanging up in space, looking nasty and threatening. However, that little piece of alarming news wasn't the only thing which had come through the gate during that time.

The mothership menacing Abydos had done more there than simply show up and spook the hell out of the Mastadges. It had delivered an object to the surface, which had been duly dispatched through the gate. That object was currently sitting on the middle of the table in the briefing room. Suffering the scrutiny of all assembled as it sat there in all its maddening inscrutability.

One of those little crystal ball communication thingees. It had been through the wringer, examined six different ways from Sunday, just to be on the safe side. Appeared to be exactly what it appeared to be and not some cleverly disguised explosive device.

But no one had been able to get it to do anything but sit there and bug the shit out of him. So why had Chronos sent it? To piss him off? As flattering as the notion sounded, it was more than a bit on the petty side, even for his honour the lord high and mighty shit hot snakehead System Lord.

What the hell was Chronos up to now? What damned game was he playing with them this time? While they all sat around staring at this thing and looking stupid.

"Okay, so now what?" Jack finally angrily snapped at it.

The instant he spoke, the sphere began to lowly hum and softly glow. Startled, Jack instinctively drew away from it. But pulled his chair back anxiously the second he saw the image of a familiar face begin to resolve itself within, becoming rapidly, painfully clear.

A very familiar face.

Daniel.

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

"DANIEL!"

Jack heard the sound of the anguished cry thrill through the tense atmosphere of the briefing room. Someone sounded half-crazy; almost out of control. He needed to get a grip, yelling like that. Would have everybody thinking he was dangerous and needed to be locked up or something.

Holy. 'Someone' - was him.

The image in the heart of the alien sphere was so clear Jack could see with heart-rending clarity how dead the eyes were. Flat blue and lack-lustre, seated in an impassive, pale face looking as if it had lost all memory of the concepts of hope and joy.

It was so good to see Daniel and yet to see him like this hurt so much. Jack wanted to both laugh and cry at the same time, wanted to start screaming at the top of his lungs, bust the crystal prison and let Daniel out. Seeing wasn't enough; he wanted to touch him, smell him, taste him. Wanting all of these things all at the same time was making him ache so much inside he didn't know how anyone could expect him to just - sit here. Wasn't possible. Wasn't.

But it had to be. Like it had been so many times already, what he most wanted to do was the last thing he could do. Jack knew he had to get a handle on his longing, had to get a hold of himself. The first, real tangible bit of Daniel was right in front of him after such a long time of being able to have him only in his head. So much he wanted to say, so much he wanted to hear, so very much wishing they didn't have a freaking audience. Even if this little bit was all he could have, he didn't want to share it with anyone.

"Daniel," Jack tried again, his voice calmer. "Daniel, are you all right?"

The image didn't move. Daniel didn't respond to his voice, didn't look at him. What was going on?

Suddenly Daniel began to speak. His voice was stilted, formal, almost as if he was reciting something from memory. Or reading a prepared speech from a teleprompter. The words sounded as if they were being pulled out of him, like the nails being pulled from the tips of his fingers. It was as if he was speaking to them with the greatest reluctance, and all the while his face never altered from its resemblance to a frozen, lifeless facade.

"General Hammond. Sam. Teal'c. Luena."

Here, Daniel paused briefly, the faintest shimmer of something attempting to approach humour briefly visiting his eyes.

"I don't know who will be seeing this, so I'm making an educated guess. Hope I've guessed right. If I've left anyone out, I apologize."

Daniel's voice abruptly choked off, as if it had suddenly become difficult for him to speak. His eyes imperceptibly flickered, darting to the side, then slid back to face front. Someone else was there with him. Off camera. Watching him and listening to what he was saying. Three guesses.

"Jack." His name, spoken so softly so as to be almost inaudible, but with so much unspoken desperation and longing it almost completely shattered the fragile restraints of his emotional control. Once again he wanted to run screaming around the room. Without giving a shit who saw him, or what they made of his reaction.

But he didn't.

"Daniel."

"He cannot hear you, O'Neill."

Another voice. Teal'c's voice. Trying to calm and console. "The device is not relaying a live transmission. The images we are watching were previously encoded and keyed to playback in response to the appropriate signal. Possibly it was the sound of your voice."

"So this isn't a transmission from Chronos' ship?" Carter continued quickly. "Not even a transmission at all, but rather, a 'tape'. Originating from the device itself, not being sent to it from the ship?"

"That is correct, Major Carter. Once the message has been relayed in its entirety, the device will cease to function."

"Damn," Carter frowned. "So we can't even use it to - "

"Can it!" Jack barked, irritably gesturing toward the small, glowing ball. "Man talking here!"

"Chronos wishes to send you greetings and to inform you of his intentions. He has graciously allowed me to make this announcement on his behalf. It is his belief you will be more inclined to accept the truth of his statement if you hear it from someone you trust."

"Crap, whatever it is, I hate it already," Jack muttered, clenching the fists lying on the table. He could feel the anxiety level in the room abruptly shoot up close to going off the scale.

Daniel continued to speak, his bleak, blue eyes wide and staring, his voice equally empty. "Firstly, he wishes to inform the leadership of Earth and the people of Abydos they have nothing to fear. Rather he wishes you to understand it is his considerable pleasure to announce to you he has decided to grant your worlds the singular honour of his personal interest and protection. To that end, he wishes to inform the newest members of his personal protectorate they have his word no harm will come to them, either from his own forces or any other.

"He has claimed your worlds as his personal responsibility and has declared them off-limits to any and all other interests, most especially those of other System Lords. He wishes to inform the Tau'ri they will be pleased to learn they no longer need have any fears about future invasions or incursions from any hostile extraterrestrial influences. Such interference will not be permitted, and to enforce this, Chronos has sent two of his most powerful motherships to maintain a constant presence in order to protect you. They will remain on station to ensure his will in this matter prevails.

"I am to tell you to have no fear; no harm will come to Earth or Abydos. He wishes only to protect and guide you."

Oh god, Daniel! What has he made you do? What've you been keeping from me?

Daniel stopped speaking. He closed his eyes as if he was suddenly in pain. It wasn't over yet. What they'd just heard was bad enough, but it wasn't the worst of it. Oh no, there was more. Much more.

Daniel opened his eyes and Jack suddenly knew how much worse it could get.

"That is the substance of the announcement Chronos wished me to deliver to you. He trusts you will relay it to the appropriate authorities on his behalf, and thanks you for this. At this time I wish to make an additional personal statement. What I am about to say, I say freely, of my own volition..." Daniel's voice faltered, briefly trailing away, but he took a deep breath and continued on as if nothing had happened. "Adding also I have not been coerced or influenced in any way, nor have I been compelled to say what follows."

He made you. I know he made you. God, how have you kept this from me?

"I have decided to stay with Chronos. I want to stay here. I ask all of you who once called me friend to understand this and respect my wishes. As a way to signify my sincerity, it is only appropriate I burn my bridges.

"I hereby formally renounce my allegiance to Earth, my place in humanity. I resign from the SGC, and I officially renounce any and all former allegiances, ties, friendships and.. and pre-existing bonds and commitments. In so doing I will betray none of the trust any of these former associations has placed in me, but from this day forward I am sworn to Chronos, and my one and only allegiance is to him.

"I ask all of you to understand and accept this, to go on with your lives and leave me to go on with mine. These are my wishes. For the sake of all the friendships we once had, please respect them."

Daniel stopped speaking, lowering his head as if he was finished. Then he darted a quick look over his shoulder, his head snapped up and for the first time there was real, urgent emotion in his eyes.

"Jack!" he cried. "Nothing will ever change! You know, don't you?"

He looked back again, made a small, almost frightened cry, and suddenly the ball snapped with a loud, electric, static pop and fell silent, dark.

Stunned, barely able to think, Jack felt himself fall against the back of the chair. The air was thick, suffocating him. An elephant was standing on his chest. He'd forgotten how to breathe. He could feel his heart pounding in his chest, blood throbbing through his head. Only way he knew for sure he was still alive.

Someone in the room was crying. He could hear the soft, muffled sounds. Couldn't look to see who it was, wanted to lend a hand, but couldn't seem to move. He hoped there was someone else who could, who could at least get a Kleenex or something. He'd - he'd do it, but he couldn't move.

By the time he felt the arms around him he was so numb he didn't know if he was ever going to be able to feel anything ever again.

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

The huge, glittering golden ball hung hauntingly in the cold, black, speckled void of space. So huge it almost completely filled the port he was looking through, its massive, swollen bulk dwarfing the huge ship balanced over it. Speaking lies, conveying the illusion he could stretch out his hand and touch. Touch the sands of home.

Home. Abydos. So beautiful from space. Sprawled before him in all her beauty like a wanton, beckoning lover, promising, promising. Making his heart ache with all the offered delights he had no hope of ever claiming.

Only one thing he wanted more than to be standing on those sands right now. To be standing on them in the arms of the one person he would never see again.

With the greatest difficulty Daniel tore his eyes away from the triangular viewport and swept his gaze around the control room. He was alone here. Alone.

Alone.

For the first time since he had arrived here he was really, truly alone. Chronos had granted him the freedom of the ship as a 'reward' from promising never to leave him. While smugly observing the promise was the only surety he now needed Daniel would not abuse the privilege.

Seemed as if the System Lord had also provided him with his first serious test of the proof of his word.

After he'd said those terrible things now profaning the air in a familiar, faraway place Chronos had brought him here. He showed him how to activate the transport rings, made him personally send the odious orb on its way to Abydos. Then the System Lord had merely smiled, said he had matters to attend to, commended Daniel to the view, told him to amuse himself as he pleased and then had walked out and left him.

Alone.

With Abydos looming before him, a way to escape practically handed to him, and no one to stop him from using it.

God, how stupid did Chronos think he was?

Supposing he did make a run for it. He could get to the surface, use the gate to go somewhere Chronos would never find him. And then spend the rest of his life trying not to wonder how long the people of Abydos had lived once it was discovered he had gone.

Of course, the entire scenario presupposed he would break his promise. He had no intention of doing that. Even though he was practically being dared to, he wouldn't take the carrot dangling in front of him. Not because doing so would result in the deaths of thousands of people. Because he'd given his word he wouldn't.

His word. Pretty much all he had left. If he went back on it, he'd have nothing. Clinging to it was cold comfort, but it was something.

Daniel closed his eyes, shutting out the sight of the golden siren beckoning to him. He didn't want to think about it, but found he couldn't help it. The orb. The general, Sam, Teal'c, Lu... Jack. They were all looking at it now. He knew it. Didn't want to, but did.

Looking at him. Listening to him. Listening to him tell them....

It started as a numb, sick, dead feeling in the pit of his stomach. Spreading through his body like cold, chilling fire. Horror, disbelief, shock, grief. Jack was watching him, hearing him. It was getting close, close to the moment when..

Daniel wrapped his arms tightly around his chest, sinking to the floor, trying to block it out, not wanting to feel what Jack was feeling, not wanting to know when he knew. Not being able to stop it when the pain lanced through him, like hot knives slicing his flesh from his bones. Coming from Jack, the pain was not just from hearing what was, but flared also from the shock and utter surprise of it. From having had no previous clue how and when what he was hearing for the first time - had happened.

God. Jack knew now. He could feel it. Jack was twisting, writhing, inwardly screaming as it hit him. As he realized what Daniel had done without him knowing the first thing about it. That was the worst of it. The complete and utter shock. Hadn't known. Hadn't known. Couldn't believe it. Couldn't understand how he hadn't known.

And so very, very hurt he'd been cut out of the loop.

Not over yet, there was more. It was coming. The fury as Jack finally understood why.

Daniel moaned with the pain, rocking himself in a vain attempt to self-console and stop the hot tears from trickling down his cheeks. Angry. So angry. Jack was so angry with him. Another way? God, Jack, if only there had been. You still don't know. Don't know all of it. Only think you do. You'll never know all of it.

So sorry, Jack. Please forgive me.

Pushing Jack's pain and anger away, Daniel wiped his sleeve across his eyes and struggled to his feet. Without looking at the shining temptress Daniel forced himself to turn his back on Abydos. He strode sightless from the room not knowing where he was going, only that he was going... somewhere.

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

One foot forward. Followed by the other one. One more step. Followed by the next one. Walking. Walking. Keep on walking. Just keep going. Keep taking just one more step. Don't stop walking. Don't look back. Nothing back there. Keep walking.

He'd been walking for what felt like hours. The caged pet for the first time released from his small pen restlessly prowling and exploring the length and breadth of the bigger, but still enclosed, exercise yard. Daniel just kept walking, not caring who or what he encountered during his travels, but for all his ennui still unable to completely escape remarking how unremarkable his unattended presence appeared to be to everyone else he passed along the way.

Or how much deference was paid to him by everyone who walked by him.

Every single soul who crossed the path of Daniel Jackson, former member of the human race, citizen of Earth, adopted citizen of Abydos, member of the SGC, part of SG-1, once most fortunate to have been the friend and lover of Jack O'Neill - that same Daniel Jackson now most unfortunate to be the undisputed property of Chronos - all who saw this sad and sorry shadow of a man reacted to him.

From the highest ranking Under Lord to the rank and file of Chronos' Jaffa contingent right down to the white-clad humans who slunk around in the shadows of their 'betters', seemingly content to go their way being treated as if they did not even exist, every single one of them did not pass by him without rendering him some obvious gesture of respect. Some of the expressions were more extravagant than others, running the gamut of the abrupt, curt nod of the head to stopping just short of falling on hands and knees to the floor in a full out 'salaam.'

Daniel just stared at each and every one and kept on walking. He fully intended to walk until he dropped. Maybe then he could finally get the words out of his head. His words. Chronos' words. Stop the scene from playing, over and over.

It was done. Finished. He wanted to forget about it. But it wouldn't go away. Wouldn't leave him alone.

"Why are you doing this to me?"

No. Not again. Don't want to see this again. The strange look on his face. Incomprehensible. Not cruel, not gloating. Puzzled, almost tender. Like he couldn't understand why I needed him to explain it to me.

"To make you happy, of course."

Didn't want to hear any more then. Don't want to again. Terrible. Too horrible. Looking at his face, hearing the tone of his voice. God - he really believes what he's saying. Really thinks he's been kind.

"You do not like being confined here. Followed, watched. Your movements governed and restricted. Not having your freedom makes you very unhappy. I do not wish for you to be unhappy. Yet you would not see how you were yourself to blame for this. You needed to be made to understand. It was done for your own good."

Smiling. Smiling. Standing there and smiling. As more words came out of that smiling mouth.

"You are a very stubborn man, Daniel. You left me no other choice."

Couldn't say anything. Just stood there and stared at him, wanting to be struck dead so I wouldn't have to see or hear anymore. Wouldn't have to see the wide, pleased, eager smile on his face as he explained it to me. Actually expecting me to thank him for burying me alive.

"You must stay, and yet to be forever confined would be intolerable to you. The only way I could give you your freedom was if you promised me you would never leave. You have done so. You may now go anywhere on the ship you please. Is this not much better?"

The huge, pleased, almost child-like grin. Spreading his arms wide, as if he expected me to run into them and smother him with gratitude. He really thinks he's done a good thing. Really only did it to make me happy. Really only meant to do me good.

Really doesn't understand what he's really done.

That's not the worst of it. Not what I'm trying so hard to forget. It's what came next. What I saw, what I realized as I looked at him in that moment. What Jack can never, ever know. Because he'd never believe it. And he certainly wouldn't understand.

I saw it, knew it. Felt it. Almost couldn't believe it myself. But there it was.

The way it had been carried out was a product of Chronos' twisted logic and self-serving thought patterns, but the impulse behind the execution had been sincere. Literally - from the heart. Motivated only by real concern, the desire to make me happy. Chronos really cared, and had performed his first, genuine, selfless act.

Given it was his first time I guess it was no small wonder he'd gotten it so terribly, terribly wrong.

It's the thought that counts, right?

Jack can't know this either, but now I know why, I can't bring myself to hate Chronos for what he's done. The hell of it is - I can almost forgive him. He - he meant well.

Jack will never understand.

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

"Well, well, well, what have we here?"

Startled, Daniel reacted violently to the insertion of the harsh, mocking male voice into his unhappy contemplations. His head jerked up; he found himself looking into a pair of angry brown eyes. Set in a robust, almost achingly handsome young male face seething with anger and disdain.

The muscular young man had short, cropped black hair and was bristling before him, puffing his massive, muscle bound chest out at him. His solid, powerful body placed in the middle of the corridor, directly in front of him so as to serve as a deliberate barrier to his further progress. The impediment in question was quite tall and built like a battleship, and was clad in the white, belted chiton Daniel had come to recognize as the shipboard 'uniform' of the human slave population of the ship.

This was one of the humans. One of his own kind. Daniel darted a glance about him. Where was he? Somewhere he'd never been before, that was for sure. Somehow he must have wandered into the area of the ship where the 'slaves' were quartered. At least, that's what he guessed, from the way this angry young man was so obviously puffing and territorially posturing before an obviously unwanted intruder.

"If it isn't the Tau'ri!" The bellicose youth continued in a deeply contemptuous tone, the designating epithet flung at Daniel like a curse. "Chronos' latest sex toy. What are you doing down here amongst us real humans, 'Favoured?' Lose your way?"

The man raked contemptuous eyes over him, clearly deciding him to be neither a threat nor worth bothering with. He made no pains to conceal the disgust on his face as he waved dismissingly at Daniel and began to turn away from him.

"Go back to your master, catamite. There is nothing for you here. You sully all of us with your presence."

The cruel words and the unabashed hatred which propelled them into him couldn't have hurt more if the man had actually physically battered at him with the fists he was presently clenching as if he very much wanted to do just that. But of course he wouldn't actually hit him. Wouldn't dare to do that. Would have been more than his life was worth to have actually laid a hand on Chronos' catamite.

But he'd better get used to it. Better get used to hearing the title, maybe not spoken aloud, but hiding behind the contemptuous, knowing glances he'd be seeing everywhere from now on, lurking behind the empty shows of respect. Better get used to accepting the real reason why one and all now bowed down before him and tipped him the mock salute. He hadn't allowed himself to see it before. Turned a blind eye to it in every insincere high sign he hadn't acknowledged. But this angry young man was the only one who had the guts to tell the truth. Say out loud what everyone was really paying respect to, while it was walking around dressed up in the Emperor's clothes.

Chronos' Catamite. His little wind-up fuck toy and bed warmer. Who could squeal on anybody and everybody in a minute if he felt like it, or if anybody rubbed him the wrong way or gave him even half a reason.

So they kissed his ass, just to be on the safe side while they were hating his guts on the inside. Hating him and hating him while all the while knowing there wasn't a damned thing they could do to him except hate him.

Woo hoo. Feel the power.

So this is freedom. Feels just great, don't it?

Daniel Jackson, this is your life. Get used to it. This is the way it's gonna be from now on.

Mumbling an apology Daniel ducked his head and started to back away. He intended to put as much space between himself and Hercules as he possibly could in the shortest period of time, when he was suddenly stopped by the sensation of a small feminine hand on his arm and the sound of a woman's clearly angry voice by his side.

"Tomas! I am ashamed of you! Saying such terrible things to Daniel! Where are your manners? Is this the way you speak to the man you owe a boon to? You should be thanking him, not insulting him."

Confused, but quietly grateful to know there seemed to be at least one person on this ship who didn't now hate him, Daniel turned to look at the woman at his side. He knew her. She was one of the humans assigned to the cadre of the inner retinue of Chronos' household. Her name was Ariana. He liked her. She always managed to find a way to give him the sweetest smile. As if she somehow understood how much it meant to him. To know that even thought she couldn't do anything to help, at least someone saw what was really going on and.gave a little bit of a damn.

But right now, it was more than plain from the fury on his face Tomas was less than pleased with the criticism of his conduct. Or the suggestion for its amendment currently sitting on the table.

"Be grateful to - to that?" The young man was so enraged he was practically stuttering. "Ari - how can you say such things? You! You have to grovel to him, cater to his every whim! How can you defend someone who betrays and uses his own kind - who lets that - that thing touch him and use him?"

Ariana spared a second to look up at Daniel and flash him a soft 'I'm so sorry, but he doesn't know what he's saying' smile before rushing up to Tomas' side and whacking him mightily across the face. Daniel flinched in resonant sympathy at the unexpected violence of the woman's blow and found himself holding his breath in terrified fascination as he continued to watch the interaction of the young couple. He was quite sure they were in fact a couple. No way you'd hit anyone you weren't sleeping with like that! Nor would someone that big, swelled, male and angry let you get away with it unless you were on a slightly better than first name basis with him!

"Tomas, have you lost your mind?" The young woman hissed at the thoroughly cowed man towering over her. "Saying such things - aloud! That little piece of blasphemy could have just sealed both our fates! You for saying it, me for being unlucky enough to have been here to hear it when you did! School your tongue, foolish man! Before our god has it ripped out and handed to you for your presumption!" She paused, smiling at Tomas fondly, caressing the cheek she had just so roundly slapped. "I knew it was a mistake to let you spend so much time with the Tok'ra. They've filled your head with foolish notions, my love. Very dangerous notions.

"Enough of that," she said abruptly, taking her man by the arm and beginning to pull him toward Daniel. "You will apologize to Daniel for the terrible things you've said to him and you will do so now."

"I will not!" Tomas protested, pulling his arm from her grasp, his eyes flashing with indignation and fully flaring male pride.

Ariana rounded on him, stamping her foot, hands on her hips, sapphire eyes shooting dangerous sparks. Daniel suddenly felt very, very sorry for Tomas.

"Uh," he ventured, quietly. "It's - it's all right, really. I don't mind. He doesn't have to. I'll - I'll just be going now."

The proud head with its massive crown of blonde curls swivelled abruptly back in his direction. Huge, vibrant sapphire eyes froze him as they dared him to dispute their will.

"Quiet!" She snapped. "Don't move!"

Who - me?

The head turned back. It was Tomas' turn to suffer the displeasure of the death ray lancing from those two, twin promises of blue doom. He didn't look any happier for this sudden change of focus.

"This is the man who saved your sister from a terrible beating and persuaded Chronos to release her from the 'honour' of being one of his personal attendants. An 'honour' she neither desired, nor was temperamentally suited to. You know that. We all knew this when he chose her. Catching his eye was a death sentence for Nalla. Yet we had no more choice in this than we do in anything else. We had to let her go. Knowing it wouldn't have been long before her broken body was returned to us."

Daniel started. Nalla? That was her name? He'd not had time to find out. But he certainly remembered her. A tiny, exquisite woman. Beautiful. As were all the men and women who were chosen to be close to Chronos. Another instance where beauty evidently was a curse.

Her physical perfection might have been what won her the job, but she plainly didn't want it, nor was she up to it. The poor kid might have had looks that didn't quit but she was also a serious klutz. Being around Chronos just made it worse.

The last few days had just been so..terrible. Most of the interval was a fog, a painful blur he was trying to forget. Locked in that room in the battle of wills with the System Lord, time crawling by unendingly, the white figures coming in and out, doing whatever it was they did. He'd barely noticed them.

Till the girl had accidentally spilled a drink in his lap.

Actually he'd almost started laughing when it had happened, grateful for the break in the deadly tension, but had stopped himself as he realized the unfortunate consequences for the deeply frightened girl. So he'd tried not only to defuse the situation but to also give a little something back as his way of saying thanks for the service she'd unwittingly done him.

She'd burst into terrified tears, Chronos had lifted his hand automatically to cuff her without even looking at her, he'd said - something - something like 'no harm done, why waste the effort, better to dismiss her she obviously did not deserve the honour she had been given.' Thinking it best to try and get her out of harm's way permanently. It was only going to happen again and he might not be around the next time to intervene.

Chronos had bought it. He hadn't hit her. Had sent her away for good. She'd gone, he'd gone and changed, and the game had continued. As if the brief distraction hadn't even occurred.

He'd forgotten all about it. Till now.

So her name was Nalla.

"She wouldn't have lasted long," Ariana continued to berate Tomas. "Her nervousness and clumsiness would have earned her constant punishment until she was eventually killed. But that didn't happen, did it Tomas? Your sister came back to us, to you, to her husband and children, saying she did not have to return to Chronos and stand in service to him ever again. "

Children? She has - children? My God, she didn't look any older than a child herself!

"She never told you, or anyone else for that matter, how this came to pass. Well, I know, not because she told me, but because I was there and saw it all. And I tell you truly, you have this man to thank for the fact your sister been spared this fate. As for the rest of what you said - speak not of that which you do not know. If you had been there, if you had seen all the blood... afterwards..."

Ariana shuddered and fell briefly silent. She didn't seem to want to delve any deeper into that particular memory, which was fine with Daniel because he didn't either.

"Well, Tomas? What do you have to say for yourself now?"

Tomas seemed to have not heard the Ariana's final challenge. He stood staring at Daniel, his formerly angry brown eyes now wide with amazement. "This is true?" he finally stammered. "It - it was you? You have done this for Nalla?" Tomas took a step forward, his eyes narrowing with suspicion as he looked at Daniel anew. "You took this risk for her? You? Why?"

Daniel shrugged slightly, not wanting to look at Tomas. His face felt hot, the huge ship suddenly felt far too small. He suddenly wanted to be somewhere else.

"I don't know," he mumbled. "Because somebody had to. Because I could."

Before Daniel had time to realize what had happened he found himself surrounded by a pair of thick, strong arms, enveloped in a rather emphatic and enthusiastic embrace.

"I have misjudged you!" Tomas boomed into his ear. "My thanks to you, my regrets for mis-speaking to you and welcome to my sister's protector!"

Daniel smiled weakly in response, trying to diplomatically disengage himself from the bear hug in the shortest possible time. Evidently Tomas was as passionate when he was on your side as when he was against you. While Daniel much preferred the former condition, he would rather have 'made up' a little less - personally.

Ariana was smiling with far from subtle satisfaction as Tomas finally let him go but did not completely release him, keeping an arm around his shoulders, using it to pull his down the corridor he had formerly been barred from proceeding along.

"You must come, Daniel," he was saying. "Come and visit with us. Nalla will probably be happy to see you again. We will sit, talk. You will take a meal with us."

Daniel hesitated. Tomas' enthusiasm was as honest as his anger. And it was such a pleasure to experience its uncomplicated reality after..everything else. But he liked this man. Liked both of them. Because he liked them, he didn't want to risk exposing them to the hazards of his friendship. Who knew what could happen to them if it was discovered he'd dared to be seen with them, or to have spent time with them? Maybe the frustrated masses couldn't take it out on him, but they could hurt these people with impunity. He just couldn't risk it.

"Tomas, I'd really like to," Daniel began, letting the man see the genuine regret in his eyes. "I don't know if I can. Don't - don't know if I have time right now. I've been gone an awfully long time. I have to..that is... I really should... "

Tomas stopped walking. Daniel didn't look at him. Didn't want to see if the man was suddenly despising him again, as he understood the reason Daniel was giving him for needing to leave.

"Maybe some other time," Daniel said sadly, as he started to move away, his regret hanging heavily on his slumping shoulders.

Once again Ariana's hand stopped him. "You don't have to go, Daniel," she said, smiling up at him. "You have no need to answer to anyone for a long time."

"What do you mean?" He looked at her puzzled, uncomprehending.

She smiled at him again. "You don't know? Chronos is no longer aboard. He left the ship several hours ago via the Chaapa'ai. Nah'tak went with him. We were told not to expect him back until the morning and were dismissed until then. Why do you think I am here?"

"What?" Daniel blurted, staring at her. "What?"

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