Pure of Heart
Part Fifteen


Daniel? Since when is he 'Daniel' to you?

"Excuse me?" Jack realized he was on his feet, only Carter's firm hand on his arm preventing him from leaping across the room and politely compelling Prince Charming to accept a few etiquette lessons. Jack swallowed his indignation and allowed himself to be reined in by his 2IC as it seemed His Rudeness from Tollan was suffering similar restraint from Nareem.

Omac took a deep breath, glanced at the man by his side, and then sighed resolutely. "My apologies," he began once more in a voice rasping with self-control. "I must not allow my personal - Colonel O'Neill," the Tollan turned steely eyes upon the man he was addressing as he squared his shoulders and brushed off Nareem's hand. "I was sent by my government to your Stargate Command to summon Doctor Jackson to Triad. When I arrived there General Hammond informed me of - "

"We know where Daniel is," Jack interjected, not unkindly. He couldn't blame Omac for being outraged at hearing about Daniel's current circumstances. Which he plainly was, although he was making a rather heroic effort to suppress it for the sake of whatever it was he'd come to see them about. That in itself was enough to impress Jack and make him inclined to cut the guy a little slack for all he'd seemed to be just this side of an asshole through most of the last time they'd had the dubious pleasure of his company.

Hey, anyone who liked Daniel couldn't be all bad.

"What can we do for you, Omac?" Jack smiled as he sat back down and waved at the two Tollan men to make themselves as comfortable as they could on the rocks passing for furniture in this place.

Omac gave a curt, acknowledging nod as he stiffly assumed the nearest seat. Nareem hesitated, daring to venture an optimistic smile in the direction of Carter before he too sat down. Jack didn't miss the slight blush tinting the major's cheeks as she in turn moved to make it unanimous.

"Doctor Jackson is summoned to Triad on behalf of an Abydonian named Aysha who has asked for our help."

"Aysha!" Jack said excitedly. "He's okay? He's with you guys? He wants - you want Daniel to go - where is this taking place?"

"On the new homeworld, Tollana," Omac responded tersely.

"But we sent you to the Nox planet," Sam said to Nareem.

"The Nox and the Tollan were able to devise a way to get us there," Nareem replied to her in a quiet tone accompanied by yet another warm smile.

Jack was barely aware of the exchange. His mind was racing with implications. This - this could be it. This could be the way. The Tollan didn't seem to be scared by the Goa'uld, and if the technology they'd already demonstrated was any indication of some of the other stuff they had cluttering up the homeworld they probably didn't need to be. Worried about the Goa'uld, that is.

Which meant if he could get Daniel there, and if the Tollan had anything corresponding to the concept of sanctuary or asylum then once Daniel was on Tollana Chronos could just damned well whistle for him. Maybe it would mean Daniel would end up being stuck on Tollana, but so what? He'd be free.

He'd be free.

Yeah, like that would happen. Chronos would have to let Daniel go first. Like he would. Jack felt his hopes crashing about him as swiftly as they'd briefly swelled and suddenly emerged startled from the wreckage as he realized Omac was speaking to him.

"Once I had learned of Doctor Jackson's situation I returned to Tollana for instructions," the Omac was explaining in a low, emotionless voice. "Aysha still wants Daniel to attend his Triad, but if it is not possible for me to locate him in the time I have been allotted to do so, and if Chronos does not agree to let him participate - "

Jack's heart lurched with sorrow at the words. Omac didn't look any happier to be saying them.

"Aysha has asked for you and your team to take his place if Doctor Jackson is unable to answer the summons." Omac's face was grey with suppressed concern. He looked very much as if he wanted to be sick. Jack could relate.

"Happy to help out," Jack said crisply as he peered intently at the man whom he'd formerly never thought of as being anywhere near capable of the amount of decorum he was now demonstrating. The guy was being so good it spooked him.

Jack didn't know what was going on with the normally rude Tollan, but he'd gotten to be as old as he was by learning to trust his instincts and they were telling him Omac was up to more than he was saying. However, this wasn't an insight giving Jack any particular grief. Omac liked Daniel. Whatever the guy was holding back, whether he was up to saying or not, it was definitely on the good news side.

Which was nice, for a change. Jack's eyes met with Omac's, locked and held. Oh yeah, they were definitely on the same page. Omac really had only one item on his personal agenda and it wasn't being a messenger for his government. Despite their past differences of opinion and the man's glaring lack of inter-personal skills, Jack decided he could get to like him. Knew instantly and implicitly he could trust him.

"So, what do you want us to do?" Jack asked him.

"Nareem will take you and your team back to Tollana," Omac answered. "I will remain here. It is my hope the Tok'ra and their connections will enable me to locate Chronos. My government is making attempts to contact him, so far without success."

"Last we heard he was kicking the snot out of Sokhar," Jack supplied.

"Yes," Omac frowned. "So I was informed. Unfortunately it is unlikely I would be able to reach Sauroc in time. From what little information the Tok'ra have received from operatives aboard some of the other vessels in Chronos' fleet, his business on Sauroc is almost concluded."

"So he'll be shoving off again," Jack said. "Where he's headed next, anyone's guess." Anyone that is, except him.

"We are hoping Chronos will acknowledge the communications the High Chancellor has sent him before he leaves Sauroc. If he does not - I am to remain here for a brief interval while every possible attempt is made to locate and contact him once again. We will do what we can to accede to Aysha's wishes, but the matter cannot be postponed indefinitely. If I cannot deliver the summons in the allotted period we will regretfully have no choice but to proceed without Daniel's participation."

And there goes Danny's chance out the window. Crap. Don't have any choice. Can't take the chance the time limit will run out. I HAVE to tell him.

"Uh, I don't suppose I could go with you?" Jack asked hopefully. "To go get Danny - bring him back?" What the hell. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Omac actually - smiled. True, it wasn't a huge one, and it carried more than a hint of a 'what kind of a fool do you take me for' flavour to it, but it was still a smile. Jack nearly fell off his rock.

"That would be impossible," Omac replied. "You are required on Tollana for Triad, in the event the attempt to serve Doctor Jackson is unsuccessful."

"It was worth a shot," Jack shrugged. Omac smiled again, this time shaking his head as well. Two smiles in as many minutes. The guy was going to have to start pacing himself. All this reasonableness, all at once, might do himself an injury.

Jack straightened up, swept his gaze across the room once and slapped his hands on his thighs in a gesture conveying as far as he was concerned the talking over now, it was time to be getting up and moving it on out. "Okay, well I can't think of anything pressing keeping me here at the moment. Carter ? You got anything on you can't tear yourself away from this minute - didn't think so. I assume they want us on Tollana ASAP - have I got that about right?"

Jack barely allowed for Omac's affirmative nod before he stood up and felt Carter at his side hastening to follow his lead.

"Carter, why don't you go with Nareem and round up the rest of the kids. I'll be right with you, I just want to have a word with Omac here before we all head on out for Tollana. I assume the Tok'ra don't mind we'll be checking on out of the Underground Hilton, here, for a bit - "

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

"You're in a good mood," Daniel ventured cautiously as he warily eyed the System Lord splayed extravagantly on the opposite side of the couch. Good mood didn't even begin to cover it. Chronos was so full of himself he was almost too big to be contained by the room. What was worse, he had a very hungry look in his eye, which Daniel was guessing had nothing to do with the meal presently laid out before them.

"Had a full day, looting, pillaging and grinding rivals under your heel?" Daniel smiled nervously at the wolfish eyes devouring him and edged a little further away.

Chronos picked up the goblet of wine on the table beside him, drained it in several greedy swallows and replaced it firmly on the table again, his eyes never leaving Daniel through the entire process. He leaned back against the cushions supporting him and slowly swiped the back of his hand across his mouth before replying, his dark eyes glittering dangerously.

"I am pleased with my victory," Chronos purred, his already alarming smile widening even more. "Surely you will allow me some small celebration of my triumph?"

"Suit yourself. It's nothing to do with me," Daniel muttered quickly. "You go right ahead and feel good about yourself. Me? I'll just be - "

The morsel Chronos picked up from one of the plates before him and abruptly popped into Daniel's mouth interrupted the rest of his statement. The unanticipated swiftness of the action caused him to gasp with surprise and nearly choke on the piece of food. He had no choice but to quickly chew and swallow, uncomfortably aware of the new proximity Chronos had accomplished with the gambit.

"You do not eat enough," Chronos murmured fondly as he brushed his thumb across Daniel's bottom lip.

"Thanks, but I can manage," Daniel replied as quickly as he could. This was getting scary. He'd seen this look in the System Lord's eyes before, and he had no desire to go where it was leading. Daniel's mind worked frantically. Divert, distract, shift his focus, keep him talking - had to!

"So what did you do to Sokhar?" he asked brightly, trying to put as much 'I'm interested, I really want to know' into it as he could, while inching away yet again. Chronos permitted his retreat, but probably only because he knew the inchee was just about to run out of couch. His next attempt to move away would land him on the floor.

"I accepted his surrender," Chronos supplied gladly, looking extremely pleased to be asked. "He had little choice. He had not allowed for the possibility of attack and had made no provision for the eventuality of an outside assault. He truly imagined we had forgotten about him and would have sat idly by until he had returned from his exile to take us by surprise. It was a fairly bloodless victory. It was only necessary for me to mount a token show of force. I was not required to destroy either the invasion fleet or weaponry he had assembled. All of which now remains largely intact to serve me, along with his Jaffa, where once they were intended to serve him."

"So it worked out better than you hoped," Daniel commented in what he hoped was an encouraging voice. Chronos seemed to be getting into boasting about his great deeds, the glint in his eyes becoming more self-satisfied and less predatory. Talking about himself, had to keep him talking about himself. "And Sokhar?" Daniel prompted. "He and Apophis playing footsie in a cell somewhere on board?" Now there was a terrifying thought!

"Once I had released the captives from Netu - most of whom were happy to accept the new opportunities I presented to them to be of service to me - I sent Sokhar there to briefly rule over his new domain. His domination was brief indeed. I rather enjoyed destroying Netu."

"You killed him," Daniel said quietly. "Just blew him up? Didn't leave him to fester on Netu where you could come back occasionally and gloat at him?"

Chronos cocked a speculative eyebrow at him. "Why would I do something as foolish as that? Spare him, yet again, allow him to become a possible threat in the future? I was merciful and merely banished him the last time he displeased me. By his actions he demonstrated he not only did not appreciate my generosity but also was not worthy of it. This time, he received none."

Chronos reached forward and drew an idle finger slowly along Daniel's thigh. Daniel couldn't stop himself from flinching at the contact any more than he could control the frantic hammering of his heart.

"My two most loyal and trusted underlords are very pleased with their new appointments. They remain behind on Sauroc as joint-governors. They will expand my holdings in this sector and ensure my new interests and armada are protected."

"Clever," Daniel said in spite of himself. "Leaving two of them to look after it all. One guy in charge might be tempted to do the same thing Sokhar did, but if they both have to share - before one could come after you he'd first have to take care of the other one - and you'd know about it long before he could hope to be a threat to you. Of course there's always the outside chance they could combine forces, but knowing how well you guys play together it's not very likely. One of them would eventually end up wanting to be the boss and the fun would start. And you'd still get wind of it in plenty of time, regardless. Not bad."

Chronos flushed happily at Daniel's analysis. "I am truly pleased you appreciate this," he said warmly. "One will indeed keep the other in check. Plus, giving each of them a taste of independent power allows me to reward them for the services they have already rendered to me, and provides me with an opportunity to judge their fitness and loyalty. They now have the chance to show me not only what they can do with what they have been given, but how much I can truly trust them. You understand. This is gratifying." Chronos was fairly thrumming with satisfaction at Daniel's stated acknowledgement of his brilliance.

So much for taking an interest in his 'work' as a way of cooling him off. Shit! All he'd done was make the System Lord more excited. Daniel gulped as Chronos started moving in on him again, painfully aware he had nowhere else to go but down. Oh God…..

"Wh - what about Apophis?" Daniel prompted desperately as he ducked under the hand reaching toward his face, grabbed his own goblet and took a nervous sip of the liquid it contained. Chronos smothered a smile.

"I tortured him to death and then revived him." Chronos gave a casual toss of his hand. "I lost count how many times."

"Whaaa!" Daniel almost dropped the goblet he was protectively clutching. Chronos started to laugh at the horror Daniel knew had to be all over his face.

"Why do you seem so surprised? That is precisely the kind of answer you were expecting, was it not? After all, that is the sort of monster you see in me."

"Well, yes - I - I mean - maybe - okay - yeah!" Daniel admitted grudgingly, his face burning at the way Chronos had bluntly and unashamedly stated the obvious. "So, are you telling me you - didn't? Kill him - that is?" he asked suspiciously.

"I did not," the System Lord teased as he took the goblet from Daniel's reluctant fingers. "I also did not torture him. Perhaps you would like to…..?" Chronos generously offered as he waved the goblet suggestively before taking a healthy gulp. The lustful fire in his eyes igniting once more.

"No, no, thanks, but I'll pass," Daniel smiled weakly, trying to keep an eye on where the System Lord's other hand was heading, his enjoyment of his role of mouse to Chronos' cat steadily declining with every tense second. "I don't understand," he started once more as the fingers of the hand in question began lazily playing with his hair. Daniel gritted his teeth and resolutely laced his own hands together in his lap. Any second now, any second he was gonna slap that hand -

"What?" Chronos murmured dreamily, a manifestly besotted smile swarming across his features. "Why Apophis lives, while Sokhar does not?"

"Yeah - um - that," Daniel nodded, desperate to keep the conversation going. And to have the hand stop stroking.

Chronos shrugged, drained the second goblet and put it down. "He is yet of use to me. He has supporters, secrets he will reveal to me in time and with the proper motivation. But what does Apophis matter now?"

Chronos sighed and drew Daniel to him in a sudden, swooping gesture. Daniel found himself abruptly crushed to the System Lord's chest, mere inches from the mouth hovering hungrily over his.

"Thank you for Tomas," Daniel blurted out the only thing left in his head as he tried, unsuccessfully, to push away from Chronos.

"His company pleases you?" Chronos looked delightfully surprised by the comment, and marginally less menacing as a result. "I decided to test your assertion. I asked him, I did not compel. I will admit I was surprised by his eagerness. He is refreshingly loyal to you, even if his estimation of me is not as flattering." Chronos laughed gently at the startled reaction of the man imprisoned in his embrace.

"Some day you will understand," he soothed teasingly, "there is very little that happens in this place I am not aware of. Have no fear for your friend. As long as he serves you well he also serves me. And as long as he continues to be wisely circumspect in the expression of his opinions all will be well. However, it would not hurt if you were to - remind him - of this."

"I - I will," Daniel replied. "'Thank you." Shit, shit, something in the way Chronos was smiling. That was too easy, Chronos was looking too pleased with himself, something was wrong here. Daniel mustered a wary smile, desperately aware of the position he was in, every cell in his body screaming loud warnings. Trap. This was a trap.

"Ah!" Chronos exclaimed happily, his eyes glowing with triumph. "At last I have succeeded in pleasing you! Finally, I have done something 'right' - yes?"

Oh God - no way he could deny it, no way he could lie. Even though admitting it - but he had no choice.

"Yes," Daniel agreed grudgingly. "You have done something 'right'.

Chronos beamed and hugged him possessively. "Could I not then ask for a small token of your appreciation? A kiss, nothing more?"

"W - wh - what!" Daniel stuttered. "You want a reward?"

The mouth was closing again, breath as hot and terrifying as the dark eyes boring into him. "I could take what I want," Chronos growled.

"You - you could," Daniel uttered stonily as he let himself go limp and made his gaze hard and distant. If it was going to happen he couldn't stop it. But it would be against his will and there'd be no mistaking that. "But if you do - take is all you'll ever get from me. There's no way I'll ever trust you. So if take is all you know how to do - then go ahead. I can't stop you."

Dangerous, he knew what he was saying was dangerous. This had gone way beyond playing with fire, he was toying with an atom bomb. All but daring it to go off - all over him. The System Lord trembled, the desire racking him plain not only in his devouring eyes but the rampant, raging hardness pressing into his side. Daniel took a shuddering breath, closed his eyes and braced himself for the inevitable.

A tender, almost tentative brushing of fingers across his cheek, so unexpected, startled his eyes open. Chronos was shaking almost as much as he was - his eyes wide, pleading, no longer hot and consuming but almost - almost - vulnerable.

"I will not take," he entreated softly. "I want, I want only - I will ask. Could you not - just this once - could you not - give? Just a little?"

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

"He was in your care and you failed to protect him." Omac's voice was harder than the stony fury in his dark, accusing eyes.

"Even you high and mighty guys with all your gizmos wouldn't have seen Chronos coming," Jack retorted indignantly. "Though if I'd had some of your hi-tech toys I might have been able to stop him before he took Daniel away. Now, are we going to stand here wasting time throwing blame around about what's already done or are we going to DO something to help Daniel?"

"Your team is waiting for you," Omac glared at him. "We have nothing to discuss."

"Before you go counting me out, just answer me one question," Jack returned, barely resisting the impulse to drive a fist into Omac's disapproving face. "If you went in there with one of those - walk through the walls thingees - could Chronos stop you from taking Daniel out of there?"

Omac's steely gaze wavered, but he said nothing.

"That's what you're planning to do, isn't it?" Jack pressed. "You're going in there after Daniel and you're not leaving without him. No matter what kind of trouble you might get into back home for doing it."

"It's as much as I can do for him." Omac admitted. "Daniel risked much to deliver us from your government's hospitality. I am prepared to take the same risks for him. Unfortunately, unless I can catch up with Chronos I might not get the chance to repay him."

"Well now then, you're wrong about us not having anything to talk about," Jack flashed him a humourless smile. "Because if it's a chance to catch up with Chronos you want, I just might be able to help you out. Only thing is - you have to promise me - "

"Excuse me, Colonel O'Neill."

Both men whirled at the unexpected sound of a woman's voice in the doorway. One of the Tok'ra stood there looking uncomfortable but determined. Jack had seen her around but he hadn't spoken to her. Didn't know her name.

"My apologies for interrupting," she continued briskly. "But I was sent to inform Omac he has received an urgent communication from Tollana. If you would follow me, please."

Omac darted a suspicious glance at Jack before nodding and starting to walk away from him toward the messenger. Jack ground his teeth with frustration as he watched the Tollan leave the room then sighed resignedly and followed him.

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

"Dammit, Lu, this is like Netu all over again! What do you mean you can't go with us? Why the hell not?"

Jack knew he was yelling at the Telshar woman but his patience quotient, already stretched almost to the limit by worrying about what sort of news Omac was getting from home, was now being sorely tested by Luena's latest inscrutable refusal to get with the program. He trusted the woman implicitly but sometimes the way she didn't say everything she knew made him nuts.

It felt too much like getting jerked around by the Tok'ra for his liking.

Oh, here we go. And speaking of the devil.

"I think Luena's decision is a wise one," Martouf piped up, no doubt trying to be helpful. Jack wanted to help him through the wrong end of an event horizon.

"Oh, and who asked YOU?" Jack snarled at him. He was aware his outburst was making Carter uncomfortable, Nareem looked as if he wanted to be elsewhere and Teal'c? Well, who knew?

"Jack, it's too risky for me to go to Tollana!" Luena stepped forward, grabbed his arm and pulled him back from Martouf. "We don't know who's going to be there - we can't take any chance someone will see me!"

"She's supposed to be Daniel's prisoner somewhere, sir," Carter supplied. "At least, Amonet is."

"So?" Jack threw back at her. "So what? Amonet's dead!"

"The Goa'uld don't know that, Jack!" Luena persisted. "But if I show up anywhere and come within fifty feet of one they're going to know! Also, if anyone sees SG-1 walking around with Apophis' Queen - I'd be difficult to explain."

"Continuing to maintain the charade could be useful," Martouf added.

"How?" Jack asked stubbornly.

"Well, I can't tell you that right now," Luena grinned back at him, "but if there's even the slightest chance 'Amonet' could help Daniel, don't you think we should keep me in reserve?"

Jack's response was cut short by Omac's entry into the gate room.

"Chronos has contacted Tollana," the Tollan began with no prompting in a formal, remote voice. "I am to use the Stargate to travel to Nallius Prime, which is the closest planet in the gate network to Toris Nar. A ship will be waiting there with Chronos' compliments to take me to his mothership. The journey will take several days, but I am assured Chronos will wait for my arrival. I am to depart immediately. As Chronos has stated only a willingness to hear the request but has given no indication he will agree to it you are still expected on Tollana.You had something you wished to tell me?" he finished blandly, turning his gaze on Jack.

"Just - good luck," Jack said awkwardly. "We'll be expecting to see Daniel soon."

"You have my word," Omac informed all of them with ferocious determination.

You'll answer to me if you don't bring him back, Jack's gaze told him with equal fervour.

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

"Could you not - just this once - could you not…..give? Just a little?"

Oh God, oh boy. Jack? No Jack. Sleeping. I know you have to do it some time, Jack, but why now? You're on your own, Daniel, don't - don't panic. Damn Chronos anyway, he's sure caught on to the 'why don't you try asking' concept rather quickly. Why do I keep forgetting how damned smart he is? Thinks he's found a loophole, does he? We'll just see about that.

"I just have one question," Daniel said quickly as he put a restraining hand on Chronos' chest, realising as he did so the action was more to help him feel as if he had some control over the situation than it was apt to actually give him any.

"I need to know if you're completely clear about the concept. Do you understand 'free to choose' includes the option to refuse as well as agree? Meaning the answer can be no? You might be asking, but making a request does not obligate compliance with it. Or shouldn't, if what is being offered is indeed a true choice. So, before I give you my answer I need to know - do I really have a choice? Am I truly allowed the dignity of saying no if I want to?"

The System Lord's eyes narrowed and his arms tightened. Sardonic amusement danced in his eyes.

"You are a very clever man, Daniel."

"So are you. Answer the question."

Chronos was visibly struggling, his 'I'm a nice guy - really!' agenda warring bitterly with his galloping desire. He still had a rein on himself, but it wasn't a degree of control giving Daniel any assurances he could talk his way out of a potential, and entirely unwanted, close encounter.

Still, the fact he wasn't already flat on his back was remarkable. Given the System Lord's current degree of excitement Daniel marvelled he was able to coax any degree of reasonableness out of him at all. But he also wasn't kidding himself that he was still very much in it up to his back teeth.

Holding Chronos off was not the same thing as making him back off.

"A choice with only one permissible response would hardly be a choice," Chronos finally admitted. Not easily. "You may refuse," he said with a resigned sigh, although his possessive grip did not relent in the slightest. Nor did the frightening wildness in his eyes.

Daniel knew he was crazy to even consider it. What he was thinking was dangerous -- insane even. Chronos was neither pliable nor easily denied his desires and he was desiring plenty right at the moment.

But he'd also been doing a lot of talking about wanting the object of his desire to trust him, as well as putting a fair amount of effort into trying to get said object to buy what he was selling. Daniel knew he would probably live to regret the chance he was taking but he might never get a better one to put the System Lord to the test. There was only one way to find out if Chronos really meant what he'd been saying. Only one way to find out if he had any hope of influencing him. Or - God help him - trusting him even the slightest.

Only one way to find out where he really stood, and what he ever had any reasonable hope of expecting.

Time to learn the truth. And hope to God it wasn't more than he could stand to live with.

"All right, then yes," Daniel nodded. "If I can say no, then you may kiss me - ah! Just a minute!" Chronos looked impatiently down at the hand pressed against his chest, straining to hold him back, and then sulkily glowered at its owner. "Just a kiss!" Daniel told him sternly. "That's it! I'm not agreeing to anything else here!"

"I did not ask for anything else, " Chronos purred as he swooped in to close the slight gap and fasten his mouth on Daniel's.

Daniel lay absolutely still in the arms crushing him, enduring the tight press of the shuddering body and the lustful invasion of the System Lord's ardent and enthusiastic osculation. He didn't move, didn't breathe, tried to quell the desire to scream with revulsion while Chronos gnawed at his unresponsive mouth for several almost unbearable moments.

When it seemed he couldn't possibly endure the contact any longer Chronos abruptly lifted his head and stared accusingly at him. The frustrated, petulant expression on his face, so incongruent under the circumstances, almost made Daniel burst out laughing in his face.

"You said I could kiss you!" Chronos chided. "Why do you deny me?"

"I said you could kiss ME," Daniel shot right back at him. "I did not agree to kiss YOU."

Astonished fury sparked in Chronos' dark eyes. Apparently the terms of Daniel's agreement were not exactly what he'd had in mind when he'd made his request. Big surprise. The System Lord's face was scarlet with thwarted desire and the realisation he'd been outmanoeuvred -- by the object of said desire. Who right now was thinking he was about to pay dearly for his cleverness.

Next time you get a brilliant idea, Daniel - don’t!

That was when Chronos started to chuckle. Daniel felt his limbs liquefy with relief as the System Lord drew him in once more into a rib-crushing, but entirely affectionate, embrace. Chronos' body shook with laughter, not lust, the throaty sounds of his mirth gusting into Daniel's ear as it was nuzzled and slightly nibbled. Chronos rocked him and laughed enthusiastically for several moments before finally pulling back and contenting himself with holding him only by the shoulders as he beamed his amusement into Daniel's still slightly shocked and wary face.

Chronos shook his head at Daniel as if he was fondly admonishing a naughty child. "Once again you have proven you are worthy of my estimation," the System Lord warmly informed him. "I am fairly bested! Not many can claim a victory over me such as you have just managed. Well done! Such cleverness deserves a reward."

Before Daniel had a chance to make a sound Chronos scooped him up into his arms and effortlessly carried him the short distance from the couch to the bed. Daniel could do nothing but go along for the ride, finding being transported in such a fashion an uncomfortable reminder of just how strong Chronos was, especially given the state he might still be in and where they were headed. The fact Chronos was in an obviously happy mood did nothing to quell the 'out of the frying pan into the fire' flavour to the whole operation, or ease Daniel's growing apprehension.

Chronos was the soul of doting tenderness as he gently laid Daniel down on the bed and sat himself beside the reclining man.

"Sleep now," he said kindly as he drew the coverlet protectively up and around Daniel's recumbent, apprehensive body. "You will rest undisturbed. "Nah'tak's duties continue to render him unavailable to ward you as has been his custom and your new protector has returned to his family for the evening, but a guard will remain stationed outside the door with strict instructions no one but he is to be permitted entrance until I return."

Daniel still didn't move, and neither did Chronos. Softly glowing eyes roved over him, drinking him in, a trembling hand moved slowly up his thigh, paused briefly on his hip and then continued to caress him, travelling along his abdomen, then onto his chest. Daniel swallowed nervously at the sensuous, deliberate contact. He could feel Chronos' heated touch burning through the bedclothes, chilling his heart.

"I will leave you now," Chronos murmured as he looked thoughtfully down at the hand resting above Daniel's heart. Daniel wondered if he could feel it racing with fear, or hear it hammering so loudly it felt like it was about to burst out of his chest. "Sleep well, Beloved."

Chronos finished with an enigmatic smile, then withdrew his hand and swiftly rose. Daniel waited until he'd gone before daring to breathe again.

Done it, he'd done it. Actually gotten Chronos to back off. He'd made it through, Chronos was gone and he was still unsullied. Relatively speaking.

Now all he had to do was stop shaking. That could take some doing.

Daniel grabbed twin fistfuls of the bedclothes as an unwanted memory of the taste of Chronos mouth racked his body with fresh tremors of disgust. Shock battered him as relieved tears oozed from beneath his eyelids and slid down his face. Disbelief and horror threatened to utterly carry him away.

He' done it - but what the hell had he done? He didn't know, he honestly didn't know whether to be jumping up and down for joy or running for cover.

Only one place he wanted to run to, only one shelter he wanted to find. So far away, so beyond hope, nothing he could do but just keep… running.

Daniel grabbed one of the pillows resting on the bed. While choking back his sorrow he hugged it fiercely to him and drew himself into a tight ball of misery around it. It was something to hold on to, but its yielding softness brought no comfort. He buried his face deeply into it, as doing so would make everything go away, and tried to sleep.

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

"Miriakrive."

The voice was quiet, soothing, comforting, as gentle and comforting as the soft, careful fingers tenderly stroking his cheek. What was it saying? The word sounded - familiar - but it was hard to think. He wasn't quite awake. Should know what it meant, but he couldn't quite…

"Miriakrive."

Greek. It was ancient Greek. An endearment. 'Most precious'. Something like that. Lovely sounding word. Poetic. Like the language itself. The sound of the soft, caressing syllables. Poetic. Nice.

"Miriakrive, it has been so long since I've touched you. I've missed you so much."

The voice was so familiar, so loving. Dreaming? Was he dreaming? No, awake, but only barely. He was being touched with the hands of love, their warmth filling him, lulling him. He wanted to wake up and yet, he was so tired. The touch was so soothing, carrying him back into slumberous serenity.

Daniel felt no fear as he opened his eyes to meet those of the man lying beside him.

"Al - Alexander?" Drowsiness slurred his speech and his sight. He couldn't be seeing Alexander and yet his body knew the truth of what it was feeling.

"Yes, Daniel," Alexander sighed gently. "I would not wake you, but there isn't much time. Chronos sleeps. I have but a moment. It is selfish of me but I would ask, if you would allow me one request, one memory… "

"I trust you," Daniel murmured sleepily.

Alexander sighed deeply as he moved toward him. A warm hand cupped his cheek, soft lips nuzzled gently against his, tentative, stroking, asking permission. Daniel closed his eyes and granted it.

A tingling, teasing glimmer of pleasure wafted through him as a tongue ventured shyly through his parted lips. Flicking gently, exploring cautiously, moving him to want to answer its sweet advances. Touching, caressing, Daniel sighed with the sensations as the sensuous feeling of the warm, pliant lips massaging his mouth made him want to feel more, move in time to their adoration, respond.

Strong arms encircled him as the kiss deepened. The tingling, flaring brighter, growing stronger, desire singing within him and escaping through his seeking, answering lips in a slow, sonorous moan.

"You are as sweet as I knew you would be," a very different voice laughed against his lips.

Daniel's shocked eyes flew open to encounter the glowing, triumphant ones of Chronos.

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

Ariana was startled to instant wakefulness by the swift, upward movement of the man sleeping beside her. She opened her eyes to see Tomas sitting up in bed, eyes wide with wonder, mouth agape, staring.

As soon as she understood what he was seeing she was equally alert and stupefied, clinging to her husband's side in confusion, feeling his arm coming about her in an automatic, protective gesture.

Chronos was standing in their bedchamber. In THEIR chamber. Their god - Chronos - here, now. All of her life Ariana had never heard of such a thing. Had never known of a single time when one of the more exalted ones, never mind Chronos himself, had ever come into the humble place where her people resided. Chronos had never walked in the midst of his slaves.

As Tomas and Ariana blinked at him, barely awake and equally transfixed by their amazement, Chronos further amazed them by affixing them with a tragic, utterly helpless glance.

"You must come!" he implored them. "He will not stop. I do not know what to do for him."

Ariana and Tomas exchanged worried glances. "Daniel?" Tomas spoke for both of them. "He needs our help?"

Chronos nodded distractedly. He shifted his weight uneasily from one foot to the other, looking about the small, dark alcove as if suddenly unable to meet their eyes. Visibly restive, torn between his uneasiness with his surrounding, the desperation driving him to be where he was, and his overwhelming need for the help he was seeking.

"Yes," he grunted. "You must come now. Both of you." Chronos risked one final anxious glance at the humans watching him with wondering, worried eyes and then whirled and slipped back through the threadbare curtain partitioning off the small alcove, furnished by the humble sleeping pallet and little else, that was their only private place.

"Come, Tomas, " Ariana tugged at her husband's arm as she started to get out of their bed. "We must dress quickly. Daniel needs us."

The pair spent several scrabbling moments fumbling about in the diffused, uncertain light locating clean robes and then quickly diving into them. Unwashed, hair dishevelled, they both knew their appearance was hardly anywhere close to the rigorous standard customarily required of them, but the urgency implicit in Chronos' mere presence told them both their god would not suffer them the time necessary to see to the finer points of their grooming.

They emerged from their private space breathless and rumpled. Chronos was completely oblivious to their disgraceful appearance. He was the focus of a sea of wide and curious eyes. The unexpected visitor to the slave quarters in the middle of the rest period had roused most of the sleepers. The more timid contented themselves with merely poking their heads out of their own sleeping alcoves while a smaller, bolder number had emerged and formed a loose, wondering circle about the exalted intruder.

Ariana noted Chronos appeared to be weathering the scrutiny with a returning modicum of his customary imperious indifference. The desperation he had revealed to them was being carefully concealed behind a regal mask. Then little Nikos, ever the joy and trial to his parents for his fire and fearlessness, broke free of his mother's hold, raced toward the System Lord on chubby but alarmingly swift little legs and plastered himself to Chronos as soon as he reached him, clinging to him like a small, beaming burr.

A chorus of dismayed gasps escaped the onlookers. Poor Mara was pale with fear for the boldness of her son. Chronos seemed unaware of the stunned reactions of the humans about him as he looked down at the small boy tugging demandingly at his robes and giggling up at him.

He cocked a speculative eyebrow at the child, then leaned down, wrapped his hands around the tiny, wriggling torso and straightened back up again. His face was expressionless as he deeply scrutinized the child he held out stiffly before him. The boy laughed and gurgled at him, waved his limbs in the air and finally managed to quite cleverly capture one of his feet in both his chubby hands, at which point he looked expectantly at Chronos for the proper acknowledgement of his remarkable accomplishment.

"Who does THIS belong to?" Chronos asked pointedly, but not unkindly as he continued to dangle the child before him and scan the crowd looking for the responsible party. Mara stared helplessly at him, too terrified to move or speak. Ariana gave her husband's arm a small pat before she stepped forward to intervene.

"I know his mother, Lord," she told Chronos quickly as she started to try to take the child from him. "I will return - "

"Have her come before me," Chronos insisted, refusing to let go of the boy.

"As you wish, Lord," Ariana bowed while backing away, toward Mara. "She is understandably awed by your greatness." Chronos gave an acknowledging, somewhat weary nod of his head.

Ariana reached Mara and firmly propelled her through the growing press of their fellows toward Chronos and her son. She could feel her friend growing somewhat less fearful when Chronos smiled benignly at her as they reached his side.

"What is his name?" he asked her gently, turning his thoughtful gaze back to the child once more.

"N-Nikos, Lord." Mara's reply was barely audible.

"He is spirited," Chronos nodded, frowning. "You must be rightly proud of him," he informed her gravely as he put the child into her slightly trembling hands. He allowed himself a final, amused smile as the child summarily howled with disappointment and stretched his small arms imploringly toward the latest, lost object of his fancy.

Then even though they were both still standing right before him it was apparent the boy and his mother no longer existed. Chronos swept an impatient glance at Tomas and Ariana. "Come!" he ordered tersely, spun on his heel and commenced swiftly striding away, scattering the crowd before his emphatic advance.

Ariana gave Mara's shoulder an encouraging squeeze as she felt Tomas take her hand and pull her quickly after their god.

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

Daniel was quiet now. Ariana heaved a small sigh of relief as the man cradled in her arms clutched her more tightly and nestled his head deeper into her shoulder. Tomas sat on the floor with them, on Daniel's other side, while Chronos watched them from a discreet distance, his dark, restless, anguished eyes never leaving Daniel.

Anguished? Ariana found it strange to even contemplate such a thing of the being she'd only ever regarded with dread, reverence and fear, but Chronos' distress and - guilt - over the state they'd found Daniel in when they'd arrived - anguish. There was no better way to describe it.

Ariana had no idea what had brought him to it, but when they first arrived Daniel was huddled in the corner they were both now occupying, his entire body racked with his efforts at controlling the tears trickling down his face. He struggled soundlessly, soaked with misery as he came unresisting into her arms, allowing her to soothe him as she would a troubled child.

"I can't stand it anymore. I want to go home."

He'd cried it only once. Then he didn't make another sound.

She'd been watching Chronos as Daniel had uttered his unhappiness. Pain. She's seen pain in his eyes. Desolate regret in his strained expression. Carefully watching the being before her Ariana had seen many things she'd not believed possible.

It had been hard to look beyond the lessons of a lifetime. When the Tok'ra had come to them, when Tomas had started to share with her what they'd been teaching him, at first she'd been unable to accept the idea the beings she'd always been taught to believe were divine were mere flesh and blood like the rest of them.

It was true the gods she had known since childhood had passions, but never of the tender kind. They demanded obedience and respect; inspired devotion based on fear and gratitude for the granted privilege of the continuation of the existence of oneself and loved ones. It was true at times the gods were even merciful, but never kind.

Never capable of what she was seeing now.

She was in a unique position to observe her masters, being one of the few humans granted the privilege of serving Chronos himself. She had pleased him longer than any of the other existing members of his inner retinue, and had seen much since the first time she'd been allowed admittance to this place.

She'd watched many recipients of his favours come and go. Chronos would amuse himself for a time with the current object of his fascination, make a strange, distorted game of the sacred dance of love, thereby revealing to one who knew its truth he had no understanding of what he made such grand shows of expressing. At times she'd almost pitied him his ignorance, and now, she truly did pity him for an entirely different reason.

For it seemed that now, he did indeed understand. Chronos knew what love was, and further knew the unanswerable, ironic anguish of the impossibility of its consummation.

As she looked with understanding into the completely wretched eyes of the being before her, Ariana at last knew what the Tok'ra had been saying was true. This being before her was great and powerful, but he was no god. Maybe Chronos and his kind were capable of many things beyond her ken, but in this most important matter of all he had no more power over the honest, simple workings of a single human heart than did any other being in existence.

Which meant, quite simply, for all he could do to all of them, he had no real power at all.

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

Better. He was better now. Tomas and Ariana had stayed with him for most of the day, long after Chronos had left them, but finally he'd thanked them and sent them away. As much as he appreciated their help, he was embarrassed his outburst and the fact they'd seen him losing control the way he had. As bad as being seen that way made him feel he was even more miserable about what he'd been doing that had been the cause of his most recent rude awakening.

He'd been half-asleep, and yet…..a part of him had let Alexander kiss him. More than that - had - had liked it. Wanted more. And then to have one small moment of pleasure turn into a nightmare yet again.

He couldn't help it. He couldn't stand it here. And yet how could he admit to Jack what had happened? What would he have done, how far would it have gone? He didn't know, he didn't mean for it to happen, but something in him was so glad of just a little - kindness…

How could he ever face Jack again?

"Daniel? May I speak with you?"

Daniel looked up to see Alexander sitting cross-legged on the carpeted floor of the upper level of the suite. He could say nothing in response, merely looked desolately at the evident and equal misery of the man above him before hanging his head.

"I won't come any closer," Alexander entreated. "We - I want to explain - "

Daniel waved a vague hand at him in a 'whatever' gesture. 'They' were going to have their say anyway. Nothing he could do about it except try not to listen.

"It's my fault you are here," Alexander began, heaving a huge, guilty sigh. "What Chronos feels for you, what made him choose you over the one he had originally intended to capture, it comes from me."

"What are you talking about?" Daniel peered suspiciously up at him, his curiosity getting the better of his determination to shut the words out.

Alexander's dark eyes were distant as he looked beyond Daniel into a past only he could see. "His name was Dimitri," he began in an aching, halting voice. "His eyes, so beautiful, so extraordinary. The sky lived in them, life sang in them. I watched them close forever over four thousand years ago and yet I have never forgotten them. I had never thought to see their like again, and then I looked at you and saw those wondrous eyes once more. I saw him once more, his eyes, his face, his very spirit, alive again in you."

Daniel raised his head at this, his mouth slightly agape as he raptly gazed at the man before him who still would not look at him.

"We were barely beyond our childhood, so briefly we loved and yet, so completely. We had one short, magical year before the fever took him. He was my heart, my life, dearer to me than the air I breathed and when I held him in my arms as he died all I wanted was to die with him. But he made me promise to go on, to live. He could not have known how long I would keep the last vow I made to him.

"The killing I threw myself into did not erase his memory or take away the pain. I hoped giving myself to Chronos would."

"What happened?" Daniel asked gently.

"A peculiarity of the blending is how it embeds memories in the consciousness, enhances them. Allows the symbiote to extract them, examine them, causing the host to reexperience them vividly in the process. After all this time I can close my eyes and see every detail of the village where we grew up. I can see the faces of my mother and father, hear them speaking to me as clearly as if they've only just left me. I hear his voice, see his face most vividly of all.

"Chronos was insatiably curious about every aspect of my life. His hunger to learn, to understand has always been rapacious. That aspect of him has remained unchanged as long as we have been together. He was most particularly fascinated with the concept of 'love' and how much store I put in it. The depth of emotion I carried for Dimitri both intrigued and puzzled him. My utter devotion to a dead man was beyond his comprehension and yet it endlessly taunted him simply because it was something he could not comprehend. He did not understand it - could not understand it and this lack deeply troubled him. He seemed to put it aside for many years, but Chronos is not easily deterred from something he has set his mind to having or accomplishing."

Alexander paused, closing his eyes briefly as he realised what he had just said. He heaved a regretful sigh, opened his eyes once more and continued in a deeper, more sorrowful voice.

"He could not grasp it, but his mind would not leave it alone. Eventually what burned in me still and tormented him ceaselessly filtered up, consuming his consciousness, expressing itself in his 'quest'. My love for Dimitri is the root of what drove him to seek to satisfy a longing beyond his comprehension. He did not understand what he was looking for, who he was looking for, why what he was seeking was never possible or attainable.

"For he was searching for something he could never find. A man forever beyond the reach of both of us and yet one I desired still, even though he was long dead. And then - we saw you."

"You're saying I remind you of Dimitri and that's why Chronos is so - obsessed - with me." Daniel's voice was barely louder than a whisper.

"I cannot help but love you. I've loved you for thousands of years. Therefore, so does Chronos. I'm sorry." Alexander finally looked at Daniel, his eyes overflowing with contrite adoration.

"All those years," Daniel murmured. "I'm truly sorry for your suffering. But then you also know what it feels like not to have any hope of being with the one you love." Daniel turned away, burying his face in the cushions of the couch, the emphatic finality in the movement leaving no doubt in the mind of the man watching him the conversation was over.

"Yes, Daniel, I do," Chronos said softly as he quietly rose and left the suite.

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

Triads, Archons, Seekers; dammit to hell, how was he supposed to keep all of this crap straight? His head was still reeling with the explanations and he was no further ahead for having heard all of it. Where the hell was Daniel when you most needed him to explain garbage like this?

Hopefully on his way here, very soon.

Jack sighed unhappily and cast a sour glance about the pleasantly appointed room they'd been assigned during their sojourn on Tollana. He was alone. As the team leader he'd reserved for himself the right to self-indulgently sulk all by his lonesome and had sent Carter and Teal'c off to keep an eye on the Serpent Guard Zippy the Kid had brought with him. Having to look into that ugly, smug face had been a surprise he could have lived without. Having to play footsie with a Goa'uld was the last thing he'd been expecting. Although it was looking as if it was a good thing Lu hadn't come with them after all.

One of these days he was going to get her to tell him how she always seemed to know this stuff before it happened. Maybe talk a deal about hockey scores and betting pools.

So, here they all were. Sitting pretty on Tollana. Cooling their heels, waiting for Omac to bring Daniel back. The only one who didn't know about the new state of affairs was the one who stood to gain the most from them.

Luck of the draw, he was awake and Daniel was sleeping. Again. Ever since Daniel had been kidnapped and he'd clued into the bond between them Jack had tried as best he could to synchronize their waking and sleeping schedules. Which wasn't easy, because Daniel's routine was anything but and tended to be entirely contingent on Chronos' whims.

But ever since Chronos had taken out Sokhar Daniel seemed to be forever on opposite side of the spectrum. Except for some disquieting stuff in his dreams and the general feeling all was not well, he and Daniel hadn't really connected in the last few days and the unpleasant memory of what had happened the last time they'd been 'off-line' was too recent not to trouble him. More to the point, Jack just plain didn't like not knowing what was going on with Daniel. And he was madder than hell at not being able to give him the best news he'd had to share with him in a long time.

Hopefully, the very best news of all for both of them.

Omac would come through for them. As long as he could get onto Chronos' ship, he wouldn't leave without Daniel. Wouldn't let anyone stop him from getting Daniel the hell out of there. It was going to be all right. Finally, finally he'd get Daniel back and once he did they'd never be separated again.

Never again. No matter what he had to give up to be with Daniel. If Daniel had to stay here, he was staying with him. Not simply because he couldn't bear the thought of being separated from him again, even for an instant; he didn't trust anyone else with Daniel's safety. Didn't matter a jot if all the resources of the Tollan were pledged to keeping Chronos from getting his hands on Daniel again, he wouldn't be easy in his mind until Daniel was under his constant protection 24/7. Or however the hell they did the time thing on this planet.

Daniel was his. Never letting him out of his sight again. Never.

Now, if only he could TELL Daniel what was about to happen.

Oh crap, wait a minute, what if something went wrong? He'd gotten his hopes up so high, hadn't even stopped to think; there was a chance, there always was a chance something could go wrong. Chronos could still change his mind, not let Omac aboard, play one of his freaking, sick-o, twisted mind-games with the guy.

Be his usual, putrid, stinky, slimy self and screw all of them over, just for kicks.

Could he do that to Daniel? Give him hope and then have it snatched away by that stinking snakehead? After everything Daniel had already been through, what would that do to him?

And yet telling him might make a world of difference. Give him something to hold onto. Make life a little more bearable. Should he give Daniel hope - and hope it didn't get taken away from him again?

Crap! What the hell was he supposed to do now?

"Hello, friend," a musical feminine voice sounded in the doorway behind him. Jack whirled at the unexpected sound to see exactly whom he expected to see. Yup, thought he recognised the voice. Though for the life of him he couldn't imagine why she was here.

"Lya?" he acknowledged her greeting, his face and voice as puzzled as he was. "Fancy meeting you here," he ventured, as he made a small gesture welcoming her into the room. She nodded and moved toward him with silent grace until she assumed a seat on the lounge beside him.

"All of my friends are not here," she told him earnestly, her wide eyes brimming with compassion. "I am sad to see this. And to see your sorrow because of it."

"Yeah," Jack set his jaw against the emotions her enveloping concern was abruptly arousing in him and looked away. "I've been better. Daniel's been gone for a long time."

"He has suffered," she continued softly. "As have you."

"I miss him." Jack was astonished by the sudden, nearly overwhelming urge he felt to just let go. To tell Lya - everything. Everything he'd been feeling, everything that had happened, just let it all go and wash away. The confusion, the guilt the fear, the aching loneliness, the horrible, overwhelming loss. He hadn't realised how terribly unbearable all of it was because he'd kept himself moving one step ahead of it. Not allowing himself the time to stop and let it all catch up to him.

She'd barely said a thing to him and yet something in Lya told him she already knew everything and he hadn't had to tell her anything. Like all she'd had to do was look into his eyes and she just knew. More than knew - understood. Maybe she couldn't make it all better but for this brief moment, he realised, she was offering him what she could do.

Make it hurt a little less, for just a little while.

Jack nodded his gratitude and let his head fall back against the cushions behind him. A soft hand touched his forehead, soothing warmth stilled the restlessness within him as music danced through his mind and filled his soul.

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