The shy shaking of the woman's head stilled his obviously unavailing protest. "This cannot be," she replied in the rapturous tones of dumb, unquestioning faith. "You were once as the rest of us, but our god has made you one with him. Commanded us to revere you as we worship him. I understand, Divine One," she continued excitedly, her face brightening. "This is a test. You seek proof of our faithfulness before you will grant my request. I understand, and obey."
Horrified, Daniel watched as the woman threw herself down to her knees, preparing to prostrate herself fully on the floor before him while beckoning urgently for the child to mimic her actions. It was too terrible. He couldn't let it continue.
There was nothing else he could do. Choking back his anguish he knelt quickly in front of the child, taking him gently by the arm to prevent him from hurling himself down after his mother. Placing a shaking hand on the tousled, blonde head he managed to smile and mumble, "It's okay, it's okay. You don't have to do that. Bless - bless you."
Shuddering with revulsion at the blinding, brightly smiling look the action earned him, Daniel quickly broke the connection and scrambled back up to his feet. Muttering an apology to them he knew they would not understand, Daniel quickly stepped around them and hurried away from them, down his former path. Their receding cries of gratitude haunted his every step.
He'd barely escaped the sounds of them when he had to stop and lean against the side of the corridor for support. Rage, dismay and disgust filled him almost to the point of overflowing. Was there never going to be an end to it? Would the lengths to which the beast seemed to want to go to humiliate and subjugate him never cease? Everything he cared about, every avenue of comfort, one by one the beast was taking them all away. First Jack, then Nah'tak, and now, the final blow. Now his new friends, those of his own kind.
How could he turn to them now? How could he expect them to consider him as one of their own and accept him into their midst? Gone. All of it gone. Ruined. Wasn't going to be the way it was. Not any more. Now they'd be looking at him like he was..like he was one of them. Another...another beast. Another monster who'd use them as it pleased, toy with their lives, make them subject to its whims and caprices, and who could do with them whatever it wished. If they did not please him.
Daniel shuddered. Wasn't like that. He wasn't like that. But now, whenever they looked at him, what the beast had made him was all they would see.
He wasn't a beast! He wasn't! He was..he was.god, what was he? What was he...so hard to think through all the fury. This new, roaring wrongness filled him, but before it, there'd been something, something he'd been doing, some reason he'd been out here, heading back for the beast's lair.
Daniel leaned up against the cold, unfeeling metal behind him, feeling it biting into his skin as he breathed deeply, trying to calm himself. Had to make it stop. Had to make all of it stop. Only one way to finally find peace.
Clarity came with resolution. Once he'd decided, it was all ridiculously uncomplicated. No longer conflicted, torn or tormented, Daniel smiled serenely to himself as he began to swiftly make his way to his destination.
He was well on his way to the peace he'd been seeking.
Good. He was being good. Hadn't hit anyone, yelled at anyone, or broken anything. Good. Danny'd be proud. Good. Good. The word beat inside him, thumping rhythmically in time to the hollow, low, booming sound he was hearing on the periphery of his awareness. Not just hearing it, feeling it vibrating inside him in perfect time to the word thudding relentlessly in his head.
Good. Boom. Good. Boom.
"Oh my God! Colonel!"
Sam's soft, shocked voice broke the spell, bringing him back to full awareness with a sudden jolt. She'd reached his side at the same time the pain broke through. The thumping sound had stopped, replaced by the searing, shooting pain. Confused, he looked down at his right hand, blinking dumbly at it, understanding from the way it looked, why it was hurting.
Crap. Pulped. Bleeding. What the hell? By his side. Spot on the deck. Smeared red. Where - where he'd been pounding on it. Pounding and pounding and...
Sonofabitch, hadn't felt a damned thing. Sure was feeling it now, though.
He closed his eyes, biting back a groan as he let his head fall back against the bulkhead behind him. Carter gently reached for the hand he'd trashed. He heard the harsh hiss of her dismayed inhalation as she gave his handiwork a quick visual once-over.
"Wow, what a mess," she scolded. "Dammit, Colonel, what have you done to yourself? Sir, I need you to sit still and let me deal with this. Okay?"
Mad at me, scared for me, talking to me like I'm a little kid. God bless you, Carter, you're a damned good person. Better to me than I deserve.
"It's okay, Carter, it's okay. You go right on ahead. I'll be good."
He kept his eyes closed, letting the weariness take him, not knowing what Carter was doing, but then, not needing to. Teal'c had said to him he couldn't give up, but he didn't see how he could keep on trying. He hadn't thought it possible to feel more rage than he'd already known, but Marty's latest bucket of gasoline on the flames had taken him to heights of fury he hadn't even realized existed. It went way beyond rational, past the point of primal even.
And yet it was nothing compared to the force he'd been trying so futilely to push past.
He didn't even know what part of it was his, and what was Danny's any more. Not that it mattered. It was dark and torrid, cold and incendiary, and it was both an insurmountable barrier and an implacable prison. Couldn't bust it down, couldn't break out of it. No matter how hard he tried.
Now he was hurting himself trying. Inside, outside. God only knew what it was driving Danny to.
And god, god, god, but he HAD to know. Too much bad, for too long. What was it doing to Danny? What was it driving him to? He had to know. Had to.
Resistance is futile. The harder you push, the more it pushes back. You get back what you put in. The more you struggle, the deeper you sink. Thoughts are things. The kinds of thoughts...the kinds of thoughts...
Thoughts tumbled through Jack's head. Seemingly strangely disjointed, disorienting, randomly sparking, wildly unconnected and yet with an illogical flavour of logic to them all the same.
Star Trek? What the hell was he thinking about Star Trek for? But there was something, the thing about forcefields and...and resistance.
Or rather, not resisting.
Then he remembered. Sonofabitch. Who said TV wasn't educational?
Star Trek! The one about the chick who couldn't talk, but did the healing thing without a healing device. Spock and Kirk were stuck behind a forcefield that got stronger when they tried to push their way through it. But Spock figured out if he let it all go, if he emptied himself of all emotion..
He could walk right through it. And he did.
Crap. That was it. Stop feeding the fire. Stop getting all worked up and FIGHTING. All his anger was going back at Danny, meeting up with everything he was sending at him, making the barrier between them even stronger, harder to break through. Feedback loop. The harder he struggled, the stronger it got, the angrier he got. And so on, and so on.
The only way to get through was to let it all go. Stop reacting. Stop pushing. Stop fighting. If he could calm down, he'd be able to walk right through.
He could do calm. For Danny, he could do anything.
The beast's lair was quiet, swathed in muted darkness. Daniel moved silently, purposefully, not looking at the slumbering form recumbent on the huge, round platform of horror beneath him as he walked past it. He needed something. All he had to do was get it, and then he could get to what he came here to do.
Daniel slipped soundlessly past the curtain, darting quickly into the wardrobe. Going immediately to his hiding place. He smiled to himself as his hands closed upon what he sought.
Still here. It was still here. Had what he needed.
His heart was pounding with exhilaration as his hand closed upon the hilt. No hesitation, no fear, no doubt. It was time.
The air was thick around him, seeming to cling cloyingly to his body, making the effort to turn around and retrace his steps enormous. Wide awake and yet dreaming he walked, each step bringing him closer to the beast. Lucid and yet disturbingly detached he floated, firm of purpose, wandering in a straight, determined line to the side of the bed where the beast slumbered unknowing, sheltered in a dream it would never awaken from.
He'd accept the role of a god he'd been handed - but never wanted - for just this one small moment in time. Just long enough to be the hand of God in delivering divine justice through the means of the sliver of steel in his hand.
Daniel stood, wavering, looking down at the beast. Suddenly, the knife floated up into his vision, glinting cool fire as a shiver of light arced across it. Promising release, peace, a teasing phantom of beckoning comfort.
"Use me, and be free," it seemed to call to him.
...let it go...
Daniel froze. Heard something, felt something. For just an instant, almost as if...
A strident warning stabbed through his brain, banishing everything else. He was being watched.
Startled, Daniel looked up from the knife in his hand. To meet the eyes of the beast.
It was awake. Still lying where it had been, only now its eyes were open. Looking at him. Looking at him with sadness. Such..such terrible sorrow.
"So, it has come to this, at last," Chronos said softly.
"Have you come to kill me, Daniel? Yes, I see you have. Very well. Do as you wish. I will not stop you. It is an apt punishment for what I have done."
"Shut up!" Daniel snapped. "Just - shut up."
His hand was shaking, fingers clenched so tightly around the knife it felt as if it could liquefy in his palm from the pressure being exerted upon it. He'd come this far. He couldn't let anything stop him now.
Not even a strange, nearly forgotten, nascent fluttering...
The beast's brow knit pensively as it looked at the knife in his hand. "Your weapon is not sufficient to the task, you know," it said with a smile that was fond, rather than fearful. "It will kill me, it is true. But it will not accomplish what you truly desire - my permanent eradication."
The beast slowly stroked the surface of the bed before him as he continued to speak, moving his hand carefully over the silken sheet, methodically smoothing the material free of every wrinkle and ripple.
"Careful planning is essential if you wish to be successful in these sorts of matters, Daniel. You must examine every aspect of the problem, allow for every possible requirement, contingency and ramification of your course of action. You are new to this, therefore some ignorance in this regard is to be expected."
The beast favoured him with a slightly doting smile, not unlike the sort of one a kindly mentor would bestow upon his favourite pupil.
"Fortunately, I have much more experience and have anticipated your needs. The ones you are aware you have, as well as the ones you have not even thought of yet."
...let it go...
Daniel blinked in abject confusion as he struggled to push back the pall of unreality settling all about him. This was not going the way it was supposed to. Not at all.
"Wh - what are you talking about?" he stammered.
"I do not fear death at your hands, " Chronos replied calmly. "It is as much as I deserve, for what I have done."
"Yes!" Daniel cried. "What you've done. The pain, the suffering. All those people, all those deaths - "
"No, Daniel," the beast admonished gently, shaking his head. "I must pay for what I have done to you. I scoured the universe for a rare and precious gem, and having found what I most desired - what have I done? I have so fully corrupted and sullied this treasure it now comes to me as something it never could have been before I touched it."
Chronos sat up, reaching out toward him as if he meant to touch him, even though the distance between them made it impossible for him to have done so. Abruptly he aborted the gesture, his face unreadable as he darted a brief glance at the hand suspended in the air between them before returning it carefully back to his side.
"I have defiled your very essence, Daniel, and in so doing have created the agent of my own destruction. This is the crime I confess to, and am prepared to answer for in full. However, before I die, I wish you to know your efforts to instruct me have not been entirely in vain. I understand what you have been trying to tell me about consequences, and have endeavoured, as much as I possibly can, to mitigate the consequences that will ensue from my death."
"Consequences?" Daniel murmured dumbly. He wavered dizzily as bewilderment boxed him about the ears. The beast looked at him with concern as he noted his unsteadiness, motioning for him to seat himself down on the bed. Numbly, unthinking, Daniel obeyed.
"What do you think will happen to you when it is discovered I am gone?" Chronos continued. "Obviously I cannot protect you once I am dead, but I do not wish you to be harmed, even after I am no more. You have not given any thought to your escape, but I have."
"Escape?" Daniel echoed, his head whirling. Escape? What happened - once he'd done this? The beast - Chronos - it - he - he was right. He hadn't thought. Hadn't thought about any of it. What would happen as a result of what he'd come here to do. What would happen to him - to - to..
All he'd been thinking about was making it all stop. Not what would happen. Not what it would mean. Just about himself. Only himself. Hadn't been thinking. Hadn't been thinking at all. Oh God! Jack - Sam! He'd forgotten everything. Forgotten about them..
"Put the knife, down, Daniel," Chronos said firmly as he reached beneath the pillow behind him. Daniel stared blankly at the object he was still tightly clutching. He'd completely forgotten about it. He was still staring at it when he felt Chronos gently open his fingers, take it from him and put something else in his hand.
Zat gun. Oh.
"The knife will kill me, but it will not completely ensure I do not return. This will."
Zat gun. Kills and gets rid of the evidence. Eliminates the problem and takes out the trash. All in one convenient package. Chronos was right - he really did think of everything. Guess he had everything he needed now. No excuses. Not even any resistance. Intended victim was being the soul of co-operation. What more could any budding cold-blooded murderer in training ask for?
Today the System Lord, tomorrow the galaxy? So much for starting small and working your way up.
Daniel started to giggle.
"Daniel, listen to me," Chronos' voice compelled him, cutting through his rising hysteria. He would be obeyed, right to the very end. "You must listen to what I am about to tell you. This is very important."
Listen? Okay. He could listen. He could sit here like a completely self-absorbed, unthinking, out of his head monster and listen.
"I have been anticipating this visit. I had so hoped I was wrong in what I was seeing in you, but I had to be prepared for what could be. I have left strict instructions, these past few nights, not to be disturbed under any circumstances. Once you have finished your task here you will have time to get safely away. It will be many hours before it is finally determined I am no longer aboard the ship, possibly many days before the full truth is finally discovered."
"You knew I was planning to kill you?" Daniel murmured in astonishment. "You - you knew?" Even as he was saying the words he knew he shouldn't have been surprised. As much as Chronos went on about the god thing he wasn't truly divinely omniscient. But he certainly came pretty damned close to it.
Chronos might not know EVERYTHING everything, but he sure seemed to know everything about him.
"I knew you might," Chronos returned sadly. "I knew you wished to. I hoped you would not, because that would mean there was yet some part of you I had not succeeded in despoiling. However, I see that in this, as in all things I set myself to, I have been entirely successful. My crime is fully accomplished."
"You want me to kill you - because you've made me want to kill you?"
Goa'uld logic. Chronos wanted him to do it. Because he wanted to do it. Did he? Did he - want to? He came here, wanting to. Wanted to, would have.
Would have? Would he have done it? Would he really have - done it?
Could he do it now?
"Never mind, Daniel, it does not matter now." The beast had moved closer. There was a hand on his arm. How had it gotten there?
"Daniel!" Once again, the voice. Requiring him to look, to focus, pay attention. Suddenly, he didn't want to. Didn't want to hear any more. Felt as if he was being pulled toward something he wanted no part of.
"Daniel, dear Daniel, listen carefully to me." The hand on his arm moved up. Touching his face, now, stroking the hair back from his forehead with a gentle, mesmerizing rhythm. "Once you have killed me, leave here quickly and go immediately to the glider bay. Nah'tak is there waiting for you. He has already been some time absent following my instructions in expectation of this event. He will take you away from here and to the sanctuary that has been prepared for you."
Nah'tak? Nah'tak was - was here? Wasn't gone? Hadn't been taken away from him? Chronos hadn't been trying to hurt him, to punish him, to separate him from someone dear to him?
He'd been trying to - to SAVE him?
No. No, no, no. He wasn't hearing this, was NOT hearing this. This wasn't right. Wasn't possible.
No. Not listening. Not listening to any more of this. Do it. Just do IT! Make it shut up!
Daniel's hand tightened convulsively about the weapon in his hand. He began to stroke the activation switch lovingly with his thumb as he continued to listen.
"You will not be able to return to Earth, I am afraid. And as to what will happen to your planet once I am no longer here to restrain my Underlords and the System Lord Collective itself - I cannot say. I have done what I can to set certain things in motion that hopefully will keep them too busy fighting amongst themselves to bother with Earth for a time. As well, I have left specific instructions as to my wishes with regards to the disposition of my interests. They will be disseminated to those I know I can trust to carry them out. What good any of this will do towards maintaining the order I have worked so carefully to preserve once I am no longer here I cannot know, but I have tried to ensure my influence and wishes will prevail for a time after I am gone."
Oh God! The - the System Lords! Everything Chronos controlled, his place in the big picture! If he wasn't here...
The galaxy itself might go up in flames.
God - what had he almost done?
"Your friends are being watched and protected. When it is safe, Jack will be told where to find you. I have done everything I can think of, as much as I can do while I am still alive. Now, it is time for you to do what you must."
"What?" Daniel gulped. Time? Time for him to kill Chronos? That's why he was here - what all of this was all about. Still wanted him to do it. Still expected him to do it. But how could he - how could he - now that he was beginning to understand?
The hand cupped his cheek, turning his face toward eyes burning with a different awareness than the one formerly addressing him.
"Now, Daniel," the voice was different, softer, but equally firm in its resigned determination. "This isn't the time to lose your resolve. The freedom you desire is before you. The price you must pay for it is this one act. Kill us, and you will have everything you want. Retribution, as well as freedom. Surely you cannot deny you wish to be free, and that we deserve to die."
"Alexander!" Daniel cried, gripping the hand caressing his cheek. IT - Chronos was the one who deserved to die! Not Alexander!
"Yes, it's me," Alexander smiled at him. "I wanted to say good-bye to you as well. I also wanted to let you know I too understand why this must be, and that I'm not afraid to die."
"No!" Daniel cried, feeling horrified tears pricking his eyes. "I don't want to hurt you - you've done me no harm..oh god! Isn't there something - some - some way...?" Couldn't - couldn't hurt Alexander. Had forgotten about him, too.
"No," Alexander shook his head sadly. "Chronos offered to leave my body, but we both know if he did so it still wouldn't save me. I am thousands of years old, Daniel. Far older than any human being was ever meant to be. Without the influence of the symbiote to sustain me even the sarcophagus would not be enough to stave off the rapid aging my body would undergo upon his withdrawal. I provide Chronos with a vehicle for his biological survival, but his presence is the only thing keeping me alive. Without him, I die. We are one. You cannot kill one of us without destroying the other."
"Oh, god," Daniel groaned, burying his face in his hands. "Alexander...I can't. Not - not you. And what about - what about..." He looked up, affixing earnest, desperate eyes upon the man beside him. "All those things Chronos just said - I mean, about what he did - and what might happen if I - I mean if he was - was he telling the truth?"
"He was," Alexander nodded solemnly. "There will be chaos with his death, even everything he has tried to do to lessen this will not stop it from happening. But you are not to worry about that. You will be safe. Your friends will be safe. You will be reunited with Jack eventually. You will be happy once more. That's all that matters."
"All that MATTERS?" Daniel roared, springing up from the bed and starting to pace distractedly beside it. "How can you say that? God, this is so like him! So damned set on getting his way no matter who or what gets hurt in the process! God!" He stopped pacing and whirled on the man recumbent before him, wildly gesticulating at him with the gun in his hands, his angry words punctuated by his jerking gestures.
"Chaos! Conflict! Destruction! Millions hurt, killed, worlds going up in flames, caught in the crossfire of the System Lord free for all - but none of that matters, 'cause Daniel Jackson will be HAPPYy? How could I possibly be HAPPY - knowing I was responsible for causing something like this to happen?"
"How, indeed?" Alexander said calmly.
Daniel's mouth fell open as the Zat gun hit the floor.
"It would seem you are a better teacher than you perhaps realized."
Daniel's mind was as blank as the expression on his face.
Alexander cocked his head and studied the man standing frozen before him.
"I think you shall not kill us, now," he said, a carefully considering expression on his face. "Am I correct?"
"You are," Daniel answered softly. "How could I, now that I understand the consequences?"
"Even though it means in refusing to do so you forgo both your first real chance at freedom, and revenge?"
"Yeah. How's about that for stupid, huh?"
Alexander's dark eyes were awash with tears as a huge smile lit his face. "I care not so much to know I will continue to live as I rejoice in the reason for it. The crime is not complete after all, it would seem."
"What are you talking about, now?" Daniel muttered as he screwed his eyes shut and rubbed his forehead. His mind was swimming once again, as conflicting emotions temporarily held at bay by shock and realization now came surging back into his consciousness with a vengeance. What he'd just learned changed a few things and yet still changed nothing.
"That does not matter," the man in the bed responded. "How are you feeling, Daniel?"
Chronos. That was Chronos talking. He didn't even have to look to know.
"How am I feeling? Angry, confused, appalled, outraged, ashamed, hysterical. You know, pretty much the usual. Same old, same old. Thanks for asking."
Daniel started to laugh with the whole absurd outrageousness of his situation. A minute and a half ago he'd been a homicidal maniac. That was before he'd come to his senses courtesy of a morality lesson from a homicidal maniac.
Who said the universe didn't have a fine sense of irony?
Oh, and let's not forget the best part. It seemed he wasn't a cold-blooded killer after all, but he was a god. Because he was, in effect, now married to one. He wasn't just a god, he was a bigamist. A Holy Bigamist. Holy crap.
Shit, where the hell was that Zat gun? Just so the day shouldn't be a total waste, he could still use it on himself.
Daniel gasped as he felt arms of steel surround him. Coming up from behind him, pulling him into the body pressing into his back. Shit. Hadn't even heard him coming.
"When you are capable of listening I will explain," the low, deep voice said softly into his ear as warm breath caressed the side of his face. "For the moment, I will tell you this. Though the results of my actions were to the contrary - I truly meant you no harm."
"Let me go," Daniel moaned.
The arms tightened around him, pulling him closer, deeper into the firm reality of the being holding him. Lips brushed against the side of his face.
"You once told me every living being was special, unique, and worthy of life. Let me show you my worth."
"Please let me go," Daniel gasped, feeling himself beginning to sink to the floor as his legs crumbled beneath him.
Chronos did not relinquish his grip, or try to prevent either of them from the downward descent. He continued to hold Daniel while they both sat on the floor, cradling him to his chest as he struggled to escape the embrace.
"No," the System Lord said softly. "You are distressed. I have seen you like this, but could do nothing because I did not know what to do. I watched him. I saw what he did for you. I will do this for you."
There was no arguing with the implacable determination in that voice. Daniel stifled a sob as he ceased struggling, panting with trepidation as he lay limply in Chronos' arms. Chronos did nothing but hold him, while he massaged his arm and back with firm, steady strokes. Touching him gently, soothingly, almost...tenderly.
Couldn't get away but wasn't hurting him. Wasn't intruding too - too much. Didn't want it to happen, but it wasn't too bad. Rather Chronos wasn't touching him, but he wasn't trying to hurt him. Was - was trying to help. Nothing else, just - help.
Help him feel better.
Tired. So tired. Tired of the fighting and the hating and maybe, just maybe he'd gotten it wrong. He'd just heard enough to make him think maybe he'd misunderstood. So busy hating he'd stop thinking about anything but hating. So maybe he'd been wrong. About a lot of things. Chronos had meant him no harm? Maybe, maybe he really hadn't. He didn't know. Didn't know anything except he was tired and maybe it was just ..time...
He'd come here to make it all stop. Maybe he still could. He'd been so fixed on the wrong course of action, he'd missed the obvious, far easier one.
Daniel sighed as he closed his eyes, stopped fighting and just let go.
It's okay, love, it's okay. I've got you. Got you. Found you at last.
Okay? You're okay? Safe? You're safe? You? Sam? Teal'c? Safe?
We're good, Danny, we're fine. We're fine. Don't worry. More worried about you.
Okay. I'm okay now. Thought I'd lost you. Couldn't feel you anymore, Jack. Went a little nuts.
Hey, don't feel bad. Me too. But you're okay, now, right? He hasn't... hasn't hurt you? Or anything?
No. No. Hasn't hurt me. Should have. But he didn't.
Do I want to hear about this?
I don't ever want to get that lost again, Jack. I don't know what's going to happen but promise me, promise me you won't let anything happen to you. I couldn't take it, couldn't live with myself if I knew I was responsible -
Easy, Danny, easy. Let's not buy trouble, here. Got enough already. One thing at a time. We've got some problem, sure, maybe things have gotten a little more complicated....
Understand congratulations are in order.
Jesus, Jack! How can you joke about this? They're running around flinging themselves at my feet and asking me to bless their children.
Call me when you graduate to healing the sick and raising the dead. Could have some work for you.
I love you, you know.
Yeah, well, back atcha, babe, even though you're turning out to be a lot more trouble than you're worth.
Not fooling me, you like trouble.
Sure I'm crazy, but you knew that already. Got an idea. What say when this is over we take a decade off and just get naked a lot. Danny? Danny?
Still here, Jack. Is it ever going to be over? You've always been my favourite cheerleader when it comes to the 'let's keep going team it's not that bad', stuff, but I think even the indefatigable O'Neill optimism in the face of adversity has finally met its match in this particular situation.
You've known me how long, Danny?
All of the only part of my life that matters.
Oh, now, you see, I like it when you talk like that. Think like that. Keep thinking like that, love, and leave the rest to me.
Okay. Okay. Tired. Glad you're here, but I'm really tired.
I know. I know. You rest. Think good thoughts. No more of the crazy stuff. Messes everything up. Keep calm and just hang in there. You'll be back where you belong in no time. Right here safe and snug in Poppa Jack's loving arms. You hear me? You got that?
Yeah. And Jack?
Nice pom poms.
I am SO gonna get you for that!
Coming back now. Waking up. He'd been warm, safe, loved, but he was waking up, now, not sure where he was.
Lying down, yielding, cushiony surface beneath him. Someone large, warm, and strong, close to him. Arms around him, face pressed against a soft, living pillow. Skin, wiry, curling hair cushioning his cheek, bristling against his nose. Tickled. It always tickled. But in a nice way.
This felt familiar. This felt good. Safe. Maybe it was all right to wake up.
Then there was the sound. The regular, reassuring sound, the beating of the strong, constant heart that had lulled him to sleep countless times, safe and secure in the unflagging certainty of its tireless devotion. As long as that heart beat everything was well and truly right in Daniel Jackson's world.
Jack. Home. He was home. All the rest of it had been a dream. A really, really bad dream. But that's all it had been. A dream. Not real. None of it real. He was home. Home with Jack. Waking up in his arms. Where he belonged.
Everything was all right now.
No, honey. No. Wish it was, but.... Come on, Danny, work with me, here. You're sorta not all there, yet. Take it easy, come on back slow. I'm with you, but I'm not....
Wait a minute. Something wasn't right. Jack was here, could hear him, but... Where was he? In someone's arms, being held like Jack always held him, but it didn't feel like Jack. Didn't smell like Jack.
Not Jack? Not Jack. Well, then who?
Oh god. Oh god! No. No, no, no! NO!
Easy, Danny, easy! Don't... oh crap!
"No!" Daniel shrieked, arms and legs flailing in blind panic as the instantaneous flight response drove every coherent thought out of his head. The last lingering strands of comforting serenity swaddling him were dashed rudely from his awareness by the ice water of brutal realization.
The dark eyes looking deeply into his were not Jack's. Not his eyes, not his arms, not his welcome, safe body wrapped around him.
He was as far away from home and happiness as he had ever been. Still in the last place in all of creation he wanted to be.
In Chronos' bed. In Chronos' arms. Daniel struggled to stifle the screams even as he fought to extricate himself from the unwanted, enveloping embrace.
The System Lord held on to him grimly, starting to stroke him, trying no doubt to calm him even though his efforts were having the opposite effect on the object of his obsession. Daniel knew Chronos was saying something, but paid no heed to the words issuing from the hated mouth far too close to his own.
Someone else was speaking to him, furnishing a steady beacon of comfort he latched as grimly onto as Chronos was holding onto him.
Sorry, hon, sorry, know crap-face isn't the greatest thing to be waking up to, but try to get a grip, 'kay? You know if you carry on it's just going to make him touch you more. Lean on me, Danny, we'll get you through it. It'll be okay.
Jack's boundless strength surged into him as Daniel's panicked thoughts were filled and steadied by Jack's presence. Okay. Got taken by surprise, but he could get a handle on it. Jack was helping him get beyond the heart stopping horror of reaction, giving him the space to calm down. He was no worse off than he was before. Not any happier about it, but a whole lot happier he wasn't alone with it anymore.
Daniel stopped struggling as the terror gradually abated. Still breathing harshly in the aftermath of his frenzied efforts he lay still within the prison of the arms about him. Didn't hate where he was any less, but could deal with the reality of having to be there.
Okay, now, Danny? I'll be around, but not quite like this. We're getting off this pony ride now, so that means I've got to pull back a little, wake up and make like a colonel again. Still right here on the line, though. Shout and I'll come running.
I know. Counting on it.
Daniel barely had time to savour the feeling of knowing even though the internal sense of 'Jack' wasn't as strong as it had been before, it was still, thankfully, very much, there. Barely an instant to bask in the comfort of knowing he had what he most needed again before the System Lord's voice brought him an unwilling reminder of his current reality.
However, after the night he'd just spent safe and soothed in the shelter of Jack's love even Chronos didn't look too bad in the morning.
"You were having a very pleasant dream," Chronos continued softly. Daniel tried not to twitch reactively as he felt the System Lord's lips brush against the top of his head.
"You could say that," Daniel replied levelly.
"Pity your awakening was not as pleasant for you."
Not too much he could say to that. When Chronos was right, he was right.
"You want to explain to me how completely ruining my life is for my own good?"
Daniel plucked petulantly at the seam of the cushion beside him. They'd dealt with the awkwardness of entangling themselves, had gone their separate ways while ostensibly in the same suite and when Daniel had emerged from the requisite morning dunk and spiff had found breakfast and an equally spiffed System Lord waiting for him.
He'd curled himself up on the farthest end of the couch with sullen grace, and had applied himself to eating with equally tacit focus and resignation.
Sure. Call a spade a spade. He was sulking. Own up to it, already. Bad enough to admit to himself he was clattering cutlery and flinging foodstuffs about like a chastised ten year old who'd just been told he couldn't go out to play and wasn't taking it very well, then to look over at Chronos with the intention of freezing him with his displeasure, only to be appalled to see his nemesis grinning at him like he was just the cutest thing Chronos had ever seen.
Wasn't going for CUTE, dammit!
I am not cute!
"You are truly delightful, " Chronos chuckled, a huge smile spreading over his face.
Daniel closed his eyes and sighed deeply. "Can I - can I ask you a silly question, here?"
Chronos shrugged and made an expansive, inviting gesture for him to continue.
"Does it register ANYWHERE in that vast and all consuming ego of yours I don't LIKE you?"
Chronos' indulgent smile faded as he seemed to deeply consider his answer before responding.
"Of course I am aware of the existence and extent of the personal enmity you hold toward me. Especially in light of my recent actions, which were well intentioned for all they were not received as such. I know you do not like me. To put it mildly. However, I am determined not to let your unfriendly inclinations toward me spoil my enjoyment of you. I am - as you would say - making the best of a bad situation. Given the inevitability of the current circumstances, I suggest for your own peace of mind you should consider doing the same.
Daniel silently glared at him, unwilling to accept the stark wisdom of the statement.
"So I guess I can't talk you into dropping me off at the next Stargate. I can find my way home from there, honest."
"I cannot," Chronos said softly.
"You mean you won't." Daniel snapped back.
"I said what I meant." Chronos' response was still quiet, still unperturbed. He plainly wasn't about to allow himself to be pulled into an argument. He seemed, in fact, to be going to extraordinary lengths to maintain his calm in defiance of Daniel's deliberate and slightly perverse efforts to provoke him. "I cannot let you go, now, Daniel. It is impossible."
"More excuses," Daniel sneered. "I thought you were the great and powerful Chronos. You can do anything you want. You've said so, often enough."
"Even absolute power has its own constraints," Chronos sighed. "Once you have obtained it, you must be prepared to do whatever is necessary to keep it. And always be aware of those who would try to take it from you. What was 'done' was as much mindful of this as it was to protect you. And please you."
"Please me?" Daniel cried, astonished. "How could you possibly have thought making me something I abhor would please me?"
"Do you not wish to please the one you love?' Chronos said quietly, his gaze steely and directed firmly toward a spot behind Daniel's right shoulder. "I could think of no greater gift to give you than everything I have. I did not stop to consider you would not appreciate my intention. Or desire what I gave you."
The System Lord fell silent, the nakedness of his stark admission gaping between them. Daniel found himself incapable of speech as the implications of the revelation cut him like a knife.
This - this was the last thing he expected. All this time he'd been thinking Chronos was simply - insane - and yet here he was……he'd just said... hadn't meant any of it the way he'd thought. Hadn't been about trying to hurt him, or trick him or trap him.
Hadn't meant him any harm.
What had Alexander said to him? It was a mistake to judge Chronos by his own standards? To read his own motives and motivations into what the System Lord did?
No matter what he looked like, he wasn't human. Didn't think like one?
Yet, here he was - trying to. For his sake. Not doing such a shit-hot job of it, but then the human who was the object of the exercise hadn't been exactly helpful or supportive of the attempt. And now he was aware of it, he was torn between appalling astonishment and complete denial.
All this reality rocking was getting very hard on the system. He didn't know how many more attitude/worldview adjustments he had left in him.
"You said this Kal ni esh... thing... was also about protecting me," Daniel began awkwardly, his voice sounding strange and unreal in his own ears. But he continued to force the words out. Anything to push the conversation forward, move it beyond the strange concepts wreaking havoc with everything he thought he knew and understood about what had been happening to him. "What's... what's that all about?"
Chronos smiled slightly, looking at him again for the first time since he'd last spoken. "You are not aware you are Chronos' ultimate folly, are you Daniel? Many of those who are sworn to serve me are becoming increasingly convinced my... passion... for you, seemingly at the exclusion of all else is indicative I am becoming weak and unable to command. That my judgement has become impaired by my desire for you. They perceive this latest action as the final proof of this. "
"Yeah, well I can see that," Daniel nodded. "Getting all misty-eyed over some dumb, inferior Tau'ri has got to seem pretty, well, nuts to your average minor megalomaniac. So how does proving to them you are nuts help?"
Chronos leaned back and flashed him a satisfied smile, obviously becoming happier with the indications the man he was addressing was finally listening to him rather than fighting him. "You do not desire the status I have conferred upon you anymore than my Underlords believe you deserve it. However, giving it to you is the very way I shall convince all of them, unequivocally, of the error of their beliefs regarding both my fitness and your worthiness. It will re-establish my dominance and respect in their eyes, validate every action I have taken on your behalf and place you in an unassailable position of strength and respect amongst the ranks of those who currently despise you. Once they learn why I have done this, both your position and mine will be secure."
"So, it's really not about pleasing me after all, " Daniel said tightly, feeling relieved and yet strangely disappointed to hear his former opinions seemingly reaffirmed by Chronos' last statement. "It's right back to you and you getting what you want."
"No," Chronos retorted stubbornly. "It was for you. You will see this in time. I regret now I did not understand as I do now. Before things have come to be as they are."
"Ah," Daniel sighed. "This is the part I'm REALLY going to hate, now, right?"
"You are now forced to exist within the consequences of my actions," Chronos nodded, heavy regret hanging in his eyes. "What is done is done. It is irrevocable. Being granted my status means you are forever bound to me. I cannot change this now. I am truly sorry."
"Shit, " Daniel groaned, rubbing his eyes with a weary hand. "I'm getting where you're going with this. I'm your number one boy now. Your Achilles heel. Shit."
"I do not understand the reference, but if you have surmised it would be impossible for you to survive without my protection because of the value I have publicly declared I place on you, you are correct."
"So much for that quick gate home," Daniel muttered, his heart sinking. "You've just made me into a trophy for every Goa'uld who wants to get all your goodies."
"That is one of the results, but not the main one I was hoping to achieve by the action. It is, however, the one which makes impossible your hopes for release."
"You really can't let me go now. Even if you wanted to."
"I am sorry."
"Not half as sorry as I am," Daniel groaned as he let his body slump back against the couch in defeat. "Damn, when you do something, you really do it, don't you? So, now what?"
"We are both reasonable beings," Chronos began calmly, unperturbed by Daniel's convulsive snort of reaction to his opening statement. "Logical beings. Rational beings. That being the case, it would seem the most logical thing for us to do would be to face the inevitability of the situation and find some way to deal amicably with each other within it. Though you may never grow to like me, I would hope we could somehow find a common ground. A way to co-exist. As rational beings. Does that not seem to you to be a more useful way to proceed in our interrelation than the way matters have previously been between us?"
Daniel was silent, still unable to answer as the whole thing crowded around him, its implications still too massive for the moment. Chronos heaved a heavy sigh, rose and crossed to him. He knelt at his feet and put a hand on his thigh, compelling Daniel to look at him.
"Daniel, I cannot change what is. Cannot unmake what I have done. All I can do is agree to whatever conditions you require to make life as bearable as possible for you. I am willing to do whatever I can to achieve this. You may continue to hurt yourself hating me and this situation if you wish, but I think you are wiser and stronger than this. You are capable of understanding this behaviour will change nothing, will avail you nothing and will only result in your own destruction."
"You can start by keeping your hands to yourself," Daniel said sourly as he glared down at the hand on his thigh.
Chronos smiled faintly, withdrew his hand and seated himself on the couch beside Daniel. Close, but not touching. "Very well. When we are alone, I will try. I can promise no more. However, when we are not, it is essential to your new role we maintain a certain... appearance."
"You mean I've got to act the part. So you can look good. Why should I?"
"Self interest?" Chronos grinned playfully at him. "Up until now you have not had occasion to interact at length with my kind. This is about to change. Very soon. I will give you this piece of friendly advice which you may consider as you wish. It is not wise to display signs of weakness. You may not like me, Daniel, but I assure you, you need me now. You would do well to allow me to guide, advise and protect you if you wish to survive in this world you have no choice to exist in."
"I can hardly wait," Daniel returned dryly. "All right. Fine. Truce, then. Not like I have a choice. So when does the fun of meet and greet the Goa'uld begin?"
"Very shortly," Chronos replied crisply as he rose to his feet. "I must leave now, to attend to the welcoming of an old friend of yours. When I return I will conduct you to the place where you will renew your acquaintance and experience the beginnings of understanding. After that, things are about to get very interesting. We are going to war."
Too stunned to respond, Daniel could only stare as Chronos bowed his head, turned and strode briskly to the stairs. He'd bounded up them and out of the suite before Daniel could stop him.
Omigawd, Jack, I'm really in it now!
Hang on tight, Danny, we'll get you out of this. Somehow.
"Like your new place," Jack said jauntily as he let his gaze wander around the High Council Chamber in the Tok'ra's new underground crystal lair. The 'good' snakes hadn't wasted any time in pulling up stakes and relocating once Lu had clued them in Chronos could very well know their old address.
Hadn't wasted any time at all.
"See you're sticking with the same décor though," he continued, as he smiled impudently at Garshaw. "A little too 'out there' for my tastes, but then I'm a traditional kinda guy."
He carried on smiling at Garshaw, not letting the expression slip or waver in the slightest as he felt his 2IC pinch his arm. Rather painfully. What was it with some people, not wanting him to have ANY fun? They might have no choice but to camp out with the Tok'ra for an indefinite period of time, and yeah, okay, it was true they needed them, but he was DAMNED he was going to be doing any butt kissing.
No way. Not going to happen. Just the same way there were certain important pieces of information he had no intention of passing on to their supposed allies. The Tok'ra weren't the only ones who could play 'keep away.'
Martouf seemed to be doing most of the talking. Not sure how that worked, or how Marty rated being the mouthpiece, but one thing Jack did know, he wasn't too happy with it. Any more than he was in love with the idea of Martouf continuing to be involved in Danny's rescue in any way.
"Obviously any plan to liberate Doctor Jackson must be contingent upon becoming once again apprised of all of Chronos' movements and activities," Martouf said smoothly as he surveyed the group assembled in the chamber. "As we no longer possess a reliable onsite source of intelligence." He paused and gazed expectantly at Jack. "That is still the case, Colonel O'Neill? There as yet has been no restoration of the rapport you share with Doctor Jackson?"
Jack shrugged and put on a slightly sorrowful face. "No. Sorry. Not yet. Been trying but can't get through."
Martouf examined his face searchingly for several seconds before giving him a sympathetic smile. "That is unfortunate. For you, as well as for us. However, in the light of the failure of this venue of communication and the corruption of our operative we must take immediate steps to regain what has been lost. We have no realistic chance of mounting any sort of effort until we can get another operative aboard that ship who can provide us with what we require. Therefore, I recommend the placement of a new operative should be our first priority. I further wish to invite our Tau'ri allies to contribute their resources and initial efforts toward achieving this objective."
Jack cocked an eyebrow at him. "Let me get this straight," he began, holding up a considering finger, which he then pointed at Martouf as he continued. "You want us to help you get another one of your guys on the ship. Before we do anything else? So they can mess around some more and get stuck in a sarcophagus and go nutso, too? Isn't that more like throwing good snakes after bad?"
"Since we no longer have the option of enlisting Doctor Jackson's assistance," Martouf began with an air of deliberate sufferance, " or so you CLAIM."
Definitely less tolerance in the voice and the expression. Not to mention the not so subtle challenge in the last word.
Why Marty, you just called me a liar. How rude. Takes one to know one.
"Do you have a better solution for securing the necessary shipboard intelligence? If this is the case, I'm sure we would all be most delighted to hear it."
Jack sized up the Tok'ra doing a slow burn on the other side of the table. Yeah, Marty was more than suspicious. He was at least considering the idea Jack was lying through his teeth, but he didn't know for sure. Well, wasn't that just too bad, made his heart bleed to see his valued ally in the effort in such distress, but Marty was going to stay that way. In the dark. As were the rest of his snake buddies.
Jack's own version of 'don't ask, don't tell.'
"No," Jack glared back at him as he uttered the brazen lie. "I got nothing better. Just felt like pointing out maybe we shouldn't be putting all our eggs in this 'getting on the inside' basket. Consider different options that don't leave us totally dependent on an inside guy who could go south on us any time without warning and be a further hazard to Daniel in the bargain. Like he doesn't have enough to worry about already without having to dodge a pack of foaming at the mouth 'friendlies'. If the last guy went rogue anyone else we sent in could do the same thing. That's all I'm saying."
Jack glanced to his right, meeting the eyes of his two teammates sitting beside him. Saw them looking back at him, waiting for his direction. They'd caught what he said, what he was telling them and what he hadn't just told Martouf.
We're keeping mum about me being able to talk to Danny again.
They got it. Not one word about it coming from that quarter. A nudge from the woman on his left told him Lu made the understanding and compliance unanimous.
Jack was only too aware the link he had with Daniel was his sole advantage and his one and only chance at getting around their 'friends' if they decided they were going to try and play funny yet again by 'rescuing' Daniel only to keep him for themselves. Something he wouldn't put past them, not after some of the stuff he'd already seen them not only capable of, but more than willing to pull. Jack wasn't going to give up his ace any more than he was going to give up Daniel.
Garshaw smiles at you, 'lookee, lookee, aren't we all just best buds here', nod, and smile right back. Ah, you too, Marty. Screw the whole bunch of you. I'll just sit here, make out like I'm your big dumb ally and smile right back. You're getting zippidy doo dah out of Jack O'Neill.
"Colonel, I appreciate your concerns," Martouf's tone was getting more exasperated, and the usually entirely correct and tactful Tok'ra was visibly struggling to stifle noticeable signs of annoyance. "But surely I do not need to explain the necessity of gathering accurate and timely intelligence prior to planning any sort of action to a man of your background, training and experience? Other than having someone on the inside how would you suggest we do this?"
"Maybe it's not so much whether someone's on the inside or not as who that someone should be," Jack shot back, his voice tinged with a hint of his own irritation. "Where is it written in stone it has to be one of your guys?"
"Surely you're not suggesting a member of your team!" Martouf replied, astonished. "That is completely - you'd be recognized!"
"Of course I don't mean SG-1!" Jack snorted. "That'd be - dumb. They'd make us in a minute. But we're not the only members of the SGC. We got lots of guys, we're trained for this sort of thing, there are humans on that ship and you've said they don't put the humans in the sarc - why does it have to be one of you? Our guys can do the job just as well. Better, 'cause we don't have to worry about getting our brains fried. What's the problem, don't you TRUST us?"
Martouf was launching off into another objection. Jack sighed impatiently. Marty was really bugging him and he could see the feeling was quite mutual. Dude wanted a fight, did he? Well, he was going to get one.
"Excuse me, Marty?" Jack said quickly, putting his hand up before Martouf could continue. "Ma'am?" he directed at Garshaw. "Ah, pardon me for speaking out of turn, I know how touchy you snakes are about this, but I just wanted to bring up this one teeny tiny point of order before we go any further with this little… Pow wow." He swung his gaze back to lock eyes with Martouf.
"I know this is your pad and therefore largely your show, but we're talking about one of my team members, so you'll be forgiving my presumption, but I'm going to be having a lot to say about what we do, how we do it and who we do it with. Just so you know."
Garshaw's eyes enveloped him, searchingly, but not unkindly. "Your concern does you credit," she answered quietly. "We had no intention of treating you as any less than an equal partner in this endeavour. Our apologies if we gave you a contrary impression."
"Not at all," Jack beamed one of his best smiles at her. "Just checking. Now, that point of order I was referring to earlier, goes to addressing the 'who we do this with 'part of what I was just talking about."
Garshaw focussed a patient, intent gaze upon him. He had her full and undivided attention. Jack was about to open his mouth and continue speaking, inching the 'charm' up a notch while doing so, when he caught Carter's bemused and slightly ironic smile out of the corner of his eye.
What, Major, you think I can't be 'charming'? Think you knew me or something.
"Uh, Ma'am? Garshaw? Mind if I call you Garshaw?" Jack continued in a voice toned to melt the stoniest of hearts. "And, no offence to Martouf, here, but I'm thinking you should know we've experienced a slight episode of identity confusion with somebody taking your boy's place at your end here, pretending to be him and coming back to the SGC with Major Carter. Least ways, that's the story we got from Marty. Whether it's true or not, well we haven't been able to look any further into it to find out. Again, Marty, no offence intended."
Jack shrugged as the duly named Tok'ra glared at him.
"I'm just wondering if this shouldn't be concerning all of us a little. I mean, seeing as how as far as my team and I know, what did and didn't happen around this incident has neither been investigated nor dealt with one way or the other. Which means, on our side anyway, seeing as how there's a bit of a cloud of doubt hanging around Martouf, here - again, Marty, nothing personal, do you think it's wise for him to continue to be - calling the shots? I'm a little uncomfortable with it myself, gotta tell ya. I don't want to seem as if I'm, being difficult or anything, but I think it's a valid objection to raise, seeing how security conscious you guys are and all."
Garshaw definitely wasn't smiling now. Her eyes were stern, and a little defensive.
"Colonel O'Neill," she addressed Jack in a careful, but not unfriendly voice. "I thank you for thinking to raise this very valid concern, but I wish to assure you, we are aware of the incident and what's more are fully satisfied it had no bearing upon Martouf except in that he was unknowingly and unwillingly impersonated by an unknown party. His movements at the time have been verified, which is as much as we can do to substantiate the veracity of his account."
"This is supposed to set my mind at ease?" Jack grumbled slightly. "He's okay 'cause we say so'? Just like that?"
Garshaw's eyes were growing noticeably colder. "We ask nothing of you we are not prepared to do for you ourselves. Need I remind you, Martouf was not the only one compromised in this incident; Major Carter was also impersonated. Therefore, if the integrity of one must be cast into doubt because of this, it would follow Major Carter should be excluded from these proceedings as well. You proclaim faith in her we cannot verify for ourselves. Therefore, we must trust in your word we can trust her."
"Hey, we don't know if any of that stuff about Carter is true," Jack said quickly, and a little more crisply. "No one actually saw Carter's double. Marty says there was one and she told him she was leaving without him, but we don't know that for sure."
The words were out of his mouth before he realized what he'd said. Before he remembered he was wrong. He'd been so angry at the time he hadn't really been paying attention and now, here he was doing it again. Letting his animosity cloud his judgement. He could see from the sudden, triumphant gleam in Garshaw's eyes she wasn't making the same mistake.
Crap. She had him. She knew it. He knew it, too.
"That is incorrect, Colonel," Garshaw quickly riposted. "Martouf was in the company of Jacob Carter when the false Major Carter spoke to both of them. However, since you have brought up the matter of the substantiation of the attested accounts, I wish to ask you, did anyone other than the major actually see this alleged double assault her as she claimed? Were there any witnesses other than herself to the events she recounted to you, which are in fact, the basis for your suspicions of Martouf?"
"No!" Jack retorted indignantly, feeling Carter react with a little of her own tacit indignation to the implications of the last statement. "No witnesses, but it happened the way Carter said it did!"
"How do you know that?" Garshaw smiled sweetly.
"I guess because she said it did sounds a little lame, " Jack returned, trying not to sound like he was on the defensive, even though he realized he was very swiftly losing ground. "But I take your point, because that's what the whole thing comes down to, doesn't it? I wasn't there, neither was anyone else. All we do know for sure is we sent them both off together and only Major Carter came back. I trust the major. She says that's the way it went down, then that's what happened. Besides, why would she make something like that up?"
"Why indeed?" Garshaw smiled sadly. "You will concede we have equal cause to be concerned about Major Carter. In the absence of independent corroboration of the major's account it is impossible to arrive at the absolute truth of this incident. It is a matter of - what is your expression - 'taking her at her word.'
"We are, however, content to accept Major Carter at her word and trust her continuing participation in these proceedings will not prove to be a hazard to its security or success. We are hoping you will be equally content to grant the same consideration to Martouf. However, if you still hold doubts about him and wish him to be excluded we will of course accommodate you, but in addition we will have to insist Major Carter be asked to withdraw as well and return immediately to Earth. Fair is fair, after all. That is our response to your objection. What are your wishes?"
Jack met Garshaw's twinkling and slightly ironic eyes with a polite smile revealing nothing of the fury rising within him. He fumed in careful silence, thinking frantically, painfully aware of the simmering indignation in Carter.
Crap! Check and mate. I push this to get Marty out and we lose Carter. Damn! You walked right into this one, Jack. Well, no big surprise here, not like you're the 'smart one' in the group. Point proven yet again.
He caught Carter's expression in his peripheral vision. She was angry, and more than a bit hurt to have been all but called a liar, but she was prepared to back him, whatever he decided. If he thought getting Martouf sidelined was that important - she was willing to make the sacrifice. Whatever it took to get Danny back, she was willing do it.
Jack registered her determination and her commitment and felt a sudden, sharp flush of shame. What the hell was he doing? Why was he even considering this? Sacrifice Carter, simply to score one off on Marty?
That's why he was really doing this, what this was all about. He was pissed at Marty. Yeah, there were some problems around the zatting thing, but when you looked at the whole damned situation he didn't trust Marty any less than he trusted all of the rest of them. Truth be told, he didn't trust any of them. So why the hell was he being such an asshole about this?
It was just because he didn't like Marty, not because there was something else nagging at him.
Jack shook his head crossly to wipe it free of the anger. Whatever problems he had with Marty, he had to let them go and just get with the program now. Like it or not, he was stuck working with the guy because losing Carter was simply not acceptable. Not acceptable at all.
"Understood," he grunted finally. "Marty stays. Sorry for wasting everybody's time."
"Not at all," Garshaw smiled at him with all the unqualified equanimity of the victor. "As we previously stated, we consider you to be equal participants in this enterprise and wish to do everything in our power to make you feel as if you are. Please do not hesitate to share any concerns you may have with us."
"Oh you can count on that," Jack returned, smiling right back at her.
Also count on me watching every damned move you guys make.
"Now, if we're all satisfied with this matter, is it acceptable for me to return to the business at hand?" Martouf inquired, a bit too brightly.
"Knock yourself out," Jack replied with equal vigour, waving a hand at Martouf. "We're all ears."
"I assume you have been keeping track of the movements and activities of all of the First Rank System Lords, " Teal'c said suddenly and smoothly in a deep, level voice.
"Yes," Martouf responded a little uncertainly, clearly once again thrown off his train of thought by the unexpected comment from yet another quarter.
Yes! Go, Teal'c! Keep him on the run!
"As their activities must inevitably influence ways in which Chronos will have to act in response, perhaps some clue to determining what he will do next can be ascertained from examining them."
"Threat assessment," Jack resumed, making a mental note to give Teal'c a big pat on the back later for getting him back into the game. "Which one of the chief uglies is the biggest threat to Chronos right now?"
"Going by the way it looked before we got Jacob's report the main contender was Heru'ur," Luena answered. "He and Apophis were evenly matched and at a bit of a stalemate until he got his ass kicked by you guys." Luena flashed Jack a rakish smile before continuing. "Apophis was counting on destroying Earth to shift the balance of power. And it would have. If he had succeeded in being the System Lord who had avenged the death of Ra the resulting status the act would have gained him would have brought a whole flock of lesser System Lords to his banner. He'd have gone after Heru'ur, and then - Chronos."
"Guess we kinda messed his plans up a bit for him, huh?" Jack grinned back at her.
"Oh, you have no idea!" Luena nodded grimly. "He lost more than an army that day, in allowing himself to be defeated by a bunch of inferior humans he lost almost all of his support. He was fleeing as much from the ambitions of his former underlords and allies as he was from the higher ranking System Lords when he sent Klorel to Heru'ur hoping for sanctuary and protection in exchange for swearing allegiance."
Klorel. Damn. Another loose end. It had been really hard on Daniel, seeing that kid again, knowing he was suffering the kind of living hell he'd been condemned to for trying to protect Sha'uri in Daniel's place.
Jack hadn't known the boy very well; he hadn't been one of the kids who'd helped them defeat Ra during the original mission to Abydos but Jack had seen him on the return trip, sticking pretty close to Daniel and Sha'uri. Daniel had talked about him a little in the days after the return from Chulak while he'd been trying to deal with his grief over Sha'uri's death. Not a lot, it was too painful for him, but Jack knew the kid's name was Aysha and he'd been Daniel's protégé of sorts, and now he was a vehicle for a monster.
Which was, of course, another thing Daniel blamed himself for, along with the death of his wife. It didn't make Jack feel any better about the whole thing that a part of him was glad Skaara had been with them in the cartouche room and not in the pyramid when Apophis came. Glad if it had to be anyone it was a kid he barely knew and not Skaara. Though if Jack O'Neill had been there to give Apophis a run for his money it wouldn't have been anybody.
"I take it that didn't work out so good for him," Jack said quietly, tearing his thoughts away from darker wanderings.
"No, it didn't." Luena nodded. "Heru'ur was really after Amonet. Unless he handed over his queen Apophis wasn't really completely surrendering his power." Luena waved a dismissive hand. "It's complicated, don't worry about it."
"But he couldn't, could he?" Sam said suddenly. "Daniel had already taken you to the Hammer, and set you free."
"Yes." Luena nodded once more. "Apophis didn't know where she was or what had happened to her, but couldn't admit it. Heru'ur retained 'custody' of Klorel but kept Apophis out in the cold until he surrendered Amonet. Then Apophis ran afoul of Sokhar and the rest, of course you know."
"Yeah," Jack spat out bitterly. "Hope the bastard stayed dead."
"While he was on Netu Jacob did not encounter anyone who had seen him," Martouf said quietly. "However, we cannot automatically assume this means he is indeed dead - "
"But it's a pretty safe bet he ain't a heavy hitter now so move on," Jack grunted. "So, from what I'm hearing and what we've learned as a result of our recent day trip, Chronos' two main worries at the moment are Heru'ur and Sokhar. Which of the two is the biggest one?"
"Sokhar," Martouf nodded thoughtfully. "Sokhar is planning to move on the System Lord Collective, Chronos in particular, and he has built himself an impressive fighting force with which to do it."
"Which is still on the ground," Jack continued. "I take it you guys are still planning on letting Chronos know about it?"
Martouf didn't answer him, but he didn't have to.
"So, if you were Chronos, knowing someone was coming after you with a lot of big ships and guns but they hadn't left the hanger yet, what would you do? Sit on your ass until they came calling, or take them all out while they're still sitting ducks?"
"Indeed, Colonel," Garshaw said, her eyes blazing brightly. "I think we know exactly where Chronos is going to be very shortly."
"I said NO! Leave the hair alone!"
Okay, it's okay. Just Delios fussing. Dressing me up for this.. thing we have to do. So embarrassing.
"Leave the hair alone! I mean it! You bring that thing near me one more time and I'm belting you! Swear to God!"
"It is my duty to try to make you look as presentable as possible. If, in fact, such a thing is possible. I know. You need not say it. 'Bite me'."
Huh! Smarter than the average Goa'uld.
He's trying to curl my hair, Jack. You wouldn't believe this thing I have to wear - it's bad enough, but I'm putting my foot down when it comes to ringlets and if you say anything....
Me? Say anything? Why would you think that? But it would be awfully....
Finish that thought and I'll never speak to you again.
"No. No way. Absolutely not! Forget it. I'm putting up with the dress and the cape and the jewellery, but I am not wearing any headdress dealies. Get stuffed and get it away from me."
"It would be much easier to prepare you if you were unconscious."
"Too bad for you we don't live in a perfect universe. I'm just about as pretty as I want to get, here. Why don't you go and find some other deserving soul who will appreciate you and leave me alone."
Is he gone?
Unfortunately, no. Just retired to his corner to sulk. The way he's been acting, Chronos will be coming back soon.
So, things are... okay? For the moment?
Seem to be. We had quite a talk. Chronos has suggested we act like reasonable beings. His words not mine. Make the best of a bad situation. Some of the things he said... it's getting very confusing, Jack.
I'm sure it is. On the surface what he's saying sounds sensible, if you're prepared to overlook the fact you're hardly in a reasonable situation to begin with.
Nothing about the fix you're in should in any way require you to be reasonable.
He was making sense, Jack. There's nothing we can do to change what's been done....
Which he has set up that way - conveniently enough for him!
But he said he didn't mean - he did it before he realized....
For crying out loud, Danny, listen to yourself! What does it matter what he said? There's no confusion here. Answer me this? Did you ask for any of this? Did you want to be kidnapped? Do you want to be there? Do you want to stay there? Even if he turned over a new leaf and became the incarnation of Saint Francis of Assisi would you want to stay there with him? Be there with him?
No. Of course not.
I'm tickled pink if he's turning into a stand up guy after all, but whatever good he may appear to do from now on doesn't change the fact he hurt you. And he's still keeping you somewhere you don't want to be. You don't owe him a damned thing, Danny. No consideration, no understanding, no nuthin'!
I know you've got this 'thing' about trying to see the best in the worst, and that makes you a way better person than most of us, and certainly a better one than he will ever be - but in this case, you've got no cause to be tying yourself up in moral knots trying to cut that bastard any kind of slack.. You're the injured party, here, Danny, not Mister 'I didn't really mean it.' You're a prisoner of war. A captive. Your first and only duty is to yourself.
Do whatever you need to do to escape. If that means seeming to buy his guff and playing his game, then do it, but make sure you keep it crystal clear WHY you are doing it. He's already violated you. Don't let him keep on doing it by seducing you into believing you want what he wants.
You're right, of course. I just... It's just... it's just so hard to... he's so damned....
He's a snake, Danny. A really old, smart, sneaky SNAKE. He's very good at what he does, and what he does is get his own way. No matter what he has to do to get it, and no matter how long it takes. What he wants is YOU. No matter what he says, he's not your friend. But he'll move heaven and Earth to try and make you think he is, if it will get you to start trusting him. He's doing you no favours here and nothing he does is about you. Only about him. If he really cared about you as much as he claims, he'd let you go.
God, Jack, you're right. You're right. I've been so stupid.
No - not stupid. Don't blame yourself for any of this. None of this is your fault. Don't want to hear talk like this. Not your fault. Got it?
"DON'T TOUCH THE HAIR!"
"My Lord Chronos!"
You know who is back. Gotta put you on hold.
Got another bull session with the Tok'ra myself. God, these snakes don't half love to talk, do they? I'll be around. Shout if you need me. Love you.
Daniel sighed, pulling himself back to full awareness as he felt the fleeting sadness in Jack's parting mental caress. Not his fault. Not obligated to try and make sense of someone who was doing harm to him. Not required to do anything he didn't want to. He'd been losing sight of what was really going on, getting caught up in Chronos' smooth and subtle manipulations, but once again, as always, Jack had shown he had a firm grasp and understanding of the way things were, and what really mattered.
Thank god for Jack. If Chronos was the absolute embodiment of everything he couldn't trust, well Jack was just the opposite. Jack was everything that meant everything good to him. Everything he could trust, everything he could count on. He wouldn't allow himself to lose sight of that again, no matter how sweetly the snake whispered in his ear.
Just like he was whispering now.
Daniel stiffened as he felt the System Lord's fingers in his hair. Weaving them through, fingering the strands, stroking....
"Forgiveness, Lord," Delios was gobbling. "I know he is not as you would have wished, but he would not allow me...."
Chronos dismissed the protests with a wave of the hand that wasn't busy making love to Daniel's hair. Daniel gritted his teeth at the touch, averted his eyes from the reflected expression on the face of the man standing beside him. Unwilling to see the lust in the eyes devouring him.
"No," Chronos murmured. "I prefer him as he is. This is fine. You have pleased me. You may go."
Delios swallowed nervously. "Thank you, my Lord," he ventured, bowing. Then almost injured himself trying to get out of the room as quickly as he possibly could. Daniel snorted at the sight of the panicked retreat. Chronos' hand ceased its stroking, he looked down with fond curiosity at the man seated beside him.
"Would you have preferred it if I had punished him?"
"Absolutely not!" Daniel said emphatically, jumping to his feet and moving away from Chronos. "I'll admit I enjoy baiting him, no more than he gets off on making my life miserable, but that's as far as it goes. No matter what he says and does he hasn't actually done anything worse to me than annoy me. If that was a crime, well then... just... just... never mind. Forget it."
Daniel turned back toward the mirror, making a face at the image looking back at him. He despairingly fingered the luxuriant material of the white, floor-length sleeveless gown he was wearing, trying not get too overwhelmed by the loudness of the accessories. There were elaborate, jewelled clasps at his shoulders holding up the heavy, white cape with a gold, jewelled thing around his waist. Heavy bracelets hung on his wrists and upper arms with yes, more jewels. Even the damned sandals had rhinestones or something all over them. With all the extra accoutrements in addition to the ever-present collar he was feeling pretty ridiculous.
"Is all of this really necessary?" Daniel sighed. "Look at me - I look like a refugee from Spartacus! I've got so much metal crap on me I won't be able to take a step without clanking. Thank God no one I care about is ever going to get to see me like this!"
Chronos walked up behind him and put his hands on his shoulders. "Your appearance does not please you?" he asked softly, letting his eyes roam unashamedly over the Daniel's disgruntled image. "You should feel no shame in how you look. You are very beautiful."
Daniel moved away from the mirror and the hands holding him. "Trust me, where I come from that's not what the average guy lives to hear. I feel like an absolute idiot decked out like this. Sure we can't take it down a notch or two?"
"Not this time, Daniel," Chronos replied in a much more serious voice. He made no further effort to approach, and Daniel was becoming schooled enough in reading his expressions he could see the System Lord had switched from 'doting tyrant' to ' fun's over, this is business now.'
"What is before us is extremely serious. It is vital we present the correct appearance. You are to be formally presented to my underlords as my Kal ni esh so they may accept you and swear allegiance to you. You must look the part."
"Accept me, AND swear allegiance to me? Me?" Daniel gaped. "What - are you nuts? How are you going to - going to - what - what - are you NUTS?"
"Trust me, Daniel," Chronos said throatily as he moved swiftly and sinuously to Daniel's side once more, and took his face in his hands. Daniel found himself unable to move, captured by the power and confidence in the dark, enveloping eyes boring their consuming certitude into him.
"Trust me, do exactly what is required of you when the time comes, and you will see. All will be well."
"F - follow your lead?" Daniel gulped, trying to look away from Chronos, only to discover he couldn't.
"Be aware. Look. See. You will understand. You will know exactly what to do. I have faith in you this will be so."
Chronos' lips hovered over his own. So close they were almost touching, and yet not. Daniel could feel the Goa'uld's warm breath on his mouth as the System Lord lowered his voice to a sensual whisper.
"I have chosen well. They will know, and understand this. As will you."
Chronos abruptly raised his head, breaking the spell without closing the final gap. Daniel felt his knees let go with the shock of his relief, only just catching himself before he slid right down to the floor.
Okay, it's okay. We were just having a 'moment' and it was getting weird. He's let me go, we're leaving now.
Right here, Danny. Keep your wits about you. You'll get through this. Whatever THIS is.
Daniel said nothing, allowing the hand on his arm to lead him from the suite. Nah'tak and a detachment of Jaffa, all formally attired in what Daniel assumed was the Taurus Guard equivalent of parade dress were waiting for them in the corridor outside the suite.
Chronos barely acknowledged their presence, confidant in their automatic assumption of their designated positions in the honour guard. Daniel swallowed the thrill of joy at finally seeing his friend again at the sight of the impassive visage he presented. Mask-like, cold. Unreachable. Staring straight ahead, seemingly unaware of his existence, certainly not meeting his eye.
Daniel had never seen Nah'tak so formal, so remote. The First Prime was formidable, forbidding, an almost inhuman, armoured effigy. On duty. Working. Not his friend, now. Chronos' First Prime doing his job.
Daniel didn't know where they were going, but they were moving swiftly, silently through the ship, Nah'tak preceding them, blazing a trail, Jaffa all around them, everyone seeing them doing the falling on the face thing as they approached. Daniel's skin crawled as he saw a few familiar faces, humans he'd spent time with, eaten with, laughed with were looking at him with huge, fearful eyes before they prostrated themselves at his passage.
There was NO WAY he was ever going to accept this, like this or get used to this. No way!
He knew where they were going now. Back to the transport rings. What? Chronos was doing the full-on god thing, so there were no clues to be had from him. Daniel frowned, as usual not enjoying that familiar out of the loop feeling that was an integral part of the whole hostage experience while he watched Nah'tak send his troops off first to wherever they were going.
Ah, now it seemed it was their turn. They stepped onto the platform, Nah'tak activated the rings and hastened to join them, then they were off.
The rings didn't disorient him as much as they used to, but still when he saw where they now were he reeled back with the shock. Only to feel Chronos' grip of steel on his arm, holding him steady, saving him from displaying any overt signs of weakness.
Once again, Chronos had demonstrated he sure knew how to make an entrance. They were standing in a huge room lousy with people. Correction. From the way they were decked out and the arrogant looks on their arrogant faces - room full of Goa'uld. A sea of seething snakes all packed in one place. All looking up at him like he had no business being anywhere near where he was right then. On that point he wasn't arguing with them.
Daniel's stunned senses started to come back into focus, allowing him to take in other pertinent details about their present location. They were in fact, standing up and over the Goa'uld pool. The transport rings had deposited them on a wide platform before a set of steps leading down to the main floor. Members of the honour guard had taken up a position on either side of each tier of the stairs and were also forming a line flanking either side of what was behind them.
It was the damnedest, biggest, butt ugliest, gaudiest hyperbolic manifestation of a throne Daniel had ever seen. This thing made more than a statement about the size of the ego of the man who had commissioned it. One so unflattering only someone who really didn't care what anyone thought of him could not only have a chair like it, but actually sit in it. It had a twin in style, but nowhere near as horrendous in size. Guess that was for the little woman.
Oh crap. No. No way he was.... No. No, no, no.
Oh crap. Oh shit. Oh damn. He was. Chronos was smiling at the crowd, then turning, taking him along, walking him toward....
It's just a chair, Daniel, you won't die if you sit in it.
I don't WANT to sit in the fucking chair!
Quit your bitching and sit. Be 'Queen for a day.' Enjoy it.
Daniel found himself calling upon reserves of self control he had no idea he possessed as somehow, only just barely, he avoided falling into a fit of hysterical laughter as he settled himself on the lesser of the two evils.
Stop HELPING, you bastard! I'm sitting, all right?
Good, now pay attention. Worry about getting through what's about to go down. Everything else doesn't matter.
Chronos had arranged himself regally in his seat of power, taking a long, significant moment to survey the throng before him. If he was aware of any doubt being cast at him from below, he showed not the slightest sign of it.
"You know why you are here," he intoned solemnly after a sufficiently dramatic interval of expectant silence had been allowed to pervade the room. "You have been summoned to witness the Declaration and render your homage to the one I deem worthy to receive it." He paused to turn to his First Prime, who was standing to the immediate right of his throne. "Admit the supplicant, that he too may witness these events."
"Jaffa, Kree!" Nah'tak roared. There was immediate action at the far end of the room. Daniel could barely make it out through the camouflaging curtain of Goa'uld blocking his view, even from his raised perspective, but the doors were definitely opening, presumably to admit whoever this supplicant was.
The 'old friend' Chronos had alluded to earlier? Daniel started to get an uneasy feeling in a pit of his stomach.
What is it, what's going on?
Not sure. Can't see. The Jaffa are bringing someone up front. Still too many people in the way, can't see... oh my God! I don't believe it!
It's him! His face is all messed up, he's got this gold mask thing covering half of it, but it's... it's him!
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