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We Play Only For Keeps

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Death was white and antiseptic.

By now, Jack knew better than to struggle within it's grasp. He 'lay' still-- though he had no body with which to do so– forcibly patient. Naturally terrified.

Don’t fear the reaper, Sara used to sing off key, when they were young and she smelled as much of her occasional fine and smoky high as she did of that washed out flower scent that came in later years. Or maybe he had that confused with something (someone?) else.

Come on, baby, take my hand.


A hand held out, offering. A palm with lines familiar to him, with a scar on the thumb from some too-sharp artifact, and a little pale band of absence around the ring finger.


That’s where the fear was, in that hand, lurking somewhere beyond the endless, depth-less white sea Jack found himself in. He’d been dead enough times, he was actually rather relieved; there were so many other, more horrible vistas etched into his mind. But then he thought of Charlie, poor little Charlie waking up in this milky, ivory nothing, and it seemed terrible simply because of it’s emptiness.


He waited.

With the Noks, he remembered also lying in this place. Thinking; isn’t this when I see my loved ones, isn’t this when Charlie scampers up to me out of that movie-style glittering fog and tells me it’s all right and he loves me and now I can be his father again?



The calm receded, and Jack found ‘himself’ moving, twisting somehow, because there were now shadows and depth to the white place. No longer a place but still not a prison; stop off point to somewhere. Out on the field, in Iraq, death had been permanent, you bite the bullet and that’s it, shit out of luck. If they got you, they got you– best to go down fighting, and if your friend falls into that dirty sand right next to you, just hope to God or Whatever that he’s in a better place. That was just one world, small and two-dimensional and somehow infinitely trivial in hindsight. Because there was the Gate, yes, and atoms pulled apart, rearranged light-years away. Who knew if there was a God, but there were _gods_; cruel, uncaring and decadent, shedding human bodies as one sheds clothes. Burrowing in, under the skin, around the spinal chord until a person is no longer a person but just an empty container to be filled.

Damned snakes.

//snake in the grass. snake in the garden//



//You’re in Ra’s throne room, watching those cold child eyes measure you, but also that hideously old thing behind them. Hands tied behind your back and your knees against the cold stone floor, but you look away, look over. There is the Boy (you’ve been calling him that, privately; your mind jeers– The Boy Wonder, Kid Genius, Mini Einstein well where have you damned got us now?) he's kneeling beside you, head bent as though in prayer. His glasses hang precariously to their perch, and you’re thinking of his face in the briefing room that day, talking about chevrons and aliens and his gateway to the stars.

Ra speaks, but you haven’t really heard him– no matter, it’s in his eyes, beyond language and symbols cut crudely into stone. Your body moves the way it's been trained, swift, down low-- you have the weapon in you hand but you can only fire it crudely.

And then…


You should be watching this in slow motion, you think, but it’s all too fast and the Boy lays before you– he jumped in front of you!-- energy eating a hole in his stomach as it crackles, black, purple and blue. Flesh isn’t supposed to look like that, you’ve never seen flesh look like that, and suddenly you’re sitting up in bed, months later and all you want to do is die. There it is– your hand dives under the pillow to find it, the handgun, same one that killed Charlie. You touch it like a lover, soft hands, gentle, thinking about the knew silencer you bought for it and the sweet promises it makes, shining in the dim light from the hallway like that.

Damn you, Boy.

Yeah, because you’re wondering what the hell the Boy was thinking, taking the so-called bullet like that, when his life is obviously worth much more than yours. You know a little about Egypt; you think about your heart weighted against a feather and your soul tumbling down. It’s no good, it’s no good– because even if the Boy cheated death as well as time and space, well, who are you to end the gift he gave you?

Strange boy, off a million stars away, under the hot desert sun with a wife he can just barely talk to.




The fear came back, lacing along that emotion, that affection Jack had for his younger friend, because something was wrong and this death was transitory. Why, oh, why couldn’t he just be _over_ with it already!?

(I planned to die today.)


// Yes! The handgun, Charlie’s gun (sick, sick association there, but it’s true), a firm weight at your side as you stand in the foyer. The walls are high and echo every sound, but you look at the flowers arranged on the table. All colors, but only one you see; red like wine, red like blood pouring out of that little boy body and onto the bedroom carpet. Red like the tulips Sara threw over the casket as it was lowered into the ground.

(Don't you bury my boy, don't you dare! He'll be all alone under the ground.)

They thought he'd been drunk at the funeral, but he'd never seen anything more clearly than those crimson flowers leading Charlie's way down.//



Jack did not wake up from death– it wasn’t a dream, wasn’t that easy to escape. He held onto it, was pulled through anyway, passing through the eye of the needle and into the place he’d left behind.

A voice said, softly, "Jack."

Hand held out,

"Three to one odds, Jack."

"You never were that bright."

A smile that used to be for joy, for new discoveries, for Sha’uri’s sweet memory and sometimes, with enough work and kindness, sometimes for Jack.

And it is for Jack, it _is_, and oh God or gods or whatever! It would be easier if it was gone all together because--

"It's like cutting your enemy's heart out with a scalpel."

"You’re assuming this isn’t what I wanted all along."

Daniel! Daniel, DON’T!



* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *



"I’m right here, Jack."

This place was also white, curved like a tub or a cradle after birth. Reborn; the word shifted under and around Jack’s mind while the clean sky pulled away. Like a coffin.

"Damn," he swore religiously, trying to sit up in the sarcophagus, only to find that the air itself seemed to hold him down. Unwillingly, he collapsed back into the basin, and his hand went of it’s own avail to the bullet hole that should have been burned through his head.

//Like father, like son.//


His vision moved from void to perception of dusk-- there was a window, scant blue light falling in patterned squares on the floor, scattering down the set of steps that led up to a terrace. The doors were iron-barred from the inside. Slowly, Jack brought his hands up to grasp is temples, shuddering as much from the reality he found himself in as from the physical pain. The skin under his fingers was unmarred save by the small, new roughness. A little dent in the temple, harmless, just a scar.

//you hear the crack, like thunder like a whip like the world being uprooted//

The casualness of his healing was frightening.

"What--" he began.

"What happened?" Daniel's voice was soft and ought to have echoed in the large room. As it was, the words seemed flat and small, meant just for Jack. "You were shot. It's been taken care of."



// Yes, standing in that damned control room-- no, throne room. Daniel had lounged so regally in that chair, a wave of his hand followed by fire and destruction. A man made God, all science and logic and no heart.

(Don't lie to yourself, Jack. Logic and science have no need of gods, snake or otherwise. Daniel was so sure, his blue eyes so determined to save his people...)

Daniel made a motion with his hands, said the word.

And light rained down on that city on the other side of the world, so bright as to annihilate everything in a shuddering instant.

Jack had merely stood and watched, with a feeling of slow and creeping awe, a horror so great it ate his soul and coughed it up, eager to devour again. The target had been destroyed, and, somewhere in the back of his mind, Jack heard his Daniel crying out, saying that it wasn't a target but a city full of people. Living, breathing-- and Jack strode forward, hands out, with no idea what those hands intended to do once they touched the younger man.

They never got the chance.//



"Moscow," Jack said presently, as if the word had been gut-punched from him.

"Gone," a shuddering breath from Daniel, "I ordered international aid to the city, but the death toll is high." A beat, branches brushed against the window, rattling glass, and Jack forced himself to sit up despite the liquid metal that seemed to compose his bones. "I warned them."

"You make it sound like it's not your fault," Jack said quietly.

"It's not." He could just see Daniel's easy shrug of the shoulders, though the younger man was somewhere off in the dark corners, "I tried to be reasonable."

"Damn it, Danny," the Colonel paused, dropped the endearment off his tongue as though it burned. Wondered why he was using it now. "Those were people. You killed _people_."


// Hands out, in the control room, walking towards Daniel. Reason failed and guns failed but man's foundation is the baser indistinct; it wove in and under Jack's spine, hate as strong as the tender sorrow that matched it. Maybe Jack was just going to shake some sense into the other man-- as if it takes as little as all that!-- or maybe he was going to close his fingers over the slim flesh of his best friend's neck and squeeze, harsh and sweet until there was that last shuddering breath and the death-shudder and then he would hold that limp body and weep.

Daniel watched him from the throne, unconcerned, almost beckoning.

Jack did not remember hearing the bullet fire-- it seemed to be anti-sound, operating on some higher frequency-- but he felt the impact against his skull. Reeling backwards, he would have surprised himself with his continued consciousness, but the pain burned across the landscape of his mind like a nuclear sunset. He stumbled back, watching the expression on Daniel's face until he fell, and then there were strange hands on his body. A girl technician; he was bleeding all over her and she was screaming, trying to catch him out of sheer habit, obeying the roar of Daniel's voice. He couldn't understand the words, just emotions-- anger, fear and something

(no don't think about that damn you)

else. Jack caught a flash of himself in console screen, in the girl's silver necklace as she shook her head wildly. Through the rain of her dark hair, he saw Daniel; saw Daniel tall and menacing like every beast in every story, every Goa'uld he'd ever fought, and every closet monster Charlie had ever been afraid of.

Two guards had fired on him, one male and one female-- Daniel held one jaw in each hand, the ribbon device crackling over the bodies with wild electricity. The flesh and bone seemed to melt, until one culprit was indistinguishable from another and they looked anything but human.

"Did I tell you to shoot?! Did I give you an order?!" Someone was shouting. "You brought harm to him-- you are _worthless_." The bodies fell, lifeless rags, and Jack wondered why he wasn't dead yet. //


"Come _on_, Jack," there was a stir, somewhere off and away. Jack saw the young archeologist sitting on the stairs, knees drawn up to his chest with the squares of light falling past him. "People individually are smart. People together are stupid-- you know that. I _gave_ academia their damned proof of the Goa'uld influence on Earth and that practically stuck their fingers in their ears!"

"So you blew them up?" He tossed the words like a weapon.

Daniel's glasses flashed briefly as he raised his head, catching fractured light. "I'm doing what's right. You'll see. I'm going to protect the people of Earth from those snakes."




The colonel's hands tightened on the sides of the sarcophagus. Sitting back on his haunches, he heaved himself out, gravity pulling him in woozy circles as he tried to stand. "Who---" but then Daniel's arms were around him, supporting him.

"Shh," the younger man eased, "Take it easy, remember? You gave this thing a work out." Briefly, not briefly enough, Jack leaned against Daniel, allowed his head to dip into the cradle of his friend's neck and shoulder, breathed in warmth and familiar smell. Daniel's hold on him tightened, and so did the embrace; Jack pushed himself back violently back against the coffin, eyes wide.

"Who's going to protect them from you, huh?" he asked, shaking, "Who's gonna protect the Earth from the wacko linguist who thinks he has all the answers?"

"I do have the answers. Shifu gave them to me." Daniel's eyes were a clear and unclouded blue-- no flash of gold, no booming voice, just all Daniel. A little hurt, patient that Jack would see his point eventually, and somehow deeply fond. The older man looked away and swallowed hard. "How else are we going to defeat the snakes, unless we their own weapons on them? That's what SGC was about-- finding their technology."


// The sarcophagus.

Somehow, he could see himself on the gurney and then in Daniel's arms as the other man carried the corpse to the open coffin. Gently, with infinite care, Daniel lowered the body in, and that was Jack's blood-- red-brown on the young man's hands

--Ha ha! Poetic justice; blood on Danny's hands!--

"It's all right," Daniel pressed his lips to the gaping wound on Jack's temple, "It'll be all right, Jack. Danny's got you. It's okay-- you'll be fine. I won't let you go. I've got you."

And even before the lid closed over Jack's still body, he was already trapped.//


"In case you haven't noticed," Jack snapped, pushing back pathetically when Daniel moved to touch him again, "There weren't any Goa'uld in Russia. Period. End of statement."

"You're angry with me," Daniel said calmly, heaving a resigned sigh despite his tones. His smile was small and apologetic as he stepped forward, trapping Jack between the instrument of his death and the tool of his resurrection. The young man's hands were gentle as he touched Jack, tracing delicately against the colonel's arms before clasping behind his neck. The embrace was sudden, fierce and warm; Jack found his lips pressed against Daniel's hair. "You're angry and you may not forgive me," his friend said with certainty, "but I've still got you. You still love me." Childlike, a statement of fact. Something that wasn't quite fear coiled in Jack's hand as it came up to push the other man away. Traitorous, it did not obey his orders-- it simply lay against Danny's chest, feeling a heartbeat Jack wished to God wasn't there.

"Don't say that word." Defensively, Jack closed his eyes because he knew everything was being laid bare. His tone took on just a slight, knifelike edge. "No, I never said anything about... that. Don't know where you're getting it from. Never once said that word." He was too weak

//spirit is willing but the flesh is; flesh is willing but the spirit is//

to push Daniel away.

"No, you never said love," a hand came up to cup his face as the archeologist led Jack towards a small couch. "You were the only real friend I ever had."

"Yeah, 'were'," the soldier ground out miserably. The lie seemed to pull back his tongue, stick in his throat and cling. "S'long as we're on the same page, here."

"Not yet," the other man said with fond indulgence. "I'm going to get the doctor, all right?" the voice was kind and comforting-- good old Danny-- "I know you don't like them, but this one has orders not to give you trouble, and I want to make sure you're all right. We shouldn't even be up here, but there wasn't time to move the sarcophagus down to the bunker. We're just waiting for three countries to surrender, but it never hurts to be careful. It'll be okay." Jack closed his eyes against the gentle fingers that traced his lips, "You'll see." Then, so close he didn't so much hear the words as he did feel each syllable brush his lips, "And, about that word, Jack? You will, because you really already do."


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *



It seemed to Jack that time was on his shoulders-- he could feel each passing minute slip against his skin. Intellectually, he realized he was spiraling from incoherent to downright delirious, but that too fell away. Laying with his cheek against the couch cushions, the soldier listened to his body ache. One moment, his bones and tendons seemed to throb with eager energy, the next they only lay dull, aching and tired.

"Damn coffins," Jack spat as the world began to shiver and shake around him, axis completely random and dizzying. He felt a hand on his arm and made an attempt to jerk up, collapsing again when he saw shadows thrown over an unfamiliar face. The hand on his arm was firm, but it did nothing to steady the crazy tilt on the floor, and Jack glared at it resentfully. "What the hell did you do to me?"

"Dr. Jackson informed me that he modified the sarcophagus to work on those not parasitically infested, with out the danger of addiction," the voice was dry, male, and somehow a little young. The doctor removed his hand swiftly, as if just realizing where he had placed it, and continued, "In order to ensure your safety in the long-run, the immediate side effects will be apparently more intense than what you're used to."

"Thanks," Jack rolled his eyes, "I hadn't noticed."

A beat. "You will allow me to help you sit up, sir?" The honorific seemed to lodge in Jack's ears, increasing the pressure of his headache. As he managed to right himself, he saw the doctor more clearly-- yes, a younger man, seemingly fresh out of medical school and filled with nervous energy.


The overhead lights flickered on without warning, making everything entirely too stark and real.

"For crying out loud," the Colonel hissed, hands raised defensively to cover his eyes. Even his own voice increased the vibrating pound against his skull. "Ah, my head."

"I _am_ sorry, sir," the doctor stressed, cold stethoscope touched to hear O'Neill's heartbeat.

//think about that, eh? focus on your heart, the aorta, the ventricle. not like it's got skin, you can't feel it, so how do you know it's there?//

Jack was frankly surprised he could feel the chill at all.

"Stop 'sir'-ing me," he said as the doctor moved on to take his blood-pressure, "I'm obviously a prisoner, so treat me like one." For just a second, the air was suffused with Iraqi heat, and someone was laughing with the irony of it all.

"But you're not," the young man seemed surprised, but also loathe to speak, "a prisoner, I mean."

A snort, "I'm being kept here against my will-- what else would you call that?" No answer, merely the quick pinch of a needle, drawing a sample of blood. Taking a breath past the lump in his throat, Jack tried something else, "Where's Shifu?"

The doctor blinked, "Beg pardon?"

"Shifu, the kid," Jack made a motion with his hands, "'bout yeh high, looks kind of like a miniature Buddha? Seen him?"

"Dr. Jackson's ward," the other man clarified, "I suppose?"

"You _suppose_?" O'Neill drew in a breath to form his words, then stopped. Instead, he pinched out, "Alright. Different track. What the hell is going on here?"

"I'm checking to ensure the... sarcophagus has properly repaired you."

Jack shivered, "I _mean_--"

"Yes, yes, I know what you meant," the young doctor looked distinctly uncomfortable, "Ah..."


"Will you just tell me?" Jack shoved at the other man as he pressed a hand to his temple. Skittering back on the floor, the doctor look peculiarly like a mouse, sitting on his hunches and groping with blind hands for his bag.

"Well," the voice shook, "Dr. Jackson is something of the unofficial global ruler at the moment-- Japan put up a bit of a fuss, but they fell in line too. You wouldn't believe how quickly China caved, but-- ah, they had pretty good seats for the whole Moscow show, so I guess they got the picture. I think India was the last to register their unconditional surrender."

"God," it couldn't be a prayer, because the Colonel no longer knew how to pray. "Danny..."

The doctor spoke more quickly now, "Dr. Jackson is mostly concerned with Earth's defense at the moment... he's pretty much letting governments continue as is, nominally democratic and all that--" Something snapped, but the sound was that of Jack pounding his fist into his hand. He rose, fighting the vertigo and currents of air that seemed to be at hurricane gale.


//--just get out. just run, jack--

except danny's still here, got to get him out, there's a _thing_ in him I know it I know he couldn't wouldn't would never do this on his own.

a snake has gotten into him. got to be it. snake in the grass, snake in the garden. snake wrapped around the tree, eyes flashing gold (Goa'uld), saying take from the fruit of knowledge and come to understand.

"You’re assuming this isn’t what I wanted all along."

My Danny wouldn't...

(and in the back of his mind, there's a traitorous whisper.

Yes... Danny would.)//


Someone was shouting-- it was Jack, pushing aside the frightened doctor, stumbling against the sarcophagus, bracing his hands against anything he could to try and stop the world's endless tilting. He made it into the hallway, saw the darkness stretching in both directions.

(Alright. I need to orient myself. Find an exit. Hopefully not the primary one, 'cause that's where they're gonna look first)

He turned a corner, hitting the wall with his shoulder as he forced his feet work. A little further a long, he realized the corridor was angled ever-so-slightly down hill.

(Probably goes down to the bunker. Bad idea.)

Turning around, his blood was pumping faster now, cleaning out his system. There were stairs leading up, and the laws of gravity seemed determined to keep him from scaling them-- he climbed anyway, hands gripping the rail with pain.

(If the guards come from behind, best to try and make it all the way up anyway.)

He thought he heard voices, but they echoed and floated about without any real origin.

(If they come from in front, I'll jump over the rail. Probably a bad idea in my condition. Oh, well.)

Reaching the top of the steps, he rested briefly against the wall, before heading towards the wide window at the end of the hall. Behind those glass panes, the world was all night and wind.

(If they come from either side, I'll try and rush them, I guess. Don't think that's going to work. Break through the window? Worth a shot... dead meat anyway)

There was a shadow, a hole in the air now-- the shape of a man outlined by the window.

(If they stop me outside...)

"Jack." No, not a hole-- not emptiness, but that which filled the emptiness; Daniel, hands in his pockets, smiling with affection and benign frustration. "Where are you going, Jack?"

O'Neill tried to turn around, about face and go the other way, but his feet kept stumbling ahead with self-destructive determination. Tiredness crept into his bones, washed the fear from his mind and now the world wasn't so much tilting as it was in slow motion.

"Come here, Jack," a boyish grin, "I'm not going to hurt you."


"No," but he was still going forward. No, but maybe yes, because he was so damn exhausted and he _knew_ he was delirious, hallucinating, maybe. He was probably somewhere in the mountain, wandering around like a madman, sleep-walking-talking-living his nightmare. Because really, Danny wouldn't do those things; there he is, probably just wanted to take the Colonel back to Janet's clutches, right, yeah. Stumbling, Jack found himself once more in Daniel's embrace, felt the other man smile widely as he pressed his lips against the soldiers neck. And even though he was terrified, he was also warm and safe

//that's a laugh! RUN!//

but he didn't want to. He was thinking about the snake in the garden, coiled with inner strength, just the way Danny held his wrist and wrapped his arms around O'Neill's frame. As it was, he barely felt the faint prick of the needle, because the midnight and Daniel's arms were closing in around him.



* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Jack dreamt, woke, and woke again unto infinity-- trapped.

Janet Fraiser's visage swam before him briefly, filled with delicate fissures like ice ready to crack. The infirmary, then-- just an assumption on his part, but the white around him refused to focus into any one set of surroundings. He reached out blindly, grabbed her arm and saw his own panic mirrored in her brown eyes. She was calling out, saying 'Daniel, he's awake now', but Jack drove out a harsh hiss so she could hear him.

"Get me out of here."

But he could read it in her face that she didn't understand.

Daniel's voice was humming along Jack's collar bone, the younger man's lips pressing kisses and breathing words there, soft and possessive. The Colonel thrashed, tangled hopelessly in the sheets and in Daniel's determined arms.

"What--" he gasped out, hand reaching out to touch where the mattress ended and dropped off into nothing. "What are you going to do?"

"Jack." Though it was dark in the room, Daniel's face was perfectly visible, somehow so familiar that O'Neill's mind filled in the spaces where the shadows fell. "Is that what you think of me?" Daniel's hands cupped Jack's cheeks, soft but with steal underneath.

Without thinking, the soldier said, "Don't. Daniel, don't... please." He waited for the gold to flash in his friend's eyes, but there was only blue there, spreading out forever until the horizon was indistinguishable from the sky.

"I'd never hurt you," it was a child's voice, and Jack could just almost see only-just-grown young man with wide glasses and unruly hair. In the desert, Abydos, he remembered, seeing the young husband Daniel had become, so at home and as if he'd never been met for Earth at all. Scant hours later, that same man sat on Jack's couch, eyes far away and lost because all he'd known had been ripped out from under him yet again.

"You have to stop this--" O'Neill bit out as Daniel traced a single finger down his cheek.

//if i drown in this sweet need, then who will rescue you, huh? who will stop you from killing yourself bit by bit with another Moscow?//

"This isn't you, Danny, I know you--"

Lips touched lips, Daniel spoke into the connection 'not as well as you think' and the kiss melted into something else all together.

A crazy canvas, all harsh lines and bizarre angles-- a maniac's illustration, only vaguely resembling reality. Never the less, there were triangles of long grass, the jagged cylinder of a tree; the fruit dangled ripe and just barely yellow from it's too-thick, too-thin branches.

(Of course they're yellow-- not red, not apples. Daniel once told me that it couldn't have been an apple, there aren't any in the middle east, so it must have been an apricot or something, if it happened at all.)

The lines jumped-- infantile animation-- until the Goa'uld appeared, slithered to wrap sensually around the tree. The shift was sudden, abstract to impressionist, and Jack saw everything in careful, realistic detail as Daniel reached up to touch the orbs of yellow, hanging like the moon just out of reach.


And then, then he was wakeful and warm, with Daniel's head pillowed on his shoulder. Absently, the young man traced crazy, illogical patterns across Jack's chest. Content-- this made no sense, couldn't be happening, this must be a dream-- Jack kissed his friend's forehead, traced his hands down to the small of Daniel's back and traced each ivory knot of his spine with loving detail.

//you're forgetting something, here//

Sleepily, Daniel shifted to look into O'Neill's eyes-- there seemed to be a flash of quicksilver in those blue eyes, some knowledge that was essentially Daniel but ought to be locked away. It was gone just as fast, and the younger man was smiling so widely, with a chuckle-- almost a giggle-- sounding way back in his throat.

"What's so funny, huh?" Jack asked, throwing a leg over Daniel's hip to trap him more closely.

"Nothing," Daniel closed his eyes, but the smile was still there, and he said, "You'll see."

Which made Jack remember and truly wake up.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Alone, Jack pushed himself savagely off the bed, his feet touching on the cold metal floor. The light around him was dim and artificial-- he found his clothes on a table in the corner and pulled them on, eager to have something between his skin and the world. Out of the corner of his eye, he gazed on the bed-- which was large and sheeted in gray, the cloth and pillows indented by bodies curled together. Buttoning the last notch on his shirt, Jack used his free hand to toss the comforter up over those shapes-- it was all perspective, could be anything.


Empty, his stomach muscles tightened and attempted to feed on themselves-- he tried to remember the last meal he'd had, to call some taste other than the vague tang of sleep to his tongue. An orange, he thought, and a bagel, right before he'd gone to see Sam.

//her blue eyes were so dull and frightened. she was pleading with him, but somewhere in her lithe form she'd already given up. she was curling in on herself, shaking with medication.//

It occurred to Jack that his former 2IC was probably dead, and though his hunger turned to sickness, he couldn't find it in himself to be surprised.


He was surprised to find the door unlocked. Guards lined the hall line silent sentinels-- their uniforms unfamiliar, crisp and professional, but also vaguely reminiscent of Jaffa. Jack felt their eyes on him, briefly, but they made no move to stop him.

"Morning, boys," he said, tossing the words lightly. No response, and the colonel continued down the corridor, pausing now and again to look back at what should have been his captors.

//they are//

"Right," he said vaguely as he climbed a set of stairs, then another he remembered from the night before, "This is registering pretty high on the weird-meter, even for me." There-- that was the same window from his failed escape attempt-- Jack realized with some relief that he was above ground now. The relief grew into discomfort, like a clinging vine.

//you ran to him. you were trying escape but you ran to _him_//

It couldn't be true, but in a way it was. Jack drew in a breath and held it, wondering blandly why he'd ever thought a simple handgun, even _that_


hand gun would work. But it had been in his hand, retrieved from the safe-box under his bed-- he'd touched it as he called for clearance to visit Sam, thought of himself and Daniel and so many small moments that snowballed in his mind until he'd felt dizzy with it.


In the wide dinner hall, Jack found Shifu sitting at one end of the long cherry table, almost lost amongst the massive architecture. The young boy dangled his legs from the chair, kicking absently as he pushed the soggy rolls of his breakfast cereal into groups according to color.

"Hiya, Kiddo," Jack greeted, rounding the table and carefully avoiding the ring-transporter.

"Morning to you, Colonel O'Neill," Shifu raised his eyes briefly, before he continued herding his fruit-loops and eyeing them with vague suspicion. "You are well?"

"I guess," Jack shrugged, pulling out a chair and straddling it backwards. "I mean, my best friend just blew up Moscow and took over the world without batting an eyelash, but I guess as most things go, I'm fine. You know, still got my health, probably got my sanity-- though that bit is touch and go at the moment-- and, ah, I don't have a snake in my head. So yeah, I'm fine. You?"

"I am as I always am," the boy replied, face blank.

"Yeah, kiddo," the Colonel looked over his shoulder, glancing out the picture window towards the few dozen soldiers clustered out on the lawn. "That was deep."

"There was an attempted attack on the compound early this morning," Shifu intoned with careful attention to detail, "by one of your countries possessing nuclear capabilities. They did not penetrate the shields Doctor Jackson and Major Carter designed-- Dr. Jackson has responded with deadly force."

"God dammit," the soldier rested his head in his hands, looking up in surprise when Shifu tapped him on the shoulder. The little boy held out a handful of dry cereal, the look on his face a little hopeful despite the fact he did not smile. "Um, thanks," Jack popped a few colored rings in his mouth, grimacing at the excess sugar. Without thinking, he reached for a cup of apple juice, looking sheepish once he'd taken a sip. "Sorry."

"I was not using it," Shifu said, "You should eat. Breakfast is important. You did not sleep well last night."

"Bad dreams," the man waved his hand casually, as if to cast them aside.

"Dreams teach."

"Yeah, well, if this is a dream, I would really like to wake up right about now."

"It's not a dream." For the first time, the boy's voice seemed to hold a tone of regret, "I gave Dr. Jackson a dream, but he did not learn. He did not listen."

"Danny's pretty bad at following orders," Jack forced himself to laugh a little, because it was entirely preferable to his other option of screaming until his voice was raw.

"Telling tales now, Jack?" It was Daniel's voice, low and quiet but ringing anyway-- O'Neill felt his body jerk without meaning to. Turning, he saw only Daniel peering over his glasses, smiling faintly.

"Just talk'n' to the kid," Jack set his teeth together, glancing between his changed friend and the boy who'd brought about the metamorphosis.

"Shifu," Daniel said dismissively, "I do believe I'll borrow Jack for a while." He turned without waiting for a response, and Shifu only nodded, anyway. Slowly, feeling his age in his knees, Jack climbed to his feet, meeting Daniel's gaze when the younger man glanced impatiently over his shoulder. "Come on, Jack."

"Alright, already. Geeze." Then they were standing shoulder to shoulder, and the world dissolved into a brief nothing that had no color.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


"You know, I really hate it when you do that," Jack said, blinking the world back into being as the ring ascended. The bedroom again, and he took several steps away from Daniel before he decided he didn't want to give the impression of retreat.

"I know," Daniel grinned cheekily. He took a seat on the bed, hand making a motion to beckon Jack to join him. The space remained empty as Jack locked his knees and stood his ground.

"Ah," Jack gestured helplessly, "There was something you wanted?"

"Yes, actually," Daniel leaned back, eyeing the older man lazily, "to be perfectly honest, _you_." Someone made a sound half between a choking gasp and a cry of pain-- Jack blinked, feeling his vocal chords pluck without his conscious command.

"I tried to kill you," O'Neill said, and there was a door shutting inside him so that he could only speak with calm reason.


//Danny. Kind hands, soft smell. Danny who can't possibly be here doing these things to me, but then it must be him because it could only be him...//

"No, you didn't," Daniel closed his eyes briefly, "I asked you before why you thought you could get a gun through security without being detected. You didn't get away with it, and you knew it. You knew I had all the Goa'uld technology at hand-- you came here knowing you would fail."

"Then why come at all?" Jack asked, as much of Daniel as of himself, loathe to admit the truth collecting behind his lungs.

"You still think this isn't me, this isn't what I want," Daniel's voice was even, but his lip curled in a very brief sneer-- the face of someone who'd suffered too much taken from him and refused to allow it anymore. Serenely enraged, passionately tranquil and holding on tight.

"Why would you want this, Danny?" Jack stressed, "You always wanted to help people. You and your peaceful explorer bit."

Daniel raised an eyebrow, "You can only turn your cheek so much, Jack. I've been slapped one too many times." He sounded somehow like Shifu. Knowledgeable, regretful, but resigned. "I'm tried of playing by the rules when trying to get people to listen to me. I can do it this way, now. Shifu gave me the knowledge, but it was my choice what to do with it."

"So, you don't hear Apophis' voice telling you what to do?" the Colonel asked dryly.

"No," the young man snorted, "and I don't hear my neighbor's dog, either. I know what Apophis knew, but it's like reading a book. Just raw information. I can see the bigger picture, now."

"Why haven't you killed me yet?" Jack's voice was hard and quick, the desperation in in surprised even himself. Daniel stood, came to clasp Jack's hands, drawing the older man back towards the bed.

"Why would I do that?"

"I tried to kill you."

"You keep saying that," Daniel placed a hand on Jack's cheek, but the brown eyes looked away-- to the floor, to the ceiling, finally retreating behind closed eyelids. He leaned in gently, kissed the older man's ear, cheek to cheek and whispered, "It's not true, you know. You didn't come here to kill me. You knew you couldn't stop me. You came here to surrender."

"No!" Jack managed, words cutting through the haze of affection and want. Then, more softly, like something fading, "No..."

"Yes," kisses along his jaw, "It's just me, Jack. I've loved you just as long as you've loved me. It's alright."

"That word again," O'Neill muttered in half misery, aware that he and Daniel were now a tangle of arms and legs and touch on the edge of the bed.

"Yes," Daniel's eyes were so blue when he smiled like that, "That word. I love you, Jack."

//no snake, just the garden and the tree of knowledge of good and evil and-- what's the other one?-- eternal life. just daniel, and his eyes put the sky to shame as he slippes from beneath the shade, hand held out, offering...//

Daniel kept saying it, that word, a heated whisper/vibration against Jack's skin, and the whole notion was closing around Jack like warm water. He slipped deeper, part of him screaming that he might not be able to fight back up, take another breath, and the another crooning to see how deep he could go.

//Shifu! Shifu, I want to wake up now!

"I love you, Jack."

Do you, do you really want to wake up?//

"I couldn't be like this without you, Jack. I need you-- not going to let you go. Now," Daniel's hands were kind but insistent, "tell me the truth."

"I..." if only it was a drug, some pink-sparkle poison, some foreign microchip in his head. No such luck

//jokes on you, jack//

because the truth was given freely as it was the only thing that was real. "I do love you." Unable to choke the words down, he bit with kind savagery into Daniel's shoulder. Possessed-- by a spirit, by a feeling; possessed-- belonging to someone. Possessing in return.

//no matter what warning you have, no matter if you know better-- you'll always take what he offers. because it's his hand held out, you'll take it every time.//


"I do love you, Daniel," and again, and again until it was one long sound. He gathered Daniel up and took what was offered.


The fruit tasted so sweet going down.