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Looking back on things after the dust had settled, Jack figured it was probably just about time for something to go wrong. Life had been wonderful the past few months, since he'd finally admitted to himself, and come to terms with, the fact that he was absolutely crazy in love with Daniel Jackson. For a crusty, hardened military type who swore he was sexually straight, acknowledging that he loved the guy had been tough. He realized he'd treated poor Daniel like shit for far too long because he'd refused to accept how he felt about the young archaeologist. Of course Daniel somehow took that all in stride. Even though he'd never felt an attraction to another man, Daniel seemed to have no problem with Jack's feelings and even welcomed them. Ah...life was good. Then had come P3X-195.

In the pre-mission briefing it seemed a routine enough mission on the surface. MALP telemetry showed a desert-looking environment with the ruins of a small structure an easy distance from the gate with a long, low range of hills in the background. A further UAV survey revealed that if there were any inhabitants they had long since left the area. But information from the MALP indicated traces of naquadah so, of course, they were sent to check it out.

After the team had made a quick survey of the area in and around the small ruin, Jack pronounced the perimeter to be secure and sent Carter and Teal'c to verify the readings and take their samples, while he and Daniel continued to check into the small building. At this announcement the archaeologist tried to race ahead towards the ruin, that glow of delight at possible discoveries on his face. Kind of reminded Jack of the look on Daniel's face when they were alone together, just before ... Jack shook his head. Probably better not to go there right now. Not during a mission.

"Oh... aah...Daniel?" he called out.

The younger man actually paused and looked back. "Jack?"

"Come on, Daniel. You know the rules by now."

Daniel sighed, but waited for Jack to catch up. They both scouted out the few rooms that made up the ruin and all seemed quiet. The colonel kept watch while Daniel poked and prodded around in the various chambers. Jack divided his time between watching for intruders, watching for the return of Carter and Teal'c, and watching Daniel's ass as he dug out his tools and started to investigate with all the enthusiasm of a small child in a candy store, moving about checking out the walls for markings and script.

It seemed to be a fairly typical small temple with an upraised platform in the center of the main room. The raised dais was covered with markings that drew the archaeologist to them immediately.

"Jack, this is amazing. It looks like it might have something in common with Latin." And Daniel promptly forgot about everything else, setting to work translating. After working quietly for a while he suddenly discovered something on the top that really attracted his attention. While he filmed he called Jack over.

"Hey Jack, come over and take a look at this. It appears to be a small cover stone. Look at this inscription. My translation might be a little rough, but it seems to refer to the danger of accepting gifts from the gods that may not be all that they seem from the onset. 'The blessings of the gods are not always what they appear. Be cautious in accepting them, for there may be spurious gifts hidden within.' Pretty weird huh?"

He strolled over to see what Daniel was so excited about. Jack never could get into Daniel's 'rocks,' but hey, love made you do strange things. Like bother to go look at yet another damn pile of rocks. "Okay Daniel, what is it I'm looking at and exactly why is it so important? And 'spurious'?"

"Fake, bogus, false, counterfeit."

"Thanks, Daniel. I know what it means. So what's the big deal?"

"Well Jack, this is kind of unique. In most religions usually gifts or blessings from the gods were something to be sought after. They were generally highly prized by the possessor. In this situation the inscription appears to be a warning of sorts...that not all gifts are what one might wish for."

In an attempt to see the inscription closer, Daniel leaned over the dais, putting some pressure on part of the surface. Jack and Daniel suddenly found themselves bathed in light. They looked around, endeavoring to find the source, when it suddenly increased in intensity to become blinding, almost burning into their brains. Without warning, darkness rushed over them, and they both slowly slid to the ground.

*****

Carter and Teal'c finished collecting their samples and were heading back to the ruin. The collection process had been uneventful and they'd seen no sign of life, plant or animal, since they'd left their team members a few hours earlier. If there was any life on this rock they'd certainly found no trace of it.

As they looked in the direction of the ruin no one was visible outside.

"Major Carter, it appears that O'Neill and Daniel Jackson have taken refuge from the sun."

"Yeah, I guess so Teal'c. Although I'm surprised that the colonel isn't keeping a little closer watch outside, even if it was just from the doorway. It's not like him to be under-cautious."

As they drew closer, Samantha Carter called out to alert them to their presence. "Colonel? Sir? Daniel?" She expected to see one of them come to the entrance, but no one appeared. "Colonel?" she called out again. When she still received no reply Carter looked over at Teal'c and they began to run in the direction of the ruin, concerned over what they might find there.

"Sir?" Carter called out again from the doorway as she adjusted her grip on the P-90 she carried.

Teal'c also aimed his staff weapon and slowly moved into the shade of the ruin. Glancing into the main room, he stopped short as he took in the prone figures of Colonel O'Neill and the archaeologist by the altar stone.

"Major Carter, come quickly. I have found them. They appear to be unconscious. If you will check on them I will endeavor to ensure the other rooms are clear."

Carter rushed into the room, falling to her knees to check for a pulse from each man. She sighed visibly in relief when she determined that both of them were still alive. Their breathing was a little shallow, but steady.

"We appear to be alone here Major Carter. How are O'Neill and Daniel Jackson?"

"They seem to be okay Teal'c - no sign of external injuries, their pulses are steady." She ran her hands over and around their heads. "I can find no sign of head injuries either – no contusions or broken skin. So why the heck are they unconscious?" She chewed briefly on her bottom lip as she considered her options. "Okay, there's no sign of trauma – I think it's safe enough to try to wake them. We should get them back through the gate as soon as we can." As she said this she gave the colonel's arm a shake to see if he would awaken.

O'Neill opened his eyes, looking dazed and disorientated for a moment before he registered surprise at finding himself on the ground next to Daniel. Jack rolled over onto his side and quickly, but gently, shook the younger man, looking relieved when he opened his eyes and looked around trying to figure out what had happened.

"Jack? What just happened?"

"I don't know, Daniel." He quickly scrubbed his hands over his face, trying to pull his thoughts together. "I know my head hurts, though."

Daniel winced in sympathy. "Yeah, me too."

"Sir? What's going on? We returned to the rendezvous at the time we agreed on and found you and Daniel unconscious on the floor. What happened here?"

"I don't really know," Jack and Daniel both responded at the same time.

Daniel went on to explain. "I had just translated a passage of text on the altar stone. I was leaning over to get a better look. Maybe I activated something by the pressure of leaning against the stone? Anyway suddenly Jack and I were enveloped in a bright light and the next thing I remember is you waking us up."

"Sir, Daniel, can you walk? I think we better head back to the gate immediately."

"Of course I can walk Carter. I've got a damn headache, not two busted legs. For god's sake don't hover. Lemme get up."

Jack pulled himself up and held out a hand to Daniel to help him up. Both men swayed slightly as they regained their feet, but remained essentially upright. Jack glanced at Daniel, telegraphed a question with a lift of his brows, and gave a short sharp nod as Daniel shrugged a reply.

"Okay kiddies, let's get back to the good ole' SGC." He sighed audibly with resignation. "I'm sure that Daniel and I are facing an extended check up by the doc after this one. Oh joy."

The return to the gate went without incident and, after a quick check in with Hammond, Jack and Daniel reported to the medical facilities. They filled in Doctor Fraiser on what they recalled of the occurrences on P3X-159, knowing that she was going to subject them to more tests than anyone could possibly imagine. But if they were honest, they really wondered what had happened to them as well.

After being poked and prodded by Doc Fraiser and her staff for over an hour, to her frustration and their relief, she could find absolutely no reason for them to have passed out. All their blood work came back from the lab looking normal. Heart, lungs, reflexes were all fine. She still was waiting on the results of a few more tests but could find no reason not to release them. However, she warned them not to leave the base for now. Not a problem as they still had to report to a debriefing with Carter, Teal'c, and General Hammond.

*****

"So in other words gentlemen, you have no idea why you lost consciousness?" Hammond asked.

"No sir," both Jack and Daniel answered in unison. This caused Major Carter and Teal'c to glance at each other as they realized that this was the second time this had happened in just a few hours. Teal'c raised an eyebrow but made no comment.

"Well, we'll see what the results of the lab tests are on the samples you brought back and I'll decide if the planet warrants further investigation. The team is on stand down status for the time being. Dismissed."

Everyone got up to leave, but Hammond asked Jack and Daniel to remain. With a backward glance at their teammates they quickly sat back down.

"Gentlemen, I'm concerned when two members of my best team lose consciousness on an alien planet."

"So are we, General."

Hammond looked startled as they both answered again in unison, the second time within just a few minutes that this had happened.

Jack and Daniel looked at each other, surprise clearly written on their expressions and then looked back to their superior.

"I have no reason to confine you to the base at this point in time. Doctor Fraiser has told me that she can't find anything wrong. However, should you notice any odd behaviors in the next several hours I expect you to report back here immediately. Have I made myself clear?"

"Yes, sir, crystal," Jack answered. He noticed from the corner of his eye that Daniel almost said something as well, but caught himself.

"All right. Thank you, gentlemen. Dismissed."

With that Jack and Daniel got up and swiftly left the briefing room, concerned that if they dawdled somehow Hammond would find some flimsy excuse to call them back. They decided to both check in at their offices and meet in an hour to go home.

An hour later found them both in Jack's truck on the way to his home. Over the past couple of months Jack's place had sort of turned into home for both of them. Daniel still had his apartment for the sake of appearances, the whole, "Don't ask, don't tell" thing, but Jack's place was home.

"Hey Jack?"

"Hmm?"

"Um...what do you think about what happened on that planet?"

"I can't say, Daniel. I know we were knocked out by something, but I feel fine, you feel fine, and Fraiser at her worst with all her tests didn't turn up a thing. For now I guess I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. Now what do you want to do about dinner? Chinese? Pizza?"

The subject was forgotten as they discussed the possibilities for dinner.

*******

Something was very wrong. Daniel suddenly found himself wide awake, feelings of cold and dread running rampant through his mind. He glanced over at the clock and the digital readout told him it was one forty-nine. He shivered and snuggled closer to Jack, realizing they had been asleep for just a few hours. Daniel tried to determine what had caused him to wake up. Although everything on the surface indicated that he was safe and sound, he still had strong feelings of smothering claustrophobia, darkness, fear and pain. Had he been dreaming? But he couldn't recall anything. Certainly nothing like this.

He realized that Jack seemed to be sleeping restlessly, low, soft moans escaping from him, and Daniel tightened his arms around his sleeping lover, trying to reassure Jack of his presence, even in his sleep. Suddenly the feelings that had woken him intensified, and he broke out in a sweat. He was surrounded by cold blackness, fetid air, and knew that he was trapped in a prison cell in a stronghold somewhere, bound, battered and in pain from the beating he had endured just hours before. But how could this be? Daniel glanced over at the clock one more time to re-affirm that he was still in their bedroom in Jack's home. Yes, two-oh-eight. Just minutes had passed since he checked previously. He was in bed, at home, with Jack, perfectly safe. And Jack was having a bad dream.

Jack was having a bad dream... not him. Jack. And Daniel was somehow picking up on it, somehow seeing what Jack was dreaming – feeling it, anyhow? No, that wasn't possible... was it? Of course it wasn't... just a load of pseudo-psychic mumbo jumbo, probably brought on by too much MSG in that Chinese. But still...

Jack whimpered softly once again in his sleep from the disturbing dream and Daniel decided to wake him to test his hypothesis, prove it wrong, as well as wake his lover from the nightmare.

"Jack?" Daniel whispered softly while gently shaking the other man. "Jack? Wake up."

With a start Jack was instantly awake, almost bolting upright in bed. Only Daniel's arms, wrapped securely around him, prevented that.

"Daniel? What the...? What's going on? Geeze, I was having a really bad dream." Jack rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and reached to turn on the small lamp by the side of the bed, causing both men to blink a little at the sudden brightness.

"Yes, Jack. I realize that. You were tossing around and moaning in your sleep. Want to talk about it?" Daniel hesitated in telling Jack about his suspicions. May be if he could get Jack to talk to him he could find out what he wanted to know without alerting the other man to his thoughts.

"Oh Daniel, ancient history. Stuff from Iraq. Stuff I really would rather not discuss, especially at this time of night. Doesn't usually come back to haunt me in my dreams any longer. Used to have great whopping nightmares when I first returned. They haven't bothered me in a long time though." Jack sighed and tightened his arms around Daniel as he felt traces of fear and dread pass through his younger lover. Then he froze as a sudden intuition hit him.

"Wait a minute! Daniel?" He looked into Daniel's eyes and had his fears confirmed. "Daniel? You felt it," he stated. It was not a question. Jack knew that somehow Daniel was aware of exactly what his dream was about and what he had experienced. Jack didn't even know how he knew this, but he was certain of it.

"Daniel? What's going on? What just happened to us?" Jack almost sounded lost, definitely confused. Daniel could feel a fine tremor running through him.

"I have... no idea. Still, whatever it was, it's over now. You're okay, I'm okay, we're at home in our own bed. Ssh now, try and relax, get back to sleep."

Neither one had any answers except to turn into each other's arms in a close embrace, hoping somehow to chase the ghosts of the lingering nightmare away.

Jack's tremors gradually stilled as Daniel rubbed his back and soothed him.

"You feeling better now?"

"Yeah... Crazy, ain't it, getting so worked up about something that's in your head? There's nothing in it to hurt you, it's just the product of an over active imagination, but... I really don't know where that came from, now of all times. I thought that particular nightmare was a thing of the past."

"Probably just a result of today's particular slice of weirdness happening in a desert environment. The brain can make some funny links sometimes. Probably why so many ancient cultures regard dreams as prophetic, or special in some other way. Gifts from the gods." Daniel's hands wandered softly up and down Jack's back as he was speaking. As an instinctive response, Jack's hand came up and rubbed back and forth across Daniel's belly.

"Gifts? Huh!" Jack snorted derisively, snuggling deeper into Daniel's arms. "I wouldn't call that particular dream a gift. Or at least if it was, I'd hate to be on the receiving end when the gods really decided to make your life miserable. Strange that you should pick up on it at the same time too, though."

"Well, maybe not, when you stop to think about it. I'm sleeping right next to you. It's obvious when your sleep is disturbed. We are pretty much on the same wavelength a lot of the time. We often say the exact same thing at the same time – we did it a couple of times today."

"Yeah..." Jack still sounded doubtful.

"But? I heard a definite 'but' there, O'Neill. Ask yourself, is this something you really need to threat-ass at, what, two twenty-four in the morning?"

"Oh, 'but' nothing. Guess you're right, whatever it is that's bugging me about this will keep 'til morning. Real morning, that is – daylight." He sighed, keeping up the rhythm of rubbing across Daniel's skin. Then his lips quirked in a grin against Daniel's chest, followed by an experimental swipe across his skin with his tongue. "You sleepy right now?"

"Well, yes I am. It's the middle of the night – that's when I tend to sleep, given the chance." Jack's groin nudged against his thigh, making Daniel grin. Somebody obviously wasn't that sleepy, not in the short term anyway.

"Huh? You sure you're sleepy?"

"Well... maybe not that sleepy. Not right now. Long-term sleepy, shall we say?"

Jack's mouth was getting busy, capturing one of Daniel's nipples and teasing it gently, causing a soft moan to escape him as his hands tangled involuntarily in Jack's hair, pulling him closer.

Jack lifted his head enough to talk, and Daniel felt the soft huffs of warm breath gusting against his damp skin, making him shiver.

"So... short term... what? Wide awake? Interested?" A hand ghosted down towards his growing hard-on, brushing it very gently as it twitched against his touch. "Yeah, interested, all right. Available? Ready and willing?"

Daniel reached down to pull Jack back up towards him. "All of the above, lover, always and everywhere. I might even trade up to 'enthusiastic', given the right circumstances. Now are we going to waste time playing 'Twenty Questions', or am I going to kiss the shit out of you?"

"Whoa, tough call... not."

*****

Jack's internal alarm woke him at five thirty. Too many years of military discipline had left their mark. Regardless of what time he went to bed, he was always up with the sun. Maybe not always bright eyed and bushy tailed, but awake. He smiled as he realized the weight across his chest was the arm of his lover, who was, of course, still fast asleep. Definitely not a morning person, his Daniel. A reminiscent grin tugged at his mouth... at night, when he was wide awake, did he ever fire on all cylinders...

For a brief moment he considered waking his archaeologist for a reprise of last night's activities. And then, regretfully, decided against it. Definitely not a morning person – and most definitely capable of showing it quite... forcefully.

Sighing, Jack slowly slid out from under Daniel's arm to head to the bathroom. He found he was till trying to shake off the after affects of that crazy dream incident last night. It was definitely odd, and seemed odder every time he replayed the events in his head. Not a threat exactly, at least not that he could immediately quantify, but there was something about the whole thing that made him... uneasy. Something that made his sixth sense start to tingle, nothing that he could put his finger on though. Oh what the hell, maybe Daniel was right and they had just started to think too much alike was all. It sure would make life simpler if that was all it was. Unfortunately Jack's life hadn't been simple for years. Weird shit often seemed to happen, certainly too often for comfort since his involvement in the Stargate program.

After showering and cleaning up he went to the kitchen to make coffee, knowing from experience that there was absolutely no point to trying to wake Daniel without it. Pouring a cup for himself and one for Daniel, he grimaced at the strong flavor. What the hell was this stuff anyway? Costa Rican Extra Dark French Roast? Industrial strength caffeine was what it was, and certainly not for the faint-hearted. He could damn near feel it stripping the enamel from his teeth. Christ! Whatever'd happened to good old Folgers? No, forget that. Jack knew what had happened to it. He'd thought Daniel was about to walk out on him one morning when Jack tried to serve it. The Folgers had ended up in the trash.

He shook his head fondly. Geeze, this sure as hell had to be love! He couldn't imagine any other motive for drinking this stuff.

*****

As they headed back to the mountain, Jack and Daniel discussed what to say and how to handle whatever seemed to be happening to them. A part of both of them was in major denial, trying to explain away as just a freakish accident the occurrences of the night. But they both knew better. Something was going on between them. Something besides great sex.

They were still no further forward with the entire problem when Jack pulled in to the parking lot.

"All I'm saying, Daniel, is that I've got a feeling that this is nowhere near as straight forward as both of us being close and therefore on the same wavelength. Okay, we do occasionally say exactly the same thing at the same time - but 'occasionally' is nowhere near as regular as, what, three or four times in a couple of hours? And that's leaving aside the matter of you apparently picking up on what I was dreaming. Doesn't matter what way you look at it, it's still weird."

"Yes, I'll agree it's weird - no argument from me on that score. But I still can't see what exactly we can do about it. We can hardly go to Janet and say that I picked up on the content of your dream without going into issues of... well, proximity. It's the obvious question to ask. And if it's obvious to Janet, it will be obvious to Hammond. "Don't ask, don't tell", remember?"

Jack sighed heavily. "Yeah I hear what you're saying. God, I hate when weird shit happens, it complicates things that are already way too complicated. I really don't feel that we should be holding out on the doc, or on Hammond for that matter. Damn it, he ordered us yesterday to report any unusual experiences. And in my book, dreaming identical dreams qualifies as 'unusual experiences'."

"But I wasn't dreaming."

Jack snorted. "Semantics, Jackson. You know what I mean. Okay, I was doing the dreaming, and somehow you knew what I was dreaming about. I sure as hell can't explain that away as 'being close'. It's certainly never happened with me before, and I'm prepared to bet good money that it's never happened with you either. No, this is not something that we can afford to ignore. I've got that nasty prickly feeling at the back of my neck over this."

"Well, I still think you're overreacting." A swift smile in Jack's direction softened the words. "But, on the other hand, I trust the back of your neck. It's gotten us out of trouble before. Okay, I'm prepared to allow that we need to be checked out... again. So how do we voice our concerns without giving the game away?"

"I dunno. I'm working on it."

Jack parked the truck efficiently as usual and they got out, both resigned to spending the first part of their morning with Doctor Fraiser, if they could only figure out how to manage it without arousing untoward suspicion. Some days it felt like they spent more time with her than with each other, but they had both found that it generally paid to resign yourself to the inevitable. It got you out quicker in the long run.

In the event, it turned out to be easier than they had thought. When they checked in, each found a message waiting for them to report to the infirmary.

Unfortunately, things were quiet in the infirmary this morning. Doctor Fraiser pounced on them almost as soon as they walked through the door.

"Good morning, gentlemen, and how are you both feeling today? Anything new to report?"

The two men looked at each other, Jack raised an eyebrow, and they appeared to reach a decision without the slightest bit of discussion.

"Well...ah...hmm..." Daniel tried to start. Jack just cut to the chase.

"We think we had a dream last night."

"Colonel, everyone dreams at night, whether they remember them or not. It's a regular part of the human sleep pattern."

"Thanks Doc. I know that. No, it wasn't just that I had a dream last night. I said we had a dream last night. Actually, to be honest, I had the dream, Daniel was just an unwilling participant in the whole thing."

"Let me get this straight. You had a dream last night and Daniel picked up on it in his sleep from several miles away? And if so, how could you both realize it?

Jack sighed. This was going to be touchy to deal with, but not impossible.

"Well Doctor, as things seemed to be a little strange, I invited Daniel to stay at my place last night. When the dream hit, it ended waking both of us, so we had a chance to compare notes as it were."

Janet's eyebrows rose at this information and if possible she became even more the no-nonsense, professional doctor. "Gentlemen, I'm going to need to re-do some of the tests I did yesterday. I want to closely monitor any changes that may have occurred in the past several hours. There were some slightly higher than normal readings of melatonin in your systems yesterday. I'm sorry I have to make you go through all these procedures again, but it's the only way I can accurately assess what's going on with the both of you."

"Melatonin?" The question came from two mouths in perfect unison.

Jack and Daniel turned to look at each other, nonplussed: Fraiser was frankly staring at them both, before she pulled herself together.

Jack tried again, fractionally shaking his head at Daniel. "Melatonin? That good or bad?"

As Janet drew a breath to reply, he threw up one of his hands. "Ah! The layman's version, if you don't mind, Doc."

Janet frowned slightly, then started to speak. "At the moment, and without further tests, I really don't know, Colonel. It could be something, it could be nothing. All I'm prepared to say at the moment is that the levels of melatonin in both of your systems are slightly above the norm. Melatonin is thought to have some effect on dreams, making them more vivid – and not just pleasant dreams, either. There is also a school of thought which connects melatonin with psi ability – although this idea is fairly on the fringes of accepted medical science. But then, a lot of what this facility does is on the fringes of all accepted science, so I can't afford to rule anything out, however far-fetched it might seem. A change in melatonin production could indicate some malfunction of the pineal gland, or it could indicate some abnormal activity in the temporal lobes of the brain. I want to do some more tests to rule this out. So gentlemen, if you're ready? I think you both know the drill by now."

Glancing at each other once again, both men sighed and headed farther into the infirmary to get started, while Fraiser called for assistance.

*****

Upon finally being released for the moment from the medical facility, Daniel headed to his office to review the vids he'd taken on P3X-195. He was certain that given time he'd be able to translate more of the writing on the altar stone and possibly determine what had happened to Jack and him. One of his assistants had downloaded all the information into the computer, so Daniel started a pot of coffee and got down to work.

Several hours later his concentration was broken by a knock on his door. Daniel sighed deeply. He really didn't want to be interrupted right this moment. He was so close to figuring this out. But he knew from experience that Jack wouldn't take the hint and just go away. Because he was absorbed in his work he didn't really give much thought to the fact that he already knew who was at the door.

"Come on in Jack," Daniel called out. "Was there something you wanted?"

"You mean you don't already know?" Jack kidded him. "I mean if you're so psychic and all with those increased levels in your brain of whatever that shit was that the doc was prattling on about."

"Not just me, Jack. This whole thing is happening to you too. Now was there something you wanted? I'm really busy here."

"Yeah, Hammond wants to have a meeting at sixteen hundred hours to review any information we have. Carter and her group are working on the soil samples and the general wants a report from you on anything that you have from those vids you took. I guess Fraiser will be there too with an update on our medical condition."

"All right, Jack, I'll be there. Just let me get back to my work."

Jack glanced around and making sure that no one was watching and leaned over and affectionately ruffled Daniel's hair, thinking to himself, 'Love ya, Space Monkey.'

"Jack! I hate it when you call me that, and I love you too. Leave! Now!" But the smile on Daniel's face took the sting out of the words.

The colonel turned to leave, but pulled up short and started to turn back as the realization hit him. Daniel had buried himself back in his research, noticing nothing amiss, and Jack wondered for a split second if he'd been imagining things. No, he had definitely thought the comment and not spoken it aloud - they were always cautious about their feelings for each other when they were on the base, it was second nature now. Daniel's sudden talent for intuition had apparently struck again.

It was a very thoughtful Colonel Jack O'Neill who quietly shut the office door behind him on his way out.

*****

Daniel rushed down the hallway to the briefing. He was already a few minutes late but had just finished putting together what information he had managed to gather for his presentation. He needed more time. There was so much more in all the writings they'd found at that temple. But at least he had some idea of who they were dealing with now. He rushed into the briefing room.

"Excuse me, General, for being late. The translations are taking longer than I expected." He unloaded his stack of papers and notes, along with the ever-present coffee cup, onto the desk.

"That's all right, Doctor Jackson. Why don't you start off the meeting by telling us what you've found so far?"

"Certainly, sir." Gulping his coffee, Daniel glanced around the room to see Jack, Sam, and Teal'c also present. He briefly wondered what happened to Doctor Fraiser.

Reaching for the remote, he began the presentation, beginning with a slide of a kneeling Egyptian woman. Her arms were outstretched on both sides of her body and she was wearing a cape that looked like it was covered in feathers, almost giving her the appearance of wings. She wore some sort of tall headpiece.

"It appears that the small ruin we found was indeed at one time a temple dedicated to the goddess Ma'at. Ma'at was the Egyptian goddess of truth and justice and her symbol is the feather. She was the wife of Thoth and was often represented as a woman wearing a tall ostrich feather on her head." Daniel pointed to the tall headdress the figure was wearing.

Jack sighed. Daniel was clearly immersed in 'full-on professorial lecture mode,' as he called it.

"The goddess Ma'at represents the ideals of law, order, and truth. The word 'Ma'at' translates as 'that which is straight,' implying anything that is true, ordered, or balanced. She was the female counterpart of Thoth, the ibis-headed god of wisdom, and we know she is a very ancient goddess because we find her in the boat of Ra as it rose above the waters of the abyss of Nu on the first day. Together with Thoth, they charted the daily course of the sun god Ra. She is sometimes called the 'eye of Ra' or the 'daughter of Ra.'"

"Ah, then she won't be too crazy about us, huh?"

Jack knew he was baiting Daniel but just couldn't help himself. Daniel shot him a look that he had probably used to wither insolent undergrad students who had the audacity to interrupt one of his lectures. Jack, of course, just grinned back at him. However, the colonel sobered up again when General Hammond gave him a look of disapproval. Daniel continued with his lecture.

"Life was dominated by Ma'at, or the concept of justice and order. Egyptians believed there were different levels of goodness and evil. Ma'at also plays an important part in the Book of the Dead. It is in the Hall of Ma'at that the judgment of the dead was performed. This was done by weighing one's heart or conscience against the feather of Ma'at. If a balance was struck then the deceased was deemed to be worthy of meeting Osiris in the after life. If the heart of the deceased was found to be heavier than the feather of Ma'at then the heart would be devoured by Ammut."

Jack's attention sharpened suddenly at that point, as his thoughts were carried back abruptly to a funeral ceremony on a distant desert planet. 'Damn! Of all the Goa'uld to bump up against, it had to be this one. Oh, Daniel...'

'No, it's okay, really. I'm fine with this.'

Jack glanced up to give Daniel an encouraging look, only to see him futzing with the slide projector. Wait a minute... he looked round at the other members of his team sitting round the table. They were all waiting for the slide to change with every appearance of rapt attention. No sympathetic looks, even from Carter. No sign that they had heard Daniel speaking at all. He took a breath to speak, then stopped himself. Nah, this wasn't a good time to bring this up.

Hammond caught his eye. "Something to contribute, Colonel?"

"Uhh, no sir. Nothing of any importance right now. Really."

Daniel brought up another slide. It showed a detailed progression of justice that had been photographed from an ancient tomb and he continued without missing a beat.

"As you can see, after the individual dies, Anubis places the heart of that person on a scale and then weighs the heart of the deceased," Daniel indicated one of the trays on the scale, "against the feather of Ma'at." He pointed to the other side of the scale in the picture. "In some drawings, the full goddess Ma'at, not just her feather, is shown seated on the tray. Note that Ma'at's head, crowned by the feather, also appears atop the fulcrum of the scale. If the heart of the deceased outweighs the feather, then the deceased has a heart that has been made heavy with evil deeds. In that event, Ammut the god with the crocodile head and hippopotamus legs will devour the heart, condemning the deceased to oblivion for eternity. Thoth stands at the ready to record the outcome.

"So this is the deity that the temple was dedicated to. From further study of the text on the altar stone, it appears that the inhabitants placed the cover stone over the altar many years later. The warning that I found was also much more recent than a lot of the other writings as it seems to be some derivative of Latin rather than Goa'uld symbols. I filmed a lot of the temple and I'm still studying the information. I think there's still a lot more that we can learn from the vids. But it is obvious that the local population felt the need to protect themselves and others from far older Goa'uld tech that they perceived as very dangerous."

"Doctor Jackson, would you reiterate what the warning was that you found on the altar?"

"Certainly, General. It said, 'The blessings of the gods are not always what they appear. Be cautious in accepting them, for there may be spurious gifts hidden within.'"

"Hmm...well from what I've heard from Doctor Fraiser this may be truer than we know. She wasn't present at this meeting because she indicated that she needed to oversee the results of some of the tests that she ran on you this morning. She sounded very concerned and said that she would meet with us as soon as she could."

As if the petite doctor had heard the general's comment, she suddenly rushed into the meeting room.

"Sir, I'm sorry I was late to the briefing. I felt it was imperative that I oversee the results of these tests personally." Janet took her seat sweeping a quick half-smile around the personnel gathered round the table.

"Doctor, please proceed."

"As you know, the colonel and Doctor Jackson admitted to me that they shared the same dream last night. This information, along with some of their blood chemistry work, convinced me that something else was going on. Based on the information I collected this morning, and comparing it to the data from yesterday, Colonel O'Neill's and Doctor Jackson's telepathic abilities may have increased significantly since yesterday."

Daniel frowned, but said nothing. 'A significant increase on nothing's still not much.'

'Ya think?' The familiar drawl brought Daniel's head up sharply. Jack was sitting in his accustomed place next to him at the briefing table, head down as he idly watched his restless hands tapping a staccato tattoo on the table top.

"Something wrong, Doctor Jackson?"

"Uh, no, General. It's just – telepathy? It's an interesting concept..." Daniel trailed off lamely, risking another glance at Jack. He was no longer looking at his hands but was rather looking at Daniel, a speculative expression in his eyes.

"Uh, sorry, Doctor, I didn't mean to interrupt." Daniel looked down again.

"Doctor, would you explain exactly what you mean by telepathy in this case?" the general asked.

'You 'heard' me, didn't you?'

"Certainly sir. Telepathy is direct transference of thought or images from one person to another without the use of the usual sensory channels of communication, therefore a form of extrasensory perception or ESP..."

Daniel glanced up cautiously again. Had Jack spoken aloud? Janet was still talking...

'No, I didn't. I haven't said a word for a good ten minutes.'

'Jack? You can 'hear' what I'm thinking?'

'A little – it's kinda muffled, but I'm improving with practice. 'Sending' is a lot easier.'

'When did this start?'

'In your office, earlier today.'

'Why can't I hear everything you're thinking?'

'I dunno – maybe you haven't been trying. You heard me call you... you know... in your office when I came by. Try now.'

Daniel tried, frowning slightly with concentration. There was something... no, it was gone.

"Until now the existence of telepathy has not been proven, although some parapsychological research studies have produced favorable results using such techniques as card guessing with a special deck of cards."

'Cards? Cool! Bring on the next poker game, we'll clean up.'

Daniel almost giggled, then suddenly became aware that the attention of everyone in the room was on him and was forced to turn his giggle into a cough.

"Sorry." He looked round apologetically. "I just... swallowed wrong." 'Jaack.'

Hammond gave him an old-fashioned look before turning his attention back to Doctor Fraiser.

"You were saying, Doctor...?"

'What?' The tone was one of injured innocence. 'I can't help it if you're improving too. I was just thinking, is all.'

'Yes, but... poker?' It was an effort, but this did seem to be getting easier.

'Word association. Lou owes me big time after the last game. I swear, that man has the luck of the devil at cards. At anything where there's money involved...'

Daniel suppressed a grin. Jack's and Lou's competitiveness in the matter of wagering was legendary in the SGC, and thus far Lou was vastly ahead on points.

"Some researchers feel that telepathy is instinctual, that primitive species used it as a survival mechanism, involving mind to mind contact - communication - of one mind with another by means beyond the normal or ordinary - beyond the frequencies of the five physical senses - sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell. It is the 'instinct' in humanity that creates the ability that we call telepathy, clairvoyance, psychic abilities, and other paranormal abilities. Some believe we have forgotten how to rely on our basic instinct, which is intuition, because of our reliance on ego-consciousness. The ninety per cent of the brain that we do not use is connected directly to the unconscious mind. The realm of the visible, of images, known contents, feelings, thoughts, and desires--what we call the 'realm of consciousness' - makes up only a small fraction of the total psyche in humans.

"Telepathy frequently involves people connecting into the same frequency of brain patterns, therefore sending and receiving messages. The most common documented accounts of telepathy and ESP are between lovers or family members, and focus on a life-threatening injury or death. These people know how to tune into each other's frequencies as they spend time together. There is usually a strong desire to communicate between two separated individuals..."

'Communicate? That's one word for it.' The thought that flashed into Daniel's mind was accompanied by an image, an image of...

'Jack!'

'I didn't start it, the doc did. She mentioned lovers, and desires come to that, not me...'

'I know, but...'

'It's an established fact that the average human male thinks about sex every two minutes. So, I'm average. So sue me.'

'So, during most briefings, you're spending large amounts of time...?'

'Welcome to my world, Doctor Jackson. And only during the boring bits. I can concentrate when I have to.'

Daniel rolled his eyes, and switched his attention back to what Janet was saying.

"In biological families - where there is a genetic link - certain family members may function on the same vibrational frequency - therefore allowing them to tune into each other's thoughts.

"Some of the most commonly reported incidents are a mother sensing her child is in danger, an individual sensing the death of a family member. These are the most dramatic manifestations. However, keep in mind that telepathic situations may be happening all the time, but we lack the awareness to recognize them. In times of crisis we may be sending out messages and those who are in tune will pick it up. We just don't know."

Fraiser displayed two sets of brain waves on the screen. There were some similarities between the two.

"These are the scans of the alpha waves of Colonel O'Neill and Doctor Jackson yesterday when they returned from the mission. There are some similarities that are to be expected, as they are both Homo sapiens."

Daniel fixed Jack with a hard stare. 'Please leave that one alone.'

He got a lift of the eyebrows and an innocent, 'Who? Me?' back.

The doctor displayed a second set of scans on the screen in the darkened room.

"These are the alpha scans of Colonel O'Neill and Doctor Jackson that were done just this morning. As you can see the similarities are becoming more pronounced. The frequencies of the two patterns are becoming more and more alike."

Everyone in the room peered at the screen. Sure enough, the second set of scans did look more similar than the first.

"Exactly what are the implications of these findings, Doctor?"

"My hypothesis is that this will continue and as this happens their ability to communicate on a telepathic level will also become stronger. It may take some time for them to 'learn' how to use it, or it may possibly just overwhelm them. I don't know, sir. Paranormal studies are not exactly my field of expertise, and it's not like there is a lot of hard scientific research available on the subject."

'I think now might be a good time to 'fess up, Jack.'

'Yeah, guess you're right. Shit, I see yet more time in the infirmary looming...'

"Actually, Doc, it hasn't been overwhelming at all... more of a gradual thing, really."

Three heads jerked round in Jack's direction. Teal'c's reaction was more deliberate, but he ended up looking at Jack nevertheless.

"Colonel, are you telling me that you and Doctor Jackson can communicate telepathically? And that you haven't seen fit to mention this small detail before now?" Hammond's voice was stern.

"Neither of us was really aware of the fact until a very short time ago, sir. Earlier on in this briefing, in fact. We've been... uh... testing it out for the last few minutes, just to be sure that it wasn't our imaginations, before we said anything. It seemed sensible to make sure that it was really happening before we got everyone all stirred up."

'Way to think on your feet, Jack.'

'Thank you, Doctor Jackson. I do try. It's a talent the Air Force values in its officers.'

"I see." Hammond pursed his lips, obviously thinking back over the events of the briefing thus far.

'Along with the ability to bullshit your way out of difficulties?'

'I think the preferred term is 'creative and imaginative thinking in adverse situations', but yeah. 'Colloquially expressed, but essentially correct, Doctor'.'

'That sounds like a quotation.'

'Spock. It seemed to fit.'

'You've memorized quotations from Doctor Spock?'

'Mister Spock, Daniel.'

Daniel grinned, and Hammond shot him a sharp look.

"You're 'talking' to each other just now, aren't you? I trust it's something relevant to the matter in hand?"

Daniel jumped. "Yes, General – we were just comparing notes as to how much easier it's getting to communicate this way. It seems that the more we practice, the easier it gets."

'Hah! And you say I can bullshit!'

'The military and academics have more in common than you might think.' Daniel's tone was bland, and it was Jack's turn to swallow a grin.

"But it's something that you have to consciously decide to do? You're not in communication all the time, whether you want to be or not?"

"No, sir. It's hard to explain, but it does seem to involve a different kind of thinking to what we normally take for granted as 'thought'. The intention to communicate with Jack has to be there."

"And you're finding the same, Colonel?"

"I think so, sir. I have to 'listen' to 'hear' Daniel..."

'Well, there's a first time for most things.'

'Daniel...'

"... and 'decide' to send to him."

'Or maybe... not. I didn't 'decide' to send you that last comment, but you picked it up anyway.'

Doctor Fraiser spoke up. "General, I'll need to run another set of scans to find out what is happening to the brain wave patterns as this ability is strengthening. In fact, I really need to do them at fairly regular intervals for as long as this... link continues to grow."

Jack groaned, and she continued, "I'm sorry, Colonel, but you must admit that this does need to be investigated thoroughly to detect any adverse effects."

"Yeah. Doesn't mean I have to look forward to it, though. Just how long do you think we'll be in this time?"

"We'll discuss that while I'm repeating the scans."

Jack's head dropped despondently. 'Shit. I knew it. More poking and prodding and carte blanche to make it last for ever.'

'Wuss!'

'Am not!'

'Are too! Stop whining and bite the bullet.'

'If there's any biting to be done, I would rather it wasn't a bullet. I was hoping to get home at some point today... so we could...'

Daniel gasped, and wriggled a little in his seat.

'Hah! Gotcha!'

'Jaa-ack!'

'Who's whining now, Jackson?'

'You are so going to pay for that, O'Neill,'Daniel thought to himself. Or rather, tried to think to himself.

'Good. Look forward to it.'

Daniel wrenched his attention back to the matter in hand, doing his best to ignore the suspicion of a smirk on his lover's face as he gazed innocently at the general. The discussion during his temporary distraction had turned to how the link had been started.

"It has to have been something to do with that beam that rendered the colonel and Daniel unconscious," Sam was saying. "Teal'c, have you ever heard of any Goa'uld subculture that deliberately renders people telepathic for any reason?"

"I have not. I cannot imagine what benefit there would be to be gained from such a course. The false gods do not permit secret communication of any kind amongst their subjects. Secrets, other than their own secrets, are dangerous to them."

Sam was still musing out loud. "The other question of course is 'how?' What sort of technology could possibly be used to generate this effect?"

"I still have work to do on the translation of the video footage that I took on the planet. And, of course, there is a lot of material that I didn't have the chance to film. Maybe the answer as to 'why?' is somewhere in the inscriptions. If we can find the 'why', the 'how' will probably follow."

"I think the various tests that my department has run can rule out any kind of physical or chemical trigger for the alteration of the brainwave patterns. Other than the raised melatonin levels, there is nothing evident in the blood of either the Colonel or Daniel that shouldn't be there. No other chemicals, viruses, nanites, nothing. And even that could be an effect of the link rather than its cause."

Sam pounced on this pronouncement with enthusiasm. "So then, what does that leave? The brain functions on what is basically electrical activity. I'm sure I've read about some research on the fringes of quantum physics on the effects of electromagnetic fields on perceived psychic abilities. Someone has even postulated that psychic activity is determined on the quantum level. If that were the case, it might be possible to manipulate a person's brainwaves in ways that we can only imagine. Maybe we should start looking on the subatomic level. I'll need to look up the research though. I can't remember the exact details. I could sure use another look at whatever that device is that triggered this whole thing."

"And I would like to film the rest of the inscriptions in the temple complex, to see if the answer to our questions is there. General, I would like to recommend SG1 return to the planet to try and find out more information."

Hammond was thoughtful.

"I hear what you're all saying. However, I'm loath to allow Colonel O'Neill and Doctor Jackson to go offworld while they're under the influence of unknown alien technology."

Daniel went to protest but Jack beat him to it. "With respect, General, Doctor Fraiser has already said that there is nothing physically wrong with us that she can find. Consensus seems to be that we need more information, and from a variety of sources. We know the planet, we know the dangers, and we know what we're looking for. Added to this, we have five other teams offworld at the moment, and I for one would like answers to all the questions posed by this... condition... ASAP, without having to recall any team or wait around for them to complete their missions. Also, if there are any unexpected developments, well Daniel and I are already affected. I'd rather not expose anyone else unnecessarily."

Hammond looked enquiringly at Janet. "Doctor?"

Janet shrugged, and said reluctantly, "It is true that I can find nothing physically wrong with either the colonel or Doctor Jackson, sir. Apart from their alpha waves and their effects, they both check out completely normal. I'll maybe be able to give you a more informed opinion after I've run the next series of tests. If they continue to show normal in all other respects, I might be prepared to sanction SG1's return to the planet for a short while in order to try and find some answers."

Hammond took a deep breath, and made his decision. "Very well then. Contingent on a favorable outcome from your next round of tests, I'm prepared to authorize a short return mission to P3X-195 in an attempt to gather more intel. In the meantime, Colonel, you and Doctor Jackson report to the infirmary. Doctor Fraiser, report the results of your tests to me immediately when you have them. Major Carter, you follow up any line of research that sounds promising for explaining how this change in the colonel's and Doctor Jackson's brainwaves may have been engineered. I will let you know as soon as possible if and when you have a go. Dismissed."

As they all stood up to leave, Dr. Fraiser beamed at Daniel and Jack.

"Gentlemen, if you'd like to come with me now? I have a nice little scanner with your names on it..."

Daniel decided to ignore Jack's internal mutterings.

*******

Daniel was still grinning about the briefing and the subsequent medical exam when he let himself into Jack's house a couple of hours later, and blessing in equal measure the combination of charm, persuasion and outright pissiness with which Jack had negotiated their eventual release from the infirmary. Although he supposed from Hammond's and Janet's points of view, their behavior had probably been less than satisfactory, if not verging on the downright unprofessional. Still, what the hell if they pushed the envelope a little, as long as it didn't happen too often. And the images and comments that Jack had been projecting to him had been damned funny - at least, the ones meant to be funny had been. When Jack had gotten really bored with proceedings, he had started to get even more creative: and that meant pictures. Increasingly graphic pictures. Some of the images that had come Daniel's way had been... hoo boy. All that and more.

In fact, there were a couple that he was still dwelling on with particular fondness a few hours later as he pottered around in Jack's kitchen, a small smile tugging at his lips as he anticipated turning them into reality.

'Lucy, I'm ho-ome.'

Daniel started as the voice broke into his reverie, then turned round to call out, "Jack? I'm in the kitchen. I didn't hear your key in the lock."

No response. No audible response, anyway. Instead, a voice in his mind, saying, 'Not surprised at that, Dannyboy. I'm just parking the truck. Just a little advance warning, is all... I'm home, and you'd better be ready, willing and able...'

'Able? For what, exactly?'

'Cool, you can hear me from here!'

'Loud and clear, flyboy ... I say again, able for what, uh, exactly?'

'How 'bout... this? Or this? Or even... this?'

Three very graphic images in quick succession took Daniel's breath away – geeze, was this guy hot, or was he hot? He felt his dick begin to twitch and stir.

'Uhh – let me think a minute. Oh, I like number three – I like it a lot.'

'Yeah, I just know that you do, I can feel how much you like it from here. How 'bout you just go and start the shower? Water should be good and hot by the time I get done here and get to ya.'

'I'm halfway there already. Uhh, you hungry just now?'

'Depends what you're asking. Food? Nah... Hungry? Very. Ravenous, even. Famished... starved...'

'Okay, okay, I get the picture. Literally and metaphorically. I'm impressed. Just when did your vocabulary expand so far?'

'Roughly when I started hanging out with a certain linguist-slash-archaeologist. The homework's a killer. Ready or not, here I come...'

'Oh, I'm ready, flyboy. More than ready. Bring it on...'

The front door closed with a resounding slam and Jack came into the room like a whirlwind. "Hope you meant what you just thought, Rock Boy, or you're going to have one very pissed off Air Force colonel to deal with. I've been dwelling on this moment off and on all day."

"Uhh, yeah, I kinda got the picture during the briefing. I definitely got the picture during the briefing. C'm'ere."

Daniel held his arms open and Jack needed no further invitation. This time as they kissed, long and slow and deep, the connection between them was an almost tangible thing, heightening and enhancing the pleasure both felt in their own and each other's sensations.

'Mmmm.... Ni-ice.'

'If I concentrate, I can pretty well feel what you're feeling. It's... amazing.'

'Oh yeah.'

Jack broke off the kiss, breathing a bit more heavily than he had been, and rested his forehead against Daniel's. "That shower ready?"

"Yeah, I guess." Daniel's stomach lurched with anticipation and Jack grinned.

"C'mon." Jack took Daniel's hand and tugged him, laughing, towards the bathroom.

"I'm guessing here that you've got more on your mind than just getting clean... would I be right?"

Jack's eyes sparkled with mischief. "You just might be right at that, Doctor Jackson. Can't you tell by reading my thoughts?"

"I just want to hear you say it. I love it when you talk dirty – it's not the same listening to it in your head. Not so... deliberate."

Jack stopped in the bathroom doorway to gather Daniel into his arms for another kiss, harder this time, his tongue insistently finding its way into Daniel's mouth, his hands sliding down to knead his ass as he pulled their groins together. The spark that flashed through Daniel as he felt Jack's burgeoning erection was electrifying.

'That deliberate enough for ya? Or do I have to use my secret weapon? How do ya like these?'

A stream of images played through Daniel's consciousness – he and Jack in the shower, washing each other, drying each other, kissing and stroking each other. Jack and him in bed, Jack going down on him, agile, questing tongue swiping at his balls – Christ, it was so realistic he could almost feel the heat and dampness of that wicked, clever tongue. Him going down on Jack, deep throating him while fucking him with his fingers, preparing him, stretching him, before sinking balls-deep into that tight, silky heat. Daniel watched fascinated, and growing more aroused moment by moment, even as he reamed out Jack's mouth with his tongue. Damn it, his legs were starting to tremble.

'See? Taking a leaf out of your book here, Jackson - a presentation. With slides. Does it work as well for you as it does for me?'

Daniel broke off the kiss with a moan, gasping slightly, and Jack noticed with satisfaction the slight sheen of sweat on his upper lip as he said throatily, "Yeah, O'Neill, it does. Clothes."

"Say what?"

"Clothes. As in, 'lose them'."

Jack grinned wolfishly. "Now you're talking."

"Funny, Jack. Real cute. The clothes? Like, now?"

"Eager beaver."

Daniel flashed a grin at Jack while he swiftly and methodically tackled his shirt buttons. "When you're involved? Every single time, flyboy. You have no idea how hot you are." The last button gave up the ghost and his shirt slid down over his shoulders. "How adorably sexy." Daniel tackled his jeans button with a will. "How infinitely desirable." Jack pulled himself together, got with the program, closed his mouth and set himself to shucking his shirt and his tee as Daniel slid his jeans and shorts down his legs, gracefully stepping out of them as they hit the floor. "How totally fuckable."

Jack's breath caught in his throat. Damn, this never got old! How many months now, and the sight of Daniel standing in front of him, naked and erect, waiting for him, looking him up and down with eyes glittering with desire, still took his breath away, still turned him into a gibbering mass of nerve endings. Nobody had a right to be so damn gorgeous, absolutely nobody. Gorgeous, and all his. With hands that were suddenly trembling, Jack fumbled with his pants button, cursing as it put up more of a fight than he had anticipated.

"Here, let me." Daniel leaned in for another long, languorous kiss as he dealt with the offending button as efficiently as he had managed his own, sliding his hands under Jack's waistband and down over his ass.

'Mmm...going commando, I see... niiice.'

'Forward planning, Daniel – that's why they pay me the big bu--'

Jack gave a mental yelp as Daniel slid his pants down and his hand trailed round to cup his balls, smoothing his thumb over the velvety skin before running his fingertips up the length of his shaft. Jack groaned softly as his head dropped down to nuzzle Daniel's neck, then lick and nip at the skin.

'Uhh... Daniel?'

'Mmmm. Mmmm?'

'Exactly how much do you want a shower?'

'I'm not completely wedded to the idea ...ohhhh, yesss...'

'Bed? Ohhh... boy...' .

'I'll shut off the water...'

Exactly how they made it to the bed, neither man could tell. They just did, and that was enough.

Licking, nipping, sucking, kissing.

Stroking, kneading, hands greedy for more. Everything greedy for more.

Mouths questing, mumbling, engulfing, Tongues lapping, rasping, gliding, sliding, swirling.

Bodies thrusting, heaving, panting, sweating. .

Feeling everything twice over.

'Ohhh, Daniel, my Daniel... Christ...loveyouDaniel, loveyou... couldn'tlivewithoutyou... wouldn'twanttolivewithoutyou...'

'LoveyouJack, loveyou, can'tlivewithoutyou, withoutthis, you'resohot, ohgod...'

Clawing, spurting, shuddering, collapsing, gasping for breath, the pleasure so intense, the aftershocks rolling on and on, echoing back and forth between them...

Awesome. Marvelous. Perfect.

 

*****

The next morning, after yet another set of scans and assorted tests, SG1 finally assembled in the gate room, ready for the dial-up procedure to be initiated. Jack, as usual, was grumbling about the delay to the mission occasioned by his and Daniel's side trip to the infirmary. Mercifully, from Sam's and Teal'c's points of view, his grumbles were mainly directed at Daniel.

'Geeze, the doc was pissy this morning.'

'Are you surprised, after your performance yesterday?'

Jack considered this for a moment and sighed. 'Good point. Suppose I've got a bit of fence-mending to do in that area?'

'Suppose you do. Looking back on it, calling that nurse a 'ham-fisted legalized vampire' wasn't the most tactful turn of phrase...'

'Hey! I didn't realize I'd spoken out loud. I was on the receiving end of that needle, remember... I'm as certain as I've ever been of anything in my life that her choice of site was a violation of the Hippocratic Oath.'

''First, do no harm?''

'Exactly.'

'I'm not sure that nurses even take the Hippocratic Oath.'

'Well if they don't, they sure as hell should.'

General Hammond's voice sounded over the PA system. "SG1, dial-up sequence is being initiated."

The stone rings ground around in their appointed order and the wormhole burst into life. One final check and they advanced up the ramp, through the shimmering blue portal, to meet the expected blast of desert heat on the other side.

"Okay kids, let's get this over and done with as quickly as we can. Daniel, you get back to the temple, get what you need for your translation. Don't touch the damn cover stone!" Daniel gave him one of his patented long-suffering looks, but said nothing.

"Teal'c, your knowledge of Goa'uld will be a big help; you go with Daniel."

"As you say, O'Neill." Teal'c gave an almost imperceptible inclination of his head.

"Carter, you're with me. We'll go and get your additional samples. How long do we need?"

"The area I'm interested in is about a half hour's walk from here, sir. Once we get there, maybe another hour tops."

"Daniel, that enough time for you?"

"Should be. I can do all the filming, see if there's anything else of interest, check out a couple of the other rooms."

"Okay, we'll aim to be back at the temple in about two hours then. We can all have a look at this device when we get back. Check-in every thirty minutes. Ready Carter? Let's go."

He and Sam both hitched their packs higher on their shoulders, settling in for the long hike.

'Careful, Daniel. I meant what I said about the cover stone.'

'What do you take me for? I'm not in a great hurry to find out what a repeat performance would do, especially with Teal'c. Stop fussing and get going. Sooner we finish up here, the sooner we get home. Now there's an experience I wouldn't mind repeating...'

Jack chuckled mentally. 'I think we might manage that. See ya, lover.'

He felt Daniel's mind click into academic mode as he turned away, and spent a moment or two relishing his enthusiasm for the task in hand. It was good to see him anticipating enjoying himself for once, he didn't get nearly enough time to do what he enjoyed most.

Jack watched the two men walk off for a couple of minutes, listening to the link getting fainter and fainter as they got further away, until finally he couldn't hear Daniel any more at all. Strange, he'd never realized just how big and, well, essentially empty a place the mind could be, not until he didn't have company in his whenever he felt like it. Experimentally, he tried to push his thoughts a little bit further. Suddenly Daniel was there again, but very faint and far off.

'Jack? Something wrong?'

'No, just curious about something is all. Not a problem. Take care.'

A smile, he definitely caught a smile. 'You too.' He concentrated hard on sending a grin back.

Another thought struck him as the link faded again and he turned away to head off. "Carter, about how far away from us would you say Daniel and Teal'c are?"

Sam considered for a moment. "I'd say about three hundred yards, sir. Why?"

"Oh, just wondering. That's about what I thought myself."

Sam shot him a sideways look. "Are you still in contact with Daniel, sir?"

"Not any more, I'm not. Not without a lot of effort, anyway. Although I've only just lost it. I think we could still manage to get in touch if we had to."

He looked at her: she was frowning slightly, staring at the ground as she plodded along, chewing her bottom lip, obviously thinking hard. Eventually she said, "That's quite a range this ability has. You can't sense his thoughts at all any more?"

"Nope, not at all. Why?"

"Oh, just wondering. Did it always have this far of a range?"

"No, it seems to have been expanding over the last two days. The more we use it, the better and easier it seems to get."

"Better?" Sam sounded incredulous. "You mean you don't mind?" She caught the expression on Jack's face, and hurriedly said, "I'm sorry sir, but I was thinking back. I can't imagine anything worse than having someone rooting around in my head. Jolinar was bad enough." She didn't quite manage to suppress a shudder.

The unexpectedness of the question pulled Jack up short. Strange, he'd never stopped to ask himself exactly how he felt about Daniel having free access to his psyche. Doubly strange, since he'd never exactly been the poster boy for emotional open-ness – rather the reverse, he had always defended his privacy, physical, emotional and mental. If he was honest, he was feeling slightly irritated with Carter right now for her inquisitiveness, and very inclined to blow her off. But then he figured, 'What the hell?' Scientific curiosity was obviously getting the better of her. She was a member of his team, she deserved to have the answers she wanted. She might come up with something useful for them, maybe some way to control it, use it to their advantage. Not that the tactical advantages weren't obvious.

But with Daniel... it had simply never occurred to him to do anything but accept it. And it wasn't just a question of the apparent fringe benefits to their sex lives, although he honestly couldn't count this a downside to the whole deal, absolutely not, not after last night. The whole thing just seemed... inevitable, almost. Meant to be, and not intrusive at all.

He was brought back to himself with the realization that Carter was still looking at him clearly expecting an answer.

"This isn't a snake we're talking about here, Carter. This is Daniel. We're friends. That's the difference. He doesn't impose."

"No, I don't suppose he would."

There didn't seem to be any reply that he could make to that, so they walked along in silence for a few minutes. After a couple of days of not feeling truly alone, Jack began to find the silence irksome.

"So, you got any clue yet as to how this device might work?" God, he didn't believe he'd asked that. Judging from the light in Sam's eyes, he was about to get a lecture so thick with scientific mumbo jumbo that he might never recover.

"Well, sir, I've been doing some research about the possible quantum connection... "

With a skill born of long practice, he filtered the actual words out, listening with half an ear instead to the sound of a voice, any voice, filling up bits of the empty Daniel-shaped space in his mind. She paused for breath, and he made an encouraging noise.

"And then, of course, there's the work done by Persinger... "

This whole team-leader deal wasn't really so different from marriage, when you thought about it. Same kind of stock responses.

He managed a surreptitious glance at his watch. Five minutes to check-in.

"And when you factor in the possible effects of Chaos Theory... "

There now, he'd just known that Chaos Theory was going to rear its ugly little head. Sheesh! Mathematicians! Madmen to a man. Who the fuck really cared about the habits of butterflies? Excepting, to be fair, other butterflies, that went without saying, they would probably have a vested interest. Oh, and entomologists, of course.

"So, taken all in all, I think that Josephson might be thinking along the right lines when he..."

Okay, that was it. Check-in time – and there was the area they were heading for right in front of them, he recognized the rock formations from reading Carter's report.

"Carter?"

She prattled on for a moment or two, oblivious.

"Carter!"

"Yes sir?"

"I think we're here. It's time for a check-in anyway." He clicked on his radio. "Daniel, do you read me?"

The radio squawked and Daniel's voice was in his ear. God, that sounded good – he was only now really appreciating how much he missed his archaeologist's constant presence. Hearing him on his radio wasn't the same, but it made a fairly good substitute.

"Yes, Jack. All fine here. In fact, better than fine, I've finished the filming I needed to do already and Teal'c and I are checking out some of the other rooms. We're finding some interesting inscriptions. Some of them appear to be in a different script."

"Okay. Enjoy yourselves – knock yourselves out. Next check-in in half an hour. O'Neill out."

So far, so good. "Carter, you need a hand here?"

"Thanks sir, I have quite a few samples I want to take."

"Just tell me what you want done."

The next half hour passed really quite painlessly. Jack found, for a change, that there was something quite soothing about losing himself in routine work, and Carter was pleased with their progress.

"That's just about it, sir. I have only two more samples to take, and then we can head back again. It makes a difference having some help."

"You go get 'em, girl. It's check-in time again."

"Yes sir. Five more minutes and I'm done here." Carter stowed the latest samples in her pack as she spoke, then moved off toward yet another rock formation.

"Daniel, do you read me? Come in, Daniel."

No response.

"Daniel? Daniel? Respond please."

Still nothing. Okaay ... nothing to worry about here, O'Neill. He's probably just involved in something tricky. One more try.

"Daniel? Daniel! Can you hear me? Respond please!"

Shit, still nothing! Peachy, something to worry about after all.

"Teal'c! Teal'c, buddy, do you copy? Respond please."

The radio remained obstinately silent.

"Carter!"

"Sir?"

"Get ready to move out. Daniel and Teal'c are not responding to my check-in. We gotta book, something might be wrong." 'Make that 'something probably is wrong',' he thought sourly to himself. And then regretted the thought as his imagination began to run riot.

******

Daniel was enjoying himself as he examined the various texts on the walls of the rooms. It seemed like a great luxury to have some time for a change - he had finished the filming in record time. For once, he had considerably overestimated the time he needed to get everything he wanted: when it came right down to it, there wasn't a lot here that he hadn't managed to record the first time. With great restraint, he refrained from starting on a working translation of the various writings. There would be lots of time for that once he got the tapes safely back to base. Right now, it was more important to have a good look round, make sure there was nothing crucial relating to the device or its purpose, or the purpose of this place as a whole, that he was missing.

So far, so routine. The whole complex was obviously deserted and had been for quite a while – there was a thick layer of dust on the floor of every room that he peered into, and blown-in sand lay piled up in all the corners opposite the open doorways. He scarcely needed Teal'c to report to him that the place was empty, that much was obvious from his observations.

None of the other rooms had any inscriptions on the walls, apart from the cover stone room and one other. Well, that certainly wasn't unusual – some, if not most, of the rooms would be bound to be utilitarian – storerooms, living quarters for the priests that had serviced the temple at one time, and so on. No great need for pomp and circumstance in such workaday areas, therefore, no inscriptions. No artifacts left though – pity. The place was as clean as a whistle, looked as though it had been swept clean, in fact, before the sand blew in to stake its claim. Maybe that was something to do with the inscription on the cover stone? Had the people that had placed the warning deliberately scoured the temple precinct as well?

The one other room with inscriptions on the wall, now that was interesting. There were traces of another, older inscription, overlaid with some later... graffiti. That was the only term for it. "Cicatrices hae malleis deae ruptiorum superimpositae sunt." The phrase was repeated all the way round the room, defacing the original inscriptions. The scars... were placed here... by the hammers... of the violators – no, the breakers - of the goddess. The hammers of the goddess-breakers put these marks here. Goddess-breakers?

Was there any trace left of the older inscription? Just the faint outlines of a couple of glyphs – here, that surely had to be Ma'at? And this one, the Halls of the Dead maybe? The Halls of something, anyway. Damn it, this was frustrating. The hammers of the goddess – breakers had obviously been wielded with more than the average amount of determination. Daniel could almost find it in his heart to hate these goddess-breakers for such wanton destruction, even while he could sympathize with their position vis-à-vis the Goa'uld as a whole.

What could this room have been? Obviously it had to have been significant in some way, it was only one of two others apart from the central area with the cover stone that contained any kind of inscriptions. It certainly wasn't going to be easy to figure out though thanks to the comprehensive damage that had been inflicted on it.

Daniel jumped as Teal'c spoke from directly behind his shoulder.

"Does any of the original script survive, Daniel Jackson?"

"Precious little, Teal'c. The graffiti overlying the original inscriptions refers to a people who call themselves the 'goddess breakers' – they seem to have done a pretty thorough job here, whoever they were."

"Indeed. Such destruction speaks of great hatred for the Goa'uld." Teal'c's voice held, to the practiced ear, more than a trace of satisfaction.

"Well," said Daniel with the ghost of a grin, "I suppose one can't fault their motives, although it makes things awkward from our point of view. Have you any idea what this particular room would be for? It had to be of some importance, the inscriptions are so extensive."

"I concur. But in the absence of any other information, I cannot say for what purpose it may have been used. I am sorry, Daniel Jackson."

"No, no Teal'c. Don't worry about it. Guess we'll just have to keep looking. Okay, there's nothing much left on the walls, and what there is, I've filmed. So let's see if the floor can tell us anything more. Give me a hand to clear a patch so that we can have a look, will you please?"

Daniel carefully wrapped and sealed the video camera against the pervasive dust and sand and laid it down in one corner of the room, then he and Teal'c hunkered down and gently started to sweep some of the accumulated dust to one side. As they gradually uncovered a patch of the original floor, Daniel began to get excited.

"Look Teal'c! See that? There's something there, I can see the outlines of a shape - and a change of color. It's only slight, but it is there."

"I can indeed see something, Daniel Jackson. It appears to be laid in to the floor."

Daniel had a sudden thought, and glanced at his watch. Yes, he had remembered to set the alarm to remind him of the next check-in. Good, he could concentrate on the matter in hand then, not waste another moment. He briefly wondered how Sam and Jack were getting on, then dived back into the task of clearing the floor, rapidly becoming completely absorbed in uncovering the pattern.

It hardly seemed to be any time at all until the sound of his alarm beeping pulled him back from the excitement of the chase. But then, as the radio's familiar crackle sounded in his ear, another familiar sound, one that he had not been remotely expecting to hear, startled him. He and Teal'c glanced up at each other. Daniel only had time to say "Well, guess we know what this room was used for now..." before the rings descended around them and whisked them off to God only knew where.

The landing was a rough one. Instead of the expected solid floor beneath their feet, the rings seemed to terminate some two or three feet above floor level. The sensation of falling at the end of their journey, the lack of solidity beneath their feet, was so unexpected that neither man had time to react, both falling heavily. Daniel's reflexes, while good, were not quite good enough to save him. He landed on his feet with a jarring thud, pitched forward and hit his head against something that was all too depressingly solid. For a moment or two he saw stars, then darkness rushed up to claim him.

*****

O'Neill and Carter jogged the last stretch to the temple, heat and the weight of their packs notwithstanding. As they got within what Jack figured was mental hailing distance, Jack slowed down and signaled to Carter to stop. They hunkered down behind a handy patch of scrub.

"Okay, Carter, we go in slow and easy from here. No telling what we're gonna run into. But first, I'm gonna try and raise Daniel again."

"Sir, is that wise? If there are hostiles, and they hear the radio..."

Jack glanced at her with an air of exaggerated patience and a look that spoke volumes. Carter flushed as the penny dropped.

"Sorry, sir, I'd forgotten..."

"That Daniel and I have other ways of keeping in touch? Figured you had, Major."

"Do you need me to keep quiet?"

"Might help, so if you wouldn't mind?" Jack gathered his concentration and visualized pushing his thoughts out to what he felt was a reasonable distance.

'Daniel? Daniel! Can you hear me?'

No response. He tried again concentrating harder this time, trying to push that little bit further. Still nothing. Damn! He chewed at his bottom lip as worry gnawed at him.

"Sir? Any luck?"

"None, Major. He's possibly out of range."

"Or hurt maybe? Unconscious? Would that affect it?"

"Or hurt." Jack felt another flash of irritation at Carter for pointing out the obvious, which he quickly smothered. After all, she didn't know the exact nature of their relationship, so she could hardly be expected to... he gave himself a mental shake, and forced himself to do what he did best, pushing the worry down deep.

"Okay, we're going in – but carefully. We'll flank the complex. Radio silence, three clicks for an emergency – no point in tipping our hand that neither of us is alone. Meet back here in sixty to pool information if we can't meet at the temple. Stay low."

"Yes sir. Good luck."

"You too, Major. Stay frosty."

Sam grinned at that, nodded her head, dropped to her belly and slithered off to the left. Jack watched her appreciatively for a moment or two. He had to admit she was good at what she did – the soldier bit and the science stuff too, much as he hated being on the receiving end of too much of it.

'Come on, O'Neill, get moving. Places to go, people to see.' With that thought, he too dropped flat and squirmed his way to the next patch of cover.

It was a slow and tedious process, even though he was good at it, made no easier by having his nerves stretched taut and a constant thread of worry nagging at the back of his consciousness. He couldn't spare a moment to try and contact Daniel either and stay as mentally alert as he needed to be. By the time he was in sight of the temple complex he felt stretched as tight as a piano wire, and had to take a moment or two in a deliberate effort to relax enough to do his job properly. Cautiously he raised his head above the low hummock in the ground he was lying behind and scanned the area in front of him. All quiet, as far as he could see. Eerily quiet. No sign of any living thing. His gut clenched on the thought, and he had to force the feeling of panic down hard. 'C'mon, O'Neill, professional, remember?'

A slight movement, caught in the corner of his eye, attracted his attention. He scanned the area in that direction, way off to his left. Nothing. Imagination, then? He looked hard – no, there it was again. A dust devil, raised by the intermittent warm breeze that was getting up? No, Carter, it was Carter; he caught the glint of sunshine on metal, low down. He'd have to warn her about that, it detracted from an otherwise flawless stalk.

His attention turned back to the temple again as he considered his options. Wait or go in? Seemed quiet enough for now. And there was cover enough almost up to the door – maybe a twenty-yard dash completely in the open. He scanned the tumbledown walls. Plenty of cover there, enough to shelter a couple of platoons. No, he would have to wait it out for a while at least. No body of soldiers on any planet he had ever visited could keep quiet indefinitely. He, on the other hand, could. He took a quick look at his watch, surprised to find that only fifteen minutes had passed since he'd split up with Carter. He could afford to wait a while then. He settled in comfortably, all his senses on alert.

Twenty minutes later, he reached his decision. The whole place was still quiet as the grave – no, bad image – was still quiet. Time to go in then. He was more than ever convinced that there was nobody else there at all – at least, nobody conscious. He had tried a couple of times during his enforced vigil to contact Daniel, still with no luck. So, now, time was of the essence. He gathered himself up and launched into a weaving run, flattening himself against a handy bit of wall once he reached the complex and slipping the safety off his P90. Looking to his left, he spotted Carter doing the same. Once she was in place, they started inching towards the still-blank doorway until they flanked it. He looked across at her and signaled his orders.

"I go high, you go low. On three. One, two, three."

They smoothly launched into their often-practiced drill, and methodically moved through the complex, checking out a room at a time. It was completely empty.

"Where the hell have they gotten to this time?"

"Well their packs are still here and undisturbed, Sir. They're piled in the altar stone room."

Jack looked down at the floor of the blank-walled room they were in. "Plenty of footprints. All criss-crossing. All different sizes, but this dry sand isn't good for holding prints. Think they might have run into some company after all?"

"I dunno sir. We could sure do with Teal'c to help out making sense of this."

"Yeah, the big guy's a better tracker than either of us." He studied the ground intently, twisting and turning his head to try and make sense of what was written there for a sufficiently skilled eye to read. "Ya know, Carter, I'm not sure, but there really doesn't seem to be enough prints here to indicate anyone other than Teal'c and Daniel. What clear prints there are, are all standard Air Force issue. I don't think there's been anybody here but us chickens."

"So what's the alternative then? Some kind of transportation device? Rings? Or something like the Asgard system on Cimmeria? Maybe even the cover stone itself?"

"It's possible. You didn't notice another back door anywhere, did you? Could they have left that way for some reason?"

Sam looked apologetic. "I wasn't really looking for one. I was concentrating on making sure we had no company. Sorry, sir."

"Don't sweat it, major, I was too. And nobody left via the back door we found the first time round. Okay, you go one way, I'll go the opposite. Quick circuit, just to check."

Five minutes later, the radio crackled in his ear. "Found one, sir. It hasn't been used – no footprints leading up to it."

"Okay, back to the altar stone room then. It's as good a place as any, and it's probably where they started."

"Roger that."

******

The first thing Daniel was aware of when consciousness returned was the severe pain in his head. He lay completely still, knowing from bitter experience that if he tried to move at all it would get very rapidly worse. Couldn't stop him trying to piece together what had happened to him though, as far as he could, his wits were really not behaving themselves at the moment – oh yeah, rings - obvious use for the room he and Teal'c had been in. But where in God's name had they taken them? First things first, though: better check and find out what kind of shape he was in. He shifted his limbs experimentally and took a couple of deep breaths, wincing as the pain in his head intensified, then settled down to a slow thumping ache. No sharp pains in his chest or his extremities – good sign, right? Nothing apparently broken.

He considered his stomach. Definite nausea – probably concussion then, but hopefully nothing major. Damn, he was going to have to open his eyes, find out how many of everything he was seeing. This was gonna hurt once the light hit. He took a moment or two to steel himself, then went for it. In any event, he needn't have worried. He opened his eyes to pitch-blackness. 'Oh, joy, let's hear it for mixed blessings.'

He closed his eyes for another few moments, willing the ache in his head to subside. Wasn't gonna work, not by will power alone. Tylenol then, he was sure he had some in one of his pockets. He started to fumble up and down his jacket – good thing it had been chilly inside the temple complex, neither he nor Teal'c had been tempted to shed their outer clothes, both of them were too sensitive to cold.

His concentration suddenly sharpened. Teal'c! Where was he? He had to be here somewhere; they'd both been within the rings when they'd been activated. Damn, he hated this woolly feeling in his head, quite apart from the ache. How could he have forgotten about Teal'c?

"Teal'c? Are you here too?"

"I am indeed, Daniel Jackson."

A wave of relief washed over Daniel. "Are you all right?"

"I am uninjured, apart from some minor contusions. Are you injured?"

"Um, largely not. I hit my head though, passed out for a while I think."

"You were unconscious for no more than a few minutes. Are you otherwise unhurt?"

"Yes, so far as I can tell. No broken bones, just a couple of bumps and scrapes. Oh, and an egg on my head."

"What species of egg?" The puzzlement in Teal'c's voice was plain to hear.

Daniel manfully suppressed a desire to giggle hysterically. "Uh, sorry, Teal'c. Earth expression – I've bumped my head hard enough to raise a lump on it."

"Ah, another of your Tauri colloquialisms. I shall remember it for future use. Can the phrase be applied to lumps elsewhere on the body?" Teal'c's voice was getting closer to him as he used their conversation to locate Daniel's position.

Daniel sternly admonished himself as the ridiculousness of the situation hit him full force. Lying in the pitch dark who knew where in the galaxy, totally cut off from aid of any type so far as he was aware, discussing eggs with a Jaffa, for crying out loud! The sudden Jackism brought him up short – Jack and Sam would be worried sick about them since they missed the check-in.

"Daniel Jackson! Are you still conscious?"

"Yes, sorry Teal'c. I was just... distracted there for a moment. No, the phrase can only be used to describe lumps on the head."

Teal'c reached his side as he finished speaking, and started to check him out gently and methodically, feeling his head to assess the damage. Daniel winced as his large hands found a tender area.

"You are bleeding, Daniel Jackson. There is a not inconsiderable wound in your scalp. However, it does not appear to be deep. And, indeed, an egg on your forehead. However, I think that you have, as the Tauri say, gotten off lightly."

"Yeah, I think we've both been lucky – if you can call anything about our current situation lucky, that is. Help me up, would you? I need to find some Tylenol, my head is splitting... uh, I have a headache. Then we need to contact Jack and Sam, let them know what's happened. Have we any light?"

"We do." A flashlight snapped on, Teal'c considerately keeping the beam aimed at the floor until Daniel's eyes and headache adjusted to it, allowing him time to fish out the Tylenol and dry swallow two of them and to fold up a handkerchief – a clean one, mercifully – to apply to the long shallow gash just above his hairline. He finally found out that he was seeing only one of everything – better and better, only a mild concussion then, and the nausea was already passing.

"Thanks, Teal'c, it shouldn't be long until they kick in. Now, how about the radio?"

"Mine is broken, Daniel Jackson."

"Okay." He thumbed the switch on his. "Jack, can you hear me? Respond please. This is Daniel Jackson calling Jack O'Neill, come in please? Damn! Looks like this one isn't working either."

Daniel closed his eyes again, and tried to concentrate. It was no use, while his head was so sore, he just couldn't even begin to get a message out telepathically. "Just great," he muttered, as much to himself as Teal'c. "Just when it would be really useful to be able to contact Jack, my head hurts too much to manage it."

"Maybe once the pain passes, you will have more success. In the interval, we can investigate our surroundings."

Teal'c flashed the light round the space they were in. It was another room similar to the one from whence the rings had snatched them. Daniel saw at once that they had been truly lucky in their landing, even though it had not seemed so at the time: they had dropped onto virtually the only large clear space on the floor which was otherwise littered with rubble, the remains of the low dais which would have been the termination point for the rings. He winced again as he imagined what might have happened if they had landed a couple of feet further over. As Teal'c flashed the light around the walls, it became evident that there were inscriptions here too, also partially obliterated, but this time they were marked with the scars of staff weapon fire.

"There has been a great battle here," Teal'c's deep voice rumbled out of the darkness to his side.

"Maybe some sort of rearguard action against these goddess-breakers? That would make sense, if they attacked via the rings once they had found them. Any sign of the controls for this end of the system?"

Teal'c's light paused in its sweep round the room. "There."

"Good." Daniel looked along the beam and saw that the otherwise unscarred section of wall was blasted into fragments where the light was concentrated. "Oh. Not so good."

"The controls have been destroyed."

Daniel thought for another moment or two, and said, "Well that's encouraging – if the defenders of this place tried to destroy the ring system, then it can't be the only way out. All we have to do is find the alternative route."

"The controls may have been destroyed in error in the heat of battle."

Daniel sighed. "That's true. But until we find otherwise, I'm going to pin my hopes on an alternative exit, it makes no sense not to have one. Have you ever known a Goa'uld to put all its eggs in one basket?" 'Damn it, what is it with the egg motif – brains must be scrambled... fried... Pull yourself together, Jackson!' "Oh, and hope that this place is as deserted as the rest of the planet, of course. I'm not sure that my diplomatic skills are up to dealing with a nest of Jaffa right now – no offence, Teal'c."

Daniel heard a smile in Teal'c's voice. "None taken, Daniel Jackson. We would indeed have little defense against large numbers. Do you carry a weapon?"

Daniel patted down his leg. "Yeah, I've still got my Beretta. And some spare ammo. I never thought I'd say this, and please don't tell Jack that I did, but that's a comfort. I'd rather have a working radio though."

"How does your head feel now? Have you recovered sufficiently to move from this place?"

"Oh, I think so. This room's charms are fairly limited, wouldn't you say? Let's go see if we can't find the back door."

They moved cautiously to the doorway and listened hard before they risked a flash of light in both directions down the corridor. Teal'c spotted a carving on the wall a little further down, and gave a soft grunt of satisfaction. "There, Daniel Jackson, a designation to tell us where in this complex we are."

They went towards it, Daniel sniffing the air as they went. "You know, Teal'c, I don't think there's anyone here either. The air has that smell about it – I've smelt it before in recently opened tombs. It hasn't been seriously disturbed for a long time."

"I thought so too, Daniel Jackson. Aah – we are on the sixth level, fourth circle."

"Meaning... what exactly?"

"That we are in the fourth circle of this complex at the sixth level."

Daniel rolled his eyes – Teal'c's literal mindedness could sometimes really be a drawback. "So, if we go down six floors, we should be at ground level?"

"Or maybe less. Sometimes these structures are constructed both above and below ground. There should however be some indication of ground level when we reach it."

"Okay, so how do we get down? Stairs? Elevator? What? And where?"

Teal'c was looking around, eyes following the beam of the flashlight, as Daniel spoke. "There, Daniel Jackson." He pointed to a patch of wall that to Daniel's eye looked identical to its surroundings, walked over to it and pressed one of the carvings. His eyebrow rose as nothing happened.

"I do not understand. This should make it open." He pressed it again, more firmly this time. There was a hideous, grinding squeal and a portion of the wall slid aside for a little distance, then grated to a halt. Teal'c put his shoulder to the gap, gave a hefty shove and the door, protesting all the time, opened to its fullest.

Daniel poked his head inside the compartment. "And this is...?"

"The elevator."

"I was afraid you were going to say that. I really think I would prefer to take the stairs, Teal'c, this thing doesn't sound capable of taking anyone anywhere."

"I do not believe there will be any stairs, Daniel Jackson. The Goa'uld place great faith in technology."

"I was afraid you were going to say that, too." Daniel sighed resignedly. "Okay. 'Whither thou goest, I go. Excelsior!'" Seeing Teal'c's head cocked quizzically to one side, he hurriedly added, "That was a quotation, Teal'c. Meaning, c'mon, let's get this over with. Not that I'm in a particular hurry to meet my maker." The last part was muttered under his breath as they went inside and Teal'c looked around for the controls. Of which there were none.

After five minutes of fruitless searching, neither man willing to believe the evidence of their own eyes, Daniel scrubbed his hands through his hair, carefully avoiding the cut above his hairline.

"Great, just great! No stairs, and now no elevator either. So now what?"

"There must be some method of controlling this elevator. Because we have not found them, it does not mean that the controls do not exist. We must keep looking."

"Well, I hope you're right, otherwise we're never going to get down...whoa!"

Daniel clutched at the wall to steady himself as the elevator shuddered and the doors squealed shut. He looked at Teal'c and grinned, more out of bravado than humor.

"Well, that's one problem solved..."

The elevator clanked into noisy life, grinding and moaning as it unwillingly inched its way downwards, stopping frequently in its jerky progress, making Daniel's palms more than a little sweaty. The whole experience was made that much more nerve wracking by having to be endured in the dark in order to conserve the flashlight batteries. He let out a small sigh of relief when the compartment finally jerked to a stop and the doors inched open, again squealing a protest. Then another thought hit him and he pulled out his gun. The noise that this damned elevator was making would have any living thing within a radius of miles coming to investigate.

The elevator doors had stopped after opening only a few inches, and no amount of heaving by Teal'c would open them any further. There was no way he could get through the gap; it would even be a squeeze for the less bulky man.

"Right, Teal'c, wait here while I check where we are. Don't waste any more energy on the doors. We'll worry about how to get them open for you if we have to, okay?"

So saying, Daniel hunkered down as low as he could, mindful of O'Neill's advice on the wisdom of staying low if there was the possibility of being shot at, and insinuated himself through the gap. Nothing there, no noise, nothing at all. He risked a quick light, holding the flashlight well away from his body so that no one could shoot along the beam and hit anything vital. Nothing in either direction and no weapons fire. Deserted then. He stood up, turned the flashlight full on and looked round the walls. Yes, there it was – damn! Seventh level! Wrong direction. Something else caught his eye as he surveyed the inscription. It looked like... yes, it was cuneiform. Very faint, he doubted if he would have seen it if the restricted light from the flashlight hadn't thrown it into relief. He quickly translated it, trying not to get too hopeful that it might be something to help them out of their current predicament. No, all it was was confirmation of the floor designation. Damn again.

He slithered back round the elevator door again, killing the light as he did so. "Teal'c, we're on the seventh level, we must be underground right now. We need to go back up."

It was a tedious process, inching up floor by floor – the elevator seemed, if anything, more reluctant to move up than down, if its shrieking protests were anything to go by; the noise seemed to get harder to bear as it continued, not easier. At every level, the doors were recalcitrant, sometimes opening enough under Teal'c's persuasion to allow him to check where they were, other times only opening enough for Daniel to squeeze through. Not once had they seen any indication that they had reached ground level. Now they were stuck: the elevator would go no higher. They were both standing at the floor designation marker, unwilling to believe that there was no sign that their search was over.

"Teal'c, are you sure there should be some indication of ground level on one of these floor markers? Is that standard practice in all Goa'uld installations?"

"It is generally the case, especially in a complex this large. I can think of no reason why this should be omitted in a standard installation."

"So maybe then this isn't a standard Goa'uld installation? Why would that be, I wonder?"

"I do not know, Daniel Jackson. Possibly innovation for the sake of innovation. The false gods are lovers of novelties which they can warp to fit their own devices."

"Or, possibly... not innovation at all." Daniel smacked his forehead – then smiled briefly as he realized his headache had gone – then frowned again as he realized what he had been missing. "Teal'c, I think I know where we are. Well, not exactly where we are, but where we are. It's a ziggurat, it has to be. Damn, the clues were all there, I can't believe I missed them. Cuneiform inscriptions, the way this lift terminates here – I can't believe I didn't put it all together until now!"

He rapidly drew a small sketch in the dust at their feet.

"Look, the standard form of a ziggurat was like a stepped pyramid, only with fewer steps. For example, the complex at Ur-Nammu had three progressively smaller tiers with a temple on the top. The lowest tier usually provided access both to ground level and to the temple, by means of ramps, although sometimes access to the ziggurat was by means of a spiral ramp that went from top to bottom of the structure. If the elevator won't go any further, it has to mean that we've reached the top of one of the tiers. The translation of the floor designation should have been 'circuit', not 'circle' – or maybe 'circle' is correct, not all ziggurats were square structures, some of them were oval. All we have to do is follow this corridor – either direction, it makes no difference, there must be more than one connecting corridor between the circuits. When we find one heading towards the center, we follow it until we find the first circuit and follow that until we find another elevator. If the structure follows the most usual pattern, that should take us up to the topmost level. We should be able to find the exit from there."

Teal'c considered what Daniel was saying. It seemed logical and reasonable, although the evidence seemed scanty. But Daniel Jackson was famed within the SGC for making intuitive leaps of this kind. They had no alternative plan; Daniel Jackson seemed certain of his facts and was well within his area of expertise. They had already followed Teal'c's lead and had not found an exit. They had to get out of here. He made his decision.

"Lead and I will follow."

"While we're on our way, now that my head has stopped aching, I'm going to try and contact Jack again."

Daniel looked at his watch. "We've just missed the third check-in time, Jack and Sam will probably be back at the temple complex by now. I'd better try and stop them following us through the rings if I can get in touch, they might not be as lucky as we were."

*****

The altar stone room didn't turn up any clues. Apart from the packs lying in one corner and the footprints on the floor, there was nothing to indicate that Teal'c and Daniel had ever been there, let alone that they had disappeared from there.

"Okay, Carter, this is a bust. Maybe the cover stone had nothing to do with this after all. That leaves some other form of transportation system. Ideas? Suggestions?"

"Well, rings is the obvious one sir, we're dealing with a Goa'uld here, after all."

"Agreed. So where do we start looking, I wonder?"

"What exactly did Daniel say in his last check-in?"

"Something about having a look around the rest of the complex..."

"And about finding some interesting inscriptions."

"Okay, so we look for other rooms with inscriptions on the walls. And keep our fingers crossed that there aren't too many of them. Same drill as last time, Carter, you go one way, I'll go the other."

"Yes sir."

They moved out quite normally this time, confident that there was no one else in the complex. Jack looked at his watch. Coming up on the third check-in time. Maybe this time... 'Yeah, go on O'Neill, kid yourself why doncha? Why would Daniel wait for a check-in time before he got in touch? He knows how worried you're bound to be. God, what if he's hurt somewhere... and where the hell could he be? He could be anywhere in the freakin' galaxy, for crying out loud, we might never find him this time... we might never find either of them.'

His radio crackled, making him jump.

"Colonel? I've found something, sir."

"Where are you, Carter?"

"Fourth room on the left in the corridor I took, sir."

"On my way." As he jogged back along the way he had just come. Jack asked, "What exactly have you found?"

"Daniel's video camera, sir. It's lying in one corner of a room with more defaced inscriptions on the walls, but it's been wrapped and sealed against the sand and dust, not just dropped. Looks like whatever happened, Daniel had finished his recording before he disappeared."

O'Neill skidded into the doorway just as Carter finished talking.

"Damn! So no clues on video as to what happened then."

"Sorry sir, doesn't look like it since Daniel had time to wrap it. I'll review the recording just in case, though."

Jack was studying the floor intently again. "See, here, they had started to clear a patch of the floor before they were taken, you can see a pattern starting to take shape. And there are a lot of footprints, but only one type, as far as I can see, all standard issue. Looks to me like a transportation device is inching ahead in the abduction stakes."

Sam was scanning the walls of the room as he spoke. "But if we're talking about a transportation device, where are the controls? Any device we've ever encountered before, the controls have always been quite obvious – on the wall, on a separate plinth, something."

"So maybe this particular Goa'uld is a more devious bastard than we're used to, if that's possible. Maybe the controls are hidden amongst all this other shit on the walls. Take a good look around; see if you can spot anything that might qualify."

They both moved apart from the partially exposed pattern on the floor and started to study the walls intently. As they moved around the perimeter of the room, Sam turned on the camera and pressed rewind. The low battery indicator on the camera sounded, startling them both. Jack jumped, cursed, and looked across to Sam to tell her to switch the camera off, then jumped some more as two different things happened more or less at the same time. The ring system suddenly activated, and at the back of his mind he heard a faint 'Jack? Can you hear me?'

"Whoa!" Carter was looking at him, big eyed, from her position on the other side of the room. "Guess that answers a lot of questions. What set them off?"

"The camera, I think. Geeze, sound activated rings for a change. Remind me to check the damn batteries more often next time we're offworld, will ya?"

"You got it, sir!" Sam's reply was fervent. "Goes double for me!"

Jack hardly heard her as a wave of relief washed through him. 'Daniel? Daniel love? Thank God! You okay? Where are you?' The voice in his head sounded muffled, distorted, as if it were coming from the bottom of a well.

'Jack! Can you hear me?'

Damn! He obviously hadn't got through the last time. He gathered all his concentration, and thought as hard and as far as he could.

'Daniel! That you? You okay? Where are you? Teal'c with you? Is he okay?'

This time, he got a reply. 'Yes, fine, don't know, yes, and yes.' Together with a definite sense of "Duh!" accompanying the first 'yes', and in no small measure, relief. Oh yeah, that was Daniel all right.

'We've just found the rings. Hold on, we're going to follow you through.'

'Uhh, wouldn't recommend that, Jack. The landing's a bitch. And we're not at the termination point any more. We're trying to find a way out.'

'You sure you're not hurt?'

'We got lucky, just a couple of bumps and bruises. You and Sam might not get off so lightly. And where are we? I have no clue – inside a ziggurat somewhere. At least, I think it's a ziggurat, that's a theory Teal'c and I still have to test out.'

'Can't be too far away, though, I can still 'hear' you.'

'No, I think we have to be on-planet somewhere, and you're right, we're probably not too far away from you, unless the link has grown out of all recognition.'

"Sir? Sir, are you okay?" Carter's worried query brought Jack back to himself with a jolt.

"Yeah, I'm fine, Carter. More than fine – I'm in contact with Daniel again."

"Oh, thank God. Is he okay? Was it the rings? Where is he? Is Teal'c with him? Is he okay?"

"Yes to four of those, Carter. Don't know where he is though – yet. We're working on that bit."

Sam subsided into silence, her fingers drumming on the stock of her P90 an indicator of her impatience.

'Any sign of trouble?'

'As in company? No, this place is deserted. We can't use the rings to get back, the controls have been destroyed. Teal'c and I are trying to find another way out. No luck yet, but we've only just figured out where we need to go. Where exactly are you?'

'In the ring room. Damn things went off when the video battery indicator did.'

'Yeah? It was the alarm on my watch that got us.'

Carter was all but jumping up and down in her impatience to attract his attention.

'Back in a sec, Daniel, Carter's getting antsy here.'

"Carter, will you settle down? Daniel's fine, Teal'c's fine, we're just gonna try to figure out how to get back together again."

"That's what I was going to suggest, sir. Could you possibly do a triangulation on the signal Daniel's sending to you? I mean, do you know roughly what direction he's in from here? Or is the whole thing less specific than that?"

Now there was an idea that hadn't occurred to him. He stopped and thought for a minute, eyes closed, then turned in a circle. Yes, he could feel Daniel's general direction much as he could tell when he was pointing directly at the sun when his eyes were shut. He slowly swung from side to side, feeling the contact get stronger, then weaker, until he could decide from which direction he was feeling it strongest. He opened his eyes again.

"That way. He's somewhere in that direction."

"Great! How about we go outside and see if we can't pinpoint where they might be? If you walk along a measured course, find his direction and then walk an equal amount at one hundred and eighty degrees from the first point and try again, where the two lines cross should be their position. Then all we have to do is walk there. Even if they're on the move as well, if we do that at regular intervals, we should be able to keep track of them."

Jack was kicking himself for not thinking of it first. He would have gotten there eventually, probably – but he had to admit, she was quick.

"Good thinking, Major." Credit where credit was due. "I'll relay that to Daniel."

'Actually, I heard. Or at least, I heard you thinking about what Sam said. You seem to be coming through a lot stronger now. And you can't think of everything first, that wouldn't be fair. Sounds like a plan to me, let's try it. If nothing else, we'll manage to pinpoint this complex for future investigation. Teal'c and I will keep going here until you're in position. Let me know and we'll stop moving, give you a chance to get a fix on us.'

'Okay. We're moving outside now.' "Carter, let's move out."

Once outside again, Jack cast around for a moment or two to get his bearings on Daniel, closing his eyes the better to concentrate on getting his line right. There it was again, that feeling akin to the warmth of the sun on his face, now stronger, now weaker. He opened his eyes and pointed confidently to the low hills behind the temple complex.

"They're over there somewhere. According to Daniel, they're in pitch darkness. My feeling is that wherever they are, they're either underground or in some area built into those hills."

"That seems logical. But let's do the triangulation just to be sure."

'Daniel.'

He was there instantly, although still muffled and faint.

'You ready for us to stop?'

'Yes.'

'Give me a minute to tell Teal'c. Okay, go for it.'

Carter moved to take Jack's original position as he trotted off at right angles to the direction in which he had been facing. When he was about one hundred yards away from her, he stopped and took a bearing. There, got it. He quickly piled up a couple of handy rocks to mark his position and placed another two in front of them to mark the direction he'd first been facing in, then jogged two hundred yards in the opposite direction and repeated the procedure.

"Carter, do you copy? I've got a fix from this corner." He looked across to see that Sam was already on the move, heading for the first triangulation point, feeling a flush of satisfaction that they worked together so well. "When you get there, I had to turn through about forty-five degrees to feel Daniel strongest."

He watched as she got into position.

"Ready, sir."

"Good work. I'll set the pace. By the left – left, right, left." 'On our way, Daniel.'

'Check.'

They gradually converged on each other, Jack counting out the pace the whole time, concentrating on maintaining a straight course, feeling the pull of his link with Daniel growing stronger with every step he took.

He and Carter were about forty yards apart when Jack suddenly lost the certainty of Daniel's position.

"Carter, halt. I've lost him."

'No you haven't. I think you've passed us. You feel like you're ahead of me, just by a little.'

'Keeping tabs on me, Daniel?'

'Always. Go a bit further forward; I'll see if I'm right. Yep, I'm right. You're heading off at an angle to us though. You must just have crossed our position.'

Jack backtracked a little, adjusted his heading and moved forward some more.

'That's more like it. You are slightly ahead of us, but now we're all heading in pretty well the same direction.'

'You're heading roughly parallel to the hills behind the temple.'

"Colonel? Sir?" Carter's worried voice sounded tinnily in his ear. "What's happening?"

"'S' okay Carter. Get yourself over here. We've found them. I seem to be right on top of them."

'Okay, Daniel, move out. We'll follow up here until we figure out where you're headed. This zigzag thing, how does that work?'

'That's 'ziggurat', Jack. Look, I'll show you: this is a reconstruction of the ziggurat at Ur-Nammu, and this one's at Uruk.'

'Geeze, you manage to get slides into every damn thing, don'tcha? Okay, I get the picture.'

A snort of laughter greeted this remark. 'I should hope so too, all the practice we've had at this. And just remember, it wasn't me that started the private showings. We're looking for a connecting corridor to take us into the center, trying to find our way to the topmost level. After that, it should be plain sailing to find some way out.'

'So we should be looking for anything at roughly ground level that might indicate where the outside ramp ends? Wait up though, the pictures show that you might be able to get out before going to the very top.'

'Yeah, but that wasn't always the case... and I heard that groan. We're certain to get out from the top, one way or another, and it's a smaller area to search. The entrance could be anything up to about one third of the way up the hillside, I should think.'

'One way or another? We might have to dig you out?'

'Hopefully not – we've got no food and not much water.'

"Oh, this day just gets better and better."

"Sir?"

"Nothing, Carter. Keep your eyes peeled for anything that looks like it might be a way into those hills, 'cause that's where we think they are, inside a structure that looks a bit like a wedding cake – a zigzag thingy, something like that. It's kinda..."

"It's okay, sir, I know roughly what a ziggurat looks like."

Jack grimaced. "Sure ya do. Why wouldn't ya? Daniel thinks the entrance should be somewhere in the lower third of the hills' elevation."

'Jack, we've found an interconnecting corridor and we're going down it. We're turning at right angles to our previous heading.'

'Gotcha. You're heading for them thar hills now. We're staying with you.'

'What happens when we hit them? You can't stay with us over the surface if we're going to have to go deeper into the heart of the hill itself.'

'We'll solve that problem when we get to it. I'm working on it, you work on it too. In the meantime, maybe Carter and I'll get lucky and find the way in from here.'

*****

The corridor was long, and as obviously deserted as all of the rest of the complex had been so far. As Daniel and Teal'c plodded along, their feet stirred a fine veil of dust which danced in the beam of the flashlight and caught in their throats, making Daniel cough even through the bandanna he had tied round the bottom half of his face and making both men disinclined to talk out loud. Had it not been for the periodic commentary in his mind, Daniel would have found the silence oppressive. But even this was gradually fading as the two made their way into the heart of the structure.

'Daniel? You still with me?'

'Just barely, Jack. Still no sign here of the corridor we're looking for – this place is big. Any sign of the entrance yet?'

'We're investigating a possibility here. We've found a large rock slide that looks comparatively recent at roughly the right level on the hillside. Carter's looking at it now, and doesn't seem to think there's any geological reason for it. I'm wondering if part of the hillside has been collapsed over the entrance.'

Daniel winced. 'So even if we find a way out, we're stuck as soon as we hit the exit?'

'Maybe not. I'm thinking we might be able to blast a way through with C4, a couple of controlled explosions might just clear the rubble out of the way.'

'Or might just seal us up here for good. That would puzzle any future archaeologist that found this place.'

The voice that came back to him sounded pained. 'Daniel, one thing that I do know about is explosions – Special Ops, remember? Specialized training? Years of experience? That kinda stuff? Not to mention threat assessment?'

'Bangs and flashes a specialty, huh?'

'You better believe it, and in all the ways that count. In fact, I've got plans in that direction once we get home...'

Daniel snorted, but his lips twitched in a grin. It was novel, being regarded as sex on legs at his age... 'Do you ever think about anything else?'

'Not in connection with you and home, no. Got a problem with that?'

'Not in the ordinary way of things. So what's the verdict? Are you going to try the C4?'

'I think, probably yeah. It seems to be an acceptable risk, if it's done right. I'm pretty sure you and Teal'c are far enough away from us to be safe. Okay, here's what we do. I'm gonna try this. You and Teal'c keep going, try to get to the top. If we can find a way through, we'll head for the top as well. Hopefully once we're all inside we'll be able to reach each other again and guide each other. That sound like a plan?'

'Well, it's the only one we've got, so – go for it. Take care.'

'You too.'

"Okay, Teal'c, we're moving out again."

"What did O'Neill say to you?"

Daniel outlined the plan to him and the big man inclined his head. "It sounds like an acceptable risk. O'Neill is skilled in the use of explosives."

"That's funny, that's what he said."

"O'Neill is a formidable tactician. He does not take reckless chances."

"Yeah. He more or less said that, too."

Ten minutes later, they finally found the connecting corridor they were looking for, heading off along it to locate another elevator. Events suddenly took a turn for the better as they stumbled across one in short order, and a turn for the better still when the elevator doors opened to their fullest without too much of a protest.

"Well, Teal'c, it looks like our luck is changing at last. This elevator seems to be in better order than the last one. Shall we..?"

This elevator did seem to run a lot smoother than the last one, a fact that Daniel filed away in his mind under 'interesting'. It still wasn't a totally comfortable experience however; there were a couple of stops and starts. When they were about three quarters of the way up, they heard four muffled thumps. Daniel looked at Teal'c, who said one word: "O'Neill."

"I guess so. Wonder if it worked? Suppose there's only one way to find out, and we aren't going to do that until we get out of here and Jack and Sam get closer to us."

When the elevator finally came to a halt, Teal'c was able to open the doors with comparative ease and they both cautiously looked out. They were in a huge space, so large that the beam from the flashlight petered out into the emptiness, illuminating nothing other than a bright slash through the darkness.

"Well, if I'm right, we should be in some kind of temple at the very top of the ziggurat. No way of telling though, with only this flashlight. Why in hell do we never get light when we need it? There's obviously a viable power source of some kind here, or the elevators wouldn't be working. So why no light? Did the last one to leave the building switch them all off?"

Teal'c shone the flashlight onto the walls around the elevator door, stopped to consider a moment, and then said, "It is possible that they did exactly that, Daniel Jackson. However, I see no device for switching them back on again." He paused to consider a moment or two, then said, "Light!"

At the command the area was bathed in a soft illumination, and Daniel chuckled as he turned to see what was now revealed. "Good thinking, Teal'c! Most other things seem to be sound activated round here. Now let's see where we've ended up and see if we can't... wow!"

The space was vast and imposing, filled with ranks of columns, the tops of which were decorated with stylized ostrich feathers. The columns themselves were covered with huge decorated tiles, the grout between them glinting in the soft light, the colors bright, fresh, and startling in their intensity, blue and gold and royal purple shockingly vibrant against a pale cream background.

Daniel swung this way and that, trying to see everything at once. This place was incredible – the most purely Egyptian place he had been in since Abydos. It was like stepping into a computer generated reconstruction of an ancient temple, and for a moment he was overawed at the fact that this place was real, exactly as its makers had left it and almost as if they had left only yesterday.

'Jack has just got to see this.'

'See what?'

'You're back!'

'Yeah, large as life and twice as handsome. We're in – it was a bit of a squeeze, but the entrance seems stable enough under all the rubble. Not gonna chance making the hole any bigger unless we absolutely have to though. No sense in pushing our luck any further than necessary. So, see what, exactly?'

'Where are you?'

'Climbing the mother of all staircases in the pitch dark apart from Carter's flashlight – this sucker looks like it's going to go on forever. See what?'

'Sounds like you're on the right track. You might like to try saying 'light', either right now or when you get to a landing, the lights up here are sound activated.'

'Up where? And see what?'

'Look!'

Daniel looked around himself, concentrating on sending what he was seeing to Jack.

'Isn't it just the most incredible thing you've ever seen?'

'I can see why you'd think so. Personally, I'd prefer a rack of zats or staff weapons, so each to his own. But yeah, it's pretty amazing. I suppose you want to film it?'

'No camera.'

'Carter's got it in her pack, if you've got the spare batteries. Now I'm shutting up; I need all my energy for these damn stairs.'

*****

Jack's knees were giving him hell and his legs felt rubbery when he and Carter finally neared the top of the staircase, although a mixture of pride and determination to get the missing part of his team back under his wing would not allow him to admit it. The fact that the lights had indeed been activated by his voice did not improve the situation any: being able to see just how far the staircase extended had only worsened the whole experience, in his opinion. Christ, all that technology to hand, just begging to be used, and those stubborn motherfuckers had to do things the hard way, just for effect!

His temper was not improved any by his first sight of Daniel, who looked, frankly, ghastly, his face covered with large smears of blood from the gash on his scalp, mixed with copious amounts of dust and grime garnered from his and Tealc's progress through the ziggurat.

All in all, it took some moments of anxious fussing and quite a bit of irritable reassurance, audible and otherwise, from Daniel to ensure that everything was as okay as possible considering the circumstances. After all this frantic activity, Jack was glad enough to take a breather while Daniel filmed the inscriptions on the pillars, and in no hurry, now that his team was reunited, to rain on Daniel's parade. A blissed-out Daniel was something he could live with in the face of no immediate danger and the waves of pleasure he was picking up from his partner were oil on the troubled waters of his temper.

Jack shucked his pack at long last and eased himself down beside Sam, who had done likewise and was sitting with her back propped against one of the pillars, legs stuck straight out in front of her.

"Some climb, huh? You okay, Carter?"

"Sure was, sir. Yeah, I'll be fine when my legs decide they belong to me again. This is some place, isn't it? I can see why Daniel was so enthusiastic. Although I really can't say that I'll be sorry to leave it and head home."

"Me neither. At least we don't have to climb the damn stairs this time. That's gotta be an improvement, no matter what else happens. God knows how many of them there were."

"Seven hundred, sir."

Jack turned and looked at her. "Carter? You counted?"

Sam's face was the picture of innocence. "Of course. Didn't you? I wanted to calculate how high we'd climbed."

Jack was shaking his head in amazement. "Geeze, I can't believe you counted them... sheesh!" Scientists!

Sam looked at him sidelong and ducked her head so he wouldn't see her grin. That should help take his mind off his knees.

After a decent interval, Jack stood up and strolled over to Daniel's side. He'd worked his way around nearly all of the walls, and he and Teal'c had investigated another room whose entrance they had found at the far end of the room.

"Daniel? You 'bout done here? I don't want to rush you, but we're due to return in an hour, and we're probably going to need all that time to get to the gate."

"Not just 'about done', Jack – finished. I've got all the inscriptions taped, all that we really need for now, anyway. If there's anything there about what's happened to us, it's only a matter of time before we find it."

"Okay then. Teal'c, Carter, we're outta here. We'll head back to the ruins to pick up the two packs and then to the gate. Stay frosty; let's not get careless just because we're on the home stretch."

They fell into their usual formation, Jack in front with Daniel close behind, Carter next and Teal'c bringing up the rear. Daniel took one last, lingering look around him as they moved towards the stairs. As Teal'c left the room, the lights dimmed and went out.

The stairway took most of their concentration and there wasn't much talking on the way down. Some of the steps were cracked and worn, and nobody was very keen to lose their footing and tumble down. The only occasional comments came from Jack, and were along the lines of "Watch this one... here's another one that's not too safe...". However, they managed to get to the bottom without incident, almost as if the planet had flung everything it could at them and was now tired of the fight. The only awkward moments came when they got to the pile of rubble that Jack had blasted through to get into the ziggurat. It was a tight squeeze for him, less so for Daniel and Sam, but it was obvious that Teal'c was going to be struggling to get through. They had to spend half an hour patiently widening the hole rock by rock and suffered a few anxious moments frozen into immobility and listening to the soft pattering of falling earth and small stones before they all managed to reach the outside with nothing worse than scratches and broken nails.

From there to the gate was plain sailing. Daniel dialed the address, Sam sent the GDO signal, and they arrived, tired, filthy and bedraggled, in the gate room.

 

*****

 

Daniel gave an appreciative sniff as he entered his office – yes, that was it, the smell of his personal space at long last, coffee, paper and chalk dust mixed, and overall the faint tang of pencil shavings. It was great to be back, clean, fed and watered. The debriefing had been a short one, the team had split up to carry out their allotted tasks, and now he was going to have the pleasure of doing some real work at last. So, where to start? An attempt to sort out the tangled puzzle of the timeline he supposed.

He had three different scripts to work with, hieroglyphs, cuneiform and the Latin inscriptions found in the original temple. And therein lay the puzzle: the cuneiform should have predated the hieroglyphs, at least according to Earth history, but seemed instead to have been superimposed upon them. The Latin inscriptions they had found were obviously later, and therefore right at the end of the timeline, although the 'goddess breakers' did seem to have fizzled out rather once they had destroyed the ring system, or seen it destroyed in front of them. And the cuneiform that he had seen and translated in situ had held no startling revelations about the identity or history of the Goa'uld involved, but rather had concerned themselves with practical matters. Well, there was maybe some more of this text hidden in the vids he had taken of the walls in the upper temple. He settled down with a happy sigh to review the footage he had taken.

An hour or so later, he was fairly satisfied that he had the order of events worked out. In his opinion there had to be more than one Goa'uld involved here, Ma'at and... who knew? He was fairly sure that the original complex had been built by Ma'at, and there was no way that cuneiform inscriptions would have been necessary in that case. But who the other Goa'uld was, why they should have been there, and why they felt the need to duplicate some of the inscriptions, he was at a loss to explain. And the 'goddess breakers'? Some kind of technophobe insurgent group, he guessed, who had apparently been able to drive the Goa'uld out. Or maybe not the actual Goa'uld, given their apparent level of weapons technology, maybe just the last remnants of their adherents.

All very puzzling, even with a working timeline in place. He shook himself mentally – puzzling, yes. Interesting, definitely. But not getting him much further in finding out about the link that had been forged between him and Jack, nor how to control it.

'Daniel? You in your office? What are you doing?'

'Making a start on some of the translations we need. Thought I'd get a head start for tomorrow. You finished your paperwork?'

'Yup. I'm heading off home now, ready for some quality time with ESPN. You ready to come with?'

'Uh, not quite yet, I'd like to get a bit more done here before I call it a day.'

'Cool. I'll see you in a couple of hours then. Oh, and Daniel? Don't even think of pulling an all nighter over this. Plans, remember?'

Daniel snickered. 'Oh, I won't. Something about... bangs and flashes, wasn't it?'

'Well, the flashes might still be on the table, but the bangs? Forced to drop those... pressure of work, ya know? Seriously, don't be too long.'

'I'll try not to be.'

Daniel felt a smiling caress run through his mind as he plunged back into his translation.

*****

It was late by the time Daniel left the mountain, and when he got there the house was in darkness apart from a lamp burning in the bedroom. As he parked the car, he mentally whispered, 'Jack? You still awake?'

No answer. Just as well, they'd all had a long and exhausting day, and he was looking forward to getting some sleep. At the thought, he yawned hugely and made for the door. As quietly as he could, mentally and physically, he let himself in and locked the door behind him, smiling to himself as he followed Jack's familiar nightly security ritual and double-checked the locks without even having to turn on a light – this place was definitely home. Not just somewhere to live, but home.

He took off his shoes and crept along the hall to the bathroom. He was too tired to do more than the basics, and stripped off his clothes where he was, kicking them into a comparatively neat heap on the floor. Jack would probably have something to say about that in the morning, but damn it, he was too tired to bother about that right now either.

He paused for a moment or two in the bedroom doorway. Jack must really have been bushed, he'd fallen asleep half propped up against the headboard and the book he'd been reading had slid down onto the floor, crumpling a couple of the pages in the process. Tired as he was, it pained him to see a book, any book, in that condition, and he picked it up and fixed it before switching off the lamp and heading for his own side of the bed.

Jack only stirred a little when Daniel slid under the covers and scooted up close to him, just enough to move down the bed and turn into his arms with a sigh. Daniel sighed too as a feeling of impossible tenderness for this man welled up inside him and he pressed a kiss against his hair. Yeah, this was home, and Jack made it that way. And on that thought he fell deeply asleep.

He woke to a beautiful sunny morning with a groan on his lips. No, he really, really, didn't want to wake up just yet, not in the middle of the dream he was having, not when he and Jack were just getting to the interesting part with the... damn, as if he had a choice. What had woken him anyway? As he became a little more alert, he became aware of exactly what had woken him. Jack, sighing and shifting in his arms, poking him in the thigh with a leaking erection that was even harder than the one that he was currently sporting. Which, he thought with a grin, took some doing, 'cause he was hard.

Then the significance of the fact hit him: Jack was obviously having a really good time, at least as good a time as he'd been having in his own dream. So, the dream thing worked for wet dreams as well as nightmares? Well, everything in life usually had an upside – but it seemed a pity to waste erections like these on a dream, especially in view of the fact that he had been so late home last night, more especially when the dream he'd been having had given him such a good idea for putting them to better use.

But how to wake Jack up? More to the point, how to wake him up in time? If he was any judge, it would need to be soon, Jack's breathing was becoming short and rapid. Faced with the choice between Jack coming over him with no outside help and Jack coming in him with his enthusiastic cooperation, Daniel made a snap decision. He pushed out his thoughts and eased his way into Jack's dream.

His first thought when he got there was 'Whoa! How did I do that?' His second thought, on looking around, was, 'Love what you've done with the place!' Everywhere he looked, he saw color and texture, throws, drapes and pillows, chenille, silk, satin, suede, rust, red, brown and gold. It was like something out of the Arabian nights, luscious and romantic, lit overall with hundreds and hundreds of candles. And in the middle of all this a thick fur rug, on which Jack was sprawled, looking deliciously rumpled and sticky, covered in... jello?? Well that was... different...

Jack's head shot up. 'Daniel, that you? Really you, I mean? What are you doing here?'

'Uh, yeah, it's really me Jack. I came to wake you up, but if I'm disturbing you...?'

The scene dissolved as Jack jerked awake, then flung himself, groaning, back onto his pillow.

"What did you do that for? I was just getting to the good bit."

Daniel lifted the covers and pointedly glanced down. Jack followed his gaze and his face split in a grin. "Oh, I getcha."

"Shame to waste them, don't you think? C'm'ere."

Daniel pulled Jack into a lingering kiss as Jack's hand feathered down his stomach, brushing his erection with the tips of his fingers. Both groaned their appreciation as Jack increased the pressure.

'Daniel, my god Daniel, that's incredible. I'm touching you but I can feel it on me at the same time... oh, jeesus... that's soo good...'

Curious, Daniel moved his hand down between them as well, and started to rub Jack. Jack groaned again, broke off the kiss and stared into Daniel's eyes as Daniel rubbed a little bit harder.

Then slumped forward as his eyes rolled into the backs of their sockets and he passed out cold.

He came to to find himself lying on his back, staring into a pair of enormous, worried blue eyes.

"What just happened here?"

"Oh, thank god you're okay. Jesus, Jack, you scared the life out of me. You just kinda zoned out there for a minute or two. Are you feeling okay?"

"Yeah, I think. I'm sure. I feel fine. Was I out for long?"

"Only about thirty seconds. Maybe we should get you to the infirmary, just to be on the safe side."

Jack considered this for a moment or two. "Nah, honestly Daniel, I feel just fine now. Better than fine. We're both due at the infirmary this morning anyway – I'd like a little something to reminisce about while I'm there... take my mind off the damn needles." He started to massage Daniel gently again, just to prove his point.

Daniel was going to protest, but then again... Jack did seem to be fine now. And what he was doing felt soo good... His hand started on a downward trail again, ghosting down over Jack's stomach, curling round his erection and teasing it gently. Jack groaned and flopped backwards onto his pillow. It had happened again.

*****

This time, when Jack came to, Daniel was adamant, despite Jack's vehement protestations that he really did feel fine.

"Jack, there is no way in hell that I'm laying a hand on you now – deal with it! You've just passed out twice for heavens' sakes, apparently because we attempted to make love. Quite apart from anything else, I've completely lost the urge. Strange to say, watching you collapse repeatedly does less than nothing for my libido. We have to get you to the infirmary, get this checked out. Talking of which..." Daniel squinted at the clock, "after all the excitement, we are now running late. We're both scheduled for another round of tests in a little over an hour. So shake your tail, take your shower, and let's get this show on the road."

"Daniel, if you think for one minute that I'm going into Fraiser's lair right off the bat and telling her that I passed out while attempting anything remotely sexual with you, you can just forget it."

"You can't just ignore it, Jack. What if it's something unconnected with this link we've got going, something really serious?"

"Then this next lot of tests should pick it up. God knows, she's thorough once she's got you at the business end of a needle. Plus, we need time to think this through. I'm not going to put both of our heads on the block before we absolutely have to. And not at all, if I can avoid it."

Daniel sighed heavily. "Well, okay – for now. Heavily qualified 'okay'. We'll talk after we've been through the tests again, see what we can come up with. Okay?"

"Okay."

*****

After an hour's increasingly heated discussion, during which they had considered the morning's events from every angle, they still didn't seem to be getting anywhere.

Jack kicked morosely at the table leg.

"So, the bullet point summary reads as follows. One: I can't come anywhere near you without my synapses frying. Two: I lay a hand on you and it's more like fucking myself than anything else. Three: you lay a hand on me at the same time, and bam! I'm gone. Passed out. Four: it seems to be getting worse all the time as the link gets stronger. Daniel, how the hell can we go on like this?"

Daniel shrugged helplessly. "Maybe Janet would be able to come up with something. Or Sam."

"Oh yeah, great suggestion. I can see it now; it would play out really nice. 'By the way, Doc, Carter, whatever, we've got a new development here. When I get into bed with my boyfriend - Daniel Jackson, by the way, did you know? - I get some kind of sensory overload thing that makes me pass out cold just when things start to get interesting. Can you suggest something to help? 'Cause I'm getting really, really pissed off with the prospect of not getting any.' Yeah, that'd work. That might get me twenty years of breaking rocks in some God-forsaken hole. If I'm lucky."

Daniel's temper was starting to rise again.

"I don't know what else to suggest. And there's no need to be quite so bitchy about it, you're completely overlooking the fact that it's just as bad for me as it is for you. You could add to your preoccupation with the sex thing, five: you constantly pop into my mind and treat it like your damned rumpus room. I get absolutely no peace and quiet any more. Have you any idea what it's like having nowhere to retreat to? Nowhere at all?"

They stared at each other.

"So what..."

"... the fuck can we do?"

"Would you please stop doing that? It's starting to get unnerving."

"Unnerving? Is that what you call it? I can't have a single thought to call my own and the best you can come up with is 'unnerving'?"

Both men took a couple of deep breaths.

"Okay, Jack, let's go about this logically."

"Yeah, no point in losing our tempers, this is a survival situation. Whadda we have, and whadda we need?"

"Okay, what we have: one, an instant connection to each other, whether we want it or not. Two, a kind of feedback loop running between us where whatever one feels starts the other one off, which in turn intensifies what the original person is feeling, and so on. The classic vicious circle."

Jack was thinking furiously. "Daniel, what do you reckon the range is up to now?"

"I really don't know. Okay, let's try it out. See how far it does reach now. You set off for the surface. We'll try to communicate at intervals. Jack," Daniel said in exasperation as another image flashed through his head, "can you possibly stay on topic here? Can't you take this seriously?"

"Trust me, I am taking this seriously. What you just saw is top of my wish list."

"Jack! Enough! This really isn't helping... oh my. I never quite realized what an outrageously dirty mind you have until I could tap straight in there... do you always think in pictures? Stop! Please! Everything's starting to go..." Daniel was swaying on his feet and starting to go a strange, grey color.

Jack pulled himself together with a start. Damn it, this overload thing was starting to affect Daniel now too. "Oops, sorry kiddo. Wandered off the point a bit. Okay, I'm thinking cold showers... I'm thinking Hammond in a king-sized strop... I'm thinking Harry Maybourne with a hard-on..."

"Ewww! Geeze, Jack, that was brutal. Okay, enough. Stop now please. That works... far too well."

"Yeah, ain't it the truth. You feeling better now?"

"Yes, thank you. Back firmly in the land of the conscious again." Daniel took a breath to speak, as a thoughtful expression slowly spread across his face. "As a matter of curiosity, do you often use Maybourne as a ... you know?"

"Works, doesn't it? The little weasel has to be good for something, and that just happens to do it for me. Okay, back to the matter in hand. Should we try to communicate something specific, d'ya think? Just to be sure?"

"No, I don't think that'd be necessary – we know each other's voices well enough by now to be sure. We're more interested in range than content, after all."

"True enough. We'd better not try too hard though – it seems to increase every time we try to push it."

"But if we don't push it a little bit, we'll never really know what the range is."

"Maybe we should approach this from the other direction, then. Instead of trying to communicate, try not to."

"But then we won't have any way of finding out the range in the first place."

Jack scrubbed both hands through his hair and groaned.

"Christ, this is impossible! We can't test this properly if we don't push it, but if we push it we'll probably just end up making it worse. And why are we even bothering..."

"... to speak out loud any more. I know. It kind of..."

"... sucks all the fun out, doesn't it, to be..."

"... so predictable. Yeah."

Silence reigned in Daniel's office. Yet... not quite silence, except to the outside observer. Both brains were still engaged in a relentless exchange of thoughts.

'That was a total non sequitur.'

'Was not.'

'Was too. Stop being so childish, Jack.'

'Childish? Me? Who was it suggested...?'

'See what I mean? Rumpus room!'

'Well, if you'd just stop listening...'

'How the fuck do I do that? Stop projecting!'

'Am not!'

'Are too! Okay, you stop listening. You manage to do it well enough during a Powerpoint presentation.'

'It's the slides...'

'Prick!'

'You better believe it... all right, all right already, I'm so not going there again. Okay Daniel, how about if we move further away...'

'... from each other by increments. Yeah, that...'

'...should work.'

'Better than this, anyway.'

'This is driving me fucking nuts!'

'Me too, Jack. Trust me, me too.'

"Oh, I trust you all right! I really don't have too much choice now, do I? You positively radiate sincerity."

"God, you even think sarcastic! How do you do that?"

Jack sighed heavily. "Practice, Dannyboy, just lots and lots of practice. Okay, let's do this."

Jack moved out into the corridor and headed for the elevator, concentrating hard on keeping his thoughts to himself, studiously not thinking in Daniel's direction at all.

'Oh, Jack... hockey stats? And do you have to shout? Oh well, I suppose you find them distracting, but turn down the volume, could you?'

'Only thing I could think of, Daniel. You don't like it, stop listening!'

He was rewarded with a snort of mental laughter. ' Not the only thing, judging by your last dip in the gutter.'

He grinned, and immediately got a response.

'You know, this is really weird. I just know that you're smirking, I can feel it in my head. Where exactly are you?'

'Just heading for the elevator. And I don't smirk.'

'I can still 'hear' you quite clearly.'

'And I just 'felt' the apostrophes.

Jack called up the elevator and punched in a floor number when it arrived, all the time trying to keep strict mental silence. And it did seem to work, too – there was no untoward presence in his thoughts when he took a cautious look round in his mind. Now, if only this was working for Daniel as well...

'Actually, it does get quite muted when you concentrate that hard on not broadcasting.'

The sudden voice in his mind startled him.

'Geeze, Jackson, give a guy a bit of warning, why don't ya? My heart really can't stand too many shocks like that.'

'Sorry, Jack. Just thought you'd like to know that whatever you're doing, it's working quite well.'

'Yeah? Cool, there's maybe a way to beat this thing ourselves. It takes a hell of a lot of effort, though.'

A sudden thought struck him. 'Hey, how...?'

'... couldn't you hear what I was thinking?'

'Uh, yeah.'

'I'm not quite sure. I was just letting my mind drift, waiting to hear from you again.'

'You're coming through quite clearly again now though, almost as if I was talking to you face to face. Aww, crap, you realize what this means?'

'Of course I do,' came the crisp reply. 'I realized it about one nanosecond after you did. We're linked, remember? And I totally agree, it is a severe pain in the ass. You're a whole corridor and one floor away and we're still 'talking normally'.'

Uh, four, actually,' Jack groaned.

'What?'

'I'm...'

'... four floors away. Gotcha. Oh hell.'

'Moving out now. Gonna close down again if I can.'

'Go for it.'

Ten minutes later, Jack was on the surface, after one of the slowest rides in a high speed elevator that he could ever remember in his life.

'Can you hear me? Daniel?'

No response. Okay, this was looking ... promising. Oh, who the hell was he kidding? Promising was scarcely the word he was groping for. 'Depressing' might come close. Fair enough, the mental contact had been getting fainter, lower in volume and occasionally breaking up entirely – like listening to a radio through heavy static – for the last few floors' worth of elevator travel. But it was scarcely grounds for celebration that they apparently had to have – how many feet of solid rock between them? The best part of two thousand by his reckoning. And God knew what in terms of shielding – before peace reigned. And he had the nasty feeling that with a bit of practice, even this amount of distance and number of obstacles might be capable of being overcome, this thing had been increasing exponentially ever since they came back from P3X–whatever. Who knew if it had any sort of limit on it at all?

What had started off as a mildly amusing party trick could literally become a living hell.

This required some serious thought, and now that he was truly alone for the first time in a long while, it was the ideal time to start. He slid down against the door propped open behind him, closed his eyes, turned his face up to the warm spring sunshine and started to think hard – but quietly.

The first problem, and in many ways the most important from his point of view, hell, in all the ways that really mattered when you got right down to it, was the obstacle that this 'spurious gift' represented to him and Daniel. It seemed grotesquely unfair that they had only just really found each other, really realized exactly what they had going between them, only to have it spoiled by such a ridiculous imposition. For the first time since he and Daniel had gotten together, Jack was being forced to contemplate a future without Daniel in it. Not just in the abstract, as in, 'We might not make it this time,' but in the absolute, as in, 'I can't even comfortably be in the same room as him, let alone touch him ever again, and he feels the same'. And he didn't like the look of it at all.

He suddenly understood, with a sense of surprise that he'd never realized it before, that for the past few months he had not only been happy, he'd been content, deeply and quietly content, for the first time since... Yeah. Well. Better not to go there. He didn't just love Daniel, he adored him in the most fundamental, need-him-more-than-anything-else way. Gender wasn't in issue between them, hadn't been since the early days of denial. Daniel was... Daniel. Just that. The love of his life, no question. Strange, he'd thought that about Sara, too, once. And to be fair, when they'd been happy together they had been very happy indeed. But that whole relationship paled in comparison to the depth and breadth of his feelings about Daniel. Like comparing candles with arc lamps. Life without Daniel in it as his significant other would be just... existing. Marking time. About as attractive as vegetarian 'beef'burgers.

Secondly, he had to admit that constantly having to censor his thoughts was a strain. Difficult to explain to anyone 'normal' how hard a thing it was to bear, to have someone else constantly having visitation rights to your innermost thoughts. Even someone you loved dearly. Oh, sure, Daniel was trying really hard to be careful, not to be too intrusive, to keep his basic inquisitiveness under control. And to be honest, he should have been trying harder himself. In fact, to be brutally frank, it was probably his fault that the connection was as strong as it was, he was the one that had started to push it – but then he was nowhere near as sensitive about things as Daniel was, and never would be. Daniel was right, in this as so often in most everything else in the arena of relationships: everyone needed innerspace. Guaranteed empty innerspace, off limits to everyone else. Trying to live without it was a one-way ticket to the funny farm. Distance apparently lent some semblance of peace, but distance wasn't an option, not as a long term proposition, for all the reasons outlined above, and quite a few more besides – SG1, the Stargate program itself – the ramifications were endless.

But trying to live in close proximity brought other problems, even leaving aside the apparent demise of their sex lives. He would be the first to acknowledge that he carried a lot of baggage, none of it pretty, certainly not a lot of it that he would care to share with anyone, close to him or otherwise. Actually, make that especially not with anyone close to him. How long before Daniel found the locked doors in his mind and, reverting to type, set himself to persuading Jack to open them? Before he discovered the essence of what made him Jack O'Neill, and found it wanting? He'd come close to some of it, too close for comfort, when he'd had that nightmare the night they got back. And that was when this... thing was just in its early stages, nowhere near as strong as it was now. What might Daniel not pick up on now that the link was so much more compelling? The very idea made him shudder.

No, some of the stuff that he'd seen, that he'd done, could not bear close inspection in the cold light of day. This stuff was his burden and his alone to carry. And most of the time, he managed just fine. But that was when he was alone in his head.

There had to be some way out of this mess, there just had to be, or he could see McKenzie looming large in both of their futures. Then another thought struck him, one which really did chill him to the bone. NID. What if they picked up on this? Now that would be the day he ate his gun and no one, not even Daniel, would persuade him otherwise. No way would he let those bastards anywhere near him to turn him into a glorified lab rat.

This link between them had to be broken, no question, for all the reasons outlined. But he didn't think that he and Daniel could do it themselves: they would need help. And that in turn meant 'fessing up about the fainting incident – his lips thinned in a humorless smile as he considered putting that particular cat in amongst the pigeons. How was it that Daniel had put it on that first morning? Questions of proximity, that was it. Well, this baby would certainly raise those types of questions unless they were very, very careful. They would have to have a very convincing line worked out, and stick to it no matter what.

God, he hated all this crap – all the subterfuge, all the evasions and half-truths and downright lies. It was all very well on a mission, but as a way of life it sucked, big time. Most of all, he hated having to lie to people he cared about, to George and Sam, Teal'c and Janet, and all because he cared about Daniel so damn much. All because some little prick of a homophobe paper-pusher who didn't know jack-shit about him or his life had decided in advance that what he and Daniel had was wrong. Had decided that their contribution wouldn't amount to a hill of beans because of what they consented to do behind closed doors. The unfairness of it took his breath away.

But then, he reasoned, he'd come to the conclusion long ago that only a child expected life to be fair. The trick lay in learning to deal with unfairness, and picking the battles you could win. If the worst came to the worst, if he had to choose Daniel or the Stargate because of this, it would be no contest, Daniel would win hands down. Easier to fight personal bitterness than to fight the entire USAF. That was a battle he'd fought before, and won with Daniel's help, and he was confident he could do it again with Daniel by his side.

Right, the decision was made. Now all he had to do was convince Daniel, and that probably wouldn't be too hard a job at the moment – they were more than on the same wavelength, after all. The thought made him chuckle as he got to his feet and headed back inside the mountain.

He was still chuckling as Daniel reappeared in his mind.

'Jack, you okay? You've been gone for a long time.'

'Yeah, I'm okay. Think we've got some stuff to talk through though.'

'Mmm, I've been thinking while you were gone. We're going to have to break this link somehow.'

'Yep, we are. Guess you've got much the same list of reasons that I have.'

'Probably. It raises... issues, though.'

'Yeah, well, I've been doing some thinking too. Don't think at me like that, I'm perfectly capable of thinking about 'issues' when I want to.'

Daniel sternly suppressed his laughter. 'I know, I know – who better? What conclusions did you reach?'

'Mainly that we're going to have to be careful how we go about this – asking for help, I mean.'

''Don't ask, don't tell' is about to bite us in the ass, I suppose.'

'Well, maybe, maybe not.' The elevator came to a smooth halt and the doors opened.

'But even if it does, I have no problem with that. Oh, I'd rather avoid it if at all possible, I like doing the job we do...'

Jack headed along the corridor to Daniel's office, reaching the door just as he thought, '...but if it comes right down to it, I'd rather have you than any of this.'

Daniel's face was a study as Jack rounded the door: conflicting emotions chased each other across his features, anger, pain and compassion, tenderness and love, and a fierce joy, quickly banked down as Jack stopped in his tracks in the doorway.

'Jack, are you sure?'

'Look at you standing there – how could I not be sure? It's a no-brainer, Daniel – you're stuck with me, no matter what. The important thing here is to try and get back to normal whatever happens, and the quicker we go to see Hammond, the quicker we can get started. So let's figure out how we're going to play this.'

Daniel's lips twitched. 'I'm assuming you don't want to start with the fainting incident?'

Jack was grinning. 'Wouldn't be my first choice, no.'

Daniel's eyes were bright with mischief. 'Pity, it would have given me such a studly image...'

Jack snorted. "Get over yourself, Jackson. You're obviously in need of a caffeine jag to get the gray cells outta your pants and back where they belong right now. C'mon, let's go the commissary; we can talk about this there, one way or another. Ya know, this thing is a great time-saver, it's almost a pity to see it go..."

Both men headed for the door, reaching it at the same time. Jack automatically put out a hand to the small of Daniel's back to guide him through. And then dropped to the ground mid-sentence as though pole axed.

*****

"But what exactly happened? Did he just pass out for no reason?"

"Janet, all he did was guide me through my office door. As soon as he put his hand on my back, he just dropped. That was all – he just went down like someone had decked him."

Dr. Fraiser pulled up Jack's eyelids in turn to shine her penlight into them. "Well, his pupils are equal and reactive and his pulse and respiration are normal so that rules out quite a number of things. He didn't hit his head at all when he fell?"

"No, he just went straight down in a heap. Janet, is he going to be okay?"

"We'll need to get him to the infirmary to find out. And I'd better let the general know."

'Daniel? What just happened?'

'Jack! You're awake!' "Janet, he's coming to."

Jack opened his eyes and found himself staring at Doctor Fraiser.

"Colonel, do you know what day it is? Who you are? Where you are?"

"Yes, Doc, I know the answers to all the standard questions... lemme sit up here."

"No, Colonel, stay right where you are. I need to get you to the infirmary right now, and I've called for a gurney. How do you feel? Any headache, nausea, blurred vision?"

The firm hand on his shoulder gave Jack no option but to sink to the floor again. "No, I feel quite normal, apart from the fact that I'm lying on the floor of Daniel's office. Honestly, Doc, I can walk to the infirmary, no problem, just lemme get up out of here and we'll be there before you can say..."

Janet fixed him with a gimlet stare. "Colonel, stay put. The gurney will be here in a minute. And any mention of Napoleon, any mention at all, will only make my job that much harder and your stay in the infirmary that much longer."

Jack knew when he was beaten and lay back down again, albeit with bad grace.

'Well, one good thing has come out of this at any rate, Jack – at least now there's no need to mention when this first happened.'

'You're right. As far as the doc's concerned, this is the first time. Every cloud has a silver lining, huh? Has George been told about this?'

'Janet phoned him just before you woke up. He's called a briefing immediately and Janet will join us after she has preliminary results from her tests.'

'Good. This should get things moving. Uh, Daniel? Tests? Plural?'

''Fraid so. Definitely plural. Very plural, from what Janet's been saying.'

'Crap.'

*****

It was a rather morose group that filed into the briefing room to meet with General Hammond. The topic of the day...how to block, suppress, cure, sever, any or all of the above, the link between Colonel O'Neill and Daniel Jackson.

The archaeologist in question, along with Teal'c and Carter, took his usual place at the table where Hammond already awaited them. One chair was conspicuously empty, the one that Jack usually used: he was still in the infirmary after his latest fainting spell. Though the chair at the table was unoccupied, everyone was aware that on some level the colonel was indeed present via the link he shared so intimately with Daniel.

"Gentlemen, when you're ready?" Hammond was all business as the assembled personnel settled into attentiveness. "The purpose of this meeting is to discuss our options. Our primary goal should be how to block or control this telepathic link. If we cannot find a solution to this problem my only choice may be to split up SG1 and reassign its members to other teams."

'Not with my kids you don't, General!'

'Jack! Not now, okay? Just listen and give it a rest.'

"I've also invited Doctor Fraiser to join us should her duties in the infirmary permit. Meanwhile, I'd like to hear your opinions. Is there anyone or anything from your missions that you feel could shed some light on this?"

Carter decided to take the plunge. "Well sir, I've being reading about the different experiments being done in quantum physics to try to understand how the whole process of telepathy works. Persinger and Josephson have formulated various hypotheses. I can try to contact one of them and see if I can get any additional information."

'Oh Daniel! Geeze, I heard half of this discussion a couple days ago trekking through the desert with her. God, it drove me nuts then, and it doesn't sound any better now.'

"There is always the possibility of contacting one of our allies to see if they can be of assistance in this matter," Teal'c offered. "I myself have never heard of this in my experience, but then according to legend Ma'at disappeared and left the System Lords long ago, never to be heard from again. It is possible she was a victim of another, more powerful Goa'uld."

"That might be a good idea Teal'c. We can contact the Asgard, the Tollan, the Nox, and the Tok'ra and see if they have any knowledge that could assist us."

'Crap! I just knew the Tok'ra were going to come in here somewhere! Damn snakeheads. Go ahead...so make my day. Tell me Anise is coming along too. Hey Daniel? Remember she made a pass at me?'

Daniel almost choked. He quickly covered it by coughing softly and grabbed some water, swallowing quickly.

'Actually it was Freya that made the pass. She said that she liked me. And hey, she told me Anise likes you! We could make it a threesome...or would that be a foursome? No wait...there's two of them in the same body...threesome then...' This comment was followed by several all too vivid images.

This time Daniel did choke at the comments and mental pictures rushing into his head, which led to a full blown coughing fit. When he finally caught his breath he realized that the rest of the group was looking at him expectantly.

"Excuse, me, he mumbled. Swallowed wrong." Everyone seemed to realize that there was a lot more going on than was apparent but no one said anything.

'Jack! Damn it, would you please shut up? It's hard enough to follow this briefing without a constant running commentary from the peanut gallery.'

'Peanut gallery? Thanks a bunch Daniel. Love your high opinion of me.'

"Doctor Jackson, have you found anything in your research that could help?"

"I'm still working on the translations General. I've got as many of my staff as I can afford working on it as well. There appear to be references of warnings to anyone that tries to reverse the process that we found in the Hall of Justice. I'm sure there is a way and it's written amid all the information, but frankly sir, we just haven't found it yet."

Just then the petite doctor came into the room and quickly took her place at the table, joining the meeting.

"Doctor, how's our patient?"

'You know he could just ask me.'

Daniel resolutely ignored him.

'Ha! Sure, give it a try Daniel. Just try to ignore me.' The archaeologist could just hear the grin in Jack's voice.

"Colonel O'Neill seems to be recovering. As long as he has no physical contact with Daniel there doesn't seem to be a problem."

'Easy for her to say. I'm as horny as a ten peckered owl.'

'Okay! That's it!' Daniel sighed audibly 'Jack, I love you dearly but would you shut the fuck up? Otherwise I'm going to come down to the infirmary, give you a nice, deep kiss, and put you out of my misery!' Of course Jack, being Jack, just chuckled.

Hearing Daniel sigh prompted the general to ask, "What is it Doctor Jackson? Does Colonel O'Neill have something to add?"

"Ah, hmm...no, General. He doesn't really. Trust me on this."

The expression on General Hammond's face made Daniel wonder if the general knew more about the situation between the two men than he was letting on. But following the military precept of "Don't ask, don't tell", nothing more was said on the topic.

"So Doctor, please continue."

"Sir, I wish I had more to report. No matter what I try, their melatonin levels are remaining sky high. Frankly sir, considering that melatonin generally causes the human body to relax, I'm not sure how they're even staying awake. I have my people researching and experimenting with several approaches, however, without knowing exactly what is going on in the colonel's and Doctor Jackson's brains, it's hard to predict what an effective method might be. We'll keep working on it but I can't promise anything, sir. For now all we can do is keep Colonel O'Neill and Doctor Jackson apart. As long as they don't touch each other the colonel remains conscious. I can't even tell you why physical contact with Daniel causes him to black out."

'We could tell her couldn't we Daniel? If she only knew what your touch does to me.'

This comment caused the archaeologist to blush and he quickly ducked his head so that no one else noticed it.

"All right Doctor. Please continue with your research. Major Carter, contact your resources and see what you can learn. I'll see about getting in touch with some of the alien races we have treaties with to see if they can offer any assistance or insights. Doctor Jackson, should your team discover anything that can help us find a way out of this situation I expect you to notify me immediately. Thank you everyone. Dismissed."

They all had their orders. The group filed out of the briefing room to carry out their respective tasks.

*****

Daniel reviewed the passages in front of him on the computer screen yet again. He was positive the remaining information he needed was contained in the sequence of vids that he was reviewing, images from the massive hall they had found at the top of the ziggurat. He was sure the answer was there.

'Daniel? Whatcha doin?' The archaeologist could hear the boredom in the colonel's voice.

'Jack, I really can't keep you company right now. I'm so close to translating some of these passages and I'm sure they contain the key to being able to reverse this.'

'Can't help it Daniel. I've been stuck here for ages. I'm bored outta my skull, crystal or otherwise.'

'I'll contact Teal'c. Maybe he can come and keep you company for a while. Jack, this is important. I feel like I'm holding the future of our relationship in my hands. I just have to find the right key. If we're ever going to be together again I've got to solve this!'

'I know Daniel, I know. And I have complete confidence in your abilities. You've gotten us out of more tight situations than I can count. You'll get us out of this one too. You know I love you, don'tcha?'

Daniel could swear he almost felt Jack's arms wrapped around him in reassurance. Sighing deeply, he grabbed a few other textbooks and forced himself to start cross-referencing some of the symbols. As he worked, Daniel lost all sense of time. It was several hours later when he finally looked up, convinced he might have found an answer.

*****

General Hammond shook his head as he reviewed the replies from the races he'd tried to contact. The Asgard, always hard to contact at the best of times, had not responded as of yet. The Tollan had answered, but with their usual disdain of the Goa'uld, said that they really knew nothing about Ma'at. The Nox, while having knowledge of Ma'at, appeared to know nothing about the technology that had caused the telepathic connection between Jack and Daniel. They did however offer to see if they could help train the two members of SG1 to work with the gift. That might be better than nothing if no other alternative could be found.

At this point their hopes were pinned on the Tok'ra. After all, they were Goa'uld, even if they had split from them thousands of years ago. If Ma'at was a Goa'uld someone among the Tok'ra must have knowledge of her. As if thinking about the Tok'ra had provoked it, the klaxon sounded and Hammond rushed to the control room.

"We have an unauthorized offworld activation of the gate, sir," the lieutenant informed the general.

"Any indication of who it is, lieutenant?"

The lieutenant consulted his console before answering. "It's the Tok'ra, sir. They're sending through two representatives."

"Open the iris, lieutenant."

As Hammond issued this order he looked up to find two regal looking Tok'ra, a man and a woman, step out of the wormhole to stand at the top of the ramp. Was it just their bearing or were they really somehow taller than the other Tok'ra they had met? The Tok'ra, never particularly friendly at the best of times with the exception of Sam's dad, seemed like jovial individuals in comparison to the stern and proud countenance of the two before him.

'Just never a dull moment around here,' Hammond thought to himself as he left for the gate room to meet the new visitors. Hopefully they could shed some light on the situation.

*****

Sam ran into Daniel in the corridor. They had both been working in their offices when the klaxon sounded, drawing them to the gate room. As they entered they saw that General Hammond had arrived before them and was giving orders to the troops to stand down, welcoming the incoming travelers. Jack was also present. Apparently either Janet could find no reason to keep him confined to the infirmary, or else Jack had generally driven everyone so crazy that she threw him out. Possibly both. When provoked, Colonel O'Neill could definitely try the patience of a saint.

Daniel and Jack exchanged a brief glance filled with longing for each other before they quickly suppressed it, returning their attention to the matter at hand, the Tok'ra representatives.

"I'm General Hammond, the commander of this facility. Welcome to the SGC."

The man spoke up first. "General Hammond, I bring greetings from the Tok'ra High Council. Your message was received and we believe that we may be of assistance to you. Please allow us to introduce ourselves. My name among the Tok'ra is Shelmat and my companion is Gwenlith. However, we were once known by other names that the Tok'ra are not aware of and we would appreciate if you would not divulge this information in exchange for our help." He paused, as if for effect. "I am Thoth and this is Ma'at."

If possible, in such a place, you could have heard a pin drop in the gate room at this revelation.

'Thoth and Ma'at!' Daniel thought to himself in amazement as he glanced over at Jack, whose lips were pursed in a soundless whistle.

'Daniel what is this? The Tok'ra that showed up are actually the Goa'ulds that passed themselves off as gods in ancient Egypt?'

'Well that's what they are claiming. Might be a little hard to prove or disprove one way or the other.'

Thoth and Ma'at looked at each other and then turned their steely gaze on Jack and Daniel, the piercing look seeming to delve into their very souls to find the truth.

"If you would both follow me to the briefing room we can discuss the situation in greater detail and in more comfortable surroundings." The general indicated that the visitors should precede him out of the room.

Ma'at suddenly stopped and turned to address Jack and Daniel. "You two will also be present." The stately woman made sure there was no mistaking her tone. It was a statement, not a question or a request.

"All of SG1, as well as Dr. Fraiser, will join us. Please, this way."

The two in question exchanged glances again. This time words, even thoughts, weren't necessary. Jack just shrugged and motioning with his head to his team to follow, headed out after the guests and their commanding officer.

The briefing room seemed full when SG1 arrived. The two Tok'ra visitors sat to one side of the general, as well as Dr. Fraiser. They took their seats and the general began the meeting. "So we're hopeful that you can tell us what has happened and help us reverse this telepathic process going on between these two men under my command."

Shelmat sat back in his chair and Gwenlith proceeded to answer.

"General the planet that you refer to as P3X-195 was once a planet that Thoth and I were jointly responsible for." She noted raised eyebrows from several of the individuals present and was quick to comment. "No, we did not rule over them with an iron fist taking hosts as we needed and treating them like so many chattels to be bargained over, sold, or used as we saw fit. I said that we were responsible for them and that's exactly what I meant. I oversaw their well being and appointed judges to solve disputes. Those deemed worthy to be judges on the High Tribunal willingly stepped into the Light of Truth. The technology involved at the time in the beam enabled one to detect truth and falseness in others. In this way the individuals that were chosen made perfect judges, worthy successors to myself and Thoth, weighing their decisions carefully and with wisdom. However, as you can imagine, someone like this would also make a powerful weapon, being able to read the minds and hearts of others. A weapon that might easily attract another Goa'uld.

"As you know, the System Lords frequently argue and compete for more territory in the hopes of increasing their own personal strength. During one such struggle one of the System Lords decided they wanted this planet and the gift of truth bestowed upon a judge. A plot was set into motion that resulted in the implantation of a Goa'uld symbiote into one of my judges. Thoth and I were deliberately embroiled in a struggle elsewhere when this occurred, so we were unaware of the treachery until it was too late. Justice was terribly perverted and the planet thrown into chaos. By the time we were able to return much damage had been done. So much so that another sect known as the 'Goddess Breakers' had defaced most of the temples and halls of justice. In the shrine that you found the Goa'uld modified the light beam, totally twisting its original purpose."

"What do you mean, its original purpose was twisted? How?" Sam asked.

"Originally one chosen as a judge could read the thoughts of anyone they wished, not just one individual, but they had to be in the presence of the individual to read them. The System Lord tried to pervert the Light of Truth to increase the range. However, it appears all he was successful in doing was modifying it so that two individuals that stepped into the light would be linked, even over great distances. This would allow one to go out to discover secrets and send them back to the other so that the information could be passed onto the System Lord himself. Have you not noticed that Colonel O'Neill and Doctor Jackson can only read each other but no one else?" Ma'at asked.

"But it is possible to reverse it. I found the information in my translations. I was on the point of contacting you General when our visitors showed up," Daniel informed the group.

Thoth finally chose this moment to speak up. "Yes, it is possible. But you must realize the dangers inherent in the process. Besides the fact that an unknown Goa'uld has tampered with the technology, the Light of Truth was never meant to be reversed. An appointment to the High Tribunal was a lifetime position. The two individuals may emerge from the process and be completely restored. Alternatively, reversal might completely destroy their minds. It is a delicate balance."

"And there is no other method or way to proceed?" Dr. Fraiser inquired. "No drug that I could administer to block the telepathic connection in any way?"

"No, it is not that easy. And there are other considerations as well that we must discuss. However, it really does involve just the two individuals that have the link. Perhaps we should speak of this in a little more private setting?" Thoth suggested to the general. "The female member of SG1 and the Jaffa are not directly involved in this situation, nor the doctor, although I understand that they are friends and justifiably concerned."

The general considered the Tok'ra's suggestion. "All right, I will trust your judgment in this situation. Major Carter, Teal'c, you are excused for now. Thank you."

Although filled with curiosity, the two members of SG1 left as ordered.

"Please proceed. I want Dr. Fraiser to remain, as she is responsible for the health and well being of both these men."

Ma'at once again led the discussion, addressing Jack and Daniel directly for the first time since the meeting began.

"It was never intended for two individuals to be present in the Light of Truth at the same time. Differences in psychological make up could lead to problems for them, as they would be unable to ever escape the other. There has only ever been one other instance of a couple that both entered the light at the same time. Fortunately the two individuals were so close as to be two halves of one soul. To try to minimize the risks I must ask you both a very personal question. That is why I wished to limit the number of people present. For us to help you, you must be as honest as you can. Remember, I was the goddess of truth and justice. If you are truthful, I will do all I can to ensure that justice is done."

'Uh oh Daniel. I have a bad feeling about where this is going.'

'I hear you Jack. Let's not jump to conclusions. She may ask us something that we can answer honestly without telling the whole and absolute truth.'

'No. You must answer in complete truth, no deception. I can read the truth of your hearts as easily as the truth of your words.'

'Daniel? That was you right?'

'No, Jack. It wasn't me.' Daniel glanced over in the direction of Ma'at who was staring pointedly at them. He had the feeling that she already had all the answers to her questions but was going to force the issue anyway.

'Although why the fuck she would want to force this out into the open, I have no clue.'

'Because it is the first step on the path to total honesty. Honesty in deed as well as honesty in thought.'

"I must know the extent of your feelings for each other," Ma'at demanded of Jack and Daniel.

Sighing deeply in unison, the two men shared a glance, feeling as though they were well and truly backed into a corner, completely unsure of how the next several minutes would go and where it would lead them. Daniel felt Jack's temper starting to rise and decided that he'd better endeavor to answer the question before Jack inadvertently made some completely inappropriate remark.

"Jack and I are good friends. We do spend a lot of time together on and off the base as our duties allow," Daniel replied, trying to keep too much emotion from showing in either his voice or his face. "We have a lot of things in common. We've both saved each other's life on several occasions. Situations like that tend to draw people closer together."

Ma'at raised an elegantly shaped eyebrow at the response. "And?"

"And what?" Jack asked. 'Why won't this woman give it a rest?'

'I will when you admit the truth, Colonel.'

Jack and Daniel looked startled and the colonel glared at the woman across from him. "Get the heck out of our...I mean my, mind," he snapped at her.

"I will when you answer the question Colonel," the woman answered calmly.

Sighing again, Jack realized that a turning point in his life had just presented itself. He sure hoped George was in an understanding mood today. Jack figured Hammond was going to need all his considerable patience in the next few minutes. As for the doc...well, he wondered if she hadn't had a lot of suspicions about Daniel and him for quite some time. It was hard to keep secrets from some one that knew your body inside and out the way Fraiser did.

"Oh fer cryin' out loud! All right already!" Jack took in a deep breath. Meeting Daniel's gaze as if to draw strength from the younger man, Jack saw the love and support in his lover's eyes and plunged onward. "Okay, you need to know the truth, huh? Well the truth is that Daniel and I have been more than just close friends for some time now." He looked in the direction of his commanding officer and continued on. "General, I should probably tender my resignation at this point, or should we skip that and proceed straight to the court martial?"

To Jack and Daniel's amazement neither the general nor the doctor looked particularly surprised at the news.

General Hammond was silent for a few seconds before turning to address Doctor Fraiser. "Doctor, I think we can safely say that the proceedings of this meeting are classified and on a need to know basis only. Frankly I can see no reason why anyone outside of this room needs any knowledge of this information at this point. However, gentlemen," the general looked over at the two men he'd worked closely with for the past five years, "if it becomes apparent that this condition cannot be reversed the option may be taken out of my control. Is that understood?"

Although not out of the woods, Jack and Daniel both visibly relaxed at the general's words.

"Yes, sir. Thank you General." The words seemed commonplace enough. What wasn't commonplace was the fact that the same words were said at the same time by both men.

'Christ! It's like living in an echo chamber around you.'

'Oh, and what do you think it's like for me?'

'Well it was your fault after all.'

'Oh yeah...like I set the machine off on purpose.'

'Good to hear you admit it Daniel.' Daniel could feel the teasing in Jack's 'voice'.

Realizing there was some conversation taking place that most of the people in the room were not involved in, the general called attention back to the matter at hand by addressing the Tok'ra.

"All right Ma'at, you have the answer to your question. I don't think we need to delve any further. So how should we proceed? How do we undo this telepathic link? Doctor Jackson's information seems to indicate it can be reversed."

Ma'at gave no indication that General Hammond had spoken, but continued to speak directly to Jack and Daniel.

"It is good that you admit to caring for each other. The depth of your feelings may be tested to the most severe level in the process of trying to reverse this. As I said, the Goa'uld that tampered with the technology had twisted it for their own purpose. But the bond between you both is very strong and should be able to overcome the modifications, reversing the process. But understand the risks. It is also possible that stepping into the Light of Truth a second time could completely destroy your memories as Thoth stated."

"What do you mean?" the general asked.

"I mean, General, that it is possible they will survive but not retain any memory of who they are or what their lives have been like. They will not recall who you are, that they ever knew each other. They will no longer be able to read each other's thoughts but that will because they will have none leading up to that point. All their memories will go forward from there. Doctor Jackson will not know that he is a linguist because he will no longer be one. Colonel O'Neill will recall nothing of his service or his connection with the Stargate."

"Are you saying that they will basically be children in adult bodies?" the doctor asked.

"Yes, that would be as good a way to state it as any."

The general seemed to ponder this answer for several seconds before responding.

"Doctor would you please have our guests shown to quarters where they might rest and relax?"

The doctor raised an eyebrow but quickly responded with, "Certainly sir. If you would both follow me?" she asked the two Tok'ra.

Thoth and Ma'at rose gracefully from the table, leaving the room. However, Ma'at turned at the door to address Jack and Daniel one more time.

"Please consider our words and make your choice as quickly as possible. The longer the link is allowed to develop the harder it will be to break."

The three men watched them exit the room before the general addressed the two remaining men.

"Colonel O'Neill, Doctor Jackson, I'd like to get some input from you about how you both feel about this before we proceed further. I'm not sure I like the options being presented to me. It appears that I have to break up the team and transfer one of you out of here far enough away so that the telepathic link doesn't kick in, or agree to send you back to P3X-195 and run the risk of not ever really getting you back."

"General, if I may. I don't think the consequences are as dire as Ma'at seems to present. The work I've done on the translations leads me to believe that the process, although dangerous, can be reversed. I really feel we should be allowed to do this."

'You sure about this Daniel?'

'Jack, think about our options. I don't want to lose you. To me that isn't an option. We need to convince General Hammond that it's safe enough for us to try.'

'Okay. I agree. I don't want to lose you either. Let's see if we can talk George into it.'

"Sir, the Tok'ra never tell us the whole story. Just enough to whet our appetites. If Daniel says that we can make it then I think we should try it."

Giving Daniel and Jack a look that told them that he was wise to what they were trying to do, Hammond nodded his head, sighing. "All right, gentlemen. If you feel the risk is acceptable I'll give the go ahead for a mission that will leave at oh-nine-thirty tomorrow. I'll acquaint the Tok'ra with your decision and see if they wish to accompany you on the mission. And I think Doctor Fraiser should go along as well. Until then, go home and get some sleep. I think you're going to need it. If you have a change of heart on this, contact me as soon as possible. Dismissed."

Jack and Daniel got up to leave the room. They were both at the door when General Hammond spoke once again.

"Colonel? Before you leave could I have a word?"

'Oh, shit. Here it comes Daniel.'

The two men exchanged a glance.

'Take it easy Jack. Don't jump to conclusions. If Hammond wanted to bust us he would have done it already. He didn't look particularly surprised during the meeting with the Tok'ra. Let's think positive, okay? Don't lose your cool with him. I'll talk to you later.'

Daniel left and Jack turned back to his commanding officer. With a sigh he sat back down facing Hammond.

"Jack, I've always given you all the latitude I could here. I've tried to look out for my people as well as I could, especially you and Doctor Jackson. But Jack, this one has really thrown a monkey wrench in the works."

"I know sir, and I appreciate it. We both do. You've got the patience of a saint."

Hammond shot him a sharp look. No, for once the man was not exhibiting his usual smart assed demeanor. The expression on his face was earnest and sincere.

"All right, I admit to not being totally surprised. I've been in the military long enough to not be surprised by anything. I was aware that you and Doctor Jackson were spending almost all your free time off base together. But Jack, and rest assured that this conversation is so far off the record that it never existed, you and Doctor Jackson will have to be circumspect. If word of what you admitted in that briefing room should get off this mountain and into the wrong hands there's not a damn thing I can do for you. Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes, General. And I appreciate your understanding, sir. Daniel and I...well...we certainly never meant for this to happen. Fact is, it was as big a shock to me as to anyone. For several months I was a complete asshole until I came to terms with what was going on. But I can assure you General that I don't let my personal feelings interfere in any way when it comes to keeping all my people safe in the field."

"I appreciate that Jack. You're a good field officer. That's one of the reasons you're still leading a team instead of sitting behind a desk, and why I'm prepared to let this one play out for a while. But count on it, Jack, if I ever see any sign that my confidence has been misplaced..."

"You won't, sir. I won't ever let it come to that."

"Well, all right. We'll leave it at that for now – I think we understand each other. Now go on home and get some sleep."

"Yes sir."

Jack got up to leave but turned back at the door. "Thank you, sir. Your support means a lot to Daniel and me."

"Oh, I think that 'support' is probably pitching it a bit strong. Let's call it a tactical acceptance of the situation for now."

Jack gave his commanding officer a rueful grin. And with that he was gone.

*****

Jack slumped back in his favorite chair nursing a glass of whiskey. He wanted his lover there so much he was aching inside. Daniel was probably at his apartment by this time.

'Oh, Daniel, Daniel... Christ, I wish you were here at home with me right now.'

Instantly, he felt the connection.

'Jack? Lover? Come on, everything will work out. How are you feeling?'

'Miserable, horny, frustrated, a little scared, all of the above. Check the box that applies.'

A wry chuckle communicated itself. ' Trust me, I know how you feel. How'd the meeting with the general go?'

'You were right. Hammond was cool with it. Seemed like he really wasn't surprised. Apparently he was aware that we've been spending most of our time off base together.' Jack sighed deeply. 'Daniel, what the fuck are we going to do?'

Daniel knew Jack was no longer talking about the fact that Hammond knew about them. 'We go tomorrow to P3X-195 and deal with this.'

'Whatever you say.'

There was a touch of asperity in the 'voice' that bounced back to him. 'No Jack, not just what I say. We're in this together, right?'

There was a long sigh from Jack's end. 'Okay, cards on the table, I guess.'

'Jack if you have any doubts we need to discuss them now. We're running short on time here.'

There was a long silence, stretched thin by distance and emotion. Neither man spoke, both trapped in the intensity of their feelings. Jack took a deep breath. He paused, marshalling his thoughts, and then gave a short bark of bitter laughter as the absurdity of the situation hit him. Daniel only had to concentrate a little more and then he could read all his thoughts, whatever he wanted. He could take what he liked. He, Jack O' Neill, was like a snail out of its shell, exposed, vulnerable.

'Of course, you know I wouldn't do that to you. I wouldn't do that to anybody. That's what the Goa'uld do.'

'I know that, Daniel. It's just the thought that you could, ya know? It makes me nuts.'

'We've all got secrets, Jack. Everyone has secrets, private places in their minds, things that they don't want anybody to know.'

'Yeah, and I think I've probably got more than most. Oh, don't worry Daniel. I'm not blaming you and I don't for one moment think you'd take advantage of me.'

Jack laughed self-consciously at the old fashioned phrase, and its aptness to their current situation. He felt a grin quirking its way back to him. He could visualize the expression on Daniel's face as though he were sitting across from him.

'I realize that, Jack. And I believe the same of you. We both have secrets; we both have dark places within us. I know that of you, but the way I look at it, if you didn't have those, you wouldn't be you, who you are here and now. I don't just love you despite them, I also love you because of them.'

A ragged breath, almost a sob, broke from Jack. God, Daniel, I love you too. You know I do. Aah, crap, this is unbearable. I want you here, with me, now. I need you here! I want to hold you, kiss you, feel you kissing me. I want to go down on you, I want to fuck you into the middle of next week, I want...'

The reply was gentle, tender. 'Yeah, Jack, me too, me too. I hate having this distance between us.'

'But at the same time Daniel – how the hell can we do this, go back to that planet, knowing what might happen? We run the risk of not even remembering all we've had together. I'm scared shitless for both of us. Daniel...jeesus! Why does this have to happen now? God I don't want to lose you!'

'Jack, ssh. You won't ever lose me, flyboy. The attraction will always be there, even if the memories are gone. We'll just have to make new memories, is all.'

Jack felt a gentle caress ghost through his mind, and relaxed gratefully into it.

'Jack? Make love to me? I really need to feel you right now.'

'How?' A vivid image came back to him of Daniel sucking his own fingers, his damp hand rubbing slowly and sensuously over the soft skin of his belly, straying upwards to rub and stroke his nipples.

'Like this. Feel that, Jack? What I feel, you feel. Do you like that? Does it feel good?'

Jack groaned. 'You know it does.'

He sensed another gentle smile. 'I guess I do.'

'I think we're going to put the phone sex people out of business, Daniel.'

Daniel felt ghostly fingers trailing over his stomach and up his chest and chuckled softly as he settled back into his chair in his living room and unzipped his pants, stroking his hands down over his flanks as he pushed them down.

'I think you might just be right at that, especially since this is... oh god... so much more interactive...'

The fingers were keeping up an insistent pressure, rubbing and pulling at his nipples, sending waves of heat coursing through him. Daniel trailed his hands back up the soft skin of his inner thighs, smiling again as he heard Jack moan his pleasure at the touch.

'Oh, that feels so good – Christ, that feels so incredibly good...'

Four hands stroked and caressed each of their bodies, the echoes of sensation rebounding between them, building slowly and surely into an overwhelming wave of heat and desire, neither rushing, both craving the comfort and the affirmation. Daniel gasped as he felt insubstantial lips nibble on his fingers before a warm, moist tongue trailed up his palm to his wrist and teeth bit gently up the inside of his arm, each little nip being soothed with soft, warm kisses. Jack gasped in his turn as he felt his fingers being sucked one by one into Daniel's hot, wet mouth, a silky incorporeal tongue swirling round each one before releasing it in favor of its neighbor.

Their caresses became more urgent, less leisurely, as the ripples of pleasure built and built, turning into a low expectant ache at the bottom of their bellies, underpinned throughout by the rhythm of two pairs of hands, phantom and real, point and counterpoint, moving in their complicated, complimentary dance. Until the moment when pleasure and need balanced on a knife-edge and by mutual, unspoken decision both Jack and Daniel had to, just had to, curl their fingers around their erections, their hands instinctively moving in a new, synchronized rhythm which was as old as time and as familiar as breathing.

The sensations were too intense to endure for long, the pleasure too strong to stretch out, much as each man wanted to, the doubling and redoubling of sensation so unbearably overwhelming that it was first cousin to pain. Each felt the moment when the other could no longer bear to wait, each responded to the other's unspoken need and orgasm overtook them in the same split second, boiling up and over and through, their dicks pulsing in time to the shared beat of their blood.

Jack felt a set of knuckles rubbing gently down his cheek as his breathing finally settled, accompanied by the memory of a sleepy and rumpled Daniel snuggled into the crook of his arm, and smiled sadly as a stray image popped unbidden into his head.

'Cotton candy.'

'Did you just think 'cotton candy'? Where did that come from? Sometimes you think the damnedest things, Jack.'

'Sorry, Daniel. Just... thinking out loud, I guess. Or the mental equivalent of it anyway. We really don't have a choice here, do we? We have to go through with it.'

Daniel sounded amused. 'I think so. And how exactly did you get to that from cotton candy?'

'I was just thinking.' Jack paused, trying to think as carefully as possible. 'This... long distance sex thing... don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it, but...'

'But?'

'It's a bit like being fobbed off with cotton candy when you have a craving for a steak dinner. Guess I'm saying that there's more to us than sex, there's all the little, everyday stuff as well. And I'd miss that more than anything if we couldn't have that any more. So we have to take the chance.'

The silence that greeted this remark was profound, and stretched out so long that Jack began to worry that he'd said the wrong thing.

'Daniel? You okay?'

'Yeah, I'm okay. More okay than I thought I could possibly be in the circumstances.' The thought was accompanied by a blinding smile. 'We'll make it, Jack. One way or another, we'll make it. Now try and get some sleep. I love you.'

*****

The group gathered in the gateroom quietly made ready to depart on their return trip to P3X-195. Doctor Fraiser would be accompanying SG1 back to the planet to monitor the process and be there to see how Jack and Daniel made it through their re-exposure to the Light of Truth. Thoth and Ma'at were also among the group, although they didn't seem to be of much help in terms of additional information.

The chevrons were dialed in, the swirling event horizon appeared, and the group moved forward through it, quickly finding themselves on the other side, within a short distance of the temple where Jack and Daniel had first accidentally come into contact with the light.

Making sure that everyone was ready, Colonel O'Neill signaled that the group should move out towards the small ruin in the distance. Silently they made for the structure. Silently as far as most of the group was concerned.

'Jack?'

'Yeah, Daniel?'

'It's going to be fine Jack. We've just got to believe that.'

'I want to believe that Daniel. I just don't know any longer. I do know that I really don't want to live without you. It just isn't an option.'

'Jack? Whatever happens...I love you.'

'I know Daniel, I know. Love you too, Space Monkey. Let's just get to the damn temple and get this over with and go home, okay?'

'No arguments from me, Jack.'

Before they knew it, they were standing in front of the altar stone where the whole nightmare had begun just days ago. Everyone, with the exception of the two affected individuals, stood back, well away from it.

Jack and Daniel took one last, lingering look at each other before they moved forward as if trying to memorize each other's faces in those last few seconds, trading wordless reassurance and encouragement. Regardless of their longing to exchange some sort of touch, even if only to shake hands, the psychic connection between them made that impossible. They both sighed as they squared their shoulders and turned to enter the Light of Truth once again.

"Remember, be honest and truthful and all will be well," Ma'at called out to them just before they entered.

As the spectators watched, there was a flash of light that captured the two men. 'I love you!' were the last words they sent to each other before the light enveloped them.

The world turned to black as they succumbed, slowly sliding to the ground as the rest of the group watched, terrified, hoping that their friends would be all right.

*****

His head ached like a son of a bitch and he wished the guy with the jackhammer in his skull would just take a break. On top of all that it seemed like someone kept yelling at him. He decided to take the chance and cracked his eyes open just a bit, anticipating an increase in the jackhammer when he did so. Thankfully it didn't increase but he was having a hard time focusing.

"Colonel? Colonel O'Neill? How are you feeling? Please, answer me," a feminine voice demanded.

Still trying to focus, Jack's vision finally cleared sufficiently for him to make out Doctor Fraiser bending over him.

"Colonel?!"

"Oh for cryin' out loud. Stop yelling at me, Doctor. I've got the mother of all headaches here."

Fraiser breathed a deep sigh of relief and turned quickly to grab her phone.

"General? It's Colonel O'Neill, sir. He's awake and he appears to recognize me. Yes, sir. I'll see you in a few minutes."

Fraiser returned to her patient.

"Colonel? Please, do you know where you are?"

"Of course I know where I am. I'm stuck in the damn infirmary again. You know Doc, as much as I like you and all, I've been spending way too much time here recently." Then the events of the past few...what had it been? Days? Hours? Came rushing back to him.

'Daniel?' There was no response so he tried again. 'Daniel? Daniel, answer me!' Again nothing. Jack's training ruthlessly crushed down the panic that was threatening to sweep over him as he realized that Daniel wasn't answering.

Getting his emotions under tight control he asked Fraiser, "Doc, how's Daniel? He's here, right? He's okay? I can't sense him."

"Calm down Colonel. He's here. But he hasn't regained consciousness yet. However seeing that you appear to remember who you are I'm hopeful that Daniel will recover as well. His blood work and vital signs all look good."

Images sped through Jack's head causing the panic to surge against his defenses again.

"No Doc, you don't understand. Daniel and I...we were on trial or something. This woman...she looked like the Tok'ra Ma'at...appeared to Daniel and me in the Hall of Justice on PX3-195. The hall was filled with shadows but there was something there, a presence in the darkness, an evil filled with hopelessness and despair. It felt like what I remember from my time in prison in Iraq. I don't know how, but I was sure that somehow I had been judged and found guilty. I realized that I had failed some sort of test." Jack shook his head, trying to make out more of the images. "Ma'at raised her hand before me and was wearing a ribbon device. I knew if I passed out the thing in the shadows was gonna get me, drag me off somewhere. Hell maybe? Daniel stopped Ma'at. I don't know how but he saved me, I'm sure of it!"

The doctor quickly picked up a hypodermic from the table near the colonel's bedside and inserted it into the IV line.

"Colonel, I'm going to give you something to relax you and I want you to rest. We'll discuss this more later. All right?" She didn't even wait for his agreement, carefully inserting the needle into IV line, watching his eyes close. "For now Doctor Jackson seems to be sleeping. Just rest. I'll be back to check on you."

"Doctor," a nurse appeared at her shoulder, "we need you immediately."

"All right, I'll be right there." With one last glance at the colonel she left to see what medical emergency had come up. She picked up the pace when she heard the alarm sound.

The drug in the IV line was already pulling Jack back down into sleep. He tried to fight against it, to recall the images in his head. He was sure that Daniel had somehow sacrificed himself to save Jack, that there had to be a trade of a soul for a soul. Jack's last image before he fell asleep was of Daniel being dragged away by that hellish monstrosity in the shadows while Jack struggled against some invisible force that kept him from going after Daniel, and Daniel turning to look at Jack, visions of love and farewell in his eyes.

And just before going under Jack heard the alarm go off.

*****

"How did this happen?" Janet asked one of her nurses, rushing in as she heard the alarm.

"I don't know Doctor. Doctor Jackson appeared to be still sleeping when suddenly the warning alarm sounded. I came over to check him immediately and found that somehow he had slipped from sleep into a coma."

Fraiser sighed deeply, running her hand through her hair. Her patients weren't out of the woods yet, one was sedated and the other comatose.

"Okay, let's run some tests stat and see what we can find out. There's got to be a reason for this."

It would be several hours before she'd realize that the instant Jack regained consciousness was the precise moment that Daniel had slipped into a coma.

*****

When Jack woke again thankfully the guy with the jackhammer was gone. Before opening his eyes he ran a quick check of his body and was pleased that nothing seemed to hurt. Since that was successful he decided to chance opening his eyes, confirming that he still was in the infirmary with a curtain drawn round the bed. Jack could sense people moving quietly and efficiently about their tasks on the other side. Looking around he spotted the call button and pushed it. He wasn't terribly surprised when Fraiser herself answered his call.

"Well Colonel, feeling better?"

"Yeah Doc, certainly better than last time." He went on to ask the question that Janet wasn't looking forward to answering. "So how's Daniel doing? I don't sense him so it must 'a worked huh? Can I see him? Has he woken up yet? "

Fraiser decided to answer the last questions first. They were the easiest.

"No, Colonel, Doctor Jackson hasn't woken yet and no one except the medical staff can see him at the moment."

"Doc? What aren't you telling me here?"

Janet sighed deeply and sat down on one side of the bed.

"Colonel, frankly I haven't a clue of what's going on with Daniel. He's in a coma. I've run every test I can think of and I can't find any cause for it! I'm awaiting the results of a few more tests but I don't think they're going to tell me anything new. One thing I have realized is that almost the instant you woke up Daniel slipped into coma. Normally I wouldn't link the two incidents, but considering what the two of you have gone through recently, I'm beginning to wonder if there is indeed a connection."

This revelation made Jack sit up and think for a moment, a wisp of memory stirring.

"Doc, remember that crazy dream I told you about when I first woke up? The Hall of Justice and Daniel saving me from something?"

"Well yes, Colonel. You seemed to be becoming rather agitated relating it to me, that's why I sedated you."

"This might sound crazy, but what if it wasn't just a dream?"

"Colonel!"

"Well what if it wasn't? Can I leave here yet? I feel fine. I've got things to do, people I need to see. Come on, Doc! Daniel's life might be at stake. I need to get outta' here. Are the Tok'ra still on base? I've got to talk to them immediately."

Janet considered his request. "Okay, Colonel. I'll let you out. But if you detect any problems you'll return immediately. Do I make myself clear?"

"Crystal, Doc, thanks. Can I see Daniel before I leave?"

She looked ready to refuse.

"Please, Janet? I won't stay long, promise. Just let me see him."

"Colonel...Jack," she began, but then caught the expression on his face and relented. "Okay, but only a few minutes all right? I don't know if he'll even realize you're there. I just hope you're right and that some how between you and the Tok'ra you can help Doctor Jackson. I'm afraid I've done all I can. I'll have an orderly bring you some something to wear and then you probably should go clean up."

*****

Once Jack had showered and grabbed a clean set of BDUs out of his locker he contacted the general about setting up a meeting between them and the two Tok'ra, whom the general confirmed were still on base. O'Neill wondered if they were aware of what was going on since they were still present at the SGC and hadn't returned home.

The meeting was scheduled for ten-hundred and it was oh-nine-thirty now. Jack decided to check in at his office quickly before the meeting. Mostly he realized he was trying to keep himself busy and keep a tight rein on his concern for Daniel.

He'd gone in to see Daniel, keeping it brief as he'd promised Janet. Jack had taken his lover's hand and placed his other hand on the younger man's forehead, hoping that somehow Daniel could sense his presence, the feelings he was trying to send. Jack leaned close and softly whispered his love in Daniel's ear, promising that he'd never leave him and that he'd be back again soon. Although he did a good job of hiding it, it tore him to pieces to see his lover like that, so still, so quiet.

Pulling himself back to the present, Jack reviewed a few things on his desk and then headed towards the briefing room. Right now he wanted answers, and he was pretty sure the Tok'ra could give them to him. He promised himself he'd ask nicely...at least once. After that, all bets were off. This was Daniel they were talking about. He wasn't going to take 'no' for an answer.

*****

It looked a lot like the scene originally when Jack and Daniel had met privately with the two Tok'ra and the general. Jack didn't stand on social niceties this time around. He just greeted Ma'at and Thoth with questions.

"So what's wrong with Daniel? I'm fine. Why isn't he? How do you explain that he's in a coma?"

Ma'at regally lifted her head to face Jack, calmly staring him straight in the eye. "Colonel O'Neill, it is not our fault that Daniel Jackson has not recovered. This was his choice."

"What? Daniel wouldn't choose to be in a coma."

"Under normal circumstances, no, he probably wouldn't. However, these were not normal circumstances. Daniel Jackson chose this course of action to save you, Colonel."

"Save me? Save me from what?"

Suddenly Ma'at was there, in Jack's mind. Thoth stood to one side, not participating, just ready to record the proceedings. It was as if the briefing room and the general had just disappeared, leaving Jack and Ma'at squared off against each other.

'O'Neill, you lie to yourself,' Ma'at stated coldly. 'Think back to what you term a 'dream.' Tell me of what happened in the Hall of Justice after you entered the Light of Truth. Do you recall my last words to you and Doctor Jackson before you stepped in to the light? I told you to be honest and truthful and all would be well. Did... I... not?'

'Yes, you did.'

'And were you, O'Neill?' Ma'at's eyes bored into Jack's, into his very soul, forcing him to see the truth that he tried to hide even from himself.

An anguished cry echoed through Jack's mind as he finally admitted the truth to himself and Ma'at. He'd lied by omission. He hadn't been completely truthful. He could see himself standing in the temple at the top of the ziggurat and he could feel some 'thing' of incredible despair, an enemy of hope, circling around them in the shadows of the temple, hungry, waiting. Ma'at stood on a raised dais with Daniel and him below her.

She had asked Jack about his feelings for Daniel and he had been caught off guard. Years of military training had warred with honesty in his consciousness for the briefest of moments. During the 'trial' on P3X-195 for fractions of a second his heterosexual and military background, along with the whole "Don't ask, don't tell" thing, all so deeply ingrained before Daniel had come into his life, had caused him to be less than honest about his relationship. He'd mentally tried to 'hide' his feelings for Daniel. This and this alone had led to him being 'condemned' as Ma'at had raised her hand with the ribbon device to strike Jack down. And he could still see Daniel...stepping right into the line of fire as he had in the past, taking Jack's place, all the while knowing the price he would pay for saving Jack. Daniel had traded his soul to save his lover, even while the lover had, for the briefest of seconds, strived to hide their relationship. The truth, the whole bitter truth, was that he had failed Daniel.

The smart–assed Air Force Colonel, who prided himself in not backing down from any situation, suddenly found himself humbled before the truth and this powerful being. He had to do something. He had to save Daniel. He'd beg, he'd plead, he'd accept whatever punishment Ma'at chose to mete out, whatever it took to save Daniel he'd do it.

Ma'at stared at him mercilessly for several seconds, each second seeming like an endless eternity in hell. Suddenly the balm of compassion washed over Jack and he knew, he realized. Miraculously he had been forgiven. He had saved Daniel. Ma'at smiled at him while Thoth recorded the decision.

'That's all it takes O'Neill. Just an admission of the truth to yourself, the removal of all doubt. Go now. Find Doctor Jackson. He is returning to you. Care for each other and treat each other with love, respect and honesty.'

*****

Next thing Jack remembered was waking up in a bed in the infirmary. Glancing around he saw Daniel lying in the bed next to him, eyes closed. Sam was sitting in a chair at the foot of the beds reading.

He shook his head trying to pull his thoughts together. What exactly had just happened?

"Sir?" Sam realized he was awake. "Sir, how are you feeling? It's good to see you awake, sir. You've been out of it since we brought you and Daniel back from P3X-195."

Janet stepped around the screen when she heard Sam speaking softly to Jack.

"Well, Colonel, it's certainly nice to see you awake. The Tok'ra insisted that you'd be fine, that we were to just let you both sleep until you woke on your own." The doctor also kept her voice low to keep from disturbing Daniel.

"So Daniel's fine?"

"As far as we can tell. He's just still asleep."

"What was that about the Tok'ra? They still here?"

"Here, sir?" Carter answered softly, looking confused. "Colonel, the Tok'ra returned to their base directly from P3X-195. As the doctor said, they told us to just let you and Daniel sleep until you both woke up."

There was a mumble and a sigh from the other bed as its occupant slowly opened his eyes, trying to focus. Doctor Fraiser reached for Daniel's glasses on the bedside table and put them on him.

"Hmm...thanks doc. What happened? Someone get the number of that truck that hit us?"

Fraiser fell immediately into her role as doctor asking if they felt any residual headache or nausea, relaxing when both men said they were fine. The question, "No sign of hearing each other's thoughts?" brought a negative shake of the head from them. "Well, you gentlemen will have to excuse me if I want to run a few tests to assure myself that you really are fine. But hopefully you'll be out of the infirmary and able to go home in the next few hours. For now, just relax and we'll get this done as quickly as possible."

"I'll be back later, sir," Sam said. "I'll notify the general that you're awake. It's good to have you back with us."

The two women left leaving Jack and Daniel alone.

"Daniel? You really okay?"

Daniel sighed, rubbing his eyes, still in the process of waking up, but replied with, "Yeah, I think I'm fine Jack. I don't detect you in my thoughts so I guess the whole reversal process worked."

"I don't feel you either Daniel. I kind of miss it in a way. Seems sort of quiet and empty."

"And that's different than normal how...?" Daniel teased, his blue eyes twinkling.

The archaeologist held out his hand and Jack took it in his own. "I'm still here, Jack. You're not going to lose me that easily," he said with a soft smile. "And look, I can touch you and you haven't swooned. I guess my devastating charm must have worn off, huh? Too bad. It was a great way to make you shut up once in a while."

Still holding Daniel's hand in his own Jack squeezed it.

"Daniel, do you remember anything that happened between the time we entered the Light of Truth and now?" Jack had this feeling that Daniel was going to know exactly what he was referring to, images of the 'trial' going through his mind.

"Yeah Jack, I do, just as well as you do. The 'trial' before Ma'at."

Jack's eyes left Daniel's as Jack ran his other hand through his hair, leaving it standing up in little spikes, sighing deeply.

"Daniel, I don't know what I can say, how I can ask you to forgive me."

"Jack..."

"No, Daniel, let me finish, please. Geeze Daniel! I denied our relationship! Maybe only for a fraction of a second, but look what that fraction of a second caused. And you took my place! You saved me from whatever lurked in the darkness at your cost."

"Jack!" Daniel said shaking Jack's hand to catch his attention. "Jack, whatever may have happened, you did save me. You came back for me. Yes, it was terrible until you came for me. I was somewhere surrounded by darkness. It was a struggle not to give into complete hopelessness and despair. But I never stopped believing that you would somehow save me. I had to hold onto that thought. It was the only thing that kept me sane."

"But Daniel, my denial of the truth is what caused you to be trapped in that hellish nightmare in the first place. How could I have done that to you? After all my fine words, I denied our relationship. I don't deserve your love or your trust."

"Time and hell are relative terms Jack. How do you know that those few seconds that Ma'at pinned you with her glare weren't just a painful as anything I experienced?"

"You know about that?"

"Jack, I don't pretend to have all the answers here. It appears that somehow you and I have shared the experience of the trial...a dream, a vision...whatever. The trial never ends Jack. We're constantly being tested. We always have to strive to be the best person we can be. That's all we can do. We both have faults, so of course we'll make mistakes along the way. We forgive each other and go on. Now give the guilt trip a rest, will you?"

"But Daniel..."

"No, no buts Jack. Neither of us is perfect. We're both intelligent, loyal to what we believe. We also both appear to be a couple of the most stubborn and pigheaded individuals that either of us has ever had the misfortune to meet. I think we deserve each other. As long as we can love and forgive each other we'll be fine."

In that moment Jack knew that regardless of whatever policy the military put into place he'd never deny his relationship with Daniel again. Chances were in their favor that no one would ever dare to ask. But Jack reminded himself that gender didn't matter. He might be the brawn and Daniel might be the brain, but they shared the same heart and soul, one incomplete without the other. They could be re-born into other bodies and it wouldn't matter. They each needed the other. Jack recalled Ma'at mentioning the last time two people stepped into the Light of Truth, that they were so close that they shared the same soul. Who knew...maybe those individuals were the two of them in another life. After all, stranger things had been known to happen. Ultimately, the most important thing was that they had found each other.

And Jack was going to hold on tight.

END