Jmas Fan Fiction

Chapter 5

And how am I to face the odds
Of man's bedevilment and God's?
I, a stranger and afraid
In a world I never made.
  

~ A.E. Housman

~*~

 

 

Daniel’s soul was being ripped apart.

Heat and ice warred for control, racing from his temples to his gut. Tearing and rending a path of dissolution through his body until he felt he was about to implode and scatter like a sandstorm, battering at the ragged edges of his unity and stretching the keen lines into threads of uncertainty. Less and less of ‘Daniel’ remained, the rest flying off with the coarse wind and leaving him barely anchored to the body that seemed further and further away…

Unfocused energy drew him back, turning him into the discordant wind and pulling him gently ‘down’ into the heaviness that was his body. Yet it was more than just his body. Something – else – held him in place. Something familiar and comfortable and almost…

“Jack!”

Opening his eyes and pushing his body upward quickly, Daniel felt himself scatter. Vision wavered into multi-hued shimmers of color without substance, and he felt nearly - gone.

Until a hand on his shoulder brought everything back into focus.

“Whoa, there…stay still, Daniel.”

The hand pushed him back against the hard ground and something warm was tucked around his shoulders. Pink fleece? Worried brown eyes frowned down at him from just within his clear field of vision.

“Jack?” Daniel’s voice croaked on the last consonant so he tried again. “Jack?”

“Yeah, buddy?”

“We’re okay?”

A laugh. “Yeah, we’re okay. Are you okay?”

Daniel thought a moment, felt a vague emptiness, a tendency to drift if he forgot to concentrate, and a myriad of aches in places he couldn’t quite identify.

“Sure, fine.” Daniel closed his eyes against sudden dizziness.

“Uh huh…” Jack’s wry tone almost made Daniel smile.

At least, he wanted to smile, but the simple muscular exercise seemed beyond his current abilities. It felt like it was taking all his fragile energy just to be here, like if he let his attention wander he would be lost beyond recall…

The warm pressure of Jack’s hand tightened as if sensing Daniel’s tenuous state. The firm grip was like a lifeline.

Daniel opened his eyes again. “What…?”

Jack smiled again, settling on the ground beside Daniel. “What happened? Klorel zapped you with his glow light, I got in the middle of it, Klorel went down for the count, Teal’c and Carter took out the jaffa, and we headed for the hills…”

Daniel nodded, vaguely remembering the green light and the wrenching feeling it had caused before he had stopped feeling anything at all.

“Safe?” His voice was barely a whisper, but he couldn’t seem to muster the energy for more.

Jack nodded, looking around at the damp walls glowing in the firelight. “For now, but Klorel won’t stay dead for long. We can rest for a while, but they’ll be looking for us.”

Nodding slightly, Daniel closed his eyes even as the thought crossed his mind that Klorel would be pretty thoroughly pissed about Jack killing him again. As he drifted toward sleep, Daniel felt Jack’s hand relax.

The dissolution nagged at the edges of his reality….

Daniel tried to open his eyes, but could see nothing but swirling colors, could feel nothing at all….

Then the hand was back.

And so was Daniel, sinking into sleep with the vague concern

something very strange was going on with Jack.

 

~*~

 

There was something really weird going on with Daniel….

Jack couldn’t quite put his finger on the problem, but he knew it in his gut.

Staring down at the pale face surrounded by Carter’s fluffy pink bathrobe, Jack sighed tiredly. Daniel looked like he’d gone ten rounds with Tyson. Dark blotches had settled into the hollows of his eyes and cheekbones and he seemed almost incorporeal, as if a stiff wind might blow away the outer shell and reveal nothing left beneath.

An icy chill settled over Jack at the thought - that was exactly what it felt like.

It was cold in the cave, even with the fire, and Jack shivered. He was tired – weary to his bones – but reluctant to leave his post. He felt as if he had to be here, had to keep Daniel here.

Antaeus’ hand on his arm dragged Jack out of his reverie. Sympathetic eyes glittered in the dim light as Antaeus moved his hand over Jack’s at Daniel’s shoulder.

“You watch him well,” the Nox stated softly.

“Of course I do, “Jack nodded. “He’s my…”

“Friend? Yes. Perhaps more than that now.” Antaeus smiled in that cryptic Nox way Jack generally found more than a little irritating. It was just as annoying as ever, but Jack sensed a deeper meaning under the words and an understanding of the strange thoughts running through his brain.

“What did Klorel do to us?” Jack wondered at his own words. Not Daniel, ’us.’ As Antaeus looked down at Daniel sadly, Jack sighed. “I’m not going to like this, am I?”

Antaeus shook his head sadly. “Lya and I felt the device begin to sever Daniel’s essence - his soul - from his body. We were failing when you…”

A toppling gesture of the hand told Jack when they were failing; when he had killed Klorel - snapping his neck using the technique Teal’c had shown him after Jack had seen him use it on Zipacna - and had fallen into the middle of the beam. After that things had gotten all muddled up. Jack knew better than to say the words; he had no desire to cause more pain to the gentle Nox man who had so recently lost his son and father - a situation Jack could more than empathize with. A rush of emotion caught Jack by surprise as he remembered Nefreyu’s infectious, innocent probing of the humans and their ways.

Antaeus’ hand tightened on Jack’s before the emotions could overpower him. Sad eyes gave and accepted the comfort both needed but could not voice.

“So what is going on with...?” Jack gestured at their joined hands, at the man beneath them.

“We cannot be certain yet, our energies are very weak…” Antaeus looked worriedly toward Lya who almost glowed in translucent paleness as she slept curled near the fire. Antaeus sighed, eyes focused inward in concentration. “We felt the separation begin. We tried to shield him. You came and something …else … happened.”

Antaeus’ low voice seemed to act as a focus, drawing Jack down into himself, into a place rarely visited and often denied. Jack knew this place though he preferred not to dwell on the things that resided here. The darkness met the light at jagged angles, some had grown softer edges through time and a hard-won acceptance of the things he had done in his life - the good and the bad - that made him who he was now. It was almost comforting to see the differences from the last time he had visited here.

Slowly he became aware of another presence - an essence somewhat brighter than his own but just as weighed down by the storms life had thrown its way. A weak, flickering thing that seemed almost to ‘fit’ and yet seemed unable to completely join with his own. Warmth surrounded Jack when he probed a little closer. A familiar warmth that bore a name…

Daniel.

With a wrenching gasp, Jack was back in the cave, his hand still enveloped by Antaeus’ where they rested together on Daniel’s shoulder. Jack drew several shuddering breaths, letting his eyes question the Nox who looked back at him so wearily.

Antaeus nodded. “He is with you now.”

 

~*~

 

Teal’c stood night watch as the others slept, periodically pacing to the entrance of the cavern to listen intently for any disturbances in the night that might signal trouble approaching.

At the moment he stood near his friends. Major Carter dozed on the opposite side of the fire near the Nox couple. Daniel Jackson was still bundled in the pink night robe and slept deeply, oblivious to the fact his head was now pillowed on O’Neill’s lap.

Teal’c had heard O’Neill speaking to Antaeus and understood Klorel’s device had done far more than simply deplete Daniel Jackson’s energy. From the Nox man’s words, Teal’c surmised O’Neill’s increasing reluctance to stray from the younger man’s side was due to that as yet undefined connection.

Teal’c’s features softened as his gaze skimmed once again over his two teammates; O’Neill’s hand lightly resting on Daniel Jackson’s neck in a familiar gesture which would have seemed almost intimate save for the aura of fierce protection surrounding the pair. Antaeus had said some portion of Daniel Jackson was ‘with’ O’Neill, a responsibility the older man seemed to be taking most seriously - as he always did.

O’Neill in the role of guardian was not at all surprising to Teal’c; his commander had always been concerned for Daniel Jackson’s well-being in ways both subtle and obvious. Ways that were often, surprisingly, accepted by Daniel Jackson with varying degrees of discomfort, irritation and affectionate tolerance as he accepted them from few others in his life. Over time Teal’c had watched amusement often displace irritation, at least in some cases, even as O’Neill had come to accept that the younger man was more and more capable of protecting himself physically.

That Daniel Jackson would confine himself to his physical limitations was rather more in doubt, and showed little sign of changing, but years of growth and combined experience had brought them all to an understanding of each other’s idiosyncrasies and patterns as well as strategies to support and assist one another.

Looking once again at the sleeping pair, Teal’c noted pale, bare toes peeking out from beneath the pink night robe. Leaning down, he carefully pulled the cloth over Daniel Jackson’s feet, the practical part of him noting they would have to devise some sort of footwear for the younger man. Rising once again to his feet, Teal’c smiled fondly at the two men who were his closest friends. They would be fine.

Together they would make certain of it.

 

~*~

 

Antaeus lay in the near darkness watching the humans sleep. Lya was warm and still in his arms, her surface thoughts vaguely troubled but not so much as to disturb her sleep. Antaeus tightened his hold slightly, letting his mind lightly skim her dreams as much as he dared without waking her. The practice had become a means of protection throughout their lives together and neither viewed it as an intrusion. Lya dreamt of Daniel during Skaara’s Triad.

Upon her return, Lya had shared her experience on Tollana, and Antaeus knew the many painful memories that had been brought up there for Daniel and Skaara. Through Lya’s eyes, Antaeus had seen Daniel’s pain and care when Lya had fallen on the way to the ion cannon. He had seen O’Neill’s concern for both Daniel and Skaara throughout the emotionally draining Triad. He had borne witness to Teal’c’s quiet determination they would not all die as a consequence of the Tollan’s confidence in ‘their way’, as well as Lya’s burgeoning consideration that the Nox way might not always be the best way. Lya had justified her actions to the humans with a very fragile logic and had wanted so badly for Antaeus to understand her reasoning. He believed he did, but as yet he was unable to completely justify the Tau’ri way either.

Klorel was dead, albeit temporarily, through an act of aggression. Yet the act had saved their lives. So many of the Nox were dead because of Klorel. Yet Antaeus found it difficult to justify death and violence as a solution even in the interests of self-preservation. Generations of peace had taught him to abhor violence. Yet his son was dead.

A single night had shaken the foundations of all Antaeus had believed throughout his long life.

Antaeus sighed and pulled Lya closer as he closed his eyes. There was too much to be done tomorrow for him to be lying awake in the night questioning his beliefs. The new day would bring many challenges, not the least of which would be exploring the depths to which O’Neill and Daniel were joined; an undertaking that would require the deepest form of concentration they knew. Antaeus hoped he could still his own confusion and be equal to the task.

With a shuddering sigh, Antaeus slipped into sleep finally, wishing his father were still with them; the elder’s pragmatic wisdom would have helped settle the disquiet in Antaeus’ soul.

 

 

Chapter 6

Come to the edge
He said. They said: We are afraid.
Come to the edge
He said. They came.
He pushed them, and
they flew...

 

~Guillaume Apollinaire
~*~

 

 

Klorel awoke screaming the despised name.

“O’Neill!”

The jaffa surrounding the sarcophagus edged backward in reaction. This echo of the past, his former host’s pitiful voice upon awakening after O’Neill had killed him, was less than nothing in comparison to the raw strength of this new voice, this new body. His jaffa now feared their god not only for his goa’uld power, but also the vessel in which he was contained. The satisfaction of that knowledge drew Klorel out of the sarcophagus to stride regally before them all, eyes glowing with renewed strength as he dismissed them.

Standing alone at the observation port and looking out over the Nox world now under his control, Klorel remembered his previous death by O’Neill’s hand. It had been much slower - and far more painful as control had slipped away to the tone of the boy’s irritating voice bidding a weak farewell.

Hatred had been born that day, for O’Neill who had killed him, and for Daniel Jackson whose life had proven more valuable to O’Neill than the boy’s.

Skaara’s memories had been full of his ‘brother,’ of nights spent in long conversation full of laughter with expressive hands flying almost as fast as his tongue as he shared stories of the Tau’ri, Abydos and other wonders beyond Skaara’s pitiful experience. If O’Neill was Skaara’s hero, Daniel was his god; though not a god such as Ra to be held in reverence through fear and power. Daniel had been revered for his kindness and gentle nature, held above all others for his weaknesses, and Skaara had gladly let go of life for Daniel.

“Foolish child.”

Watching O’Neill and Daniel during the Triad had only served to add to an already extreme hunger to see the pair suffer in ways he had already spent much time imagining. Their arguments had been weak, based on emotion so evident on their faces he had been sickened by it even as he was fascinated by their apparent ability to meld their separate strengths into one. That was when Klorel had realized the best means to destroy one was to harm the other.

Klorel stretched languidly and smiled. When O’Neill had interfered, Daniel had been very near separation. Perhaps he was already dead – or so near to it as to make no difference. Klorel laughed coldly at the thought of Daniel’s admittedly intelligent-looking eyes staring into space, his mind no longer in stubborn residence. The thought was more than pleasing. Klorel wanted to see it. More, he wanted to watch it fade while O’Neill looked on helplessly - before he died as well, screaming to Klorel for mercy.

Then he would revive them and do it again

 

~*~

 

Sam woke slowly, at first only aware of the damp, musty smell of the air around her. Memory returned in a rush and she opened her eyes to the dimness of the cave. The fire was burning dully, but grey light now filtered around the passageway from the cave mouth.

Teal’c was standing watch with his back to the main cavern; his head was cocked in the listening attitude Sam had come to know so well. Teal’c’s hearing, enhanced as so many of his senses were by his symbiote, was much better than any of theirs; if something approached their haven, they would have ample warning.

Sam sat up slowly, brushing the detritus of the cave floor from her clothes and hair. While hardly a stranger to sleeping on the ground in unusual places, she had never quite realized how much she could miss the contents of a daypack. Watching bits of debris fall from her blonde fringe, she sighed. She felt grungy and not a little hungry. She honestly couldn’t remember the last time she had eaten well. They’d barely begun to recover a sense of equilibrium from their previous mission, much less any sort of appetite or strength when the image of Lya had lured them here.

Sam looked over at the Nox couple, looking more than anything like a pair of Tolkien’s creations – fragile, mysterious. She smiled; even Tolkien could not have envisioned people such as the Nox. Sighing at the memory of a snippet from childhood, Sam could only hope Daniel’s faith in them would shortly be proven.

‘He is with you now.’

The words shuddered through her mind with just as much chilling force as they had the night before.

Looking over at her friends now, Sam smiled fondly. The colonel was huddled against the cave wall, slumped partly over Daniel’s head where it rested across his lap. The colonel’s hand lay lightly on Daniel’s cheek in a gesture equally tender and possessive, the simple pose expressing a statement and a promise. A statement of friendship hard-won and well kept, a promise of protection and support in whatever might come in the hours ahead.

Stretching stiffly, Sam let her gaze linger on the two a moment longer. Four years ago, watching the two men square off over practically everything, she had honestly believed SG1 was doomed to failure. The colonel had made no secret of his feelings about everything from terminally stubborn, overly intellectual archaeologist-linguists, to scientist-officers who just happened to be female. She had been so sure it would never work out, that eventually the science would be lost under the military shadow, and Colonel ‘Just-the-facts’ O’Neill would eventually find a reason not to put up with the secondary agendas she and Daniel so often pushed for.

What she, and probably the colonel, had not expected was Daniel’s persistence, a persistence that found a sympathetic ear with the President himself. Missions had been expanded and new discoveries were now being made on an almost daily basis on so many fronts. They had yet to gain enough technological advancements to suit some higher-ups, but overall the SGC was now widely considered - among those who knew of its existence - the great hope for humanity against the goa’uld threat, Senator Kinsey and his ilk notwithstanding.

Sam sighed again and moved to the rear of the cavern, slipping into a small niche she designated appropriately private enough to serve as latrine facilities. She nearly laughed at the dry moss she found stacked beside a shallow pit. Evidently Teal’c had been busy, as well as characteristically considerate, in the night. Sam took care of her most immediate need while wishing for water, a uniform and food, in that order. The Nox would know of native food plants and hopefully there would be a water source nearby, as they had no means to carry any to the cave. She amended her wish to include one of the packs back on Klorel’s ship: ration bars, canteens, toiletries, a medkit, all of which they could really use right now.

They would never have survived their last mission without them…

Those harrowing days were still fresh in her memory. The smells, the sounds, even the taste of the last energy bar they had split between them, knowing it might be the last meal they ever shared. Words had been unnecessary, but of course the colonel had made a lame joke while Daniel smiled, Teal’c had exercised his eyebrow, and Sam had shaken her head at the surreal normality of the situation. They could just as easily have been sitting at their favorite table at O’Malleys - pre-armband days as they were presently barred from the premises - kicking back after a stressful run of duty, and introducing Teal’c to yet another of their favorite Tau’ri taste treats. If not for the dark circles under all their eyes and the forced cheer as each played their parts to comfort the others even as they recognized they might finally have encountered a situation they could not beat as a team.

But they had.

Together.

Pushing one another to new limits of endurance through sheer tenacity and the stubborn refusal to give up and let the team down, they had made it. And Sam had to believe they would keep tapping the strength that made them such a great team to get through this as well.

~*~

 

Lya felt the echoes in her mind long before she opened her eyes. The determination emanating from Teal’c and Major Carter was palpable and most encouraging. That strength would assuredly be put to the test over the next hours.

Lya rose gingerly, trying to be cautious and not wake Antaeus. She had been subliminally aware of his restless thoughts in the night, of his concern for her and for their world, and for the two men still sleeping nearby. Antaeus needed to rest, to regain his strength and balance for the trial still to come.

Willing the stiffness from her body as she stretched, Lya wished she could journey into the forest. They had been imprisoned on Klorel’s ship for many days, and before that time there had been no opportunity to seek out the balance she so often found in the solitude of their world.

Now more than ever she needed peace.

Klorel’s dampening device still disrupted her inner harmony, though it seemed somewhat better. Perhaps some measure of protection was provided deep in the cave. She was thankful for the clarity of focus and thought this morning had brought, whatever its source, a clarity that allowed her to share Antaeus’ memory of the previous night. She could see the pathways he had followed into O’Neill’s mind where another personality formed a crossroads, parallel yet separate save in that one fragile place where it anchored itself tenuously to O’Neill’s strength. Each road bore its own unique landmarks, yet often converged and traveled smoothly in tandem and meeting much more often than they divided over time with the deeper splits coming nearer the present, before returning together quite recently to run strongly once again.

Sensing the pair behind her, Lya asked without turning, “You have faced a test of your bonds.”

Major Carter’s voice sounded as dubious as it usually did when faced with things beyond her comfortable understanding. “Yeah, I guess so. We just got back from a pretty tough mission before….”

Lya turned to meet two sets of eyes; Teal’c’s were dark and respectful as always, accepting of things he could not completely explain, Major Carter’s were dark with shadowed layers of emotion and doubt. It had been a difficult test indeed. “You are concerned?”

Major Carter nodded, hands making a gesture encompassing the cave, Lya herself, Antaeus and the other two sleepers. After a moment she made a small, frustrated sound. “What do we do?”

“What we can.”

 

~*~

 

General George Hammond slapped a fist against the glass of the observation window overlooking the Stargate and rounded on the assembled technicians and the members of SG2 and 3. “I do not want to hear this, gentlemen.”

Sergeant Siler nodded shortly, his lean face a study in understated frustration. “I understand that, sir. None of us do. But the Nox gate is blocked - and we cannot get through.”

Hammond sighed, pausing a few seconds to clamp down on his irritation at their helplessness. “I know. So, what are our options at this point?”

Major Hank Griff scrubbed a hand over his rough, stubbled chin. None of them had taken much of a break since discovering SG1’s hurriedly typed message explaining only that they were responding to an emergency summons to aid the Nox. Surveillance tapes had shown them exactly how SG1 had responded: two members in shirtsleeves, one of those shoeless, and one in pajamas and a bathrobe. They had at least taken packs and weapons before disappearing through a Stargate that had seemed to activate entirely on its own. The tape had seemed to indicate SG1 saw someone and spoke to them, but there was no sign of anyone or anything on the tape but the members of SG1. Hammond prayed this was more of the Nox ‘magic’ and not the trap his bones screamed it had to be.

“Not sure we have many, sir. The Tollan?”

Major Feretti nodded agreement. “The Asgard or Tok’ra, too, sir. There are a lot of folks out there with reason to be grateful to SG1. Surely one of them can help?”

Hammond sighed, not quite as certain any level of gratitude could be counted on to translate into assistance as his admirably loyal officers seemed to be. “It’s worth a try. Sergeant Davis?”

The white-haired technical sergeant stood, nodded with an, “I’m on it, sir,” before disappearing down the steps to the control room, followed closely by Sergeant Siler.

Hammond allowed himself a small smile. He had good people under his command, no question. Looking around at those remaining in the room, Hammond nodded dismissal. “For now, I guess we have to wait.”

Griff and Feretti bristled, trading almost identical looks of frustration but just as quickly realizing the futility of further protest. Twin “yes, sirs’ acknowledged they were not the only ones frustrated before they herded their respective teams out of the room.

Hammond nodded to himself. Damn good people under him. He found his gaze wandering back toward the Stargate again as he realized four of the best of his people were out there on their own after a mission that made the recent Replicator crisis look like a Sunday social. They had barely had time to catch their collective breaths, much less recover any measure of strength, before this mysterious summons by the Nox.

Hammond remembered the haggard, shadow-eyed team stumbling through the gate and falling to their knees in a group huddle that had scared every SF on gate duty at the time - not to mention Hammond and the command crew in the ops booth. They had been half starved, physically and mentally exhausted. Doctor Fraiser had been in a veritable state over their conditions, lining them up across the infirmary and proceeding with nearly identical treatments in an assembly line fashion composed of the four protesting members of his premier team.

He and Fraiser had caught on quickly to the game of ‘life is back to normal’ and played along, watching as the shadows receded a little and they had all finally drifted into a drugged sleep. Fraiser had kept them two more days and reported privately that the nightmares had come later. After the first night, Teal’c had recovered with Junior’s help and taken up night guard, watching over his friends as always, protecting even their dreams.

Hammond sighed. In their own unique - and highly individual - ways, the members of SG1 had each earned a special place in his heart. They exemplified the best of what SGC had to offer, the best humanity had to offer, and took that excellence through the Stargate on a regular basis to form some of the strongest alliances and friendships Earth had. Sometimes their methods were questionable, in some cases downright confusing, and nearly always highly worrisome to their commanding officer, but they worked.

Smiling, Hammond recalled his conversation with a planet-bound and ailing Doctor Jackson concerning how he felt when his friends were stranded aboard the Replicator-infested Asgard ship. The sentiment the young academic had expressed had been more than a little familiar to Hammond, who had revealed he felt exactly the same way every time one of his teams went through the gate. Looking down on the silent ring now, Doctor Jackson’s words repeated themselves in his mind.

‘I should be out there…’

 

~*~

Jack woke to the feeling of something sticking into his back. Reaching a hand behind him, he could find nothing and gave up, bringing his hand back around to feel…

Daniel.

Jack’s opened his eyes and looked down to study the pale face resting on his lap.

None of them had been at their best when they had set out on this mission, but Daniel, frankly, looked like death on a really, really bad day. Eyes so sunken they looked bruised, cheekbones standing out starkly against skin so white he looked almost…

Automatically Jack reached a hand to Daniel’s throat, feeling for the slow steady pulse beat that reassured him appearances, at least in this case, were deceiving. The strange sense of tenuous connection between them was still there, like a carrier wave he could almost follow the same way he’d followed it last night and…

He is with you now.’

Crap.

Focusing inward, Jack confirmed that, yes, Daniel was still in there -even as his eyes disputed that fact by revealing Daniel’s physical presence as a limp, still weight across his legs and under his hand.

A noise near the entrance caused Jack to look up, straight into the eyes of Teal’c. The big man’s bottomless gaze seemed to express many things at once, speaking of caring, support, friendship, concern.

“All will be well, O’Neill.”

Jack gave a wry smile in response, tapping a finger lightly against Daniel’s shoulder. “Easy for you to say, you aren’t carrying around a hundred and sixty-five pound conscience.”

Teal’c’s eyes smiled and he nodded, once, to indicate he understood the comment and agreed.

Jack had tagged Daniel with the label early on in their lives as a team, following a series of events that had led them to believe the younger man was dead. The resultant grief, eulogy, and funeral had brought Jack to a lot of realizations about the young man he had let into his life.

Despite initial fears, Jack had known from the first mission to Abydos exactly what Doctor Daniel Jackson, PhD, whiz kid extraordinaire was made of. And it was some damn tough stuff.

Daniel had not only learned to speak a 3000 years dead and bastardized language in a matter of hours; he had involved all of them in the plight of the Abydonians enslaved by the goa’uld calling himself Ra, helping the people regain freedom they had not known in thousands of years. The unexpected determination of a man Jack had barely given the time of day much less anything approaching respect had sparked a renewed interest in life in a tired old colonel too wrapped up in grief to see beyond his own sense of loss and desire to die.

It had taken Daniel’s first death to open Jack’s eyes to life again and his second to nearly cause him to close them again. Luckily, they’d gotten Daniel back both times. For all of Daniel’s mule-headed stubbornness, his insistence on facing every grey-shaded moral dilemma head on - and his damned irritating habit of being right - Jack knew his friend was irreplaceable - on the team and in his life. Daniel was definitely one of a kind, and Jack was damn proud to call him friend.

Teal’c was still watching him, Jack realized, but he just shook his head knowing Teal’c understood.

Jack was really beginning to feel the discomfort of the nonexistent rock consistently sticking him in the back, and reminding him how long it had been since he had seen to a certain bodily function.

But…

Daniel.

Surely twenty feet and back quickly would be safe…

“Teal’c? How about hanging onto him while I check out the…facilities?”

Teal’c nodded once, sitting and smoothly moving Daniel’s unresisting form over to his own lap while Jack rose stiffly, rubbing at his legs to ease the tingling sensation of blood flow returning. Lya and Carter were standing at the entrance now, talking softly as Jack headed for the designated area for bodily upkeep amid broad yawns that did little to clear his fogged mind. He had just decided he would be tempted to kill for coffee when Lya turned and saw him on his feet and heading away from Daniel.

“You must not!” she warned sharply - even as Jack felt a wave of nausea and heat wash over him, driving him to his knees at the same moment a hoarse cry echoed through the cavern.

 

Chapter 7

Brightest and best of the sons of the morning,
Dawn on our darkness, and lend us thine aid

 

~ Reginald Heber

~*~

 

 

Daniel was splitting apart.

Worse than before, so much worse.

Wrenching jolts of dissolution shuddered through his body until he was certain he was no longer connected to it at all. Strong arms tightened around his chest, but it was not enough. Was not …

“Jack!”

He had to see, fought to open his eyes, succeeded only to find the swirling haze of colors washing over his vision with the strength of radiation, splitting him on an almost elemental level. Nausea transmuted into pain, pain into something he felt might be close to implosion lacking only the merest spark to render him messily and totally lost…

He was peripherally aware of his own harsh gasps for breath, of blood rushing through his veins at too great a speed, of his heart thumping raggedly in his chest, forgetting its accustomed rhythm; beating faster and faster, closer and closer to nothingness…

Warm pressure brought him back, surrounded him until the tide receded and he could breathe again. He knew he was moaning uncontrollably as normality settled back over him in a rush of awareness, but at the moment he could not seem to care.

He was rocking. No. He was being rocked. Small movements up and down as strong hands stroked soothing patterns across his back.

Daniel slowly became aware of a voice – or rather the resonance of a voice – beneath his ear where it rested against something warm, solid, familiar; the voice urged him to breathe, ordered him to breathe, apologized over and over…

“I’m sorry, Daniel, should have known. Breathe, kid, in and out…”

All of Daniel’s awareness was focused on those words, on the soft shirr-whup of the heart he could hear more clearly than the words.

Gradually his vision cleared, the colors fading to - black. He almost laughed at the realization that the black was a shirt.

Jack’s shirt.

The pain was easing away on Jack’s words, on the soothing hands reminding Daniel that he was still yet alive and connected to his suddenly rebellious, trembling body. He nodded a little against Jack’s chest, hoping his friend would understand he was all right, or at least was getting there. On some instinctive level, though, he knew this momentary control was fragile, and somehow dependent on Jack.

Soft voices behind him whispered words Daniel couldn’t quite decipher and Jack’s voice rumbled a reply. “How the hell could this have happened?”

A lilting voice answered. Lya. Something about interference, accord, safety with Jack…

Daniel could buy that one.

He was safe, out of all the uncertainties crowding his mind he knew that. All he wanted at the moment was to hide here in these arms that had always held such a feeling for him; even at the lowest moments of his life, he had known this – aura – of unreserved security in Jack’s presence. Now it was intensified far beyond anything he could have imagined, and he was content to let his world consist of nothing more than gentle hands, a black shirt and the blessed absence of dissolution.

The shuddering waves dissipated slowly as his breathing slowed to something closer to what he knew as normal and Daniel let his body slump further into Jack’s support. Cool fingers came to rest on his forehead, swiping away the moisture gathered there.

“Better?” He felt and heard the voice simultaneously, the tone as gentle as any he had ever heard from Jack.

Must have really been bad…

Daniel nodded again, making an effort to raise his weight off Jack, and failing as the hand on his forehead slid down to rest on the back of his neck, effectively stilling the movement.

“Just stay put, catch your breath.”

Shifting a little so he could see, Daniel found himself hovered over by four worried faces. He did not have to look up to know there were actually five. Seeking each of his watchers in turn, Daniel sought to reassure them, sought reassurance from them. He was unsure if any of them succeeded; he knew that his own smile was likely a pretty lame attempt. He was scared; as scared as he had ever been in a life full of too many examples of things to be afraid of.

The steady pressure of Jack’s hand was like a balm to the pain of his body and the resonant echo of his soul. Lacking the strength to respond, Daniel just squeezed the arm his hand rested on, feeling the pressure on his neck increase slightly before resuming the soothing motions down his back.

With a shaky breath, Daniel opened his mouth to speak, lost the words, started again… “What’s, um, what’s up, guys?”

 

~*~

 

Teal’c had to smile at the brave words coming from their young friend. The fear Daniel Jackson thought he concealed was more than evident in his eyes. SG1 had come to know the expression well, had often watched it appear and be defeated for the sake of a mission or some other purpose Daniel Jackson deemed more important than the fear. To Teal’c, reared among warriors, this was a different sort of courage, a stronger sort because it had no refuge in the reflex actions of training or the moral absolution of orders.

Watching O’Neill, now soothing away the last of the shaking induced by the separation, Teal’c could see the relief at Daniel Jackson’s words. O’Neill had realized at once what was happening, fighting his own pain to crawl toward Daniel Jackson. Antaeus had been awake and on his feet in an instant, just as Lya had instructed Major Carter to help, even as Teal’c prepared himself to move Daniel Jackson into O’Neill’s keeping. The change had been nearly instantaneous as the two men came into contact, and Teal’c had noted the air of doubt in Major Carter’s eyes fade at the incontrovertible proof of the Nox claims.

O’Neill’s entire aspect projected fierce protection and regret as he rocked their recovering friend. Even now, Daniel Jackson’s body trembled as the pain receded. To Teal’c the younger man appeared entirely too fragile, a fact that disturbed him as he had never associated the word with the tenacious and capable friend he had come to know and care for.

Teal’c met the blue eyes seeking his and knew his concern was evident. Daniel Jackson smiled slightly, licking his lips in preparation to speaking again.

“That bad?”

It took a moment for Teal’c to realize that it was another of Daniel Jackson’s dry remarks. Intended as humorous to ease the concern all of them were feeling and were not hiding from him at all. O’Neill was shaking his head, smiling and looking up at the Nox.

“Like he said. Maybe now would be a good time to answer that question.”

The Nox conferred, or at least appeared to, on some subliminal level, then settled on either side of O’Neill. Antaeus smiled gently down at Daniel Jackson.

“You are stronger now?”

Daniel Jackson nodded, once again moving to rise, and once again held back by O’Neill.

“Just…stay.” O’Neill’s voice was quiet, but forceful, and Daniel Jackson nodded as if understanding a deeper meaning behind them Teal’c did not quite fathom.

The Nox couple crossed their forearms before O’Neill and Daniel Jackson, eyes closing in preparation for summoning up the indefinable power they possessed. Teal’c gradually became aware of a carrier wave of ‘harmony’ tugging at the edges of his consciousness. A quick glance at Major Carter told him she also sensed the building energy.

Daniel Jackson was frowning, his own eyes closing. As Teal’c watched, the two men were enveloped in the glow of wavering energy. Daniel Jackson’s body tensed, and O’Neill’s arm tightened convulsively around the younger man as the silver head dropped to rest on the darker one. To Teal’c it seemed as if a connection were closed, redefined and directed by the two Nox so intently focused on them. After long minutes, the energy faded and both men slid to the ground to rest together, obviously deeply asleep. Lya’s eyes opened to meet Teal’c’s concerned gaze.

“They will rest now.” The tiny woman rose unsteadily, and Teal’c moved forward to help her.

“Perhaps you should as well?”

“Yes, she should.” The two Nox exchanged some unspoken communication, the end result of which was Lya nodding and allowing Teal’c to settle her near the fire.

Major Carter moved forward to help, retrieving the bathrobe to drape over Lya’s already sleeping form.

Antaeus was rising, face reflecting great weariness.

“You are well?”

The Nox man stretched carefully, nodding. “Yes, it is draining, but yes.”

Major Carter joined them, looking back toward the sleepers in concern. “So...What just happened here?”

 

~*~

 

Antaeus sighed. There was so much beyond their understanding, yet they deserved what explanation he could give.

What had just happened...?

Together he and Lya had healed a few - so very few - of Daniel’s severed connections to his spirit. Traveling the pathways of the two joined ‘souls,’ they had determined physical proximity was not so much a factor in Daniel’s pain on separation as was the loss of contact with the part of himself which O’Neill held in safekeeping.

All humans, Antaeus knew, carried the essence of the Nox gifts; opening those connections between two spirits already so closely connected had been a relatively simple thing. It would, he was sure, require some adjustment on the part of both men. The things he and Lya shared as easily as breathing would be new and perhaps a little frightening for the humans, but the alternative left neither man capable of functioning, much less in a position to face the trials that must inevitably come if they were to free the Nox world of Klorel’s presence - at whatever cost freedom might come.

Antaeus explained the situation to the two before him, trying very carefully not to offend the ‘very young’ human female or the jaffa. These particular young did not seem to care for being spoken to as young; it was an interesting dilemma.

“We believe,” Antaeus concluded, “only the destruction of Klorel’s device will change what has been done to them. By deepening the connection Daniel will be able to feel that part of himself within O’Neill, which should allow them both a greater freedom of movement. It remains to be seen how much that freedom will allow.”

Carter nodded, clearly not completely understanding everything, but accepting, at least for the moment, that something was affecting both of her friends. “And you believe destroying the device will fix it?”

Antaeus smiled gentle reassurance. “If not, it will fix us so that we may fix them.”

The statement earned him a genuine smile from Carter. “Okay, sounds like a plan.”

Teal’c was nodding thoughtfully. “Indeed. A more immediate plan might be to provide food and water so all may regain their strength.”

“Yes.” Antaeus agreed, moving toward the cave mouth and extending his senses. “Together, I think we may be able to provide that.”

 

~*~

 

Sam watched the three sleepers as she stoked up the fire. Despite the warmth of the day, the cave was damp and musty. The colonel and Daniel were both so completely out of it, she worried they would get sick on top of their other - problem.

As she moved back to stand watch at the cave entrance, Sam had to shake her head at the concept of the two men joined in some sort of psychic bond. A few hours earlier she’d have been tempted to dismiss it outright, but Daniel’s reaction had been - frightening.

Sam had seen Daniel in various states of pain both emotional and physical: from a mild wince after barking his shins on his office furniture while distractedly expounding on one subject or another, to the addled confusion following exposure to the ribbon device, to the spasms of sarcophagus withdrawal. But never had she seen him in such outright agony. For several heart-stoppingly long seconds she had been afraid Daniel would die as she watched helplessly.

Sam had to shake off the memories of times she had thought he was dead, times much earlier in their friendship. Even then she had known their lives had already become entwined; now though, his loss to her life and the team was unthinkable - as deep a loss as a family member.

‘Little brother Daniel? ’ she silently asked the quiescent face, resting quite peacefully under the security of the colonel’s arm. Sam smiled at the gesture; even asleep the colonel was on duty. If she and Daniel were brother-sister, what did that make the colonel? Big brother? Or more a case of father-protector?

The things that made the colonel and Daniel such good friends had always been a mystery to her, and eventually she had given up trying to analyze it. It simply was and whatever they might face in the days ahead, she knew that one basic, essential truth would go a long way to seeing them through it.

Shifting at a sudden noise, Sam noticed Lya stirring quietly.

“You okay?”

The Nox woman smiled sweetly as she rose, stopping to gently place the robe over the two remaining sleepers before moving to stand beside Sam. Pink or no, Sam thought, the embarrassing thing was proving to be quite useful.

“Antaeus and Teal’c have gone for provisions,” Sam offered.

Lya nodded and Sam got the distinct feeling her explanation had been completely unnecessary.

“You are uncomfortable with us?” The soft tone and gentle eyes allowed no evasion.

“Yeah, I guess anything I can’t explain makes me...uneasy.”

Another smile and Lya turned to meet Sam’s apologetic gaze. “Some things need no explanation. They simply are.”

Blinking at the echo of her recent thoughts, Sam nodded uncomfortably. Maybe Lya was right. Like friendship and family and SG1, perhaps the Nox did not need to be explained, just accepted.

At Lya’s understanding nod, Sam grinned. “I really wish you wouldn’t do that. You aren’t really reading my thoughts all the time, are you?”

“No.” Lya’s voice fairly chimed with amusement. “Only occasionally, when your strength gives them power. With the device clouding our abilities it is more difficult not to hear you.”

“A really big part of me finds all this so hard to believe...” Sam’s gesture took in the cave, the sleepers, Lya herself.

“Yet the evidence clearly indicates it is so. And your science cannot express what you see.” It was not a question, but Sam nodded anyway. “You will see many more and stranger things before this ordeal ends, it would help if you could adapt to a different way.... at least for a time.”

Think outside the box, Sam.

How many times had Daniel said that to her, trying so hard to get her to grasp his method of reaching a conclusion? Too many, and she was still unsure if she had ever really gotten it. But with luck, and time, maybe there was still a chance he would still succeed.

Lya was smiling again.

 

Chapter 8

Melt and dispel, ye spectre-doubts, that roll
Cimmerian darkness o’er the parting soul...

 

~ Thomas Campbell

~*~

 

 

Something was tickling Jack’s nose, something that moved every time he breathed, something like - hair.

Jack cracked open one eye and saw Daniel huddled under his arm, looking about as abused in body and soul as Jack had ever seen him. Daniel’s eyes were moving underneath his closed lids and Jack wondered idly if his friend’s dreams were good.

No sooner had the thought been expressed than Jack was enveloped by images of fire and Apophis and Sohkar’s blood. Pain both of the past and the present. Physical pain as Apophis’ goons laid into him when he set himself up to retrieve the communication device; Daniel had never explained exactly how he had gotten it, but the knowledge did not surprise Jack. There was also pain of the spirit caused by the memories the drug had forced upon him. Overlying it all was darkness, hatred for the goa’uld and Apophis most of all, and a deeper loathing for himself because of it. In the dream Jack’s arm was slung around Daniel’s shoulders as they ran for the transport rings; an impossible distance Daniel was sure they were not going to make....

With a jolt, Jack was outside again and looking down on Daniel’s drawn face, certain the dream continued for him.

‘Damn it.’

Jack swallowed as the strong emotion of Daniel’s dream swept over him and dissipated. But Daniel was still trapped there, probably had revisited Sohkar’s hell many times in the year since they had escaped from Naetu. Jack’s sympathetic nature reached out, mind and body, to still the darkness torturing Daniel, instinctively reacting to drive the demons away.

Daniel’s eyes opened quickly; he looked at Jack then around the cave and back again before snapping them shut again. “Ow.”

Jack sat up, noting for the first time they were alone. A quick glance around showed a pot bubbling on the fire, a delicious smell sending instant messages straight to his empty stomach, and there were other items stacked nearby he was sure had not been there when he’d gone to sleep: clothes, blankets, fruit.

A noise near the cave mouth brought him up to his knees, gaze roving to find his weapon on the other side of the cave, even as he felt a stab of visceral fear at the thought of straying too far from Daniel.

Teal’c came into view first, carrying what looked like full water skins. The two Nox followed, then Carter who was adjusting her zat to safety position.

Jack sat back down heavily, feeling slightly hung over. Daniel, he noted, had simply shifted to his side to see the others. Jack could feel the dull ache of bruises he knew were not his own and a lethargy that similarly was not his. The whole situation was just too strange, too heavy a concept to grasp, but he knew what the Nox said was true - somehow he and Daniel were connected, their lives depending on one another.

Not necessarily a new situation for them, just more - intense.

A soft snort brought Jack out of his thoughts back to Daniel, who was smiling up with his usual fatalistic acceptance of things odd, strange and curious Jack had come to know so well. They would make it, out of sheer stubbornness if nothing else.

Carter and Lya were dishing up whatever was in the pot while Teal’c and Antaeus poured water into carved wooden cups, and Jack became aware once again of a bodily need he had not been able to attend to earlier.

“Um, Antaeus, can I....?” Jack motioned toward the back of the cave.

Antaeus smiled the irritatingly understanding smile Jack knew so well. “It should be safe to...” The Nox man mimicked Jack’s motion, causing them all - including Daniel - to laugh.

Jack treated them all to his most put-upon moan and stood. He was all too aware of what had happened the last time he had tried this and hoped Antaeus was right.

“Go, Jack.” Daniel’s voice was soft, but it broke through Jack’s hesitation.

With one part of his mind focused on Daniel, Jack moved away slowly, bracing against the possibility that he might have to turn around in a hurry.

Ten feet, fifteen.

A warmth flooded Jack’s mind, familiar affection that let him know everything was okay. Daniel.

Jack nodded to himself, sending his own message of strength and hope back along the link between him and Daniel. They would find a way out of this.

They had to.

 

~*~

 

 

Jacob Carter stepped through the Earth stargate with a sigh of frustration. His daughter was missing and her team along with her - the team that had helped the Tok’ra so often in the past and yet, when they were in danger, the Tok’ra council was ‘too busy.’ It was a situation Jacob was finding more and more familiar - and irritating.

Daniel and Sam had risked a lot not so long ago when Teal’c and Jack had been lost on a one-way trip out of the solar system thanks to Apophis’ surprise addition to the death glider the backroom techs at Area 51 had decided to reconstruct in the Air Force’s image. If the glow of the stargate had not caught Jacob’s attention in the darkness, Daniel and Sam would have died in the explosion he had been seconds away from detonating.

Jacob tried to muster a smile as he glanced up toward the control room, knowing he was far from pulling it off. George’s return nod told him the message was received and understood.

No Tok’ra help on this one.

A tech sergeant appeared through the blast doors, directing Jacob to follow.

Selmak’s presence settled over Jacob’s troubled thoughts, bringing calm where Jacob could find none of his own.

‘Thank you, old friend. I need a clear head on this one.’

An answering wave of affection - Selmak had spent centuries inside the body of a very empathetic woman after all - touched at his mind.

‘Getting in touch with one’s feminine side?’ Selmak asked with a ripple of amusement at the old joke between them.

Jacob snorted softly, aware that the tech sergeant was looking at him strangely. ‘You don’t know the half of it, Selmak.’

Laughter was like a tickle in Jacob’s brain, almost like an endorphin rush that made him feel much steadier than he had when he’d first arrived. Two years before, Jacob had no clue about goa’uld or Tok’ra or any sort of life beyond his future with the Air Force and the strained relationship with half his family and the barely functioning one with the other half. He had been so clueless as to what Sam needed, wanting only to fulfill her dream but not taking the time to listen to her words - or the meaning behind them - that would have told him Sam already had found her dream. Was in fact living it by way of a stone circle at the bottom of a missile silo in Colorado.

‘My how we’ve grown…’ Selmak teased.

‘Impudent parasite…’

Jacob cut off the internal dialogue with a brief thanks and entered the briefing room the tech sergeant had led him to. This was a different room than they had used on his previous visits, more private, and Jacob wondered at the reasons for bringing him here.

The door opened and George came in, followed closely by four men in fatigues and Doctor Fraiser. George walked over and shook Jacob’s hand, a gentle pressure conveying all the heartfelt sympathy Jacob knew his old friend was capable of.

“I take it the Tok’ra are bowing out of this one.” The tone left no doubt George had expected to be disappointed.

With a nod, Jacob returned the pressure and they all moved to sit as George introduced his companions, Majors Feretti and Griff, Sergeant Coburn, Lieutenant Pierce and Doctor Fraiser.

Nodding acknowledgment to all of them, Jacob turned to face his old friend. “What’s going on, George?”

A grim smile and a sigh were his answer as George turned to the large screen behind him. Within moments the face of the President was looking down on them, larger than life.

Rather like the man himself.

They all stood reflexively, training serving them well, and the President nodded shortly to release them to be seated again. “Hello, George. Jacob, good to see you again.”

“You, too, sir.” Jacob replied sincerely.

The President had always been very approachable to his Staff and they had formed a bond of mutual respect. Since his blending, Jacob had always taken time to get in touch with the President when on Earth, and he knew the Stargate Project had no better friend. Jacob only wished he were still an official resident so he could vote for the man in the coming election.

Selmak nudged Jacob, bringing his wandering thoughts back to the present. The President was speaking.

“…wish I could do more, but my hands are tied. The five of you are the only ones who will have any idea of where you’re really going. And if something happens out there….”

It didn’t take much thinking to fill in the blanks of what he had missed. They were on their own, no official support. George had obviously hand-chosen from among his volunteers with that in mind. All of them looked resolved and determined.

“Where are we going?”

George waited for the President’s nod before answering. “Tollana.”

 

~*~

 

Klorel paced before the observation window of the ha’tak, fury building with each step. His First Prime stood stoically before him, having just delivered word their search had produced no sign of the humans or the two Nox who had escaped with them.

Klorel was in no mood to deal generously with anything, much less failure. With a slow turn, he activated his ribbon device and watched the green glow seep away the modicum of intelligence his First Prime had possessed.

As the dark eyes emptied of awareness, Klorel imagined blue eyes in their stead. Imagined Daniel Jackson kneeling before him as a blank face possessing nothing that could be called life.

The thought was pleasing, so much so that Klorel pushed the device beyond anything he had previously done and watched in amazement as the First Prime began to glow. As the glow faded it swirled over his body, and absorbed into his skin, bringing with it instant knowledge of every moment of the man’s life. From birth to the shock of death, Klorel knew it all. Realized how resentful the man had been of his former host, and reveled in the fear he felt associated with the memory of this new body. The feeling was more intoxicating than anything he had ever known.

He wanted more.

He wanted Daniel Jackson.

~*~

 

Antaeus observed the humans with interest. They were trying so very hard to be ‘normal,’ to displace the horror of O’Neill and Daniel’s situation with their humor and caring.

And it was working.

Already Daniel was sitting up and eating, making a valiant effort toward normalcy and setting an example of determination the others quickly followed.

To Antaeus it seemed an odd dance of give and receive as they adjusted themselves to the needs of the one requiring their united strength, and Daniel returned the gesture by working harder. Antaeus could easily feel the fear emanating from the young human, could sense just as strongly its answering echo in O’Neill.

O’Neill was an enigma. So seemingly rough-edged and too enthusiastically ready to let force guide his actions, yet the depth of his commitment to his companions was quite tangible, a seamless component of who the man was.

Perhaps the humans were not quite so young as he had originally assumed.

As Daniel set his bowl aside, Carter brought water and O’Neill settled himself next to his friend. Close proximity was no longer necessary, but Antaeus could feel the reassurance in the gesture.

They had yet to test the physical distance the two men could actually be separated. Antaeus feared it would not be much and could also feel the thought worrying at all the humans. The task before them would be difficult enough; it would be even more so with the constant concern of remaining within a boundary of distance between them.

The physical symptoms both men experienced were more than debilitating. Even to Antaeus they were frightening. He feared each time it happened could make Daniel’s ultimate return to his own body more difficult.

He and Lya were at a severe disadvantage as far as their abilities at the moment. Though they projected as much confidence as possible to the humans, they were far from certain whether they were correctly defining and dealing with the problem.

“So, what are we going to do?”

Antaeus smiled at the tone of Daniel’s brave words, had to stifle a laugh at the alternately tolerant, amused, and concerned faces of the other humans as they shook their heads at the young one’s clear intent to commit himself to whatever action his team deemed necessary.

O’Neill smiled coldly. “We stop the bastard.”

 

 

Chapter 9

Thought is deeper than all speech,
  Feeling deeper than all thought;
Souls to souls can never teach
  What unto themselves was taught.

          

~ Thomas Pearse Cranch

~*~

 

 

The ha’tak stood menacingly quiet in the clearing, far too quiet. Teal’c observed no jaffa activity around the craft, a fact that disturbed him. The absence of troop activity went against every tactical and strategic tenet he had ever been taught.

O’Neill sat beside him, recognition of the wrongness of the situation plainly discernible on his face. Just beyond him was Daniel Jackson, still looking too unwell to be with them, but the Nox testing had proved O’Neill and Daniel Jackson could not be parted more than a few dozen yards. The ‘testing’ had frightened them all as Daniel Jackson had paled, slumping bonelessly into Teal’c’s arms with a gasp of pain. They had been braced for the reaction, but it had nonetheless shocked them.

O’Neill had been prepared but even so had been nearly overwhelmed by the physical reaction. He had returned to Daniel Jackson’s side quickly, enveloping the young man’s trembling form even as he angrily questioned the Nox.

Antaeus had shared with them then his belief that every new separation would cause greater and greater harm to both of his friends, a situation Teal’c resolved would not happen again were it in his power to prevent it.

Major Carter was just returning from reconnaissance around the perimeter with Antaeus, still wearing her night attire but seemingly more comfortable in the rough textured jacket the Nox had provided. With the exception of Teal’c himself, they all now wore some article of Nox clothing. O’Neill had also been provided one of the loose jackets, as had Daniel Jackson, who also wore soft boots. Thankfully none of the items were the shades of purple and pink the Nox usually seemed to prefer. Muted tones of brown and green were far more practical when attempting to blend into the forest.

As Major Carter drew closer, Teal’c could tell from her expression the news was not good.

“We’ve found more of the Nox being held in a pen over the ridge,” she reported quietly, looking briefly to Lya and shaking her head. Teal’c clearly read the gesture; Nefreyu was not among them. Although both Nox had stated the belief their son was dead, Teal’c understood too well the hope both suppressed.

O’Neill was frowning as he scanned the ha’tak again. Knowing O’Neill as he did, Teal’c was certain his friend was weighing the merits of two courses of action. Attacking the ha’tak might result in the deaths of the captive Nox if they did not succeed; attempting to rescue the Nox with the ha’tak intact might well bring the weaponry of the huge vessel to bear on them all.

Strangely, O’Neill seemed to be wavering, stealing glances at Daniel Jackson that Teal’c would classify as equal parts irritation and surprise.

With a sigh, O’Neill nodded as if answering an internal question. Before getting to his feet, pulling Daniel Jackson hurriedly but gently alongside him. “You guys...scout something. We’ll be right back.”

Teal’c could only raise an eyebrow toward Major Carter when the Nox smiled knowingly at one another as they stared after the retreating pair.

Odd indeed.

 

~*~

 

The hand on his arm was firm and just starting to hurt when Daniel decided they had gone far enough.

“Jack? What?” he demanded with a sharp pull to release himself, not a necessarily wise move, but the waves of confusion and disapproval he could feel from Jack were nearly overwhelming.

Jack looked at the hand he had been gripping Daniel with, seeming lost in thought. With a shake of his head, Jack dropped his hand and started pacing back and forth in front of Daniel.

“You...” Jack began then sighed and kept pacing.

Daniel shook his head wearily, feeling the anger dissipate slowly to be replaced by something closer to respect. Daniel sighed, glad the storm seemed to have passed but still unsure what sort of storm it had been.

‘An O’Neillian tempest?’ Daniel joked to himself, cringing at the bad humor. Hanging around Jack was one thing, being so utterly attuned to Jack’s moods was definitely playing strangely with his sense of self.

‘Oh.’

Understanding dawned, and Daniel had to sit down in the grass in order to process the new insight.

Jack was looking down at him, eyes concernedly scanning for signs of distress. Daniel raised one hand in a plea for patience, shaking his head to dispel Jack’s worry. “It’s okay, Jack, just....”

‘Just what? Sorry I was feeling sympathy for the Nox, sorry I made you feel what I feel... ’ Daniel sighed in frustration. Did they have a chance in hell of stopping Klorel like this?

With a sigh, Jack was beside him on the grass. “No...Don’t...”

Daniel could feel the comfortable presence of Jack at the edge of his mind, at the moment a very hesitant presence. He scrubbed a hand through his hair and looked up at the throat clearing noises that told him Jack was about to say something he really did not want to say. Jack had never been particularly comfortable being serious, Daniel knew that and understood, but they had always found a way to get around it.

Almost always, anyway.

“Daniel, I.... I’m sorry.”

Okay, surprise of the day at twelve o’clock.

Jack was apologizing. Not exactly a frequent occurrence between them.

Actually, Daniel could only recall two occasions in four years. Three actually, counting the night Jack had introduced Daniel to fine Irish whiskey as a means of catharsis after Sha’re’s death.

There was not a great deal about that night Daniel could remember, but he distinctly recalled Jack hanging onto him after he had surpassed the sullen drunk stage and taken a header straight into despairing. Jack’s deck had been doing a fine imitation of a sea vessel, but Daniel had felt securely anchored by Jack, by his words of comfort and apology for not getting Sha’re back, for being too late. The resulting hangover had been horrendous, but Daniel would not trade the night or the memory for anything.

There had been too few of those kinds of moments in the past months, too few moments of anything except disagreement and dissension.

Jack was nodding his head, agreeing with the sentiment if not the exact memories Daniel was processing. The last mission had cleared away a lot of the distance between them, but, as was so often the case in their lives, there simply had not been time to do more than recognize and regret it.

A hand reached out to grasp Daniel’s shoulder; a mental gate unlocked and he could feel Jack’s open respect for who Daniel was, perhaps fully understanding for the first time just how much of who he was related to the things that so often irritated Jack. Daniel knew he could no sooner stop being who he was than Jack could, had always known even when that confidence had been shaken by events beyond their control and circumstances seemingly designed to continually test those core truths.

And Daniel knew one truth more confidently than any other: Jack was a good man. Driven occasionally by duty to places he was not always comfortable going, to do things he later knew were based on shaky foundations, but at the end of the missions and the sometimes harrowing moments of conflict both personal and among the team - Jack was Jack. A damn fine friend and one of the best men Daniel had ever known.

“Me, too...” Jack nodded, hand tightening one last time on Daniel’s shoulder, letting Daniel feel the reinforcement of his words.

They were good, better than good. Better than they’d been since Edora when Jack had disappeared, and things had seemed to slide apart despite their best efforts to put it back.

“Yeah...” Daniel looked up, meeting Jack’s level gaze and nodding as he let go. Not exactly severing the connection, just lessening it.

“We really need to get a handle on this before...” Jack’s voice trailed off as he looked off through the trees to where the top of the ha’tak was visible.

There really was no need to complete the thought. Freeing the Nox and stopping Klorel was going to be difficult enough without the added complication of the two of them meshing personalities at the unannounced drop of a proverbial hat and critically affecting the very things about them that made them such effective members of the same team.

With a sigh, Daniel nodded. “Well, freeing the Nox might be a big help in that area. Lya and Antaeus were stronger together.”

“More Nox, more power?” Jack quipped, misquoting one of his favorite television characters.

Daniel nodded with a wry smile, raising a hand so Jack could help him stand. “Just let them do the wiring...”

Laughter bubbled up and out, seeking a much-needed release neither man had shared in far too long. Jack kept a hand under Daniel’s elbow as he steered them back toward the others, knowing without being told that Daniel’s ‘power’ was at best tenuous.

“Yeah,” Jack agreed. “You’re a hell of a guy, Daniel, but I’ll be a lot more comfortable when you’re all back in there where you belong.”

The offhand compliment made Daniel pause, making him feel warmth that had nothing at all to do with the ambient temperature or the low-grade fever he had felt come over him after the test earlier.

Whatever might happen in the next hours, this was another moment he would always remember.

It was much better without the hangover.

 

~*~

 

The colonel and Daniel had definitely settled something during their ‘walk.’ Whatever had prompted the colonel to look so frustrated, Sam was sure she really did not want to know what it was. It was enough to see them smiling.

“Sir?”

The colonel nodded, with a quick glance at Daniel. “We get the Nox out first.”

Sam had to hide her grin; she had already guessed they would and had sent Teal’c to reconnoiter the area around the goa’uld holding pen. She had counted twenty Nox within the compound but knew there were likely more who were either sitting or lying down. None of them had looked to be in very good physical condition.

Lya and Antaeus were talking quietly a few feet away and Sam wondered, again, if it might not be wise to let them return to the cave. Neither of them looked very comfortable being back out in the open where the device’s effects were stronger and Sam had a greater concern beyond that.

She and Lya had once discussed the fine line between peaceful benevolence and active participation in an aggressive act. If they were going to free the other Nox, the likelihood of violence was very high. Sam noticed the colonel and Daniel following her gaze, realized both of them were likely considering the very same option.

“We will remain,” Antaeus spoke quietly. “They are our people. Whatever must be done, we will do.”

The colonel nodded, mouth set in a grimace of regret for the necessity but acknowledging the help was needed.

Sam noticed yet another look of deep understanding pass between the colonel and Daniel as the Nox tried so hard to conceal their sadness. This was a look and a feeling she understood. For all her discomfort with the Nox ways, she could not deny it was a good way and the Nox existence was nothing short of idyllic. She hated the way circumstance had made it necessary for that life to change, and hoped nothing would happen to alter it too much. If it came to a choice between centuries of beliefs and taking a life to save one of theirs or one of the other Nox lives….

She just hoped it would not become necessary, for the Nox or for them.

They turned into the woods, moving toward the small holding pen, and Teal’c appeared out of the trees to join them.

“There are four guards on the perimeter and still no activity around the ha’tak.” Teal’c’s uneasiness about the situation was clear.

It made no sense to Sam either. True, Klorel held prisoner everyone on the planet save the six of them, but even goa’uld arrogance could not fully account for the absence of routine patrols, search parties, or the usual posturing exercises jaffa seemed to enjoy indulging in to cower those they had subjugated.

Just four guards watching twenty or so Nox - and nothing else.

“Something’s not right…”

The words were the colonel’s, but it was Daniel who spoke them. Sam shivered at the unexpected detour into the weirdness zone and just watched as the colonel and Daniel exchanged a look and resigned smiles.

“No, but what else is new?”

The colonel scanned the perimeter, his years of operational experience plain to read as he took in every detail. There was a sloping hillside on the opposite side of the pen, the trees where they stood extended around the east and thinned there, otherwise the area was reasonably secure. She and Teal’c had checked the area, there were no hidden troops there. The weak point was the hillside beyond, an open area that would leave them and the imprisoned Nox vulnerable to any action from the ha’tak.

With a sigh, the colonel turned to them. “Daniel and I will go in. Carter, you get the trees, Teal’c the hill. Antaeus, you and Lya stay here. We’ll send them in this direction; you head them toward the cave. Everybody clear?”

Sam was clear on the instructions but not a bit happy about the distribution of the team. It made more sense to her to expose only one team member, not two who could so easily be compromised if one so much as tripped. They had no room for error on that; Daniel’s life depended on it.

“Sir?”

The colonel understood her concerns, Sam could see that, but was not going to back down. Teal’c looked just as doubtful, but he could read the implacability of the colonel’s stance as easily as she and knew just as well that attempts to argue would be useless and would only serve to annoy the colonel.

Strangely, a similar focused look was on Daniel’s face as well. Whatever - however - they were communicating to one another, the two were definitely on the same channel.

She just hoped they knew what they were doing.

 

~*~

 

“God, what the hell are we doing?”

Jack was still trying to figure out if their current plan was his idea, Daniel’s or some weird combination of both of them. He knew Daniel was trying very hard to control the ‘bleed over,’ but Jack was beginning to feel it would take much more time than they had to get a handle on their situation - or for him to get a handle on ‘feeling’ Daniel.

The episode earlier had taken Jack by surprise. He had always understood that Daniel was a man who felt things deeply, that his way of approaching life and the deep issues they so often seemed to encounter was more than just the lip service of a well-educated man with too much thinking time on his hands. But the depth of Daniel’s reaction to seeing the Nox imprisoned had echoed through Jack; it had been visceral and full of conviction, an immediate recognition of the ‘wrongness’ followed just as swiftly by a need - not just a desire - to help.

The sheer strength of the feeling had been a shock. Nothing he had not already known- at least on some level - yet not something he had ever expected to feel for himself. So many times in the past he had fought down Daniel’s words and actions, dismissing them as no more than that - words. Now he knew the spirit behind the words, knew it on a gut level he was still having trouble processing. The conscience of SG1 was fully active, possessing a sense of rightness in the grand scheme of life with a capital ‘L’. It was a heady kind of insight into his friend, and Jack was still reeling a bit with it all.

Daniel had looked up with an apology already forming on his lips for feeling too much and inadvertently forcing Jack to feel it too. Intending to apologize for being who he was and, no matter how upset Jack was at the results of their forced intrusion into each others souls, he knew that was just plain wrong.

There were very few fundamental truths Jack still believed in; family, honor, duty all went without saying, but one of the biggest in Jack’s life was that Daniel was - and always would be - Daniel.

‘Daniel Jackson of the windmill-tilting Jacksons. Defenders of the universe as we know it… ’ Jack quipped to himself affectionately.

But it was true; a de facto law of the universe, as much or more consistent than any of the others Carter was always quoting. Jack depended on that truth, depended on Daniel to be who he was and balance the rest of the craziness of his life. The road may sometimes have gotten rocky - hell, not so long ago the road had almost become impassable - but it was still there. A little patchy in places, the surprised look on Daniel’s face at Jack’s words had proven that, but better than it had been in far too long.

And that was good enough for this particular government work. The rest was details, and Jack determined to make every effort necessary to fine-tune those details as soon as they managed to get themselves out of their current predicament.

‘Speaking of which….’

Jack looked over his shoulder to meet Daniel’s eyes as they waited for Carter’s signal that would tell them everyone was in position and ready. The set lines of Daniel’s face spoke of determination to carry out their plan; the dark smudges and pale face told Jack just as plainly how much of an effort it was for Daniel to do it. He hadn’t missed the heat transferring itself through Daniel’s shirt where the younger man leaned close to view the pen now less than twenty feet directly in front of them.

Antaeus had said this might happen, would continue to happen with every separation episode until - please God - they stopped Klorel, and the Nox could do something to help them.

Daniel nodded as he noticed Jack’s concern, promising in the gesture he was up for whatever might come.

‘Like there was ever any doubt…’

At Daniel’s wry smile, Jack realized the contact between them had transferred the emotion if not the exact thought and smiled in return as he realized he could not care less. He and Daniel had always done this, speaking without words, and even without the added bonus of Klorel’s little soul swapping, they would have known.

A soft whistle sounded from Carter’s location. They were ready.

With a nod to Daniel, Jack edged forward knowing Daniel would follow. When they reached the last cover available to them, Jack whistled softly, and all hell broke lose.

Teal’c’s staff and Carter’s zat took out two of the guards right away. As Jack cleared the brush, he shot another and dodged left as the remaining guard got off one shot in their direction just before Teal’c took him out with the staff.

Jack knew without needing to look that Daniel was already at the door of the pen, using Jack’s pocketknife to saw away at the coarse rope acting as a lock. Jack kept his eyes on the tree line, spotted Carter and Teal’c doing the same, and muttered impatiently under his breath for Daniel to hurry. They were too exposed, a fact that had Jack’s nerves singing with the vulnerability he never had and never would get used to.

“Got it…” Daniel called softly as the door swung wide and the Nox started out, running where Daniel sent them to Lya and Antaeus.

Jack joined Daniel at the door, watching carefully all around them as the last of the Nox slipped off into the trees. He had just enough time to note with a smile and a nudge to Daniel’s shoulder that the last prisoner to leave was Opher before a sudden, all too familiar sound whined in his ears - then transport rings descended around them and the forest was gone.

 

Part 3

 

 

 

 

 

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