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The flash of white light caught his peripheral vision and Rodney turned, wondering what some imbecile had done this time. He could see others standing around in confusion, eyes searching in all directions for the source of the strange light but Rodney knew it had come from...

"O'Neill!" He whispered frantically and raced across the chair room to the stasis pod, skidding to a halt before it and finding it empty. As if unable to believe the evidence before his eyes, he reached in and touched the interior, feeling the cool surface that had remained hidden behind O'Neill's frozen body until now. He glanced around as if half-expecting to see Jack O'Neill stumbling along the corridor only to collapse as his body deteriorated rapidly but the man was nowhere in sight. It was as if O'Neill had simply vanished into thin air.

Rodney snapped his fingers as that thought triggered another. He yelled at one of the other scientists. "Get me someone at the SGC. Now!"

Although Rodney had no greater rank than anyone else on the base, the scientist jumped at Rodney's command and went racing off. Kavanagh blustered in.

"You can't go ordering people around, McKay."

"Oh, I'm sorry. Should we just stand here debating the chain of command while someone finishes abducting Colonel O'Neill or should we do something about it like, oh, inform the US military that one of their men has just gone missing? Hmm?"

"Obviously, we have to inform the US military but I'm the ranking scientist here so I should be the one to make those decisions."

"If you mean ranking as in smelling like you haven't washed in a week, then I'd have to agree."

Kavanagh's eyes flared with anger. "Until the international issue is settled, this is an American expedition site and I am the lead American scientist."

Rodney did not even bother to wait, stepping around Kavanagh to yell at the British guy. "Gremlin? Have you got the SGC--?"

"It's Grodin...and I have Dr. Weir on the radio." He handed over a unit to Rodney, eyebrows arching as Kavanagh tried to reach for it first.

"This is McKay. Your Colonel just vanished--"

"Dr. McKay, we've had a message from Dr. Jackson. The Asgard have beamed him up to their ship currently orbiting the planet."

"The Asgard! Oh. Well, that's...that's good then."

"Thank you for your swift contact. I'm sure if it had been anything or anyone else snatching the Colonel then time would have been a critical factor."

"Yes, well. It was like coming home to find the Da Vinci missing from the wall."

Weir chuckled softly. "I'm sure Colonel O'Neill will be warmed by your concern... and his worth."

"I didn't mean....Well, actually I did but--"

"I'm sorry, Dr. McKay, but I have more pressing matters awaiting me."

"Oh." With the Asgard overhead and a contingent of Goa'uld System Lords at the SGC, even Rodney could understand Weir's preoccupation. He only wished he and his people had been able to offer some better news concerning the outpost and its defense capabilities but, without O'Neill in the chair, nothing worked. The Ancient technology remained stubbornly inactive.

Weir signed off and Rodney handed the radio unit back to Grodin ignoring Kavanagh who was fuming next to him, with arms crossed and lips thinned into an even tighter line. "You had no right to take control like that. I should have been the one to speak with Dr. Weir."

"Oh please, if I'd waited for you, O'Neill would have been halfway across the galaxy by the time you picked up the phone."

Kavanagh stepped in closer, right into Rodney's personal space, and stabbed Rodney in the chest with a finger, lowering his voice only a fraction but enough that his words would not carry beyond Grodin. "Don't think I don't know what you're doing. I saw Jackson sneaking out of your room last week, and it wasn't for an early morning meeting on Ancient linguistics...though I'm sure a little tongue came into play."

Rodney shoved him back a step, a denial forming on his lips until he realized that he really did not have to care what Kavanagh thought of his sexual proclivities especially as it was none of the man's business. For once, he kept his voice low enough so that it only carried to Kavanagh and Grodin. "First, I'm not American and second, I'm not military. If I want to fuck somebody then I don't have to worry about your moronic government and its petty homosexual issues."

"Maybe you don't, but Jackson does."

Rodney knew that was intended as a threat, possibly as a means of blackmailing Rodney into letting Kavanagh take the lead position on this site but Rodney had been intimidated by the best and unless Kavanagh was about to draw knives and threaten him with actual physical harm then Rodney really did not give a damn. Instead he shook his head and aimed his most disdainful and pitying look on Kavanagh.

"Jackson isn't military either. If he wants to fuck me or anyone else then that's his choice...or maybe we have a little of the green envy here. Maybe you wanted Jackson for yourself." Rodney took on a sly expression. "Or maybe you're after my ass."

Kavanagh lunged at him but Grodin held him back. Face heated with anger, Kavanagh pointed his finger at Rodney again.

"You're a screw up, McKay. Last time it was Russia. Next time they'll exile you off the planet and I'm going to make sure I'm in the gate room to wave you goodbye."

Kavanagh turned on his heel and stormed away. Rodney watched him leave and then shrugged. Maybe Kavanagh was right. Maybe he was a screw-up...and maybe next time they'd exile him to some place like Kelowna to work with the raw Naquadria. As he thought about Jonas Quinn, with his cute smile and even cuter ass, Rodney wondered if that would be all that bad.

***

"Hello? Testing...testing..."

Jack stretched his mind, wondering at the feel of the technology surrounding him. He had already figured that he was interfacing with the computer on-board an Asgard ship but there had to be a live sentient being on the outside. Perhaps Thor. After all, Thor owed him.

"Jack?"

Jack was hard pressed not to ignite the engines and burn all the lights to maximum intensity when he heard a voice penetrating the darkness within his mind. Daniel's voice. The last voice he heard before activating the stasis pod was Daniel's, hearing him say 'goodbye', oh, he knew Daniel was translating his own final words from Ancient but the pain in Daniel's eyes spoke volumes. In those last few seconds, Jack wished he had said something to Daniel, told him how much he meant to him, knowing Daniel would be the only one to understand his words. He could have poured out his heart, quoting Ancient love poems...or simply saying, I love you.

Would it have truly mattered if anyone else had managed to translate his words?

Jack gave a mental sigh that dimmed the lights a fraction. Carter would have cared and it would have been cruel to leave both her and Daniel behind without even each other's comfort. He had not expected to reawaken in their lifetime because he understood the pressure placed on the Asgard to save what was left of their own civilization first. Still, hearing Daniel's voice seemingly only moments after they had said 'goodbye' had filled him with hope. That hope blossomed when he managed to see through the ship's sensors and discovered that only a few months had passed rather than decades. Daniel looked as beautiful now as he had when they said goodbye, with his blue eyes shining, filled with happiness and hope.

The conversation that followed was surreal, and so was his holographic image that could see his real self lying in the pod on Thor's ship. The knowledge of the Ancients slithered through his head but Jack was astounded to realize that, despite his fears on the way to Taonas, his own personality still existed beneath it all, untouched by the streams of data that were exploding like mini-supernovas inside his head. Part of his mind still held onto a small fragment of his humanity and Jack was not surprised to find Daniel standing in that small corner, warm and fragile but infinitely loved by him. It occurred to him that even when he was in the stasis chamber, supposedly in domata - in sleep - a tiny percentage of his mind had been aware of Daniel whenever he drew close. He had sensed another too; another person who watched over him with such care and attention but the knowledge of that other was slowly drowning beneath the tsunami of facts flowing over him from the Ancient repository. Thor was trying to compensate, trying to hold back the flood of knowledge that threatened to crush his body and mind but Jack could feel the pressure building.

What he did see now was Thor's fear for his people. He perused the ship's logs in milliseconds and knew what he had to do, his mind turning swiftly to the weapon designed to disrupt the bond between replicator blocks. As his mind worked, utilizing the Daniel Jackson's computer to build the weapon virtually, Jack became ever aware of the stress upon his living body. He was running out of time and, as much as he wanted to help Thor, the thought of dying and of leaving Daniel alone, was too hard to contemplate. Part of him cursed the US military regs that had kept him silent for all these years while another part of him cursed the hero-worship in Carter's eyes that had made it near impossible for him to show how much Daniel meant to him.

He felt his mind slipping away even as he worked frantically on the device that would save Thor's people, aware that there was no emergency backup copy of his mind that could be reloaded into his body. Once the Ancient knowledge consumed what was left of him then it was all over... Sayonara... Goodnight, Vienna.

He could feel Thor moving swiftly through the pathways, stunned at knowing he... it had decided that Jack was more important than the knowledge contained within his brain, knowledge that would save the Asgard race. Racing against the clock, Jack stretched out his mind and completed the design even as his thoughts were ripped away from the Daniel Jackson's computer and back into his own head. He tried to keep hold of the most precious thoughts, tried to hold onto some of the incredible knowledge but...

Jack groaned, his head pounding, filled with a sense of claustrophobia as if his mind was too small and too tightly held within his body. His memory was cloudy and events moved too fast after that, with battles on an alien world and finding Carter alive and unharmed. Once more he had to submerge the desire and need for Daniel, pushing it deep within his psyche where he could keep it safe... and keep Daniel safe until the time came when he could reveal how much this one man meant to him.

Even that was not to be.

As he fingered the single star now adorning his uniform, Jack understood how hard it was to be the one who waited behind as the Stargate closed behind the departing team. With a single step, Daniel was half a galaxy away and Jack wondered if he had made a big mistake in accepting promotion when he ought to have accepted retirement. Except he could tell by the gleam in Daniel's eyes that Daniel was not quite finished with saving the galaxy yet and, weird though it seemed, neither was he.

THE END