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Puzzle Pieces

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Puzzle Pieces

by Lady Ra

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It all belongs to whoever the heck owns Sentinel and Stargate. And that's not me. Although, between you and me, I think they'd be much better adjusted if they did belong to me, so there.
Thanks to my vunderbar betas. My stories are always so much better for their hard work. For this story that includes: Trish, Hawthorn, Morr, Medieval Babe, Andrea, Prentice, Joolz and Lasha. How lucky am I? Betaing long stories is a chore. So many, many thanks. And any mistakes you find, they're mine. Once I got it back, I added about twenty more pages, and twiddled with everything.
NOTES: Another big old AU story, alternate reality story, parallel universe story, you name it, it's happening here. Just to make everyone feel better, NONE OF THIS TAKES PLACE IN OUR REALITY. That's important to keep in mind as there are major character deaths all over the place but, yes, it all ends happily. Oh, and for those of you Sentinel folks who don't know: Ammonet is the Goa'uld who took Sha're as host (which, if you're not familiar with the show, probably doesn't help at all. <g>).
EPISODE SPOILERS: Yes, a little bit here and there, all season five or earlier for Stargate is fair game, and up to and including The Rig for Sentinel, but seeing as I muck around with everything, it doesn't really matter. But, for you purists: Sentinel: The Rig. Stargate: Forever in a Day and the Crystal Skull. Oh, and the timing doesn't work between the two series, but we're pretending, remember?

Puzzle Pieces:

Alternate Reality 1: Daniel's story

Daniel looked at the contents of the box in front of him, feeling confused. Just to make sure, he checked the cover and saw that it had, indeed, been addressed to the Museum of Cairo, part of what they'd found at the Osiris dig. But he'd never seen an Egyptian artifact that looked like this.

Gingerly, he pulled it out of the carton. It was made of a goldcolored metal, one end of it a large spiral, the other end something that was clearly made to fit over a hand with a jewel of some sort centered over the palm.

Glancing around, noting that no one was near, Daniel slid it onto his arm, fitting his fingers into the gold glove, the spiral snug around his lower arm. A shiver crept down Daniel's spine, and he felt a moment's coldness like a cloud crossing the sun.

Repulsed for no reason he could understand, he yanked the thing off and dropped it on the desk. Knowing he was being foolish, Daniel couldn't help but wish he were in a completely different room, maybe even a different building from the gold object. He'd never prided himself on being particularly psychic, but that thing felt evil.

Cautiously, he peered back into the box and saw two canopic jars. Both looked as if they were still sealed and Daniel's eyes lit up at the thought of discovering what treasures lay within. He'd have to see if the x-ray machine was available so he could take a sneak peak.

Picking up his phone to call the lab, he paused, arrested by the sight of a man in dress blues standing at his office door. The guy was gorgeous, grey-silver hair, brown eyes you could drown in, body tall and strong. Daniel guessed Air Force but wasn't sure what rank. "May I help you?"

"You Dr. Jackson?"

Daniel nodded. "Daniel is fine." He liked the man's voice. "And you are?" He had a momentary fantasy that the man answered: 'All yours, honey. Your place or mine?' Even better would be if the guy just strode in, swept the desk clean-- wait, Daniel would have to make sure the canopic jars made it to the ground safely. Okay, so first Daniel would put the canopic jars on the floor and then the man could just stride in, sweep everything off Daniel's desk--wait, first he'd have to come around to Daniel's side of the desk.

Okay, he'd stride into the office, stalk right up to Daniel, sweep the desk clear, and then, shit, he'd need to shut the door. Okay, back up.

"Dr. Jackson, Daniel, are you okay?"

Daniel's eyes opened wide and he realized the man was standing right in front of him, on his side of the desk, his hand on Daniel's shoulder, shaking him a little. "What? Oh, sorry, what were you saying?" He looked up to see that his office door was shut.

Blinking, he gazed again at the man in front of him, feeling as if he'd been caught up in a spell. He could feel the press of the man's fingers on his shoulder, could feel the warm exhalation of his breath. Daniel glanced down at his desk to see that it had not been swept clear. He found that very disappointing.

"Colonel Jack O'Neill, two l's, United States Air Force."

Daniel kept staring. They were almost the same height; the colonel was maybe an inch or two taller. "Colonel, " Daniel repeated. He didn't think he'd ever met a colonel before. As he wasn't a fan of the military, Daniel was surprised that everything about this guy was turning him on, pushing buttons he didn't even know he had.

Just to be on the safe side, Daniel lifted the box containing the two canopic jars and set it on the floor. Now, just in case, he was ready. When he stood back up, the colonel was frowning at him.

"What did you do that for?"

Daniel didn't really have an answer. Well, he did, but somehow he didn't think that telling the guy he'd gotten the desk safe so the colonel could sweep everything off of it, and then fuck him into next week, was the best course of action. Daniel licked his bottom lip and then chewed on it a little, gazing at the colonel, blinking. He couldn't help but notice that the colonel's eyes seemed to be watching his lips.

The colonel smiled, and his eyes twinkled.

Daniel knew he was smitten if he was actually thinking that someone's eyes were twinkling.

"Are you," O'Neill asked, his smile growing broader, "flirting with me?"

"Um," Daniel answered, making all his linguistic teachers proud. "Maybe." He winced a smile at the colonel, hoping this wasn't going to get him punched. It was possible, now that he was thinking about it, that getting frisky around a colonel in the United States Air Force was perhaps not the brightest thing he'd ever done.

"Sweet," the colonel said, as he twinkled some more. Then, to Daniel's astonishment and delight, he threaded a hand through Daniel's hair, yanked him close and kissed him.

It might not be the equivalent of a desk sweeping, but Daniel could happily adapt. As he did with most things in his life, he threw his heart and soul into the experience, putting his archeology expertise to good use as he explored O'Neill's mouth. His hands were doing a little investigating of their own as they made their way down the colonel's back until they were grabbing his very firm ass.

The colonel pushed him back against the desk, and Daniel could see desk sweeping in his immediate future when there was suddenly a knock on the door. "Colonel O'Neill?"

One last desperate bottom lip suck and the colonel backed away. "Fuck." He straightened his uniform a little and yelled, "What is it?"

"It's General Hammond, Sir, he needs you back at the base immediately."

Daniel let his head drop to the colonel's shoulder, seeing his unexpected but highly welcomed reality-is-better-than-fantasy dreams of fucking go up in smoke. "Who is that?" he rasped out. He was going to the top of his People-I-Hate-Most list.

"My aide." O'Neill smiled an apology. "I'm sorry. Duty calls." He let out a dry laugh. "You don't know how many times I've used that line to get out of something, but it sucks the big one right now."

"You really have to go?"

O'Neill nodded. "The General isn't an alarmist. If he needs me back, he needs me back." He took a step backward, and his eyes raked Daniel over from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet. "They sure don't make archeologists like you where I'm from." Letting out a sigh, he took yet another step back, adjusting himself. "Damn, I'm gonna have a bad case of blue balls."

Daniel could empathize. "Will you be back?"

O'Neill sent him another apologetic smile. "Don't have much reason to get to Egypt, but if I ever do, I'll look you up." He leaned in and gave Daniel a quick kiss. "That's a promise."

Daniel blew out a disappointed breath and just spoke his mind. "Well, if you do, would you mind just sweeping off my desk and fucking me on it?"

O'Neill glanced at the box on the floor. "Is that why you put that on the floor?"

Daniel shrugged. "A man can hope, right?"

O'Neill let out a little growl. "Whatever the general wants better be important, because if it's not, I'm quitting, and I'll be back on the next plane."

Daniel had a sick feeling that he'd never see Colonel Jack O'Neill again. "Why were you here in the first place?"

"I'm here to pick up some items from a dig in Cairo." He pulled out a folded piece of paper, shook it out and read from it. "Two canopic jars, sealed, one gold decorative item for arm and hand."

"You can't take those jars," he protested, picking up the box and putting it on the desk, one hand firmly placed on top. "I haven't even had a chance to look at them yet."

The colonel looked momentarily alarmed. "For which we can only be thankful. And yes, I can take them. Sorry, but Uncle Sam is claiming them on an urgent need-to-know basis."

"What the hell does the military need canopic jars for?" Daniel argued. He'd been looking forward to that research, especially now that his romantic entanglement fantasy had come to a screeching halt.

"Can't tell you that, sorry." There was another spate of impatient knocking at the door. Jack stole one more quick kiss. "Jesus." He grinned. "Ever consider working for the military?"

Daniel shook his head. "No. Not really. I'm not really the military type." Then again, if the military had men like Jack O'Neill, maybe Daniel should think about it. "I wish you didn't have to go."

"That makes two of us." When the knocking started up again, Jack moved across the office and yanked open the door. "I'm coming, I'm coming. Hold your damn horses." He moved back to the box Daniel had set on the desk, flipping it open, taking a quick look inside. "Where's the gold thingy?"

Daniel grimaced and picked up the gold metal bracelet-glove contraption. "Here." He held it in front of him like it was dripping with poison.

O'Neill's eyebrows rose and he took the device from Daniel, resting it in the box on top of the jars. "Have you translated what's on those jars, yet?"

"No, I was about to get started on it. If you leave them," he suggested hopefully, "I'll get it done as fast as I can."

With a shake of his head, O'Neill lifted the carton. "Can't do that. We need them back on the base, and we need them translated immediately. I'll have to let our guys take a crack at it."

Daniel let out an aggrieved sound. He wasn't prone to boasting but he knew what he was good at, and there weren't many linguists around better then him. He should be the one translating those jars.

O'Neill was staring at him, a gleam in his eye. "Of course, if you wanted to go with me, I could let you work on them. I'd recruit you this instant. But, we'd have to go. Right now."

Daniel was sorely tempted. Both the jars and Colonel O'Neill were like the sirens of old, calling the sailors to their death. But he had commitments. He couldn't just walk away, much as he wanted to. He sadly shook his head.

"I figured as much, but I had to give it a try, right?"

Daniel wanted to change his mind, but he just stood there and said, "Well, have a safe trip." He gestured at the box. "They're padded pretty well, but you don't want to jostle them too much."

"Right, no jostling." He stared at Daniel for a few moments. "Well, Dr. Jackson, it was a pleasure doing business with you." He gestured at his aide and the two of them headed for the door.

"If you have trouble getting the jars translated, call me," Daniel threw in desperately, suddenly terrified of letting O'Neill walk out of his life.

O'Neill nodded and with one last look, he was gone.

Daniel slumped down into his chair feeling depressed. It was like Santa Claus had shown up in person, handed Daniel a stocking full of the most wonderful presents imaginable, and then, with a Machiavellian laugh, had stolen it back, given Daniel the finger, and flown up the chimney, presents in hand, leaving Daniel with a plate of half-eaten cookies.

He was suddenly sure that life completely sucked.

He was suddenly equally sure that he'd made a mistake. He should have gone. Wondering if he still had time, he raced for his office door, running to the front exit. He slammed open the door just in time to see O'Neill getting into a black sedan. "Colonel," Daniel yelled.

The colonel shut the door, clearly having not heard.

Daniel raced down the steps as fast as he dared, waving his hands, hoping to get O'Neill's attention. He was almost to the street when the colonel pulled out into traffic.

It happened in slow motion, something you only see on some low-budget disaster film. The colonel's aide was holding the box with the jars, while O'Neill drove. A car came flying out of the next street, smacking into the colonel's car directly on the side where O'Neill sat, hitting it so hard the car rocked and spun almost all the way around.

The box went flying and one of the jars came out of its webbed padding and broke. Daniel winced at the damage even as he was still making his way to the sedan, wanting to see if O'Neill was all right. The aide seemed to be okay since he was moving.

Daniel stopped. Actually, the aide was doing a lot more than simply moving. He was yelling and waving his arms around. And so was O'Neill. Then the aide had his gun out and he was shooting at something in the car.

Daniel saw the something. Just for a second. A slithering blur that was climbing up the back of the driver's seat. It balanced for the briefest of moments on the headrest and then vanished down the neck of O'Neill's uniform jacket. Or at least that's what it looked like to Daniel.

Sure he was seeing things, Daniel squinted his eyes. Just at that very second, as if the colonel knew he was standing there, O'Neill turned his head and stared right at Daniel. Daniel started to move forward, wanting to help, but suddenly O'Neill's eyes glowed. That stopped Daniel in his tracks. The colonel's eyes were glowing.

Then, a look of sheer determination appeared on his face and he waved Daniel back with such ferocity that Daniel obeyed, getting back on the sidewalk. O'Neill said something to his aide, pointed at Daniel, and his aide tightened his lips and nodded, pulling something out of a bag in the back.

He jumped out of the car and ran for Daniel, forcing him back. Daniel watched O'Neill's eyes glow again while, out of his peripheral vision, he saw the aide press a button on a small black remote of some sort. The car exploded with a deafening boom.

Only the fact that the aide had pushed him back kept Daniel from getting seriously hurt. As it was a small piece of metal hit him on the face, and the heat from the blast forced him even farther away. His mind was in shock. The car had exploded. With Colonel O'Neill in it. O'Neill was dead. His future, the brass ring he'd suddenly, in a very uncharacteristic move, decided to grab with both hands, was now nothing but ashes.

Daniel couldn't hold back a sob, for whatever it was he'd now never have. He turned to the aide to demand an excuse for what had happened, after all, he'd been the one to push the damn button. But when he looked, the aide was nowhere to be found.

He sank down on the steps, stunned, angry, confused, bereft. He'd known the colonel for ten minutes, and yet he felt as if he'd just lost the best friend he'd ever had.

Alternate Reality 1: Jim's story

Jim stood against the railing of the submarine counting off the seconds, praying Blair would be able to diffuse the bomb on the oil rig. Five-four-three-two-one. A huge fire-ball lit the sky. Jim bowed his head in grief and disbelief.

Like an automaton, he gathered up his prisoners and handed them off to the Coast Guard when they came in answer to his call. Then, on the off chance that Blair had done as he'd been told and jumped off the rig, Jim asked the captain to do a run by the remains.

Jim knew it was a long shot. Even if Blair had jumped, he wouldn't have had time to swim far enough away not to get sucked under by the explosion. Either he'd been blown up, or he'd drowned. Either way, he was dead.

The explosion had been massive, and there was nothing left to see. The ocean, in spots, seemed to be burning, but it was just splotches of oil on the surface of the water. No bodies, no debris for anyone to hang on to in order to keep afloat. Nothing.

He'd get the Coast Guard to come out in the morning to look again, just in case. Even though Jim knew, deep down inside, that his friend was dead, he couldn't give up this easily. Or maybe it was that he wasn't willing to face a future without Blair in it.

Two days later, the Coast Guard called off the search, and Jim couldn't deny it any longer. Major Crimes was in a state of shock; even Simon was a mess. Jim was stunned by how many people came to Blair's funeral. Being so clueless about how many lives Blair had touched made Jim ashamed.

Naomi had shown up for the service, sobbed in Jim's arms, and then departed for parts unknown. Jim figured he'd never hear from her again.

He couldn't bring himself to get rid of Blair's things. In fact, more often than not, Jim found himself sleeping on Blair's futon, one of Blair's shirts by his nose so he could breathe in the scent of his dead friend.

Jim actually tore some fabric off of one of Blair's flannel shirts and kept it with him so he could sniff it every now and then. It helped center him when his senses went a little wild.

He found himself working insane hours to avoid going home. For a man who had once prized his solitary nature, wrapping it around himself like a protective cloak, he was bewildered by how easily Blair had breached the walls around him.

Now his loft felt unbearably empty.

Work sucked without Blair as his partner.

Wonderburger didn't taste as good without Blair to yell at him about eating food that was bad for him.

Nothing was fun anymore.

The toiletries Blair had bought for him started to run out, and Jim wasn't sure where he bought them as they weren't available at their usual market. So, Jim bought other brands.

His skin started to break out in rashes.

The first time he tried to use regular cleaning products he had to let the loft air out for two days before he could go home again. Even then it hurt to breathe for a week.

At least a dozen times a day, he'd turn to ask Blair something only to remember that he was dead. That he wouldn't be offering any more off-the -wall opinions that were usually right, or zing somebody with a joke, or tell Jim how awesome he was.

Jim's clothes began to bother him, and sleeping nude didn't help because the sheets felt scratchy.

Everything started to taste bad.

His home stopped feeling safe.

Jim started feeling like a freak again.

He tried to read through Blair's notes, but he'd written in some cryptic shorthand that was impossible to decipher. Plus, his eyes were playing tricks on him sometimes, his vision zooming in and out. It made him dizzy and sick to his stomach.

"What the fuck happened to you out there, Jim?" Simon demanded. Jim was currently sitting in Simon's office, getting his ass reamed.

Jim shrugged.

"Don't try that dumb act on me. Tell me the truth. You zoned, right?" Simon cursed and shoved his cigar in his mouth, chewing angrily on the end.

Jim nodded, miserable at the situation. He thought he was done with zoning. He hadn't zoned for months. Blair had--. Jim shut that thought down. "Yeah, I zoned."


Jim couldn't agree more. What Simon didn't know was that it wasn't the first time. He'd zoned twice over the weekend. Once over the sound of rain falling on his skylight, the second over the hairs in Blair's brush that still lay by the sink.

"Jim." Simon pinched the bridge of his nose under his glasses. "How bad is it?"

Jim sighed and looked away.

"Can you do this without Sandburg?" Simon's voice still caught on Blair's name. His absence had left a hole they were having a hard time ignoring or filling.

Jim wasn't sure of anything anymore. He'd honestly thought that he had learned to manage his senses, that he was on top of things. It was hard for him to admit that maybe he'd never been in control. That it had been Blair that had controlled him. That it had been Blair's presence that had made the difference. That Jim needed his Guide or he wasn't going to be all right. And his Guide was gone. Gone. Gone. Gone.

"I--I don't know, sir." Jim shook his head. "I don't know anything anymore." He scrubbed his face with his hands. "I may need some time off." Jim wasn't sure what he'd do with it. He wasn't any better at home. In fact, the loft was worse. Between Blair being gone, and his scent slowly disappearing, and the new chemicals tainting it, it didn't feel like home anymore.

The truth was that Jim didn't know where to go or what to do. He had no idea how to get relief. How did you get away from seeing, smelling, hearing, tasting or touching anything? Maybe Peru and the Chopec could help, but the thought of making those arrangements, of dealing with all those airports and noise and smells and lights made his stomach clench.

What he really needed was to sleep. Just a full night's sleep would make a difference. But the likelihood of that happening while he slept on sheets that hurt his skin, wearing silk pajamas that felt like sandpaper, inundated by neighborhood noises that sounded like nails on a chalkboard, was slim to none. Knowing that he'd be waking up to a breakfast he couldn't eat because all he could taste were chemicals didn't help. He desperately needed a break. Just for an hour or two. Like a sensory deprivation tank.

Except it wouldn't work for him because he'd be able to smell and taste the water, its chemicals, the refuse of the people who'd been in there before him. And he'd be able to hear the sounds of the lab, the noise of the circulating system.

"Jim. Jim. Ellison!"

Jim looked up to find Simon bellowing at him. He scrubbed his face again. "What? Sorry."

"That's it. I'm putting you on desk duty until you get your shit together."

Jim shook his head. "I just need a few days off. I'll go out to the woods or something, someplace I can relax. It's been a bad month." Understatement of the year. Worst month of Jim's life. And in a life that pretty much sucked anyway--that was saying something.

Simon scowled at him, but then he nodded and moved behind his desk, yanking open a file cabinet drawer, flipping through files, until he found the appropriate paperwork. He slapped it down in front of Jim. "Put your John Hancock on that."

Jim signed a shaky signature and leaned back. "Thanks, Simon. I appreciate it."

"Yeah, well, just try to relax. I'll check on you in a few days to see how you're doing. If you need something in the meantime, call me. It's been rough on all of us."

Jim knew that was true. Not that it was a contest or anything, but he was guessing that it was a bit rougher on him. He'd been Blair's roommate, he'd been Blair's partner, he'd been Blair's Sentinel. Feeling a sudden need to be alone, he surged up out of the chair. "See you, Simon. Thanks again."

Simon chewed on his cigar and frowned at him.

Jim took that for permission to leave.

Later that night, he stared at the uneaten cartons of Chinese food sitting on the counter. For a second, as he'd run up the stairs, he'd forgotten, and he'd looked forward to the expression on Blair's face when he walked in with his favorite.

Jim had barely made it to the toilet on time before he puked up what little there was in his stomach. Then, for the first time since Blair's death, he'd lain on the bathroom floor and wept.

Now, back on the couch, all he felt was lonely and scared. He had no idea how he was supposed to do this without Blair. He wasn't entirely sure that he could.

Jim threw the Chinese food away; there was no way he could eat it now. He bagged the garbage and took it downstairs. Even overnight, the garbage stank up the loft so much he was gagging when he woke up.

When he returned, he sat back on the couch, and tried to do one of the meditation exercises Blair had taught him. Then someone honked their horn out on the street and Jim's head was filled with the cacophony of the city, the traffic, the trains, the sirens, all the people talking and laughing and crying and screaming, and the seagulls screeching, and the waves crashing, and Jim stared at nothing, lost in the noise.

He had no idea what snapped him out of it, but suddenly it was daylight and Jim was still sitting on the couch. It took him a second to figure out what had happened, and then a glance at the clock to realize that he'd been zoned for almost fifteen hours. He looked down at himself in disgust. Long enough for him to soil himself.

Jim stood, his legs so stiff he almost fell on his ass. His eyes hurt they were so dry, even blinking was painful. Holding on to the couch arm for balance, he stripped off his clothes, balling them up, grateful beyond words his sense of smell wasn't acting up. He walked stiffly to the kitchen and shoved the clothes in the garbage. They'd go down to the trash, along with the sofa, after he was clean.

Jim put some drops in his eyes and then took a long shower. Even the heat of the water didn't stop his trembling. Fifteen hours. He'd never zoned for that long. But then again, Blair wouldn't have let him. Jim rested his head against the tile in the shower and felt like a rat in a maze.

When the water temperature started to grow tepid, it also started to feel like needle pricks. Jim shut off the water and got out of the shower. The cold tile under his feet was like hot coals, and the towel he grabbed to dry himself felt like it was tearing his skin off. He dropped it to the ground, just standing there, hoping the sensations would pass, but even the mild stirrings of air hit his skin like a whip.

Jim sank to his knees, burying his face in his hands. "Oh, Jesus, Blair, help me." He crawled out of the bathroom, dragging himself to Blair's room. He managed to get on top of the futon, ignoring the pain every touch inflicted. Jim grabbed Blair's pillow, burrowing his face in it, desperately searching for his Guide's scent. He found it, just the barest trace of it. He followed it down until he was lost.

Simon huffed up the stairs, hating the fact that he was getting older. Gone were the days when he could race up two flights and not feel a thing. Of course, the last five weeks hadn't helped. As much as Sandburg had aggravated the shit out of him, he'd tended to make a person feel younger. Aggravated, but younger. Simon had been surprised at how much he missed him.

He banged on the door. "Jim? It's Simon." The worry that had been brewing ever since Jim had left his office yesterday was starting to move into the red zone. Simon hadn't liked the look on his friend's face, but he also hadn't had any idea of how to help. That had been Sandburg's department. And they'd all gotten pretty dependent on him just stepping up to the plate regardless of how weird and angry and unpleasant Jim was getting. Just send Sandburg in; he'll handle it.

Simon let out a short mirthless laugh. And the kid always had. Every single time; even when Jim was saying stuff that was cutting him to the quick, Sandburg hung in there and rode it out. Simon banged on the door again. "Open the damn door, Ellison. I'm not going away."

Simon should have stopped in last night, just to see how Jim was doing, but work had gotten crazy and it had been close to ten by the time he'd left. He'd started calling Jim after lunch and, after ten attempts, Simon decided to get his ass over here.

"If you don't answer the door, I'm using my key to get in," Simon bellowed. Simon yanked out his set of keys, suddenly convinced something was wrong. He found the right key and got the door open.

His face scrunched up at the smell of urine and his brow furrowed in confusion. "Jim?" He entered the apartment, shutting the door behind him.

His nose followed the urine stink to the couch and he wrinkled his face again. "What the fuck?" He ran up the stairs. "Jim?" Jim's bed was empty. Checking out the bathroom he found a wet towel on the floor. Then he saw the water stains on the wood floor leading out of the bathroom. Following them took him to the small room Sandburg used to use.

Afraid of what he'd find, Simon gingerly peeked through the half-open French doors. Jim was lying naked on the bed, shivering, his eyes open but sightless, his hands clutching a pillow that Simon could only assume belonged to Blair. "Jesus."

Simon ran to Jim's side and touched his arm. "Jim." When he got no response, he shook him. "Jim. It's Simon." There was still no response. Simon took the afghan off the bottom of the bed and wrapped it around Jim. Wishing with all his heart that this was nothing but a bad dream and Sandburg would be tripping up the stairs at any moment to drag Jim out of wherever the fuck he was stuck, Simon tried one more time. "Ellison," he yelled.

He pinched Jim hard on his arm, hard enough to leave a bruise. Nothing. Simon went upstairs to find a pair of sweatpants, which he then managed, through a feat of sheer willpower, to get on Jim, wanting to safeguard a little of his dignity. Even that didn't get a response.

Finally, having no other recourse, Simon called 911.

Two days later, Simon just happened to be in the room when Jim woke up. "Blair?" Jim asked, his hand searching.

Simon moved to his bedside. "No, it's Simon."

Jim looked around blearily, his eyes red, his face gaunt and shadowed. "What happened?"

"You zoned, big time. I found you at your apartment."

"Where's Blair?"

Simon felt a sting of tears and had to swallow against a lump in his throat the size of New York. He had absolutely no fucking idea what to say.

Then Jim remembered, and his eyes filled with tears. "Oh, shit, he's gone. I forgot." He covered his face with his hands. "Oh, fuck. God, I wish I was dead."

"Don't say that," Simon cautioned, automatically.

Frantic eyes suddenly met his. "Simon, you gotta get me out of here. If I zone in here, they'll keep me alive forever like some fucking vegetable. Let me just go out into the woods somewhere so at least if I zone, I can die in peace. Please, Simon." Jim grabbed Simon's hand. "Please."

His heart hammering in response to Jim's request, Simon managed to say, "Maybe they can help you. Maybe they can give you drugs to help with your senses."

Jim shook his head. "You don't understand. Drugs don't work on me. They'll just make me nuts and then they'll think I'm crazy." He tried to sit up, yanking the IV out of his arm. "Help me up."

Simon didn't know what to do. Maybe a hospital wasn't the best place for Jim, but he sure as hell wasn't dropping him off in the woods to die like some wounded animal. "Jim. This is a bad idea."

It took Jim a couple of tries to stand, and even then he was shaky. "Where are my clothes?"

Simon just shook his head.

"Fine, I'll do it myself." He walked unsteadily to the small closet and opened it, reaching for a plastic bag. Opening it, he pulled out the pair of sweats. He leaned against the wall as he slowly pulled them over his feet and up his body. "Shit." He glanced at Simon. "How long have I been here?"

"Two days, and you were out for close to a day, I think, before I found you."

"Just take me back to my apartment, Simon. I'll take it from there."

"Jim, I think you should give them a couple of days to try to help."

"If Blair were here, you know he'd be doing everything he could to get my ass out of here. He knew hospitals were bad places for me."

Simon could hardly argue with that. He had vivid memories of Sandburg getting in doctor's faces, threatening them with lawsuits if they touched Jim with anything.

"Okay, let's go."

Jim nodded.

The sun chose that moment to peek out from the clouds and fill the room with radiant light. Jim had a second to choose, a second where he could close his eyes and walk out of the hospital. But for a brief moment, when he saw the light, there was this fervent hope that maybe Blair was on the other side of it. He chased after it and was lost.

Simon barely got to him in time to keep him from collapsing to the floor. "I need some help in here," he hollered.

Two months later, Simon made his weekly visit to Jim at the long-term care facility where he was being kept. Wherever Jim had gone to this last time, he hadn't come back. Simon kept hoping, though, and he kept visiting. He knew Jim wouldn't want to live this way, but it wasn't his choice.

With Sandburg dead, heath care decisions were up to Jim's father, and William Ellison wasn't ready to take any steps to put his son out of his misery. Not that there was much he could do legally. Jim wasn't brain dead, he was breathing on his own, and he wasn't dependent on any artificial means other than naso-gastric feedings for survival. So, his father had put his son away in this institution in Oregon, out of state, out of mind.

The double loss of first Sandburg and now Jim had rocked Major Crimes. The place was like a morgue. Simon was thinking seriously about early retirement. It was only Daryl that gave him a real purpose for living.

Simon couldn't help but feel that he'd let his friend down. He squeezed Jim's hand, hoping that maybe this would be the time he'd open his eyes. But, they stayed shut. After one last squeeze, Simon made his way out of his hospital and back to his car.

Alternate Reality 2: Jack's story

Jack poked his head in the doorway to Daniel's office. "Let's go. I'm hungry."

Daniel sort of grunted at him.

"I mean it." Jack slapped his hand against the doorjamb, trying to get his teammate's attention. "Up and at 'em."

Daniel looked up at the noise and stared at Jack over the rims of his glasses. "Oh, Jack. Hey." His eyes started to slide back down to his computer screen. "Just give me five more minutes."

Jack shook his head and walked into the office. "No. I've already done that five times and I'm sick of it. You've been at this for hours, and it's time to eat and sleep like a normal person."

Daniel leaned back in his chair and, after taking off his glasses, rubbed his eyes. Then he yawned and stretched, his arms going overhead, his back arching to reveal a small span of tummy above the waist of his BDUs.

Jack took full advantage of the sight, feasting his eyes on Daniel's body, fantasizing about having the right to go over there and kiss that inch of skin. When the yawn was wrapping up, Jack made sure to wipe all traces of his lascivious thoughts off his face. He didn't have the right to even think those thoughts, let alone act on them.

He had hopes though. Tonight was the night. Tonight he was going to tell Daniel that he wanted more from their relationship. And, hopefully, if he'd been reading Daniel right, he'd get it. They'd have to be careful because of regulations, and Daniel might want to go slow if he'd never been with a man before, but those were mere technicalities.

After all, during his career, Jack had broken just about every regulation there was, and taking it slow was fine with him as long as he got to hold Daniel and kiss him. Jack had been thinking about kissing his friend for a long time.

People like Daniel didn't come along every day. He was brilliant, dedicated, funny, compassionate, non-judgmental, and gorgeous to boot. What Jack didn't understand was why someone hadn't already snatched Daniel up. Granted, Sha're had, but she'd been gone for over two years now, and the chances of them getting her back were pretty slim.

Daniel powered down his laptop and slipped it into his briefcase. Then he got up, stretched again, smiled at Jack, and grabbed his jacket. "Where we going?"

"I thought I could just grill a couple of steaks at home. Sound okay?"

"Sounds perfect."

Jack let out a silent sigh of relief, even as he squelched a rising sense of panic. Maybe this was a mistake. Maybe he should just be satisfied with what he had with Daniel. But, even as he had those thoughts, he knew he had to carry through. What he had with Daniel wasn't enough. Jack needed more, and it was worth the risk.

A couple hours later, after eating dinner and watching a game where the team they were both rooting for lost abysmally, Jack got them two more beers. When he sat down, he sat a little closer to Daniel.

Daniel didn't seem to notice, and he took the beer with a small smile of thanks. "I probably shouldn't drink this; it's time for me to head home."

"You could spend the night," Jack offered. Daniel often did, although Jack was hoping he wouldn't be using the guest room tonight.

Daniel took a small sip and then put the bottle down, shaking his head. "I need to get in early to finish that translation."

Jack realized he was running out of time. "Uh, wait, I, uh--" He was almost crippled by the butterflies zooming like crazed racquetballs in his stomach.

Daniel put his hand on Jack's arm. "What is it?" He stared at Jack, affection and concern in his eyes, silently offering anything Jack needed.

At least that's what it seemed like to Jack, and he hoped to God he was right. "Uh." Deciding actions would speak much louder than words, he put his beer down and inched closer to Daniel. But then, just when he was about to grab Daniel, he chickened out. "I, uh, have something I need to tell you."

The grip on his arm grew more assuring. "Anything, Jack. You can tell me anything."

"Yeah, but I don't want to lose what we have." He gestured vaguely at the living room, his hand indicating them being together, the evening they'd just spent.

Daniel's eyebrows went up and then back down. "I'm your friend, Jack. Nothing's going to change that. I promise. Just, whatever it is, spit it out."

Jack blew out a breath, stole a quick glance at Daniel, his beautiful blue eyes, all that worried warmth focused on him, and he took his chance. He leaned in and kissed Daniel. Just a short one and no tongue action, but long and firm enough that there'd be no missing the message.

Two seconds later, Daniel was standing and staring down at him, his mouth opened, the back of his hand wiping at his lips. "What was that?"

Jack grimaced. "That was a kiss." And, apparently, not an appreciated one.

Daniel was staring at him like Jack had spoken in some newly discovered language that Daniel didn't understand.

"Jesus, Daniel, sit down, I'm not gonna jump you."

Daniel hesitated, but then he did sit down, on the very far end of the couch. "Are you attracted to me? Is that what you wanted to tell me?"

Fuck. Now Jack was tempted to stand so he could pace and blow off some of the nervous energy that was building to critical proportions, but he could hardly do that after yelling at Daniel to sit down. "Yeah, I am. And I sort of thought you felt the same way, but I'm guessing I was wrong, huh?"

Daniel stared at him as if he was growing antenna. "Jack, I'm married." He made a hand motion to the fireplace where a picture stood of Jack, Sara, and Charlie. "So were you."

Jack shrugged. "I'm divorced. And Sha're--" He left that one unfinished.

"Is still alive. We'll get her back," Daniel insisted loudly.

"Fine." Jack couldn't believe how badly he'd read this situation. In fact, he didn't believe it. "You really don't feel that way about me? I mean, even just a little? Never thought about it?"

Daniel shook his head emphatically. "No." He punctuated the 'no' by leaning backwards, which was all he could do to get farther away without moving to a different chair.

Jack snorted and waved a hand at the distance between them. "What is this all about? What are you afraid of? Is it the bisexual thing? Somehow I never saw you as the type to get uptight over that sort of thing."

"No, of course not," Daniel said indignantly. "As long as it's consensual and legal, it's none of my business."

"So, what is this? Are you afraid I'm gonna attack you or something?"

"You kissed me, Jack. I would label that as an attack of sorts."

"Oh, please. I kissed you for all of two seconds, and now you're going all damsel in distress on me. What happened to 'you can tell me anything, Jack, you're my friend'?"

"Tell being the operative word. I don't remember giving you permission to kiss me."

"I was demonstrating," Jack protested. "I thought it would get the idea across more effectively."

"Well," Daniel huffed, "I guess you were right." He wiped at his lips again.

Jack stood up, letting out a disgusted noise. "Would you quit that? It's not like I've got cooties or anything." He grabbed his beer and took a long swig.

Daniel put a hand out in a universal peace gesture. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm just a little freaked here."

"No kidding." Jack was starting to get a little pissed. "Overreaction, much?"

"Jack, you kissed me."

"You keep saying that like I killed a litter of kittens or something," Jack yelled. "I was just showing you how I felt. That I care about you, that I want to have a different sort of relationship. Forgive me if I've traumatized you for life."

Daniel's eyebrows were practically doing a minuet.

Jack scowled. "Look, just forget it. Obviously, I misread the whole situation. So, let's pretend this night never happened, and we can go back to being friends tomorrow, all right?" Please let it be all right, Jack pleaded silently. Please don't leave me with nothing here.

"Is that what you want?" Daniel asked, his brow furrowing.

"No, it's not what I want, but clearly you're not interested in me that way, right?"

"It's not that I don't like you, Jack, I do, you're, well, I consider you my best friend, but this is so unexpected. I'm married and I'm straight, and I thought you were, too, and no, I'm not interested in you that way." His face scrunched up like the thought gave him gas.

"Jesus." Jack took another long swig. Maybe he'd get stinking drunk tonight. "Yeah, I definitely think we need to forget this ever happened."

Daniel stood up. "Okay. We can do that. Tonight never happened."

Jack took a step toward him.

Daniel backed up.

"For Pete's sakes, Daniel, I've had these feelings about you for a long time and I've never touched you, have I?"

Daniel touched his lips. "Well, you did kiss--"

Jack cut him off with a vicious swipe of his hand. "Don't say it. I meant up to now, you never even knew, did you?"

Daniel shook his head.

"Right, and you'll never know again. This night never, ever happened."

Daniel scrunched his face up again and he pushed his glasses farther up his nose. "Right." He made a vague gesture at the door. "Well, I better go. I guess I'll see you tomorrow."

"Yeah." Jack stayed where he was. Daniel knew where the door was, and Jack didn't think he could handle watching Daniel back away from him again. "Tomorrow."

Daniel grabbed his jacket and slipped it on. He flashed a nervous grin at Jack and moved to the door. "Night." Then he was gone.

Jack went immediately to the bar and grabbed a bottle of scotch and poured himself a large glass. "Fuck."

The next week was as awkward as Jack had hoped it wouldn't be. Daniel was acting so weird even General Hammond was giving him odd looks. Daniel was dropping things, starting and stopping sentences, and wincing more than usual.

Carter asked him three times during a briefing whether he was okay or not. Daniel kept shooting nervous glances at Jack and nodding.

Jack closed his eyes so he didn't have to watch anymore. All he could hope was that Daniel would get over it. If he was half the man Jack knew him to be, he would. Daniel forgave everybody everything.

But by the time the week ended, Jack had only seen Daniel during the times duty threw them together.

Friday night, Jack stood outside Daniel's office door. "Ready to go get something to eat?" he asked casually, hoping Daniel couldn't hear his heart pounding in his chest.

Daniel looked up at him, and Jack didn't miss the guilt there, despite the fact that Daniel was trying to hide it. "Ah, yeah, actually, I'm, uh, I told Teal'c that I would join him, um, for his Kel-no-reem." Daniel looked exhausted after getting through that sentence.

Jack stepped into the office and shut the door. Fortunately, he didn't have to worry about security cameras in Daniel's office. For some inexplicable reason, given what Daniel seemed to be able to concentrate through, he couldn't handle the security cameras. They creeped him out. Hammond had them removed.

"Do you just need time, Daniel, or is this how it starts?"

"What do you mean?"

"Is this the start of you ending our friendship?" Jack was proud of how calmly he asked that question, when what he wanted to do was flip over Daniel's desk in an angry act of violence.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Daniel said carefully.

"Oh, come on. You know exactly what I'm talking about. When we're both free, we go out for dinner on Friday nights. We've been doing that for two years." He shrugged. "So, what? You just forgot?"

Daniel sighed. "Listen, Jack, I, maybe I do need some time."

"I don't believe that, because if you needed time, the Daniel I thought was my friend would have asked for it before now. But instead you've been acting like I'm a leper all week, leaving every time I show up, and when we have to be together, you couldn't be more uncomfortable."

Daniel touched his lips.

"Don't fucking say it. Get over it already. Jesus." Jack had to force his hands to unclench.

"I just don't understand why you did it. I'm married."

"She's been gone for two years."

Daniel stood, his own fists clenched. "We'll get her back. You told me we'd get her back."

"Is that what this is about? That somehow me kissing you means that the search for Sha're is over?"

"Well, isn't that what you're thinking? You must think she's gone for good since you obviously think it's time for me to move on."

"Maybe I do think you should be moving on, and I bet Sha're would be the first to agree with me, but I'm insulted that you'd think I'd stop trying to help you find her and save her. I guess that tells me what you think of me." It was time for Jack to go hit a punching bag to keep himself from hitting Daniel.

Daniel put out a placating hand. "Jack, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it that way. This has all just, well, it's really thrown me. Maybe I should have asked before, but I'm asking now. I need some time."

Jack nodded stiffly and left Daniel's office, heading straight for the gym.

He tried again the next Friday after leaving Daniel alone all week. This time he went in and shut the door behind him. "Hey, ready for dinner?"

When Daniel hesitated, something inside of Jack started to shrivel up and die. "Jack--"

Jack shook his head. "Forget it, Daniel." He turned to leave but then swung back. "You know, I really trusted you. I really trusted that I meant something to you, even as just a friend. And I really trusted you when you said that no matter what I said, nothing would change. But I guess we were both wrong."

Daniel stared at him, his eyes stricken. "I just don't know what to do. You said that you thought I felt the same, and then when I reacted the way I did, that you'd misread the situation. Jack, you don't misread situations. You're trained to pick everything up and analyze it and come to the correct conclusion."

"And your point is?"

That got him an annoyed look. "The point, Jack, is that I don't feel that way about you. I'm straight and have never been attracted to men. But, obviously, something I do, or say, or the way I act toward you, gave you the impression that I'd be willing to enter into that sort of relationship with you. And suddenly, I'm not comfortable in my own skin. What am I doing, what am I saying? Am I somehow leading you on even now? It seems like the height of cruelty to be with you when I don't have any idea what I was doing to encourage you."

That made a twisted sort of sense. "It doesn't matter. I know now that you don't. So, my trained mind will learn to put a different interpretation on whatever it is you do that made me think that. I can do that, Daniel. I've been in hundreds of situations in my career when something I thought to be true suddenly wasn't and I had to reevaluate my conclusions. This is just like that."

Daniel shook his head. "How can you do that? How do you just shut your heart off? Every day I ache for Sha're. Every day it hurts. I don't want to do that to you."

"We're different people. I learned how to shut things off a long time ago."

Taking his glasses off, Daniel scrubbed at his face. "I suck at relationships, Jack. I always have. I've never had a good one. Every time I ended up in bed with someone, I wasn't even sure how I got there, Sha're included. And, with the exception of Sha're, they all left pretty fast."

"Is this going someplace?" Jack wasn't feeling particularly inclined to listen when he was pretty sure it wasn't going anyplace he wanted it to.

"I've never even been good at having friends. And maybe this is why. I suck at it. I say what I don't mean to, and probably don't say what needs to be said."

"I thought we were doing just fine. You were a great friend, Daniel."

Daniel shrugged. "Not so great. You're right, it was just a kiss, but look at me. I'm a wreck. I'm humiliated at how lousy my coping skills are for this. What kind of friend does that make me?"

"The kind of friend I still want," Jack stated firmly, needing so badly to fix things. "I never would have said anything if I'd thought I'd lose you as a friend. You were the most important thing in my life and I don't want to lose that." It killed Jack that he was begging. He hadn't begged for anything since Charlie died.

Daniel shook his head, speechless, his hands raised in a hopeless gesture.

Jack looked away for a few seconds, composing himself, the scope of his loss tearing him apart. "Fine." He cleared his throat against the lump that was sitting there. It felt like a fucking planet. "So where does that leave us?" He might as well go for the surgical strike; Jack hated long goodbyes.

"After we get back from our next mission," Daniel said, "I'm going to ask General Hammond to put me on one of the archaeological teams."

Jack nodded. Oh, yeah. Surgical strike. Knowing that anything that came out of his mouth was going to be ugly, Jack just left.

Three days later they were freeing Kasuf's people from Ammonet. Jack had seen Daniel call Sha're's name and head up the hill to try to see her while Jack was down below trying to keep the prisoners heading in the right direction.

As Jaffa started pouring down the hill, Daniel ducked inside the tent. Even though they could have used his help, Jack sent Teal'c up to check on Daniel. He tried not to think about the fact that this would be their last mission. That from now on, his interactions with Daniel would probably entail a tight smile as they passed each other in the hallways.

Jack ducked down next to Carter and began firing at the Jaffa, giving Teal'c some cover. As soon as they got things under control, he looked up at the tent. When he heard a staff blast, Jack started running up the hill, Carter behind him.

When he folded back the opening to the tent door, everything came to a crashing halt. Ammonet was dead, a blast hole through her chest. Teal'c was on the floor, Daniel Jackson in his arms. He looked up at Jack, apology and misery on his face. "I was too late, O'Neill. She had already killed him."

Carter let out a sob. "Oh, God." She moved across the tent to fall to her knees next to Teal'c, and she brushed the hair off Daniel's brow. Her fingers avoided the blistering redness left from the ribbon device. "Oh, Daniel." She fought for control, but tears streamed down her face.

Jack stared at the dead body of his friend, and he shut down. Shut it all down. He left Teal'c and Carter to their grieving and left the tent to help get Kasuf's people back to Abydos.

Alternate Reality 2: Blair's story

Blair cast a wistful look in the tall Sentinel's direction and sat down across from Jack, slamming his tray down. "I don't understand why Jim Ellison won't let me Guide him." It was noisy enough in the lunchroom that he wasn't concerned about Ellison overhearing him.

"Because he's an idiot," Jack said, his mouth full of pie.

Blair smiled at Jack. "Thanks." He sighed and started eating his lunch.

"You want me to talk to him?" Jack asked.

Blair shook his head. "No. It's not like I've been subtle. I asked him. He said no. I asked him again, he said no again. End of story." Blair had never asked another Sentinel to pair with him. He wasn't sure why, but up until Jim, he'd been perfectly happy just heading the program.

Jack frowned across the room at the Sentinel in question. "What's wrong with him? There isn't an unattached Sentinel in this place that wouldn't give their eyeteeth to have you Guide them." He waved a hand at Blair. "I mean, you're the ultimate Guide, the Guide's Guide."

Blair rolled his eyes. "Give the shovel a rest, Jack."

Jack glared at Ellison again, and Blair noticed that everyone around their table gave them a wide berth when they saw the look on Jack's face. Not that he blamed them. Ever since Daniel's death, Jack hadn't been the easiest person to get along with. It didn't take much to set him off, and if you were the person getting ripped a new one, it could be a bit overwhelming. Jack had a lot of clout and legend preceding him.

For whatever reason, Blair rarely seemed to be in Jack's bad graces. He wasn't sure why, unless it was because he was the only civilian who wasn't intimidated to death by Jack. Or maybe it was because, as a Ph.D. civilian, he had a rank equal to Jack's and reported directly to General Hammond, so Jack couldn't treat him as a subordinate.

Only Hammond, Sam, Teal'c and he would dare to approach Jack on a bad day. And when he was in a really bad mood, even Sam walked the other way.

"You did a pretty good job on PX yada yada yesterday."

Blair beamed at Jack. "Thanks. That means a lot to me." For some reason, when Blair's PhD. dissertation was published, a mostly theoretical treatise on the subject of Sentinels, the armed forces had taken an immediate interest in him.

Apparently they had a few people with enhanced senses on their payroll, and while they couldn't be beat for covert surveillance and assisting with the procurement of evidence, they were fairly high maintenance employees. Blair had been hired on the spot, after a clearance check--and the overlooking of his mother's radical past--and was put in charge of the Sentinel project.

They housed the program at Stargate Command. Blair could only imagine they did it because somewhere in the upper echelons, maybe where the air was too rare to get sufficient oxygen, someone thought weird belonged with weird. So, people with enhanced senses and visits to alien planets seemed a good match.

Blair didn't mind. Actually, he loved it. He was glad he'd ended up here and not at Area 51. He'd have been warmer there, but he'd never have gotten off planet. And that was the rush to end all rushes.

When Blair first arrived here, he and Daniel had renewed an old friendship, and because of Daniel's friendship with Jack, Blair and Jack had also become friends. Blair had never spoken about it with Jack, but he'd seen how Jack had looked at Daniel over the last year and had hoped that the two of them might get together. But then, things between them had gone terribly wrong in the weeks before Daniel's death, and since then, Jack had changed.

Wanting to lighten the mood, Blair complained, "Why do they call those planets by letters and numbers anyway? I never can remember them."

"You're preaching to the choir here, buddy. I've always hated it. I mean what's wrong with Planet of the Big Purple Blobs, or Planet of the Big Honkin' Volcano?"

"Exactly," Blair enthused. "I mean that planet yesterday could be called: Planet of Big-Breasted Women."

Jack nodded emphatically. "See, now that I'd remember."

Blair grinned at Jack and resumed eating his lunch. He noticed Jack was still frowning at Ellison.

"Didn't he come here with a Guide?" Jack asked.

Blair nodded. "Yeah. A Chopec Indian named Incacha."

"He died, right?"

Blair nodded again. "About a month after they got here."

"Were they, you know, together?"

"I thought so, but now I don't know. He seems to like to hook up with the ladies." Maybe that was the problem. Maybe Jim was homophobic. It was pretty common for Guides and Sentinels to end up in a sexual relationship. They were together so much, and drawn to each other so strongly, it was inevitable. The military turned their nervous eye in the other direction.

"Face it, Blair," Jack interjected. "You're just hot for his body."

Blair laughed, and as he had a mouthful of food, he started choking. After a few seconds and a not-so-helpful slap on the back by Jack, he laughed again. "Well, who wouldn't be? I mean, look at him."

Jack raised his hand. "Me, for one."

Blair saw Jim leave with one of the tall blonde nurses from the infirmary and leaned back in his chair with a sigh. "I just don't get it. I keep feeling this tug to be near him. I just know he's supposed to be my Sentinel."

"Well, like I said, the guy's an idiot."

Blair shrugged and went back to his lunch, watching Jack as he finished up his pie. They'd stopped trying to put an archaeologist with SG-1 after several spectacular failures. The team, which now just consisted of Jack, Sam and Teal'c, was much more focused on military objectives. They were still first contact, but if anything interesting was discovered other than, as Jack would say, big honkin' space guns, other teams went in to finish up the work.

Otherwise, SG-1 was used for military maneuvers and rescues.

One time, before Daniel had died, and after obtaining Hammond's permission, Daniel had invited Blair to join them on a routine followup mission to a planet of new allies. Things had gone to hell in a hand basket when a rebel force had attacked SG-1. Daniel had been injured, and Blair had found himself in the position of trying to wheedle their freedom.

To Jack's surprise, but not Daniel's, he'd ended up being successful. Since then, after Daniel died, if Jack needed someone to chat with the natives, he took Blair.

If Blair had let his imagination flow free to invent the most amazing and interesting job he could think of, never could he have come up with one that was better than this one. With the exception of Jim Ellison, his life was pretty damn near perfect.

Well, there was one other exception. Blair let out a sigh. "I miss Daniel." He bit his lips when he realized what he said and hoped Jack didn't do his usual freeze routine when Daniel's name was mentioned.

But Jack just lifted sad eyes to him. "I do, too."

At the look on Jack's face, Blair had to blink away the sting of tears.

Two weeks later, Blair was late for his next sojourn off planet. He entered the gate room. "Sorry," he threw out, trying to get his pack settled on his shoulders.

"What's he doing here?" an annoyed voice asked.

Blair looked up to find Jim Ellison frowning at him. His eyes widened and he looked at Jack for an explanation. Blair had told Jack he didn't want him interfering and he'd meant it.

Jack scowled. "Listen, Ellison. You're the strongest Sentinel we have, and this mission calls for some high-level surveillance. But you know the rules as well as I do. No Sentinel goes out into the field without a Guide."

"But why him?" Ellison protested.

Blair tried not to let the words hurt, but they did. He focused on adjusting his straps.

"Because he's the best Guide there is."

Jack's praise, which coming from him was high praise indeed, helped relieve the sting a little.

"I'd rather have someone else. Like Rosalind or Julie."

Blair tried to keep the wince off his face.

"Ellison, I'm not giving you a choice here. If you've got that big a problem with it, tell me now, and I'll get another Sentinel."

"If you need me," Ellison complained, "then why don't you get another Guide?"

Blair was amazed that Ellison couldn't see Jack was about to blow. How, as a Sentinel, he was missing all the signals was beyond him. This was stupid. They should just get another Guide. Blair moved closer to Jack. "Jack--" he began.

Jack put up a very definite hand, telling him to shut the fuck up.

Blair shut up.

"Perhaps you didn't hear me," Jack responded in a deadly calm voice. "Blair is the Guide for this mission. Discussion closed. The only thing open for negotiation is whether you go or I replace you with someone else."

Ellison opened his mouth to bitch again, but Jack stopped him. "Don't even try."

Ellison closed his mouth with a snap and a glare of frustration. He shot an angry look at Blair and then shared it with the whole group. "Fine. Let's go."

"You step out of line, and I'll scrub the mission," Jack threatened.

"I said fine," Ellison snapped back.

Blair had a very bad feeling about this whole thing. He tried again. "Jack, maybe you should get another Guide," he suggested softly, even though he knew Jim could hear him.

Jack put his cap on with a vicious tug. "I need you more than I need him," he said, making no effort to soften his voice. "The natives want you. I can get another set of ears and eyes if I need to."

Blair considered Jack for a moment and decided he was telling the truth. This wasn't some misguided attempt at matchmaking. "Okay." He gave Ellison a look, hoping like hell the Sentinel would listen to him. Ellison studiously avoided meeting his eyes.

Fortunately, Sam was looking at him, giving Blair an encouraging smile, and Teal'c was glaring at Ellison. Bolstered by SG-1's support, even if Ellison was being an asshole, Blair stood ready to go through the wormhole.

Blair really liked this planet, although instead of PX3229, he would call it the Planet of Really Nervous People. The natives were a cautious bunch, cautious to the point of paranoia. They reminded him of rabbits or mice. Hyper-vigilant, eyes darting around, even their noses twitched.

But for all of that, the planet seemed really peaceful, and the natives they'd met hadn't successfully explained why they were so nervous. Maybe this was the way they had evolved. Maybe once upon a time they'd been prey for really large swooping birds or something.

At least this time they were paranoid for a specific reason. Apparently, there was a group of nomads in the area, and there was concern that they might be planning some sort of coup. They'd contacted Stargate Command, asking for assistance.

And that was why they were visiting the Really Nervous People. Blair was there to help calm everyone down, because the natives found him relaxing. SG-1 was there, along with a Sentinel, to do some eavesdropping.

Armed only with a zat, as Blair refused to carry anything more lethal, he stuck close to Jim as they made their way through the woods.

He caught Jack's hand signal and he hunkered down behind Ellison. He watched the Sentinel as he opened his senses to listen for any suspicious noises. Blair didn't like what he saw. It was clear Ellison didn't have much control. His intense look of concentration was coupled with winces and a forehead creased with pain lines.

Ellison shook his head no, indicating he hadn't heard anything, but then started scratching at his arm at a patch of skin that was already red. When he winced again at something Blair couldn't hear, Blair whispered, "You need to dial things down, man."

Ellison shot him a dirty look. "Leave it alone, Sandburg."

"No, I won't leave it alone." He grabbed Ellison's arm and pushed up his sleeve to reveal more patchy red skin. "This is stupid. It's fine that you don't want to work with me, but why haven't you let any of the other Guides help you with this?"

Ellison jerked his arm back. "I said leave it alone."

"And I said no. Are you having headaches?" At Jim's evasive look, Blair let out an exasperated sigh. "What good are you going to be if you can't learn to control your senses? All that's gonna happen is that you'll zone and either get yourself or someone else killed." Blair was disturbed that he hadn't seen how out of control Jim was.

"I don't need anyone's help. I can deal with this on my own."

"Are you at least doing the meditation exercises I teach you guys?"

Another evasive look.

"Damn it, Ellison. I won't approve you for another off-world mission if you don't get your shit together."

If looks could kill, Blair would be pushing up daisies right about now.

Blair didn't care. This was his responsibility and he wasn't going to shirk it just because Jim Ellison seemed to hate his guts. "Listen. If you want to work with Rosalind or Julie, that's fine, but they need to finish their training first. In the meantime, pick a Guide to work with by the end of the week. I'll want to know who it is, and I'll be expecting status reports from them as to your progress."

Suddenly Jack was standing there. "Problem, gentlemen?"

Blair shook his head and flashed Jack a smile, hoping he'd leave it alone. He glanced over to see Jim shaking his head as well.

"Good," Jack said, with a hint of sarcasm. "Then perhaps now might be a good time to remind you that we're trying to spy here, which means chatty conversations? Not a good thing."

"Sorry," Blair whispered. He gestured zipping his lips shut, locking them, and throwing away the key. Then he grinned at Jack.

Jack smacked him in the arm, and moved back to stand next to Teal'c, advancing the team on with a hand gesture.

To no one's surprise, when they finally did find the nomads, it was clear they were a peaceful lot, with no plans of staging a coup. They were simply on their way south and would be moving out of the area within a day or two.

The team went back to the village, reassured them that all was well, stayed for a celebratory dinner and then went back home.

Ellison, as ordered, and as reinforced by Jack, chose a Guide named Vickie to work with. Her Sentinel was currently tied up with some extra linguistics training and that left her with some time on her hands.

The first report a week later wasn't a surprise, although, again, Blair was upset that he'd missed the fact that there was such a problem in the first place. Vickie stated that Jim Ellison was angry and resistant to training, that he resented being expected to pair off with a Guide, and felt that he would work better solo. He had no patience for the meditation exercises and had already stormed out of the sessions twice.

Blair sent Vickie some Godiva chocolate as a sympathy gift for having to deal with Ellison and wished he could get over this thing he felt for the man.

Blair was keeping Jack and Hammond apprised of Ellison's progress. After two more reports in a similar vein from Vickie, he sat down with both of them. "He's not doing much better. He even zoned this morning in the cafeteria."

Jack's eyebrows went up.

Hammond's lips tightened. "What do you propose we do about him?"

It made Blair sick to his stomach to say it, but he couldn't put Jim or anyone he might be working with at risk. "I think he needs counseling, and if he's unwilling to submit to that, or if the counselor thinks he's too high a risk, then I'd recommend that he be relieved of his Sentinel duties. Meanwhile, until then, he needs to be temporarily relieved. He shouldn't be going off-world."

Hammond nodded. "Will you be informing Ellison?"

Blair winced. "I already did, or at least I told him this was what I'd be recommending and that unless he heard back from me, he should consider himself suspended."

Jack cocked his head to the side. "I take it that didn't go down too well."

Blair let out a mirthless laugh. "You could say that." Understatement of the year. Blair probably should have taken Jack along with him. Ellison had managed to control himself enough not to break Blair's nose, but it had been close.

Something in his face must have given it away because Jack leaned in. "Did he lay a hand on you?" he asked, the promise of future death and maiming in his voice.

Blair shook his head. "He didn't. He wanted to, but he didn't." At the look on Jack's face, Blair tried again. "He has a temper, Jack, but he kept it together. He gets points for that."

"It's not good enough if you feel threatened by him. Jesus, the guy's half a foot taller than you and outweighs you by fifty pounds," Jack responded, outraged.

"Fine. If I have to have any more conversations like this with him, I'll take you with me and let you glare at him. Okay? You can even take a gun with you if it will make you feel better." The moment with Ellison was over. Blair didn't think he was in any danger from retaliation.

Hammond gestured at them both with a raised hand. "That's enough, gentlemen. I agree with Dr. Sandburg's assessment and Jim Ellison is on immediate suspension pending a psychiatric evaluation."

"Thank you, Sir," Blair said. "And I apologize that the situation got out of hand. I should have picked up on it months ago. I've already put a new system in place that will monitor any unpaired Sentinels so this won't happen again."

"I have no doubt you're doing your best, Doctor. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we bring the wrong people on board. Sounds as if you're taking care of it." He smiled kindly at Blair. "That will be all, gentlemen."

Jack and Blair stood at the dismissal and moved out of the General's office. "Man, he's so great."

Jack nodded. "He's the best, no doubt about it." He purposefully pushed into Blair. "Can I go beat up Ellison now?"

Blair snorted out a laugh. "Would you, please? I'd consider it a personal favor." He batted his eyes at Jack.

Jack rolled his eyes. "I don't want you talking to him alone again. I mean it. I don't trust that guy."

"I hear you. I'll be careful. And I'm tougher than I look, you know." He appreciated Jack's concern but he'd been looking after himself and dealing with much bigger guys for a long time. "I better get the paper work going on this."

Jack nodded, gave him a jaunty wave, and proceeded in the direction of his office.

Blair sighed and headed back to his own.

Jack was yelling at some luckless lieutenant when Blair came barreling around the corner in response to an urgent page. Jack was livid. He held a piece of paper in his hand and was practically shoving it in the lieutenant's face. "Are you unable to read English?" he hollered.

"What's going on, Jack?" Blair asked. Taking his life in his hands, he reached for the paper and snatched it out of Jack's hand. Focusing on the paper, he saw it was the list of active and inactive Sentinels. "What happened?"

"Bozo here approved Jim Ellison for a mission."

"What?" Blair checked the page, his heart pounding, afraid that maybe his paperwork hadn't gone through, but no, there was Ellison's name, clearly under the inactive heading. "How did that happen?"

The lieutenant's eyes were about to pop out of his head and he swallowed nervously, his pronounced Adam's apple bobbing up and down. "Uh, well, it was a last minute mission, and they were in a hurry, and, I'm sorry, sir, I just, there were so many things to check, and I--"

Blair pulled Jack away before either he or the lieutenant had a stroke. Usually the personnel check before a team left was a mere formality: who was going, what their names and ranks were, key responsibilities, making sure they had medical clearance to go offworld. Nothing earth-shattering. "Jack, Ellison knew he wasn't supposed to go. The responsibility for that rests on him. Leave the kid alone."

"Whoever does the final checking of the team roster shares that responsibility," an angry thumb jerk over Jack's shoulder indicated the lieutenant, "and so does the Team Leader." He spun around to face the lieutenant again. "What team was it?"

"Uh, SG-12, Sir." His voice was squeaking.

"Vince Graves," Jack said scathingly. "Another one who doesn't think rules apply to him." His eyes lit with a predatory gleam. "Well, we'll see how he likes being busted down a rank or two." He glanced at Blair. "And Ellison's out."

Blair nodded. He turned back to the lieutenant. "Did he at least take a Guide?"

The lieutenant shook his head. "No, Sir. Just SG-12 and Ellison."

Blair smiled consolingly at the man, even as his heart was sinking. "There was no reason for you to think that a Sentinel would be going on a mission against orders. But there is a reason this information was provided." He placed the list of active and inactive Sentinels on the desk. "Please work with your team of peers and come up with a procedure so something like this doesn't happen again."

Jack was suddenly standing next to him. "I want it on my desk by the end of today," he snarled.

Blair grabbed his arm and pulled him away. "Man, I feel like all I'm doing lately is picking up my messes. What the hell was he doing? What was he hoping to achieve? I don't get it. He has to come back through the gate. Did he think we wouldn't notice?"

"I don't know," Jack said tiredly. He grabbed a phone and dialed the control room. When they answered, he snapped, "Did you get through to them?" There was a pause.

Blair watched as steam practically came out of Jack's ears.

"Why didn't you notify me immediately?" Jack demanded. Another pause. "Not good enough," he yelled. "Page the rest of SG-1 to get geared up for a rescue." He hung up the phone.

"What happened, Jack?"

"As soon as I realized Ellison had gone on the mission, I ordered their recall. Apparently they aren't responding to hails." Jack slapped a hand against the wall. "God damn it. If Ellison got the team in trouble, I'll rip out his intestines and shove them down his throat." He blew out a breath. "I need to talk to Hammond." Muttering "fuck," underneath his breath, he stalked away.

Blair followed at a safe distance.

In the end they didn't need to rescue anyone. While they were in the gateroom, SG-12 finally sent through their code and the iris was opened. Two members of SG-12 stumbled through the event horizon, dragging three bodies with them, the man had a grip on two of them, one hand each on a foot, and the woman was dragging the third--Jim Ellison.

The other two bodies were Colonel Vince Graves and his second-in-command, Sarah MacDonald. All three of them had arrows sticking out of them, making the cause of their death morbidly clear.

Jack called for a medical team and then approached the two surviving members. They both looked at him, shock on their faces. "It was Ellison," the woman answered, trying hard not to cry. "I knew he was on suspension and I told Colonel Graves that, but he said he'd been cleared to go on this mission. I should have known better." She glanced at the dead bodies. "I should have said something."

Blair knew it would be a long time before she would forgive herself, even if Graves and Ellison were clearly at fault. No doubt they had figured they'd carry off a successful mission, get Graves some kudos and Ellison off the suspension list, both ending up winners.

"Did he zone?" Blair asked.

"Yes," the third member of the team answered angrily, a man named Michael Jacobs. "Three times. I told Graves we needed to abort the mission, but he wouldn't listen to me. The last time he zoned, we were taking fire." He rubbed at his eyes with the heels of his palms as if to wipe away the sight.

The medical team arrived and started loading dead bodies onto stretchers.

Michael continued. "Sarah went to get him," he gestured to the last of the dead bodies, "but she got taken down." He let out a pained laugh. "Fucking Ellison just stood there, arrows whizzing by him, like he was some goddamn statue." His voice grew thick, and he dropped his head.

The woman picked up the narrative. "We were trying not to use our automatic weapons if we didn't have to because it would have been a slaughter, but at that point we didn't have much choice. Graves started to open fire while Michael and I went to get Sarah and Ellison."

They both moved to the end of the ramp and wearily sat down. Michael said, "He killed enough to make them finally run away, but not before they'd hit him and Ellison. By the time we got to Sarah, she was already dead. We think the arrows must have had some sort of poison on them, because the injuries Ellison and Graves sustained shouldn't have been life-threatening. But within a few minutes, they were both dead as well."

Jack stared down at them and sighed. "Go clean up and then go to the infirmary to get checked out. We'll have a formal debriefing when you're done there."

They both nodded forlornly and stumbled off to the showers.

Jack turned to Blair. "What a monumental fuck-up."

Blair couldn't agree more. He also couldn't believe Ellison was dead. A part of him didn't believe it, because even though his dead body had just been wheeled out of here on a stretcher, Blair could still feel a pull connecting him to his Sentinel.

Four Months Later

Blair knocked on Jack's office door. "Do you want to hear the bad news or the weird news?"

Jack scowled. "No good news?" He sighed. "Let's hear the bad news."

"Remember how I read about that guy Nick Ballard who supposedly saw a crystal skull like the one on P7X377?"

"Or, in other words, the Planet with the Crystal Skull?" Jack amended.

Blair grinned, despite everyone's worries about the team that had gone mysteriously missing after finding the skull. "Right. Anyway, I thought maybe the guy could help us. Maybe he'd have some information about the skull that would give us some idea how to get SG-9 back."

"And?" Jack asked, his hand making small circles in the air, encouraging Blair to get to his point.

"Okay, well, the bad news is that he's dead."

"This Ballard guy is dead?"

Blair nodded. "Yeah, he died about six months ago from some respiratory bug."

"So, probably not gonna be much help, then." Jack leaned back in his chair. "Unless we can find a Haley Joel Osment of our very own," he amended. He scratched his skull with a brisk rub of his fingers. "What's the weird news? Or would I rather not know?"

Blair scrunched his face up. "Uh. I guess it really doesn't matter." He was suddenly rethinking the need to tell Jack.

Jack's chair thumped back down. "Nope, too late. Tell me."

"Nick was Daniel's grandfather."

Jack's eyebrows went up. "Daniel? Our Daniel?"

Blair tried to ignore the very complicated rush of emotions crossing Jack's face. "Yeah. That Daniel. Weird, huh?"

Jack nodded. "Yeah. That is weird."

"Anyway, Sam had sort of an idea."

Jack frowned. "Am I gonna hate this idea?"

Blair shrugged. "I don't know."

Jack blew out a breath and then placed his hands on the armrests of his chair. "Hit me with it."

"She only suggested it because I really think we need to talk to this Nick Ballard."

"Who's dead," Jack clarified.

"Right, but there might be another Nick Ballard we could talk to." Blair raised his eyebrows invitingly, wanting Jack to get there on his own.

"Forget it."

Blair sent him a disapproving look. "It might be the only way we'll get the team back. We've been looking for them for a week and we've got nothing."

"Not telling me anything I don't know," Jack snapped. "If I hear the nintendo and radiation talk one more time, I'm gonna lose it."

"So, let's go find another Nick Ballard. Chances are he's going to be in that same mental institution ours was."

Jack rolled his eyes. "So, dead and crazy. Great. Sounds like a perfect idea. Jump through the quantum mirror into who knows what kind of nightmare to find a crazy man."

"You got a better idea?"

Jack stood up, shoving his hands in his pockets. "This is nuts. It'll be like looking for a needle in a haystack."

Blair shook his head. "Actually, no. Sam's been working on it ever since we talked this morning. She thinks, if the mirror's open, she can hook remotely into the computers of another SGC. So all we'd have to do is find other SGC realities and she can do a quick search to find Nick."

Jack scrunched his face up. "Does that mean that another Carter from another reality could hack into our computers?" He picked up the phone and dialed an extension. He waited a second. "Carter? Does this mean that another you from another reality could hack into our computers?" After a few seconds he grunted and hung up.

Blair watched him, eyebrows up. "Well?"

"She's working on a countermeasure."

Blair lifted his hands in an all's-well-that-ends-well gesture. "See? If nothing else, we'll end up with better security for our computer system."

"Have you talked to Hammond about this?" Jack asked, his eyes narrowing in suspicion.

Blair pursed his lips. "Sort of." He knew Jack hated it when he went to the General with one of his plans.

"And what did the good General have to say about this crazy plan of yours?" His voice sounded resigned.

Blair bounced on his toes. "He thinks it might be worth a try. He doesn't want to give up on that team any more than you do."

Jack glowered at Blair. "Does he ever say no to you?"

Blair thought about it for a minute. Then thought some more.

Jack waved a disgusted hand at him. "Forget it." He glanced at his watch. "When do we go?"

Blair beamed at him. "That's up to you."

"Oh, big of him," Jack said sarcastically. He sighed. "Where exactly is our mirror?"

"Area 51."

Jack grunted. "Let me know when Carter has her remote control thingy done, and we'll go." He fiddled with some papers on his desk. "Meanwhile, I have to go kill Rothman now, because he can't seem to translate anything." He smiled his best shoot-me-now smile at Blair and left his office.

Blair watched him go, and found himself, as he did almost every day, missing Daniel. Between that and the pull he still felt for a now dead Sentinel, Blair wondered if maybe he was developing a sixth sense.

Jack leaned against the wall at Area 51, watching Carter flip through realities. The views alternated between SGCs, and Area 51s, and places Jack had no idea where they were. He mentally commented on each scene. Boring. Boring. Boring. Whoa, watch out. Boring. Boring. What the fuck was that? Boring. Boring. Each boring one that was an SGC, Carter had checked things out on her computer, but so far they were batting a big fat zero.

"How about that one?" Blair asked.

Jack took a good look. It looked like an SGC, or a reasonable facsimile. All was quiet, but not that creepy quiet that let you know everyone was dead, or worse. The storage room their mirror was in had some boxes either being packed or unpacked, so people must be around. "Do your thing, Carter."

"Yes, Sir," she said as her fingers began flying over the keyboard. Jack watched the room through the mirror, his P-90 ready for anything. Sam suddenly stopped and smiled. "I've got him. Just where Blair said he'd be, and according to this he's alive."

Jack scrunched his face up and then put on his baseball cap. "Okay, let's go." He looked at Blair. "Ready?"

Jack had decided that only he and Blair would go. Blair could charm just about everyone, and Jack could shoot the ones left over. He figured it would be easier to get in and out of SGC and get in to see Nick Ballard if it was just the two of them.

Sam and Teal'c didn't like it, but they were coping. Jack looked at her. "Keep the home fires burning." He grabbed Blair's arm and touched the mirror and they both tumbled through.

Just as Jack got to his feet, a woman entered the room, her eyes wide with astonishment. "What--?" She took a good long look at Jack. "Colonel O'Neill?" Her mouth opened and closed.

It was Blair who recognized her. "Dr. Weir?"

She glanced at him. "Do I know you?"

He shook his head. "No, but I know you, or of you." He turned to Jack. "This is Elizabeth Weir. She's an international negotiator for the United States. A quarter of the world's treaties are because of her." He stepped toward her, holding out his hand. "It's an honor to meet you."

She shook his hand, still looking very confused. "Um, thank you. And you are?"

"Oh, sorry, Blair Sandburg."

"Dr. Blair Sandburg," Jack corrected, wanting to make sure she knew who she was talking to. He didn't like people to underestimate Blair; unless, of course, they were in a battle situation. In those situations, people who underestimated Blair, just like with Daniel, usually came up with the short end of the stick, and that was a good thing.

Blair grinned at him.

At her continuing look of surprise Jack gestured at the mirror. "You do know what this is, right?"

She nodded. "Yes, in theory, anyway. I don't think they ever actually tried it, but I read about it in some notes that were picked up in the same location they found the mirror." Letting out a short laugh, she shook her head. "I'm sorry to be so surprised." Elizabeth glanced at Jack. "You're really from another reality?"

Jack nodded. "You betcha."

"I'm afraid you're dead here."

Jack rolled his eyes. "I'm always dead." He turned to Blair. "Why am I always dead?"

"You're not always dead."

"Either dead or an asshole," Jack complained, frowning. "How did I die?"

"You were picking up some canopic jars from the Museum of Cairo, when something went wrong and you were taken by a Goa'uld. You'd left orders to be killed if that happened, and your aide took care of it."

Jack grimaced and rubbed the back of his neck. "Ugh."

She looked past him to the mirror which was still on. "Is that Colonel Samantha Carter?" she asked.

"Sort of, she's only a major where we come from." Jack waved further questions away with one of his own. "Why are you here? Where's General Hammond?"

"He retired. I'm here to help close up shop and determine disposition for all the possibly dangerous artifacts."

Jack's eyebrows rose. "You're closing down the program?" He couldn't believe it. "Why?"

Elizabeth gestured toward the hallway. "Maybe we should sit down and discuss it, and then you can tell me why you're here." She glanced at the mirror. "Is anyone else coming through?"

Jack shook his head. "Nope. We're good."

A soldier was standing in the hallway, and she informed him not to let anyone in or out of the room, then closed the door behind her. They followed her to the conference room. It almost looked like theirs, except there was a different painting on the wall, and the coffee pot was closer to the door.

They all took a seat.

Blair was staring around and, after noticing something on the far wall, got up to investigate. "You don't call yourself Stargate Command?" He pointed at the symbol on the wall which, while still containing the cartouche for earth, now had the letters WCC.

"Wormhole Command Center."

Jack scowled. "Why'd you call it that?" Then he let out a soft chuff of laughter. "Let me guess. You didn't have a Daniel Jackson here, did you?"

She shook her head. "Who is he?"

"He's the guy who opened our Stargate," Jack said proudly, but also with a hint of sadness.

"Samantha Carter opened ours."

Blair grinned. "Go, Sam." Then he frowned. "If you didn't have Daniel, then you never found Abydos, right?"

She shook her head.

Jack got it. "So all you've been able to do is dial random gate addresses?" He could see why the business was going belly up. They wouldn't have gotten far on that. "But you met the Goa'uld, so you must have found a couple planets."

"Is that how you say it? I wondered. Yes, we did. The first one we went to was very similar to our Egypt. Inside one of the rooms we found a dozen canopic jars. Three of the team were taken over by the Goa'uld before we understood the risk."

Ah, Jack thought, wincing. Baptism by fire. "I'm guessing that's why I was retrieving the jars from the museum."

"Exactly." She smiled tightly at him. "The program never really found its feet after you died. Hammond retired, and the new commander was much more conservative. Only a handful of off-world trips were authorized, and when those didn't turn up anything of interest except to hammer home the danger of the Goa'uld, the decision was made to abort the program."

"Why did they bring you here to do it?" Blair asked.

She shook her head. "I'm not sure; the President's been less than forthcoming. Maybe because the program made everyone nervous and he wanted someone in charge without an agenda." Elizabeth sighed. "All I know is I feel such a sense of loss. I didn't even know this existed until a few weeks ago, and now--" She shrugged, then shook herself out of her mood. "So, yours is called the Stargate Program?"

"Stargate Command," Jack corrected. He thought about things for a few seconds and then leaned forward. "We could tell you things. We've been a lot of places."

Blair jumped in. "We've discovered amazing things, made allies all over the galaxy."

"But we've also put ourselves smack dab in the middle of a war and turned the Goa'uld's attention to Earth," Jack counseled. "So, maybe closing up the gate isn't a bad thing." He shrugged. "But we could tell you things. You could have a program here, a real one."

Her eyes lit up with interest. "Is that why you're here?"

Jack shook his head. "We came to talk to someone who's dead in our reality. We've lost a team, and we think he might be able to help us." He glanced at his watch. "In fact, we need to get to Oregon. We can't stay long in case there's another Blair Sandburg here. You get these cascade thingies if you stay too long."

Elizabeth studied them both. "I need to speak to the President, see what he wants to do. And that includes his comfort level with letting you leave the base." She stood. "I can't offer you anything to eat except the leftover donuts on the plate there, but help yourselves to coffee. I'll be right back."

As she left, another guard was spoken to, and he stood in front of the door at attention.

Jack rolled his eyes and got up to grab a donut.

It took a while, several heated discussions, including one complicated communication arrangement Carter put together to let General Hammond speak through the mirror to the President to convince him of the importance and urgency of their mission. End result was that Elizabeth had gotten permission for them to go to Oregon, and even arranged Air Force transport for them. They'd changed into civilian clothes, were given a car for their use in Oregon and, after consulting a map, were on their way to where Nick Ballard was housed.

"I'm not crazy about crazy people, Blair," Jack announced as they neared their destination. He wasn't. They gave him the willies.

"That's all right, I'll talk to him," Blair consoled him.

"Yeah, well what about all the other nuts staying there?" Jack whined.

Blair smacked him on the arm. "Show a little compassion, will you? These people didn't choose to have their brains scrambled." Then he grinned. "Don't worry. I'll protect the big bad colonel from all the mean, nasty people."

Jack gave Blair a withering look but all he got in response was another grin. "Insubordinate geek," he said sourly.

"Fraidy-cat," Blair quipped back.

Daniel parked his car in the visitor's lot and opened the car door. He reminded himself sharply not to get into another argument with his grandfather. The last visit had ended badly, and the time before that hadn't gone so well, either. He didn't get to come here often enough to waste it on fighting. The problem was that they were too much alike despite their age differences.

He grabbed the food he'd brought as a treat and, squaring his shoulders, headed toward the building.

Simon was toying with the idea of skipping his visit today. He really didn't think Jim had any idea if he was there or not, and it was painful to look at what had once been such a vital man. But, then, his guilt, and the never-ending hope that Jim might still pull himself out of it, had Simon grabbing his jacket and heading out to his car.

After getting lost once, for which Jack blamed Blair, they finally arrived. Half out of the car, Jack looked across the roof at Blair. "So, what are we asking this guy, again?"

Blair gave him a look, one of those how-did-you-ever-get-promoted-to-colonel looks. But then he said, "We're asking him what happened. The other Nick said he saw the skull and that it transported him somewhere there were giant aliens."

"Great. And is there a reason we're actually believing him versus thinking he's in a nuthouse because he's nuts?"

"Jack, without him, we've got nothing. If he's telling the truth, and given what we do for a living, it's no crazier than the rest of the shit we've seen, that means he's been taken somewhere by the skull and then returned. We need to know how."

"I still think this is a wild goose chase." Not that it would stop Jack. He might complain about it, but there wasn't much he wouldn't do to get his people home safe.

Blair shrugged. "Yeah, I know. You've said that about a thousand times. Can we consider it a given and go in?"

Jack scowled at Blair. "Could you just pretend to be intimidated by me? Just a little bit? Every now and then?"

Blair gave him that look again and shut his door. Jack followed suit and they walked together down the sidewalk that led to the front entrance. Jack opened the right side of the huge wooden double door and gestured Blair in. Blair stumbled a little and Jack caught him. "You all right?"

Blair nodded. "Yeah, just got dizzy there for a second."

Jack eyed him with some concern, but then decided he was all right. He proceeded to the desk and identified himself. Blair had called on the way and gotten the visit approved. Jack glanced around and decided this was more of a nursing home than a nuthouse, and he relaxed a little.

He listened to the instructions on how to get to Nick Ballard's room and then turned to Blair. Jack stopped at the look on his face. "What is it?"

"I don't know." Blair was slowly turning in a circle. "But there's something here that--" He shook his head. "I don't know."

"That was helpful. Not. I need a little more to go on. Do we go see Nick? Do you need to see a doctor? What's going on?"

Blair waved them on. "We go see Nick. I'll figure it out."

Jack frowned at his friend but then nodded. He didn't like mysteries. "You need me to shoot something, just say the word."

That got him a grin and a push down the hall. A couple minutes later they were in front of Nick's room and Jack knocked on the door.

An accented voice from within called out, "Come in, come in."

Jack opened the door, stepped in, and found himself face-to-face with Daniel. He heard Blair's gasp behind him, then Daniel's jaw dropped. "Jack? Jack O'Neill?"

The next thing Jack knew Daniel had him in a full body hug, which Jack couldn't find it in himself to pull back from. This might not be his Daniel, but it was Daniel and he'd missed him so fucking much.

Finally Daniel pulled back, much to Jack's dismay, but it was only to cup Jack's face in his hands. "I thought you were dead." He dropped his hands to pull him back in for another tight hug. "God, I thought you were dead."

Jack was thinking that any time would be good for him to learn how to speak again. But it felt so good to touch him. So good to have Daniel want to touch him. He could drown in the smell of him, the strength of him. God. Jack's fingers clutched the back of Daniel's jacket.

Jack could sense Blair squeeze by him, start to talk to someone whom Jack assumed was Nick Ballard. He couldn't find it in himself to care. Let Blair find out what they needed. He had Daniel. Oh, God, he had Daniel.

Daniel pulled back again and Jack let out a sound of complaint, but the hands were back on his face, and then he was being kissed. Kissed just like he'd dreamed about, fantasized about, back before he'd ruined everything. Back before Daniel had ripped his heart in two.

A part of him was alarmed that he was so out of control. He was on a mission; he needed to be focusing on what they'd come here for, but the part of him that had desired Daniel for so long, that had yearned for him, fucking ached for him, opened his mouth and sucked Daniel's tongue in.

Jack fisted his fingers in Daniel's hair, holding him close, holding him captive, as he explored Daniel's mouth, tasted him, drank him down, breathed in the breathy moans Daniel was whimpering. He felt a sizzle of current, like a breaker snapping on, and wanted to bury himself in Daniel, hide deep inside and never come out.

Finally, though, he had to breathe, and they rested against each other, gasping for breath. Daniel stared at him. "I watched you die. I watched the car explode with you in it." His brows furrowed. "Why didn't you let me know you were alive?" Eyebrows dancing he shook his head, not giving Jack a chance to speak. "I don't care. I don't care about any of it; I'm just so glad you're alive."

And like someone had thrown a bucket of cold water on Jack, the truth came pouring in. This wasn't Jack's Daniel. He'd known that, of course, but he'd gotten swept away. This Daniel wasn't even a part of this reality's SGC, or whatever they called it. Jack had no idea what to say.

Daniel turned in his arms for a second. "Aren't you Blair Sandburg?"

Blair's eyebrows went up. "Yeah. Do you know me?"

"Didn't we go on that dig in Mexico together?"

Jack watched Blair fumble, glad he wasn't the only one a little freaked by this. "Right. Sure. That dig. Right." Blair ran a finger through his hair. "How've you been?" His eyes met Jack's with a what-the-fuck-do-we-do-now expression.

Jack looked at Daniel to see that he was busy thinking. He took the opportunity to move out of his arms and put a few feet between them. After a minute, Daniel gazed at him. "You're not here for me, are you? I mean why would you think I'd be here?" Daniel's gaze switched to Nick. "You're here to see him?"

Jack just nodded.

Daniel's tongue came out and moistened his lips as he adjusted his glasses. "I changed my mind, you know, but when I ran after you to tell you, I thought it was too late."

"Changed your mind about what?" Jack couldn't take his eyes off of Daniel. His hair was a little longer than his Daniel had been wearing his, but other than that, Jack didn't think he'd be able to tell the two of them apart. Except maybe this one didn't look so tired, so stretched.

"Doing those translations. You tried to recruit me, remember? You wanted to take me back to the base and I said I couldn't go with you, but I changed my mind. I just--" his eyebrows danced again, "I just sort of felt like I was supposed to be with you. I guess that sounds really stupid, especially if you're not here to see me," he added, with a hurt wince.

Jack grabbed Daniel's arm in response, not wanting Daniel to hurt. Plus, none of it sounded stupid to Jack at all, and a crazy idea started to form. He glanced at Blair only to find him staring at Daniel, doing his own drinking-him-in thing. They all stood there, silently.

"Do you want to introduce me to your friends, Daniel?" the older man asked formally, claiming their attention.

"Hmm?" Daniel asked, his eyes still on Jack. "Oh, right. This is my grandfather, Nicolas Ballard. Nick, this is Colonel Jack O'Neill. With two l's," he added with a small grin. "And this is Blair Sandburg. Jack and I met at the museum in Egypt, and Blair and I were on a dig together." He turned curious eyes to them both. "How do you two know each other?"

Jack and Blair looked at each other, and then Jack held up a finger. "Could you give us a second?"

Daniel nodded uncertainly.

Jack touched his shoulder. "I mean it. Stay right here. Promise?"

Somehow the extraction of the promise seemed to cheer Daniel up, and he nodded again, this time with some conviction.

Jack grabbed Blair's arm and dragged him out into the hall. "Okay. This was unexpected." Understatement of the century; his lips were still tingling.

Blair grinned at him. "Man, you guys were really going at it."

Jack felt himself redden, something he hadn't done in so long he couldn't remember when. "Fuck. No kidding." He held up two hands in self-defense. "I wasn't ready for that."

"Weird that he knows you, huh?" Blair asked with a sense of wonder in his voice.

"And you."


"So what do we do?" Jack knew what he wanted to do but it was crazy.

"While you two were busy getting it on, I talked to Nick and he said he needs to see the skull."

"That means taking him with us," Jack protested, knowing Hammond wouldn't be crazy about the idea.

"Yup. I think we should take them both," Blair blurted out.

Hearing it come out of someone else's lips didn't make the idea seem any less crazy. "You mean, just take them?"

"He said he felt like he was supposed to be with you. He can't do that if he stays here and--" Blair bounced on his toes for a second, grinning. "It seemed like parts of you wouldn't mind having him around."

"He's not our Daniel," Jack protested half-heartedly. It was so easy to forget that fact when he looked the same, and sounded the same, and acted the same, and felt the same.

"Hey, man, a difference that makes no difference is no difference," Blair argued.

Jack scowled at him. "Didn't Spock say that?"

"Maybe, but it's still true." Blair gestured back toward the room. "It's Daniel, and he wants you, man."

"He wants the other Jack O'Neill, not me."

"Same thing. He sure didn't see any difference. He's connected to you. I mean what are the odds he'd even be here? After all, he met you in Egypt. This is kismet. Fate. You don't want to mess with that."

Jack blew out a frustrated breath. "What do we tell them? I can't tell them about the Stargate. How do we get them through the mirror without telling them too much? And how can we take them without telling them where we're taking them?"

"We tell them, Jack. We have to tell them. We deal with the General later. We're not on our Earth, so even if they freak, they can say anything they want and no one's going to believe them, especially as this program is closing. And if this program doesn't close, they'd end up recruiting Daniel, anyway, and then he'd know."

Jack stared at Blair though narrowed eyes, perfectly aware of the fact that Blair could talk a camel into buying bottled water. It couldn't be that easy. Just walk through the mirror, meet a perfect duplicate of the man he'd been in love with for years, and take him home? "What's to stop other people from doing it, Blair? What's to stop anyone from going into another reality and finding their loved one's doppelganger? There's probably--" Jack looked away for a second, swallowing. "There's probably a Charlie here, too, or in one of these realities, but that doesn't give me the right to go and take him."

"I hear you, Jack, and I can see that we'll have to be careful, but it's not like we'd be taking them against their will. And, if Daniel has a family here, we'll need to take that under consideration, in terms of explanations. But if he wants to go, we'd be stupid not to take him. Forget how you feel about him; we need him. We've been screwed without him, and you know how much you hate working with Rothman."

Suddenly Blair stumbled again and Jack once again caught him, holding him steady. "Shit, Blair, what's going on? Are you getting that cascade tremor thing already?"

"No." He shook his head. "No, I--" His gaze was drawn down the hall. "I just keep getting dizzy. I need to--" Blair scrunched his face up. "I need to go this way." He pointed down the hall.

"What? What the hell are you talking about?" Jack didn't need both of them in full-blown freak mode.

"I don't know; I just need to go this way. I'll be back in a minute. It's probably nothing." He pushed at Jack. "Go talk to them. Explain the situation." He started walking backwards down the hall. "Go." Blair waved his hands in a shooing fashion. "Go."

Jack fought off the impulse to flip Blair the bird. Then, taking a deep breath, he opened the door of the room right into Daniel and Nick who, given the expressions on their faces, had obviously been listening to every word.

Simon parked his car and heaved a heavy sigh. He hated these visits with a passion. He let his head fall to his chest, and sent a prayer rocketing skywards that today would be the day Jim woke up. He got out of his car, locked it, and walked slowly toward the entrance.

Blair followed the tug he was feeling until he came to a closed door at the opposite end of the wing Nick Ballard was on. He knocked but there was no answer. Hoping he wasn't going to get in trouble, but unable to turn away, Blair tried the knob and found the door unlocked.

He entered and noticed that the only occupant was the person on the bed. Blair quietly walked across the room to stare down at the patient. When he saw who it was, his breath caught in his throat.

Jim Ellison. Jim Ellison was here, in this bed, in this institution that Blair had come to from another reality.

Talk about kismet. Jesus. Blair entertained a vision of the gods giving each other high fives for arranging all of this; there was no other explanation.

This Jim looked wasted and deeply zoned. Blair noted that he'd lost some weight, compared to the Ellison he knew. He had a thin tube going into one nostril, and when Blair followed it up he saw it was how they were feeding him.

Blair wondered where this Earth's version of him was, and how Jim had come to this end. He leaned over and caressed Jim's face. "Jim. I know you're real far away but I need you to come back, now. All right?"

Blair let down one of the safety rails and sat next to Jim. He slowly started running his hands over Jim's body, glad to feel under the covers that someone had been doing physical therapy with Jim, as there was still some muscle definition. "Come on, Jim, I know you can hear me."

He lifted one of Jim's hands and wove his fingers through his curls. "Feel that?" Blair had to hold it there with one hand, as he used the other one to run up and down Jim's arm.

When he got no response, Blair grew worried. Maybe he hadn't been Jim's guide in this reality. Maybe Jim had no reason to respond to him. Blair shook his head, refusing to believe that. It would just take some time. Who knew how long he'd been here; how long he'd been zoned.

Blair placed Jim's hand back on the bed, and cupped Jim's face with his hands. "Jim. Open up those baby blues for me. I know you're in there." He leaned down and blew gently on Jim's face, trying to get all his senses involved. "Can you smell me? Listen to my heartbeat. Feel my hands on you." He gently worked a tip of a finger into Jim's mouth. "Come on, taste me."

He had to bite back a crow of relief when he felt Jim's tongue touch his finger tip. "That's right. Fight for me, here. Come on back. I don't know what got you in so deep, but you need to come back now."

Jim started and let out a gasp.

"That's right. That's right. Come on, Jim. Open your eyes."

Blair could see that Jim was trying. "I'm going to get some water to wipe your eyes with. Hold on." Blair got off the bed and moved to the sink, wetting a paper towel. He sat back down and carefully wiped Jim's lids, helping to get rid of the crust. "There. Try again."

Jim's brows furrowed, then rose, and his eyelids slowly opened.

Blair grinned down at him. "Hey, there. Welcome back." As Jim stared at him, Blair knew, down to the marrow of his bones, that this was the Jim Ellison he was supposed to Guide.

Jim blinked, and then squinted against the light.

Blair made as if to move, wanting to turn the lights down, but Jim feebly reached out to hold him there. Blair touched his face. "Hey, I'm not going anywhere. Let me turn down the lights so they won't bother you so much. Okay?"

Jim nodded.

Blair got up and turned the knob to lower the lights until there was only a soft glow. He got back on the bed. "Better?"

Jim nodded again, his eyes never leaving Blair's face.

"Bl--" Jim tried to clear his throat, his voice rusty from disuse.

Blair looked around the room, and then, with another reassuring smile for Jim, entered the bathroom. There was a small Dixie cup dispenser in there, and he pulled one free and filled it with water. Once again, he sat next to Jim. He took a sip of the water first and grimaced. "Blah. Too many chemicals. I'm betting you won't like the taste. Sorry about that."

Jim tried to sit up, but Blair held him back, using the bed motor to put the head of his bed up. Jim reached for the cup with a shaky hand and Blair handed it to him, keeping careful watch so Jim didn't end up with a lapful of water.

Jim drank it down and tried again. "Blair?"

Blair nodded.

"I thought--" Jim cleared his throat again. "I thought you died. I must have dreamed it."

So he was dead here. He was dead, and Jim had zoned. A deep resolve grew in Blair to protect this Jim. He wondered briefly what Hammond's reaction would be when they came back with two dead team members. Not to mention the fact that while Daniel had been an irreplaceable member of Stargate, the Jim Ellison of that reality, had not.

Jim was looking around the room, completely dazed. "Where am I? What's going on?" Jim put his hand up to feel the tube in his nose, confused. Then he looked back at Blair, reaching out and touching his face. "I was so sure you were dead." His eyes grew bright with unshed tears. "Jesus, Blair, I don't ever want to go through that again." He urged Blair down and wrapped trembling arms around him.

Blair let his head rest on Jim's chest, listening to the sounds of his heartbeat, letting the warmth of his body seep into that part of him that was still grieving for the Sentinel he'd never had and lost, soothing over the raw spots.

"I'm sorry," Daniel said, "but--" He blinked and licked his lips. "Was that all true? Are you from--?" His hand made a spiraling motion going up towards the sky.

Jack shook his head and made his own motion going from left to right. "It's more sideways than up."

"So, you're not the Jack O'Neill I met?"

Jack shook his head again, watching Daniel's face carefully. "How long did we know each other, anyway?"

"About ten minutes."

Jack's jaw dropped open. "What? Ten minutes? What was the kissing about?" He couldn't imagine kissing someone ten minutes after he met them unless he'd gone to a bar for exactly that purpose, and he hadn't done that in a very long time. In any case, he was sure he'd been told the other him had met Daniel at a museum.

Daniel reddened and winced out a smile. "That's, uh, sort of what we were doing for those ten minutes."

Jack suddenly remembered Nick and eyed him, only to find him pacing and muttering to himself. He put his attention back on Daniel, asking softly, "Did I jump you or something the minute I walked in the room?"

Daniel grinned more genuinely this time, and touched his lips as if remembering the feeling. "Yeah. But I wanted you to. I really wanted you to. I mean, you are, well, hot."

Jack found himself grinning ear-to-ear. "Hot? You think I'm hot?" His self esteem just got a naquada reactor boost.

Daniel gave him a quick once over and nodded emphatically. "You were in your uniform." He shrugged and leaned toward Jack, whispering, "I wanted you the second I saw you. I even cleared the desk off of anything that could break, you know, just in case."

That was an image Jack could get behind. Literally. His blood started pooling south.

"But then you got called away," Daniel said sorrowfully. "And then you were dead." He winced again, this time in apology. "I'm sorry about the kiss. I thought you were him."

"I didn't mind," Jack found himself replying. "Not even a little bit."

"Really?" Daniel studied him. "Were you and the other Daniel, were you two together?"

"No, but I wanted us to be," Jack found himself unexpectedly confiding. "I asked him, but he said no."

Daniel's eyes went wide in disbelief. "Why? Was he crazy?"

Jack liked this Daniel. He liked this Daniel a lot. But he still felt a need to defend his own Daniel. "Things were different. Harder. He'd been married. It was complicated."

Daniel was studying him some more. "I think you might be a little grayer but I don't think I could tell you apart."

"Well, we're the same. I'm him, or he was me. And now you've known me longer than you knew him." Jack flashed him a smile, knowing he was flirting, even as the sane voice inside his head was asking what the hell he was doing.

"How is this possible?" Daniel asked in wonder.

Jack scratched his head. "There are people who could explain it better, but it's the whole many worlds quantum mechanics thing--" he reached for the word, "interpretation. That's it. The many worlds interpretation." Jack smiled with satisfaction that he remembered it. He'd have to tell Carter. Or not.

"You mean the one that's based on the Copenhagen Interpretation?" Daniel asked, his eyebrows dancing up and down, mouth opening and closing in astonishment.

"Sure," Jack said, not sure at all.

"Daniel?" Nick asked, clearly wanting an explanation.

Daniel turned to him, his voice raised in excitement. "It's based on the Schrodinger wave equation. The theory is that at every moment there are an endlessly proliferating number of different branches of reality being generated."

Nick frowned at Daniel as if that hadn't helped at all, but Daniel had turned back to Jack. "So this mirror device actually helps pinpoint the different wave functions so you can travel from one reality to another?"

"Sure," Jack said again. "Maybe." He waved an apologetic hand in the air. "I'm not the scientist. I'm the one who shoots the bad guys when things go screwy."

Daniel stared at him for a moment and then scrunched his face up. "I don't suppose that my theories--?" He shook his head. "Never mind."

"You were right."

Daniel's mouth opened again, and Jack remembered that kiss, remembered the silky feel of Daniel's tongue. "I was right?" Daniel asked incredulously.

"About everything. Not that you were ever able to tell anyone," Jack added ruefully. "Classified."

"Right." Daniel's brow furrowed. "Right." He stared at Jack again. "And, uh, I'm dead there?"


"How about my grandfather?"

"He's dead, too. It's why we can take you there. When there're two of you in the same reality, bad things happen."

Nick was following the conversation now closely. "He was right? Daniel's theories were right? There are aliens?"

Jack nodded.

"Then perhaps my giant aliens exist," he said insistently.

Jack wasn't willing to go that far. "It's, uh, it's possible." He suddenly wondered where Blair was. He grabbed his phone which was part walkie-talkie and pressed the talk button. "Blair? Where are you?"

Jim startled at the noise.

Blair managed to get his phone out without letting go of Jim. "Jack, you are never going to believe this."

"Try me," Jack answered dryly.

"There's a Jim Ellison here."

"You are fucking kidding me." Jack practically yelled it into the phone.

Blair snorted. "Told you you wouldn't believe me. I'm in room 119."

"I'll be right there."

That worked for Blair, because he didn't want to move. He pulled back just a little. "You starting to feel a bit more human?" he asked, glad to see that the glazed vulnerable look was beginning to fade from Jim's eyes.

Jim nodded, and then he shook his head, lifting a still weak and trembling hand up to scrub at his face. "I don't understand." He closed his eyes. "I can't stop thinking you're dead. I remember it all. The rig blew up and we couldn't find your body. We had a funeral, and my senses began going nuts on me. I started zoning and Simon pulled me off the field, and--" He stared at Blair. "I remember it all so clearly."

Blair stared back, wondering what to tell him.

Jim reached up and touched Blair's hair. "Your hair, it's shorter." His thumb ran over a scar Blair had on his chin. "I don't remember this."

"Jim, do I smell exactly the same?" He leaned closer, so Jim could get a good whiff.

Jim took in several breaths and then he leaned back, his eyes confused. "Yes and no. I mean I'd know it was you no matter what, but it's, um, a little off."

"Sweet mother of God," a voice said from the doorway.

Blair turned his head and saw a tall black man with glasses staring at the two of them like they were both on fire. "Sandburg? Jim? What-- ?" He just stood there, his stare bouncing between the two of them. Then he was at the bedside and hugging Blair so hard he thought his ribs were creaking. "Sandburg, where the fuck have you been? We thought you were dead." Then he took a long look at Jim. "Jesus, I thought I'd never see you awake again. It's like a damn miracle." He rubbed at his eyes under his glasses.

Jack chose that moment to arrive, followed closely by Daniel, with Nick Ballard trailing behind. Blair met his look with a wide-eyed one of his own. This was all spiraling rapidly out of control.

"Blair," Jack said in his most I'm-tired-now-and-I-really-want-a-beerso -don't-fuck-with-me voice. "Who's your new friend?"

Simon glared at him. "Who the hell are you?"

"Colonel Jack O'Neill, two l's, United States Air Force. Now, that takes care of me." He smiled in a not very friendly manner.

"Oh, boy," Blair muttered under his breath.

"Blair?" Jim asked, both worried and annoyed. "I need some help here. Why is there someone from the Air Force here?"

"Blair?" Jack asked threateningly, staring at the black man who still had his arms around Blair.

Blair blew out a breath strong enough to stir his bangs. "Well, you know who Jim Ellison is, and I can't introduce the other guy to you, Jack, because I don't know him. But he certainly seems to know me. There. Happy?"

Simon let his arms drop. "What the hell are you talking about, Sandburg? Of course you know me."

Blair turned a plaintive look on Jack.

Jack shook his head. "For cryin' out loud, Blair. I'm already heading for a court martial that's gonna get me the firing squad. Do you have any idea how many regulations I've broken today?"

"So a few more won't hurt, right?"

"Maybe I should just get a billboard and we can let the whole town know," Jack protested, his arms flung wide.

"I'm not leaving without him. Don't even ask me."


"I mean it. Either he comes with me, or I stay here with him."

A shaking hand reached for him again. "What do you mean leaving?" Jim's rough voice betrayed how hard it had been the first time to survive without him. "You can't leave." Blair held Jim's hand, squeezing it reassuringly.

Simon was glaring at everyone, hands on his hips. "Does someone want to tell me what the hell is going on?"

Jack, the picture of patience, which meant he was about to explode, asked oh-so-nicely, "And you are?"

"Simon Banks, Captain of the Major Crimes Unit at the Cascade Police Department," Simon snapped out. He gestured at the bed. "Ellison's one of my detectives, and Sandburg was--is a civilian consultant and works as Ellison's partner."

Blair stared at him, and then at Jim. "Really? That sounds sort of cool."

Jack stalked farther into the room and got in Blair's face. "It does not sound sort of cool. What you do is much cooler. And I will shoot you and drag your ass home before I leave you here."

Jim glowered at Jack. "You touch him and it will be the last thing you ever do."

Jack glowered back. "What are you gonna do? Beat me to death with your hospital gown?"

"Jack," Blair said, even knowing he was risking a meltdown. "We have to tell them."

Jack smacked himself on the forehead. "What I wouldn't give for one of the memory erasers the MIB had." He glared at Blair. "I'd use it on you, too." He rolled his eyes and sighed, his eyes lighting briefly on Jim. "At least this Ellison seems to like you."

Blair grinned. "Yeah, he does." He glanced up at Jim to find those light blue eyes fixated on him, as if Jim was afraid Blair would disappear if he even blinked.

Daniel made his way to the other side of the bed. "Is he dead there, too?"

Blair nodded.

Jack let out an explosive breath. "Fine, I'm just saying this once. Blair and I are from a different reality, sort of like Alice in Wonderland. We came through the looking glass to get some information from this Nick Ballard because the Nick Ballard where we're from is dead, and the information he has might save some lives."

Blair picked up the narrative. "We had a Daniel Jackson and a Jim Ellison that worked with us, both of whom died this last year, and the last thing we expected was to find you both here." He let out a laugh. "It sort of messes with your mind."

"This is a crock of shit," Simon said angrily. "Who the hell are you people?" He glared at Blair. "What sort of game are you playing, here? Whatever it is, I don't like it."

Jim tugged at his fingers. "Is that why you had me smell you?"

Blair nodded.

"So my Blair really is dead?"

Blair nodded again, wrapping both of his hands around Jim's. "Yeah, I'm sorry." He didn't know why this Jim was believing him, but he was grateful for it.

Jim closed his eyes. "So it did happen? All that stuff I remembered?" His voice sounded raw.

"You can't tell me you believe this shit," Simon accused Jim. "I don't know what they're up to, but--"

Jim looked up at Simon. "I believe him."

Simon's eyes almost bugged out of his face. "What?"

Jim ignored him and tugged Blair down until he was resting cheek to cheek with him. "Did you mean it?" he whispered. "That you won't leave me?"

Blair, despite his audience, despite the sniping that was going on between Simon and Jack, gently kissed Jim. "You're my Sentinel, Jim. I don't know why you're in this reality while I was in another, but I've found you now and I'm not letting you go."

"Blair." Jack's tone was demanding.

Blair sat up and turned to look at him. "Jack."

"We have to go. SG-9. Remember?"

Blair sighed again and looked down at Jim. "I do have to go."

A look of terror crossed Jim's face.

Blair hastily reassured him. "But you can come with me. You can get strong, and see what it's like where I come from. And if you hate it, we'll come back here to live."

"Over my dead body," Jack spit out. "And what the hell am I supposed to say to Weir when we show up with all of these people, let alone Hammond?" He pointed a finger at Simon. "And he's not going," he added petulantly.

"I wouldn't go anywhere with you," Simon countered offensively. "And you're not taking Ellison anywhere." Then he sneered at Blair, "And I don't know who you are, but the Sandburg I used to know wouldn't fuck around with someone's mind like you're doing to Jim."

Jim glared at Simon for that. "He is Blair, Simon. That much I know. And I have to go with him. I'll just end up back in this bed, gorked out again, without him. Whether he's the Blair I used to know or a brand new one, I don't care. I can't be without him. I can't do it again."

Blair stood and approached Simon, one hand still clasping one of Jim's behind him. "I know none of this makes sense and I'm sorry. But I'm glad Jim had a good friend like you. And now, as hard as it is, I need you to trust me. I'll take good care of him. I promise."

Simon shook his head. "I don't understand any of this." He glared down at Blair. "And I don't believe most of it."

"I know. All I need you to believe is that Jim will be safe with me. Safe and whole."

Simon looked at Jim, then looked at the others in the room. "I hate this shit." He blew out a breath. "I don't know what to do."

Daniel turned to Nick. "Do you have some extra clothes Jim could borrow?"

"Of course," Nick answered. "I'll go get them." He left the room, shutting the door behind him.

Blair looked at the feeding pump and after a few second's perusal, shut it off. Then he started peeling back the tape that was holding the tube in place.

"Blair, do you think this is really a good idea?" Jack asked. "I mean, come on, this is nuts."

Blair flashed him a look. "Are you keeping Daniel?"

"Yes," Daniel answered for him, then looked at Jack again. "I'm not letting you go again," he said seriously to Jack.

Jack just stared at Daniel. "Are you sure? Don't you have a life here?"

Daniel snorted. "I was ready to throw it all away for you six months ago."

"I'm not him, Daniel. How do you even know you'll like me?"

Daniel shrugged as if it was of no concern. "I will. I do."

Blair grinned at them both, then sent another look toward Jack. "There you go. So if you're keeping Daniel, I'm keeping Jim." He went back to work on the tape.

Jack knuckled his eyeballs. "They're not puppies. They're people. People we'll be telling classified information to. People we have to convince Weir to let us take and Hammond to let us keep. And if they plan to start their program back up, they're sure as hell not gonna want us to take him." Jack's thumb pointed at Daniel.

Blair got the last of the tape removed. "Okay, I guess I just pull this out." He checked it again. "I don't see any type of balloon or anything I need to deflate." He looked at Jim. "You ready? It might make you gag."

Jim nodded. "Just do it."

So Blair did. He yanked on it, and it came out easier than he thought it would. Jim did gag a little, but once it was out, he was fine. Nick came back in with a handful of clothes. He dropped them on the bed. "They're clean," he reassured Jim.

Jim smiled at him. "Thanks."

"Blair," Jack tried again.

Blair leaned forward to untie Jim's hospital gown. "Jack, I'm not leaving him. So, if you don't want him to go with us, then I'll stay here. I'll just take this Blair's place."

Making sure the sheet was covering Jim, Blair pulled the hospital gown away and helped Jim put on the soft cotton sweater.

"Fuck," Jack muttered behind him, and Blair snuck a quick grin at Jim. Then he turned to everyone in the room. "Maybe you can all clear out so Jim can get dressed without an audience." When they all stared at him, he waved at them. "I mean it. Go pack up Nick's things. I don't think we'll want to come back here."

"Why not?" Jack asked. "Once we find out what we want, we can bring him back here."

"Because his grandson will be there," Blair explained.

"And the giant aliens," Nick added.

Jack rolled his eyes. "Right. You betcha." There was another muttered, "Fuck."

Daniel grabbed Jack's arm. "Come on. We'll get Nick packed, and figure out a way to sneak out of here." He grinned at Jack. "This is kind of exciting."

Jack snorted. "You think this is exciting?" He snorted again. But he let Daniel drag him from the room, Nick following in their wake.

Blair glanced up at Simon. "You're not saying anything," he mentioned casually. He took a quick peek under the covers and wrinkled his nose. "They've got you in a diaper thing, here, Jim."

Jim looked horrified and peeked under the cover himself. He snuck a hand down and felt around. After a moment he looked slightly more relieved. "It feels dry."

"What do you expect me to say?" Simon finally responded.

"I guess I just need to know if you're going to try to stop me from taking Jim." Blair gestured for Simon to help Jim sit up and swing his legs around to dangle off the side of the bed. Then he untaped the diaper thing, and got it out from under Jim, wadding it up and throwing it away. "We could probably use your help getting him to the car."

"What? You mean you're not going to just beam him up?" Simon asked caustically.

Blair grinned at him. "Nope. No beaming. Driving, then flying and walking." He held underwear up in front of Jim. "You okay wearing these? Or would you rather go commando."

Jim was already trembling from all the activity. "Those are fine."

"Great." Blair started working them up Jim's body. He glanced at Simon, who was standing at Jim's back. "Help him lift a little."

Simon got his hands under Jim's armpits and heaved him up. Blair quickly got the boxers up around Jim's waist. Then he started on the pants, and they repeated the procedure. He picked up the shoes and measured them against Jim's feet; they looked like they might just fit him. He knelt on the floor and put the socks on Jim's feet.

Glancing up, he saw that Jim was all but asleep. He tapped Jim's leg. "You're not zoning on me, are you, Jim?"

Jim opened his eyes, blinking heavily. "Maybe a little. On your heart beat. I haven't heard it--" He cut off.

Blair smiled softly at him. "That's not surprising. I'm sure you're tired, too, and that's not helping. This is probably the most activity you've had for a while." He got the shoes on, then stood and encouraged Jim to lie back. "Just relax for a few minutes."

Jim closed his eyes again, but then they shot open. "You'll be here?"

Blair nodded, caressing Jim's face. "I'll be here."

With that assurance, Jim seemed to fall fast asleep.

Blair watched him sleeping for a few moments and then looked up at Simon. "Well?"

"Is this for real?"

Blair nodded. "As real as it gets."

"And you'll stay with him?"

"As close as he'll let me."

Simon looked at Jim, and Blair saw the sadness on his face. Simon pinched the bridge of his nose under his glasses and then let his hand fall to his side. "I guess either way he's lost to me, isn't he? Either he goes with you, or he's not much more than a vegetable here. I guess if those are my choices, I'd rather he go with you."

Blair smiled at him in gratitude. He'd never known this man, but he had really wanted his blessing. "If there's a way, I'll get in touch and let you know how he's doing."

Simon nodded, his gaze still on Jim.

As Nick put a few belongings in a small suitcase, Daniel cornered Jack. "I didn't really let you answer Blair's question back there."

Jack rubbed at his temples, trying to keep a headache at bay. Seeing as there was nothing but fun, fun, fun going on between now and the time they got back to his reality, it would only get worse. "What question was that?"

"The one where you answer whether or not you want me to go with you," Daniel answered softly.

Jack stared into blue eyes, let his eyes wander over a face that had become so dear for years, and then so hurtful at the end. "I loved you so much," he blurted out. "But when I told you, or him, he hated me for it. It tore our friendship apart. And then he died." Jack closed his eyes, not sure he could even speak past the cantaloupe in his throat.

"I don't want to make things worse for you. Should I stay here?"

Jack opened his eyes to find Daniel nervously watching him, fear in his eyes, even as he made the genuine offer. Jack cleared his throat. "It just feels wrong, somehow. Because I loved him, but here you are, and you're so much like him that I can't help but love you, too, and I don't even know you."

Daniel let out a small pained laugh. "I only knew you ten minutes and I fell head over heels for you. Him. Now you."

"Aren't you worried that I'll be thinking that you're him? That I'll be remembering the times I was with him, and probably forget that it wasn't you, so you'll both get mixed up together in my head? Won't that bother you?"

Daniel was shaking his head, his eyes clear and sure. "No. Because I'll have you." He moved closer and leaned forward until he caught Jack's lower lip between his teeth, sucking on it a little, then letting go. "And I'll get to touch you."

Jack couldn't help letting out a little groan.

"And maybe," Daniel continued, nibbling on Jack's jaw, "if they want me to stay there, they'll give me an office with a desk, and you can fuck me on it."

"Jesus, Daniel." Jack had to adjust himself, he got hard so fast. "We'd have to be careful," he managed to choke out. "The military is still pretty homophobic."

"I can be careful," Daniel avowed, even as he nipped at Jack's earlobe.

It felt so good, Jack's eyes were crossing.

"Come on," Nick Ballard interrupted. "I want to go see the crystal skull."

Jack watched him amble out the door, suitcase in hand and he glanced at Daniel. "He's got sort of a one-track mind, doesn't he?"

Daniel rolled his eyes. "You have no idea."

"How about you? Don't you need to get stuff?"

Daniel shrugged. "Will we be able to come back? All my books and belongings are in Egypt."

"Maybe. Maybe not. It depends on what this world decides to do. Can you just walk away?"

Daniel thought about it for at least two seconds and then he grinned at Jack and nodded. "Getting you back is worth everything I own," he said sincerely.

The answer rocked Jack back on his heels. It had been a long time since someone had said something like that to him and to have it come from Daniel was manna from heaven. He closed his eyes and let his head drop to Daniel's chest, reveling in the strong arms that wrapped around him, gentle hands running up and down his back.

Finally, after a couple of minutes, Jack pulled back. "Come on, we better go."

They ran into Blair, who was helping Simon get Jim settled in a wheelchair. "Let's go," Blair said. "The nurses are all busy with a sick patient right now." With Blair leading the way, Nick at his side, they managed to make it outside without anyone trying to stop them.

Daniel left the keys to his rental under the front seat of the rental car, hoping he could call at some point to tell them to retrieve it. He grabbed his suitcase, giving a brief passing thought to all of his other stuff. But Daniel wanted to embrace this new willing-to-step-off -a-cliff part of himself that Jack O'Neills of any reality seemed to bring out in him. He could get more stuff. The chances of finding another Jack O'Neill seemed frighteningly unlikely.

Blair helped Jack and Simon get Jim in the backseat, letting him lean against the door once it was shut. Then he got back out and faced Simon. "Thanks. Thanks for sticking with him, and thanks for trusting me."

"He was a good friend." Simon cleared his throat. "So were you."

Blair listened as Jack and Daniel got in the front seat, doors slamming behind them. He held out his hand to shake Simon's, but then he found himself engulfed in a hug. When it was over, Simon took a step back, looking severely untouchable. "Go on, get out of here."

Blair nodded and got in, scooting into the middle, next to Jim. Nick got in behind him, shutting the door. Without any further ado, Jack started the car, backed out of the space, and drove away. Blair lay his head on Jim's shoulder, blinking back tears.

Weir stared at them all as if they were certifiable, giving them one
last chance. "Are you both sure you want to go?"

"We're not coercing them," Jack insisted. "They want to come with us." Jack was hoping that whatever General Hammond had said to the President before to convince him to help would keep him cooperating now. Jack really didn't want to talk to Hammond until he had Daniel on the other side of the mirror.

Weir glanced at Daniel to see him and Nick nodding. Jim was barely awake, even if he was hanging on to Blair's hand for all he was worth. He managed a nod.

"What's wrong with him?" she asked, frowning at Jim.

"He's been sick," Blair answered. "We can make him better."

Jack appreciated the short answer. No point in talking about Sentinels unless these people opened their gate back up. "What did the guys upstairs decide about the program?"

Weir sighed. "They haven't yet." She frowned at Daniel. "But if they do decide to reopen the program, it sounds as if we could use your help."

Daniel moved closer to Jack. "I'll be glad to help. Jack and I can come back and give you a hand." He glanced at Jack. "Right?"

Jack nodded. "Sure. We'll keep in touch, and if you decide to open it back up, we'll send a team here, and you can send a team through to us, and we'll all take notes." He kept waiting for someone to burst through the door to grab Daniel, refusing to let him leave. These people had no idea what they were letting go of. That worked for Jack; it meant he might actually make it out of here with him.

Blair smiled at her. "We'll help you all you want. And if you need any of us to talk to the President or his team, we'll be glad to do that, too. Maybe we could check back in with you in a week to see how things are going."

Weir studied him for a moment and then nodded. "That seems reasonable. And your Samantha Carter showed us how to find your reality through the mirror so we can keep in touch from our side as well." Her lips tightened as she glanced at Daniel, Nick and Jim. "You're sure they'll be safe there?"

"We think so," Blair answered honestly. "If we find they aren't, we'll send them back. But the only times we've run into problems is if we end up with two of anyone."

"And they're all dead."

Blair nodded.

"That's quite a coincidence."

Blair grinned at that, even as he squeezed Jim's hand a little tighter. "You're telling me. About a zillion to one."

"I hate to break up the party, but can we go? We've got a team to find." Jack interrupted. Every second they delayed felt like he was pushing his luck. Both with finding the missing team and with these people changing their mind about Daniel.

"Of course," Elizabeth said. "The President asked that we cooperate fully." She started walking down the hallway, toward the room with the mirror in it.

The soldier opened the door and they all entered. The mirror was still on, a soldier at attention on the other side. When he saw them, he made a call on his radio. He backed away from the mirror, giving them room.

Blair gathered everyone in. "We all need to be touching."

Jack almost laughed. Daniel hadn't been more than an inch away since they got here, and Jim was practically plastered to Blair. Not that Jack was complaining. All he wanted to do was get back to Area 51, then back to the mountain, get thoroughly yelled at, hopefully not get thrown in the brig, and then drag Daniel home. He'd figure out what to do with him once he got him there. "Everyone ready?"

He saw a series of nods. There was a look of reasonable concern on Daniel's face, one of excitement on Nick's, and Jim looked like he was falling asleep again. Trusting that Blair would keep Ellison standing, Jack reached out and touched the mirror.

An instant later they were on the other side, just as Teal'c and Carter entered the room. Carter let out a gasp and the next thing Jack knew, she had come between him and Daniel and was hugging the stuffing out of Daniel. "Oh, my God, Daniel."

Daniel sent a helpless look over Carter's shoulder to Jack. "Carter, it's not our Daniel." Jack saw the quick flash of hurt that crossed Daniel's face, and he hastily added, "I mean, he is now, but he's the Daniel from where we just came from, not the one from here."

Carter pulled back and stared at Daniel. "Sorry. I just saw you, and we miss him so much." She touched his face. "This is so odd. It's so hard not to just transfer those feelings to you."

Daniel smiled at her. "I don't mind. I don't know who you are, but I don't mind."

Her eyes filled with tears. "Even if you're not the Daniel we knew, it's so good to see you. And my name's Samantha Carter. You call me Sam."

"Sam." Daniel said it with a good deal of satisfaction, as if pleased to be claiming her. Jack felt the weirdest sensation, as if somehow things were right now. And not just because they'd gotten Daniel back, but because they'd gotten this Daniel.

"And I am Teal'c."

Daniel smiled at him. "Hey, Teal'c." His eyes took in the gold tattoo but he didn't ask any questions. He did glance at Jack, letting him know that there'd be plenty of questions later.

Carter finally noticed the other two. She frowned at Jim but smiled at Nick. "You must be Nick Ballard."

He nodded excitedly. "Do you have the crystal skull here?"

She shook her head. "No, we have to go back to Colorado to see it." She glanced at Jack. "Are we taking him there?"

Jack nodded, wincing. Assuming Hammond didn't kick them all out of this reality for good.

Smiling, she said to Nick, "We hope you'll be able to help." She finally took in Jim. "Why did you bring him?" she asked Jack, in a low voice.

Not low enough, apparently. "He's my Sentinel," Blair said to Sam, a challenge in his voice.

She blinked at him and then looked at Jack again. He sketched a hopeless sort of wave in the air. "Long story." He glanced at Jim. "He needs a bed. I need to talk to Hammond. We can't go back to the mountain without his okay."

"Colonel O'Neill."

Jack looked around, trying to figure out who'd said that. His eyebrows went up when he saw it was Jim Ellison. He was surprised on two counts. The first was that the guy was awake enough to speak; he'd been pretty out of it for a while. The second was that, somehow, in the midst of being sick and getting kidnapped from his world, he'd managed to pay attention and hear Jack introduce himself, remembering his name and his rank. Jack was impressed. "Yeah?"

Jim took a deep breath as if to find the strength to speak. "I don't know if it'll help, but I used to be an Army Ranger. Rank of captain." That was all she wrote, apparently, because with Blair's help he sort of collapsed into the nearest chair. Ellison's eyes closed and he leaned against Blair's side.

Jack stared at him for a moment, even more impressed. An Army Ranger? A captain? He glanced at Blair. "Was the other Ellison an Army Ranger?" he asked.

Blair shook his head. "No. Kind of an adventurer. Inherited a lot of money when his father died. He was parachuting over South America when his plane went down and he ended up being taken in by the Chopec." He looked down at Jim, ran a finger softly through his hair.

Jack stared at them both, feeling like they just might pull this off. "I gotta go call Hammond."

Carter nodded. "I'll get the rest of them quartered in the resident's housing." Jack flashed Daniel a quick look, hoping he was conveying that he'd see him soon and, whenever that was, it wasn't soon enough. When Daniel smiled back at him, Jack nodded, and left the room.

Jim ended up getting carried to their room on a stretcher, having finally reached his limits. Blair supervised him getting placed on the bed and after everyone left, Blair locked the door. He took off Jim's borrowed shoes, kicked off his own, took off his jacket, and crawled into bed with Jim. He spooned behind him, his right arm thrown over Jim's chest. Listening to the rhythmic breaths of his Sentinel, Blair fell asleep.

Daniel stared out the window as his grandfather took a nap. He was feeling a bit dazed but still riding an adrenaline high. His brain couldn't seem to rest on any one thing long enough to work it through to his satisfaction.

He'd found Jack. A different Jack but so much the same, and one he still felt that instant and, obviously, death-defying connection with.

He'd just walked away from his life. Left. Without a trace. With the exception of asking Dr. Weir to make arrangements for his rental car to be returned, he hadn't even left a note. He felt guilty about that. Maybe he could talk Jack into letting him pass a message on to Dr. Weir to send to the museum. He'd hate for them to think he was a victim of foul play.

He was in a completely different reality, even if it was one that seemed ready to welcome him home. As a different Daniel, but still. They'd loved him. So maybe that meant they'd love him, too. It had been a long time since Daniel had felt really loved.

His eyes took in the landscape, the harsh desert environment, so exactly like the Nevada in his own world. A small laugh escaped him. He really wanted Jack to be here with him. He could use a hug.

They'd set Jack up in a private room and allowed him to video conference with the General. Oh, yeah. Hammond wasn't a happy camper.

"Colonel, what were you thinking?" the General demanded.

Good question. "Sir--"

Hammond cut him off. Another bad sign. "You were supposed to go and question Nick Ballard. That's all. I never approved you bringing him back to our reality, let alone bringing two other people with you."

"I know. But it's Daniel. Another Daniel." Jack thought that was explanation enough. Who wouldn't want another Daniel?

"Colonel. Jack. I can almost condone your actions regarding Dr. Jackson. We've been floundering without his expertise. And if it was just him, and he wanted to stay, I might have been willing to find a way to make this work. But it's not just him. You brought his grandfather with him."

Jack didn't like that 'might have been willing' stuff. "He said he had to see the skull. He's a crazy man, General. Who's going to believe anything he says? I don't believe anything he says."

"And even worse," the General continued, as if Jack hadn't even spoken, "you brought back another Jim Ellison."

"That was Blair's idea. I told him not to," Jack defended himself, knowing full well that Blair could fight his own battles.

"You were in charge of the mission, Colonel."

Jack winced. Hammond was getting more annoyed by the second. "All I can say," Jack responded, "is you try to change Blair's mind when he's talking about kismet and fate, and the powers that be, and all that mystical stuff. Besides, he said if I was keeping Daniel, that he could keep Ellison."

Hammond stared at him, speechless for a moment. Then, he said, "Keep Daniel?"

"Hey, finder's keepers. I found him, I'm keeping him."

"Colonel," Hammond snapped out.

"He's his Sentinel, General. What was I supposed to say to that? Ellison is Blair's Sentinel, and Ellison clearly thinks Blair is his Guide. If I hadn't let Blair bring Ellison with us, he was planning on staying there."

At the look on Hammond's face, Jack held up a pair of defensive hands. "I know I could have hogtied Blair and shoved him through the mirror, but unless you were planning on destroying the mirror, Blair would be trying to get back there. And if we did destroy the mirror, do you honestly think Blair would stay working with us? He'd see that as the ultimate betrayal. You know that. I was stuck, so I made a decision to bring them both."

"Daniel Jackson was considered an important contributor to the Stargate Program, and he was highly thought of. Jim Ellison was directly responsible for the death of two soldiers. How do you plan to explain his sudden resurrection?"

Jack noted that Hammond didn't ask about explaining Daniel's resurrection. Maybe he thought Daniel's reputation of seeming to come back from the dead would hold him in good stead. "I don't know, Sir." And Jack didn't. He hadn't gotten that far.

"How do we defend bringing back doubles from another reality when the type of man we bring back is someone like Jim Ellison? How do I, in good conscience, explain why the other people who've lost loved ones aren't deserving of the same opportunities? Something like this could cause complete chaos, could tear our community apart. And God forbid if word of it got outside the mountain."

"I understand all that, General, believe me, and I said all of this to Blair. I even--I even talked about Charlie as an example." The General deserved to know that. He'd lost more people than Jack had during his career. "But Blair claimed him as his Sentinel. And if it makes you feel better, this Jim Ellison has more on the ball than ours ever did. He was a captain and an Army Ranger. Plus he was a detective with the Cascade Police Department. I think he'll have skills we can use."

The General ran a weary hand over his bald head and sighed. "Have Captain Carter and Teal'c return with Dr. Ballard immediately, so they can begin working on finding a solution to retrieve SG-9. He'll need to be coached so he doesn't say a word about where he came from."

Okay. Jack could do that. "And what about Daniel and Jim Ellison?" Jack asked, his heart pounding in his chest. He couldn't send Daniel back. He couldn't.

"You have until tomorrow to explain why two men we thought were dead are back alive. And both Dr. Jackson and Jim Ellison will need to be willing to slide into the lives of their doubles. With Jim Ellison involved, I cannot allow them on this base as people hijacked from another reality. The ethical dilemmas it would raise are unacceptable."

Jack pursed his lips. "And the fact that they won't remember anything about their prior lives?"

"Part of your explanation, Colonel. I'll be looking forward to it," the General said sharply.

Jack grimaced. Thank God Blair was a part of this. He was the best bullshitter Jack had ever met. "Yes, Sir."

Hammond gave him a last unhappy and frustrated look and hung up.

Jack sagged back in his chair, kissing any future promotions and raises off, but relieved he wasn't going to spend the foreseeable future in an eight-by-eight cell. He allowed himself a minute or two to let the idea sink in that, essentially, Hammond had said yes. Jack could keep Daniel and Blair could keep Jim. Just like puppies.

Finally he stood. He needed to send Carter and Teal'c off, check on Blair and get him working on creating the biggest lie of his life, and then go find Daniel.

Blair opened his eyes when he heard a knock on the door. He staggered out of bed and opened the door, finding Jack on the other side. "Hey, what did Hammond say?"

"They can stay if they're willing to pretend they're the old Daniel Jackson and Jim Ellison. And you have to come up with a reason as to why they're still alive and don't have their memories." Then Jack grinned, in a way that was mostly teeth and little smile. "Good luck."

Blair was unconcerned. Coming up with a plausible story was like stealing candy from a baby. Even though there was no guarantee that either Daniel or Jim would be willing to agree to the General's conditions, all Blair could focus on was that he hadn't said no. "They can stay," he said to Jack, a huge smile on his face.

Jack's grin was more smile this time. "They can stay." Jack tapped his temple. "Now get thinking. And do you know where they put Daniel?"

"In with Nick, two doors down to the left. And you're across the hall from us." Blair pointed at the door facing him. "So don't make too much noise," Blair said, still grinning like an idiot. "I've got a Sentinel here, you know."

Jack stared over Blair's shoulder. "I don't think an atom bomb would wake him up."

Blair craned his neck to watch his Sentinel sleep. Jack was right. He was down for the count. He turned back to Jack. "Well, then, never mind." With a naughty grin, he shut the door. Then he stripped down to his boxers and crawled back into bed.

Jack stared at the door that had just been shut in his face, thought about knocking again just to give Blair some grief, but then decided it was time to talk to Daniel. He went down two doors as directed and knocked. The door flew open and Daniel was standing there, looking very glad to see him.

Jack peeked in and saw that Nick was fast asleep. He gestured for Daniel to follow him, and then proceeded to his own room. The door was unlocked so he helped himself, and then locked it behind the two of them. Two seconds later he was slammed against the door with an archeologist all over him.

For a long minute, Jack lost himself in the feel of Daniel, reacquainting himself with his tongue, the taste of him, and his warm body. Then he took another minute to get to know new parts, like a deliciously curved and tight ass, and the hard cock that was drilling a hole into his thigh.

But then he finally pushed Daniel away. He couldn't do any more of this unless he knew Daniel was willing to stay. "We need to talk."

Daniel's eyebrows went up in alarm. "He said no, didn't he?"

Jack grabbed his hand and dragged him over to the bed. "No, he said yes. But there are conditions, and you might not like them." He sat down against the head board, and gave Daniel a few seconds to settle in next to him.

"What are they?" Daniel asked, his eyes anxious.

"You need to pretend you're the other Daniel."

"And?" he asked, waiting, practically wringing his hands.

"That's it."

Daniel stopped wringing his hands and sat up straight. "That's it?"

Jack nodded. "That's the condition. We tell everyone you somehow didn't die, and we come up with some excuse as to why you don't remember anything, and we all stick to it."

"I can do that. I mean, he's me, right? So I don't have to act any differently than I do now, except when someone looks at me oddly, I point to my head and say 'head injury' or something like that. Right?"

Jack nodded, not believing Daniel was accepting this so easily. "Daniel, they'll think you're someone else."

"Yeah, but the someone else they'll think I am is me. If it's unfair to anyone, it's unfair to the other Daniel, because I'll end up getting credit for all the stuff he's done."

Jack let out a soft laugh, shaking his head. "And that, Dr. Daniel Jackson, is why I fell in love with you." He kissed Daniel softly. "But I'm still afraid you're not thinking this through. Are you getting it that everyone will think you're him?"

"You won't."

"I might. I told you that already. I mean, I'll know it's you, but I'll forget. We all will. We'll be expecting you to remember things, and telling in-jokes expecting you to get them, and talking about past missions, looking at you to pitch in with what you remember about them, and you'll have to deal with the fact that we're thinking, even just for a moment, that you're him. Won't that bother you?"

"Maybe. But, I'll have you to talk to about it if I get frustrated. And Blair and Sam and Teal'c. And Jim. He'll be in the same boat. And sooner or later, any idiosyncrasies that I have will be what people remember, and they'll just think that the Daniel they knew always liked granny smith apples with peanut butter, or rooted for the Red Sox, or had a secret penchant for fantasy science fiction novels."

"The Red Sox?" Jack asked darkly.

Daniel grinned at him.

Jack had to kiss him again.

Daniel wasn't quite done. "I had a pretty small life, Jack. I ruined my credibility with my theories, and I was lucky to get the job I had despite my qualifications. My only surviving family is Nick and the few friends I have will probably be so engrossed in their work they won't even notice I'm gone." He lifted a hand and brushed Jack's hair off his forehead. "You were the most exciting thing that had happened to me in a very long time."

Jack frowned at him, even as he secretly liked being Daniel's most exciting thing. "You need to get out more."

"My only concern," Daniel said, "is whether people will believe you. Why would they believe that somehow I've come back from the dead?"

Jack let out a snort. "That's the easy part. You've done it before. You're like the original come-back kid."

Daniel stared at him for a few moments and then said, "Can we have sex, now?"

The blatant request stole Jack's breath and he wanted to say yes. He wanted to very badly. But he shook his head. "Not yet. I need you to come to the base and see what it's gonna be like. I need you to know you can hang on to who you are and not get lost. And I need you to be sure that I know you're you."

Daniel frowned at him. "How long is this all supposed to take?"

"We'll talk in a month."

Daniel's frown grew quite fierce. "I am not waiting a month to touch you again."

"The occasional touch is fine. But I need to know I know it's you before we make love. I need to find a way to know that I'm loving you and vice versa, and for that I need to get to know you a little."

"Why? I mean, I think I understand but I want to hear you say it out loud."

"Because I don't want to get that close only to find out that one morning you look at me and say, wait a minute, you're not him. Or I look at you and say the same, and suddenly we're strangers. I can't go through that again." He ran a hand gently down Daniel's face. "I don't think it will happen. But I need to be sure, for you and for me. This is a little Twilight Zone-ish, and I think we need some time to make sure neither of us is going to creep out."

"One month," Daniel said, clarifying the point.

"One month," Jack agreed, hoping he could hold out that long.

Daniel yanked his watch off, and made some adjustments. After a beep sounded, Daniel put it back on.

"What was that?" Jack asked.

"I just set the timer for 720 hours. Thirty days, Jack. That's all you get. Starting right now."

Jack couldn't help but grin. It felt great to be wanted this way. "Let's hope that doesn't go off in the middle of a briefing," he teased.

"As long as there's a desk nearby, I won't care," Daniel teased right back.

At that thought, Jack found it hard to believe he'd last 72 hours, let alone 720. "You can't look at me like that."

Daniel snorted. "These are your rules, Jack O'Neill with two l's. Not mine." Then he yawned. "Don't we need to be coming up with a story?"

Jack shook his head, even as he slithered down in the bed and grabbed a pillow. "That's Blair's problem."

Daniel slithered down, too, and let out another yawn. "Okay." He glanced at his watch and frowned. "That's been two minutes."

Jack let out a laugh and put his arms around Daniel. They couldn't afford to fall asleep like this, but he'd steal a few minutes before sending Daniel back to his room.

Jim woke up with a start, having no idea where he was or who was in bed with him. He opened his eyes and found himself looking at Blair who was lying draped all over Jim's chest. All the memories came crashing back in.

If it wasn't for that small difference in smell he could detect in everything around him, Jim would be dismissing all the talk about other realities as a drug hallucination or weariness-induced dream, but he could sense that things were different. Not bad different, but just a little off, as if everything vibrated to a slightly lower pitch. Jim found it soothing.

Of course, that might have more to do with who was lying next to him. Lazarus back from the dead. Blair, back in his life. A Blair who, on top of the miracle of being alive, had, unless Jim imagined it, kissed him. The Blair he'd lived with had been too busy sleeping with anyone with breasts to notice that Jim had been standing there, ready and willing.

But this Blair had kissed him. Just a little kiss, but a kiss. Jim licked his lips to see if he could still taste him. When he could, Jim closed his eyes, letting his tongue play along his lower lip, enjoying the flavor.

Jim knew this wasn't the Blair he'd been working with, but at the same time he'd learned to trust what his senses were telling him, and right now they were saying that this was Blair. Somewhere, deep within the Sentinel, he recognized that this was his Guide. The Guide he now truly understood he couldn't live without.

The Guide who'd kissed him and left his tantalizing taste on his lips. The Guide Jim wanted more of. He started nibbling on Blair, memorizing the differences in taste between his neck, his shoulder, his chest, a hard pebbled nipple, his stomach. He slipped off Blair's boxers, and took a second to slip out of his own clothes. Then, after tasting a few inches of inner thigh, Jim mouthed the soft and vulnerable sac beneath Blair's cock and sucked on it.

Blair was having the best dream ever. He let out a whimper and opened his legs wider, wanting his dream lover to have access to everything. When his balls were surrounded by the warmest, wettest bath he could imagine, he opened his eyes, and then realized he must still be asleep. Still dreaming. Dreaming of his Sentinel making love to him, worshipping his body, imprinting on Blair's smell and taste.

"God," Blair said, as his Sentinel's mouth moved up to lick a broad stripe up his cock. It felt so real. Slowly it began to trickle in that it was real. It was really happening. His Sentinel was here, loving Blair's body and "Oh, God," Blair yelled as his cock was swallowed to the root.

But this had to be a dream, right? Because how else could his Sentinel know exactly how to touch, and how to use-- "Oh, oh, God." How to use his tongue just like that, nasty and loving all at the same time. And how else would he know-- "God, Jim," Blair thrust up into Jim's mouth, his body tingling and fizzing and popping like an alka seltzer in water, and "Jesus," how the hell did Jim know to do that?

He wanted to touch in return, but Blair didn't think he could move. His body was too invested in being touched, in having that finger work its way up his ass, for it to touch and touch and touch that magic spot until fireworks were going off behind Blair's eyelids.

And then he had to look, had to watch his Sentinel give him the best blowjob of his life, the fingers of one hand playing with Blair's balls, the fingers of his other hand moving inside, molding him, preparing him. "Now," Blair moaned. "I want you now." He managed to coordinate himself enough to pull his legs up, revealing himself fully, trying to communicate with his body where he wanted his Sentinel's attention.

Inside of him, making love to him, branding him. Three fingers now, and was that--? Blair let out a groan that felt like it came from some wild animal inside of him. Yes, that was Jim's soft oh-so-soft tongue, opening him up more, lubricating him. Fingers, tongue, now Blair wanted cock. "Please," he begged. "Now."

But Jim was merciless. It was all tongue now. Jim was using both his hands to hold him open, to spread him apart, his thumbs teasing his hole even as his tongue pushed through the ring of muscle. Blair's cock was so hard it almost hurt. Would have hurt it if didn't feel so fucking amazing. And that tongue. "Oh, oh, oh," was all Blair could say, as he panted for breath, trying to draw in enough air to stay conscious so he wouldn't miss a thing.

Then Jim was over him, he was holding his thighs. Blair's heels were on his Sentinel's shoulder, and Jim was sliding inside like he belonged there, like he was going to fucking live there from now on. As Blair's body revved up for the most amazing orgasm of his life, a sense of unbridled joy danced down his spine, down through his arms and hands and fingers as they held on to Jim, as he held on to his Sentinel, feeling their unity, their connection.

Blair didn't think he could handle one more thing but then Jim's hand was on his cock, stroking him in time to his thrusts so he was nothing but cock, inside and out. He heard a noise like thunder, the rushing of his blood, heard the growls coming out of Jim's throat, heard his matching groans, all reaching a crescendo. "I'm gonna--" was all Blair had time to say before he climaxed into Jim's hands, shooting creamy jets of liquid. He felt his ass pulse around Jim's cock and heard his Sentinel let out one more primal groan and then come deep inside Blair.

Blair wrapped his legs and arms around Jim, so he could surround him with all of his love, even as he felt the need for sleep crashing down on him. But that was all right, because his Sentinel was here.

Jim lay there, more sated than he'd ever been and exhausted as hell, but unable to close his eyes because he couldn't stop looking at Blair. Both their bodies were trembling in the aftermath.

Jim could tell his body had no reserves left. Too long in that hospital bed, however long it had been. He realized he didn't know what day it was. What month. What year, for that matter. He gazed down at Blair again, taking in the small differences between this one and the one who had died. He had already noted the shorter hair and the small scar to the side of his chin.

Jim shifted a little so he could see all of Blair. He'd never seen this much of the other Blair, so Jim couldn't honestly say if there were differences or not. This one didn't have a nipple ring. Jim couldn't resist licking at the nipple in question, then smiled when Blair lightly snored through the touch.

He took a deep sniff through his nose, finding that he was enjoying that slight difference of smell to this reality. Was looking forward to tasting the few parts of Blair he hadn't gotten to this time. He gazed down at his Guide again, taking a good long look from his toes up to the curls on the top of his head and he smiled.

Blair opened his eyes and reached out a hand to touch his lips. "Why are you smiling?" Blair was smiling, too.

Jim shrugged, although he kept smiling.

"This feels so right, doesn't it?" Blair asked.

Jim nodded.

"Were you and your Blair together like this?"

Jim found himself taking exception to any other Blair than the one lying in his arms being referred to as his Blair. He frowned and shook his head. "I wanted to, but he had an eye for the ladies." He frowned even more. "Were you and--?" He couldn't even ask the question, it bothered him too much to even think about it.

Blair shook his head. "I wanted to. I wanted to from the minute I met him." He caressed Jim's face. "But, I think it was because I thought he was you."

Jim was smiling again. A big, goofy grin. He could feel it on his face. "Yeah. That sounds right."

Blair gestured at their naked bodies. "I didn't think this would happen so soon, I mean I hoped it would happen, but I thought you'd need to get used to me being different, you know?"

Jim shook his head. "You're my Guide. That's all I need to know."

Blair pursed his lips. "Are we that interchangeable, then?"

"No. It's like you said, you thought he was me. I liked Blair, that Blair. He kept me from going insane, and I suppose, if he'd been willing, I'd have slept with him. But I don't think it would have been like this." He shifted a little so he could grab Blair's hand and he brought it to his nose and sniffed.

Blair's eyes watched him carefully.

"My whole life," Jim said, "I've been out of sync. Nothing's quite worked the way I thought it should. My family, my career, my marriage. And when my senses came on-line, it just made everything worse. I was jittery most of the time, and I know I made things hard for that Blair. I don't know why he stuck around."

Blair grinned at him, leering at his body, making it clear why he thought that Blair would stick around.

Jim smiled but shook his head. "I never got that from him." He touched his nose. "And I would have smelled it. He wasn't interested. He was obsessed with me, but it was because I was a Sentinel. I was his life's work; I was a means to an end, a dissertation, a future. The fact that we got along okay was just luck."

Jim licked Blair's palm, sucking on his thumb for a minute, enjoying the way Blair's pupils dilated and his heart rate increased. So responsive. "This place feels right to me. You feel right to me. I owe my sanity to that other Blair, but I belong here with you."

Blair just gazed at him, eyes bright with what Jim hoped was love. "I've waited my whole life for you," Blair confessed. The gazing continued until it started to get embarrassing and then both men grinned. Blair glanced down at his belly. "I'm a mess."

"Me, too," Jim said. "I think I can manage a shower."

"Are you sure? I mean, clearly you have some stamina, you stud you, but I don't have any idea how long you were in that hospital bed."

"You don't either?"

Blair shook his head. "When do you last remember?"

"It was November." He thought about it for a minute. "No, that's when Blair died. So it had to be December."

Blair's eyebrows went up. "It's April now. That's four months."

That seemed inconceivable to Jim, although months was better than years. But, if he'd been in there for years he probably wouldn't even be able to walk.

Blair rolled out of bed. "Let me get the water temp adjusted and then you can join me."

Jim nodded, but then he reached for Blair and pulled him down for a kiss. "Thank you for finding me. Being there like that, living like that is the worst nightmare I can imagine."

Blair kissed him again, and then walked to the bathroom.

Jim listened to the sounds of water being turned on, then the flow shifting from the bottom faucet to the top. Blair was humming below his breath. If Jim concentrated really hard, he could hear the slight trickle of his semen leaking out of Blair's body. It made him want to put more in there.

Blair was suddenly looking down at him. "Okay, Jim, it's ready."

Jim sat up feeling, especially after that mind-numbing, toe-curling, expenditure of energy, like he didn't have much left to give. He gladly let Blair help him get up and support him to the bathroom. Carefully, he stepped into the shower, not wanting to fall and crack his skull.

"Just stand there, Jim. I'll do all the work."

That worked for Jim just fine. He held on to the shower spigot for balance and enjoyed the feel of Blair's hands combined with soap lather. He spent a nervous moment worrying about how his skin would react to the soap, but then he realized that since he'd been with this Blair, his senses were behaving; he hadn't had a single spike. Jim focused again on that lower pitch vibration he'd picked up on before and smiled. He liked it. His senses liked it.

"Hey, Jim?"

"Hmm?" Jim answered, enjoying the cleaning strokes covering his back.

"Listen, there's something I need to tell you."

Jim opened his eyes and glanced at Blair, responding to the nervous tones in his voice. "What is it?"

"Well, Jack, you know, the colonel, checked in with General Hammond, and he's willing to let you stay, but you need to pretend you're the old Jim Ellison. The one who died."

Jim considered his Guide. "And if I don't want to do that?"

Without a moment's hesitation, Blair said, "Then we go back to your reality, and I figure out how to take the other Blair's place."

"Is there a catch to this? I mean the part where I take over for the Jim Ellison here?"

Blair scrunched his face up. "Well, he was kind of a jerk, and I think he was homophobic, and he did something really stupid and got people killed. But I'll come up with some story about how you weren't yourself, or it was someone else pretending to be you. I figure if I come up with a good enough story everyone will be confused as to what was and wasn't you, so you can just be you, and things will be okay."

Jim was surprised he actually followed that. Blair chose that moment to soap up Jim's cock and balls, and he closed his eyes, relishing the touch. His spirit was more than willing to go another round, but his body was about to collapse. "So," he said. "Let me get this straight. You want me to take over someone else's life, but essentially, he's a complete asshole."

Blair shot him an apologetic look. "Yeah."

Jim frowned at him, and then spent a moment imagining taking this Blair home. They could pull it off with Simon's help. They could say that somehow Blair had been swept away from the rig during the explosion, that he'd been found on the shore somewhere, maybe having lost his memory. Everyone would believe it, because the real truth would never occur to them.

Just like it would never occur to anyone here. He could just be a man who had an epiphany and decided being an asshole wasn't worth the trouble. Not that Jim couldn't be an asshole. That probably wouldn't be much of a stretch. He was pretty sure the other Blair thought he'd been an asshole a good deal of the time.

"You have your Ph.D. here?" Jim asked.

Blair nodded. "Yeah." He rinsed Jim off and started cleaning himself.

Jim watched him, enjoying the play of his muscles as he twisted and turned to scrub himself clean. Then the water was being shut off, Blair was herding them both out, drying them off, and then helping Jim to the second bed in the room. Jim glanced at the other bed, realizing that they'd pretty well trashed those sheets.

Blair yanked the coverlet and blankets down and had Jim sit. Jim could take it from here and he lay down, letting out a sigh of satisfaction. "I'm tired."

"You will be for a while. Four months is a long time to lie in bed. I'm surprised you're not even more wasted."

"So tell me about things here. What's it like? What would I be doing, besides being an asshole?"

Blair grinned at him, practically bouncing. "Jim, it's the most amazing thing you've ever seen. Other planets, exploring the universe, meeting aliens from other worlds. And, no," he responded, obviously to the skeptical look Jim knew was on his face, "I'm not shitting you. They have this wormhole that takes you to other planets. And we're a part of it. Sentinels and Guides. I run the Sentinel Program. Train all the pairs; pair up the ones who come in on their own. We'd get to work together."

Blair's eyes were sparkling with delight as he settled on the bed next to him. Jim thought about the world he came from. Thought about a Blair doing his best to keep his head above water as he taught, took classes, worked on his dissertation, worked with Jim at the station, and ran himself ragged making sure Jim was okay.

Jim guessed there was danger here. It was a sure bet they didn't meet allies at every planet they went to. He frowned, suddenly astonished at the fact that he believed Blair so easily. Wormholes, other planets, aliens. If the other Blair had told him this, Jim would be telling him to pull the other one.

Of course, the other Blair hadn't pulled him through a magic mirror, either.

He thought about being a Sentinel; imagined a world where there were others like him, where everyone knew what he was, where he could work with Blair without having to figure out how to explain his presence or what his senses were telling him.

Then he thought about all of Blair's women, and how if he brought this one back, they'd all think they owned him again. They'd want to console him for his horrible ordeal, and want to take him out for meals, and touch him, and Jim found himself growling.

"You all right, man?" Blair asked, his eyes wide.

"We'll stay here," Jim snapped out. He pulled Blair tight. "And everyone will know that we're together, right?"

"Right. You're my Sentinel. No one messes with that."

"And it's just us?"

Blair cocked his head to the side as he considered Jim. "Just you and me. You're who I want. Just you." He swatted Jim on the arm. "You're the one who'll be beating off the women, Jim. You left a trail of them at Stargate Command." Then he fisted his fingers in Jim's hair and tugged. Hard. "And if you touch any of them, I'll rip your balls off. Are we clear?"

"Clear," Jim promised, as he pried Blair's fingers out of his hair. "Crystal." He frowned at Blair's hand as he gave it a sharp perusal. "Did you leave me any hair?"

Blair grinned at him. "There're a few hairs left." Then he sat up. "Okay, now I have to come up with a good story."

Jim was certain this Blair was as good at that as the other had been. "Have at it. I'm taking a nap."

"Oh, sure, abandon me in my hour of need," Blair said, his gentle smile conveying that he didn't mind in the slightest. Jim was glad as he didn't think he had enough strength left to even close his eyes.

Blair pulled the blankets up around him, rubbing his forehead, speaking softly to him, encouraging him to sleep, that he'd be there when he woke up, that he'd take care of him, and love him, and swaddled in love and the presence of his Guide, Jim slept.

Later that day, Jack tracked down Blair. Blair was staring out a window, a big grin on his face. "Did you get any sleep?" Jack asked, letting Blair know with his comment that he'd heard him and Jim going at it.

Blair turned the grin up at him. "A little. But I feel great."

Jack rolled his eyes, trying to push down the envy he felt. "So it was easy for you to just, you know, go with it? It didn't feel weird at all that he's a different Jim Ellison?"

Blair shook his head. "He's my Sentinel."

Jack could hear the immutable truth in Blair's voice. Maybe it was that simple for them. Some cellular recognition that overrode the philosophical conundrum Jack was struggling with. He'd loved his Daniel, had spent years creating a solid friendship. But Jack hated him, too. It was his Daniel that had betrayed him. His Daniel that hadn't loved him the way Jack had needed him to. His Daniel that hadn't wanted to touch him, kiss him. And it was his Daniel that was dead.

But now he had a new Daniel, and it felt like a betrayal to both men to take the love he had for one and turn it into the foundation of his love for the second.

"I'm gathering the road to love and sex hasn't been as smooth for you?" Blair asked, all concern now.

Jack squinched his face up, amazed as always at how easy it was to confide in Blair. "I just thought that maybe we should wait. I guess I--" Jack sighed and tried again. "I feel a little disloyal. I really like this Daniel, I think I love this Daniel, but he's not--" Jack almost said 'our Daniel' but he balked at the words. This new Daniel was 'our Daniel' now for better or worse. "He's not the Daniel I've known for the last three years."

"But he is still Daniel," Blair said softly.

"I know, but he didn't die for me on Abydos, and he didn't live with me after Sha're died, and he didn't save all our butts by going through the mirror that first time, or get sexually molested by Hathor. He didn't cry in my arms and have to kick an addiction to the sarcophagus, and he didn't stand by me when all that Ancient stuff in my brain was turning it into mush."

Blair leaned on the window sill and considered Jack. "So you think that somehow caring about this Daniel isn't fair? That when we take him back, someone will say: 'Thank God, Daniel's here, we were falling apart without him,' a part of you will want to yell out: 'not this Daniel, the other Daniel.'"

Jack blew out a breath of relief. Blair understood. Blair always understood. "Yeah, something like that. And he said that, this Daniel, he said it wouldn't be fair to the old Daniel." Jack needed to make sure Blair know that, that this Daniel was worried about the old Daniel. It felt important. It felt schizophrenic. Protecting the old Daniel from the new Daniel, protecting the new Daniel from the old Daniel. Ack.

Blair nodded as he pursed his lips. "I know we never really talked about it, Jack, but this Daniel also didn't break your heart."

"I know. Trust me, I know." He could still see the old Daniel wiping off his lips in disgust; the image was branded on Jack's mind. But now he had new memories. Jack could still feel this new Daniel's lips on his; see the desire in his eyes.

"And I think this Daniel is just as remarkable as ours was," Blair added, "and that he'll do equally amazing things in the years to come. Maybe you can look at this new Daniel as a way to keep Daniel's legacy alive. As new people come to the Mountain, instead of saying 'Daniel who?' when his name comes up, they'll get to see for themselves."

Jack nodded. He liked that idea.

"And I also think," Blair continued, "especially based on what you just told me, that as long as this Daniel feels accepted, he'll honor that other Daniel, probably thank him for giving him the opportunity to find another you. In some weird cosmic way, maybe our Daniel was simply shifting to the side so the right Daniel--one who could love you the way you deserve to be loved, which is something I believe Daniel would want for you even if he wasn't able to do it--could come along and take his place."

Jack liked that idea, too. And in a crazy way, it was something that Daniel would do. Get out of the way; make a self-sacrificing decision for someone he loved. Putting that side of the equation to bed for a moment, he said, "I worry about this Daniel, too. I don't want him to get--" Jack wasn't sure how to say it.

"Assimilated?" Blair asked, a grin on his face.

"Yeah. He has the right to be who he is."

Blair snickered. "That was something Daniel always was. It's why he could get in your face, how he could snipe at system lords, and hold his own with the President as well as the leader of the Tollan. This Daniel will be the same way."

"How do you know? How do you know he won't be trying so hard to be that other Daniel that he loses himself in the part?"

Blair shrugged. "I don't know how I know, but I do. There's been nothing shy about him since we met him. He jumped your bones, he forced his way into our plans making it quite clear he was coming with us, and I'll bet he's been his usual bossy self ever since we got here. Am I right?"

Jack thought of Daniel setting his watch for a thirty day countdown and realized Blair was right. This Daniel was just as pushy as the other one. For some reason, Jack found that tremendously reassuring. This Daniel would push back if he needed to. "I told him we had to wait a month," he confessed to Blair.

Blair's eyebrows went up. "Man, you have more willpower than I do. If I had a guy who looked like that wanting to get in my bed, I'd be on my back so fast your head would spin."

Jack put up his hands. "More information than I really need." Then he frowned. "And keep your hands off of him."

Blair let out a peal of laughter. "Don't worry. I've got more than I can handle already."

"Stop. Again with the too much information. And next time get a room further away." Lying there holding Daniel, knowing he'd been the one to stop their love-making, listening to Jim and Blair get it on, had been an exquisite torture Jack was in no hurry to repeat.

Rather than blushing like any normal person would, Blair just looked smug. Rolling his eyes, Jack decided he was tired of baring his soul, even if, once again, Blair had made him feel better. "Did you come up with a story, yet?"


Jack's eyebrows went up. "You did?" He'd had no doubt Blair would come up with one, but this had been fast work.

Blair grinned and wiggled his eyebrows. "Yeah, I know, pretty impressive."

Jack gave him a look.

Blair shook his head sadly, as if to take Jack to task for not worshipping the ground he walked on. "You remember P5R558?"

Jack gave him another look.

"Right, sorry. Ah," Blair thought for a few seconds, "okay, the Planet of Weird Aliens Who Sort of Looked Like Teletubbies. Remember that one?"

Jack shuddered. "Unfortunately." He still had nightmares. It was bad enough when aliens captured you and beat the shit out of you for no apparent reason, it was worse when they reminded you of children's television. It was like getting beat up by Bert and Ernie. "Why?"

"Because it was the only mission that we were all on. You, Daniel, me and Jim."


"Okay." Blair pursed his lips, in a way Jack knew meant a prolific amount of babbling was about to ensue. He prepared himself. "Okay," Blair repeated, "this is the story. We all went there, and unbeknownst to us, you and me and Sam and Teal'c, the aliens took Daniel and Jim and switched them out with doubles through the use of some odd alien technology we don't understand and that was unfortunately destroyed when we went back to get them. You guys getting turned into androids that one time will give this idea some credence."

Jack narrowed his eyes, and made a circular motion in the air, encouraging Blair to keep going.

"Okay. So, when Daniel died, Janet recognized a few anomalies as she did her autopsy, but she wrote it off as a by-product of all the weird shit that happens to all of you all the time. But, then, when Jim died, and she did his autopsy, she found the same anomalies. So she did a really in-depth analysis, and pulled out some of the blood she still had on Daniel in deep freeze that she'd never gotten around to eliminating, and she made the startling conclusion that they hadn't actually been our Jim and Daniel."

It was actually making sense so far. "And?"

"Okay, so she tells us, and we figure out it must have happened on the Teletubby planet because that's the only place both Jim and Daniel went to together. And we already know the Teletubbies are bad news, and the address has been locked out of the dialing program because of that, so no one will have gone back since, or will go again, because we will of course, lock it out again, so no one can check out the story. But, in the meantime, the General okays the rescue mission, and you go back, kick those Teletubbies right in the ass, rescue the real Jim and Daniel, blow up the alien's installation, and then bring them home."

Jack could tell there'd be more. "And?"

"And, they were badly tortured or maybe they were mind-wiped and have foggy memories about a lot of things, and that will be the excuse when they act out of character or can't remember stuff."

"And the fact that they don't have any injuries?"

Blair had a ready answer. "We say we, or SG-1, because I haven't gone on any missions with you since that one with Jim, rescued them a while ago, and they've been recuperating. We couldn't let anyone know because we've had to make sure there aren't any other doubles on base. With all the routine lab work Janet does all the time on everyone, we can just pretend she's been doing surveillance for a while."

Jack looked for holes and was not surprised when he couldn't find any. Blair was peerless when it came to the fine art of coming up with failsafe lies. It was a talent Jack had a lot of respect for.

Blair wasn't done. "And we find out, through Jim and Daniel's debriefings, that they focused more on physical experimentation on Jim, and more mental experimentation on Daniel, which is why Jim is still so weak, and Daniel's memory is so wonky."

"Did you already try this out on Hammond?"

Blair grimaced. "He thought it would work. Of course he didn't tell me that until after he'd figuratively kicked my ass from here to Massachusetts." Then he brightened. "But, hey, there was some good news. Nick Ballard helped Sam and Teal'c retrieve SG-9 so, fortunately, Hammond was in a pretty good mood and more inclined to forgive us. Otherwise I might be cleaning out my locker."

Jack felt the pressure of the loss of that team lift off his shoulders. "That is great news."

"Yup. And the General is pretty excited about getting a new Daniel. He's still not crazy about a new Jim Ellison." Blair frowned. "But, he will be. You all will be."

Jack put his hand on Blair's shoulder. "If he's your Sentinel, I have no doubt he's the best there is."

Blair smiled up at him gratefully. "Thanks. You need to check in with Hammond. He wanted your take on the whopping lie we're going to tell, and how you want the truth leaked out. Obviously Janet, Sam and Teal'c will all need to be in on the truth truth. The real truth, not the fake truth."

"What about Nick Ballard?"

Blair's grin was huge. "Guess what? There really were giant aliens, and they've invited Nick to stay with them, to learn about them. So, he's off communing, fulfilling his life-long dreams."

Jack blinked. He really needed to stop being surprised by stuff. He rocked back on his heels. "All righty then. I'll go contact the General. Why don't you round up Daniel and Jim and we'll start coaching them." He turned to leave.

Blair stopped Jack by grabbing his arm. "I know you still have things you need to work out in your mind, but," his eyes grew bright, "we got them back. And that's a miracle."

Jack nodded, blinking away an unexpected sting of tears. "Yeah. It is."

Day 1:

Jim woke up to find one of the nurses, a tall blonde, with her hand on his chest in a fairly proprietary manner, as if she'd seen the territory before and under silk sheets. Ordinarily, Jim might not mind, but he wasn't interested in a bedmate other than Blair. He frowned at her. "Can I help you?" he snapped.

Her hand flew back and she stared at him, the tone of his voice having clearly set her aback. Then she frowned and put her hand right back where it had been, her fingers caressing an old scar above his right nipple. Along with the touch came a sultry look. "I don't remember this scar, Jimmy."

Jim barely refrained from rolling his eyes. He grabbed her hand and pushed it away from his body. "Knife wound," he answered without thinking. Then he remembered that he wasn't him anymore.

His eyes flew to Daniel who was in the next bed and their eyes met in a commiserating exchange. This wasn't the first time something like this had happened today and would no doubt not be the last. "Yeah," Daniel said pitifully, "I have some new scars, too." When the nurse looked around at him, Daniel did his best to appear in tremendous need of care, batting his eyes at her.

As the nurse began checking over Daniel, Daniel rolled his eyes at Jim. Jim started laughing which he turned into a cough. He wrapped that up quickly when it looked as if he might get the attention of the nurse again.

She finally left and during a quiet moment, Daniel gazed at Jim. "Shouldn't this be weirder than it is?"

Jim nodded. "I keep waiting for Inspector Poirot to come in and expose us for the hoaxes we are." He managed to pull himself up to a sitting position. His body was still exhausted but he was tired of lying down. "Doesn't it seem like someone should catch on?"

Daniel shrugged. "I don't know." He grinned a little. "I mean I don't even believe I'm here so why should they?"

Jim let out a soft laugh, even as he touched the scar in question. "What are we supposed to say about this stuff?"

Daniel shrugged. "We'll have to ask Janet what she wants us to say. Right now, I think we just need to act like idiots."

Jim grinned. "I can do that." He was suddenly very grateful he wasn't going through this alone. Maybe he and Daniel could get together every now and then and talk about that earth and those lives.

Daniel whispered, "I'm glad it's not just me here. It makes it easier."

Jim nodded. "A lot easier."

Day 2:

After making several promises to come back and visit Jim who would be stuck in the infirmary for at least another day, Daniel was shown to his office by Jack. He entered the room and his jaw dropped as he looked at all the--he couldn't find the words--all the wonderful stuff.

"This is mine?" he asked, as he ran his hand lovingly over books and scrolls and artifacts and stone tablets, already itching to get studying, to learn, to delve into this treasure trove.

"Yeah," Jack said, leaning against the door. "It's yours. After you, well, after everyone thought you died, this sort of became a--"

Daniel looked up when Jack stopped. "Became a what?" He noted how dusty some things were. "No one was using this place?"

Jack let out a snort. "You sort of left big shoes behind to fill, Danny. No one felt worthy of taking over this space, so it sort of became a resource room cum shrine."

Daniel picked up a clay bowl with symbols on it. "What's this?"

Jack shut the door and moved to join Daniel. "That was the wedding cup from your, I mean the other Daniel's wedding."

Daniel's eyes lit on a framed picture that had been sitting next to the bowl. "Was that her?"

Jack nodded. "Sha're."

"She was beautiful. What happened to her?"

"Very long story better shared over a few drinks," Jack said, cautiously.

Daniel smiled at him. "Okay. Any other minefields I should know about? I've already talked to Teal'c about teaching me Goa'uld."

"Yeah," Jack said, scrunching his face up. "Speaking of Teal'c, until we've talked about it, don't ask Teal'c about Sha're. I mean, he knows you're not the other Daniel, but it's a touchy subject for him."

Daniel nodded, glad for the warning.

"So," Jack asked casually, "how are you doing?"

"Fine," Daniel answered, looking longingly at some writing he didn't recognize on a fragile sheet of parchment paper. He suddenly realized he could pick it up, that this was his office, and that these were his things to touch and learn from. He beamed at Jack. "I'm great." This beat uncrating boxes at the museum by several miles.

Jack looked momentarily startled. "You are?"

Daniel carefully picked up the parchment paper. "This stuff is amazing." His eyes swept the page, looking for anything that might anchor him as a place to start translating.

"So, do you need anything?"

Something about the tone of his voice alerted Daniel and he put the paper down and gave Jack his attention. He wondered if Jack would like it better if he was a little more lost. Or maybe Jack was sorry he'd come at all. His heart thumping in his chest he asked, "Is this going to be too hard for you?" Maybe these trips down memory lane were too painful.

Jack shook his head. "No. What was hard was not having you around."

"Even if I'm not, you know, the real Daniel Jackson?" That felt weird to say.

"You are the real Daniel Jackson," Jack protested. "You're just a different version." He gestured around the room. "You fit here."

Daniel looked around the room again. "Yeah, I do." Then he checked his watch and gave Jack a mischievous grin. "Six hundred and seventy two hours, Jack." He licked his lips.

Jack's eyebrows went up, and Daniel was gratified to see the colonel's eyes glued to his lips. He moved closer to the desk, turned his back to Jack, leaned over a little and put both hands on it, shaking it, checking its strength. "Sturdy," he commented.

He heard a strangled moan behind him, heard the door open and then close. Daniel grinned and went back to the parchment paper.

Day 3:

Jim was finally getting out of the infirmary. Blair had dropped off some clothes and then gone to get last minute instructions from Janet. As Jim finished buttoning his last button, the same blonde nurse came by. "I hear you're finally getting out," she purred at him, her fingers tracing his middle button.

He pulled back. "Yeah." Jim wondered what was taking Blair so long, even if he could hear Blair and Janet chatting.

"Maybe we could get together later, you know, maybe pick up where we left off."

"Sorry, not interested."

Unfortunately, that didn't deter her and her hand crept down his chest, aiming right for his crotch. "Are you sure? I could help you get some of your memories back."

Short of leaping over the bed, Jim was out of space to back up. He sort of veered to the side to get away from her. Then he held up his hands as a warning for her to keep her paws off of him. "I'm not interested. I'm sorry, but whatever it was we had, consider it done."

He saw Blair heading this way; saw the glint in his eye when he saw who Jim was talking to. Blair got right next to Jim. "You ready?" he asked, smiling tightly at the nurse.

"More than ready." Jim flung his arm around Blair's shoulder, dismayed that just this little bit of activity had worn him out. He was ready to start an exercise regime to help get his strength back.

The nurse stared at them both, and then focused in on Blair. "Hey, Blair, what are doing here?"

Jim thought that was pretty obvious, but he waited for Blair's answer. Blair grinned up at Jim, then at her. "Didn't you hear? Jim's my Sentinel." It was said with a hint of a challenge in his voice. Something that sounded suspiciously like: back off sister, he's mine.

Jim grinned, perfectly happy to be claimed.

Her mouth opened and closed a couple of times, and then snapped shut.

That worked fine for Jim.

Day 4:

Jack found Daniel in the hallway outside his office looking bemusedly at the retreating back of some captain whose name Jack couldn't remember. "Who's that?"

Daniel frowned at Jack. "Didn't you say I was married?" he said softly.

"Yeah," Jack answered guardedly, turning to frown as the captain turned the corner. "Why, what did she say to you?"

Daniel touched his top lip with his tongue as his brow furrowed.

Jack wanted to touch Daniel's top lip with his tongue, too, but he stayed where he was. "What's going on?"

"And as far as you know, he wasn't seeing anyone?"

Jack shook his head. "No one." Jack knew that for a fact. Daniel didn't have time. Until the last few weeks, Daniel spent all his free time with Jack or with the team. Besides, Daniel seeing someone would have been big news. He'd been one of the most wanted and most oblivious catches at the SGC. "Why?" he snapped, sure he wasn't going to like what he was about to hear.

"She said she knew I'd lost my memory and wanted to tell me we'd been in a relationship for six months. Apparently, we'd been deeply in love." Daniel's eyebrows went up and down a couple of times.

"What did you say to her?" Jack was thinking he might have to go find that captain and kill her.

"That I wanted photos."

Jack barked out a laugh. "You asked for evidence?" Oh, yeah, this Daniel was a little different. The other Daniel would probably have believed her and been worrying about how to let her down easily. The part of Jack that had been worried on behalf of this Daniel started to relax. "You want me to go shoot her for you?"

Daniel shook his head. "Nah. Besides, she wasn't the first one." He gazed at Jack. "Was I bi-sexual?"

Jack almost choked. "What? What? Did some freakin' guy come on to you?" He really would kill whoever that was. "Who was it?"

"Don't worry about it. I asked him for evidence, too. So was I?"

Jack shook his head. "You most assuredly were not."

"Ah," Daniel said compassionately. Then, unexpectedly he grinned. "Well, just in case it's escaped your keen eye, I am."

Jack wanted to hug him. "Just keep asking for evidence, and maybe next time someone tries this you might suggest calling me so I can corroborate their story, because you understand, even though your memory is scrambled, that you and Colonel Jack O'Neill, the scourge of the SGC, are the best of friends."

"I'll do that," Daniel said sarcastically. Then he put a hand out and touched Jack's arm. "Thanks, Jack," he said sincerely. With that, he disappeared into his office.

Jack watched him go, and wondered, just for a brief second, how many hours there were left to go on Daniel's watch.

Day 5:

Jim and Daniel sat in General Hammond's office as he gave them a serious look. "How are you gentlemen doing? I know this can't be easy."

Jim and Daniel exchanged a look, and Jim leaned forward. "I know everyone thinks that, but it's actually not that hard."

Daniel leaned forward as well. "I mean we're getting used to a new home, and a new job, and new people, but other than that--" He shrugged.

"Aren't you finding it difficult to assume the identities of two other men?"

Jim shook his head. "Not really. I mean he was me. A fairly unpleasant me with abysmal taste in women, but still me." He gazed across the desk at Hammond. "Rationally, I know it should be a challenge, but Daniel and I have talked about it and we both really believe that this is where we belong. I don't know how to explain it." He grinned fondly. "Blair could explain it better."

Hammond smiled in response. "I have no doubt that he could." He paused, then said, "Do you understand why I gave these orders? Why I couldn't simply let you walk in here from another reality?"

Daniel nodded. "Absolutely. Having the power to bring the dead back to life, no matter what the method, is a dangerous thing. It could be easily misused and the consequences on both sides of the mirror could be devastating."

Hammond gave a brief nod, a relieved look on his face. "I'm glad you understand. I've regretted any pain and discomfort those orders might have caused you, and I'm pleased you seem to be settling in so well."

"I do have a question, General," Jim said.

"Go ahead, son."

"How is our absence being explained? And how about our homes and our belongings, and in my case, my family, my father? Has anything been done?"

Hammond nodded. "That's a timely question. I've spoken to Dr. Weir, and they've come up with cover stories for both of you and for Dr. Ballard as well. Any of your belongings that could be recovered are in storage and whatever will fit through the mirror can be sent through to you."

Jim shook his head. "I don't really need much, maybe my clothes. I wasn't much for keeping things." Probably the only things he would have wanted were Blair's things, but now he had a Blair that was alive and all his. He was perfectly happy to leave all traces of that other life behind.

"I would like my stuff," Daniel said. "I didn't mind leaving it, but if I can get my books and artifacts that would be great."

"Do you want your clothes as well?" Hammond asked.

"I guess I'll take anything that can fit through the mirror." He grinned at Jim. "I'm a pack rat."

Jim had been in Daniel's office so he knew the truth of that. Granted, the stuff in there was mostly the other Daniel's, but this Daniel, the only Daniel as far as Jim was concerned, loved it. All it did was make Jim sneeze.

He suddenly realized that Hammond was dismissing them and Jim stood along with Daniel. After promising to keep the General notified of any difficulties, Jim and Daniel left and decided to go get some lunch.

Day 6:

Jim lay back in bed, a sated look on his face. Blair was next to him, and both of them were panting. Finally Blair spoke. "Man. That keeps getting better and better."

Jim just nodded, the ability for speech still eluding him.

"I heard Rosalind asked if you wanted to be her Sentinel," Blair said, with a remarkably failed attempt at nonchalance.

Jim let out a snort. "She and Julie both asked me." He turned to his side. "Why don't they already know I'm paired with you?"

Blair was paying undue attention to a hangnail. "I didn't really tell anyone," he muttered.


"I wanted to give you time. To make sure this was what you wanted, that I was what you wanted."

"Are you nuts?" Jim challenged. "Blair, I'm not going anywhere, and I don't want anyone but you. Tell everyone. Paint it on the damn Stargate. I'm your Sentinel, buddy, get used to it."

Blair grinned at him. "Okay. Thanks."

"Nothing to thank me for. But if you insist you can make it up to me later."

Blair let out a snort but snuggled in closer.

Day 7:

"So, am I like you remember him?" Jack asked, as he sat on the edge of Daniel's desk.

"Hmm?" Daniel answered.

"The other Jack, the one you knew first, am I like him?" Jack started unbending a paper clip.

"I only knew him for about ten minutes, Jack."

"Yeah, but am I like him?"

Daniel put his pencil down and leaned back in his chair, staring up at Jack. "I guess. I mean it's hard to say because I know you so much better than I ever knew him. You've sort of replaced him in my mind."

Jack didn't know why he felt the need to push, but he couldn't seem to get his mouth to shut up. "So, we're exactly alike?"

Daniel got up to pour himself a cup of coffee.

Jack decided he was stalling. "Tell me."

"Why is this important to you?"

"It just is."

"I thought we weren't going to play this game. Every time I ask you, you tell me it doesn't matter."

"It doesn't." Or, Jack supposed, the more accurate truth was that it couldn't matter. That Daniel was gone. Of course for Daniel, that Jack was gone. "But if it will make it fairer, I'll tell you one way you're different, if you tell me first."

Daniel took a sip of his coffee. "I'm not sure this is a good idea."

"For crying out loud, will you just tell me?"

"Fine. Okay. He twinkled at me. All right? He twinkled at me."

Jack stood up straight and stared at Daniel, feeling astonishingly affronted. "What? He what? What the hell does that mean?"

Daniel shook his head. "Never mind. It's stupid. It doesn't matter."

"Apparently it does matter. Apparently I'm not twinkly enough for you." Jack wondered if he'd ever had a stupider conversation in his life.

Daniel let out a sigh. "I knew this was a bad idea. Listen. I think that other Jack had an easier life than you. I think he could afford to be a bit of a rake. He knew he was good-looking and he wasn't ashamed to use it. And you could see it in his eyes. They, you know, twinkled."

Jack rolled his eyes, hoping the sarcastic look on his face hid how hurt he suddenly felt.

Apparently he failed, because the next thing he knew, the door was shut, and Daniel was hugging him. "Jack."

Jack didn't want to talk anymore.

"Jack," Daniel said more firmly, pulling back and staring at him. "Let me tell you what would have happened with that Jack, okay?"

Jack frowned, not sure at all he wanted to hear this.

"If he hadn't been called back to the base, we probably would have had sex right there in my office. Right on my desk." Daniel patted his desk for emphasis. "And then, he would have gone back to Colorado, and I never would have seen him again. So, I'd have been left with a good memory and a sore ass, and that's it. Even if I'd gone back with him to Colorado, I'd probably just be a notch on his bedpost."

Jack didn't like the idea of anyone having sex with Daniel. He frowned even more.

"What I'm trying to say here is that if I had to choose between his twinkling eyes or this life with you, I'd choose you. Okay?"

Jack felt like an eighth grader who was just told by his best friend that the girl he liked maybe liked him back. It was humiliating. He dropped his head to Daniel's shoulder. "Okay," he muttered into Daniel's neck.

"Now, tell me something about me that's different."

Jack thought about it. "He wouldn't have done this."

"Done what?"

"Held me like this to make me feel better. The whole time I knew him we only hugged about three times." He pulled back. "Why are you so much more comfortable with the hugging?"

Daniel shrugged. "I'm not usually." He grinned. "I just can't seem to keep my hands off of you. Do you mind?"

Jack shook his head. "No, I don't mind at all. I like it." He could feel the stupid grin on his face.

Daniel grinned back. "Hey, Jack?"

"What?" Jack was still grinning.

"Your eyes are sort of twinkling."

As Jack pulled Daniel back in for another hug, he decided he really liked this difference.

Day 8:

"Jim, we probably need to work on your senses a little," Blair said, over coffee, their empty dinner plates still on the table.

Jim shook his head. "You know I don't like being a guinea pig, Chief."


There was a pregnant pause. "Ah, that's what I, I sort of forgot, uh, never mind. What sort of experiments are you talking about?" Jim hoped that would be a sufficient distraction. He didn't want this Blair to ever second-guess his place in his life.

"Jim, it's okay. You can call me Chief if you want. I sort of like it; I always wanted a cool nickname. And it's not a surprise that you forget every now and then and think you're with him. I get that."

Jim grabbed Blair and pulled him onto his lap, kissing him deeply. He felt Blair's arms go around him, felt his eager response. Finally he pulled back. "It's just habit, Blair, it's not my heart. My heart knows it's you. Okay?"

Blair cupped Jim's face. "Even if it was your heart, it's okay. He was a good friend, right?"

Jim nodded.

"And he helped you out, right?"

Jim nodded again.

"So, he deserves your affection, and I won't begrudge him that. I don't mind sharing you a little with him."

Jim hugged Blair close, unable to talk past the gratitude in his heart, wondering how the hell he had gotten so lucky.

Day 9:

Daniel loved Jack's house. It was roomy and comfortable and, best of all, it was Jack's. He could find what he needed now, knew which cabinets had the mugs, and where Jack kept the coffee. Knew where the towels were and how to use the washing machine.

He was also very familiar with Jack's bedroom. The first night he'd slept at the house, Jack had tucked him into the guest bedroom. Daniel hadn't been crazy about it, but he'd only put up a token fuss.

After the third time Jack came in to check on him, Daniel threw back the covers and invited Jack to get in bed with him. "What's going on?" he whispered, after they were both tucked in.

"I keep waking up and thinking it was all a dream," Jack confided.

"Which part? Your Daniel part or me?" Daniel asked, not sure of his place yet here in Jack's life.

Jack wrapped his arms around Daniel and pulled him close. "This part."

Daniel smiled into Jack's hair. He'd slept in Jack's bed ever since. No sex yet, but the clock was ticking down.

Day 10:

Sam stood outside of Daniel's office door and watched him as he focused on the translation in front of him. She cleared her throat.

He looked up and smiled. "Sam," he said in a pleased voice.

"Hey, Daniel. I was just wondering if you'd gotten that translation done from PX9224?"

Daniel nodded. "I just sent the file through to you."

"Thanks." She stood there for a second, staring at him.

"Did you need anything else?" he asked.

"It's just nice to have you here. And I know that you're, you know, but it doesn't matter, it's still good to have you here. Things weren't the same without you."

Daniel smiled shyly at her. "Even if I'm not, um, not the, well, you know?"

"Even if. All I know is that you were gone and it was bad. And now you're here and things are better. I'm better." She touched her heart. "In here, I'm better. We're all better. I feel like I can breathe again."

Daniel's eyes grew bright and he pushed a pencil around on his desk for a long moment. Finally, he said, "Thanks. Thanks, Sam."

Her eyes were a little bright as well. "Want to go get some blue jello with me?"

"I'd like that."

As they stepped outside the office, Teal'c was standing there. Sam smiled at him. "We're off to get some jello. Want to join us?"

"I would be most pleased to accompany you." He glanced at Daniel. "It is good to have you back with us. Your presence has been sorely missed."

That shy smile crossed Daniel's face again, and it made Sam want to hug him. She knew there were differences between the two Daniel's, but Sam decided that the stuff that really counted, what made Daniel who he was at the core, must come as standard equipment on all the Daniel Jackson models.

Plus, it didn't hurt that he was just as pretty. She tucked her arm in his, and the three of them walked down the hall.

Day 11:

Jim just thought of something. "Hey, is your mom around?"

Blair's brow furrowed. "No, she died about five years ago." Then his eyes flew wide open and he let out a gasp. "You knew her?" He smiled at Jim. "You knew my mom?"

"Only through the other Blair. I talked to her on the phone a few times. She seemed like quite a force of nature."

"Man, she was something else. That was one of the saddest days of my life when she died. I still miss her." He cuddled into Jim's side. "I can see why the General was so nervous about you and Daniel coming here."

"What do you mean?"

"It's just so tempting. Knowing my mom's still alive where you come from. Knowing I'm dead there so there's nothing to hold her there, and every reason for her to come be with me here. Knowing it would be so easy to come up with a reason to convince Hammond to let me go through the mirror."

Jim ran his fingers through Blair's curls, thinking about it, considering the other side of it. He wondered if his team that died in Peru was alive here, wondered what the Simon Banks of this reality was like. Were they better or worse off without Jim in their lives? It could make you crazy. "Better just not to think about it."

Blair kissed his neck. "I'm open to the idea of being distracted."

Jim tilted his head, baring more of his neck to Blair. "Yeah?"

The kissing turned to licking turned to sucking and Jim decided, as he pushed Blair down on the couch and lay on top of him, that there was a lot to be said for distraction.

Day 12:

Jim and Daniel stood in front of the event horizon as SG-1 looked on. Daniel reached out to touch it, pulling his hand back quickly. He grinned at Jack. "It's unbelievable," he said softly, knowing he shouldn't be looking so amazed. He tried to rein in his enthusiasm.

Blair had a grip on Jim's arm. "How're your senses doing?"

Jim shook his head. "They're pretty, uh, this is sort of wild. I don't even know how to explain to you what it sounds like, looks like."

"Come on, campers. Tupelo's waiting for us on the other side."

Jack had arranged a visit to the Land of Light for their first trip through the wormhole, to help them get used to it. Daniel was grateful for the opportunity to get broken in easily. While Jack had him taking weapons training, Daniel wasn't at all prepared to deal with a battle situation; he wasn't actually sure he ever would be. The mission reports he'd read so far were a bit overwhelming. He probably shouldn't have sat down and read so many at once.

At a nudge from Jack, Daniel glanced at Jim, and the two of them leapt in together. When they landed on the other side, and as they started walking toward the city, and as it started sinking in that he was actually on a different planet, about to meet people who hadn't been born on earth, Daniel decided he'd do whatever it took to get ready, because he wanted to keep doing this.

Day 14:

When Daniel's belongings arrived, Jack had them carted home and put in the garage. Later that night, Daniel looked at all the boxes. "This can't be all mine," he protested, as he sat on the floor, near a clump of boxes.

"It's not," Jack assured him, as he chose to sit in one of the kitchen chairs he'd brought out for that purpose. He pointed to all the boxes on the right side of the garage. "That's all the other Daniel's. He had me listed as his next of kin and I didn't know what to do with all his stuff so I brought it here."

"Are you going to keep his stuff?"

Jack was glad the question didn't seem anything more than an honest inquiry. "I thought you could go through it; technically it's yours now. I figured as you dig through your stuff, you could look at his stuff, too, and keep what you want."

Daniel shot a worried look at Jack. "You don't want to keep any of it? You know, as a memento?"

Jack gave Daniel a long look and then he nodded. "Yeah. Actually I would. I'd like that marriage bowl of Daniel and Sha're's and her picture."

"Really? Do you mind if I ask why?"

Jack scratched his head and thought about what to say. "Because that's how I want to remember him." How I need to remember him, Jack added internally. "He was Sha're's husband. And nothing was more important to him than she was." It still stung, and Jack knew it wasn't fair. But he'd wanted to be first with Daniel, had foolishly assumed he was.

Daniel bit his bottom lip and considered Jack. "I guess you should put the person you love first," he said cautiously. "I guess that's how you know it's the right person if you can put them first." His fingers ran over a ripped edge of the cardboard box closest to him. He suddenly seemed unduly interested in anything but Jack's face.

Jack moved to the floor, sitting next to Daniel. "Not everyone is good at that. I wasn't particularly good at it with Sara." He and Daniel had talked about Sara and Charlie the other night. Jack still considered his son's death and the subsequent destruction of his marriage to be his hugest failure, followed only by how much he'd fucked things up with Daniel.

Now playing with a loose piece of tape, Daniel spoke to the cardboard box. "But you learned from that, right? At least the other night when we talked about it you said you did. That if you had another chance at love you'd do it differently."

Jack winced. He really needed to stop drinking so much if he was going to say stuff like that. Even if it was true. "Yeah," he confessed, sharing Daniel's fascination with the boxes. Much easier to have a conversation like this when you could pretend it was happening with inanimate objects.

"I think," Daniel started to say, hesitantly. "I think I'd like to try that. Putting someone first. Loving someone like that." He glanced sidelong at Jack.

Jack nodded. He'd like it, too. To be in a relationship like that. Like the one he'd hoped to have with Daniel; like the one he might get with this one. Another Daniel. A second chance. One more than he knew he deserved.

Daniel touched Jack's arm. "Jack? Do you want me to stop the watch? Stop the countdown? I see how everyone loved Daniel so much, and I don't want to just presume I can step in and take his place. I do want you, and I do love you, I can't seem to help it, but I'll understand if you don't feel the same way, or if you need more time, or even if you never feel right about it."

Jack turned his face to meet Daniel's eyes.

"I'll still be glad you brought me here," Daniel continued, his blue eyes guileless. "This world, this program, it's given me so much of what I used to love about my life before things went sour. And I'll still be glad I got to know you better and that we became friends. No matter what you decide."

He stared at Daniel, bowled over by his words. Jack liked to be a tough guy, but after the whole fiasco with Daniel, Jack had discovered that he desperately wanted to be loved. And somehow, he'd been given this Daniel who wanted so much to love him. Maybe it wasn't going to be as effortless as it had been for Jim and Blair, maybe Jack needed a little time to stop feeling like he was somehow cheating on an old friend, maybe a part of him would always miss the old Daniel, but Jack was just as sure that he and this Daniel were supposed to be together.

"I might need a little time," Jack said. He pointed toward Daniel's watch. "What's the countdown now?"

Daniel looked at his watch. "Four hundred twenty six hours and thirty two minutes."

Jack nodded. "That sounds about right."

Daniel tried to keep the smile off his face, but to Jack's enjoyment, he failed miserably.

"Okay," Daniel said, still trying not to smile.

"Okay," Jack said in response, smiling at Daniel, giving him permission to smile.

Daniel let loose and beamed at Jack. Then he tried to rein it in. "I don't ever want you to feel like you can't talk about him. I know it's weird, but in some strange way, when you talk about him, it doesn't make me feel bad. Maybe it's because I can understand all the reasons why he did the things he did, or said the things he said. Except," Daniel said emphatically, with a sharp slash through the air, "why he turned you down. That makes no sense to me. At all."

With that proclamation, as Jack happily soaked up the sentiment, Daniel scooched over to one of the other Daniel's boxes and opened it up. He pulled out a few books and started to laugh.

"What's so funny?" Jack asked, moving so he could peer over Daniel's shoulder to stare into the box.

"You'll see." Daniel read the content labels of his boxes and, after finding box number eleven, he opened it up and began pulling out books. For almost every one the other Daniel had, he had one to match.

Several hours later, Daniel ran his hand over a carving, one of the few things he'd been able to keep that belonged to his parents after they'd died. He picked up the second one. "I guess I really am him, aren't I? I mean, I knew it intellectually, but this sort of brings it home."

He and Jack looked all around the garage. Both Daniels had accumulated new belongings over the years after their lives had diverged, but covering the left side of the garage were matched piles of books, artifacts, even clothing. There were even two photo albums of his youth that held the same pictures.

Jack moved to stand behind Daniel and wrapped his arms around Daniel's stomach, resting his chin on his shoulder. "Yeah, you are him. Or he was you."

Daniel leaned back against Jack. "Are you sure this isn't freaking you out?"

"Maybe a little, but not necessarily in a bad way." Jack wasn't sure how he felt about it, except that it was just more proof that this was Daniel. A Daniel with benefits. A Daniel who could love him. Maybe Blair had the right of it as much as Jack scoffed at him. Maybe he'd needed to go to an alternate reality to find the Daniel that was perfect for him.

"You'll let me know, though, right? If things get too hard, if I push too much? I can stop with the desk comments, if it'll help."

Jack snickered into Daniel's hair. "I like the desk comments," he admitted. It made him feel like a million bucks to be wanted like that. To know that almost anytime Daniel saw a sturdy desk he was thinking of Jack. He just hoped his knees were equal to the task if the opportunity ever presented itself. "Come on," he said. "Let's go have some ice cream."

Daniel pulled away from Jack, covertly looking at his watch, letting out a quiet sigh.

Not covertly enough. Jack was grinning as he walked into the house.

Day 15:

Okay, so maybe this wasn't going to be that easy. Going to the Land of Light had been a breeze, but this planet was making Jim's senses go nuts. He cracked an eyelid and shut it quickly, letting out a groan. Nothing was the way it was supposed to be.

"Hey, Jim, it's okay. All the Sentinels freak on this planet. That's why we're here, so you can get a sense of how different things can get sometimes."

Jim could hear Sam and Jack chatting softly in the background. The planet was deemed to be safe, but Jack had insisted on coming, just in case. Jim thought it was a good thing as Jack might have to haul him back through the stargate.

Jim had arrived on the planet, taken one look around, fallen to his knees, puked his guts up, and was now curled in a ball, trying to hide.

The only thing that made sense was Blair's hand gently touching his face. "Every Sentinel who's come through that gate has thrown up, Jim, so don't feel bad about it. This place even makes me queasy, and I only take in a fraction of what you can sense."

Jim didn't care. He just wanted to go back to a planet where the horizon was where it was supposed to be, and things didn't curve the wrong way, and the sky was blue, and the ground stayed under your feet and didn't shift like a moving target, making this slithering noise like a nest full of rattlesnakes.

"Jim. Listen to me. You are never going to feel comfortable in a place like this. I know that. I'm not expecting you to like it, or even to get used to it. The point of this exercise is for you to understand that sometimes you'll be dealing with stuff that your senses will have a hard time with. And if we end up someplace like this, you have to trust me to get you through it. Can you do that?"

"Do I have to open my eyes?" Jim asked, appalled at how pitiful he sounded.

Blair laughed softly. "Yeah, you have to open your eyes."

Jim cracked both lids this time, one hand over his brow, as if it might help. "Okay. Talk to me, Chief, because I'm about to lose it."

"Ground yourself on me. Listen for my heartbeat, listen to me breathe. Don't worry about anything else you might be hearing. Got it?"

Jim nodded. He got it. He clung to Blair's heartbeat like a drowning man.

"Okay, you're doing great. Now, I want you to try to stand up, but while you're doing it, keep looking at me. Look at me and listen to me. I'm the only thing that matters. Come on, stand up."

Jim put a hand out to balance himself but jerked it back when the ground seemed to push back. "God." He hated this place.

"Look at me," Blair demanded.

Right. Look at Blair. He could do that. He loved to look at Blair. Jim forced his eyes open the rest of the way and saw his Guide standing in front of him. Jim started weeding out all the weird stuff surrounding him, blocking out the sounds that no special effects team could imitate. Instead, he focused on his Guide. His voice, his face, his eyes, his hair, his hands. Just the Guide.

"You're doing great, Jim. Now stand up." Blair reached out a hand to help him.

Jim managed to pull himself up, frantically ignoring the free-wheeling horizon that made him lose all sense of balance. He felt Blair's hand in his, focused on the whoosh of his pulse, the heat of his skin.

"Good. In a minute, I'll let you dial down your senses, but right now, I need you get really grounded in me, then let your senses look around. When things start freaking you out, come back to me, get centered, and then go back. I'll be right here. I'm not going anywhere."

Jim pulled Blair close, turned him so Blair's back was to his chest. Then, nose half buried in Blair's hair, Jim took a look. His stomach tightened, but he focused on Blair leaning against him, the smell of his shampoo. He let his hearing go, wincing. "What is that slithering noise?"

Blair patted the arms that held him. "I can barely hear it. When we first found this place, Sam did some tests and apparently the ground is composed of thousands of thin layers all rubbing against each other, like tectonic plates, but only inches thick."

"No snakes?"

"No snakes."

Jim could deal with that. Now that he knew what it was, he could feel it. Could feel the ground constantly adjusting, lifting, falling. Jim started compensating for it, and as he began to sway, the horizon settled down. "So what's with everything curving so much?"

"I know, that's weird, isn't it? It's a small planet so you can actually see the curvature of the ground. It's subtle enough that it doesn't actually register as that, but it's there, like trick photography."

Okay, that made sense. Having the facts helped. Jim still wished the sky was blue.

"You seem better. Are you better?"


Blair pulled away and turned, beaming at Jim. "You did that fast. That's good."

"Are there lots of places like this?" Jim asked unhappily.

"No, this is the worst we've found so far. Hopefully, after this, if we do end up someplace weird, you'll do just fine."

"Is the sky usually blue?"

"Yup," Jack answered from behind him. "And there're usually lots and lots of trees."

Trees. Jim could do trees. Blue skies and trees sounded just about perfect.

Day 18:

Daniel closed the last diary and looked up at Jack. "Wow," he said. "You've been through a lot together."

Jack nodded. "Yeah, we have."

Daniel put the diary back in the box and ran his fingers over the leather bindings. He did not meet Jack's eyes.

Jack got up to stand next to him. "I didn't show you these to make you feel bad."

"I know, but--" He gestured at the expanse of diaries as if that explained everything.

"No buts. I wanted you to read them so you'd be able to fill in some gaps, and so you'd understand this." Jack handed him a new diary.

Daniel took it from him, looking at the new one, and then the old ones. "It's a different color."

"I know. This is for you. This is for you to write about your adventures. Our adventures. New stories."

Daniel threw his arms around Jack. "I love you, you know."

"Yeah, I know. Me, too."

"I'm sorry things fell apart between the two of you," Daniel said sincerely.

That had been in the last diary. After Daniel's death, Jack had gone on a drinking binge one long weekend and read through all the diaries. It was the last few weeks of the last one that had almost broken him.

He hoped wherever Daniel was now, he was with Sha're, and he was happy. Because Jack was ready for his own chance at happy.

Day 19:

"I wish I could get a message to Simon," Jim said that day over dinner.

Blair smacked himself on the head. "Jeez, I forgot, Jack's going there tomorrow. They want to talk to him about our program some more; they can't seem to make up their mind what to do. Maybe he could take a letter or something and ask Weir to deliver it. Man, I can't believe I forgot to tell you."

Jim waved a no-worries hand in his direction, even as he grabbed for a piece of paper. "What should we say?"

"You knew the guy," Blair said. "But tell him hey for me, and thanks."

Jim nodded and, after another moment's thought, started writing.

Day 23:

Jack knocked on the door lintel to Daniel's office. "Want to go get some dinner?"

Daniel looked up and smiled. "Sure." He began shutting down his laptop.

Jack's jaw dropped. "Sure? Just like that?"

"Yeah. I'm hungry."

"You're hungry?" Jack suddenly felt like he was in the wrong play, or someone was feeding him the wrong lines.

Daniel frowned at him. "Am I doing something wrong? I mean, can't I be hungry?"

At the worried look on Daniel's face, Jack pulled himself together. "Sure. But don't you have some work you need to get done, first?" He was used to having to go through this exercise several times to extricate the other Daniel.

"There's always work to do, Jack, but I also want to be with you."

Jack was momentarily stunned as this Daniel chose him over work. Then he smiled, suddenly thrilled. "Sweet. Let's go."

Daniel closed his laptop and grabbed his jacket.

Day 25:

Jim stared around the home he shared with Blair and let out a soft laugh. It still seemed inconceivable to him that this was his life now. That his tribe had grown to encompass the galaxy, that he worked full-time as a Sentinel, that he went off-world and had met aliens and, somehow, most incredible to him, he was with Blair.

"What are you laughing at?"

Jim looked up from where he was sitting to find Blair standing in front of him. He reached up for his Guide and encouraged him to sit on his lap, straddling him. "The way life works out."

Blair grinned at him. "Tell me about it." He leaned forward and kissed Jim.

Jim took his time, wallowing in the hedonistic pleasure of exploring Blair with his senses.

Finally Blair pulled back with a happy sigh. "Are you happy? Did I do the right thing bringing you here?"

"Yes." Jim had no doubts about that. In fact, he had few doubts left at all. For the first time in his life, everything seemed remarkably clear to him. He wondered if it was because he had finally fully embraced his life as a Sentinel. He didn't worry about it too much, leaving the introspection up to his partner.

"That was a good thing you did, talking to Michael and Stephanie."

Jim had never met them before, but they didn't know it. All they knew was that he, or a version of him, had been responsible for two of their teammates' death. Jim had gone to meet with them to try to clear the air, let them grieve, maybe help them move on. He shrugged. "They needed to talk it out. It was affecting how they viewed Sentinels in general."

"I know, but I also know you well enough that the main reason you went to talk to them was because they were still hurting." Blair kissed him again.

Jim thought he'd happily drown in Blair. He wrapped his arms around his Guide and hugged him tightly.

Blair rested his head on Jim's shoulder, giving out a contented smell that intoxicated Jim. Without moving, Blair said, "Hey, Jack thought you were great on that last mission. He told me he's always going to ask for you when he needs a Sentinel."

The pride in Blair's voice was another source of joy. Even if Jim knew that the reason he was so good was because he had the best Guide. And Jim knew Jack knew it. And Jim knew that Jack was glad to have him along on missions, not only because he was a good Sentinel, but because he kept an eagle-eye out for Blair, and kept him from taking any unnecessary chances. One less thing for Jack to worry about.

Jim kissed Blair's cheek. "Did I thank you lately for coming to rescue me?" Not a day went by when the thought of lying in that hospital bed, lost in his senses, didn't run shivers up and down Jim's spine.

Blair pulled back and cupped Jim's face in his hands. "Every day, Jim. You thank me every day."

Day 30:

Carter was winding up her PowerPoint presentation about the minerals she thought were on the latest planet the UAV and MALP had visited in preparation for SG-1, and Jack silently thanked God for it.

SG-1 had grown to 6 members now, and all six of them sat around the table. Not that all six of them would go on every mission. Daniel, much to Jack's relief, had made the decision to sit out any military missions, unless his expertise was called for. He'd already gone out twice with SG-19 to visit archeological sites and been happier than a pig in slop.

There was no doubt that he'd take Jim and Blair whenever he needed a Sentinel. He was toying with the idea of making them a permanent part of the team. Jim was the strongest Sentinel Jack had ever worked with, and the fact that he was military and actually obeyed the chain of command, was a real treat. Plus, Jack felt better about taking Blair on missions when Jim was around, because Jim kept Blair safe. He kept them all safe, ferreting out danger long before it struck.

Surreptitiously, Jack eyed the people sitting around the table and felt like a rich man. He had the best team at SGC, bar none, one that was better than it used to be with its conveniently interchangeable parts. They were all good friends, people he could count on--both on earth and off. And then, like the icing on the cake, there was Daniel.

A Daniel who smiled more, one who was more willing to be distracted from his work, although no less dedicated or capable. A Daniel who had a wide-eyed wonder about the Stargate, like the one the other Daniel used to have, but had slowly been eroding.

Jack was determined to keep it on this Daniel's face. This Daniel wasn't ever going to die, or even come close to it, if Jack had anything to say about it. This Daniel he was keeping.

He bit his lips to keep from smiling as he remembered the calls he'd started getting yesterday afternoon. They were second-cousins to obscene phone calls, as a breathy voice counted down the last remaining hours. And then earlier today, Daniel had called him, letting Jack listen to his watch alarm go off. Then he'd hung up.

He dared a quick glance at Daniel only to find him tapping his watch, even as he stared, seemingly mesmerized, at the screen.

Jack glanced at his own watch. Two hours before he could go home. This had been the shortest and longest month of his life. He had two more meetings to get through and then he could go home. To Daniel.

Carter was done, the lights were flicked on, and Hammond was telling them they had a go for the morning and they were dismissed.

Daniel flashed Jack a look and left the conference room.

Jack, making sure no one was watching him, ogled his ass. Right or wrong, he was so in love with this Daniel he couldn't see straight.

Jim saw Jack ogle Daniel's ass. He whispered to Blair, "Where's Daniel going in such a hurry?"

Blair glanced around to make sure no one was in hearing distance, then he grinned. "Daniel's getting lucky tonight."

Jim's jaw dropped. "You mean they haven't--at all?" He could smell both men's scents all over each other, so he'd just assumed they'd been going at it.

"Nah. Jack made them wait a month. Didn't you see Daniel tapping his watch?"

Jim had seen him, and heard him. He'd been tempted to tear the watch off Daniel's wrist a couple times. "Should we drive Jack crazy and invite ourselves for dinner?"

Blair started laughing. "Not unless you want Daniel to eviscerate you."

Jim put a hand over his stomach. "I'll pass. Besides, I know someone else who might be getting lucky tonight."

Blair stared up at him, batting his eyes, all innocence. "Who would that be?"

"Well, there's this new nurse--" Jim let out a yelp as Blair whacked him on his ass. "Just kidding." He rubbed his ass. "Ow. That hurt."

"Oh, poor baby. Want me to kiss it and make it better?"

That sounded like a perfect plan to Jim. "Can we go now?"

Blair laughed again. "Man, the pheromones are gonna be heavy in the air tonight."

Jack's two meetings turned to three, but he was finally on the way home. He often thought of the other Daniel, probably always would, but it was more like thinking fondly of an old friend who had died. If he ever needed to reminisce about him, he, Carter and Teal'c could go out and talk. But Jack wasn't sure he'd ever do it. That chapter in his life felt closed. This Daniel, and this life with him, felt new.

Jack opened the door to his home and found it awash in a sea of candles. There was a bottle of champagne chilling in a bucket on the coffee table, two champagne flutes standing next to it. Daniel had even gotten strawberries and they sat in a ceramic bowl, freshly washed, the candles reflecting on the beads of water.

Jack shut the door and locked it, staring at Daniel. He was on the couch, wearing only a robe, his hair still damp from a shower. His glasses were off; Jack noticed them on the end table. What skin was showing was glowing in the candlelight, and Jack couldn't remember seeing a more alluring sight. Despite the fact that Daniel was fast asleep.

Jack grinned as he moved to the couch. He crouched down next to Daniel and leaned in to kiss him. He could do this now. All his doubts were gone. It was this Daniel who now held his heart.

Jack put a hand on Daniel's knee and slowly brushed up his thigh. Daniel let out a soft sigh and his legs fell open, pulling the edges of his robe apart, revealing a slightly hardening cock. "Hey," Jack said softly, "Sleeping Beauty. Time to wake up."

Daniel muttered something too softly for Jack to catch. Jack upped the ante by gently caressing Daniel's cock. Just the softest touch, root to crown and back down.

Daniel arched into his touch, and Jack's mouth went dry. God, he was so beautiful. He couldn't believe that this was his for the taking. He untied the belt to Daniel's robe and leaned down to lick a nipple, even as he continued to softly stroke.

The nipple hardened under his tongue and Jack nipped it, smiling when he heard Daniel groan. Then hands were in his hair, and he was being tugged up and the next thing he knew he was lying on Daniel and his tongue was in Daniel's mouth, trying to reach his tonsils.

He pulled back after a while to take a much-needed breath and looked down to see an expression of concern cross Daniel's face. "What is it?" he asked.

"You're not changing your mind, are you?" Daniel asked, a world of worry in his question.

"Are you out of your friggin' mind?" Jack loudly assured him. Nothing could get him to change his mind. As far as he was concerned, he deserved a medal for lasting this long.

Daniel beamed at him. "Good. Then take your clothes off."

"Don't be so pushy," Jack complained, even as he loved it and hastened to obey. He had a thing for pushy people, especially this pushy person. He yanked off his sweater, as Daniel started working on his belt. Jack stood to toe off his shoes, and the pants, briefs and socks followed suit.

Daniel slipped out of his robe, tossed the back pillows from the couch to the floor to give them more room, and then rested on his side so he could stare at Jack as he lay down next to him.

Jack tried hard not to wince. His body was in good shape, but he hadn't been young in a long time. He was crisscrossed with scars, and Jack suddenly felt very old compared to Daniel. Daniel let out a contented sigh. "All mine," he said, in a very proprietary tone.

Jack forced himself to meet Daniel's eyes and all he saw there were stars. Daniel was as goofy in love with him as he was with Daniel. "There's no accounting for taste," he quipped back, immensely relieved.

Daniel didn't bother answering him, he was too busy nibbling on Jack's earlobe, then his neck, and Jack found himself lying flat on his back as Daniel explored his nipples, licking them until they were hard as rocks. Jack could feel each tongue swipe like it was directly connected to his cock.

He wanted to touch Daniel, but the couch made it difficult; not a lot of room for maneuvering. "Don't you want to move this to the bedroom?" he gasped out, as Daniel moved down to his belly with every indication of heading farther south.

"No," Daniel said between nibbles. "First time here." A lick to his inner thigh. "Down and dirty." A nibble to the head of his cock. "Then champagne." Tiny nibbles down the length of his cock. "Then the bedroom." He swallowed Jack down.

Jack had stopped following the game plan at the down and dirty part. Whatever Daniel wanted was fine with him. Obviously he'd worked it all out, and if things continued the way they were going, Jack was behind this plan one hundred and fifty percent.

Fingers played with his scrotum as Daniel continued to do amazingly talented things with his tongue to Jack's cock. Jack got his hands in Daniel's hair, let the softness play over his fingers. He arched up and groaned as Daniel sucked hard. Jack looked down to watch Daniel's cheeks hollow as he sucked on his cock.

Just the sight alone was enough to set Jack off. He started thrusting into Daniel's mouth, moaning as his cock moved past those lips he'd been finding it harder and harder not to watch at the most inappropriate moments. Daniel encouraged him with loving eyes and moans of his own. Jack warned him, but Daniel refused to let him go, so Jack thrust one more time and came in Daniel's mouth, letting out a yell that the neighbors probably heard.

He heard the sound of skin rubbing on flesh, and he managed to rouse himself enough to find Daniel masturbating as he looked at Jack's body. Jack found the strength to haul Daniel up and get his tongue in Daniel's mouth. He could spend an eternity like this, kissing and kissing, feeling Daniel's pleasure, the strong beautiful body lying on his, the satiety in his own body. Oh, yeah. "Come on, Daniel," he coached, in between kisses. "Come all over me."

As Daniel let go with a low moan, and as Jack felt the warm liquid splash, as directed, all over him, he felt a measureless contentment. As Daniel sagged against him, Jack wrapped him up with his arms and legs, holding him close like the priceless treasure that he was.

It took a few minutes, but finally Daniel worked himself around to consciousness again, and he hummed against Jack's chest. Jack caressed his back with long lingering sweeps of his hand. "So, how does the rest of your plan go?"

Daniel sighed happily. "Champagne. Then bed, for more of the same."

Jack smiled. "I was sure a desk was going to factor into things," he teased.

"That's tomorrow."

"We have a mission tomorrow."

"After the mission. In my office."

"Daniel, we can't have sex in your office."

"Yes, we can."

"No, we can't."

"If you come to my office, and I'm naked and sprawled over my desk, I'm guessing we can."

Jack felt the lust rise in him at the thought. Daniel was probably right. Jack didn't think he had it in him to say no to that.

"You're not arguing anymore," Daniel said as he lifted up, wincing at the mess. He reached underneath the coffee table for a towel and wiped himself and Jack off.

"I'm too horny to think," Jack complained. He wondered if he could talk Daniel into going back to the Mountain now.

Daniel laughed, then sat up, straddling Jack's body, as he poured them both a glass of champagne.

"I can't really drink like this," Jack said, still flat on his back.

Daniel frowned at him, as if he were ruining the plan. Then, acquiescing, he sat back, and helped Jack sit as well. "There. Better?"

Jack had liked it better under Daniel, but he took his glass and simply kissed his new lover. He took a sip, then leaned forward to look at the bottle, saw that Daniel had gotten the good stuff. "Yum."

They both sat back, their sides plastered to each other, drinking their champagne, occasionally sneaking kisses.

After the last kiss grew fairly heated, Daniel asked, "Are you done with your champagne?" His tongue flicked out to lick his lips.

As Jack felt his cock jerk in response to that tongue action, he put his own glass down. "You betcha."

Daniel put his glass down next to his, and he stood, giving Jack a hand. When they were both standing, Daniel wrapped his arms around Jack. "Thank you."

"For what?" Jack asked.

"For taking a chance on me."

Jack stared at Daniel and shook his head. "I think that should be my line."

"All I know is that I was given a second chance, and I don't ever want you to be sorry."

"Not gonna happen, Daniel. Blair was right. This was kismet or fate, or whatever else he calls it. You and me, like this, this is the way it's supposed to be. The universe just had to work a little harder than usual to make it happen."

Daniel let out a soft laugh. "The universe gave me a miracle."

Jack rested his forehead on Daniel's as he caught his breath. Blair had said the same thing but coming out of Daniel's mouth, it really felt like a miracle. A death-defying, odds-destroying, one-in-a-billion sort of miracle. He'd found the Daniel that was perfect for him. Just like Blair had found the perfect Jim. Puzzle pieces, snapped into place, bringing the picture into focus. "Come on," he said, "let's finish up the rest of this plan of yours."

Daniel nodded and picked up the champagne bottle along with the strawberries.

Jack frowned. "I thought we were done with the champagne part of the plan."

Daniel grinned at him. "Only the drinking-it-out-of-glasses part."

Jack grinned. That sounded promising, he thought, and took off for the bedroom, dragging Daniel along with him.


Simon was sifting through his mail when he saw the hand-written envelope. It was addressed to him but had no return address. That, in itself, wasn't that unusual, but the fact that the address was written in Jim Ellison's handwriting was. He'd been the one to read through hundreds of Jim's reports, having to decipher his scrawl enough that it was easy to recognize.

There'd been surprisingly little uproar about Jim vanishing. Simon suspected Jim's father was just as grateful he was gone. One less thing to be embarrassed about--the crazy son in an institution.

Some days Simon believed he'd imagined the whole thing, but Jim had gone missing, and stayed missing, and it was hard to argue with evidence like that.

He'd known they'd gotten there safely, wherever the hell there was. A day after he'd gotten home, while he was still wondering what he was going to say the next time one of his crew asked him how Jim was, or what he'd do if William Ellison called him, asking for help to find his son, a man had come by.

The man, without identifying himself, had laid out a scenario about what happened to Jim Ellison, asked Simon in a you-will-do-this-or-else tone of voice if he would abide by it, got him to sign a confidentiality agreement, and then was gone. It had been more than a little creepy to see how government could step in and erase the ripples a life had caused and put a whole new set of ripples in its place. Jim's unexpected recovery, secret mission, dangerous, might not return.

He tapped the envelope against his palm, almost afraid to open it. But, finally, he reached for his letter opener and slit it open, pulling out the single page within.

"Dear Simon," he read. "I know you already know things you shouldn't, but I'm not at liberty to tell you anything more, so let's just say that a friend of a friend agreed to mail this to you. I want to thank you for letting Blair take me. My life is good, here. Better than good. More than I ever expected. You could have stopped them, I know that. It was an amazing act of faith that you trusted I'd be taken care of, and if I ever pass that way again, I owe you tickets to a Jags game and a good dinner. I owe you much more than that, but that's probably all you'll ever let me give you."

Simon found himself, much to his horror, sniffling. He got up to close his blinds and make sure his door was locked. Sitting back down, he went back to reading. "I'm not much of a letter writer, and words are more Blair's thing than mine, but know that you are one of my heroes, Simon. You fight the good fight, and it was an honor having you as a boss and as a friend. Hang in there, and give Daryl a hug for me. Blair says to say hello and sends his thanks as well. Your friend, Jim Ellison."

Simon let the letter fall to his desk and took his glasses off, knuckling his eyes. A huge sense of relief overwhelmed him as he looked at the piece of paper exonerating him from his guilt. He'd done the right thing. Jim was safe. He was with Blair. And he was happy.

He hoped like hell that Jim would drop by some day. Although it was more likely he'd have to call Simon for him to go meet them someplace. It's not like the two of them could just sashay in here.

But that was okay. Simon would go and meet with them anywhere. Even if he didn't know that Blair; it didn't matter. It seemed as if Blair Sandburgs, the universe over, were all good people. With a lighter heart, Simon went back to the rest of his mail.

The End
March 25, 2005