Pure of Heart
Part Fourteen


"Excuse me! Pardon me. Sorry I'm late."

Several pairs of mildly astonished eyes fixed on Jack in response to his rather precipitous and breathless entrance into the Council Chamber. No Garshaw this time; Martouf, that Aldwin guy, couple more unfamiliar faces, ah, Jacob! Good to see he was up and running again.

But that could wait. The three people he most wanted to see at the moment were also sitting there. Finding them was the real reason why he was here. The snakes could whistle for it.

"Don't worry about it, Jack." Jacob grinned, beckoning. "Always a pleasure. Pull up a chair and join us."

"Uh, yeah," Jack shrugged apologetically. "About that. Listen, before we get started... I want to... that is I have to...." He grimaced. He had to calm down. He'd already run in here looking like a wild-eyed goon. He needed information desperately, but he didn't want to make it look like he did. "I need them... my team. To come with me." Blank looks from the assembled group.

"Sorry. Won't take a minute. People? A word? If you wouldn't mind? Now?" Jack finished desperately, giving a quick toss of his head back the way he had just come in to emphasis the point he wanted the rest of SG-1, plus its honorary member, to get up off their butts and follow him out of the room. ASAP. Before he made an even bigger fool of himself than he already had.

Which finally, mercifully, they did. But not before passing a few amused looks between each other. Jack was gratified to note he hadn't lost his entertainment value. Nebulous notions of payback flashed across his mind, but he heroically suppressed the impulse to glare at the exiting trio as they walked past him.

"Be right back," he quipped at the Tok'ra before beating a hasty retreat. Leaving the room's remaining occupants to engage in some visual interaction of their own.

Aldwin considered the empty doorway for several seconds before turning to Jacob.

"Is he always like this?"

"Unpredictable?" Jacob smiled.

"That is not quite what I meant, but yes, that as well."

"Yes."

"How very annoying."

"You have no idea."

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

Jack didn't have far to go to catch up to his teammates. He put up his hand to forestall any extraneous comments, beckoned to them to keep on walking with him, and cut straight to the chase.

"Something major's going down with Danny. The three of your know more about all this Goa'uld insider stuff, and I need someone to fill me in. Fast. What's a 'Declaration'?"

Luena and Teal'c exchanged glances which didn't do a lot for setting his mind at ease.

"It is a very old ritual, O'Neill," the Jaffa began. "I have never witnessed one, but I believe it was a custom practised more frequently centuries ago as a bloodless public response to a challenge to one's authority."

Jack glanced at Luena. She was nodding, in agreement, her expression deeply pensive and markedly troubled. "Yes," she affirmed. "That's essentially the way it was practised. Although not strictly the only way it was practised. But why is he... what is Chronos up to? And how does Daniel figure into all of this?"

"Would it help if I told you Apophis is not only noticeably not dead, but has turned up on Chronos' doorstep?" Jack added.

"Apophis!?" Luena cried, coming to a sudden, shocked stop. "Sorry," she murmured, realizing what she had done.

Jack put a reassuring hand on the small of her back and moved her gently forward.

"No, I'm sorry," he said softly. "Shouldn't have dropped that on you with no warning. That's one snake you've got to have some issues with."

"You could say that." Luena nodded, the colour slowly beginning to return to her face.

"Come on, let's find a room no one is using and have a sit down while we talk about this," Jack suggested.

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

"Maybe if I answer your original question we can get an idea of what Chronos is up to," Luena announced as she assumed a cross-legged position on the floor of the temporary refuge they'd appropriated. Sam found a place on the sleeping platform directly behind her. Teal'c stationed himself at the entrance, keeping a vigilant eye out for any possible interruptions. Jack busied himself with moving restlessly about the room with part of him listening to the conversation while the other part was trying to stay with Daniel.

"The Declaration," Luena said. "To make any sense of this you have to understand the Goa'uld are a very rigidly structured, hierarchical society completely obsessed with power. Getting it, keeping it, fending off your fellows who have similar inclinations and want a piece of your pie. Status or your place in the societal pecking order is not determined so much by the advantages of birth, wealth or position as it is by a constant game of one-upmanship. What you've done to get yourself on top and what you're currently doing in order to stay there.

Which in turn gets you the support and backing of others who want to hitch a star to your wagon in order to have a chance at bettering their own position. Reproduction figures in there was well, but that has more to do with having the ability to build an army and a power base rather than a burning desire to perpetuate the line, so once again, it's down to power."

"The guy who's the biggest, baddest dude on the block and can prove it gets to be on the top of the heap and the envy of his peers?" Jack queried.

"Yes," Luena nodded thoughtfully. "The Goa'uld used to be really into boasting amongst themselves, and back when there were a lot more of them all jockeying for the top spots, ritually reiterating your great deeds as a way of reminding the competition you were a contender was almost a regular requirement. Which is largely what the Declaration was all about. Interesting," she murmured, obviously becoming increasingly lost in thought.

"How so?" Jack prodded gently.

"You see, Daniel isn't a Goa'uld and therefore is outside of their social system, even moreso because as a member of a host species he would be considered an inferior being. Give me a minute," she frowned.

"Let me think. Chronos is planning to keep Daniel around for the long term. He's said as much to his underlords by what he's done - making Daniel his Kal ni esh. Which has to have more than a few of them wondering if he isn't slipping a bit in his old age. We're not talking about a power issue here - we're talking about respect. Gaining Daniel acceptance - getting the other Goa'uld to see him as…… Oh, oh, wait a minute, if the old form and ritual is invoked demanding the one making the Declaration be considered as meriting his status strictly on the basis of his accomplishments...."

Her voice trailed away as an expression of utter astonishment transfixed her face.

"Materai!" she cried. "Oh Jack! I think I know what Chronos is doing!"

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

If looks could kill Apophis very much appeared as if he was already deceased. Too bad it wasn't true. Again.

Daniel tore his eyes away from the glowing, hate-filled ones of the being he'd previously despised more than any other in existence. That is, until he'd had the misfortune to make the intimate acquaintance of the Goa'uld who was motioning to his Jaffa to release Apophis.

"Approach!" Chronos boomed imperiously at Apophis. Cold fury smouldered behind his eyes and carefully schooled expression as the disempowered former System Lord slowly mounted the stairs and - in full and inescapable view of all assembled - knelt several feet in front of Chronos' throne.

"Speak!'" Chronos roared once more. In spite of himself, Daniel winced. He'd seen the face the System Lord was wearing now. Seen it far too up close and personal. Definitely wasn't a face anyone would want to see who had any long-term plans for their lives, or in fact any plans for being able to breathe beyond the next few minutes.

"My Lord Chronos!" Apophis hollered right back at him. He might be kneeling, but there was nothing in his manner to suggest either submission or acquiescence. There was a clearly arrogant set to his shoulders, a strangely incongruent look of confidence on his face.

Something... something was wrong. Daniel felt his eyes being drawn to Apophis' right hand. He was barely aware of the words coming out of his former enemy's mouth as he watched, with disturbing fascination, the slow clenching and unclenching of Apophis' fist.

"I ask for your favour and mercy, and to be allowed the chance to serve you. I will swear allegiance to you and offer you your enemy Sokhar as proof of my loyalty." Apophis' voice rang out strongly, reverberating magnificently in the huge, hushed chamber. He seemed singularly pleased by the sound of it. "Grant me your favour, lord, and grant me my request. Allow me to serve you and to bear the seal of your service."

Chronos rose smoothly to his feet, looking down with almost amused scepticism at the man kneeling before him. "You would serve me?" he challenged. "You would swear allegiance to me? Very well, it shall be as you wish." Smiling broadly Chronos made a sweeping gesture back toward the astonished man seated on the smaller throne beside him.

"I give you the opportunity to do both. If you would serve me, you must first swear to serve him."

Apophis' ruined face wrenched with fury, his affronted howl accompanied by a discordant, angry muttering from the snakes beneath them.

Been nice knowing you, Jack. I think Chronos has just thrown me to the wolves.

Hang tough, Danny. Talking to Lu. She thinks she knows where Chronos is going with this and believe it or not, it's just crazy enough to work.

Not very reassuring, Jack!

The outraged protests being hurled at him brought Daniel painfully back to full awareness.

"Swear allegiance to a SLAVE? To a crawling dog spawned by a race of crawling dogs? NEVER!"

Apophis broke off in mid-tirade, alerted to his danger by the way the room had gone suddenly, ominously silent. Then he looked up into the face of the man who had moved several steps closer to him. The one he'd come to for help because he had nowhere else to go. Daniel remembered seeing the same expression in Apophis' eyes once before. As he lay dying in the infirmary bed at the SGC.

Apophis was scared. Shit scared. He'd even stopped with the clenching of the fist.

"You come before me to ask for my favour and begin my calling my Kal ni esh a slave? A dog?" Chronos smiled pitying down at Apophis, who was looking a whole lot less arrogant and sure of himself. "Perhaps you need to understand why I have TAKEN him!"

Daniel winced again, not missing the emphasis on the word 'taken'. Nor did the assemblage, who were now the focus of Chronos' statements.

"Perhaps it is time ALL of you understood what this Tau'ri has done. Born of a race of slaves he may be, but he is no slave, for he has done what many have tried and failed to do. He has bested and slain every enemy he has encountered, defeated every one of our kind who was foolish enough to underestimate him and think him merely a 'slave'. Including the greatest one of us of all. So I Declare for him before all of you as the one who has taken him and claims the right to do so."

Chronos darted over to Daniel's side, pulled him from the throne and thrust him roughly forward until they stood together in the middle of the platform over the kneeling Apophis. Chronos held him firmly before him, front and centre and displayed to the examining masses.

"Behold the one who discovered Setesh and brought about his death!" Chronos thundered. "He who was chosen as a consort by Hathor only to defeat her - twice. She did not survive this final encounter. Behold the Tau'ri who delivered my enemy Nirti into my hands! Because of this 'slave' the one now kneeling at his feet was brought low. Look up, Apophis!" Chronos ordered the man now openly cringing in front of them. "Look up and behold the face of the man who is responsible for your misfortune. Who cost you an army, a fleet, a kingdom, your place in the Collective. The man who stole your power. The man who stole your Queen."

Apophis recoiled as if he had been physically struck. A sibilant hiss of astonishment escaped from the throats of the audience at this particular piece of completely unexpected information. Daniel himself would have dropped from the sheer shock of hearing it, but the forceful way Chronos was clutching him, pressing against him in his impassioned fervour, kept him emphatically erect.

Not unlike something else pressing into him. Daniel was horrified to realize what an effect the blatant exercising of his own power was having on Chronos. This was something else he should have anticipated, but didn't.

God, Jack, this is turning him on!

Okay, okay, stay... stay calm. As long as you're standing in front of the snakes all he can do with it is rub it against you. We'll deal with putting out the fire later.

"Yes, Apophis!" Chronos continued, plainly gloating. "This is the man who took your Queen from you. Stole her from the planet where you had thought her safe, took her from the Jaffa you thought would protect her, and now he holds her in secret still. Know how completely you have been stripped of your power by one you consider a slave. A slave who has reduced you to being no better than one! You will swear to him if you wish to live. So will you all!" Chronos cried as he directed his challenge to his waiting minions. "Not simply because of the force of these deeds, which are great, but because of the one which has made him more powerful than any of you!"

Chronos paused, waiting for the angry murmurs generated by his statement to subside.

"Behold the man who killed the greatest god of all! Behold the SLAYER of Ra!"

What's going on? What's happening?

Chronos just told them about Ra. They're... processing.

Daniel felt the chest of the man behind him swell expansively with a draught of triumph as he drank in the palpable air of expectant excitement in the room. The tide had turned. Daniel could feel it. Every eye in the room was still trained coldly on him, but the sentiments of the crowd had clearly shifted. They were... impressed.

Daniel knew Chronos could feel it, too. He was seducing them, winning them over. Chronos knew it. He trembled with the excitement of it, shook with the intoxicating evidence of the success of his own audacity. What's more, from the looks of things he was only just getting warmed up.

"Is there one among you who would challenge this?' Chronos taunted them. "Who would dare to declare deeds which rival these? Who among you would judge this Tau'ri not worthy of your loyalty because of what he has done, regardless of his birth?"

Chronos directed his stony, pitiless gaze down to Apophis as if daring him to breathe while he waited to see if anyone would take up the gauntlet he had just thrown down.

Apophis wasn't going to be making a sound. Neither, it would seem, was anyone else. The silence in the huge, crowded chamber was so profound it was almost impossible to breathe.

"DANIEL!" A deep, loud voice boomed through the stillness, causing the man so vehemently invoked to start with shocked surprise. Nah'tak. That was Nah'tak's voice! Daniel could see the First Prime in the periphery of his vision to the left. He was kneeling. His action a signal to the rest of the Jaffa, who likewise echoed his loud cry and his obeisant posture. The reverent show of the honour guard caused a wave of indecision to ripple through the Goa'uld. They wavered, hesitated and then, suddenly....

Oh my God! I don't believe it! Jack, they're doing it! They're kneeling. Oh God, I think I'm going to be sick!

Now Danny, none of that! Hurling in front of the snakes would definitely ruin your image.

Oh god, oh god, this is just too disgusting. I want it to be over.

I know, I know, but just hang in there. You're doing fine.

Daniel shuddered, and felt the hands tightly clutching his shoulders ease back on the vehemence of their grip in response. "Don't be afraid, my love," the System Lord whispered into his ear. "It goes well. It will continue to do so."

"Apophis," Chronos grimly intoned, turning his attention once more to the man kneeling before them. Daniel stared dumbly down at the man glaring back up at him. No. Not at him. At Chronos. That arrogant, confident, almost hungry gleam was back in his eyes. His body language was wrong. Not - not dejected or frightened. Not beaten.

As he continued to address the ex- System Lord, Chronos began to step forward, moving Daniel over to his side and away from him, so that he was no longer behind him. No longer shielded....

Daniel watched Apophis. Watching Chronos. Looking like anything but a completely defeated man.

His muscles were tightly coiled, taut , as if he was anticipating having to bolt swiftly for his life. Or leap, suddenly up…. Right hand, clenching and unclenching once more. Nervous, excited, arm twitching, tensing, rising....

Something was very, very wrong.

"Chronos, look out!" Daniel heard himself crying. Bemused, but strangely, instinctively responsive, Daniel darted in front of the System Lord before he was consciously aware he'd done so. Almost simultaneously Apophis abruptly leapt, snarling. Behind him Chronos was also moving, surging forward to meet the charge, eyes blazing.

By anticipating the attack and flinging himself forward to counter it a split second before Chronos, Daniel was distantly aware he'd just put himself between two berserkers bent on killing each other and in so doing had probably assured it was the last such stupid stunt he was ever going to pull. Ever. The murder in the eyes of the man lunging at him alarmingly bearing this out.

"Daniel!" Chronos roared. Daniel felt hands on his shoulders, trying to pull him out of harm's way as he and Apophis collided. Still acting without conscious thought Daniel was grabbing Apophis' thrusting arm, attempting to wrench it up, away from his own body, when he saw the sudden, horrifying flash of glittering metal, followed by the feeling of shocking, searing pain lancing across his chest.

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

DANIEL!

It's - it's okay, Jack. Apophis had this - sword thing - up his sleeve. Sort of. I'm okay. It's just a cut. No big deal.

Daniel swallowed back the rising taste of bile as he looked down at the crimson slash traversing his chest. Bleeding. Fair amount of bleeding. Funny, it didn't hurt very much. But definitely bleeding. Oh yeah. Should probably do something.

The roaring tumult of voices around him drew him back to where he was. Standing on a platform in front of a bunch of shocked and angry snakes while the snake who'd just tried to skewer their leader right in front of their eyes was being very firmly taken in hand by said leader.

Chronos held Apophis by the right wrist - and the throat. Glaring triumphantly at him and all but throttling him as Nah'tak and another Jaffa began to ruthlessly divest Apophis of his lethal accessories.

"You think me such a fool I would let anyone approach me who had not been carefully scanned for concealed weapons?" Chronos gloated at the man he was choking once his accoutrements had been ruthlessly stripped from him. "You imagine I would leave myself vulnerable to such a ill-conceived, foolish strategy? Nor be prepared its clumsy attempt? I can scarcely believe even you would be that inane." Chronos tightened his grip, his eyes snapping with savage delight. "So much for your pointless effort to usurp me, you pitiful coward!" he laughed.

Apophis was making abortive, gurgling noises, his eyes beginning to roll back in his head. Chronos sneered at him, shook him with callous cruelty and then released him with a contemptuous snort. As Apophis crumpled, gasping to the ground Chronos ignored him, and then abruptly turned his back on him. A studied, dramatic gesture, conveying with unmitigated clarity to everyone - including Apophis - exactly what was Chronos' current opinion of his former adversary.

So no account he could turn away from him without fear or concern.

Daniel took in the scene before him with slightly wavering vision. Sack of gasping snake on the ground. Looking at him. Nah'tak looming over said sack of snake. But looking - at him. The Jaffa were looking at him. Chronos was looking at him. All the damned snakes were looking at him.

What? What was with the looking? Were they waiting for him to turn a different colour?

Too much damned noise. Couldn't think. Too much shouting.

"QUIET!" Daniel roared.

Wow. It worked. They all shut up. Just like that. Still looking at him, but at least it wasn't as confusing as before with all the noise and the yelling.

His chest was starting to hurt. Something warm, trickling down his stomach. A sudden, irrational burst of anger seized him. Not specific, focussed, just sheer, raw fury. Fury which demanded an outlet of expression.

Chronos picked that moment to step slightly aside, thereby affording Daniel a clearer view of the man huddled on the floor glaring about with hunted, frustrated desperation. Goddamned, stinking, snaky, son of a bitch bastard. Ruined his life, ruined everything, killed Sha'uri, stole Ashya's life. Took and took and took, but didn't even have the decency to stay dead and here he was again, spreading his customary joy and good will wherever he went.

Daniel's body was quaking with fury as he moved forward. Drawn to the object of his ire by the pure rage animating him. Never again. Apophis was never going to hurt anyone ever again. Not if he had anything to say about it.

Daniel reached down, grabbed a hold of the front of Apophis' tunic and violently shook the startled and thoroughly alarmed Goa'uld. "That was really, really STUPID!" Daniel snarled at him as Apophis gaped back at him in stunned silence. "But then, you never were very SMART, were you? You should have taken the deal and quit while you were ahead. Really shouldn't have made me mad. Not again. Things are a little different now, shit-face. The last time we met you told me I hadn't the strength or the will to kill you for what you did to my wife. You were wrong then, and you're wrong now. Oh, so very, very wrong."

Daniel didn't loosen the hold he had on Apophis with either his fist or his eyes as he extended an open, demanding hand to Nah'tak. Knew what he wanted. What Nah'tak was holding. The First Prime put the sword in his hand like he wanted.

Daniel…… whatcha doin'?

Daniel tried not to look at the red rivulets staining the edge of the sword as he pressed it to Apophis' throat, keeping his eyes on the widening, fear filled ones in front of him instead. Blinked to steady his vision and resolve as he watched Apophis' face blur and drunkenly dance before him.

Daniel?

He heard Jack but he couldn't answer him. First because the rage seemed to be occupying every corner of this thoughts, and then, because he didn't have to. Jack's concern rode right thought the red fury, cutting it back, draining it away with the strength of the quiet, confident truth Jack's love carried.

Wasn't worth it. Apophis wasn't worth it. Someday someone was going to kill the bastard, but it shouldn't be - couldn't be him. Didn't have to now. Didn't need to. He was okay.

No, he wasn't going to kill Apophis. But he wasn't quite through with him yet either.

"Mercy - mercy, Lord!" Apophis quietly gasped as stark fear flickered in his soulless eyes.

Daniel smiled coldly as he held the sword closer to the vulnerable throat it caressed. "Give me one good reason why I shouldn't cut your head right off."

Apophis opened his mouth, looked desperately into the eyes of the man who held his life on a knife's edge and said nothing.

"Do you believe I will?" Daniel further menaced him with his question and the sword.

"Yes, Lord," Apophis replied quickly, nervously licking his lips.

"First smart thing I've ever heard you say," Daniel sneered at him. "I want to hear you say a little more, and I'll let you live. Can't tell you what he has planned for you," Daniel gave a toss of his head toward Chronos, "but I won't kill you."

"What would you have me say, Lord?" Apophis asked warily. Not so much fear now, but not stupid enough to believe he was entirely in the clear.

Any requests?

For starters, he's an asshole. About time he admitted it.

"Apophis is an asshole," Daniel grinned widely as he told him.

Apophis blinked stupidly at him.

"Say it!" Daniel hissed.

"Apophis is an asshole."

I don't think they heard him in the back.

"LOUDER!"

"APOPHIS IS AN ASSHOLE!"

Anything else? Might as well make the most of it.

Okay, but just one more. Think you should be taking it easy soon, don't you?

I'm fine. What else?

Make him say we kicked his slimy, snaky butt.

"Now say: 'The Tau'ri kicked my slimy, snaky butt'," Daniel instructed him smugly. "Like you really mean it."

Defiant, disbelieving anger blazed across Apophis' face. To be quickly banished as Chronos took a single, warning step toward him.

"THE TAU'RI KICKED MY SLIMY, SNAKY BUTT!" Apophis roared, his ruined face twisted with both fear and loathing.

"Works for me," Daniel said with deep satisfaction as he released Apophis, took a step back and would have stumbled if Chronos had not been there to catch him. Daniel shrugged off the support and took a few defiant, but unsteady steps away from both Chronos and Apophis.

That felt pretty good, Jack.

I'll bet. How are YOU feeling, though?

Ah, been better actually, a little woozy. Nothing to get worried about. I'm just going to wrap things up here and then maybe lie down for a while.

His chest was definitely hurting now. Still bleeding. A lot. Maybe the cut was deeper than he thought. Just a deep, bleeding gash, but it'll be fine. No problem. Strangely, he didn't care. He seemed to be riding on the crest of an emboldening wave, still empowered even though his head was starting to feel as if someone had filled it full of helium and it was about to drift right off his shoulders. Snakes were blurry as well. He wondered why they were all still standing there. Guess they didn't have anything better to do. Daniel watched unconcerned as Chronos nodded curtly to Nah'tak, as Apophis was seized by a pair of Jaffa and unceremoniously carted away. And once again, all the focus in the room shifted back to him.

Back to the looking again, huh? Wasn't going to do them a damned bit of good. He still wasn't going to change colour. Or spit nickels. However, he didn't want them to go away thinking they'd not gotten their money's worth. He'd just given Apophis what for. Their turn, now.

"As for you!" Daniel launched his words out at them as he pointed an accusing finger at the assemblage. "All of you. Let's get one thing straight. My name is Daniel Jackson. I'm a human being. A Tau'ri, and damned proud of it! I'm NOT a slave. No one owns me, possesses me or controls me. Not Apophis. Not any of you and CERTAINLY - not HIM!"

Daniel spat the last word out with real venom as he flung his arm back in the direction of the System Lord lurking behind him. "I own MYSELF. Your boss might keep me here against my will but in here," he said, pointing to his head, "and in here," indicating his chest, "I'm free! No matter what! I don't care if you hate me, hurt me or kill me even, doesn't change a thing! I'm not afraid of ANY of you and no matter what you do to me I'll still be free!"

Okay, Danny, that's good. Settle down now, you've made your point.

"Just so we understand each other," Daniel finished, slightly alarmed at the way the room was beginning to dip and roll. "Ah, excuse me, thanks for listening, but I think I'm going to fall down now."

Daniel felt himself going, then just as quickly felt strong hands on his upper arms, grasping him firmly, holding him up. This time he didn't throw them off. "I have you, my love," Chronos whispered in his ear. "You have done very, very well. Just a few minutes more, and you may rest."

Chronos continued to support Daniel as he lifted his head and swept his gaze across the expectant assemblage.

"Is he not magnificent?" Chronos called out, his voice laden with unmistakable pride. "Such fire! Such defiance! Do you think me mad now for taking him? Before you stands the finest member of his race. Proud, unafraid, before all of you. He vows he bows to no man and yet with your own eyes you have watched him defeat Apophis and suffer in my service! Ra himself could not prevail against him. Took him, but could not hold him. Yet, where Ra has failed, I have succeeded. The most powerful of those who have sought to challenge us, and I have taken him. Taken him, and I will keep him! What say you now about his worthiness to stand at my side?"

Daniel was having a hard time following what Chronos was saying. He'd stopped shouting, but it didn't help because it was getting loud again. Yelling. More yelling. Daniel was dimly aware he was being moved. Hands leaving him as other hands were laid upon him. A voice, somewhere close, softer than the others.

"Take him now, and tend to him. Hurry."

"Yes, my Lord."

Nah'tak. That was Nah'tak's voice. He was going somewhere with Nah'tak. That was good. That was fine.

Aided by the hands guiding him Daniel took a few steps before he couldn't get his legs to work. He felt himself falling, then being lifted up again, floating but strangely comforted by the feeling of strength and protection surrounding him. Somewhere in a place he was swiftly passing beyond caring about he could hear Chronos shouting above the roar of voices in the room. Something about war and victory and there was more shouting, cheering, his name, Chronos' name. Daniel didn't want to listen any more, he just wanted to sleep.

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

"Brilliant," Luena said grudgingly, shaking her head. "It's absolutely brilliant. And the timing! Well, at least we now know why Chronos singled Daniel out in the first place."

"So you don't think it was just a question of Daniel's big blue eyes and winning personality?" Jack growled, trying to keep his concern under control. Daniel was sleeping now. He seemed to be okay. But once again, the boy had scared the shit out of him.

Jumping in front of a snake with a sword. For Chronos. Mouthing off to a bunch of snakes while he was standing there likely bleeding to death. Jesus. Jack scrubbed his face with a weary hand. As soon as all of this was over he was going to sit his dear heart down and have yet another heart to heart with him about some of the finer points of self-preservation.

Point number one. If the damned snakes want to slice each other to ribbons it's none of our concern.

"You okay, Jack?" Luena said gently as she patted him on the shoulder.

"Me? I'll live," Jack grimaced at her. "So, you were saying."

"Whatever tender feelings he's been claiming for Daniel, Chronos has had a very definite agenda behind everything he's done. Hathor gave him the idea, what happened around the business of the treaty made it necessary for him to start the ball rolling, and this impending war with Sokhar was his moment to show everyone just how damned clever he's been. Believe me, Jack, he's been awfully damned clever. He's managed to turn what looked like a mad, irrational obsession for an inferior being into a inspirational cause to rally his troops around and he's thoroughly cleared his reputation of the tarnishing it got from having to make a deal with the Tau'ri for Nirti. He's riding high again, Jack. All because of Daniel. What he represents."

"What do you mean?" Sam asked.

Luena favoured her with a crooked smile. "You probably don't realize this, and it's not like the Goa'uld are making a habit of spreading it around or anything, but before you 'insignificant' Tau'ri showed up on the scene the Goa'uld were having a high time of it. Running amok in the universe pretty much doing as they pleased. The Asgard would wave their fingers at them occasionally, but before Earth got its Stargate on line there wasn't another race out there for centuries who've done as much damage to the System Lords as you have."

"No foolin'?" Jack grinned. "You mean we've seriously kicked their butts?"

"Indeed," Teal'c affirmed solemnly.

"Why do you think Apophis attacked Earth?" Luena continued. "If he'd succeeded in wiping you out he'd have been one big, important snake. I highly doubt Chronos would have been able to hold him off once the word got out and everyone went running to follow after the System Lord who had taken out the race who had destroyed Ra. Apophis had a lot riding on that attack. Everything to gain if he'd managed to pull it off. Even more to lose if he failed. As you saw."

"What did you mean about Hathor giving Chronos the idea?" Sam queried.

"Remember what I said about the Goa'uld being all about power?" Luena replied, a pensive set to her mouth. "Ra and Hathor had a falling out millennia ago. Thoughtful lad, he sealed her up in the sarcophagus just before he got kicked off Earth and I guess he forgot about her."

"Can't think why," Jack snorted. '"She was so charming and personable and all."

"Wasn't she just?" Luena laughed softly. "Anyway, when she was released, she had one half of what she needed to build her power base, but not the other."

"She could make baby Goa'ulds but she'd kinda lost her clout with the community?" Jack ventured. "Wait - don't tell me. When she found out Daniel was one of the two of us who'd killed Ra.…."

"You got it," Luena frowned. "Taking Daniel as her consort - or Kal ni esh - and you as her First Prime would have sent her straight to the top of the status heap. There are a few System Lords out there who wouldn't have batted an eye at the prospect of trading in their current Queen for one who came with the extra added accessories she did. Chronos probably being at the top of the list."

"Oh, now THERE'S an image I could have gone the rest of my life without," Jack shuddered.

"You and me both, sir," Sam nodded, making a face.

"Danny's gonna be crushed when he finds out Hathor didn't want him for his boyish good looks either," Jack sighed.

Luena cast him with a sour look. "Jack, you worry me sometimes. Honestly, you do."

"Only sometimes?" Jack affected a mournful tone.

"So what you're saying is Hathor set the precedent." Sam addressed her remarks to Luena, studiously avoiding her commanding officer. "'Claiming' Daniel equated to claiming his accomplishments - having him would be like having the ultimate status symbol.

"Succinctly put," Luena smiled at her. "The defeat of Ra and the ultimate victory over the troublesome race who'd been responsible for his own drubbing all in one neat, convenient package. Daniel. Which he then presents to his underlords - on the eve of his battle with Sokhar - as the incontrovertible proof he's the one and only king of the mountain because he succeeded where Seth, Hathor, Apophis and Ra - didn't. Like I said - brilliant."

"Scheming, lying son of a bitch!" Jack snarled. "All that crap he's been feeding Daniel about 'caring' about him and all he's wanted all along is a fucking TROPHY he can trot out in front of his troops and say, 'hey, look at me, I'm the GREATEST and here's the living, breathing proof'!"

"And he waited for the perfect time to do it," Luena continued, her face as dark with anger as Jack's. "His underlords had to think he was losing it the way he's been carrying on with Daniel. It would have been sheer suicide to go against Sokhar with their confidence as undermined as it was becoming. It's likely half of them would have left him and jumped to support Sokhar. Which would have finished him for sure. As it is, even with the full support and faith of his followers Chronos' only real chance of winning is to attack Sokhar now, take him by surprise while he's still not ready."

"While now, after that rousing little propaganda manoeuvre they're one hundred percent behind him and hot to kick some butt," Jack said with noticeable disgust. "He's got them so worked up they'd probably be willing to take on Sokhar with their bare hands."

"Apophis was a gift from the gods," Luena mused. "Amonet's worst half must have been on Netu the whole time, and Chronos had to have known about it. Offered to take him in just to use him in the show."

"At least now we know why Chronos didn't tell the other System Lords Amonet was dead," Sam offered.

"Still hasn't told them." Jack corrected. "All he said was Daniel took her - not what really happened to her. So he's still making out like Amonet is alive and squirming on ice somewhere and only Daniel knows where she is. Why do you think that is?"

"A live, viable queen is another potential source of power," Luena explained. "For all the rest of the Goa'uld know Daniel could have her hidden away somewhere making new larvae and Jaffa for Chronos. Also, by holding her, Daniel and ultimately Chronos, is holding Apophis' power and experiential contribution to the genetic memory of the Goa'uld hostage."

"My brain is starting to hurt," Jack complained.

"I told you this reproductive stuff was complicated, " Luena grinned. "The Goa'uld are not exactly what you'd call an altruistic race. Especially toward each other. While their needs for power and fending off each other require them to be astonishingly prolific, only a small handful of them will ever get to be in a position of real temporal and reproductive power over the rest of their fellows. Therefore the more mature, implanted Goa'uld you can generate with your experiential imprint the better as they will naturally tend to support you, if only because they hope, knowing everything you know, they'll one day get a chance to replace you. Being prolific also means you can sacrifice a bunch of them. They are the basis of your army, future supporters and cannon fodder all at the same time."

"Too much information!" Jack groaned.

"If it makes you feel any better, Jack, one good thing that's come of all of this is by making Daniel a 'trophy' as you will, Chronos has virtually guaranteed he won't be implanted."

"How's that?" Jack shot back.

"Well, think about it for a minute. Daniel's value to him - or any other Goa'uld who'd want him for the same reason - rests solely in who he is and what he's done. The Goa'uld maintain the belief nothing of the host survives in the aftermath of an implantation. Therefore if Daniel was taken as a host he wouldn't be DANIEL anymore."

"Just another...host," Jack said bitterly. "Nice to know he doesn't have to worry about that happening, anyway."

"Well, one thing's for sure," Sam spared the frowning colonel a concerned look before continuing. "Chronos made his play and his underlords bought it."

"Wonder how long it will be before the Tok'ra get wind of it?" Luena asked.

"Wonder if they'll bother to TELL us about it," Jack added.

"Indeed," Teal'c commented, finally breaking his deeply pensive silence. "Whether or not they choose to provide us with this information will indicate the nature of the sincerity of their avowed intentions to fully cooperate with us."

"What he said," Jack nodded. "You'd better believe I won't be giving them a damned thing, no matter if they tell us or not. We've been boned by them too many times to let one potential lapse of honesty impress me."

"Speaking of the Tok'ra, sir," Sam ventured.

"Crap!" Jack cried, slapping his forehead. "How long have we been gone? Bet they're all still sitting there staring at each other. Somebody come up with something to tell them, I'm taking this lie off."

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

"My Lord Chronos."

That voice again. Had heard it before, while he was drifting in and out. Vaguely familiar, but couldn't quite - damn, hard to concentrate.

"How is he, Doctor?"

That voice he knew. The other man - doctor? THAT'S why the voice was familiar. The doctor from Toris Nar. The one Chronos had summoned to look after him - after - that night. But that was - he was still here?

"He rests, my lord."

Why was he still here? And sounding rather nervous?

"There was considerable blood loss, but he responded very well to the replacement injection."

Whoa. Sounding even more nervous. Replacement?

"I - I had previously tested the procedure on other subjects, Lord! Since you graciously bestowed this appointment upon me I have used the time to become fully acquainted with human anatomy and physiology. There are some differences between human and Asar, but I assure you…"

Appointment? What was going on here? Daniel tried to force himself to focus, tried to push past the lethargy clinging to his mind and body threatening to pull him back down into unconsciousness. Getting unexpected tactile assistance in his endeavour.

Someone was sitting down on the bed beside him. Touching. Touching something on his chest.

"This is less efficient than the healing device. Still, after what happened the last time…"

Chronos. Last time? That's right, hadn't used the device, had sent for a doctor. He'd wondered why, but hadn't asked. Something had happened? Damn. Touching him. Always touching him.

"What is this?"

"A - a dermal regeneration patch, Lord. The wound itself was rather deep, but clean. Relatively easy to suture. However, the trauma to the tissue was too extensive for simple surface regenerative stimulus, as before. Therefore the patch - is necessary. It will hasten the healing process and completely eliminate any possibility of - uh - scarring."

"Ah. That is good. I would not wish him to be...imperfect."

No damaged goods for the high and mighty System Lord, huh? No blemishes, scars or wrinkles? Touching him. Still touching him.

"When can this be removed?"

"There is no need, Lord. The body will assimilate the patch as part of the healing process. He - his condition is stable. He will want to sleep for the next few days, but after that time he will be fully healed and back to normal."

Fully healed, anyway. Get back to you on the 'normal' part.

"Definitely less efficient than the healing device. But it cannot be helped. Thank you, Doctor. You have done well. You will be suitably rewarded for your service."

"I thank you, Lord. It is my - my honour to serve."

The doctor sounded like he was about to pass out from terror. No wonder. Tough spot he was in. He screwed up even an iota he was dead meat. No pressure. Daniel knew he really should try and say something, to thank the man, try and put his mind at ease, find out what was going on, but it was hard to muster the energy. Hard to open his eyes, even.

"Thank you," Daniel managed to gasp out.

"You are awake!" Chronos cried joyfully.

"Yes," he gasped again, clutching at the hand cupping his cheek to get the System Lord's attention while grabbing a handful of the material clothing the chest of the man leaning over him. He needed to get up, needed to talk to the Doctor - had to get Chronos to listen to him.

"Doctor," his tongue fumbled around the word, but somehow got it out as he struggled to get to a sitting position using his purchase on the man sitting beside him to pull himself up.

Chronos wasn't helping. Was in fact proving to be extremely unhelpful by pushing him back onto the bed he was trying to escape from.

"Rest," Chronos soothed, "be still." Daniel violently shook his head and fought back.

"No! Want to - want to talk to the Doctor."

"Come here!" Chronos immediately snapped.

"God!" Daniel groaned. "Not like THAT!"

The other man was instantly at his side. Only when he could see the more than slightly terrified face of his physician did Daniel allow himself to be lowered back onto the bed.

He extended a hand to the doctor, which the man took after an uncertain pause and an apprehensive, confirming glance at Chronos.

"Thank you," Daniel said to the doctor. "Don't be frightened. I remember you from before. I never got a chance to talk to you - find out - what's your name?"

"Aldis Lon, Lord," the doctor said quickly.

"Daniel. My name's Daniel. I'm nobody's 'Lord'. Certainly not yours." Daniel threw off the deeply compelling urge to sleep as he turned his focus to Chronos. "What is he doing here?" he asked the System Lord, who was looking back at him rather fondly, following up the looking with some gentle stroking of his hair. Daniel fought down the twinge of automatic annoyance the intimate gesture evoked in him and struggled to stay on topic.

"I wished him to remain," Chronos said quietly. "The violence of your physical reaction to the healing device left me unwilling to chance its further use on you for any reason. Yet it was not unreasonable to assume there might be future occasions when you might require medical attention." The System Lord didn't even blink at Daniel's reactive snort, continuing with his explanation. "I prefer to be prepared for any and all contingencies."

"So, once you had him here, you just, basically - kept him," Daniel frowned unhappily as he turned his head to look at the doctor. Feeling more than a little sick as the implications of what he'd just heard went home. The man's long, gaunt face was almost ashen with fear. He licked his lips hastily, his large, pale eyes darting nervously between the other two other men in the room.

"My - my Lord Chronos was most respectful," the doctor ventured in a slightly wavering voice. "I am a very fortunate man. It was a great honour to be - to be chosen for such an important position. My government was most eager I should accept."

"So it's my fault you're here," Daniel said sadly. "I'm - I'm sorry. Believe me, I know what it feels to be held somewhere against your will."

"I am happy to serve, Lord!" the doctor said quickly, with desperate fear.

Daniel inwardly castigated himself for the terrible position he'd just put the doctor in.

"It's all right, it's okay, I'm sure you are. Don't worry. You've got nothing to fear from anyone here," he smiled broadly at the doctor, trying to reassure him.

A quick glance at Chronos conveyed to him the System Lord was practically oblivious to anything the doctor had said. He was much too busy staring dotingly down at him. While he was inwardly dismayed at the reason, Daniel was glad for the effect. As long as Chronos was mooning over him he wasn't terrifying the doctor at the same time as he was trying to calm the poor man down.

Of course, the most effective way of assuring the doctor would relax would be to get Chronos to leave the room entirely, but as there was very probably little chance that would happen Daniel knew he was just going to have to make do with being a distraction.

The very least he could do under the circumstances.

"Do you have a family, Aldis?" Daniel asked the doctor in as soothing a tone as he could manage.

An expression of deep sorrow flared briefly across the man's lined and wary face before he instantly suppressed it.

"Yes, Lord," Aldis replied in a stiff, controlled voice. "A wife. Two sons. A daughter. They are on Toris Nar. They are - they are very proud of me and the honour which has been bestowed upon me."

Yeah, sure. Youbetcha.

"Daniel," Daniel said gently. "I'm sure they miss you very much. You must miss them as well."

The doctor trained his eyes upon a distant spot beyond him, not looking at the man addressing him who could plainly see the pain the other was trying to conceal.

"I know what that feels like, too," Daniel told him softly. "I'm sorry."

That made Aldis finally look at him. A brief glance of aching sympathy arced between them. Perfect resonance to their reciprocal conditions. Maybe he couldn't help himself, but Daniel knew he'd be damned if he sat back and let some other poor soul go through the same kind of hell because of a tyrant's whim.

"Well, let's just see what we can do about your situation," Daniel promised him. "I'd be grateful if you'd look after my friends as long as you have to be here. Which won't be for much longer. When I'm feeling better we'll see what we can do about making some other arrangements and getting you back home where you belong. I promise."

"If it pleases you to send this one home it shall be so." Chronos' unsuspected confirmation startled Daniel. He glanced quickly at the System Lord, to find him still smiling indulgently at him, but obviously far more aware of the conversation than his pervious seeming absorption had led Daniel to believe.

Ah, so Chronos could both drool and listen at the same time. Multi-tasking. Fine. Saved him from unnecessary explanations. A piece of information to keep in mind, as well.

"It does," Daniel informed him fervently.

Chronos inclined his head in a faint nod, and then went back to the smiling, adoring and stroking. "Whatever pleases you," he murmured. Daniel only just barely resisted the urge to inform him what would really please him and looked away again. Back to the doctor.

Who was staring at him, utter disbelief mingling with the desperate hope on his face.

"You're going home," Daniel told him firmly. "And until you do, you've got nothing more to fear from anyone here. Okay?"

"Yes," Aldis breathed fervently, his eyes over-bright with gratitude and the beginnings of tears. "Thank you - Daniel."

"Now you've got it," Daniel grinned at him. "I'm fine now. You don't need to be here anymore, so you can go. Really, it's okay. I'll get back to you as soon as I can. That's a promise."

Aldis said nothing, simply nodded. But the look in his eyes told Daniel he had no doubt the promise he'd just been given was going to be kept. Good to know they understood each other.

You're a good man, Daniel Jackson.

Yeah. Whatever.

Now - about these unfortunate tendencies you've been demonstrating lately toward engaging in heroic gestures...

Not now, Jack, okay? I've still got snakeboy here, doing the doting maniac thing all over me. One crisis at a time, 'kay?

Wish that asshole would keep his hands to himself.

You and me both.

Chronos waited until the doctor had left the suite before resuming his fond stroking of Daniel's head. "You never cease to amaze me," he chuckled. "Such a fuss over a mere servant."

"There's nothing 'mere' about him," Daniel shoved the System Lord's hand aside. "He's not a 'thing' - and shouldn't be treated like one. He's a man. He's got a life. He's got feelings. They matter to him and they matter to me. Would matter to you, too, if you took the time to look at him like he was real, instead of some little puppet you can push around as it amuses you. If you took the time to get to know him… seems to me we've had this conversation before. Looks like you paid as much attention to it as you do to anything else that doesn't suit you."

"You are angry with me, now," Chronos sighed.

"I just wish - oh God!" Daniel gave a frustrated toss of his head into the pillow. "Chronos, I'm just thrilled to death you seem so damned determined to 'please' me, but you can't keep bullying people for my sake! I'm not the only being in the universe with feelings! Making others unhappy for my 'good' does not please me. No matter the reason. Just make sure that man is safely returned to his family. With no consequences. That will please me."

"Very well," Chronos replied, a slightly troubled frown on his face. "But there still must be one to provide the service I required of him. If it would not 'please' you should I compel another for this purpose, how then shall I replace him?"

"Try ASKING?" Daniel sighed. "Giving them the option of choosing? I know the concept might be slightly unfamiliar to you, but trust me, it does work. You also tend to get better service from willing participants. Not scaring the shit out of them at every conceivable opportunity also works wonders for job performance as well."

Chronos merely continued to peer intently at him, his expression becoming increasingly pensive. Weariness assailed Daniel once more. He didn't have the will or the strength to endure any more of Chronos' attentions. He just wanted him to leave him alone.

"I'm - I'm tired," Daniel tried to turn on his side, away from Chronos, and thought better of it as the slight movement caused a stab of pain to lance through his chest.

"Ah - shit!" he gasped. "That smarts. Let me get some rest. I've just let myself get almost sliced in two, if you will recall. Pretty stupid of me. Not only because I got in the way of someone trying to slice you up, but I did it for nothing. You knew Apophis was going to pull that stunt. Counting on it, I'll bet. Must have made you feel pretty good to see me almost get myself killed on your account. You even knew I'd do it. Can't believe I actually did it myself, but you knew. Set the whole thing up. Me, Apophis, you set both of us up. Bastard."

"I was aware of his intentions," Chronos said gravely. "I was also aware there was a very good chance you would react exactly as you did. I admit I hoped you would make the attempt to stop him. But I did not anticipate how quickly you would act. It was never my intention to allow you to come to harm. Your injury was not a part of my plan. I would never wish to see you harmed in any way, Daniel."

"But other than that little technicality all the players performed to expectations," Daniel said bitterly. "We all did exactly what you wanted us to do, didn't we?"

"It was necessary," Chronos replied stonily. "I cannot afford to be perceived as weak by my underlings. Especially now. Your actions have restored their confidence in me. You have gained their respect and approval. Your position is secure. You should be pleased."

"Pleased a bunch of snakes think I'm some kind of - mascot?" Daniel snapped. "Their big leader's trophy-boy? Oh yeah, I'm pleased. Can hardly contain the joy."

"You are impossible," Chronos sighed once more.

"Go away and let me get some sleep," Daniel muttered.

Impossible just about covers it.

Shut up! You, too. Go away. Sleeping now.

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

"Off-world activation," Simmon's announcement greeted the general as he walked into the control room, summoned by the unexpected blaring of the alert klaxon. "It's an unauthorised traveller, sir," the lieutenant informed Hammond as soon as the information flashed up on his console.

"I can see that, son," Hammond nodded tersely. "Close the iris."

As the armed SF's pounded grimly into the gateroom the huge, segmented disc spiralled down to assume its defensive posture over the opening it protected.

The gate stood, safely shuttered, all seven chevrons softly glowing, back lit by the muted, dancing light of the obstructed event horizon. A tense silence throttled the control room as its occupants stood staring at the dull, sullen surface of the iris.

"Sir!" Simmons cried out. "The iris - it's - it's…"

It was indeed. Wavering, blurring. Apprehension gripped Hammond. He leaned forward, clutching the microphone, about to give the order to the SF's to open fire when a figure walked calmly through the obstruction as if it didn't exist, took a few steps down the ramp and then stopped. A very familiar figure.

"Hold your fire!" Hammond yelled into the mike. "Stand down." After taking another look at the man standing up on the ramp glaring stonily up at him - just to make sure he wasn't seeing things - Hammond frowned and walked swiftly from the control room on his way to greet their unexpected visitor.

Who, true to the sweet and agreeable nature he'd generously displayed during the course of his previous visit, looked dourly at the approaching general and got straight to the point before Hammond had a chance to open his mouth.

"Take me to Doctor Jackson," Omac announced flatly. "My business is with him."

"Welcome to Earth, Omac," Hammond said equably, trying to suppress the automatic irritation this man evoked in his presence simply by breathing. "Pleasure to see you again."

"Please inform Doctor Jackson I need to see him," Omac responded dryly. "I am here on the behest of my government to deliver a summons to him. I wish to discharge my duty as quickly possible."

"I'm afraid Doctor Jackson is not available at the moment," Hammond answered tersely, but still politely. "Something I can help you with?"

"No." Omac favoured him with a withering look. "Make him available. Immediately."

"That is one request I sincerely wish I could comply with," Hammond told him with frank sadness, all desire to fight with the man draining out of him.

The change in Hammond seemed to pierce the cocoon of arrogance surrounding the haughty Tollan.

"Something has happened," he stated, peering sharply at the general. "Tell me!"

"I would be happy to, sir," Hammond replied. "If you will come with me, we'll sit down and I'll bring you up to speed."

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

He wasn't alone in the room.

He'd been drowsing comfortably, allowing himself to drift gradually toward awareness, enjoying the unfamiliar feeling of being able to do so without the transition being accompanied by a rude shock. He hadn't realized how truly he'd adapted to the perils of his new reality until the warning feeling of 'presence' jangled him instantly alert.

Not just 'presence', but danger.

Daniel's eyes flew open, his body jerking reactively in alarm. Kirma was standing over him, her inhuman eyes brightly blazing in a mocking, leering mask. She looked insane.

Oh my, this was worse than waking up to Chronos.

Daniel barely had time to utter a small squeak of alarm before she lunged forward, leaping onto the bed, reaching for him. Covetous, lustful hatred marred her face as her fingers clawed through the air.

"You will serve MY purposes," she snarled as she grabbed his head and started to draw him mesmerized, dreading and helpless up toward her twisting, parting lips.

"May I be of assistance, Master?" A strong, determined, definitely challenging male voice sheared through them.

Startled by the unexpected interruption both Daniel and Kirma reacted instantly by pulling apart in opposite directions. She dropped him and leapt up from the bed as swiftly as she had hurled herself upon it. As soon as his head hit the pillow Daniel was rolling away from her as quickly as he could. His desperate bid to distance himself came to an undignified conclusion as he reached the edge of the bed. Daniel tumbled to floor swathed in the tangling confusion of bedding he'd taken with him on his swift trip over and down.

The swaddled man kicked out, frustrated, trying to free himself. After a brief but successful struggle with the bedclothes Daniel emerged and peered warily over the side of the bed, to be promptly astonished at the identity of the 'interruption'.

Not only who it was, but also how he had changed.

Tomas was swiftly descending the steps from the suite's upper level, moving toward a trembling, furious Kirma with a calm authority reinforced by his attire. No longer wearing the white garment of the slave, Tomas' large, muscular frame was encased in a black leather, metal studded jump suit emblazoned with Chronos' Taurus insignia on the left breast. The garment looked distinctly like a uniform. However, it was one completely unlike any uniform Daniel had ever seen anyone on the ship wear, human or Jaffa.

What was more - what was even more extraordinary - Tomas was armed! A zat gun was holstered and suspended from the belt around his waist. Daniel took in the changes in his friend's appearance with bewilderment. However, while he might be confused by this unexpected development, his disorientation was nothing compared to the frustrated displeasure on the face of the woman currently being confronted by someone she clearly considered had no business interfering with hers.

"I must ask you why you are here," Tomas addressed Kirma calmly, but firmly as he planted himself in an authoritative stance before her and folded his arms sternly across his chest.

"I am Daniel's personal attendant," Kirma answered him with withering disdain. "I was merely ascertaining if he was well and if there was anything he required of me. Not that I need explain my actions to you - human!"

Daniel didn’t think he was imagining it - Tomas blinked slightly at the sneering contempt in the utterance of the word 'human'. It wasn't fear, it was something else. With a slight shock Daniel suddenly realized, after taking in the way the two looked at each other, they knew each other. Knew each other well.

Of course, Ariana had mentioned Tomas spending too much time with the Tok'ra. They knew each other? At one time - trusted each other?

Now they were facing off and staring one other down as if they were mortal enemies. Certainly there was no question from his stance and expression Tomas regarded the Tok'ra woman as a visible, viable threat. No longer a friend, or an ally. Any lingering doubts Daniel might have entertained there was even a particle of hope Kirma could be trusted were instantly eradicated by the sight of Tomas' unwavering mistrust.

He hadn't known the young man long, but Daniel was sure of what he did know about him. Tomas was no fool. However he'd managed to come by his spirit and his instincts given the conditions he'd been raised in both were equally strong and true.

"With respect," Tomas replied with a slight, knowing smile. "That is where you are wrong. Chronos has graciously appointed me as Lord Daniel's Protector, and has left me with certain instructions. In this capacity, and with the authority Chronos has given me, I must inform you it is His wish Lord Daniel remain undisturbed during the period of his convalescence. When Lord Daniel requires you, he will send for you. Until he does I must respectfully ask you to leave and to not return until you are sent for. That is your wish, is it not, Lord?" Tomas directed toward the man crouching warily behind the bed.

Daniel blinked, realizing the question had been directed at him. "Um, uh, yes!" he stuttered after a slight pause. "Yes! Leave - she - she should definitely leave. Don't need her, don't want her, out she goes!"

Kirma whirled and shot him a brief but deeply venomous look before rounding again on Tomas. "How dare you presume to speak to me in such a fashion! Slave!" she spat at him. "Leave my sight this instant! Obey me!"

Daniel watched his friend's dark eyes flicker with an unreadable emotion. For a heart-stopping second he was afraid Tomas was about to cede to Kirma's authority. But there wasn't so much as a tremor of doubt or any evidence of intimidation apparent in the determination of Tomas' sturdy and formidable stance. Everything about him screamed 'someone is leaving, all right, and it isn't going to be me'.

"With respect, I will speak to you however it pleases my lord I should. In his absence Chronos has given me the authority to be the agent of Lord Daniel's wishes as well his Protector. I assure you, Lord Chronos desires you to obey me as you would him."

Tomas paused, unfolded his arms and revealed a thick gold bracelet set with a large blue crystal encircling his left wrist. An ironic expression played across his face as his fingers hovered over the stone on the bracelet.

"However, if you doubt me, I can consult Chronos on your behalf for confirmation of my mandate." Tomas smiled mockingly at Kirma. "I am sure our God will not mind being distracted from his business on Sauroc to assuage your doubts about his expressed wishes and provisions for the welfare of his Kal ni esh. Our lord has shown himself to be quite considerate and forgiving of those who doubt or question his wisdom and authority. Shall I call him?"

"That - that will not be necessary," Kirma's voice was barely a whisper. She was trying to continue to go for haughty in the midst of 'not having a damned leg to stand on' and only succeeded in looking desperately thwarted. But evidently she was not about to be chased from the room without trying to put a respectable face on her previously questionable activities.

"Is there anything you require, Lord?" she asked Daniel stiffly, not meeting his eyes as she addressed him, and still not quite managing to get the last word out without sounding as if she was going to throw up from saying it.

Daniel found himself having a similar reaction from having to hear her say it. Or just plain having to hear her say anything at all.

"Nope," he shook his head emphatically. "Don't need a damned thing except you gone. There's the door," he said, making a vague gesture toward it. "Bye."

She forced herself to bow, then turned and stalked swiftly toward the stairs. Tomas tracked her with his eyes until she had at last gone, his face sombre and troubled.

"She was a friend, once," he murmured. "Though it would seem she is one no longer."

"Oh, I'm thinking that's a fairly safe assumption," Daniel agreed grudgingly as he began to try hauling himself up from the floor.

The sound of Daniel's voice roused Tomas from his regretful contemplation. "Daniel!" he cried, delight evident in both his tone and his expression. The large, black-clad man was at his side in several quick bounds. Daniel swiftly had a welcome helping hand. Not that he really needed one, but he was certainly glad to have it. Between the two of them they soon had him and his bedding more comfortably situated. Tomas gave his shoulder a friendly squeeze and then sat down on the bed beside him.

"It is good to see you well again, Daniel," Tomas told him with his customary deeply intense and completely honest fervour. Tomas didn't so much tell you things as impress them right into your being. "We were very concerned about you. Ariana has been frantic. No one was allowed access to this room, and until Chronos made me your Protector we did not know - "

"Wait a minute, wait a minute," Daniel soothed, trying to calm the enthusiastic man as well as get a word in edgewise. "I'm flattered you were worried, but why were you - how did you know?"

"The ceremony was transmitted through the entire ship," Tomas supplied energetically. "We saw everything!"

"Oh!" Daniel exclaimed, distressed they'd had to see - all that. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to worry anyone. What - how long - whoa! Nothing!" he blinked in disbelief as he ran a hand across the bare, unsullied skin of his chest. This was the first time he'd looked at himself since waking up. "Not even a scratch. That stuff is really - I'll bet Janet would kill to get her hands on some of it."

"Janet?"

"A friend," Daniel told Tomas with a rueful grin. "My doctor. From home. You'd like her. She and Ariana would get on like a house on fire. It's not important now." Daniel waved aside the confusion blossoming across Tomas' youthful, earnest face at the unfamiliar colloquialism. He didn't want to explain the remark any more than he wanted to talk about Janet. Or home for that matter.

"You have been asleep for the past day and a half," Tomas told him, evidently clueing into his need for a 'sit rep', as Jack would put it. "We are currently orbiting Sauroc. Sokhar's home world."

"And - the war?" Daniel queried.

"All but over, from what I have been able to learn," Tomas returned, excitement glinting in his dark eyes. "Sokhar was taken completely by surprise. In his arrogance it seemed he made little provision for planetary defences. There was little resistance. Chronos has been on Sauroc for nearly half a day."

"Presumably with Nah'tak as well," Daniel mused. "Which is why you are here? Very glad you are here, by the way," he gave Tomas an emphatic, grateful glance. "I have no idea what Kirma was up to but I'm guessing I wouldn't have liked it much."

Tomas nodded, his entire body taut with intensity. "She is becoming a great concern to us. Behaving more and more like those who enslave us, the ones she and her fellows told us they had come to free us from. They had been friends to us, we had helped them, but now, she shuns us and treats us with contempt. We do not know what has become of the other two who were like her." Tomas frowned unhappily. "We think perhaps she has killed them." Tomas turned troubled eyes upon Daniel. "I assure you, she has not always been so. What has happened to her?"

"I have no idea," Daniel told him with sorrowful honesty. "Maybe if we knew we could do something - help her. But until we find out we're going to have to watch our backs and keep an eye on her. She's definitely up to something. I'll tell you though, I feel a lot better now that I know I'm not completely alone with having to deal with her."

Tomas flushed a deep, proud red, so pleased with Daniel's relief and expressed confidence it was almost painful to behold. "No, Daniel," he said with vehement certainty and determination, "you are no longer alone. I swear it, and Chronos has given me the opportunity to make it so."

"Yes," Daniel asked with interest. "Tell me about that. How has this," he waved at Tomas, making a gesture to indicate his new clothes, "all this come about?"

Tomas needed little coaxing. He was fairly bursting with the urge to share. "Chronos summoned me before we departed for Sauroc," the young man enthused. "You had been tended to and were newly resting from your wounds. Sleeping. Vulnerable," Tomas added with significant emphasis. "Chronos did not want you to be without companionship during times when neither he nor Nah'tak could be spared their duties to be with you. He expressed to me the certainty you would feel more comfortable given into the protection of one you already knew and trusted, one whom he also deemed capable of protecting you. He asked me if I would accept - "

"What did you just say?" Daniel interrupted, startled. "He - he asked you? Explained himself to you? Gave you a CHOICE?"

"Yes!" Tomas grinned. "I was as surprised as you, my Lord. But then, everyone knows the gods are crazy."

Daniel laughed and shook his head. "Won't get any argument from me on that one. And please, when it's just the two of us, stick to Daniel if you wouldn't mind. Leave that 'Lord and God' stuff at the door. Makes my skin crawl."

"But I do not want to be disrespectful, Lord," Tomas threw him a teasing smile. "You are in fact a god now, are you not?"

"I most certainly are - I mean am not!" Daniel told him disgustedly. "I don't care what Chronos says, trust me, I haven't got a divine bone in my body. Believe me, I should know. What's more, I want to make that plain to our people as soon as possible. No way I want them - what? What's the matter? What have I said?"

Tomas was wearing an alarming mournful expression on his face. "I wish it could be so, for your sake, Daniel. Unfortunately it is not that simple," Tomas explained with frank sadness. "Those of us who seek to understand the true nature of these beings who enslave us are very few. To most of my people and the Jaffa who serve Chronos you are now every bit as divine as the others of his kind who would have us see them as such. To try and deny your divinity to our kin and the Jaffa would not only not be understood by them, but might also be dangerous." Tomas looked down at the hands tightly clasped in his lap, his face strained with the pure force of his heart-felt concern.

"I know your new situation does not please you, Daniel. I know it distresses you to be forced to accept reverence you do not feel you deserve. But I am your friend, and because I am I must tell you this. You cannot afford to be anything less than what Chronos has declared you to be with all who serve him, the humble and the proud. As things are now, they would not understand anything else."

Daniel drew his arms around himself and bowed his head as the unwelcome but undeniable truth in Tomas' deeply honest words weighed upon him.

"Chronos said much the same thing to me," Daniel finally admitted in a low, bitter voice. "I didn't want to listen to him. He's got every reason to lie to me. But you - " he turned and met the warm, dark eyes of the man beside him, "you've only ever told me the truth. Guess it's time I got smart and started listening."

Tomas said nothing, and Daniel spent a few moments in the bleak contemplation of his new reality, despairing at the unwelcome distance his 'divinity' would put between him and the people he cared for. As things were now… As things were now? Wait a minute.

"Wait a minute!" Daniel cried suddenly, turning once again to the man beside him, a distinctly happier expression on his face. "Maybe this isn't as bad as it seems. Maybe I can turn this thing around, do something constructive with it. What you said - as things are now. What if I tried going with it rather than fighting it? Maybe I can make this 'god' business work for all of us, use it to change your people's frame of reference. If I have to be a 'god' I'll be a different kind than they're used to. Give them - give them a different definition of God!"

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

No, no really, Jack. I'm fine now. To look at me you'd never even know anything happened.

I'm sure it makes Chronos very happy to know he's still got undamaged goods.

Wouldn't know. He's still on Sauroc. From what I hear he's pretty much kicked Sokhar's butt and is taking an inventory of all his new toys.

Gotten rid of a rival and cleaned up in the bargain? Sweet. The Tok'ra will be pitching fits when they get wind of this. Serves 'em right. They helped.

Whatever. Trying to keep up with all this plotting and scheming - it's getting a bit overwhelming. Right now, it's quiet. I know it won't stay this way, but for now, it's quiet.

Huh, I hear ya. Listen, you could be having some company soon. The Tok'ra are going to try and get someone else on the ship to take the place of the chick who's gone bonzo on you. Pull her out and ship her home in the bargain.

Please do. She's getting - well, let's just say I won't be at all sorry to see her taken home and uh - dried out. The sarcophagus is to blame? I'll be sure to stay well clear of it. Seeing what it's done to Kirma… She 's definitely dangerous. Completely out of control. I'm not sure what she was up to when she was here earlier, but if it hadn't been for Tomas…

This kid is okay, then, is he? Chronos has someone watching your back full time? Someone you can actually turn your back on?

Yeah, Jack, he's great. The perfect choice. I don't know how Chronos does it, but he doesn't miss a trick. He doesn't do anything without a reason, either. He has to know something's not right about Kirma, maybe he even knows she's Tok'ra. But for some reason he's letting her run. He's up to something.

Careful, sounds like you're almost admiring the snake.

He's formidable, Jack, and he's damned smart. I'd be a fool not to respect the reality of the threat he represents.

Point taken. Anyway, about the Tok'ra - they're hoping to take advantage of the fact they've got guys on some of the other ships in Chronos' little invasion fleet. They're trying to arrange for a few 'inter-ship' personnel transfers before Chronos disperses the fleet again and fucks off into the blue. This is probably the best shot they're ever going to have at getting more guys on board.... Nobody's telling us how it's going. Or if it's going.

Well, in case they can't pull it off before Chronos leaves, our next port of call is going to be a planet called Toris Nar. That is if I have anything to say about it. I've made a promise I fully intend Chronos to keep. No gate there, I'm afraid. I don't know how you'll be able pass it on to the Tok'ra without letting on how you know, but there it is, anyway.

Filed away, Danny. You sure - you sure you're okay?

Yeah, Jack, I'm sure. I'm okay.

Okay. What? Crap, Carter wants to talk to me. We're going slightly stir-crazy here. Too much talking, not enough action. We all want to get you out of there, not just sit around and endlessly discuss our options. Damned snakes just love to talk.

You go ahead and talk to Sam, Jack. Say hi for me. I'm going to go and say a proper thank you to someone now I'm up and about.

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

"Spit it out, Carter," Jack rubbed his eyes, trying to keep the irritation out of his voice. He hated it when Carter went all diplomatic on him. The sound of crunching eggshells was getting positively deafening.

"Well, sir, I've been thinking," Carter had that 'I just know you're not going to like this' set to her mouth. Jack suppressed an impulse to groan.

"What - again?" he grinned, hoping she would respond to his attempt to tease and lighten up. She just narrowed her eyes at him. So much for levity.

"I'm not sure what this has to do with anything. It could be nothing. It's just everything Luena was telling us - I couldn't help but start thinking about - "

"CARTER!" Jack grated. "Before they put me out to pasture? Please?"

She flashed him an annoyed glance and gave a determined toss of her head. "I was thinking about what Luena was saying about why Chronos picked Daniel. If, as she claims, it was all about what he'd done making him the best choice, well frankly, sir, he isn't. You are."

"Come again?" Jack gaped at her.

"Okay, both of you got Ra. Both of you were only an assist on Seth," she grinned impudently at him, "just to remind you. Nirti was a group effort. You scored ahead on points with Hathor, then Daniel evened it up with Amonet, but you're still the better choice."

"Oh, pray continue," Jack drawled sarcastically. "Don't stop here. This is doing wonders for my ego."

"Of the two of you, you're the bigger threat," Sam explained. "You're the soldier. Daniel isn't. You're also the leader of SG-1. If Chronos was strictly going for the biggest 'trophy' he could bag, what would be more impressive than claiming he had the leader of the team which had done the most damage to Goa'uld-dom. That would have to be far and away more impressive than capturing the team's archaeologist."

"Huh," Jack grunted, a bit taken aback by the blunt truth of the logic. "I see what you mean. Maybe it is the big blue eyes after all."

"It's definitely something, sir," Sam continued in a slightly gentler tone. "What, I don't know, but - "

"Colonel O'Neill!" Both Sam and Jack jumped, startled by the sound of a voice neither one of them thought they would ever hear again. A voice uttering his name in a tone suggesting the speaker was none too thrilled with renewing the acquaintance of the man he was all but yelling at.

One look at the face of the man standing in the doorway who was also the owner of said voice was all it took to confirm the suspicion.

They had visitors! A pair of them. Blast from the past, time! Jack tried to bury his astonishment as he flung a brash rejoinder at the two new arrivals, the one who had taken his name in vain looking very much as if he wanted to take him outside and go a few rounds with him.

Still as sweet tempered as ever, it would seem.

"Omac!" Jack grimaced at him. "Nareem! Long time no see. What brings you to this neck of the woods? The Nox too nice for your liking?"

"How could you have allowed this to happen to Daniel?" Omac challenged darkly.

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