Pure of Heart by PhoenixE                     Part 16
Slash:  Jack and Daniel involved in a loving and committed relationship, which usually involves sex.
Rating: NC-17
Category: Established Relationship.  AU A/A Drama, Angst, H/C
Season/Spoilers: Pretty much the entire third season.
Synopsis: There is no such thing as absolute evil - or good.  Somewhere between the extremes lies the truth.
Warnings: This story contains scenes of non-consentual sex.  It is also a work in progress.
Length: oh, who knows.  I'll get back to you.

Pure of Heart by PhoenixE                       Part 16

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"God, how long have I been asleep?"  Daniel groaned into his mug of coffee.  He didn't know how much time had passed since Alexander had left him or how long he'd been out, but now he was conscious again, and what's more felt like a large pile of derji droppings. He'd been awakened by the welcome smell of coffee and found himself still sprawled on the couch, but no longer alone.

Tomas was standing off to his right, arms folded, carefully watching Delios bustle about setting out his latest culinary offensive.  Which probably would be darned offensive indeed.   Daniel hadn't had the heart to actually look at what was on offer.  Some of the unidentifiable dishes Chronos had thrown at him lately in an attempt to stimulate his appetite had been as frightening as they were bewildering.  Daniel was thankful he hadn't yet been confronted with a plate of anything actually still moving, but it had come close on more than one occasion.  He wasn't going to look at what was under covered dish number one.  Not yet.  He hadn't had nearly enough coffee to be ready to deal with whatever horrors lurked beneath.

He'd only been able to sit himself up, peer blearily about at his surroundings, and had been thinking about groping toward the smell of the coffee when his already filled mug was placed into his hand.  He took a grateful sip.  Then stared at the mug in surprise.  Wow.  The coffee.  It was just the way he liked it.  Odd.   He cast another cautious glance around the suite.  Just Tomas and Delios, as far as he could see.  That was good.

Just the way he liked it.

"You have been malingering here for the most of the journey to Toris Nar," Delios said tartly as he set another plate down on the table.  "You may relax, human," he intoned sourly at Tomas as he finished fussing with the gleaming metallic platters and assorted containers littering the table, straightened up and shot an equally sour look at him.  "I am well aware you have Chronos' leave to loiter here to your heart's content.  I will not seek to impede you in the course of performing your dreadfully important duties, nor demand you leave the room.  I ask only you that you should loiter off to the side and not get my way."

The First Maintainer rolled his eyes, sighed theatrically and removed the cover from the dreaded platter with a dramatic flourish. Daniel blinked in surprise at what lay revealed.

Pancakes.  A small mountain of them, but still - pancakes.  Plain, ordinary buttermilk pancakes. Not some bizarre and terrifying alien concoction dripping or oozing or threatening to crawl off his plate.   Pancakes.  They looked rather good.  Smelled even better.  God, he couldn't remember the last time he'd had pancakes.

Delios looked down his nose at the seated man gaping at the food in front of him, sighed again and said, "Eat."

"Get stuffed," Daniel replied mildly as he eyed the pancakes suspiciously.  "It's probably poisoned."

"Do not tempt me!"  Delios growled.  "It is not poisoned, I prepared it myself.  It is however, completely revolting.  This appalling Tau'ri fare you seem so partial to.  Pancakes, I believe they are called. Dreadful.  I would not feed them to Apophis."

"I know what they're called," Daniel retorted as he peered under the lid of the container next to the platter.  "I'm surprised you do, though. Maple syrup?"  Daniel murmured with faint amazement after cautiously sniffing the thick, dark liquid the vessel contained and identifying it.

"Of course!"  Delios snapped.  "You will not eat them any other way, now will you?"

"I LIKE maple syrup!"  Daniel blustered defensively before he realised he'd responded.  "Why the hell am I explaining myself to you?"  he countered, annoyed with himself and covering his irritation with investigating the contents of the metallic bowl sitting beside a large matching platter supporting a huge pile of toast.

"Perfectly good chanic nectar is not good enough for you," Delios continued to sneer at him with fervent gusto, " you must have maple syrup! You are more trouble than you are worth.  You will be happy to know Chronos' entire empire grinds to a halt while his ships scour the universe for the disgusting syrup for your disgusting pancakes, not to mention this equally disgusting concoction called marmalade for the toast."

"Peach!" Daniel exclaimed as he discovered the bowl contained not only marmalade, but also his favourite kind of marmalade.  This was definitely getting disconcerting.

"Yes," Delios scowled at him.

"What's in the jug?"  Daniel asked, nodding toward a tall carafe and an accompanying elegant goblet.

Delios groaned, grabbed them and quickly poured a large quantity of liquid into the goblet before thrusting it at Daniel in a jerking, impatient gesture.  Daniel sniffed the contents suspiciously before looking up in surprise at the Goa'uld glowering down at him.

"Papaya juice?"  he muttered before shooting an accusing look at Delios.  "Okay, this is too much. You even got the juice right.  Even Jack gives me grief about the -  how did you know - oh," he sneered right back at Delios.  "I guess research pays off.  You just had to check in your master's surveillance files."

"It is what you prefer, is it not?"  Delios challenged, arching a carefully shaped brow as he replaced the carafe on the table with a disdainful flourish.

"So what if it is?"  Daniel grumbled.  "Want I should give you a medal or something?  Dream on, snakebreath."

"Eat your breakfast before it gets cold, cretin."

"Make me, dorkface."




Daniel snorted and placed the mug and the goblet back down on the table.  "You've been paying attention," he grimaced as he picked up a fork.

"How can I not remember what I hear so frequently?"  Delios grimaced right back at him as he watched Daniel shovel a heaping forkful of pancakes into his mouth.  "Well?"  Delios demanded.

Daniel chewed for several more seconds, considering.  "Tastes like mother used to make," he announced finally, a frown on his face.  "Too bad my mother couldn't cook."

"I hate you," Delios said fervently.

"I hate you more!" Daniel grinned as he reached for the juice.

"I assure you that is not possible," Delios muttered, a faint smile pulling at his mouth as he watched Daniel turn away from him and apply himself to the repast before him.

The pancakes were excellent.  Daniel realised with chagrin he was ravenous.  He honestly couldn't remember the last time he'd really eaten anything.  He'd had a bite here and a bite there, but meals taken in the company of Chronos were usually a tense exercise in avoidance tending to play havoc with his appetite. He really needed this, it was really good; hungry or not they were probably the best pancakes he'd ever eaten but he'd lie down and die before he admitted he was enjoying them to Delios.

It was the principle of the thing.

He'd polished off the first pancake and was slathering syrup over his next intended victim when he realised he was being rather rude.  Sitting here stuffing his face while Tomas was standing there watching him.  Where were his manners?

"Tomas!"  Daniel waved his fork at his at the man in black standing stoically to his right desperately trying to look intense and looming.  "I'm sorry, I should have asked sooner.  Have you had breakfast?"

"Lord?"  Tomas returned, looking quite bewildered.

"What did I tell you about that lord stuff?"  Daniel admonished gently.  "Don't worry about him - " he waved a dismissing hand at Delios,  "he hates my guts. Feeling's mutual.  I asked you if you've eaten yet?  If not, I could use some help with this. There's enough for three people here.  No way I'm going to be able to eat it all, shame for it to go to waste.  Pull up a chair and help yourself.  I'm not dead yet, so it must be okay."

Tomas and Delios exchanged equally scandalised glances.

"You - you are suggesting I eat at your table?"  Tomas gulped.

"Well, why not?"  Daniel returned, aware of Tomas' discomfort and the reason for it.  More than aware, Daniel was suddenly feeling belligerently resentful of the enforced, artificial barrier between them and wanted no part of it.  Not when it was just the two of them in private.  Delios didn't count.  "I've eaten at yours," he observed kindly.   "What's the difference?"

Tomas' mouth merely gaped open while stuttering sounds came out of it.

Delios shook his head.  "The difference, LORD, is that he is your servant," the First Maintainer bent over and hissed into his ear.  "I cannot believe you are still so dense I must explain these things to you.  You are suggesting to a mere slave he should feel free to partake of the food of one far better than he could ever hope to be.  That he should sit at the table of his god."

"I'm not his better," Daniel replied in a low, annoyed voice.  "And being the god's bit on the side doesn't make me divine, no matter what the god claims to the contrary.  Of course, you and I both know he's not even a god to begin with, but he's the boss, right?  Tomas is my friend.  I'm not going to treat him like he's nothing when we're behind closed doors with no one to impress and there's no reason to maintain this charade I've been forced into."  He affixed Delios with a stern look.  "And you are not going to make any trouble about it or for him, are you?"  he said meaningfully.  "Do we understand one another?"   Daniel waited for Delios' faint, acquiescing nod before turning to the nervous man behind them.

"Tomas!"  he beckoned to the man staring at him in quiet desperation.  "It's okay.  Come over here and try some of this!"

Tomas shot an appealing look at Delios.  The Goa'uld shrugged.  "You heard him," he answered resignedly.

Tomas' young face was a study in uncertainty as he walked over to the couch and gingerly seated himself.  He sat perched awkwardly on the edge and watched helplessly as Daniel snagged another plate, heaped it high with pancakes and smothered them with syrup.  He elbowed Tomas to pick up a fork from the pile of cutlery on the side.  "Go on," he urged.  "They're good.  You didn't hear that," he drawled at Delios before shoving another forkful in his mouth.

Tomas held the fork clumsily, poised in mid air as he once again cautiously sought the eyes of the First Maintainer. Delios nodded gently, granting the young man the dispensation he was seeking.  At last somewhat reassured his actions would have no further repercussions, he took a tentative taste of the pancakes.  It was not long before he was delving into them as enthusiastically as Daniel was.

Delios narrowed his eyes as he watched the two young men eat.  "So it comes to this," he grumbled.  "Reduced to catering to the foolish whims of not one, but two boorish human louts.  I have at last achieved my life's ambitions."

"Glad to hear it!" Daniel mumbled around a mouthful of toast.  "Does that mean you're going to go off somewhere and die happy and leave us to eat in peace?"

"I would not give you the satisfaction," Delios shot back over his shoulder as he headed off toward the wardrobe.

"Chronos is really taking us to Toris Nar," Daniel murmured as he floated lazily in the warm, scented water.  It really wasn't right, how good it felt to just lie back and let the caressing heat seep into him.

"We are indeed," Delios answered dryly as he re-emerged from the adjoining dressing room, a huge towel in his hands.  "He has business there he seems most anxious to conduct.  We began the journey the first instant it was possible for us to do so.

"Is Nah'tak back on board, then?"  Daniel asked hopefully.

"I do not know."  Delios shrugged.  "I have not seen him."

Business on Toris Nar.  So, Chronos really was going to keep his word and let Aldis go home.  That was good for Aldis.  It changed nothing as far as the rest of it was concerned, though.  It certainly in no way made up for what Chronos had done - how he'd had tricked him.

Daniel wondered where his snakeness was.  Not that he really wanted to know.  Just as long as he wasn't here, that's all he cared.

"I see you do not seem to feel it is necessary to have your protector attend you while you bathe," Delios commented.  "You are not afraid to be alone with me?"

"Should I be?"  Daniel replied mildly, looking up at the man standing at the side of the wide, heated bathing pool.  "You might want to see me dead but you wouldn't try anything," he sighed, looked away and stirred the water leisurely with his foot.  "You're not that stupid."

"I thank you for your stirring vote of confidence," Delios responded tautly as he unfurled the towel with a curt, practised gesture.  "You have dawdled long enough.  If you still wish to go and play with your foolish human friends you'll barely have time if you get out of there now and go and get dressed.  I have already laid your garments out for you."

"Who did you boss around before I ruined your life?" Daniel grumbled as he reluctantly roused himself and started to climb out of the pool.  It had long ceased to bother him that he did so in full view of Delios.  The only other people who'd seen him naked more often in his life than Delios were Jack and Janet Fraiser. Daniel smiled at the slightly absurd parallel.  In fact, Janet’s hands had been everywhere Jack’s hands had been, although Daniel had to admit Janet’s hands were softer.  But never to Jack.

Mostly though, he realised it didn't bother him to have Delios see him in the altogether the same way he didn't mind it if Nah'tak did.  Because neither one of them looked at him like….like he was an All You Could Eat buffet they wanted to dive into with both hands.  They didn't make him feel like he wanted to run for cover.

Daniel stood dripping by the side of the pool, unconcerned as Delios draped the towel around him.  The dark, despairing mood he'd fallen asleep with had greatly receded.  The food and the sybaritic bath had been a remarkable restorative.  Daniel was feeling no more forgiving toward either Chronos or Alexander, but he was less emotionally shaken by the event or the consequences he'd imagined would result because of it.  It was only a kiss, and he'd meant nothing by it.  It had simply happened, it had no significance for him and it changed nothing about the way he felt about Jack.  In fact, Jack would probably laugh at him for getting so worked up about it in the first place.  Jack would understand exactly why it had happened and that it meant nothing.  It wouldn't make the slightest bit of difference to Jack.  Not something as inconsequential as this.  What they had now was based not just on love, but on years of a hard-won, tightly forged friendship and mutual respect.  It would take a lot more than an underhanded snake or a moment of human weakness to put a dent in the trust between them.

Jack would understand.  And Daniel fully intended to tell him everything as soon as they could manage to be conscious at the same time together again.

He became aware Delios had finished drying him off and was pushing him toward the dressing room.  Daniel started and swatted at the hand on his arm.  He hadn't realised he'd mentally wandered off like that.

"Got your kicks already, did you?"  Daniel groused back at Delios as he ambled into the wardrobe.

"If by that strange comment you are implying I derive any degree of satisfaction from being required to attend you - you flatter yourself, Tau'ri," Delios riposted.  "Are you displeased with my service?"

"No, no," Daniel said quickly, making a face as he looked at yet another ornately decorated gown lying across the bench.  "If it has to be anyone, I'd much rather you than - than Kirma.  I'd prefer not see her again, to be honest with you." He sighed resignedly as he fingered the rich, smooth fabric.  "Don't you have anything a little less busy?  Or that comes with pants, maybe?"

"You will be attending Chronos on Toris Nar." Delios responded curtly.  "You must be properly attired and comport yourself with dignity and decorum.  I am only responsible for ensuring your appearance is adequate.  I cannot, unfortunately, guarantee your behaviour."

"I know," Daniel flashed him a nasty grin, "Makes you nuts, doesn't it?"

"Kirma has disappeared," Delios announced unexpectedly.  "We have been unable to locate her.  It is possible she disembarked while we orbiting Sauroc.  Perhaps your human friends killed her and ate her.  Either way, she is not to be found.  I have endeavoured to fulfil her function in her absence but it you would rather I appoint another attendant to replace her - "

"No, no, it's all right," Daniel murmured absently, both stunned and relieved by this sudden piece of news.  He shouldn't be surprised to hear she'd bolted.  She wasn't stupid - she had to figure the Tok'ra would come after her sooner or later, so she must have grabbed the first chance she had to jump ship to get away from them.

She was gone.  Which meant he no longer had to worry about her.  Had nothing more to fear from her.  That was good news.  Wasn't it? Daniel sighed and began to struggle into his dress of the day fervently hoping whoever the Tok'ra sent in to replace her wasn't worse.

There was her quarry. Behind that thin curtain, no doubt fast asleep in her squalid little alcove. The weakling human she'd selected.  She'd hidden herself, watched the humans carefully, and had finally made her choice. That one had recently lost her mate, was sick with grieving and sickly by nature.  Frequently kept herself apart, was not well enough to leave the human's quarters.  She would make the perfect place to hide.

Kirma wrapped the rough cloak she was using as a disguise more firmly around herself and lurked motionless in the shadows until all was still and quiet in the sleeping area.  This shift of sleepers would not witness her activities.  Even though she had hidden here successfully for several hours and her presence had not been questioned or challenged she did not want to chance anyone seeing her enter her quarry's cubicle.  She could not allow anyone to suspect what she was about to do.

Maya had been useful, however as much as it grieved Kirma to part from her, her host had served her purpose.  It was no longer possible for Kirma to accomplish her plans as long as she wore  Maya's face.  She'd failed in her bid to take Daniel, and now he had that annoying human shadow, she wouldn't get another chance to get that close to him again.  Not in Maya's body. Also, there was no way of knowing if she was safe from her fellow Tok'ra.  If even one of them had succeeded in coming aboard since they'd been with the fleet, she was in danger.

However, they'd be looking for her in Maya.  They would not be looking for her in one of the nameless, human vermin infesting the ship.  As long as she kept safely hidden in their midst and did not venture out amongst her own kind, no one would know what she had done.

Soundlessly she slipped toward the cubicle where her quarry slumbered, taking care to look around to see she was not observed before darting through the curtain.

The woman was lying alone on her pallet, asleep.  She did not stir as Kirma crept up to her.  Good. There would be no struggle, no sound.

Kirma quickly knelt at the side of the woman who was to be her transportation, grabbed the thin, plain face between her hands and fastened her mouth to the unsuspecting one beneath her.

The transfer was quick, efficient.  Kirma had assumed full control of her new host before Maya's shuddering body had fully slumped to the floor.

Kirma wasted no time.  Maya could not be allowed to make any sounds either.  Before her former host had a chance to realise she was free, Kirma reached quickly over and snapped her neck with a swift, efficient movement.  Maya's eyes were wide with the astonishment of death as she slumped soundlessly in the hands of her former symbiote's new host.

Kirma closed Maya's eyes gently, and leaned over to kiss her fondly on the cheek.  "I am sorry, dear one," she said softly.  "It could not be helped.  There was no other way.  I will remember you."

All remained quiet, serene.  Undisturbed. The humans slumbered on, not knowing, not suspecting.  Kirma reached over and removed the zat'n'ktel from Maya's belt.  She placed it under the sleeping pallet her new body was lying on, resisting the impulse to use the weapon immediately to eradicate what was left of Maya.  Firing it the three times necessary to accomplish the disintegration would make too much noise, would be too remarkable not to rouse the sleepers she'd just taken such careful pains not to alarm, would certainly draw unwanted attention.   As much as it irked her to delay she had no choice.  She had to wait for a more auspicious time to destroy the body.  Either a future, silent moment when she could carry it to a more private place further into the bowels of the ship, or do it right here, once the normal noise and confusion of the waking hours had resumed.  As long as what was happening on the other side of the curtain was loud enough to cover the sound the weapon would make.

Either way she would have to wait.  This new body was still sickly and weak, and was not up to the task of bearing Maya away from this place right now.  She needed to rest it, heal it, before it could properly serve her.  So she and her darling had a little time yet left together, before they were finally parted forever.

 Kirma gathered up Maya's limp, lifeless body and drew it to her as she lay back down on the pallet.  For now, they would rest together.  Kirma sighed, rested Maya's dead head tenderly on her shoulder and closed her new eyes.

Omac cast a surreptitious, assessing glance at the large, taciturn Jaffa marching him swiftly through the starkly golden corridors of Chronos' flagship.  The dark-skinned, hawk-faced man had not responded to any of his pointed inquiries about Daniel and the only words he'd uttered since ferrying him from Nallius Prime to this ship were 'you will follow me' but still, Omac sensed -

"You are his friend," the Tollan heard himself suddenly, confidently stating.

The Jaffa did not answer him or give any overt, outward indication he had even heard him.

"So am I," Omac added in a lower, warmer voice.

They continued to walk forward for several more paces before Omac's intuition was at last rewarded.

"If this is so, think well before you act," the dark-skinned warrior murmured almost inaudibly, the stoic, sculpted set of his features never altering.  "Whatever your intentions, there are things afoot here you do not know, nor could you begin to imagine the possible consequences for the one you seek to aid should you proceed with your intentions."

"What do you know of my intentions," the Tollan responded with a peevish alacrity that startled him.

"You say you are his friend," the Jaffa calmly returned in the same, soft voice.  "As am I.  Were I in your place and possessed of your abilities I would think of doing exactly the same.  Think again," the Jaffa's voice suddenly became louder, sterner.  "I am not the only one who knows of the Tollan, and their technology.  My Lord Chronos is not a fool.  You will not take him unprepared."

"He won't be able to stop me," Omac muttered darkly, again startled by this second imprudent outburst, such a departure from his normal, taciturn caution.

The Jaffa risked a fractional glance in his direction long enough to level a hard, almost pitying look at him.  Which rankled the Tollan once again.

"You are wrong," the Jaffa sighed, and spoke no more.

Omac was surprised to discover their destination was an exotic, green oasis flourishing in the heart of Chronos' sterile fastness.  The verdant jewel that was the vast and pleasant arboretum was the last thing Omac expected to find on this forbidding and repugnant ship.  He would have thought the Goa'uld had little use for such pointless luxuries and this particular extravagance had no doubt cost Chronos dearly not only to create but to maintain without contributing anything concrete or substantial to his ability to impress or exercise his power.  Though he personally had had little contact with or experience of the Goa'uld, Omac had always thought them, as a species, to be much more ruthlessly pragmatic in their concerns and the dedication of their resources.  As he followed the Jaffa through the trees pondering the puzzle of their unexpected existence in this place the Tollan felt vaguely disturbed and unsettled, and wondered if perhaps a re-examination of some of his previous judgements about the adversary he was about to encounter should be seriously undertaken.

However there was no time for regrouping.  The whisper of water they'd been following grew louder as they travelled through the garden, climaxing in the unmistakable roar of waterfall.  They at last entered a large clearing, the sight of the finally revealed cascade momentarily stopping Omac in mid-stride as he took in the breath-taking beauty of the artful, artificially created torrent and the wide, green banked, clear pool it enthusiastically tumbled into.

So astonished was he by the beauty and tranquillity of the clearing it took Omac several seconds to realise the System Lord he'd come here to confront was standing beside the pool apparently staring down into it, his back to the two men who'd joined him in the clearing and now stood awaiting his pleasure.

As disconcerted as his preconceived notions were by the anachronism of the arboretum Omac was intensely annoyed to be further unsettled by Chronos choosing it as the venue for their encounter.  Again, he'd had a certain expectation of their meeting, had definitely prepared himself for the level of arrogance, ostentatious bravado and resistance he felt he had a reasonable expectation of encountering, and had deemed himself fully equal to dealing with any posturing shows of power he believed would be a major component of interacting with the System Lord.

Finding Chronos standing in the middle of a forest dipping his toes in a pond hadn't featured in any of the scenarios he'd run in his head.  Omac struggled to control his reaction and regain his mental equilibrium as his escort announced him to his master.

"Ambassador Omac," my Lord," the Jaffa said solemnly, as he bowed deeply.

"Thank you, Nah'tak," Chronos replied without turning to face either of them.  "You may leave us.  I will summon you again when our business is concluded."

Omac stood silently where he'd stopped as the Jaffa bowed once more and then silently withdrew, melting instantly back into the foliage behind them.

Which left him alone with Chronos.

Omac waited, still saying nothing. The System Lord did not seem in any particular hurry to turn around and acknowledge him.  This much, at least, he HAD been expecting.  This tactic of deliberate, studied ignorance with the intent of unbalancing the suppliant he could understand and deal with.

Well, Chronos would not see HIM awkwardly awaiting his pleasure.

"Where is Doctor Jackson?" Omac coldly blurted at the System Lord.  The broad shoulders draped in deeply luxurious black velvet twitched slightly in response, and the large, bowed head slowly rose.

"I have been apprised of the arrogance of the Tollan," Chronos rumbled, evident amusement in his voice.  "You have been cited as a prime representative of your race for embodying the particular qualities of superior pride and supreme confidence in your innate superiority that run rampant in your people."

Before Omac was able to respond Chronos abruptly turned to face him, whereupon the Tollan received another shock.

"I am pleased to discover I have not been misinformed," the System Lord purred as he chucked the small, dark-haired child he was cradling in the crook of his arm under his chin.  "I have little tolerance for inefficiency, especially when it comes to the quality and nature of the intelligence I rely upon."  He spared Omac an ironic smile and then turned his attention back to the baby, who was giggling and grabbing for one of his fingers.

Omac found himself rendered momentarily speechless by the sight of the System Lord apparently doting on a human baby.  Indeed, as he struggled to collect his thoughts and continue with the conversation his eyes would continually be diverted to the large hand slowly, almost deliberately stroking the tiny, tousled, trusting head.

"I do not apologise for my directness," Omac finally managed to respond.  "We both know why I have come."

"You Tollan are not exactly a diplomatic race, are you?"  Chronos observed archly as his fingers fumbled absently with the soft, dark curls beneath them.

"We do not need to be," Omac dryly retorted.

"Ah!"  Chronos' eyes flared golden and he began to take several steps toward Omac.  All the while his hand never ceased its relentless caress of the child, and Omac could not stop himself from noticing.  The movement of the hand was hypnotic but not soothing, incongruent and deeply disconcerting.  "The privilege of power.  This I understand. Your technology sets you apart.  Exempts you from much. You are truly above us, vulnerable to none, needing nothing of any of us, which in turn requires you to answer to no one but yourselves.  Your plenty and security affords you the luxury of contempt of all but your own.  You are a fortunate people indeed."

Omac stood his ground, stone faced and stinging beneath the thinly veiled insult of Chronos' cutting comments.  What galled the most, for all the uncomplimentary spin he had put on them, Omac acknowledged with a slight flush of shame Chronos was not ENTIRELY incorrect in his condemnation.

Contempt was a harsh word, but not a completely unjustified one.  Not at all.

Before he had a chance to respond Chronos had reached his side, his dark eyes dancing with amusement and scorn.  "You who must seek for nothing, how it must gall you now to have to come before me on your knees."

"I need not have come before you at all!"  Omac snapped, irked by Chronos' bold, unabashed rudeness.

Chronos patted the boy gently, nodding thoughtfully as he studied his 'guest'.

"Indeed," the System Lord said with a pensive frown, "I am aware the courtesy of this visit is one you did not need to grant me.  I know you are perfectly capable of taking what you want, and there would be nothing I or any of my Jaffa could do to stop you."  Chronos paused, and then smiled nastily, blatantly baring his teeth at the Tollan in a wolfish, ghoulish grin.

"That is to say you would be able to take Daniel from me if I was foolish enough to have allowed him to remain on board, or anywhere where you could find him.  I assure you, Mr Ambassador, I am not so unwise."

"I did not think you would be," Omac said stonily.  That much was true.  Still, he could not completely quash his disappointment at having this expectation confirmed, although he could prevent it from showing on his face.

"I assure you Daniel is safe and well protected and quite beyond the reach of you and your technology," Chronos continued, a gloating tinge beginning to taint his voice.  "He will remain so, while I consider whether or not to grant your government's request."

"What do you want?"  Omac clenched his fists at his sides and only just managed to restrain himself from spitting the comment in the System Lord's face.  "My government wishes to comply with the wishes of the Seeker who has requested Doctor Jackson's presence for his Triad, but I must warn you, I am not authorised to enter into any negotiations that would require any bartering of our technology as a condition for securing his participation."

"Ah, you Tollan, always your technology," Chronos archly waved a hand in front of his face as if to clear away a suddenly noxious odour and then resumed stroking the happily wiggling child he held.  "Again you imagine me to be foolish enough to attempt to press an advantage which has no hope of success.  Your race's refusal to bestow your technology on those of us you consider to be inferior is well known.  You would rather die than share. Or so you say.  Fortunately for you that technology you are so jealous of is sufficient to protect you from ever having to endure a test of that particular resolve."

"What do you want?"  Omac asked again, swallowing his anger, refusing to be baited.

"I have not yet said I have agreed to let Daniel go," Chronos smoothly informed the gurgling child.

"If you were not amenable to considering the possibility you would not have granted me an audience."

"Perhaps I merely wished to gloat," Chronos riposted without humour.

"I do not think so," Omac grudgingly conceded, after a brief pause.  "I do not judge you to be that petty or unwise in your employment of either your power or your position.  Plus, I think you are clever enough to realise it might not be wise to make an enemy of the Tollan people.  Although we cannot share our technology with you, there are other ways in which our goodwill could prove to be a useful commodity to possess."

"Just so," Chronos nodded, visibly pleased by Omac's response and his complimentary assessment.  A reaction the Tollan was quick to notice and catalogue.

This Goa'uld might indeed be clever and unconventional in some ways, but he was apparently also typical of his kind in that he was not entirely immune to flattery.

"You have ascertained exactly what I require from your people for granting you the privilege of Daniel's attendance at your Triad.  I will give him into your custody after I have received the proper assurances he will be protected while he is a guest on Tollana and he will be immediately returned to me when his Triad duties are discharged.  Your government will swear they will deliver Daniel back to me, and they will pledge to stand in my service at some future time when I will require it of them."

There it was.  The Curia had expected Chronos to make such a demand, and had instructed him exactly what to say.

"My government is prepared to acknowledge your request.  I am empowered to inform you that while they will welcome a future opportunity to compensate you for your present co-operation there are limits to our generosity.  We will not agree to engage in any activity or abet you in any action that conflicts with our own strict policies for peacefully dealing with and non interference with other worlds and cultures."

"This is understood," Chronos gravely replied as he gently shifted the squirming child closer to his body.  "And accepted.  Now, as to Daniel - "

Omac took a deep breath, the temptation to lie through his teeth burning inside him.  But if what he had already seen and heard had not been enough to convince him of the futility of such a course of action the hard, searching wariness of Chronos' expression told the Tollan any attempt he made to dissemble to the System Lord would be more disastrous than the truth.

His adversary was no fool.  Which made him dangerous beyond all imagining.

"Doctor Jackson is an independent individual and his wishes in this matter are the ones my government will respect.  We are not prepared to override them, even to please you and we cannot promise to fulfil a condition that could be contravened by Doctor Jackson himself.  If he requests asylum my government will have no choice but to grant it to him, no matter what you might desire to the contrary."

"He will not," Chronos intoned grimly, his tone a hint less confident and gloating for the first time since the conversation had begun.

"If that is the case then you should have nothing to fear by allowing him to accompany me to Tollana," Omac found he couldn't entirely keep a satisfied smile from his own face as he watched the Goa'uld's visage darken with displeasure.  Chronos glowered at him for a moment, his eyes growing narrower and harder with contempt.

"Do not imagine you will have the best of me in this," he finally informed Omac in a low, tense voice.  "You and your government to do as little as possible to attempt to pressure Daniel to remain on your world.  I do not wish it."

"That will be up to Daniel to decide," Omac glared right back at him.

"He has given me his word he will remain with me.  I expect him to honour it.  Your government would also be advised it should do its best to encourage him to honour his commitment to me and to discourage any thoughts of asylum in both Daniel and his former companions."

"Daniel would never agree to remain your prisoner!"  Omac cried out, shocked at the very suggestion.  He couldn't damper the vehemence of his reaction, so appalled was he by the idea the man who'd risked so much to secure his and his countryman's escape from a similar fate on Earth would have willingly agreed to his own lifetime imprisonment.  "Not willingly!  What did you do to him?"

"I would never harm Daniel," Chronos' cold voice cut through the small distance between them suddenly swarming with dangerous tension.  "I assure you, once he understood the consequences of his choices, he made his vow to me of his own free will.  I in no way compelled him to pledge himself to me, any more than I would attempt to compel your government to bend to my will in this matter and do everything in its power to ensure Doctor Jackson is not prevented from keeping his promise to me.  I seek to educate, not to intimidate.  There are consequences, always consequences to every action and decision.  Daniel himself is the one who taught me this.  Your people must decide for themselves, as Daniel did, if they are willing to accept the consequences that will arise from seeking to displease me in this.

The child squealed loudly with delight just then, and for the first time Chronos openly acknowledged him and pointedly drew him to Omac's attention by thrusting him forward for the Tollan's consideration.

"Ah, he is a delightful child, is he not?  Chronos' falsely fond smile panged alarmingly in the pit of Omac's stomach as he watched the System Lord tickle the boys' belly.  The large hand remained splayed across the baby's tiny torso as peals of innocent infant laughter filled the air.

"His name is Nikos. He belongs to one of the humans in my care," Chronos murmured as he looked down at the boy.  "They are such fragile beings, are they not, these humans.  Such a responsibility, all these fleeting lives I hold in my hand, mine to do with as I please.  So briefly lived, all of them, and so easily broken."

Omac watched as the System Lord's hand slowly inched up the child's body until it was lightly but firmly curled around the baby's neck.  The boy looked trustingly up at the man holding him, cooing and kicking his chubby legs up in the air, completely unperturbed by the hand's new position as he was innocently unaware of the implications of the threatening caress.  The horrified man for whom the unsubtle message was intended was not so fortunately oblivious, and Omac felt his blood run cold at the sight.

Chronos turned his attention back to him, his dark eyes rife with cruel promise.  "Consequences, Mr Ambassador," he said grimly.  "Is it not a tragic fact of life the ones who pay the highest price for the unthinking actions of others are often the most innocent?  I would remind you of this unpleasant aspect of reality, which perhaps your race has forgotten, insulated as you are by the luxury of your technology.  Remember there are many innocents in this universe who do not have your advantages, and whom you cannot hope to protect from the consequences of your arrogant meddling.  Remember, and think well about how you will consequently advise your government to proceed with regards to the policy they intend to adopt about allowing any one to attempt to persuade Daniel to remain or to detain him on your planet beyond the period of time I will allow him to be absent from my side.  Think well and know I do not make idle threats, but I do keep my promises.  And I promise you there will be consequences if I am displeased or disappointed in this."

Belatedly Omac remembered the rueful warning of the man who'd brought him here, and the easy disdain with which he'd discounted it.  Though he had the grace to be ashamed of his arrogance, his present remorse did Daniel little good.

There had to be a way to best this smug fiend, though at the moment, he couldn’t see it.

Omac found he could say nothing as he watched Chronos carefully remove his hand from the child's neck and then gently touch one of the jewels on his hand device.  Omac had barely taken a couple of shuddering breaths when the Jaffa Chronos had identified as Nah'tak was standing at his side, bowing to his master.

"Escort the Ambassador to his rooms," Chronos loftily commanded.  "Ensure he is suitably attended and refreshed after his journey."  Without altering his tone the System Lord turned to address Omac.  "Daniel will be returning to the ship in several hours.  I trust we can be assured of your honourable conduct in the interim, and you will take no action of any sort without our express knowledge and consent."

"You have my word," Omac dumbly responded and then forced himself to turn around to retrace the path he'd originally taken to arrive here.  The arboretum had suddenly lost all its allure and appeal for him and he could hardly put it and its monstrous master behind him fast enough.

"Nah'tak!"  Chronos barked at his First Prime as he made to go after Omac.

"Yes, Lord," the Jaffa obediently responded.

Chronos impatiently thrust the kicking child at Nah'tak, not bothering to mask the distaste on his face.  "Take THIS, and make sure it gets back to its mother," Chronos instructed as Nah'tak swiftly scooped the child up and relieved his master of a burden he plainly no longer wished to bear.  "It has served its purpose admirably.  See the mother is rewarded."

"Yes, Lord," Nah'tak bowed and then silently bore the baby away.  Chronos watched them depart, his eyes glowing golden with triumph.

Daniel smiled at the delighted, childish squeals wafting up from the garden down below.  He was exhausted; it had been a very full day during which he'd seen much more of Toris Nar than he'd really needed to, but Regulator Naus had been so anxious to show Chronos, through him the Asar were being good little subjugated subjects and were playing by the rules of the System Lord's game…

So he'd submitted to the series of whirlwind tours the Asar had laid on specifically to impress him and had allowed himself to be duly impressed.  From what he could remember Toris Nar was a beautiful world, and he'd been surprised to see no overt Goa'uld interference marring the pleasant façade of their society.  Through his representative Lord Ister Chronos was maintaining a nominal presence, but whatever he was getting from this occupation the Asar were busting a gut to supply it so Chronos didn't need to throw too much of his weight around here.

Daniel was secretly relieved to see their way of life had not become too compromised on his account, and had found himself actually enjoying the tours of the main cities of Vonan, the capital, where they were now, Tilak and Simat.  As they'd skimmed over the countryside between Simat and Tilak they'd passed over several acres of sprawling ruins, which he'd only been able to gaze longingly down at, although he'd managed to get Naus to tell him some of the history of the place before they'd arrived in Simat and been launched off on the next city go round.

He'd seen a lot of interesting things today, but nothing that made him as happy as what he was witnessing at the moment.  He was standing on a balcony overlooking the garden and directly behind him was the spacious room Aldis Lon and his wife Irana had kindly made available to him in their large and pleasant house.  It had been Daniel's greatest pleasure to see the man reunited with his family and now they were all down below in the garden, Irana sitting happily watching her husband cavorting spiritedly with their children.  Even Tomas was down there with them, romping about with the children like an overexcited puppy.

It was nice to see them all so happy. Nice kids.  Nice family.  Nice people.

Once he'd managed to separate himself from Regulator Naus he'd been delivered to Aldis' home as he'd requested, intending to spend the rest of the time Chronos let him remain on Toris Nar with his friend and his family.  He'd shared their evening meal and subsequently passed several hours of pleasant conversation in the garden with them as the day declined and segued into the soft and silky darkness that was night on Toris Nar.

Eventually the unaccustomed demands of the day and the vigorous joy of the reunited Lons wore him out, and he tendered his regrets to his hosts and made his way to his room to retire.  Which he had every intention of doing, any second now, crawling into the large, very comfortable bed in the room behind him, but even though he was so exhausted he could barely keep his eyes open he found himself strangely reluctant to forsake the happy scene in the garden beneath him.  If any good  had come from anything that had happened to him since Chronos had shanghaied his life, he was looking at it right now.

And he felt better than he had in a long time.

Daniel watched the Lons for a few minutes more, and then was persuaded by a huge yawn that maybe it finally was time to call it a night.  He returned a parting wave thrown up to him by Aldis' vivacious, six-year-old daughter Tara and then turned away from the domestic tableau and ambled sleepily towards the bedroom.

He was completely unprepared for the strong arm that wrapped around his throat the second he crossed the threshold.

Held completely immobile by his attacker, unable to make a sound, Daniel barely had time to dazedly wonder where his assailant could have come from when he knew damned well the room behind him had been empty and there were six Jaffa standing on the other side of the door to boot when a mocking, extremely familiar voice sounded in his ear.

"Doctor Jackson, we meet again!  Just look at you, you've traded up since our last encounter.  I'll bet I could get a whole MONTH'S rations for you now!"

"Well, this SUCKS," Jack scowled at his 2IC and then glared belligerently about at their Tollan accommodations.  "Maybe it's just me, but anyone else feel like we're stuck on a planet populated entirely with NERDS?  What is it with these people have they all got pokers up their asses or something?"

"That's an interesting image, Sir," Sam said as she tried unsuccessfully to stifle an amused grin.  "As assessments go, however, don't you think it's a bit - harsh?"

"Come on, Carter!" Jack snorted derisively.  "You've been hanging out with Nareem, you know exactly what I'm talking about.  That guy's wrapped so tight I bet he squeaks when he shits.  If he doesn't starch his damned shorts I'll eat my hat.  They're all just like him," Jack growled as he irritably scrubbed his hand across his eyes.  "Omac might be a honking pain in the MIT-ka but he's the only one of the bunch who's got any balls.  Crap.  I wish I knew what the hell is going on out there! What's taking him so damn long?"

"You haven't been able to connect with Daniel, Sir?"  Sam very carefully inquired.  She was well aware she might not be Jack O'Neill's best friend and confidant but she'd been serving with the man long enough to know a little bit about him and how to read him.  Currently he was, as he would put it, one unhappy camper.  The only thing the colonel hated worse than waiting was losing control of a situation and right now he - and - they - had no choice about either what was happening or how long it would take.  A condition the colonel was never one to suffer being in with any sort of good grace.

"No," Jack grunted, making no effort to mask the misery on his face.  "He's there - I can feel him I just can't - " He broke off and ducked his head, unwilling to expose himself any further to his two companions.  "I just can't."

"But you know he is well," Teal'c soothingly observed.

Jack's head drooped further before he finally responded.

"Yeah," Jack finally sighed.  "As well as can be expected.  There's that.  But still…"

"You do not need to explain, O'Neill."  Teal'c unashamedly offered his blunt statement of understanding.  It was all he had to give but from the sudden sidewise look of gratitude O'Neill tossed him he was content it had served.

"Thanks," was all Jack could say.

"So," Jack loudly cleared his throat to clear the air after several seconds of awkward silence.  "What have you got for me?"

"Not much, Colonel," Sam unconsciously sat up straighter as she began her verbal report, feeling much more confident on the ground she was about to cover.  "So far the Goa'uld have been behaving themselves.  When Zipacna hasn't been conferring with Klorel, he and his Jaffa have been pretty much confining themselves to their quarters."

"I'm not buying it," Jack frowned.  "They're up to something, all right.  That Goa'uld hasn't come here to play nice out of the goodness of his heart."

"That would be likely," Teal'c solemnly confirmed.  "Although Zipacna has been one of Apophis' most loyal Underlords in the past alliances which are formed between the Goa'uld are rarely based on anything other than ruthless self-interest and the most advantageous ways to augment their own power and influence. You can be certain he would not have come if he did not believe he would benefit in some way by doing so."

"Oooh, tell us something we DON'T know," Jack laughed mirthlessly.  "Well, whatever he's got up his sleeve you can bet it's got something to do with Daniel."

"There might be a simpler answer, Sir," Sam said.  "Perhaps the Goa'uld realise they're outclassed, here.  Technologically, the Tollan are unbelievably advanced.  I haven't had a chance to examine very much, not that they would let me, but from the devices we've already seen and the fact they were able to build a Stargate - Sir, do you realise the implications of that one accomplishment alone?  I mean, think about it - it's a tremendous technological accomplishment - this planet was not part of the Gate network when the Ancients first set up the system and programmed in all the original spatial locations.  To be able to add a completely new and unique destination to the network the Tollan would have to know enough about how the entire SYSTEM works to be able to program an entire new set of spatial co-ordinates, not to mention a Point of Origin that could link into the existing network and be recognised as  an integral part of the gate system by all the DHD's on line  - I wouldn't even know how to begin to - "

"Carter," Jack groaned.  "Please, have mercy.  My head is going to explode."

"Sorry, Sir," Sam smiled ruefully at him.  "I didn't mean to get carried away, but this place, for me it's kinda like being a kid in a candy store."

"Except the big kids won't share," Jack riposted bitterly.

"Yeah, but I can still press my nose up against the glass and dream!" Sam sighed.

"Whatever," Jack grimaced and shook his head.  "So, what else have you two crazy kids been up to while you've been gone.  Surely you didn't spend the whole time parked outside Zippy's door waiting for him to make a move."

"No Sir," Sam quickly supplied.  "Teal'c and I traded off, took turns talking to Aysha.  He's a nice kid, Sir.  I didn't get to know him very well on Abydos - "

None of us did, Major.  Except for Daniel.

"but I can see why Daniel took him under his wing.  Even after all he must have gone through as Klorel's host - you should go and talk to him, Sir - "

I can't.  J just - can't.  What happened to that poor kid  - close, it's too close to what….  We let him down, couldn't save him from the snakes.  Any more than I could save Daniel.

Besides, it isn't fair.  I know I shouldn't resent the kid his luck, it's not his fault he's getting a break and yippee, I'm getting to help him get off the Goa'uld hook, but what about Daniel?

What about my Danny? When is his luck going to change?

"he's getting a little concerned about whether or not Daniel is going to make it here.  He doesn't want to say, but I know he wants to talk to you.  And you probably should, Sir, as he's chosen you to take Daniel's place - that is - if…"

"Carter, don't remind me!"  Jack grimaced.  "This whole Triad thing has me a bit confused.  Maybe you should tell the kid he should reconsider naming me as his substitute batter.  I go in there alone I’ll probably screw the whole thing up for him."

Sam was about to launch into trying to talk her melancholy CO out of his sudden inadequacy attack when the familiar rhythmic, metallic tromping of a bunch of not so tiny Jaffa feet came crashing down the hall.

Desperately thankful for the distraction, Jack grinned wolfishly at his team mates.

"Speak of the devil, it sounds like our snaky friends are on the move.  So kids, what do you say we make like dandruff and don't let them give us the brush off?"

"Relax, Doctor Jackson, I'm not going to hurt you.  This is strictly a social call.  Now, if I let you go, do you promise to behave and keep quiet?"

Daniel was barely able to manage his nod of compliance, he was so tightly and efficiently immobilised.

"Good!"  The familiar, mocking voice sounded close to his ear once more.  "I'm going to let you go now.  Remember, you PROMISED!"

The second the powerful arms released him Daniel whirled, intending to confront his antagonist.  "Boch!"  he hissed, and then stood staring at empty space, his mouth hanging open.

"Boch?" he whispered suspiciously, his gaze darting fruitlessly about the large room.  Though the bounty hunter plainly no longer appeared to be anywhere in the vicinity, that was impossible. There was nowhere for him to - no way he could have moved that fast!

Aris Boch's unmistakable, gleeful chortle issued from the air a few feet in front of him.  Daniel took a startled step back at the sound, and then another as the man himself suddenly literally - appeared - before his astonished eyes.

The Cheshire Cat would have been seriously  envious of the size of the grin on the bounty hunter's face.

"What do you think of the entrance?"  he beamed with the unabashed enthusiasm of a five-year-old.  From hell.  "Pretty cool, huh? It's a great icebreaker at parties."

Oh my God, he had one of those…well, that explained how he'd managed to get past the brace of Jaffa stationed outside his door.

"Oh, it was peachy, all right," Daniel sourly retorted.  "You son of a bitch - what's the idea of scaring the hell out of me!"

Boch flashed him a wounded boy look that bounced right off Daniel's affronted exterior and then giggled once more at the archaeologist's annoyance.  "Because I could," he announced with no shame.  "And because it's so much FUN."

"Try it from this side," Daniel snarled.  "I doubt you'd find it quite as amusing."

"You know what, Doctor, you're probably right,"   Aris Boch drawled with another huge, condescending smile.  "But rather than waste any more time arguing about it, what do you say we move on. I'm kinda on the clock, here.  You see, because I'm working, technically I'm really not supposed to be here, but I figured since my pigeons aren't going to be going anywhere any time soon it was safe to scoot over here and have a little chat with you."

"Excuse me?"  Daniel peered at him suspiciously.

"Doctor Jackson,  relax!"  Boch taunted as he made himself comfortable on the most comfortable chair in the room.  "Have a seat.  Take a load off.  I know I didn't make the best first impression for the second time but trust me!  I've come here to do you a favour!"

"And why would you that?"  Daniel sternly demanded, taking a step back, his arms tightly folded across his chest.

Boch stretched out his long legs, looked Daniel up and down and giggled once more.  "Because I like you?"  he offered his unlikely explanation with a rakish heft of one eyebrow.  "I have to confess, over the past few months I've developed a bit of a soft spot for you and your friends.  You've been the most fun I've had on the job in ages, not to mention one of the cushiest assignments the Boss has given me in a long time. So yeah," he shrugged, "I admit it.  Even though it's completely unprofessional of me, I couldn't help it.  I've grown kinda fond of you guys.  But then I always was a little on the sentimental side," the bounty hunter finished with a completely immodest, modest smile. "A real honest to Goa'uld  softie, that's me."

Something about the mocking sparkle in Boch's eye made Daniel quickly mentally tally the man's comments and when he added them to the way he'd arrived…

"Omigawd!" he exclaimed, almost falling over with the shock of the realisation.  "You - you - you're the ASHRAK!"

Boch's taunting giggle accompanied him to the nearest surface on which he could plop before his legs gave out, which happened to be the bed.

"Very GOOD, Doctor," Boch chortled.  "You're quick.  I liked that about you from the moment we met.  It saves so much time, don't you agree?"

"Wha - wha - " Daniel weakly gasped.  "You - you're the one who's been spying on us?  You?  But I thought - what about all that stuff on - on - " Daniel gnashed his teeth as for possibly the first time since he'd joined the SGC he was completely unable to remember a planetary designation.  "What about all that stuff you told us?" he indignantly accused.  "About being a bounty hunter and being forced to work for the Goa'uld and - and - everything?  Were you lying to us?  Was all of that just some sort of sick…game?"

"Maybe it was, and maybe it wasn't," Boch carelessly responded.  "Maybe I'm exactly what I said I was, and maybe the whole thing was a put on, a little scenario I staged and played out as way of getting to know you before I took on the job."  Boch shrugged again and flashed him a impudent grin.  "I guess you'll never know for sure, now will you?  Not that it really matters, that it.  What difference does it make?"

"What!" Daniel blustered, floundering beneath the implications of what he'd just learned and the sheer annoying arrogance Boch reeked with.  Just by existing the man literally dared you to take a poke at him, if only to wipe the smug, superior smirk off his face.  The only person he'd currently met who could provoke him to blows faster was Jack.

Jack - and him.  Oh God - this man had been watching them.  All of them, the both of them.  Together.  And probably….TOGETHER! Who knew what he'd seen.  What he knew?

Daniel felt his cheeks firing with indignation and embarrassment and gnashed his teeth in angry frustration again.

"You son of a bitch!" he gasped.  "What difference does it make? Well, one way you're only an unprincipled scumbag and the other way you're a lying, unprincipled scumbag.  I realise it's a very fine distinction but I like to know exactly what sort of lowlife I'm dealing with."

Boch frowned at him and emitted a huge, impatient sigh.  "Listen, Doctor, we can discuss my character - or lack thereof some more if you MUST but I really am working to a schedule here.  I haven't got all day.  Or, if you prefer,  I can leave.  It's up to you. Either way, I'm flexible.  So, do you want to waste what little time I have to give to you yelling at me some more or do you want to know where your friends are right now?"

"My - my - " Daniel blinked as he realised what Boch had just said to him.  "Of course I do," he quickly replied.

"Good!"  Bock smiled, obviously insufferably pleased with himself as he leaned back in the chair and wriggled about a bit in order to make himself more comfortable.  "This chair is really nice," he observed with a contented sigh.  "I've come a long way to have this chat with you.  The flight took a couple of days and you know how the chairs on those Teltaks are.  Even ones with upgrades."  Boch paused, a pensive frown on his face.  "You know, I really should speak to the Boss about that.  I mean, considering all the time I spend running around the galaxy doing his dirty work, the hours I've logged sitting on my butt on those seats, he should spring for a reupholstery job, something a little kinder to the ass, don't you think?  Do you know on this job alone it feels like I've gone from one side of the galaxy to the other and I've racked up a few aches and pains in the process, I don't mind telling you, not that I'm complaining or anything, but  - "


Boch giggled, immensely amused at Daniel's barely contained frustration.  "You know, you're more fun to wind up than a cross-eyed symbiote.  Heck of a lot cuter too.  Okay - Okay!"  he held up his hands signifying capitulation as Daniel leapt up from the bed, fists clenched.  "Don't get all upset, I'm just teasing.  Don't worry, your virtue's safe with me. Park it again, I'll be good."

"I'll believe THAT when I see it," Daniel darkly muttered.

"Your friends are on Tollana," Boch announced without missing a beat.  "Do you want to know why?" he continued without giving Daniel a chance to recover from the bombshell.  "Of course you do, and seeing as how it's why I've gone to all the time and trouble of flying all this way - "

"Boch,"  Daniel said softly, his face weighed down with his concern.  "Please, my friends?"

The bounty hunter took in the anxious, apprehensive face of the man in front of him, acknowledging Daniel's concern with a small nod.  "You're right, you're right,"  he admitted, his voice grating with contrition.  "I've been having way too much fun at your expense and I'm sorry.  I didn't come all this way just to make you crazy."

"Why did you then?"  Daniel asked.

"I told you.  Believe it or not, I like you guys and because I do, I thought it only sporting to give you a heads up you're probably heading into a situation.  There's something fishy with that whole Triad scenario and when you get there, I think you should tell your guys to stay sharp and keep your eyes open."

"Excuse me?"  Daniel blurted.  "When I get there?  When I get - where?"

"Tollana,"  Boch replied.  "Like I said, where your team is right now.  Waiting to take your place if you don't show up.  But they won't have to, because you will, and I'm telling you that because I know Omac is already aboard the Boss's ship and he's going to loan you out to the Tollan for the Triad."

"Omac?  The Tollan?  Triad?"  Daniel shook his head and looked imploringly at the Bounty Hunter.  "Boch, will you PLEASE start at the beginning and  make some sense!"

"Okay,"  Boch grinned.  "Just for you.  Up until a short time ago Klorel was an unwilling guest of Heru'ur.  Daddy had sent him to ole Horus-head hoping he could talk the old boy into granting them both asylum but Heru'ur decided he'd hold onto the kid and use him as leverage against Apophis.  That's where he's been all this time, until he somehow managed to make his escape from maximum security on a mothership no less and head out in a death glider."

"All right, maybe it's not very probable, but not entirely outside the realm of possibility, but either way, what does that have to do with me and SG-1?  Other than the fact Klorel's host is also a friend of mine,"  Daniel finished sadly.

"It wouldn't have a damned thing to do with you,"  Boch smoothly responded.  "If Klorel hadn't crash landed his glider on Tollana and Aysha hadn't asked the Tollan for their help in getting the snake out."

"What?"  Daniel gasped.  "Aysha's on Tollana?  They - they can DO that?  They can get the Goa'uld out of him?"

"They sure can,"  Boch nodded.

"But- but - but "  Daniel stuttered.  "If they can than why - why do they need me, why don't they just - "

"Do it?"  Boch finished for him as Daniel vigorously nodded.

"Because they're the Tollan,"  Boch said with disgust, making a face.  "And they've always got to fart around and complicate things.  That's what they do.  Makes them feel special or something I don't know.  Anyway they can't just take the snake out because the snake doesn't want to be taken out, so that's why they're holding this Triad thing, so you and another Goa'uld can go head to head and debate about who gets the body.  His name is Zipacna, by the way,"  Boch added with a small grimace of distaste.  "A real piece of work.  He's a sneaky one but you can take him."

"Oh,"  Daniel murmured absently, his eyes distant with concentration as he absorbed and processed what he was hearing.  "Why me?"  he finally asked.

"Because Aysha asked for you."

Daniel's head came up with abrupt surprise.  "He - he ASKED for me?" he said slowly, peering suspiciously at Boch.  "But - but how could he do that?  I mean, he - he's still - "

"Yeah, he's still got the Goa'uld.  For the moment,"  Boch answered as he absently scratched his nose.  "As for how he was able to make a personal request, the Tollan have this nifty gismo that suppresses the symbiote.  As long as the kid has it on and it's switched on he's back in the pilot's chair of his own body again and Klorel has to settle for being a passenger.

"What?"  Boch affected dismay at the sight of Daniel's deeply sceptical expression.   "You don't believe me!"  He rolled his eyes theatrically  and threw his hands up in the air.  "I'm HURT, Doctor Jackson, wounded to the core you would doubt my veracity.  Would I lie to you?"

Daniel's loud, disgusted snort made him giggle anew.

"Okay, okay, you got me, I'll give you that one."  Boch chortled, holding his hands up in surrender.  "I guess were I in your shoes I wouldn't be inclined to believe a single word coming out of my mouth either.  But, Doctor, the thing you have to ask yourself, is can you AFFORD to ignore what I'm telling you?  Hell of a dilemma, isn't it?"  Boch folded his hands in his lap, his eyes sparking mischieviously.

"I could learn to hate you,"  Daniel growled.  "Very easily."

"You know, I get that a lot,"  Boch sighed.  "Never let it ruin my day, though."

"So,"  Daniel began, ignoring the antics of the man seated before him.  "Aysha asked for me - specifically - to participate in this Triad - which is - what - an adjudication process, a tribunal?"

"Close enough,"  Boch nodded.  "He wanted you to speak on his behalf,  but as there was some question as to whether or not you'd be available, he also asked for your team to be on hand to fill in, if you couldn't get to the Triad in time.  Which is why they're now on Tollana."

"But according to you, that's not going to be a problem.  Me getting to go, that is."

"Nope,"  Boch shook his head.  "The ship that's going to take you to Omac is en route as we speak."

"So, I'm going to Tollana?"  Daniel stared wide-eyed at the bounty hunter as what that meant began to sink in.  "Chronos is going to let me go to Tollana?  He's actually going to let me go?  And Jack is there?  I'll - I'll see Jack?"

Boch chuckled indulgently at Daniel's painfully hopeful expression.  "Just a minute there, now, Doctor, before you go getting all excited I think you should ask yourself what's really going on here.  You guys have a saying, 'anything that's too good to be true usually is?'  I'd listen if I were you."

"You think the whole thing is a set up?"  Daniel soberly commented after he'd thought a bit more.

"Yeah,"  Bach drawled, waggling his eyebrows at Daniel.  "  I think the scenario is just a little too convenient, don't you? Right down to all of this to taking place on one of the few planets Chronos would feel complacent enough about the ability of the inhabitants to protect you he'd let you go there."

"Aysha would never agree to participate in something that would present any sort of danger to me or my friends!"  Daniel loyally asserted.

"Maybe he would and maybe he wouldn't,"  Boch shrugged.  "He's had that snake in his head for a long time.  It's got to have had made some changes in him, and not for the good.  You may have known the boy, but how do you know you know what he's become since he was made a host?  It's highly unlikely he's the same person, and there are no guarantees what he is now is any friend of yours,"  Boch concluded with a rueful grimace.

"Aysha would never hurt me,"  Daniel stubbornly reiterated.  "I don't care what you say, I know him and he wouldn't!"

Boch sighed heavily and shook his head.  "Whatever you say, Doctor Jackson.  It's your neck, not mine. But there is also a possibility he honestly doesn't  know he's being used as bait to lure you away from Chronos' protection.  Hell, Klorel might not even know what's really going on.  But I'll bet my next bounty someone has pulled some strings to bring this all about, hoping this Triad will do exactly that,  especially when you consider who Chronos presently has very securely locked away on his ship, and the only reason the whole party is happening is so that someone can get  their hands on you."

" Makes sense,"  Daniel solemnly muttered. "So I'd better make sure that doesn't happen."

"That's kinda what I had in mind when I decided to jaunt over here to fill you in."

"About that,"  Daniel said softly as he cocked his head to one side and studied the man seated across from him.  "You work for Chronos, right?"

"Yeah, so what?"


"He pays well,"  Boch casually tossed back.  "And he's got connections you wouldn't believe.  "What's the big deal, you didn't think too highly of me when you thought I was working for Sokhar, what's one Goa'uld more one way or another?"

"I never had the displeasure of making Sokhar's acquaintance,"  Daniel muttered, looking away from Boch.  "I wish I could say the same thing about Chronos."

"That I can't help you with,"  Boch lowly replied, not a hint of humour in his tone.

"You're not getting paid to do this, right?  To come here and tell me all this, I mean."

"Nope, no profit whatsoever in this particular venture,"  Boch proudly affirmed.

"You're altruism humbles me,"  Daniel grumbled.  "But - whatever your real reason for doing this - thank you any way."

"Hey you're welcome!"  Boch grinned, and it seemed to Daniel for a moment the bounty hunter was genuinely surprised by what he'd said.  In a funny way, so was he.  He felt awkward, embarrassed, and a little overwhelmed by everything  he'd just learned.  A part of him wished Boch would leave so he could start to process and plan but he still needed to know - he still hadn't asked…

 "What is it?"  Boch asked encouragingly as he saw, from the way Daniel was nervously chewing on his lower lip, he had a question he was having trouble asking.  "I'm feeling extremely generous today, let's not waste the moment."

Daniel took a deep breath and nervously licked his lower lip before starting to speak.

"My friends - " he ventured.  "How is he - I mean, how are they - are they okay?"

"They're fine, Doc,"  Boch told him warmly.  "They're also kind of anxious to see you.  Especially your colonel."

The blush beginning to bloom across Daniel's cheeks abruptly deepened into a full, furious flush at this reference to Jack.  Boch shook his head, a little saddened at the sight.

"Colonel O'Neill is a little cranky at the moment but he's behaving.  For the most part.  You know how much he LOVES to sit around and do nothing."

"Yeah,"  Daniel replied in a barely audible whisper, his eyes carefully locked on a particular spot of the floor that didn't seem to possess any special visual qualities over and above any other part of the floor that would earn it such special consideration.  "I know."

"He can't wait to see you,"  Boch added kindly, after a moment's hesitation.

Daniel said nothing.

Boch abruptly slapped his thighs as a way to break the painful silence.

"Listen, Doctor Jackson, it's been a hoot seeing you again and all, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to get back to work.  I'm sure the Boss won't mind the little side trip, seeing as how I'm protecting his interests and all, but I'd just as soon not press my luck, if you know what I mean."

Daniel nodded, swallowing his sorrow as he pushed himself to his feet.  Boch was already standing.

"So, Doc, you take care and stay sharp out there,"  the bounty hunter gruffly admonished him.  "And you never know, we could run into each other again.  I'll be around," Boch winked, and then suddenly, without any warning, disappeared.


Daniel blinked in surprise and looked around the room, uncertain where Boch was but positive he was indeed, still there.

He didn't have long to wonder.

"You know, this invisibility thing has one major problem,"  Boch's ironic, disembodied voice sounded directly beside his ear, making him jump at the unexpected proximity of the sound.  "You have to do so much damned tippey-toeing so you don't give your position away.  It can be extremely time consuming not to mention a real pain in the mitka.  I don't suppose I could get you to do me a favour and make some noise?  Sing, or something?  Just so it won't take me so long to get past those Jaffa and out of this damned place.

"What," Daniel scoffed.  "Do you want me to send you on your way with a rousing chorus of 'For He's a Jolly Good Fellow?"

"Aw forget it!  Brother, there's gratitude for you!"

Boch didn't say another word, nor did Daniel hear a single sound to mark his passage, but he could feel when the room was less full all the same.

Daniel sat back down on the bed, and then lay back to ponder what he'd just learned.  Boch had warned him to look for plots and intrigue when he was on Tollana, but he realised his search for the truth had to start much sooner than that.  In fact, he had to begin to try and discover who the unknown architect of the situation was as soon as he returned to the ship.

Daniel didn't know how he was going to accomplish it, but he also knew he didn't have any other choice.  Somehow, before he went to Tollana, he had to find a way to confront Apophis.


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