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nightspear ([personal profile] nightspear) wrote2010-02-15 10:46 pm
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Journeys: Part 3 of 5

Title: Journeys (Table of Contents)
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: Nothing you recognize is mine. I gain nothing of material value from this.

Part I
Part II

XXXXX
Part III: Enlightenment
XXXXX

When he arrived, Jack was lying crumpled on the ground, staring blearily up at the closing door. "I don't...remember," he said.

Daniel's mind froze momentarily with fear. He was too late--maybe it was the sarcophagus, or maybe it was the hours of being crushed by Ba'al, but what if he was too late and Jack was already too far gone?

"You?" Jack said, still looking at no one.

Pulling his courage back, Daniel walked closer to him and said, "Jack, who are you talking to?"

Though he must have been in Jack's line of sight, Jack's eyes remained fixed on something just past him. "The woman," Jack said.

Daniel glanced upward. "There's nobody there," he said calmly.

Finally, Jack let his gaze roll over to Daniel's face. "Look who's talking," he said.

He didn't make a move to get up, though, or even to move at all. His eyes, while looking at Daniel, weren't quite focused, and the ragged, burned holes in his shirt would have been enough to show what Ba'al had been doing to him even without that expression on his face.

"Does it still hurt?" Daniel said.

Jack made half a headshake. "Nope."

Wishing he were allowed to reach down and help his friend off the floor, at the very least, Daniel cleared his throat and said, "I told you I'd be back."

Finally, Jack slowly pushed himself up, staggering to his feet until he was staring Daniel in the eye. "If you were really here--"

"I am," Daniel said.

"Then do something!" Jack said.

Daniel felt tiny again--he was a friend failing a friend who had been teammate, commander, and more than either of them could explain. His friend was dying--worse than dying--and he couldn't do anything.

Suddenly, Jack was angry, the transformation so quick that Daniel couldn't be sure if it was just Jack's frayed temper or if it was from whatever the sarcophagus had done to the chemicals in his brain. "You listen to me," Jack spat. "I don't wanna go through that again. If my friend were here and had the power to stop it, he'd stop it!"

"We can't defeat the enemy by becoming like them," Daniel said.

He'd said it so many times before in life, and this time when he finally had to power to act like a god, he felt like he was trying to convince himself as much as Jack that holding back was worth it. Even if he believed it in theory, it was hard to hold onto it while looking at Jack.

Jack had already turned away, leaning against the wall. "I don't have the right, Jack," Daniel insisted. "If I did this--if I did whatever I wanted, even to help someone I care about--where would I stop? I'd be worse than the ones we fought."

"Oh, come on," Jack scoffed, turning back around. "You're Daniel."

Ironically, despite how much it stung to be reminded of the way Jack's faith in him never wavered, even when it should, it strengthened Daniel's resolve, too. In Shifu's dream, he had had too much power and had hurt so many with it, not least of all Jack, who had believed in him too much. He hated the Others' rules sometimes, but there was a reason for them. He might bend rules to their limit, but if he broke them at will, he was no better than the Goa'uld.

"Ba'al is not going to stop," Daniel said. "He's just going to do this again."

"Yeah," Jack said, slumping slightly where he stood.

"So we don't have much time for you."

"You know what," Jack said, "screw it. It doesn't matter. Carter and Teal'c'll think of something."

Daniel shook his head. "It doesn't matter if they figure it out. Even if--"

"And you know," Jack continued, a gleam in his eye that said he was trying to provoke a response, but Daniel didn't mind, because it meant there was still fight--and life--left in him. "We got a replacement--"

"Nyan, yeah."

"--and there's this other new guy who wants in--"

"Jonas Quinn," Daniel said, nodding. "I know, and they're all looking, but--"

"He's at least as smart as you," Jack said.

"I know, Jack," Daniel said. "And you know they won't be able to get in here. There isn't always a way to get out alive."

"You're one to talk," Jack said. "How many times have we almost died and then gotten out anyway?"

"And now look at me," Daniel replied, spreading his arms. "Jack, sometimes, there isn't a way."

Jack walked up to him and stabbed a finger at him, only to pull back when it went through Daniel's chest. "You always gave me another option," he said. "And it pissed me off, but you think of stuff no one else would. You must have something. Give me anything."

"I am giving it to you now," he said. "All I can offer you is a choice other thaneternal torment until there's nothing left of you to torture."

"Well, that's a dead-end, then," Jack said.

"No, it's not," Daniel said. "Jack."

"Daniel," Jack answered, but listlessly, as if he was saying it because it was a response and not because he had anything to say or wanted to hear anything more.

"You could do this," Daniel said. "If you'd just open your mind--"

"For cryin' out loud!" Jack burst out. "Will you give it a rest!" He sat down and glared up at Daniel.

"You...don't think you can Ascend," Daniel said, realizing.

"Oh, please," Jack muttered. "Me? Have you met me?"

"Come on!" Daniel said, growing impatient now, because Ba'al's Jaffa were going to come back any moment and take Jack away again. "You're the man who...who established humanity's link to our most powerful allies, remember? You think someone like Thor would like you so much if you didn't have potential? You're--"

"What?" Jack interrupted harshly. "I'm what? Captain O'Neill, the hero of Abydos? If you haven't figured out that I'm not the guy you worshipped growing up, then you need to wake up and smell the gunpowder!"

Daniel shook his head, not rising to the bait in the words. Jack looked for a fight when all else failed him, and they couldn't afford to waste time with that now. "That legend wasn't real. You are. I know you're angry--otherwise, you would never claim that I don't know the real you."

"If you know me," Jack said in a low voice, "then you know this is pointless."

"If I managed it--"

"You were always different. I'm not like you, Daniel."

"I'm well aware of our differences, Jack," Daniel said. "But everything I was...am...you're part of that."

But Jack laughed shortly at that and trailed a finger through Daniel's immaterial arm. "And look what we did to you."

Daniel blew out a breath. "I made those choices. You helped make a man with his own mind out of a scared and reckless child. You gave me in a few years more than I ever imagined I could experience in a lifetime, and yes, I've smelt gunpowder on you, just like you've seen the blood on my hands. You've done so much good, Jack, for all of us, and you're a good person. That's what matters. If our positions were reversed, you'd be here for me, too, like you were--"

Suddenly, Jack leaned in close to him and said, "Damn straight I would've been here for you! I'd've busted you out, blown this rat hole to hell, and made sure that sonuvabitch suffered!"

"The Others would've stopped you," Daniel said, fighting the temptation to do just that.

"They'd have a hell of a fight on their hands," Jack snapped, frustrated.

Just as frustrated, Daniel said, "No, they wouldn't! You don't understand, Jack--if I tried anything, they--"

The shiver of warning came again, something he might have called pain if he still had had those sensations. If we're going to be useless, Daniel wanted to yell at Oma and all the Others, humans should at least get a warning. Instead, he stopped and abandoned that tack.

He didn't know whether Jack had noticed his distress at all, which, in itself, could have told him how badly off Jack was. "And then Ba'al would be dead..." Jack was going on, one hand gesticulating sharply in the air.

"You wouldn't do that," Daniel said, imagining Jack using whatever power he had to destroy entire fortresses, planets, star systems, galaxies...

"...and don't think I'd stop there..."

"You're a better man than that--"

Jack yelled, "That's where you're wrong!"

Daniel stared at him, at his closest friend who had been father when he'd needed it and then teacher, brother, and leader.

And he knew it was true--if Daniel was bothered by the rules, Jack would have laid waste to them already or suffered the punishment for trying. Daniel's nature was to explore and to understand, but Jack's was to lead and to protect. If their positions had been reversed, Jack would have done anything to get Daniel out of here, even if it wouldn't have worked.

But despite how much Daniel fumed at Oma, in the end he knew he didn't have the right. He wasn't of their world, and interfering in worldly matters wasn't fair. Saving Jack's life would also have meant killing Ba'al and changing the balance of power again among the System Lords, killing thousands of Jaffa, and influencing human choices and actions.

No one person should have that kind of power. As much as he was tempted, he couldn't act as a god, not even for Jack. Daniel couldn't help if the SGC couldn't do it on their own.

At least...the SGC couldn't do it with Tau'ri technology. But what if they looked elsewhere? All of the SGC's allies in the galaxy probably couldn't or wouldn't help. That was their allies, though. What if they tried someone else?

Daniel carefully tucked away the half-finished thought, holding it in reserve. Help came in many forms, and if it couldn't come from him, he'd simply need to find another way.

Plan C. Just in case.

"Look," Daniel said more quietly, because he might refuse to do what Jack wanted, but it didn't mean he would stop fighting for his friends in whatever way was still left to him, "when...my time came, I didn't want to stop living, either. I understand that it..."

"...that it goes against everything I taught you," Jack said over him. "Everything we were."

Daniel determinedly kept his gaze steady, knowing the venom in Jack's voice was at least partially riding on the sarcophagus's effects and the situation. The past tense hurt, though, because he didn't know if it was because Daniel had left or because Jack felt that he was now betraying what SG-1 had stood for.

"But it was the choice I made," he went on steadily. "And now, you have that choice, too. It's not your life in danger, Jack--it's your soul. It's the only way."

Jack stilled suddenly. "No," he said, almost calmly. "It's not the only way."

"What are you talking about?" Daniel said.

Jack looked at him and didn't look away, and Daniel knew, and how dare he think that was an option when he thought Daniel was the one refusing to fight? It was giving up, and Daniel wasn't going to allow it.

"No," Daniel said. "No, Jack."

"Any minute, they're gonna come," Jack said. "Ba'al is gonna kill me again. You can make it the last time."

"Don't ask me to do that," Daniel said, half-demand and half-plea.

His eyes intent, focused and frighteningly clear for the first time since he'd woken up this cycle, Jack said, "You can put an end to it."

Daniel honestly didn't know if he could. He could whisper a not-quite-audible distraction into someone's ear and see if a Jaffa slipped--mangled Jack's body too much, perhaps, or somehow damaged the sarcophagus too much to be repaired and used by the time Jack's body began to break down. The Others might stop him--Ascension was, technically, something that could be done by anyone, but using his influence to stop Jack's torment was certainly a breach of the laws.

And even if he could... "I won't do it," Daniel said. So long as there was another, better option, he would have no part in letting Jack O'Neill die.

"I'd do it for you, and you know it," Jack said.

It was true, and it didn't change anything. "I'm not you," Daniel said.

"Daniel..."

"There is a better way," Daniel said, as sternly as he could. "There is a way to save your soul and to start a new journey--you wanted a better way? I'm offering it to you."

The doorway above them began to grind open. Daniel closed his eyes, knowing what it meant and what was next.

Jack knew, too. "I don't want to see this cell again, Daniel," he said, warning, hoping, and then he walked the few steps to lie down at the side, where he wouldn't have as far to fall when the Jaffa dumped him back out of the prison.

Daniel determinedly gathered himself and slipped back out.

...x...

By the time he slipped back into the SGC, SG-1 and Jonas had already figured out why Kanan had taken over Jack's body and knew exactly where he was being held.

And by then, General Hammond had looked at the schematics, too, and said 'no.' Nyan and Jonas were huddled together with Sam over a bench top, still looking desperately for another solution.

But Teal'c was alone and in kelno'reem.

Daniel sat down opposite him in Teal'c's familiar little room. Even knowing it wouldn't happen, he almost expected the Jaffa to open his eyes and give him a brief nod of welcome.

For a moment, Daniel did close his eyes and try to pull a meditative calm around himself without doing anything at all. He had promised not to be rash, and it was important not to make any mistakes this time. The stakes were high, and there was no Jack or Sam or Teal'c to pull him back anymore if he wandered too close to the edge. He'd told Jack, after all, that he wasn't a reckless child anymore, and it was time to prove it.

Finally, when he had the full plan in his mind, he opened his eyes. "I wish I were here to help you," Daniel said aloud. Teal'c didn't hear, but that was okay; he wasn't supposed to. Not quite. "I wish I could do something, but I can't step in for the Tau'ri--even for Jack--when it can't be accomplished by Tau'ri means and Tau'ri technology. I hope you understand."

Teal'c didn't open his eyes, but his frown deepened very slightly.

Daniel... Oma was warning, gentle as the breeze that came before a storm. Careful careful careful...

"I wish I'd been here these past months, Teal'c," Daniel said honestly. "Like when you met Kytano--Imhotep--and were almost killed by Lord Yu. I never thought I'd be thankful to a Goa'uld, but I'm grateful to Lord Yu for that. You picked the right Goa'uld to trust, if there is such a thing. I guess you and he...well, you're not allies, but enemies of the same enemy, maybe."

Pull back pull back, Oma urged. Too much.

"And, uh...thank you. For how hard you've been trying. For Jack." He couldn't help blurting, "And I really wish you'd tell me to be silent and meditate."

Maybe this was why Oma and Shifu kept telling him not to linger around here too much. It made it harder to remember he didn't belong here anymore.

He left.

Daniel watched the other three continue to pore over reports until they were called into the briefing room. He followed and heard the general say, "Teal'c thinks a Goa'uld mothership could take out Ba'al's outpost."

Sam looked surprised for a moment, then said, "Probably. The problem is getting one."

"Lord Yu has been willing to help us in the past," Teal'c pointed out, "particularly when he believes it will be to his advantage against the System Lords."

"We just need to send him the information," Sam said, lighting up. "Sir--"

"Do it," the general said.

...x...

Daniel started to seek out Yu in his territory of the galaxy, only to find Oma pulling him back. "I'll just watch," Daniel said.

"I will spare you the lure of manipulating a mortal's intentions for the gain of yourself and your friends," she answered. "You've already done more than you should. If Lord Yu chooses not to accept the information about Ba'al, I will not allow you to change his mind."

"He'll do it," Daniel said confidently. "Yu is smart. He was practical enough to help the SGC and even the rebel Jaffa, even after I betrayed him, because he knows he'll need help if he wants to defeat Anubis and the System Lords." Even though Daniel's last foray into Yu's homeworld had made it clear that his age worried his Jaffa, well, he was still doing the right thing for now. That was what counted.

"In that case, there is nothing for you to do in Yu's homeworld," she pointed out. She gave him a long look. "You are coming very close to crossing the line."

[When are you going to end this?] Jack's voice mumbled in his ear.

Daniel looked around but saw nothing, still standing with Oma on the wrong plane. Then, again, fainter...

[...Daniel?]

"Let me sit with Jack," Daniel said. "Please."

Oma nodded. "If you do anything to aid an attack on Ba'al, even if it's disguised by Yu's efforts, I will know."

...x...

Daniel watched Ba'al torture Jack because he couldn't not be there when Jack was calling him.

"Daniel," Jack whispered, staring straight at him.

Ba'al smirked. "Your mind is beginning to fail," he told Jack.

Wait, Daniel thought when a splash of acid on Jack's skin made him flinch weakly. Wait, Jack. Not much longer.

Jack died again soon after. For all the times Daniel had been terrified that one of his friends would die, he found that he had never quite understood until now what it must have been like for them to watch him die. Even knowing that it wasn’t' permanent--that there was a sarcophagus waiting for him--the sight of Jack's eyes, open and glazed over in death, was nearly enough to crumble what little self-control Daniel had managed to gather. He had spent years training and fighting in the hope that he would never have to see that, and now, he couldn't look away.

The first thing Jack said, after being revived and thrown back into the prison, was, "Daniel?"

Finally, the doorway closed above them, sealing them alone together in the cell. "I'm here," Daniel said, crouching next to Jack's seat.

"You were gone," Jack mumbled, not turning to look at him.

"I know," Daniel soothed, moving in front of him and trying to catch his eyes. He reached out a hand but stopped before he reached Jack's shoulder. "I know. There was something I had to do, but I'm...I'm back now, and I'll stay with you until it's over."

Jack wouldn't look at him, even when he was right there in front of his eyes. "It'll never be over," he said quietly.

"Yes, it will," Daniel said firmly. "You're the one who taught me not to give up. Don't, not now."

"Daniel," Jack said. "There's... You have to end this."

"Hold on a little longer, Jack. Just a little longer."

Jack shook his head. "No. I can't go back there--"

"You won't have to," Daniel said. "It's almost over."

Finally, Jack met his eyes, and he thought he could see a glimpse of hope. "How?" Jack said.

Daniel smiled. "You were right," he said. "There's always another way. It's not time for you to start a new journey, Jack, not yet."

Sitting up straight, Jack said, more sharply than he'd been, "What d'you do?"

"It's not like that," Daniel kind-of-lied. "It was...it was your team, Jack. And Jonas, too. Your team thought of something."

"What?" Jack said, rising to his feet. He still looked a bit manic, but Daniel didn't mind this time. It was going to take all of Jack's adrenaline and more if he wanted to escape this time, and if the sarcophagus's high could push him just a bit further than he would normally be able to handle, maybe it would be for the better, just until he could get himself to an infirmary.

Something exploded nearby. The lights in the building flickered and then died.

Daniel stood and looked up at the opening to the cell. "All you wanted was a fighting chance, and this is it. If anyone can make it out, it's you." Jack stared at him. "Now!"

"Lord Yu attacks!" someone cried outside. Jack's head whipped around as the cell began to tip, bringing him closer and closer to the exit, and Daniel used the momentary distraction to vanish from sight.

"Daniel?" Jack said, looking around.

The cell settled into position. The door ground open. Jack stared at his chance for freedom, looked around once more--I'm not here, anymore, Jack, just go, Daniel thought--and then stepped outside.

Once out, instinct and years of training took over--Jack threw himself bodily at an approaching Jaffa and beat him savagely into unconsciousness. He stared for a moment, then took the Jaffa's zat'nik'tel and ran down the corridor.

Go, Daniel thought, watching over him as he ran.

...x...

Daniel watched while Jack hid in a ditch for two, three, four hours, clutching the hand of the lo'taur girl whom Kanan had used his body to save, until the last of Ba'al's Jaffa had fled through the Stargate. By the time Jack dialed the Alpha Site, he was shivering, sweating more than his abused body could afford, dragging the terrified lo'taur along even faster.

Jack finally woke up in the infirmary, surrounded by his team--all of them, even if no one could see Daniel--and Janet and the general.

Enough, Oma said when he didn't leave immediately.

Still, Daniel lingered a bit longer, waiting for the others to leave, and when they did, he finally moved to stand in front of Jack's bed and allowed himself to be seen. "I have to go," Daniel said, watching as Jack's eyes moved sluggishly toward him. He offered a small smile. "I always seem to be saying good-bye to you."

"Yeah," Jack rasped, turning his head to look at him more fully. Hopefully, wistfully, "Why don't you stick around for a while?"

"I can't," Daniel said.

"You just did," Jack said.

"Special case," he pointed out.

"How about...pick a solstice," Jack said. "Any solstice." Daniel shook his head as Oma urged Daniel Daniel Daniel. Jack frowned. "Groundhog Day?" he tried.

"No," Daniel said, both amused and scared by how tempting that idea was--spending the day with Jack and everyone else just for one day, as long as that one day would repeat itself over and over again.

"You going again now?" Jack said quietly.

"I'm always watching you guys," Daniel said.

"That's just weird," Jack said. "You'd better not be peeping at Sam."

Daniel laughed and realized he hadn't laughed since he'd Ascended. "Just. Please stop getting yourself thrown into prisons," he said.

Daniel... Oma said.

"I don't have a lot of time," he said quickly. "Look, you probably don't feel too well right now, and... I can't imagine anyone else going through...all that and surviving, and... It's just. I just want to say that you're going to be okay."

Something dark, pained, flickered through Jack's eyes. "How do you know?" he asked.

"Do you trust me, Jack?" Daniel said.

"Yeah," Jack said.

"Then trust me," Daniel said. The withdrawal would be difficult, but it would pass with the right care. The greatest challenge to Jack would be mental--holding onto his strength long enough to recover. If faith in a friend or an Ascended being helped in that, then it was the least Daniel could do.

Someone's coming, Oma warned. Time's up.

"I can do that," Jack finally said. "You gonna be okay?"

Daniel forced out one last smile and nodded. "Yeah. I'm going to be fine, too," he promised, and quietly slipped out of sight again.

XXXXX

"Daniel," Oma said when he returned to her on Kheb, days later. He was still watching with one eye as Jack shivered in a room, all weapon-like objects out of reach, armed guards at the doorway and Teal'c holding a zat gun as Janet approached cautiously with a syringe.

[Daniel?] Jack gasped, his eyes red and his body pulling against the restraints holding him to the bed. [You bastard, where the hell did you go? You said you'd help me!]

In the observation deck, Nyan scrunched himself into his chair and hugged his legs. Sam looked like she wanted to do the same, and she didn't protest when Jonas entered and set a friendly, bracing hand on her shoulder, the way Nyan was too tentative to do.

"He'll get better," Oma reminded him. "This will be over soon."

"I hate this," Daniel said.

She nodded. "I know," she said. "I can't make you leave, but I urge you to. Your watching isn't helping them, and it's hurting you." He shook his head, unable to leave. Oma sighed. "You're like an addict, Daniel. Every time I think you've pulled yourself away, you turn around and go back. Sooner or later, you need to free yourself of that."

"You're the one who encouraged me to help Jack," Daniel said.

"You're the one who made it more than that," she said. "I don't want to see you hurt. It will only become more difficult if you keep resisting."

"Life is always difficult," he said. "Being willing to fight for the hard things--that's what makes them matter."

"This isn't life," she reminded him. He didn't answer as he continued watching and wondered what it was that made things matter in this existence.

...x...

Teal'c was the first one who sat with Jack (without a weapon) when it became feasible. Jack was still alternately sweating and shivering, but his mind was clear enough that some companionship seemed healthy. Daniel stayed with them--without allowing himself to be seen--until Jack fell asleep. While Sam waited for her turn to sit her shift with their commander, she sat by Martouf, instead, one door down the hall.

Jacob came by around the same time. Officially, he was there to smooth any ruffled feathers that might remain, given that Kanan had been one of theirs. Unofficially, he checked on Jack, then squeezed Sam's shoulder and said, "How's it going, kid?"

"Beginnings of heart failure, and there are some indications of renal disease," she said, nodding at Martouf. "He's working on an infection, too. Mild, but his system doesn't seem to want to kick it. He doesn't really wake up much anymore. Before long, we're going to have to put him on more complete life support and wait it out, or...make a decision."

"I was asking about you and your team," Jacob said. "Not just Martouf."

She shrugged and caught his hand in her own. "I'm sure Lantash wants to know," she said, still not answering the question.

"Thank you," Lantash said quietly after a moment.

"When the time comes," she said evenly, "I think you should have a say in...you know, what happens to him, how we manage his...affairs."

A knock sounded, and Teal'c opened the door. "Major Carter," he said, nodding politely to Jacob. "O'Neill wishes to speak to you."

Sam nodded and stood up. "You take your time here," she said to Lantash, gesturing at the chair she had just vacated.

"Tell Jack I said 'hi,'" Jacob said.

The transition between host and symbiote was smoother than before--they had been practicing. Or, Daniel supposed, they had finally and truly blended, each influencing and compensating for the other until they settled at an equilibrium.

And as Daniel watched Lantash hold a vigil over someone so close to him that Daniel couldn't even begin to comprehend, he made a decision.

He concentrated, making sure he knew what he was doing, then pushed his consciousness gently into Martouf's mind.

XXXXX

The first thing Daniel did was to fall into an ocean.

The second was to wonder why he was falling at all, if he was more energy than matter, and why there was water in Martouf's mind and how it was possible that he was actually getting wet. Just as he was starting to worry, a strong hand closed around his arm and hauled him out of the water and dragged him onto dry land.

"Yi shay," he coughed. This was ridiculous. When Oma snuck into his brain, she ended up sitting in the Lotus position on a ramp. When Daniel tried it, he flopped into a large body of water.

"Daniel?" a very familiar voice asked.

He picked himself up off the ground and looked around, focusing for a moment to reconstruct himself as being upright and dry. It was dark, but it wasn't hard for him to recognize Martouf staring at him, looking just as he had looked a year ago. "Hi," Daniel said, waving awkwardly. "How's it going?"

Martouf frowned. He wasn't wearing Tok'ra leathers or his SGC BDUs, but rather a set of clothing that Daniel wouldn't have thought out of place on a human from an alien planet, or even from parts of Earth. "How...what are you doing here?"

"Okay," Daniel said. "Uh..." Huh. He hadn't thought this out at all. "So. How much do you know about what's going on...with you in the physical world? I mean, are you aware--"

"--of my physical state?" Martouf finished. "I have some idea. How did you bring me here? The last time I saw you..." He tilted his head, looking confused.

"I didn't bring you, per se," Daniel said. "We're in a very deeply buried part of your mind, Martouf. It's the part of you that's...well, you, without all the physical limitations. I, uh, don't know that the Tok'ra believe in a soul, or a consciousness not directly attached to neurons, but--"

"But my people did," Martouf said. "I understand."

"Oh, I...I see," Daniel said. All he knew of Martouf's people was that they were from a planet called Marloon that had been emptied by Goa'uld forces.

"Are you a spirit?"

Daniel shook his head. "Not exactly. Do you remember when Shifu came to the SGC and Aldwin tried to extract his memories?"

"I saw him being converted to energy," Martouf said, a look of understanding dawning. "Samantha spoke of the Ascended being named Orlin. Is that what you have become?"

"Yup." Daniel allowed himself to shift back into the spectrum that Martouf would see as glowing light, then dropped back into place.

Martouf smiled. "I am glad. It is good to see you--I thought you were certain to die."

Daniel sat down on a rock, feeling a breeze whisper through his hair and over his face. How odd that he felt more physical, more real inside another man's deepest dreams and thoughts than he had since he had been alive. "It's really good to see you, too," he said, managing another smile back when Martouf took a seat near him. "I'm...actually here to talk to you about that."

"Oh?"

"Martouf," Daniel said, as gently as he could, "your body is dying." Martouf looked like he was more resigned than surprised. "As we speak, Lantash is trying to decide if he would allow you to go on as a shell of the man you were, or if he would be able to live with himself if he asked Dr. Fraiser to stop treatment."

He teased apart the boundaries holding this world apart from the physical, then pointed. Martouf followed his finger to a vision of Jacob sitting at the bedside. "I would wish that burden on no one," Martouf said sadly. "Could you tell him something on my behalf?"

"I, uh...talking to people is sort of complicated," Daniel said, but added quickly, "but it's not just that. I think I have a way that would be a lot better than dying and better than living as you are now."

Martouf looked out for a while, then said, "It's all right, Daniel. I have lived a long time. I have fought harder and loved more deeply than most men could imagine. If it is my time, I am ready."

"You're much better at this than I was," Daniel said. "Listen, you're not thinking of the other option. You've seen a lot of the galaxy, and you've done incredible things, but trust me when I say that there is so much more you could still see. You could Ascend. I can help you."

"Really?" Martouf said. "I was under the impression that it took years of study."

"Not exactly," Daniel told him. "Not study, in the way you and I used to study in mortal life. I studied the philosophies based on Oma Desala for years and didn't understand. The understanding comes through experience alone...and," he added, "I can give you a hand."

A flicker of interest appeared in Martouf's eyes, then died down warily. "Does one not have to be pure of spirit to Ascend?"

After talking to Jack, Daniel really didn't want to have a conversation like this one again. "I know you," he finally said, and with that, he understood why Oma had brought up Martouf to him before: she wouldn't force him to take her path, but she wasn't above pointing him in the direction of potential souls that could be helped, either. Martouf might merit Ascension, but Oma didn't know him well enough to say that. "I know where your journey has taken you," he said. "But I don't know where it began. Tell me about yourself?" Technically, he could have simply dug deeper into Martouf's mind and found out for himself, but perception was half the story.

Martouf looked around himself. "I suppose everything began here. This is the planet Marloon as I remember it. This shore is where I first met Lantash. His host had been fatally injured in an attempt to free my people from a minor Goa'uld. "

"And you offered yourself?" Daniel said.

"Yes," Martouf said. "I was a quick-tempered, impulsive boy."

"What?" he blurted..

Martouf grinned, a little mischievously. "Do you think someone like Lantash would be drawn to a quiet, calm young man? I was grieving for my people's losses. We shared the same passion--the same righteous anger for what the Goa'uld had done."

Curious, Daniel set his elbows on his knees and leaned forward. "He really changed you, then."

"Yes," Martouf said, "and no. I grew up; my symbiote simply had a hand in shaping who I became. Lantash is still relatively young for a symbiote; I have been an old man for a long time. A hundred years can change a man more than they do a symbiote."

"And you've fought for the Tok'ra ever since."

"You have, at times, expressed dissatisfaction with the methods that that Tok'ra use," Martouf said carefully. "I cannot, however, claim that I regret having used them, even the ones that I thought horrible."

"I know," Daniel said. "And I know you did those things because you thought you had to. I know how difficult the war with the Goa'uld makes everything."

Looking thoughtful, Martouf asked, "Do you think it was wrong?"

"It doesn't matter what I think," Daniel said. "I don't know much about your missions, anyway, except the ones I was there for."

"You can guess."

Daniel nodded. He knew, from the transcript of the interview with the zatarc detector, that Martouf had once destroyed almost everyone on a planet--Jaffa warriors and civilians both, not to mention human slaves--to help keep Cronus's army from increasing in size. That had been one of the man's last, but it probably hadn't been anywhere near the worst. "No," he said. "I don't think it was wrong. I think you did what you had to, and not because you liked it. I think you did a lot of good for our side, and that you're a good man. If anyone deserves Ascension, you've certainly earned this second chance after everything you've been through."

"Ascension," Martouf echoed. "To another plane."

A mask of calm wasn't the way to help Jack, but this man might respond to it. Daniel took a deep breath and smiled. "Your journey on the mortal plane is over--or it will be, one way or another, whether in weeks or hours. But you can start a new journey."

"What will happen?"

"Everyone's path is different, but I can promise you it will be amazing...and I, and my teacher, will be there if you need help finding your way. You'll understand things in a way you never could have in life."

Martouf considered for a moment, then said, "But what exactly does that mean?"

Daniel had had the benefit of a previous lesson at Kheb and a few years of study that gave him some theoretical knowledge, if not true understanding. Martouf probably knew of Oma Desala, Orlin, Kheb, and Shifu, but it would have been a very peripheral knowledge, mostly from conversations with people like Sam. Daniel suspected Martouf was closer to the right state of mind than he himself had been, but while Daniel had often lacked the wisdom for his knowledge, Martouf needed at least a little knowledge for any of his wisdom to be useful.

So now, he pictured himself in Teal'c's room, reaching into a box and pulling out a candle. He closed his eyes, pulling that construct into being, and when he opened his eyes again, he was calmly setting the candle down on the sandy beach while Martouf stared.

"How did you..." Martouf said, then shook his head. Daniel could almost see him trying to reconcile what he saw with the logic that he, as a Tok'ra, had relied on. "We are inside my mind," he started, frowning, "so the laws of nature might be bent--"

"I assure you," Daniel interrupted, "I am breaking no laws of nature--all I hope to break is the barrier you perceive between what is true and what you know."

"On second thought, you are inside my mind, after all," Martouf added.

"Talk about things you never thought were possible, huh?"

"So why did you choose to drop into the ocean?"

Daniel made a face. "I'm still trying to get the hang of all this, okay?" he said, and was gratified to see Martouf smile.

"The water should be shallow there," Martouf said, frowning at the point where Daniel had entered his mind. "I want to ask how you were submerged, but it does not seem relevant."

"How deep is the water if you cannot see the bottom?" Daniel said.

Martouf considered for a moment but didn't answer.

"What is this?" Daniel said, gesturing at the candle.

Martouf picked it up, turning it over in his hands as Daniel could see him turning the question over in his mind. "An object," he said. He studied it a moment longer, and, to Daniel's surprise, he scooped up a handful of sand and reformed it into another candle. He put both of them back down on the ground, looking pleased. "It is only a dream," he said, almost to himself.

"But what if it weren't?" Daniel said. "Where did it come from, and why?"

"Nowhere," Martouf said, then shook his head. "From me. This is my mind."

"This is your soul," Daniel told him. Martouf nodded, as if that made perfect sense. "I was going to show you an exercise that involves lighting the candle, but you seem to have--"

One of the candles exploded.

"Right," Daniel said. "That. Yeesh. You know, it took me hours to try to figure out what I was doing when Oma Desala did this with me."

"You think too much," Martouf told him, and gave him the kind of wide, bright smile he usually reserved for huge victories or conversations with Sam. "Acceptance is not for the young."

Daniel sat back. "I said before that I could help you Ascend," he said. "And I will, but before you decide on this, I need to tell you that the practice isn't exactly encouraged."

"Will you suffer some consequence for helping me?" Martouf asked.

"No--well...put it this way. I'm not planning to obey that rule, anyway. Whether or not you accept my help only affects you. I'm only telling you this because I think you should know what you're committing to. There is a lot to see and to learn, and I think we--Ascended beings--can make a difference, but know that there will be limitations, too."

Martouf looked back out the window Daniel had made to the outside world. "I won't be able to interact with them, will I?" he said, watching as Sam walked into the room again to tell her father something, Jonas standing a little behind her.

"No," Daniel said. "Well..." He peeked outside of Martouf's mind and found Oma Desala watching them. She raised her eyebrows at him but didn't step in, so he turned back to Martouf. "Technically, no, not really. There may be exceptions...like I'm doing with you now."

"I suppose it wouldn't be fair," Martouf said, nodding, easily accepting something that Daniel knew and understood but still could barely abide. The Tok'ra, after all, were much more used to the idea of serving the bigger picture. He turned to Daniel and said, "May I have a last word with them, while they are at my side?"

Oma had given Daniel that chance to tell Jack and Skaara his last wishes. It was only fair. Daniel nodded toward them. "Go ahead," he said.

[...if you might want to stick around until Colonel O'Neill's recovered,] Sam was saying to Jacob. [It's up to you, but obviously, you're always welcome.]

Martouf seemed to steel himself--perhaps he was deciding on what to say--then grasped Jacob and Sam by the arm. Daniel watched the Carters appear on the beach with them, and he sat back, quiet. This wasn't his time to speak, no matter how much he wanted to talk to his friend again.

"Martouf," Sam said, incredulous. She looked around. "How--that's not possible--" She turned back. "Martouf?"

"It is good to see you again, Samantha," Martouf said. Looking at Jacob, whose eyes glowed, he added, "And you, my friend. We always knew the time would come when we would have to part ways."

For once, Lantash didn't speak.

"What are you saying?" Sam said. "Are...are you...is it now?"

"I do not wish you to grieve my passing," Martouf said, and she swallowed hard. He gestured toward Daniel, who made an effort not to react when Sam's eyes widened upon seeing him. "It seems that we have a mutual friend who wants to show me another path."

"Daniel," she said, taking a step toward him. Daniel held very still and shifted the sand beneath her feet to make sure she didn't get any closer to him. "What's going on? Say something."

"How can this be?" Lantash finally spoke up. "Is this...this is Marloon, where we--"

[Daniel,] Oma warned gently. [Now. I will help you, but now is the time.]

"Martouf," Daniel called, over the gentle sound of the waves.

There was a brief hint of regret in his expression, but Martouf smiled and told them, "You have been...very dear to me. Take care of each other. And Jacob, too," he added, smiling at Lantash, not specifying which he wished to take care of whom.

"We're going to miss you," Jacob said solemnly.

"Where are you going?" Sam said, her eyes bouncing between Martouf and Daniel.

"I believe I will find out soon," Martouf said good-naturedly.

She took a deep breath. "Daniel, take care of him?"

Because as much as Daniel had once been more a responsibility to her than an equal, he had become a friend and teammate, and, above all else, they trusted each other with everything. He nodded to her, then stood and laid a hand on Martouf's shoulder, teasing the man's consciousness from his flawed, mortal form.

"Goodbye," Martouf told them, and let himself be swept away.

...x...

Sam seemed a little frozen after seeing Martouf's body turn into light and disappear. Daniel listened with half an ear as Oma greeted Martouf, still watching the contained flurry in the SGC infirmary. Jonas, still hovering in the periphery, looked like his jaw was in danger of falling to the ground, and Janet hurried in just in time to see the last of the light disappear. She would see it later on the security tapes, anyway, and recognize it for what it was.

"Daniel," Oma's voice said, and he turned to see her standing alone. "He's gone exploring--I should join him for now. Will you behave yourself while I'm gone?"

"Yeah," he said, continuing to watch. "Sure."

"Are you all right?" she asked. He nodded. "I know that your limits frustrated you when you spoke with Jack O'Neill. It's natural to want to reaffirm that you can do some good--"

"I wanted to help Martouf Ascend because he deserved it, and it was in my power," Daniel interrupted. "Not just because I'm annoyed at the Others' rules."

"And you did well," Oma said. "He seems like a good man."

"He is."

"But the next time you feel powerless," she said, "take care that you do not turn to a man whose soul you understand less well than Martouf's. Most people might deserve to Ascend, but only one mistake will easily place too much power in the wrong hands."

Daniel watched Teal'c fold Sam into a hug just outside the isolation room. "I don't ever want to feel that helpless again," he said.

"But you will, I promise you that," Oma said. "You have to learn to accept what you can't do and continue doing what you can."

"I'll find you and Martouf later," Daniel answered as Jacob touched the empty scrubs left on the hospital bed one more time. "I won't do anything here."

XXXXX

When Jack got better, he bought Jonas a fish in a little tank, plunked it on top of Daniel's desk, and walked away.

Jonas stared at it and then asked Sam surreptitiously if he was supposed to eat it or something, because if it was okay he'd really prefer to let it live and watch it swim around. She made a face at him, and Teal'c brought in a container of fish food and accidentally killed the fish by feeding it too much. Jonas was horrified.

Sam brought him two new fish--so the one wouldn't be lonely, she said--and Jack never noticed the difference. Daniel wasn't sure Jonas fully realized what Jack's awkward gesture meant, especially since Jack started supervising his training around the same time, which meant harsh drills, making him run harder and shoot better each day. Jack O'Neill himself had marked Daniel's old desk and the office as Jonas's property, and even if there were rumors about token aliens in training to fill the SG-1 rookie spot, Jonas didn't seem to care.

One day, Jonas finished his assignments and spent a ridiculous amount of time with his arms folded on the desk and his chin cushioned on top, watching the fish chase each other around and around with a silly smile on his face.

"Hi," Nyan said, stopping in the doorway one evening. "I'm going to bed. Um. 'Night."

Jonas glanced up from his fish and smiled. "Goodnight."

Instead of moving, though, Nyan lingered and said, "How are you?"

Looking surprised, Jonas said, "Fine. Why?"

Nyan shrugged, shuffling one foot against the floor. "I dunno. Just...they joke about non-Tau'ri working here, but most of us didn't have a choice in it. And Kelowna was...uh...a big thing."

"Yeah," Jonas said. His smile became a little flatter.

"It must've been a strange time for you," Nyan said awkwardly. "Being here. After being there."

"Yeah," Jonas repeated. "Well."

Nyan slipped inside. "Teal'c and Daniel made sure I would be okay when I first came. No one else really understands what it's like. But Daniel's gone, and Teal'c's been a little distracted since then, and no one's probably helped you settle in. I don't even know if you've been to the surface."

"Oh, there was an autodestruct and evacuation drill once," Jonas said, brightening. "I went outside of the Mountain and everything. It was nighttime, and there were stars and lights..."

"Ye...eah," Nyan said. "Um. I'll ask someone to show you around. Maybe Sam would--I know you've been working with her a lot, and she's...you know, from Earth."

"We can do that?" Jonas said. "Okay. Thanks."

"I'm leaving in a couple of months," Nyan said. "And I'm pretty sure the team's looking forward to the switch by now."

"Oh, I'm sure it's not that they--"

Nyan waved a hand. "I just take pride in not getting them killed," he said. "Um...I know I've been pushing you toward SG-1, and at first it was mostly selfish, but after seeing you work...I really think it's a good idea. I'm not going on the next mission--it's an undercover operation--so I can make sure everything's settled here with you. Maybe we can talk to Colonel O'Neill and you can come with us on the next one after that to make the transition easier."

Jonas grinned at his tank of fish. "I'd love to," he said eagerly, shaking food pellets into the water. "I think Colonel O'Neill likes me well enough not to shoot me now, too. Do you think they'll let me learn to fly a ship?"

Maybe new enthusiasm was what the team needed, Daniel decided. It certainly wouldn't hurt.

XXXXX

"Were you a mother?" Daniel asked once when he visited Oma's sanctuary on Kheb, where Martouf was meditating in the corner. She turned and raised an eyebrow at him. "When you were alive, I mean. Did you have children? It's just that you seem to be collecting us now."

She smiled, amused, then let it fade away. "It was a very, very long time ago," she told him.

"Ah," he said, "but to one who has achieved enlightenment...time is...something something something." This time, she laughed aloud. "Do you forget your life, after all that time?"

"No," Oma said. "Never. And, yes, I did have two sons and four daughters."

Daniel leaned back on his hands. "Wow. That's a lot." Then again, five children didn't seem extraordinary on Earth, if a bit more than the average. Earth had good medicine, though; they didn't worry about half of their children dying before they were old enough to work, nor about how easy it was for a mother to die during or just after the birth. Perhaps Oma Desala's people had been technologically advanced, too. "Did they Ascend with you?"

To his surprise, she shook her head. "The time during which my people learned to Ascend was a time of tumult and uncertainty. Some of us chose this path, meditating and seeking universal truth; others instead sought out new lands or mingled with the cultures they found. My children took the latter path while I took the former."

He watched her as she watered a drooping plant. "Do you wish they'd gone with you?"

"I wish they had been able to experience all of this," she answered. "I wish all people could have that chance, but you know my opinions on that already."

"Well, maybe you shouldn't feel bad for them or anything," he told her. "They might not have seen this plane, but they had adventures you never will, too. I mean, I did a lot of things while I was alive--and I'm not completely proud of all of it, but I wouldn't have given that up for years of meditation to seek enlightenment, either. Your children probably had very full lives. "

Oma finished with her plants and turned to him, her expression soft. "That's kind of you, Daniel." She looked around. "Although...most things that can be experienced in life are also open to us as we are now."

He shook his head. "It's different," he explained. "Even when I loiter on the lower planes, even aside from missing the interactive parts of things...it's not as sharp. Nothing is as...as intense as it was before. Do you know what I mean?"

She studied his expression for a while. Finally, she said, "I think I may have forgotten that about how we used to live."

"I won't," he said determinedly, holding firmly to the memory of the extreme highs and lows of life. "It's too important to forget."

Oma smiled at him again, but she didn't say--and Daniel tried not to think--that ten thousand years of perspective and distance changed things.

"I think you're doing good things, whether or not your blood children took the same path," he offered, but, to his disappointment, she looked more saddened by that than buoyed.

"That's very kind of you to say," she said again.

XXXXX

"Have you been studying Morgan all this time?" Ganos Lal said one day.

Daniel looked up from his book, about to answer, only to pause when he remembered Oma's words. "Uh...s...sort of," he said. "Well, no, not the whole time. But."

When he stopped and didn't go on, she sighed. "You are one of Oma Desala's, are you not?" she said. "Yes, she and I have never quite seen eye to eye."

Even though Oma herself had warned him about this, that he would be marked as one of hers--he wasn't clear yet whether that meant her family, her herd, her army, or something else--he answered, "I'm her student. That doesn't mean I belong to her."

"I don't mean to offend," Ganos Lal said. "But would you prefer that I leave?"

"Are you a spy?" Daniel said.

Ganos Lal seemed surprised for a moment. "Not this time," she said.

"You're not spying on me or Oma," he clarified.

"No," she said.

"But she was telling the truth," he said. "You've spied on people before, for the Others."

"Are there times when you doubt that Oma Desala tells you the truth?" Ganos Lal asked, looking concerned. "We may disagree on occasion, but she is not prone to telling lies."

"No," Daniel said quickly, defensively. "It's not that. It's just...well, perspectives can color a truth without making it a lie. That's all."

"Very wise," she said.

"I'm not asking you to leave or anything," he said. He'd found her interesting before, partly because she deigned to talk to him and partly because she wasn't actively condemning what he tried to do. "Uh...no offense, but if you're not here to watch me and make sure I don't break rules...then why are you here?"

She nodded back down at the book he was reading. "You said before that you found Morgan le Fay an interesting character. You might say I thought the same during her time on Earth, and I came when I learned that you were searching for information about her," she explained. "Last time, you never had a chance to say just what it was you found so fascinating about the topic."

Daniel hesitated, not wanting to put Oma at risk in any way for his curiosity. He wouldn't put manipulation and misdirection past any of the Others, perhaps, but Ganos Lal had said directly that she wasn't here to keep an eye on him or Oma, so...

"Okay," he said, deciding he might as well have someone to talk to while he tried to piece things together. "First of all, as many permutations as there are of everyone in the Arthurian legends, there are probably more of Morgan le Fay. She certainly seems to have spanned a very wide range of characters. I think it's fascinating."

"In some she is a sister or lover," Ganos Lal said, nodding, "in others, a healer or a spirit of the wild, and, in yet others, an evil witch."

"Usually some combination of those," Daniel said.

"Perhaps people did not know how else to explain all of her characteristics," she suggested.

Daniel nodded. "I'm sure that's true, but I wish I knew what her intentions were. No one is just an evil witch for no reason. I mean, she's just...she's against Merlin and Arthur most of the time, and Merlin was an Ancient, too, according to"--he raised his voice--"what little about the Ancients the Others let me read!" He returned to a normal volume. "But what about everyone else in Camelot? Was there some sort of war between them for power? Was she called evil because Arthur was the hero?"

Ganos Lal had pursed her lips, though he thought he saw a barely-concealed smile. "Yelling at the Others will not help you, Daniel Jackson," she advised.

"Yeah, I know," he said, and held up the book he was reading. "But wouldn't you be annoyed if your books had blank pages everywhere?"

She considered him, then said, "So I know now what interests you about Morgan le Fay. But why seek out her stories in the first place?"

He shrugged. "I'm just wondering about the Ancients, and she and Merlin are among the few names I have to go on. You know, the Ancients left so much...culture, and, and...and technology behind, and yet..."

"What?"

"I don't mind mysteries," he told her. "But I'm also not usually constrained to books with blank pages!" he yelled at the ceiling.

"It is not the search for answers the frustrates you," she observed, "but the fact that the answers are being deliberately withheld."

"Yeah," he agreed. "But it's okay. I've spent my whole career working around restrictions. I'll figure it out eventually. Hey--wait...you said you were alive during Morgan's time? And Merlin's, presumably."

She tilted her head, then corrected, "I had already Ascended by then...but yes, I did have some interest in observing the happenings on Earth at that time."

"During King Arthur's reign," Daniel said, reaching for another book as he spoke.

"Yes," she said. "Ambrosius Aurelianus. That is the Arthur of which you speak."

"Wow." Daniel stared at the pages. "What I don't understand," he said, "is why there were Ancients on Earth several hundred years ago. And if they were there, why aren't they there anymore, or why aren't their descendants anywhere to be found?"

"Perhaps," Ganos Lal suggested, "they felt that it was not their place to take the Tau'ri's matters into their own hands."

"That's ridiculous," he said absently, scanning quickly down a page about Ambrosius Aurelianus--his history, his mythology, his links to Arthur, Uther, and Merlin... "Or, rather, I hope it's not true, because if it is, it means the Ancients are a lot more heartless than I always imagined."

She was quiet for a while after he said that. "Their time had passed," she finally said. "I suspect they felt it was time for them to leave."

Daniel looked up. "Oh, please. Help from the Ancients and their knowledge and technology could have prevented a lot of suffering. Merlin obviously thought that. He didn't have qualms about using his power--his genetic advancements or technology, whichever it was--to serve his cause. Or to serve his king and people, as the case was."

"Merlin, as you call him," Ganos Lal said, "was, in fact, Moros."

"Moros," Daniel repeated. "O...kay. That...doesn't mean anything to me."

"An Ancient," she clarified. "He merely took the appearance and identity of a Tau'ri, as Myrddin, Merlynum, Merlin. Can you tell me the implications of that?"

Feeling like he was being lectured, Daniel said, "So he lied. I'm all for letting the truth be known at all times, in theory. But if it takes a deception to do some good...well, given that I died on an undercover assignment, I can hardly say I don't understand that need."

But she shook her head. "It is not the deception that should disturb you, Daniel Jackson, but rather the fact that Merlin was the most powerful person on Earth then. Do you know what that kind of power can do to a man? The belief that he had the right to kill in the name of his chosen king, perhaps, or to manipulate events and politics to his liking? And what do the stories say of Myrddin?"

"They say a lot of things," Daniel said uneasily.

"That his abilities drove him mad, for example?" Ganos Lal prompted.

He nodded. "I guess so."

"Would you put a man above that simply because he was Ancient? Think of all that power in the hands of a man driven nearly mad with his obsessions."

Daniel leaned back in his chair, looking up at her thoughtfully. "Well, they say history is written by the victors," he conceded. "I guess it's not just Morgan's alleged story I should be questioning, but also Merlin's, since they were both lying in some ways. If one side was biased, the other probably was, too. He's depicted more ambiguously in the Prose Merlin and the Vulgate Cycle, for instance."

"It's important to keep an open mind," she agreed.

"Wait, but...wait," he said, thinking. "If Merlin and Morgan were contemporaries, why do you say Merlin was the most powerful person on Earth, not both of them? In fact, a lot of the legends say he was her teacher, which implies he was more powerful--what does that really mean when you take the 'magic' assumption out of it? He was better at technology? He had more technology? He had more political influence?"

She folded her hands on the table and looked at them, as if thinking. "That Merlin was more powerful than Morgan is a conclusion about which you should be suspicious," she said. "Perhaps Merlin was more inclined to use the advantages he had to solve the Tau'ri's problems."

"Which would...okay," he said. "So Morgan wasn't competing with Merlin, exactly; she was trying to stop him from using his technology to help people."

"Simplistic," Ganos Lal said, "but an adequate explanation."

Daniel made a face. "Then maybe I do agree with Morgan's portrayal as the evil one, or the less good one." When she looked surprised again, he said, "You disagree?"

"Not every tragedy attributed to Morgan le Fay was truly her doing," she said.

"That's not the point--what was she doing?" he countered. "Standing around, trying to stop the person who actually wanted to help people, even if he didn't always succeed? That's as bad as..." He flipped open to a page. "...as...uh...sending a plague to the planet Vagonbrei, for example--"

"That one wasn't Morgan's doing," Ganos Lal said. "It was a natural illness that the people of Vagonbrei blamed on her. In fact, Morgan was never on that planet at all. It's far more likely that Ambrosius and his knights--Merlin's pawns--were the ones who inadvertently carried the infectious parasite to Vagonbrei during their travels. It is all well and good to make an effort, but the deadly results of Merlin's exploits speak for themselves."

That was different. "Arthur was one of Merlin's pawns," Daniel repeated. That was a rather telling choice of interpretation.

Ganos Lal turned to Daniel's bookshelf and pulled out yet another book that he knew hadn't been there before. "Tales from Camelot," she said, handing it to him. "Perhaps you will find something rather different from the Tau'ri tales."

"There was a non-Tau'ri Camelot?" Daniel said excitedly, already opening the book.

"Next time we meet," she said, "perhaps we can discuss Merlin and Morgan again."

"Yeah, I'd love to--" Daniel started, looking up, then stopped. She had disappeared.

...x...

Once, the sound of whistling startled him, and he looked up to see a heavyset man in a trench coat scanning the shelves. As if noticing his gaze, the man paused, turned toward him, and winked.

Taken aback at the acknowledgement of his existence, Daniel looked around, saw no one, and pointed to himself, mouthing, Me?

The man shrugged. "Having a good time studying?"

"Uh...sure," Daniel said.

With a grin, the man in the trench coat waved, then disappeared.

Daniel frowned at the spot where he'd just been. "Huh," he said aloud.

The man appeared again a second later. "I'm Jim, by the way," he said, and then vanished again.

...x...

"Daniel," Oma said.

"I'm reading, Oma," Daniel said, not looking up.

"What did Ganos Lal want?" she said.

"We were talking. That's all." He glanced at her. "She offered to leave, you know. I asked her to stay so we could talk."

Oma raised her eyebrows. "Let me guess," she said. "About Morgan le Fay."

"She knows a lot about Morgan," Daniel said, "although maybe it just seems that way in comparison because none of the Others will let me learn anything about the Ancients, and, by the way, Oma, neither will you, so she's the only one telling me something useful."

The silence that followed pulled him away from his book to find Oma standing before him with her arms crossed.

"I didn't... I don't mean you've never told me anything useful," he said, a little guilty. "It's just--"

"You are becoming obsessed," Oma said coolly. "You've made progress, Daniel, but ever since you stopped brooding over the SGC this last time, you've done nothing but sit here and research the tales of King Arthur."

"I started that before I met Ganos Lal," Daniel pointed out, "and that is not all I do. Oma, you don't think she's corrupting me or anything? I asked her, and she said she's not spying on us."

"You...asked," she repeated, then unfolded her arms and closed her eyes. "Only you, Daniel, would ask a master of deception whether she was deceiving you."

"I'm not an idiot," he said. "But I tried to think of any loopholes in what she said and couldn't find anything. Direct dishonesty would probably be a bit of an impediment to the state of mind one needs to achieve for Ascension."

"That's not always true," she said.

"Really?" he said. Then again, he hadn't always been honest in his life--or afterlife--and he was here, so perhaps he had to be more careful about how literally he took things.

Oma waved her hand. "But in her case, it probably is. Just remember--you can't trust her." She turned to leave.

Before she could walk out, Daniel said, "Well, then, how do I know I can trust you?"

She stopped.

Daniel stared at her unmoving figure and, for a moment, wondered if he was going to watch her turned back until she walked out. Still, even though he did believe Oma was trustworthy, he didn't quite regret asking the question. "I would have thought," Oma said evenly, "that I've given you more than enough reason to trust me by now."

"And...and you have," he said quickly. "Look--I trust you. But I can't distrust someone on your word alone without some reason. You know that."

Oma turned and leaned in the doorway to his library, her arms folded again over her chest. He wondered if she had modeled that mannerism after Jack or his other friends, too, like so many of the mannerisms she took on in here. "I told you before that each of the Others has a different opinion about the way things should be done. Ganos Lal is no exception."

"But...since the Others are always mad at you, isn't that a good thing, if she doesn't really agree with them, either?" Daniel said.

"There are many ways to disagree," Oma said. "Ganos Lal has at times followed a path more extreme than my own and at times followed the Others' laws in their strictest form."

"What do you think she wants?" he asked.

"That," she said, "I don't know. And that's why I don't trust her--why I wouldn't trust her with you if I had the choice to control your meetings with the Others."

Daniel thought about that. "It's not like the Others want to talk to me, for the most part," he said, "so you don't really need to worry about that."

"I am an outcast for what I do," Oma said matter-of-factly. "They paint you with the same brush, and you haven't given them a reason not to do so."

"Well, I'll be careful with Ganos Lal and...and whomever else I meet. I promise I will."

He could tell she wanted more than that--a promise to stop talking to any Others without supervision, perhaps--but she only nodded. "Do be careful around them," she said.

Before she could leave, two of the Others sitting in the corner looked up suddenly. Daniel froze, not sure whether he'd done something wrong, but the Others weren't looking at him--instead, they rose from their seats and walked away.

"What was that?" Daniel asked.

Oma shook her head. "Nothing you need to worry about."

"Oma," he said, exasperated.

"The Others like order," she allowed. "You're not the only one who likes to tweak their order sometimes. They're just going to keep an eye on things. It happens sometimes."

"Oh," Daniel said, and wondered if the Others could tell how much he wished he knew just what sort of disorder was going on and whether or not he could add anything to it.

XXXXX

It was when SG-1 was stuck on the Alpha Site with rebel Jaffa and Tok'ra that the real problem of Jacob and Lantash's blending surfaced. Selmak's presence might have calmed the masses, but Martouf and Daniel watched together as the Tok'ra began to whisper about what it meant to have a Tau'ri host blended with a symbiote who had spent so much time on Tau'ri.

"They do realize there's an assassin around, right?" Daniel said. "'The enemy of my enemy...'"

"The problem is that they do not know who their enemy is," Martouf pointed out. "That is one of the most dangerous skills of an ashrak, through either disguise or cloaking technology."

In the end, it was the ashrak who brought them all together, but not without a few casualties. "He needs to be careful," Martouf said, watching Jacob help with the cleanup when all was over. "Battle lines are being drawn, and some may fall between the Tok'ra's ideals and those of Earth."

"Which side do you think they'll come down on?" Daniel asked.

"The right one," Martouf said. "But I doubt it will be the easy one."

...x...

In any case, relations remained cordial enough that Malek helped when SG-1 met Egeria, the Tok'ra queen, during Jonas's first real mission on the team. Daniel fetched Martouf to watch, too, and the man was suitably awestruck as he saw Egeria for the first time. She seemed...wise. Merciful, kind, and just what he'd imagined the great Tok'ra queen would be like. It was easy to understand why she had gained the reputation on Earth of being a just advisor to a good king. Daniel wished he could have met her.

Besides, the Tok'ra and the SGC received a drug from her that could replace an immune system, the same way that a symbiote replaced the immune system of a Jaffa. No one could complain about that.

XXXXX

There was a...a thing.

Daniel didn't know what else to call it, but it was sort of dark and had lots of fire, although, since something was stopping him from going in (the Others, most likely), he supposed that was probably meant as a deterrent rather than a representation of reality. Or maybe it actually was just that dark and fiery, which meant it was a place he wouldn't have wanted to go as a human. As an Ascended being with no physical flesh to be seared from his nonexistent bones, though, it might have been interesting, not least because someone clearly didn't want him to see it.

"Have you seen this?" Daniel asked when he'd dragged Martouf with him to look. "What is it?"

"I don't know," Martouf said. "This is a galaxy far from any we saw on the lower plane."

"Maybe it's populated by fire-creatures."

Martouf seemed amused. "Or maybe," he said, "it does not fulfill the precise requirements for life to exist, and it is not populated at all."

"But then why can't we see it?" Daniel pointed out. "You try it. Look more closely and see for yourself."

After Martouf had tried it and been rebuffed, he stopped and shrugged. "Have you asked Oma?"

Oma was on Kheb, as he'd expected, but when he sought her out, she had hidden herself away and a monk was speaking to a small party of Jaffa. Daniel stood back and waited.

After SG-1's brush with Oma on Kheb and the small army that had been sent to search for Shifu, the secret of Kheb had spread surprisingly fast and far. These days, it was almost impossible for any Jaffa not to know of the movement spawned by Bra'tac and Teal'c, and there were occasionally small groups of Jaffa who found their way to Kheb, too.

It had taken him some time to realize, but Oma didn't really have power anywhere but Kheb, at least not on the lower planes. Elsewhere, she could speak if she was careful about it--as she had done with Daniel while he had lain dying--and stop other Ascended from misusing their power--as she had done with Daniel on Abydos, to teach a lesson. Anything else, from lighting a candle to stirring a thunderstorm, was something she could only do on Kheb.

He rethought his assessment of the way she appeared when she visited him on his own terrain or anywhere other than on Kheb. Perhaps she conformed to the characteristics his mind expected--idioms, speech patterns--because she had no other choice, not because she was consciously picking his brain. Perhaps the Others had bound what abilities she had, except here on Kheb, and what was physical form to them now but something they chose and manipulated in their minds?

None of the Jaffa Ascended that day, but they would at least spread the word of Ascension and of Kheb to other Jaffa. If nothing else, it would undermine the Goa'uld even more.

"Yes?" Oma said once they were gone. "What do you need, Daniel?"

"There's this thing," Daniel said. "I can't figure out what it is."

She looked at him out of the corner of her eye. "I see," she said.

"Really?" he said.

"No," she said.

"Okay," he said, starting over. "I was wandering around, and there's this...it's like an entire block of existence I can't get into. At first, I thought it was just a couple of physical galaxies that were closed to me for some reason, but there are corresponding parts of the higher planes, too, and..." He trailed off, unsure how to explain, but she looked thoughtful. "You know what I'm talking about, right, that whole...thing?"

"Are you talking about origin?" Oma said.

Interested, he perked up. "Origin? Of what? Of life?"

She shook her head. "Daniel, if the Others are restricting your access to something, why would you think that I would be able to tell you?"

"They don't watch you on Kheb," he said.

"Mm," she said. "Not completely true...but in this case, I'm not sure I want you to know, either."

"Why would you not want me to know something?"

"Because you have given me little reason to have confidence in what you would do with that knowledge," she said.

Frustrated, Daniel stood, noting that his robes had changed from that of Oma's disciples to his familiar Abydonian garb. Her eyes didn't leave him as he paced to the doorway of her temple and back. "How am I supposed to understand anything when no one will tell me? I'm not even asking for answers--I'm just asking not to be blocked when I look for answers! At this point, Ganos Lal is the only one willing to give me information the Others are withholding."

"What?" Oma said, standing up. "Ganos Lal did what?"

"It was just a book."

"Tell me what she gave you," she said. "Daniel, tell me."

He took a breath and let it out slowly. More calmly, he explained, "There's not a lot on the Ancients that the Others will let me learn. I found a reference to a lost city, and it looked important, but I turned away, and as soon as I looked for it again, I couldn't find it. And of all the names I've found--like Chaya, Trebal--the only two I could match definitely to any legend or history were Merlin and Morgan le Fay--"

"Which is why you've been researching them lately," she said, nodding.

"--and still, the only references I have access to are books written by Tau'ri scholars, things I could've read on Earth if I'd chosen to. Ganos Lal gave me something on Camelot--the planet, not the one on Earth. It's not a straightforward history or anything groundbreaking; it's mostly stories passed down by Camelot's people, but still, it's not a Tau'ri book, and it says some interesting things about Merlin. So I assume it's one of the things the Others weren't letting me see. It's not the first time she's given me a book to read, either."

"Ganos Lal just...gave information to you?" Oma said, frowning.

"Yes," Daniel said.

Oma folded her hands in front of herself and stared at the floor. Eventually, she shook her head. "I don't understand her," she said. "She follows the Others and yet pushes them further than any of us would dare."

Daniel shrugged. "Anyway, apparently the Others don't want me to know much about the Ancients, and they don't want me to know about that other place, either--the origin of...whatever it's the origin of. Are they afraid I'll do something wrong if I see whatever it is?"

"Probably," Oma said. "I warned you they would be wary of you, and that was before you tried to help Jack O'Neill and Martouf Ascend."

"What about Martouf, then? He's been more obedient than I have, and he's been blocked, too."

"Martouf is still new here. I doubt it will be long before he is more accepted by the Others."

Daniel shook his head. "All of this starting to sound like abo ragl ma slokha. All anyone will tell me is that I have to listen because something horrible will happen if I disobey."

"Abo... The man with the burned leg?" she repeated, then said, "Ah. The monster who eats little children who don't listen to their parents. I suppose you were told that story often as a child."

"No," he said pointedly. "My parents didn't try to frighten me into submission with monsters. That didn't happen until I Ascended to some enlightened plane of existence."

Oma looked away from him for a moment, and then back. "That's too bad," she said. "And stop trying to guess an answer out of me."

XXXXX

Sam dreamed that she was in her lab, building a naquadria reactor. It wasn't the first time she'd dreamed of something like this--not necessarily with a reactor, but sometimes with a program or some crystals--and, for the first time, Daniel decided to slip in and join her in the one place he might talk to her without her being spooked.

Daniel leaned against the other side of the lab bench to watch her work. "Whoa, don't touch," Sam said, slapping his hand lightly when he ventured too near within her dream.

"How's it going?" Daniel asked.

"Well," Sam said, sounding optimistic, "if the results of the maclarium test pan out, I think we can extrapolate to make a pie with the naquadria and insert the filling directly into the reactor. It might go a long way toward stabilizing the hyperdrive we've been working on."

Trying not to grin, Daniel nodded solemnly. "Make sure you leave a slice for Jack."

"Nah," Sam said. "The colonel doesn't like naquadria. Too radioactive or something."

"Sounds like him," he agreed. "You think it'll work?"

"I'm hopeful," she said, shrugging. "Dad says it looks like it'll work."

Daniel balanced his chin in his hand as he watched her. "Oh? Has he visited lately?"

"He comes by sometimes," she said, shrinking a little bit until Daniel was staring at a young girl, no older than himself. "It's hard to talk to him, though. He doesn't get it."

"He's going through a lot," Daniel said carefully. "What doesn't he get?"

Sam shrugged again, despondent, then straightened up and became her usual, tall self. "I'm a big girl, though. I'm fine. I mean, things are actually...pretty good. I'm happy for Martouf and all."

"You have friends," he told her. "The team. Janet. You can always talk to your friends if...you know, if you need to. Just because things are good, that doesn't mean they're easy. I know it's awkward with Jack sometimes, because of your positions, but--"

"I'm fine, really," she said, reaching up to ruffle his hair. With the casual, oblivious logic of dreams, she added, "Hey, by the way, where are you working these days? There's a fish tank on your desk."

"I noticed that," he said. "Do you think I could work here with you for a while?"

"Sure," Sam said easily.

Daniel opened a book and read, enjoying the familiar sound of her tinkering next to him.

"There's this new guy," Sam said suddenly. Daniel looked up and found that she was looking straight at him, her reactor gone. "Jonas. They're his fish."

"I know," Daniel said. "He really seems to like those fish."

"Yeah, he does," she said. She opened a tool drawer and dug through it. "I think we like him."

"Good," he said.

She stopped digging and looked at him again. "You think so?"

Daniel shrugged. "As long as he's got your six."

"He works hard, but he's not very experienced yet. Well, he survived Replicators, which were pretty nasty, but that's not really the same as most combat situations--"

"You guys can handle that. There are other things that are important, too."

Sam nodded. "Yeah, he's got our back. And I can talk to him about...about stuff."

"Then that's good," Daniel said.

"It's not the same," she said.

"Things change, Sam," he said. She nodded. "I miss you, too."

"Yeah." She smiled. "All right." He went back to reading beside her.

...x...

"Daniel," Oma sighed when she found him there. "Get out of her head."

Swallowing hard, Daniel closed his book and said, "Uh, Sam? I have to go now."

"Where?" she said, not looking up.

Did it matter what he said? Even if she remembered this in the morning, she would think nothing of it. "I have to sit in on SG-11's next mission briefing," he improvised.

"Oh, that's right," Sam said, as if she'd expected him to say that. "See you in the morning, then." She looked up and suddenly looked concerned. "Daniel, is something wrong?"

Daniel shook his head. "No, of course not," he lied. He quickly stood up and managed to give her a smile before he turned toward the door of her lab. "See you later, Sam."

"'Bye," she called after him.

...x...

Oma didn't look quite as angry as she could have when he finally stood before her. "Why do you do this?" she said.

Daniel stared at his feet.

"Look at me," Oma said.

He looked at her. "I just wanted to talk to her," he said.

"Manipulating a person's dreams..."

"I didn't do anything to change her opinions or influence her actions," he said.

"Maybe not," she said, "but this a dangerous road you're walking."

"I won't do it again," Daniel said. "Can I go?"

"Don't do it again," she warned. "Not frivolously like this." He nodded and turned away.

XXXXX

"What have you learned?" Ganos Lal said the next time they met. She paused, though, when she saw he was reading about the SGC, not about their shared pastime. "I don't mean to intrude--"

"No, it's okay," Daniel said, and held up his latest memo. "Do you know about the SGC on Earth?"

"A bit," she said, glancing at the sheet he was showing her.

"They're going public with the program," he said. "Well, slightly more public than before. Apparently, Anubis's threat is too great to conceal from the entire rest of the world anymore."

Ganos Lal raised her eyebrows but didn't look particularly interested in intraplanetary politics.

"There's a powerful man--politically powerful--trying to convince them to hand control of the Stargate to the NID," he explained. "That's a...an organization with sort of fuzzy and ill-defined morals. I suppose it would be considered a frivolous use of my powers if I dropped into the meeting to convince them otherwise?"

"You know the answer to that, Daniel Jackson," she said.

Daniel reluctantly put the memo down. "Right. Anyway--"

The library shivered around him, just for a second, then steadied again.

"Um," he said, looking around warily. Ganos Lal stiffened and glanced over her shoulder, then turned back, her gaze assessing. "I didn't do anything," he said quickly. "Is it just me, or was this not the first time that's happened lately?"

She folded her arms. "To whom have you spoken since your Ascension?" she asked.

A bit apprehensive, he said, "Not many people. You, Oma Desala, Shifu son of Sha'uri, Martouf. Um. Oh, one other person, too, called Jim, but that was literally an exchange of about three words. Why?"

"I was curious," Ganos Lal said, smiling briefly at him. "It is nothing to worry about."

But that wasn't it. There was more to it, but he really hadn't done anything wrong this time and had come to understand that he wouldn't learn anything by pushing people for information. "Right," Daniel said again. His library had settled again, and there didn't seem to be anything he could do, so he put that aside. "Anyway, I read the book you gave me."

"And?"

"And I think you didn't like Merlin very much," he said. "Obviously, he wasn't perfect. Maybe he was a bit more evil than I'd thought--or, at least, more careless--but everything you've told me so far has been to make out Merlin as the wrongdoer, including the stories in this book."

"Perhaps he was," she said.

"Maybe," Daniel agreed. "I don't think it's that simple. I think you liked Morgan better--my question is 'why?'"

Ganos Lal gazed impassively at him. "I think that Morgan tried very hard to do what she believed was right. And what is the conclusion you have drawn of Merlin?"

"That..." Daniel said slowly, thinking through the little he had been able to read and see, "...he tried to do what he thought was right, too. He had some sort of quest. This...this Sangreal thing, maybe, or whatever objective the Sangreal represents. I think he had good intentions and was...overzealous in his methods."

"Such as the Black Knight he created to guard his research," she said. "Many innocents were killed by that guardian."

"See? There you go again," he said, gesturing with a hand.

"I'm only speaking the truth," she said.

"Come on--Merlin's Black Knight guarded his research and killed people who tried to get at it, but Morgan le Fay had a whole set of traps and a dragon to guard her..." Daniel frowned, paging back through the book he'd just been reading. "...her whatever she was hiding. No, wait! It says she was guarding the Sangreal, too! She..." He paused, thinking. "Huh. So Merlin was looking for some Holy Grail--metaphorical, I assume--and Morgan was trying to stop him from getting it. I guess I'd need to know what the Sangreal was to make any sort of judgment."

"Perhaps it was dangerous," Ganos Lal suggested. "Perhaps she was protecting people from Merlin's misuse of it."

"That's possible. Still, consider what he accomplished," Daniel countered. "Whatever your opinion concerning Ambrosius, you have to admit Merlin helped his king and his people accomplish great things."

"They weren't his people," she pointed out.

"That didn't make them less important," he answered immediately, and then stopped as her words sank in. That was a phrase he'd heard before--recently, in fact, and rather often, though not specifically in reference to the Ancients. "Wait. What was Merlin searching for that was so important, this Sangreal?" he asked.

Ganos Lal hesitated, then said, "A weapon--one far too powerful to put in the possession of one man, especially one who was willing to decide it was right to help a king kill thousands as a stepping stone on the path to accomplishing his goal. Can you imagine the destruction that kind of power would cause?"

He could, all too clearly. Still... "Pardon my bluntness," he said, "but this is what annoys me about all of you up here. If Merlin was so terrible, why didn't you step in and stop him?"

Instead of the same old answer, though, she said, "Morgan le Fay did that adequately."

"Right, I noticed," Daniel said. "But...why?"

"She was an Ancient, just as Merlin was," Ganos Lal reminded him. "What he did came dangerously close--too close--to exposing himself as a superior being to the Tau'ri. Ambrosius and his knights already followed his every whim; someone had to stop him from going too far."

Daniel closed the book. "A superior being? He was human, too--just with better technology."

"I meant that he was more powerful than they were, not that he was possessing of some moral superiority," she clarified. "The result is the same. In any case, Merlin was something rather more than human."

"He was Ascended, wasn't he?" Daniel demanded. "That's why he had more power than everyone else around; that's why it was millennia after the Ancients died out but he was still around. That's why Ascended beings like you think he was the villain for stepping in."

"He...was not Ascended, no," Ganos Lal said.

"But...wasn't he an Ancient?" he asked, confused. "They'd died out or left by then, hadn't they?"

Ganos Lal raised her eyebrows. "He was an Ancient. He was simply...more than that, as well."

Daniel pushed down his irritation when it became clear this was one of those things she wasn't going to tell him. "And Morgan le Fay?" he said. "Was she 'more than Ancient,' too?"

"Morgan was very likely more powerful than Merlin at the time," she said, "but held back for fear of doing too much, like he did."

"Then she was a coward," he said.

"Do you feel Merlin's ends justified his means?" she said.

Taken aback, Daniel said, "I don't know. I think it depends on what those ends were--sometimes, someone just has to act. But when there were lives at stake, I don't think Morgan's means justified her end."

"Why should Merlin have been allowed to decide who should live and how?" she said, her tone more curious than condemning.

"He had the power to help!" Daniel said.

"Having power does not mean that one must use it," she replied.

Incredulous, he gaped at her for a minute, not sure why he was so surprised--it was what he'd been hearing all along, after all, but it was the first time he'd heard someone say it so plainly. "So the way you see it," he said, "Morgan was the good one, because even if she had the power to stop a disaster, she would have stood by and let people die instead." When she started to answer, he barreled on, "I mean, no, sure, it's okay, because they were inferior to her, right?"

"You are understandably equating their dilemma to your own difficulties in obeying our rules," Ganos Lal said. "But--"

"I'll equate it to whatever I want!" he burst out. He'd had this same argument before with Oma, but at some point, it had started to sound less convincing. "It's like the Tollan for...for looking down on people less advanced than they are, and all of you for--"

"And what of your SGC?" she countered. "Have they not, in the past, refused to disclose information or trade technology for fear that another lesser society would use it for evil?"

"At least we never called another human society the 'lesser,'" he said, "and okay, some people probably thought it in private, but we don't make policy based on judgments of worth. We gave aid when we could, even if we didn't always give weapons--"

"Because you feared they would be misused," Ganos Lal said, taking a step closer, and if Daniel had been any less frustrated with everything, he might have been intimidated.

"Because if the SGC ever did something to unbalance another society, they didn't have the power to control or...or solve the situation afterward," he said. "The SGC has themselves to defend, and that has to be their first concern. But Morgan and Merlin had all that power. Maybe if more had taken Merlin's path and he hadn't had to avoid Morgan all the time, the Ancients could've accomplished more! This is so typical of you Ascended beings, that you'd think Merlin was wrong for trying to help. You'd rather sit by and watch instead of using your power to do good."

She frowned disapprovingly at him but did not argue directly with his point. "You are one of us now, Daniel Jackson--you hinder only yourself when you speak of 'we' and 'you.'"

"Funny how it doesn't seem like I'm one of you," he said, irritated. "I'm treated as an inferior being to all of you. What is it you're all so ashamed of that you don't want me to see?"

"Perhaps it is not our shame," she said, her voice suddenly, absolutely emotionless so that he couldn't even tell if she was hiding something, "but rather our fear of what you would do with that kind of power in your hands. You are not incorruptible, Daniel Jackson, just because you managed to achieve Ascension."

He stared at her, realizing what he should have realized long ago. "You don't want me here," he said flatly, very firmly not caring what they thought. "You and all the Others. I'm the...the bastard child among all you pure-hearted people. That's why there are so many restrictions on me--why I can't find things they don't want me to learn."

"Do you know why it is forbidden for one Ascended being to help a mortal Ascend?" she said. "Those who are truly good will achieve Ascension on their own, as was done--"

"Well, things change," he snapped. "The problem is with existing for so long... It's the same thing the Goa'uld and the Asgard have suffered: you don't change and you stop questioning things, and then when the universe changes around you, you sit back and shake your heads in disapproval until those changes sneak up and stab you in the back."

"Is that what you truly believe, Daniel Jackson?"

"Yes!"

"And where," Ganos Lal said, "would you draw the line to decide where to stop? Change is very well, but there is potential for great evil among those like us."

"I thought no one could get here without being 'good at heart,'" he bit out.

"Yet some have."

"Well, I'm sorry to be the stain on your pure-hearted world."

She frowned. "I wasn't talking about you."

"Let me ask you something," he said. "If you saw a village on the lower planes dying of an illness, would you save them?"

"I could not," she said.

"Yes, you could!" he snapped. "You wouldn't."

"It is not for me--or for any of us--to meddle in the ways of nature," she said. "There is a balance that cannot be disrupted."

"Then you would have as good as killed them," he said. "You know what? If that's what you mean by 'truly good,' then I'm proud that you don't count me among your exalted number."

"You would interfere in the life and death of millions," Ganos Lal said. "Is that correct?"

Daniel rubbed a hand over his face in frustration. "No. Maybe. I know it's wrong on some level, so you don't have to quote the reasons at me. But...but maybe it's just as wrong not to. I don't know how much I can take of doing nothing because of a set of rules I'll never fully understand."

"You are not the only one who feels that way," she told him. "But I would take great caution with those views."

"Right--it's evidence of my impurity, yes? Is that why I can't find any of the Others to talk to them? Even when they come here to spy on me, they still won't talk to me."

"I have told you before," Ganos Lal said, "that I am not here to spy on you."

"Then why are you here?" he demanded.

She was still infuriatingly calm in the face of his growing anger. "You speak from the heart," she said. "I find you intriguing."

"You shouldn't listen to me, then," he said darkly. "Whatever comes out of my impure heart might taint yours."

"I didn't mean to say that you don't deserve Ascension," Ganos Lal said. "I believe you are essentially good, but you must understand that there are rules that--"

"Thank you for the books," Daniel said. "I appreciate the help."

He wasn't looking at her anymore, so all he could feel was her consideration on him as he returned to looking at his news on the SGC. It felt childish, but he didn't really care--unless he adopted their way of thinking, he was never going to be anything but a child and a problem to them, and at the moment, the thought of willingly being like them was terrifying.

Finally, a book was placed gently on the desk next to him. He glanced at it--another one he'd never seen before about Merlin and the quest for the grail--but before he could ask Ganos Lal about it, she had disappeared.

A low whistle came from the doorway.

Daniel looked up tiredly and saw the grinning, large man in the trench coat he'd met briefly that one time before, this time leaning casually in his doorway. Jim, Daniel remembered. "They're really somethin', huh?" Jim said, jerking a thumb out the door as if Ganos Lal had actually, physically walked out that way.

"Uh," Daniel said. Despite himself, he looked around to see if there was someone else in the room.

"I'm talking to you, kid," Jim said, chuckling. "Can I come in?"

"Uh," Daniel repeated, then shook himself and said, "Well, yeah, I guess. Sure. Come in."

Jim produced a pair of cups from somewhere and pointed to a steaming pot of coffee Daniel hadn't realized was there. "You mind if I help myself? I'll get you a cup, too."

"Okay," Daniel said, thoroughly lost. "That's not really coffee, though." It seemed he had metaphysical coffee brewing in his subconscious. Jack would have found it hilarious.

With a mischievous wink, Jim ignored the pot and filled both cups with a snap of his fingers before setting them down on the table. "To the well-prepared mind..." he started, then shrugged. "Ah, you know how it goes. The coffee's just the way you like it, promise. Your mind, after all."

Daniel stared. "Right. So, who exactly are you?"

"Oh--that was rude of me," Jim said, extending a hand. "Call me Jim."

"No, I remember, you came by before," Daniel said, shaking the man's hand. "I'm--"

"Daniel Jackson," he said, still smiling. "I know about you, of course. You're, uh, the guy who's really bad at following the rules, if you don't mind my saying."

"I guess you could say that," he admitted, a little wary. He picked up his cup and drank from it, despite knowing it wasn't there and that he could make it taste like anything he wanted--the imagined action made things feel more normal, like he was home instead of stranded here where he wasn't sure he belonged and everyone else was sure he didn't belong. "Why, what are you going to do?"

"Me?" Jim said, looking surprised, then laughed, waving a hand dismissively. "Ah, I'm not gonna do anything to you, kid."

"Please don't call me that," Daniel heard himself say.

Jim raised an eyebrow as he settled himself into a chair, studying Daniel. "Oh. Jack O'Neill used to call you 'kid.' Yeah, everyone misses the little things about being alive--don't sweat it."

"Look," Daniel said, "if you're just here to tell me how unenlightened I am..."

"No, you've really got the wrong idea about me," Jim insisted. He looked over his shoulder, then folded his hands on the table and leaned in close to Daniel. "I know how you feel. These guys up here..." He shook his head. "Gets on your nerves sometimes, doesn't it? Especially for someone like you...well, it's gotta sting."

"What do you mean, 'someone like me?'" Daniel said. "How do you people always know things about me?"

"Well, all knowledge is...out there," Jim said, gesturing vaguely with a hand. "Not hard to find once you know how. And you..." He drummed his fingers on the desk for a minute, as if searching for the right words. "It's like this," he finally said. "You're a catalyst."

Daniel felt his eyebrows shoot up. "I beg your pardon?"

"Not just you, obviously," Jim said. "But you don't get onto the big, bad SG-1 without that, uh...that spark of adventure. Jack O'Neill can start a revolution among aliens without even trying, Carter's a revolution in science on her own, Teal'c's the vanguard of the Jaffa uprising, and you...well, you push things, don't you? Everything you find, you can't help but push. They tell you not to rock the boat, so you go and rock five boats instead."

"I've been told that before," Daniel conceded, beginning to warm to the man's casual demeanor after no contact with anyone but Oma, Shifu, and Ganos Lal for a long time. He hadn't found this kind of casual conversation since he'd been alive. "I don't see what your point is, though."

Jim shrugged. "Listen, kiddo--ah! Daniel," he amended with a wink. "You stir things up. And that's the way you like it, isn't it? Count how many major events in the galaxy you've started just by opening your mouth. Not alone, of course, but you did as much as you coulda done, under the circumstances--I mean, the SGC put you on the bench as much as the Others do."

"That was different," Daniel said, starting to wonder just how many people had been watching him while he had been alive.

"Not really," Jim said. "The Others think they're protecting you, too, and don't tell me you didn't scare SGC as much as you scare the Others. They thought you were going to screw things up all the time."

"To be fair," he said, "I did screw up quite a lot, especially in the beginning."

"Sometimes, someone's just gotta take that risk," Jim said. He pointed a finger at Daniel. "And you were the one who took 'em, even before they said you were allowed to. Some of these Others could learn a thing or two from people like you. Someone's gotta push the limits, and you've just always gotta go that one step further, don't you, Daniel?"

"Are you...consciously quoting Jack O'Neill?" Daniel said, but he was more amused than annoyed. Not only was Jim actually talking to him, but he was also the first Daniel had seen of one of the Others who didn't act like...well, like all the rest of the Others.

Jim shrugged. "I'm just saying. It's gotta--"

A bookshelf fell with a clatter.

Daniel jumped, staring at the messy pile of books on the floor in amazement. "What...how...how does that happen if this whole room is in my mind?" He stood, intending to pick it back up, and found it restored to its original place before he could take more than a step.

"Ah-ha!" Jim said, snapping his fingers. "That's the beauty of it. Well, not beauty, in the sense of something good...although I suppose that depends on your view."

"I'm not sure I follow."

"That's because you haven't really figured out the way things work around here. You're looking at this whole Ascension business as a way to gain knowledge, but you still don't get it. Don't get me wrong; it's a good start. You just got here. But do you think the Others need to look things up when they want to know something?"

"No," Daniel said. "But these aren't real books. They're just...representations."

"But once you've really got all this down, you'll know what you want to know because you understand how everything around you works, not because you had to look for it. I don't mean just that instinctive understanding of trinkets you get when you peek into the labs in your SGC. You're overlooking entire dimensions."

"Uh," Daniel said. "What does this have to do with that minor earthquake just now?"

"Eventually," Jim said, "you'll understand what disturbances like that mean without having to ask. That was just a representation, too, except it meant that something big was happening--something on the higher planes that everyone except newer folks like you just knew about right away." Just as Daniel was about to sigh in resignation--it seemed Jim wasn't going to explain it, either--Jim explained, "Now, in this case, that was what happens when someone screws up so badly that he gets...well, punished."

"Punished? Really," Daniel said, turning his attention back to the other man and surprised that he was getting an answer after having been brushed off about this by both Oma and Ganos Lal.

"It's a rare event, you know," Jim told him. "That's why it seems to have so much effect, rippling through your little private room here. Well. It used to be rare. There have been a lot of incidences lately. Funny--it just happens to coincide with your stay up here."

"What--I didn't do anything," Daniel protested. "And it's not like I could've influenced anyone; practically no one even talks to me."

"First of all, some of those ripples have been you. That thing Oma did to you when she dragged you to Abydos and yelled at you, rumblings among the Others every time you sit around next to SG-1 and 'talk to yourself.'" Jim made quotes in the air, winking again to show what he thought of Daniel's subliminal influences. He grinned and leaned back in his chair. "It's not just you; a few others stick their necks out, too. Now, some them have probably been encouraged by the stuff you do, and some...well, some people just have their own tipping point, that's all."

With a bit of dread--and some excitement--gathering, Daniel echoed, "'Tipping point?'"

"You know," Jim said, shrugging again, "that point when you decide you've had enough of the Others and this path and all their rules."

"But what does that mean?" Daniel said. "I assume it's more harsh than what Oma does for punishment. What happens to people who just get fed up?"

"Well, I can't predict everything," Jim said. "It depends. I'm just saying--that's what the rumblings are about. If the Others weren't acting like you had the plague, you might hear them gossiping about it, too. Let me tell you, it's not making you any more popular up here."

Indignant, Daniel said, "That's ridiculous! That's not even me. I haven't done anything." Mostly.

"Sure you have," Jim said, laughing. "You've been poking at everything you can get away with."

"Yeah, but...not something...really big," he said, feeling stupid. "I haven't caused disturbances that ripple across realities yet."

"But there's a 'yet,'" Jim said, raising an eyebrow. "Isn't there? Isn't there a point when you'd throw up your hands and say 'to hell with it?'"

Daniel considered that and thought he might be closer to that point than Jim realized.

"You wouldn't be the first," Jim went on. "Even Oma's gotten pretty close a few times. There are other Ascended beings who've gone back down to the lower planes--"

"What?" Daniel blurted, startled.

"Oh, yeah--you didn't know you could do that?"

"Not...well, I guess I knew, but I never thought about that. No one ever mentioned it."

Jim gave him an understanding smile. "You mean, Oma never mentioned it. She wouldn't want her little army getting ideas, deciding it was okay to jump ship."

Daniel opened his mouth, and then closed it. There wasn't any good way to answer that.

"To be fair, most who get here don't want to give all this up," Jim conceded. "But if you want to, you can retake human form and go back down there. 'Course, sometimes, the Others just kick a guy out and leave him in stranded human form somewhere, whether he wants it or not."

"Like Orlin of Velona," Daniel said, wondering why he hadn't thought of that before and then wondering why he was so interested in it now. Was Orlin around somewhere? Was he laying low until the Others stopped watching him so closely, or had he committed one of those rippling 'disturbances?' "Well, he chose human form--of his own will--and then tried to settle on Earth centuries after the Others exiled him."

"Like that," Jim agreed. "Orlin, you said? Don't know him. Why'd he get exiled?"

Daniel made a face. "He gave people defense technology, and they misused it."

Sighing Jim said, "Good intentions. You'd think they'd count for something, eh?"

"Yeah, exactly! The Others wiped out that planet to punish Orlin--and, I mean, the people had arguably become corrupt, but there must've been better ways to deal with the situation."

"Makes you think real hard about some things," Jim said soberly, shaking his head. "After all you've seen and done down there, it's gotta be annoying, how these Others sit around doing nothing. I mean, have you seen the news?"

"What news?" Daniel asked.

In answer, Jim sat back, reached into his coat, and pulled out what looked like a newspaper. "Here," he said, handing it over, "take a look at this."

Daniel frowned, but finally accepted it and opened it to the front page. It didn't take long for one word from a headline to catch his attention. "Anubis," he blurted.

"Heard of him?" Jim said.

"If only I hadn't," Daniel muttered, hastily skimming the article. He glanced up and confided, "If it hadn't been for Anubis's recruiting Osiris and Zipacna and then interrupting a...a really important meeting with the System Lords...well, I might still be alive."

Jim tutted sympathetically. "Anubis is a nasty one, all right," he agreed.

"It says he's found the...Eye of Osiris and the Eye of Seth," Daniel read, glancing up. "I don't, uh... Do you know what that means?"

Leaning close again, Jim said, "You mean...you don't know about the Eyes?"

"Um..." Daniel said. "No."

"Really?" Jim pressed, raising his eyebrow. "The SGC's never heard of the six Eyes?"

"What are the six Eyes?" Daniel said. "I assume you're not talking about biological eyes."

That reminded him of something, though. He frowned, trying to remember when he'd heard that before...he'd been with Robert Rothman at the time, and they had been with SG-1, too, and SG-11, and... 'Not literally a biological eye,' Robert had said, and Teal'c had answered, 'It could be a Goa'uld weapon.'

Oh.

Jim raised his eyebrows. "They're weapons," he whispered, as if confiding a secret. "Anubis is looking for 'em. The SGC's got some of 'em safe, though, right? I mean, I'd hope so."

The Eye of Tiamat, Daniel thought, but... "Why would you think the SGC knows about these Eye...things, much less has any of them?"

"So...so the SGC doesn't have any?" Jim said.

"What are you doing here?" Oma's voice cracked sharply from the doorway.

Jim rolled his eyes before turning around to face her. Even as he puzzled over Jim's words, Daniel found himself resenting her interference even more than usual--finally, someone was talking to him freely, and she was stepping in again. "Oma," Jim said. "It's so good to see you. You never visit me anymore."

"You know the rules," Oma said, taking a step inside. "Get out. Now."

"Oma--" Daniel started.

"No, no, it's okay," Jim said, turning his head enough to give Daniel a rueful smile and a wink. "I'll get out of your way."

"Good," she said coldly.

"Oma!" Daniel repeated.

"Silence, Daniel," she ordered.

"But we were only--"

Jim held up his hands and began to make his way out before their argument could truly start. "I'm going, I'm going," he said. "I know you like him more than me." As he passed her, he added, "I hate when you play favorites, Mother." Oma stiffened but, oddly, made no move to hurry him along. "Well, I guess I should be on my way."

He disappeared out the door before anyone could speak up again, but as soon as he was gone, Daniel asked, "What was that about? Is he one of yours?"

"Don't listen to him," Oma said.

"Am I supposed to listen to anyone but you?" he said, annoyed. "He was going to tell me about Anubis." He turned to flip idly through the newspaper Jim had just given him, hoping to find some other information about these Eyes when a name caught his attention. "Oh no."

Oma looked once more out the door, then walked to his table. "What is it?"

"Anubis has set up a trap for a group of Jaffa rebels on Kresh'tar," Daniel said, glancing up from what he was reading. "They're going to walk into an ambush. Which means..."

Daniel closed his eyes, searching for whatever he could see of the SGC and the happenings in the Milky Way...

Teal'c was dressed in traditional Jaffa robes, as he did when he wanted to remind his brethren that he was Jaffa as well as SGC, and he was alone, lying on the ground. Wait--not alone. Daniel tried harder, and the scene resolved into better clarity. Teal'c wasn't alone at all; he was surrounded by corpses of Jaffa, already dead. Daniel's first, panicked thought was that someone had managed to synthesize another batch of the symbiote poison and used it, until he realized that there were no symbiotes in the Jaffa, dead or otherwise, and that these Jaffa bore signs of struggle.

And there was a tear in the front of all of their robes, armor tossed aside, exposing the gaping pouch in their abdomens. Someone had gathered the rebels and stolen their symbiotes...

Except Teal'c's. Perhaps he had gotten there late or somehow survived the main attack, but his symbiote was still alive. Teal'c reached into his own pouch and pulled his larval Goa'uld out, and Daniel winced, unable to believe what he was seeing until he saw the symbiote being lowered into another very familiar, not-quite-dead Jaffa's abdomen. Bra'tac, too, was alive, then--just barely, but still there.

[Hold on, old man,] Teal'c whispered, and then, [Help me.]

"There has to be something," Daniel said, turning back to find Oma watching him sympathetically. "I can...I could do something, right?"

"You can't save Teal'c," she said.

"So you know what's happening, too," he said. "You've been watching my friends?"

"I have to keep track of them to keep track of you," she said.

"Well, when were you planning to tell me!"

Unmoved, she said, "Daniel, a Jaffa cannot live without his symbiote. He can't survive that."

"Maybe he can," Daniel said.

"You know Jaffa biology as well as I do, Daniel--"

"You don't know Teal'c! He's strong. If anyone could survive until SG-1 mounts a rescue, it would be Teal'c."

"Teal'c's actions were his own choice," she said. "He's choosing to share his symbiote with Bra'tac, and you can't take that choice away from him. Is that what he would want?"

Instead of answering, Daniel looked back to where Teal'c and Bra'tac were both clinging feebly to life. He started to answer Oma, only to stop and look again, more deeply. "He's...dreaming," he said, surprised.

"Well. He's delirious," Oma said. "Close enough."

"It's the m'al sharan dream," he said. "The last rite, when...when a Jaffa's symbiote is removed--"

"It's delirium, Daniel," she said, "no matter what the name. It's called the 'last rite' for a reason."

As a thought struck him, he turned back to look at her. "Dreams teach. You taught Shifu that--dreams teach. I can go and comfort a friend on the brink of death, can't I?"

"Not if you want the Others to stop seeing you as a problem," she said.

"Maybe I don't care about the Others anymore," he retorted. "If I'm doing anything you wouldn't justify doing yourself, then stop me."

Without waiting for a response, he found Teal'c and Bra'tac again and slipped away into his friend's mind.

XXXXX

Daniel teetered when he first arrived. He'd jumped into Sam's dream once before, as well as Martouf's subconscious, but those had been fairly normal, as dreams went. Even with Daniel's own stabilizing presence, however, the world in Teal'c's dream was a much more confusing one.

Teal'c was in the men's locker room. That wasn't odd in and of itself, but the locker room wasn't quite the familiar one from the SGC, and Teal'c didn't look like Teal'c, except superficially. He was slouching in his seat, head hanging, forearms balanced carelessly on his knees. Daniel didn't even have to see that he was missing his gold tattoo to think he didn't look particularly like a Jaffa warrior. In fact, with that air about him and the uniform tossed over the bench beside him, he looked more like a human--

Oh. He recognized this now. This was like some of those television shows Teal'c had watched, with the people who did...something important and heroic. Police? Field medics?

Daniel eyed the uniform with some trepidation and still wasn't completely sure what kind of personnel Teal'c was imagining himself as until he saw the mask. He was familiar enough with hazmat suits, and this didn't match, so Teal'c must be some other kind of person who wore heavy-duty uniforms with air masks who worked in buildings with large red trucks...

A firefighter.

Well, if Teal'c wasn't going to fight tyrannical aliens in his dream, he would pick something like fire to fight.

As Teal'c stood with a sigh, rubbing at his head, Daniel took a moment to wonder just how much time his friend actually spent watching television and how Daniel was supposed to try to fit into this dream without seeming drastically out of place. Anything else, and he would be breaking too many rules, even by Oma's standards.

Daniel and Teal'c had always tried to fit into Tau'ri society in different ways, whether it was through formal texts or direct observation of behavior or perusal of fictional media. They each understood different facets of Tau'ri society.

At least...they understood it in theory.

The sound of a door opening caught his attention, and Daniel turned to see Jonas Quinn entering the locker room. "Hey, T-man," Jonas said, pulling off a garish, pink apron with an exaggerated groan of relief. "Ready to get outta here?"

Daniel blinked.

"Hm?" Teal'c said absently, and then shook himself. "Oh...yeah. Yeah, I'm going home, probie."

"And, uh...are you sure you're okay?" Jonas said. "This whole transplant thing is--"

"I said I'm fine," Teal'c repeated tightly. "Shift's over, man. Go home. You need a lift?"

Closing his eyes, Daniel silently cursed Jack for introducing Teal'c to the art of watching--and absorbing--television. This was going to take some thought.

...x...

The hardest part about Teal'c's dream was that it was remarkably coherent at times and yet very inconsistent. Teal'c walked out of the firehall and into the SGC as if it were normal, then went to bed and woke up yet somewhere else. Daniel considered entering at some point while the dream was in the SGC--at least he understood that--but wasn't sure whether he would be recognizable as himself. Daniel didn't seem to have a lot of control over what happened in here--and he was wary about trying to force control--and if he appeared as someone whom Teal'c would expect to act in a certain way, it would be harder to break out of that character.

Adding to the confusion was that Teal'c's mind apparently liked to do masochistic things like getting him caught in an explosion. Daniel couldn't remember ever having had dreams in which he'd knocked himself unconscious, but as he saw Teal'c being taken to the hospital, an idea began to form.

Surely a civilian hospital wasn't too different from an on-base infirmary, especially a hospital conjured up by Teal'c's mind. He could deal with that.

The hospital appeared half-formed as Teal'c's dream-self woke. Daniel wandered through the shifting corridors but paused when he saw Bra'tac in one room, with Shan'auc helping him into a wheelchair. Neither of them had tattoos, so Daniel supposed they weren't Jaffa, either.

"...just doing his job, Bray," Shan'auc was saying. "He was trying to save a life."

Bra'tac harrumphed. "He was being stupid," he snapped. Daniel rolled his eyes--Teal'c certainly knew his friends.

"Come on," she said, with the patience of someone who had heard something many times and didn't care to argue it anymore, "we'll go see him. You can yell at him yourself."

"He had better hope he's not all right. If he is, I'll hurt him myself," Bray said darkly. She paused just a little too long before continuing to fuss with his robe, not meeting his eyes. "Shauna? He's all right?"

"I...I'm sure it's..." Shauna stammered, then stopped and gave him a smile. "Don't worry, Bray."

"Shauna..." he warned, clamping his hands on the wheels to stop her when she began to push the chair. "Tell me."

She sighed. "It's just...he's been having nightmares lately. Don't give me that look; it's not your fault. It's probably just stress from work--they say he was hallucinating on that last job."

"Or maybe," Bray grumbled, finally letting go of his chair and letting her push him out, "it's because of that kidney he's planning on giving me."

Ah-ha, Daniel thought, and then wondered how in the world someone could give his internal organs to someone without killing himself. Weren't kidneys important? Did Tau'ri hospitals allow that? Unless...were kidneys the ones that grew back? No, that was the liver--he remembered that one because of the myth of Prometheus and his regenerating liver.

"Jack says he knows a psychiatrist..." she answered, her voice fading as they disappeared around the corner.

Daniel slunk back to wait, knowing that, unless Teal'c's dream suddenly shifted again, he would probably come up here himself at some point to visit.

He looked around, reluctant to leave yet, then decided it was more important to understand what was going on. He needed to formulate a working plan and make himself sound convincing to Teal'c--and he really hoped Teal'c didn't know as much about medicine as he seemed to know about firemen.

...x...

It didn't take long for Teal'c to return with Shauna and Bray. Daniel entered the dream partially again and waited for them to disappear into Bray's room before allowing himself to manifest, too, wearing the same gown he had seen Bray wearing. The corridors shifted from time to time, especially when Teal'c wasn't looking directly at them, and Daniel had to concentrate to stay where he was.

"...see you later, Bray," Teal'c was saying.

Daniel snapped his attention back and hurriedly positioned himself around the corner at the end of the hall. As Teal'c's footsteps came closer, he stepped out, just in time to crash hard into Teal'c and fall over onto the floor.

"Oh, geez," Teal'c said, bending over him. "I'm sorry--are you okay?" His hands hovered anxiously over Daniel but didn't touch him, perhaps noting his garb and afraid to do any damage.

To his own surprise, Daniel felt himself wince and groan, "Oh god," without meaning to. Wrestling back some control over Teal'c's dream, he added, "I mean...it's okay. I should've been looking where I was...going...um..."

"Here, let me help you," Teal'c said, gently helping Daniel to his feet. Recalling his appendectomy to mind, Daniel wrapped an arm loosely around his midsection as he rose, knowing Teal'c wouldn't miss the action.

"No--I'm, uh..." Daniel said, taking a second to steady himself by leaning back against the wall. "I'm okay. Thanks."

As he'd expected, Teal'c was eyeing his stance suspiciously and said, "Did I hurt you? You should go back to your room, have someone check you out--"

"I'm fine," he snapped without thinking, a bit unsettled when he actually started to feel something like pain in his side, along with the tight, hot feeling of irritated stitches--the realism of Teal'c's dream was disconcerting. At the startled look on Teal'c's face, he added, "Sorry. I...I just had a kidney removed, so, um. But, uh...I'm good now. Talking a walk."

When Teal'c seemed to be wavering between leaving a stranger in peace and helping a patient he'd run into, Daniel let out another tiny wince and swayed slightly into the wall. "Let me walk you back, all right?" Teal'c said worriedly. "Or at least get someone else to help you, man."

Daniel waited just long enough not to seem too eager, then nodded once, tightly. "Yeah, okay," he mumbled.

Teal'c walked him slowly back to his room. "So," he said as they went, his voice oddly timid for someone usually so sure of himself. "Did you say...a kidney?"

"Mm-hm," Daniel said, finding that he could guide the dream if he concentrated hard enough and didn't try to stray outside the parameters of Teal'c's setting, which only made the walls start to melt in a rather frightening way. "This is the nephrology floor, right? My brother's kidneys were failing, and it turns out you only need one. What are you in for?"

He earned a sideways look for that. Daniel blinked innocently and hoped his face was at least a little familiar in some part of Teal'c's mind, enough to break through and invite confidence. Finally, Teal'c looked away and shook his head, giving a short, not-quite-amused huff. "Would you believe it's for the same thing?"

Daniel automatically scoffed and then winced, feeling the pull of phantom sutures in his flesh. Teal'c slowed even more, so Daniel cleared his throat, concentrated, and started walking again. "Seriously?" Daniel said after a moment. "The transplant thing?"

"Indeed," Teal'c said. Daniel looked up at him--the word was out of place in the pattern of speech they'd both taken on here--but Teal'c didn't seem to notice anything out of the ordinary. "How's your brother doing now?"

"Uh...well..." Daniel dithered, then decided to be as honestly vague as he could about his imaginary brother. Maybe Teal'c would fill in the blanks for him with the right prompting. "I don't really know, exactly. They said it was normal for him to be a little sick at first, but they're worried about...uh--"

"Rejection?" Teal'c said.

"Sure," Daniel said. "I mean, yeah, that's what they said. Guess you got the same talk."

"From about four different doctors," Teal'c agreed, rolling his eyes. It took all of Daniel's concentration not to stare at the odd sight of a smiling, anxious, casual Teal'c.

"It's just...I'd do anything for him," Daniel continued, latching onto any opening Teal'c would give him. "But the doctor said it's still risky, and..." He let out a sigh and admitted, "Actually, I don't have a clue what's going on."

Teal'c grinned widely at that. "Know exactly how you feel..." He paused. "Uh..."

"Oh--I'm Daniel Jackson," he said. "I'm a student at...at the university."

"Hey, good for you," Teal'c said warmly. "What're you studying?"

Daniel almost said 'linguistics,' his usual cover story, but a thought struck him. "Psychology," he said instead. "You know, they sent this guy to psychoanalyze me before the surgery, and even though I recognized what he was doing, I was this close"--he held his fingers an inch apart--"to yelling at him to get out."

"I did yell at the shrink they sent me," Teal'c admitted. "He was an idiot."

Grinning at the image, Daniel said, "My room's right up here"--a door appeared as he spoke--"so...but thanks for..."

"Sending you sprawling?" Teal'c said wryly.

"I didn't sprawl," Daniel protested, letting Teal'c support him as he settled back onto his bed. He imagined himself a little smaller and looked as perfectly helpless as he could. "Well. Uh, good luck with your thing, too."

"Thanks," Teal'c said absently, looking around the empty room. He hesitated before leaving. "Are your folks around, Daniel Jackson?"

"Not really," he said, surreptitiously watching Teal'c's face and trying to gauge which would be the best tack to take. "They're dead." He chewed on his lip, folded his arms around his chest. "Do--" he started, then stopped, peeking up at Teal'c from under his bangs and then looking away. "Never mind."

"What?" Teal'c said, tilting his head, looking at Daniel the way he'd looked at so many alien refugees he'd taken under his wing. "You sure you're okay?"

"It's stupid," Daniel muttered, then, as Teal'c tried to decide whether or not leave once and for all, he added, "Don't look at me like that."

"What? No," Teal'c protested unconvincingly. "I'm not looking like anything. Just wondering if I should call your doctor after all."

Daniel marveled at how badly Teal'c lied here--he was wearing an uncertain look on his face even now--because Teal'c had made a career of lying to some very important people: his god, his wife and son, his men. Maybe it was a side effect of being in his dream--how effectively could one really lie to a figment of one's own imagination and pretend it was true?

"You must have something better to do than babysit me," Daniel insisted.

"Not really, to be honest," Teal'c said, but he took a step toward the door.

"Thanks for walking me back," Daniel added, fishing for another opening.

"Anytime," Teal'c said.

"Really?" Daniel said hopefully. When Teal'c paused and stared at him, he added, "I mean, no, you don't...I mean. Never mind. I don't know why I said that. God, you think I'm a complete nutcase right? You should've seen me before the operation. I swear I was going out of my mind."

There. That might do the job.

He took off his glasses and wiped them on a sheet, avoiding Teal'c's gaze, but he knew the man was still watching him. "Really?" Teal'c finally said.

Daniel laughed uncomfortably, pulling on one arm of his glasses--a nervous tick of his when he'd first been given the glasses on Earth, something Teal'c might recognize on some level--and said, still not looking up, "Yeah. It's dumb, right? I wasn't the one dying of kidney failure, and I kept thinking I..." He stopped. "It's stupid," he repeated in a mumble.

Teal'c seemed to make up his mind, to Daniel's relief, and stepped fully into the room. "You don't look very stupid to me, Daniel Jackson," he said.

"You can call me Daniel," he said, partly because the unconscious habit of using both names intrigued him and partly because it served as an invitation for familiarity.

For a moment, he thought he had gone too far too fast, because Teal'c tilted his head, frowning curiously. "We haven't met before, have we?"

"I don't think so," Daniel said, dutifully studying Teal'c's face as well before shaking his head. "Maybe we've passed each other on the street. I dunno."

Teal'c shrugged. "Yeah, maybe. And it's still not being stupid," he said, returning to his original point. "It was major surgery, man. Any person would've been worried."

"That's what you think," Daniel said, popping his glasses back on. "'A little worried' doesn't cover it. I barely slept for days before the surgery."

"Nightmares?" Teal'c said knowingly.

Feigning surprise, Daniel nodded slowly. "Um. Yeah, actually."

"I know what that's like," Teal'c said, crossing his arms.

"Seriously? Someone like you would have nightmares about this?" Daniel said.

Oops.

Teal'c gave him an odd look, because there was really no excuse for Daniel to know anything about him. Even the overly-trusting persona he'd taken on wouldn't have picked some stranger to idolize so soon. Fumbling to cover, he added, "You...you're the firefighter, right? The one who almost got blown up pulling someone out of a car? It was on the news. Uh. Firefighter Saves Life, Narrowly Avoids Death."

"That was me," Teal'c admitted ruefully. "And speaking of being stupid..." He trailed off, though, and shook his head. "Anyway, firefighters get nightmares just like everyone else."

"Well, I know that," Daniel said quickly, pulling an embarrassed face. "I'm not an idiot. I just didn't... So you really don't think I'm weird for being...sort of screwed up right now?"

"Screwed up?" Teal'c repeated. "Nah. You wanna talk about screwed up..."

"We could trade stories," he said, as if joking, and then looked as uncertain as he could make himself look. "I'm not saying we have to. You know. I mean, you don't even know me. I just meant--"

"You know what, I don't have anything better to do while I'm waiting for my turn under the knife," Teal'c said. He pointed to a lonely chair in the room. "You mind if I sit?"

Daniel made sure to grin delightedly before wiping his face back to a badly-feigned unconcern, shrugging awkwardly against the mattress. Teal'c had a soft spot for lost alien children, and his instinct, as always, was to protect--Daniel didn't mind exploiting that if it was a way to get in and talk to his friend. "Sure, uh...go ahead," he said.

Teal'c smiled back at him, the familiar--if normally rare--wide, gentle smile, and carried the chair closer to the bedside. "You're here by yourself?" he said as he sat. "Besides your brother. Friends, family, home...?"

"No...yeah, it's just the two of us," Daniel said. Sitting a little higher on the bed, he glanced once out the door and said, as if embarrassed or telling a secret, "I had to do it. He's just a kid, and he's all I've got."

"Yeah," Teal'c said quietly, clearly understanding the sentiment. "How'd he end up needing new kidneys so young?"

"He got really sick a while back," Daniel said, looking down and twisting his sheet between his fingers. "Turned out it was some congenital problem and it finally got to be too much to handle. So." He made a face. "Here we are." He had no idea whether that made sense but suspected that Teal'c's mind didn't know enough details about medicine for it to ring false.

"It's brave of you to do this," Teal'c said seriously.

"Well, I had to, right? I mean, if I could and I didn't, it would be like I killed him myself."

"Whoa--hey, it doesn't work like that," Teal'c said, sounding alarmed and a bit uncomfortable with the turn their talk had taken. This was, admittedly, a risky tactic, but trying to advise from a position of less power was always difficult. If he could make Teal'c's subconscious focus on him as being familiar, he should have enough time to carry it out properly.

Daniel bit his lip and tried to look upset. "But that's what it felt like. You know what I'm talking about, don't you?" Teal'c looked genuinely taken aback and didn't answer. "You know. The guy you're giving your kidney to. Who is he?"

"He's my stepfather," Teal'c answered. After a moment, he added, "Sort of. He raised me after my folks died, so close enough." Daniel only nodded but stayed silent, hoping to draw out more. "I owe him everything," Teal'c added.

Daniel pulled his legs toward himself, only to stop, because--ow--Teal'c's imagination was drawing Daniel with frighteningly vivid accuracy as a surgical patient. "Is he making you do this? Because he's not supposed to."

"Bray? No, 'course not," Teal'c said immediately. "It's just something I have to do."

"Why?" Daniel said.

"Well...because I can," Teal'c said. "He needs it."

Sighing, Daniel said, "Told you I was being stupid. It's not like I didn't want to, it was just...it..."

"No," Teal'c said firmly, leaning forward. "It's not stupid. There's nothing wrong with being scared--hey, if anyone knows how you feel, it's me, right?"

"I guess," Daniel said. "But I almost...chickened out"--he stumbled a little over a phrase he'd heard before but never used--"once or twice. What's that say about me?"

Teal'c frowned at him. "It's not written anywhere that you have to sacrifice yourself, no matter who it's for."

Ironically, the idea of sacrifice was something that Daniel had learned from Teal'c more than from anyone else; he wondered if it meant something that Teal'c was telling him now that it wasn't his obligation. Jaffa, who were taught to be disposable soldiers who fought for a cause, had always been a little more willing to sacrifice themselves than the Tau'ri, who were taught to fight hard for life and not to die willingly except as a last resort. Somehow, Daniel had never really considered the idea that Teal'c might be afraid of dying--deeply and personally afraid, not just concerned that his death would affect a war--and he wondered if it was death itself that Teal'c feared now or simply the loss of life. The Tau'ri cherished life and Teal'c had learned to be fond of the small pleasures of Tau'ri life; but Daniel knew, firsthand, that it was one thing to die and quite another to pass to another unknown world.

But that discussion could wait. They weren't anywhere near that level of trust yet.

"But you're going through with it," Daniel said. Teal'c wasn't going to stop what he was doing, of course, but that didn't mean Daniel couldn't help him reconcile his fate now, whatever that fate might be. "It's different with a little brother who's my responsibility--you...you never even considered not doing this, did you?" He shook his head. "You don't have to do it, but you're doing it anyway. They called you a hero on the news. You really are."

Teal'c didn't seem to know what to do with that. "Well...nah. It's not that big a deal."

Daniel rolled his eyes. "You can't tell me that it was a big deal for me but it's not for you. Right? Come on, man. You're not at least a little scared?"

"My job is to run into burning buildings and hope they don't explode or collapse on me," Teal'c pointed out. "I don't scare easily."

"Yeah, but you wear fireproof clothes and a mask because you don't actually want to get hurt doing it," Daniel retorted. "It's different, isn't it, knowing you're asking someone to cut out a piece of you that's, at the moment, helping to keep you alive? Even if it's for the sake of healing someone else, volunteering to be injured, well..."

"It's for a friend," Teal'c said awkwardly. "I'd do anything for him."

"Then you're a good friend," Daniel said. "Bray's lucky." Oddly, he could feel a twinge of jealousy for Bray, even though he knew Bray didn't really exist and Bra'tac was dying. It had been a long time, it seemed, since Daniel had had a friend like Teal'c by his side.

"Bray needs a new kidney or he'll die," Teal'c countered.

"Yeah, which makes you a very good friend, because it's not like kidneys grow on trees," Daniel said. "Which would be...kind of disgusting, if you think too hard about it. Which I'm trying not to do right now."

Reluctantly, Teal'c grinned. His brow furrowed as he studied Daniel's face again.

"What?" Daniel said.

"Nothing," Teal'c said, staring a moment longer before shaking his head. "You remind me of my little brother, that's all. He's... He used to think way too much for his own good, too."

Daniel stilled. "Yeah?" he managed. "Uh..."

"Talked too much, too, when he was little," Teal'c added, half-teasing, half-melancholy.

"Bet he was smart, though," Daniel said impulsively, earning another smile. "So am I right? Or were you kidding before when you said firefighters get nightmares like everyone else?"

Teal'c shook his head again, looking torn between amusement and disbelief. "Yeah, all right. Maybe I am getting a little...psyched out."

The hesitancy in his expression made Daniel think of something else, though, and he started to suspect he knew why someone who had lived his life as the strongest of Jaffa warriors was suddenly imagining himself as a worried, tired, frightened human who made mistakes on the job. "Hey, you know what scared me the most?" Daniel said, lowering his voice as if to make sure no one else heard. "I kept thinking, maybe after this, even if my brother gets better...well...maybe I won't be able to take care of him anymore. I know it's just a lump of tissue and all, but it was like...things might change. Somehow. Do you know what I mean?"

"It's not just a lump of tissue," Teal'c said, but he was starting to look a little flustered. "It's...a part of you."

"Is that why you're having nightmares?" Daniel said. "You're worried about what it means if they take it from you?" Teal'c didn't answer. "Does Bray know you're worried?"

Teal'c narrowed his eyes, considering him. Daniel sat as still and looked as harmless as he could. "Honestly," Teal'c allowed, "I think everyone who knows me knows."

When it became clear he wasn't going to offer more on his own--there were disadvantages to being the younger in this situation--Daniel prompted, "What are they about? Your nightmares."

"Listen," Teal'c said, "it's not a big deal."

"No, it is," Daniel insisted earnestly. "Hey, you can tell me. I know what it's like." He forcefully pushed away Teal'c's dream's insistence on making him feel like he'd just had surgery and turned sideways on the bed, hoping it would remind Teal'c of times they'd sat across from each other on a floor and said things they wouldn't have admitted to anyone else.

"So what would you say it's like?" Teal'c said.

"Well...I used to dream up really...you know, weird things, yeah? Like...once, I was some sort of energy floating around and watching my...my brother, and the doctors were telling me I didn't have to do anything, but I had to, except I was afraid of...I don't even know what. I thought they were going to throw me in the nuthouse."

"Maybe that's normal," Teal'c said tentatively. "The dreams."

"You think so?" Daniel said, his tone hopeful enough to draw an offered answer in return. "Bet you never had dreams like that."

"Not exactly like that," Teal'c conceded. Daniel raised his eyebrows, half told-you-so and half dare. "All right. I keep dreaming I'm on this...this team of people. And we--" He stopped.

"What?" Daniel challenged. "Don't tell me--it sounds stupid? If you were corporeal, you've already beaten me as far as realism goes."

Teal'c laughed, without much amusement, a beat too late. "You've got a point. All right. This team--we go...places and help people."

Daniel tilted his head. "Sort of like firefighters."

"No. Not like that."

"Then what?"

Teal'c started to answer, then stopped. "I shouldn't be doing this to you," he said, and stood up.

"Wh--wait," Daniel said, wondering if he'd made a mistake somewhere. "Do what?"

"You talk like this to every stranger you bump into?" Teal'c said. "That's not a good habit, kid."

"I...felt like I could trust you," Daniel said lamely. The protective streak might have provided an opening to get Teal'c to talk, but it made him reluctant to burden a younger person, too. "It's just...no one else understands. You listened to me; the least I can do is listen back."

Teal'c was still standing, looking down at him. "I should let you rest," he finally said. "Don't worry about it."

"Right," he said. "Look, uh...I meant what I said. You're a really good friend for doing this, and I'm sure Bray realizes that. I hope you realize it. Just think about it, all right?"

"Yeah, sure," Teal'c said.

"You can talk to me," Daniel called before he could go. "I wouldn't mind the company."

Teal'c still wore that look on his face, like he was sure something was familiar and couldn't figure out what. "Maybe," he finally said, and smiled. "We'll trade stories."

...x...

Daniel let himself fade away with a sigh as the dream shifted back to the SGC. He watched as Teal'c suddenly dropped his weapons, looking terrified, and searched his abdomen. My symbiote is gone, he screamed. My symbiote is gone.

Outside the dream, Bra'tac had long stopped responding to anything Teal'c tried--the symbiote helped, at least as much as it could, but all three of them were dying, and, as Bra'tac had said before, his body was too old to accept a new symbiote anyway. Teal'c's sacrifice might be in vain, after all, unless SG-1 realized something was wrong and went to search for him. They would--Daniel was sure they would, without even needing a nudge from him--but a day had passed already, and if they didn't come in time...

"Hold on," Daniel said, crouching at their side and watching Teal'c's shaking hand transfer the symbiote to Bra'tac's pouch. "Okay? Teal'c?"

"Hold on," Teal'c mumbled as he settled back on the ground, his arm curled protectively around Bra'tac and his eyes darting beneath his eyelids.

"That's right," Daniel said. "They'll come and help you--you just have to hold on."

Teal'c shifted. "Help me," he whispered.

...x...

It wasn't Oma who stopped him this time; it was Martouf. "So this is what you meant by 'exceptions' to the non-interference rule," the man said. "You know that this is not an exception in the Others' eyes, don't you?"

"I told you before there were rules I wasn't planning to follow," Daniel said.

Martouf looked indecisive, then said, "Do you want me to--"

"No," Daniel said immediately. "Don't do anything. If you know what you're doing and where you're going, then...then that's good. Stay out of this, okay? I promised Sam, and maybe you don't need me looking after you, but I'm not going to get you in trouble."

"All right," Martouf said, then let him go. "Then, at least, I won't stand in your way."

"Thanks," Daniel said sincerely, and returned to Teal'c.

...x...

The next time Daniel saw him in the dream, Teal'c was the one who sought him out. "Hey, I was visiting Bray and I thought I'd look in on you," Teal'c said from the door of Daniel's hospital room. "How're you doing?"

"Good," Daniel said. "How are you?"

"Still whole," Teal'c said. "Operation's tomorrow."

Daniel sat up straight and climbed off his bed. "Oh. Are you ready?"

"As ready as I'll ever be," Teal'c said. "Why--do you have some advice?"

The problem was, Daniel thought, that he didn't have anything useful to offer. The only way he could help Teal'c stay alive was to encourage him not to keep giving his symbiote to Bra'tac, and he couldn't do that. Teal'c would never forgive him for that. "Not specifically," he finally said, making himself smile. "Just relax. Stay calm. Everything'll be fine."

"Good to hear," Teal'c said.

"Really," Daniel said. "Don't worry."

Teal'c looked at the floor, and when he raised his hand, there was a chess set in it, though it morphed into a game of Snakes and Jackals even as he spoke. "If you're bored...?"

"Yeah," Daniel said, pulling a chair closer and rolling a table between them. "Okay. Let's play."

The game didn't follow any logical rules--or, rather, the pieces shifted about whenever Teal'c looked away or was distracted--but, interestingly, Teal'c neither won nor lost consistently. He won some and lost some, the way he had in life when he'd played with Daniel, Teal'c's wins quick and ruthless while Daniel's tended to be elaborate and clever but less realistic for a practical battle. Daniel didn't comment but rather continued playing, because Teal'c seemed to be having as much fun as could be expected in his situation.

After one of their games, though, Daniel said, "Are you afraid to die?"

The board reset itself abruptly as Teal'c looked up. "Uh," he said. "I think the risk is actually pretty small for kidney donors."

Of course. Because this was all some sort of metaphor for the situation with the symbiote, but the metaphor only extended so far. Removing a single kidney might be safe; removing the symbiote wasn't. But if Daniel couldn't help Teal'c survive this current ordeal, he could at least make sure his friend was ready for the journey after. Whether Teal'c lived or died, things would change, and he needed to be ready to face that.

"I'm not talking about this operation," Daniel said. "I mean in general. You have a dangerous job, and...well, everyone thinks about it sometimes, right?" When Teal'c hesitated, eyeing him sideways, Daniel added, "You don't have to act extra brave for my benefit. I'm not a little kid, and I'm willing to admit that I'm not eager to die. Do you think about it?"

Finally, Teal'c shrugged. "Yeah, I guess. We see enough of it on the job. I'm pretty good at my job, though," he said, quirking a half-smile, though a shadow of doubt remained in his expression, "so I tend not to get hurt as much as some."

Ah. That was true. "I believe you," Daniel said, smiling back.

"It'll be a pain recovering from this enough to go back on the job."

"Yeah, I know," Daniel said, very serious. "But you can always rebuild muscle and heal tissue--that's nothing. That's not what makes you a good...firefighter."

Tilting his head, Teal'c pointed out, "It helps." He shrugged. "My team depends on me, you know? So it's not like I've never thought about dying or getting seriously hurt."

"It's an acceptable risk when you know you're doing something good, but you still don't want it to happen," Daniel said. Teal'c seemed startled, though it was himself who had shown that to Daniel. "In fact, I bet the idea of this surgery is more nerve-wracking than running into burning buildings, huh?"

"A little bit," Teal'c admitted. "Maybe it's just all the waiting that gets to you. I mean, not like this operation's going to do anything horrible."

Not exactly, Daniel thought, forcing himself not to glance down at where Teal'c's symbiote pouch should be. "What do you think happens?" he asked. "After...you know. After."

I believe there are worlds beyond ours, Teal'c had told him once.

But now, Daniel sat frozen as the dream world shifted violently around him. He looked around, but Teal'c was still there, except this time, he was lying down and Apophis was sneering above him.

["You are afraid to die," Apophis hissed. "You know you will face me in the afterlife."]

With a jolt, the world returned to the safe, quiet room of the hospital. Teal'c didn't seem to have noticed the change, so Daniel tried to make his eyes a little less wide. "I don't really think about it," Teal'c lied badly.

"Uh-huh," Daniel said, thinking quickly about what he had just seen and what it meant. Apophis might be dead, but he still held power over them. "You want to know what I think?"

"What?" Teal'c said, humoring him but perhaps a bit curious, too.

"I think that, no matter what, there's another journey for us to take," Daniel said decisively. "You know--worlds to explore, new experiences to have. And even if it's different...I mean, obviously, it'll be different...it's not necessarily bad. You're the only one who decides what your path will be. I refuse to think that the next step on the journey--whether it's death or just a fork in the road of life--will be a passive one."

"The next step," Teal'c repeated.

The vision of Apophis flashed around them again. This time, as Teal'c stared, Daniel pulled a knife from his belt as he had years ago, he pressed it into Teal'c's hand, and they plunged it into the Goa'uld together.

As the vision faded again, leaving them both still seated before the chessboard as before, Daniel added calmly, "Of course, when I say 'you're the only one,' I mean you've still got your own will. I'm sure you have plenty of people willing to go down that road with you, like Bray and your coworkers."

"Now I really hope you're not talking about death," Teal'c said, though he seemed a little more cheerful.

Daniel shrugged, examining the game before him. "I'm just talking about whatever's next. Sometimes life changes, and you change with it; you don't let it change you. You have your own choices, but you're not alone."

"Hey, T, we've been looking for you," Sam said, right on cue, popping her head into the doorway just as he finished speaking. "Everything okay?"

"Yeah, fine," Teal'c answered. To Daniel, he added, "Listen, I've been here for a while--I should probably go."

Nodding in encouragement, Daniel said, "Okay. Good luck with everything."

...x...

The time after that, Teal'c looked exhausted and was sitting at Bray's bedside--the 'operation' must have already happened.

"Hey," Daniel said when Teal'c walked out, wandering into the corridor. "Mr. Fireman!"

Teal'c turned around. "Daniel Jackson." He glanced back over his shoulder, then gave Daniel a smile. "You're looking better."

"They released me a few weeks back," Daniel said, deciding his character would have recovered by now according to the timeline Teal'c's mind was creating. "I was going to take a walk. You looked like you could use some company--want to join me?"

"Well...sure, okay," Teal'c said.

As they stepped outside together, Daniel asked, "So, how's Bray?"

Teal'c walked a short distance before answering and finally sat down on a bench. "Not...great," he finally said.

Daniel joined him. "I'm sorry," he said. "But if they're not giving up on him yet, maybe...you know. Still a good chance."

"Yeah," Teal'c said, though he looked far from convinced. "How about your brother?"

"He's...uh, getting better," Daniel said. "What about you--are you sleeping better, at least?"

"Yep."

"You don't look like it."

Teal'c glanced at him. "Thanks," he said.

Daniel shrugged. "Are you still having those dreams? Hey, you don't have to tell me if you don't want to," he added when Teal'c started to look stubborn. "Just if you want another opinion. Look, in a week, you'll never see me again--what can it hurt?"

"Okay, fine, Mr. Psychology Student," Teal'c said, folding his hands in his lap. "All right. I have these dreams, and I can't tell that they're not real until I wake up. And then, I wake up again from this, and I'm back in the dream...except..." He scratched his head, letting out a sigh.

"Except the dream seems real again," Daniel guessed, "and what you thought was real seems like the dream."

Teal'c nodded. "So...interpret that one for me."

Tentatively--hoping Teal'c was tired or desperate enough by now that he wouldn't walk out this time--Daniel said, "Will you tell me what the other...well...what happens in the dream? Is it the one where you're on a team of people but you're not a firefighter?"

"Yeah, that's the one."

"I promise I won't think it's crazy," Daniel said. "Believe me--I know crazy."

Shaking his head, Teal'c said, "Well, see what you think of this. I don't think I was even human. I was a..." He paused, looking embarrassed, then said, "...an alien. A Jaffa, whatever that means."

"Okay," Daniel said, trying not to give anything away. "Was everyone else an alien?"

"Nope--all human," Teal'c said. "They were my company from the fire hall, mostly--same people, different place and uniform. Even our command structure was pretty much the same--even Probie's there."

"Probie?" Daniel repeated. A moment later, he remembered having heard the word used earlier.

"Probationary fireman," Teal'c explained. "It's like calling someone a rookie." He looked up, straight at Daniel, and said, "His name's Jonas."

"Right. Uh, well, it makes sense that you'd surround yourself with your company," he reasoned. "So, um. A Jaffa, you said? What does that mean? Were you different from the others?"

Teal'c laughed a little at himself and shrugged. "I'm not sure," he admitted. "All I know is I've got this thing in my gut--I call it a symbiote in the dream. Helps keep me alive."

Daniel didn't laugh. He furrowed his brow, pretending to consider it carefully. "So it's separate from you, but it's...sort of integrated into your biology. You'd die if you lost it."

"Yeah, I think so," Teal'c said.

"Like an internal organ," Daniel suggested. "Something you'd be...understandably hesitant to give up." Teal'c raised that eyebrow at him. "Is Bray in your dream at all?"

"Which one?" Teal'c said, sighing in frustration. "I don't even know what's real anymore."

[Teal'c,] Jack's voice said, distracting Daniel for a moment. [Oh god, Teal'c, buddy, can you hear me?]

[Sir!] Sam's voice added. [Bra'tac's alive, too--]

[The others are all dead,] Jonas said. [This one's--and--I think all of their symbiotes are missing.]

[Teal'c's is gone, too,] Jack said grimly. [Jonas, help Carter with Teal'c--]

They were almost there. Daniel took a breath and said calmly, "Okay, so...when you're here, the other team, the aliens...that's the dream. And when you're there, this is the dream."

"Still think I'm not crazy?" Teal'c said.

"Yes, I do," Daniel said firmly. "So you don't feel much like a Jaffa right now, do you?"

Teal'c patted his abdomen as if to check for Junior, and while that was sort of what Daniel had meant, he knew the issue went deeper than that. "Not exactly."

"Because you're missing an important part of yourself?"

"I...don't think I really like the symbiote," Teal'c said, and quickly added, "In the dream."

[Teal'c, wake up,] Sam said. [I need to know what happened to you. Wake up!]

Daniel chewed his lip. "Whether or not you liked it," he said, "it was part of what made you what you were, yeah? Superficially, anyway. But you need to remember that it's your mind--your kalach--that makes you the man you are, not just your body. Whatever you do, remember that."

Too late, he realized he'd used an Abydonian word without thinking, but it was a word that had been adopted into Goa'uld and felt natural to Teal'c, too, and so his dream didn't register it as wrong. "You're making it sound like I really am an alien and this really is the dream," Teal'c said, looking confused.

"Well...well, think about it," Daniel said. "Neither world seems more real than the other."

Teal'c frowned. "No, not really."

"But both of them can't be real."

"I hope not, or I'm gonna start to lose it."

"Okay," Daniel said, watching out of the corner of his eye as Sam and Jonas carried Teal'c to the Stargate, Jack hauling Bra'tac over his shoulders. "You need to figure out which one is real, right? But how about this: if both are equally real, and both can't be real at the same time, then the only logical explanation would be that...well...neither is real."

On some level, Teal'c must have suspected already that something was wrong, because he didn't scoff or call Daniel insane. "What?" he said.

"No, think about it," Daniel said. "Maybe...you don't belong in either one. Maybe they're both dreams. You haven't woken up at all."

"Then what am I supposed to do?" Teal'c said.

[Med team!] Sam yelled, lowering Teal'c to the ramp as gently as she could. [Colonel O'Neill's coming through with Bra'tac. Janet!]

Daniel stood, listening for the sound of heels that would mean Janet was running into the embarkation room. "You have to hold on," he said aloud, already beginning to move away, watching the bustle of the 'gate room. "Just a little while longer."

"Wait, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c said, standing too. "What are you talking about? You can't just leave like that!"

"I haven't left your side, Teal'c," Daniel said, focusing back on the face in this dream. Chief O'Neill was striding rapidly toward them. "And I’m not going to. That's a promise." O'Neill grasped Teal'c by the shoulder, and--

...x...

"--listen to me, okay," Janet said, crouching on the ramp. She was holding Teal'c's head between her hands, forcing him to look at her as Jack held his shoulders, restraining and supporting all at once. "This is very important. How long have you gone without your symbiote?"

"Bra'tac," Teal'c gasped, his eyes wild.

"It's okay," Janet said evenly. "He's alive, thanks to you, but I need to know how long--"

"You must save Bra'tac!" Teal'c insisted, bucking weakly against Jack's hold.

"We'll do our best, okay?" she said, standing and moving out of the way. Raising her voice, she added, "Let's take them both directly to OR One. Let's move!"

Daniel, Oma said. You've done all you can.

He stayed, following Teal'c with his eyes until both gurneys were out of sight, then reluctantly slipped away to watch from a distance.

...x...

"Did I make a difference?" Daniel said when Oma met him. "I'm not sure I did anything at all."

Oma was watching alongside him as Janet continued transferring Teal'c's symbiote from him to Bra'tac and the others quietly discussed which one of them should live, should it come to a choice. "Your time at the SGC," Oma said, "taught you to measure success by the far-reaching consequences of your actions. But even then, your team taught you that sometimes the only possible success is the survival of those few around you."

"They could both still die," Daniel said.

"You gave him a friend when he was frightened," she said. "Someone who would understand and care. You gave him hope for the rest of his journey in whatever form it may take."

"That's not enough," he said. "Not even close."

"It never is," she agreed. "In time, you will learn to resent it less and appreciate small deeds of comfort more."

Daniel didn't answer. He didn't think he ever would learn to resent it less, and he was terrified that she might be right--that one day, he might be willing to look away from suffering and be content with occasional good deeds.

"You did a good thing, Daniel," Oma said, her attention turned away from Earth and to him. Her tone was as much warning as it was reassuring. "Don't throw that away trying to do more than you can or should."

"Right," Daniel said. "Sure."

...x...

Daniel was waiting when Teal'c and Bra'tac were both stable and was selfishly a bit glad that the rest of SG-1 had retired for the night by the time Teal'c opened his eyes, coherent for the first time. He wanted a chance to talk to his friend--as a friend, not as a figment of a dream--and he was breaking rules just to do that without having an audience, too. "Hi, Teal'c," he said.

Teal'c turned his head slowly toward him in the empty infirmary. "Am I dreaming?" he said.

"Not this time," Daniel said. "Everyone's gone home, but I just wanted to check on you before I go, too." Teal'c's fingers wandered toward his symbiote pouch, and Daniel added, "Don't--don't touch it; Dr. Warner stitched you up. Junior's gone, but they've started you on something new, something that'll let you live without depending on a Goa'uld ever again."

"Tretonin," Teal'c said, narrowing his eyes as if trying to remember.

Nodding, Daniel said, "Yes, tretonin. The Tok'ra have given us--given the SGC enough doses of the drug to go on."

"Bra'tac?"

"Both you and Bra'tac are going to live, Teal'c, thanks to you."

"And to you, my friend," Teal'c said, searching his face closely.

Daniel shook his head. "I didn't do anything," he said. "That was you. You gave up your symbiote, knowing every time it could be your last, over and over for three days... No one else could have done it. No one else would have. I meant what I said, Teal'c--you're a good friend, and stronger than even I knew."

Teal'c settled back against his pillow. "This experience has been very different for me," he said.

"It was only what your mind needed to get through your ordeal. And it's not all going to be easy from here, but you need to remember the important things--you're alive, Bra'tac's alive, and this may seem like a different journey, but it's not a worse one. All of this is real now, and you need to get some sleep."

"Sleep," Teal'c echoed slowly, and Daniel wondered if he had slept at all since he had received his first prim'ta as a young boy, nearly a century ago.

"Close your eyes," he instructed softly. "Relax. Remember? Like you taught me. Just close your eyes and try to stop thinking too much. When you wake up, things will be better."

"Is that a promise, Daniel Jackson?" Teal'c said.

Daniel smiled, swallowing a lump, knowing this was goodbye again. It didn't seem fair that he had to say goodbye so many times. "That's a promise," he said.

XXXXX

Oma left him alone while Teal'c and Bra'tac were healing. Daniel sequestered himself in his library and very pointedly did nothing but read about things that had nothing to do with the people he cared about most.

Ganos Lal's latest book didn't seem like anything new. Knowing these weren't actual, printed books but rather bundles of knowledge, he still flipped through it, in case he found something interesting. And then--

"The Others are always watching," one page said.

He looked up and found that there was, indeed, someone who looked like an old woman sitting silently in the corner, reading, not looking at him but undoubtedly aware of him. Trying to look casual, Daniel bent back over the book and continued reading:

Forgive how long this took. I needed an excuse that the Others would not find suspicious.

We spoke briefly of the Sangreal. I tell you now that it was so important that Moros was willing to Descend and retake human form for it. It was a weapon, but one that could be vital to the future of all life, and, indeed, the future of all Ascended beings. At the time, I believed him misguided and dangerous. While I still question his methods, I see now that his goal was right, and that lowers may not be able to complete this task without our aid. I ask you now to join me.

However, we cannot act if the Others suspect us. You must begin to gain their confidence. This may take a long time, but you should now be aware that time is very different on this plane. The Others will eventually tire of watching you and allow you access to all the knowledge and powers of an Ascended being, but this will not happen if you continue your small interferences among lowers. Whether or not you accept my proposal, I advise you to accept this counsel, for you will otherwise never be free of their suspicion.

If we are to succeed in finding the Sangreal, it will not be soon or without well-formed plans. I ask nothing now but discretion, even from Oma Desala. If she believes our efforts will interfere with her own, she may betray us to the Others. I have found you to be worthy of trust--I ask not for the same trust in return, but only for our continued discussions. Larger goal or no, I find myself enjoying our debates.

I look forward to our next meeting.

--Ganos Lal, once called Morgan le Fay

Daniel took a deep breath. Then he took another. He skimmed over the note once more, then turned the page and pretended to continue reading as his mind whirled.

This was what was confusing Oma, Daniel realized. She had said that Ganos Lal deceived people, and perhaps it was true, but it only meant that she was more subtle in her workings--she supported something the Others did not, but she was better at toeing the line. Oma was more honest and forthright, and everyone knew her virtues as well as her faults. Who was to say, after all, that Ganos Lal wasn't as right--or more so--than Oma?

On the other hand...

Daniel suspected he was the only one who hadn't realized that Ganos Lal and Morgan le Fay were one and the same, even with all the pieces laid out for him. She had never told an explicit lie--she had never claimed outright not to be Morgan, and when she had said that Merlin hadn't been Ascended at the time, he had assumed the same of Morgan. That meant, though, that he would always have to wonder if he was missing something--he couldn't even be sure now if she was misleading him somehow. For all he knew, she might be doing this on the Others' orders and lying when she said otherwise.

Still, if Oma had known who Ganos Lal was and had let Daniel fish blindly for clues about Morgan le Fay anyway, then Oma was hiding things from him, too. He wasn't sure if that was because she was too afraid of what the Others would do if she told him too much or simply because she didn't want him to know.

He couldn't trust anyone, he realized with a chill, because no one here trusted him.

All of a sudden, Daniel missed his team very much.

The Other in the corner was still there, so he pushed the sentiment aside and reached for another book to read. In the absence of anything resembling a team, he needed a plan, and to formulate a plan, he needed to understand whatever he could. Oma wanted him to be more passive. Ganos Lal wanted the opposite, but even she didn't want him to do anything now. Whether or not he trusted her, he wouldn't have to act on it yet, and her advice not to antagonize the Others any further was good advice that everyone wanted him to follow. If he wanted to carve his own path, he needed to avoid any more scrutiny than he'd already attracted.

XXXXX

And yet...

Daniel followed Bra'tac when he left after starting on tretonin. He seemed fine--he seemed as strong as ever, and Rya'c certainly didn't find any new weaknesses in his teacher. They successfully led a group of recruits from their home to a rebel camp, and everything seemed to be progressing as usual.

Until they were caught.

Daniel stood and watched until he couldn't bear anymore to stand idly by while Rya'c was beaten or Bra'tac whipped on Rya'c's behalf while Rya'c screamed, Tek'ma'tae, no! Master!

He sighed and turned to leave...

Bra'tac shouted, and a rush of rebels--himself, Rya'c, three more Daniel didn't recognize--attacked the Jaffa guarding the Stargate. In the brief chaos that broke out, Bra'tac ripped a device from the forearm of one of the guards and lunged for the DHD. Daniel watched closely as he dialed--Eridanus, Centaurus, Cancer, Libra, Triangulum, Sculptor--

The Alpha Site. Of course--Bra'tac didn't have a GDO and knew better than to try to SGC without one.

Using the stolen device, Bra'tac sent a code through the wormhole just before he was recaptured along with the others who had helped him.

Daniel watched them struggle in vain--it was wrong, he thought, that he could watch slaves fight for their lives while he had the power to change it all and still could do nothing.

"Ooh--so close," a voice said from behind him, and he turned to see Jim shaking his head as he peeked into the scene. "Shame. Ba'al's really got 'em locked down tight on that world."

"Yeah," Daniel agreed, and thought about what Jim had said before about tipping points. Sometimes--like now, when he watched Teal'c's son begin to collapse from exhaustion--he thought he was balancing at a tipping point already. He wondered what would happen if he ever found an excuse to jump off the other side and welcomed the feeling of freedom that the thought gave him.

"Ah, well," Jim said, and turned to leave.

One day, Daniel thought, and returned to his room, too.

XXXXX

The news these days was all about Anubis. Daniel knew just about all there was to know about the mythological side of Anubis, but as for the Goa'uld himself...

"Anubis again?" Oma said. "Or are you back to Morgan le Fay?"

Daniel resisted the urge to tell her he knew who Morgan was, thank you very much, and instead turned a page. "Anubis," he said. "He's found the Eye of Apophis. I've found all the information I can on the Eyes' general properties, but Anubis himself is still like a blank to me. I can't learn anything about him at all."

She sighed. "Is this a phase, or am I going to spend the rest of eternity watching you flit from one obsession to another?"

"I'm dead because of Anubis," Daniel said. "I'm justifiably curious."

"You're not dead," she said.

"I might as well be, for all the good it's doing," he said.

Oma sat down at the table across from him. "You need to be patient," she said again. "It will seem better in time."

Daniel angrily flipped the book shut. "How long did it take you to stop caring whether your friends were hurt? Or did you just wait until they died and freed you of that burden?"

She didn't answer.

Without waiting for her to speak, Daniel slipped into the world Seth had used as one of his bases before fleeing to Earth. The information Jim had given him mentioned the Eyes of Osiris and Seth--Osiris herself might have led Anubis to one of them, but if he had found the Eye of Seth, he must have had some record or research to go on.

"It was your choice to do what you did on Revanna," Oma said, still following him when he finally found something.

"If it hadn't been for Anubis, I wouldn't have had to make that choice," Daniel said as he searched. "And dozens--maybe hundreds--of Tok'ra would still be alive now, not to mention that the other System Lords would be dead."

"Is this revenge, then?"

Daniel turned to look at her. "My people are in danger, and I can't believe I'm standing by, doing research for my own curiosity."

Oma tilted her head. "Curiosity has always been a good enough reason for you."

Which was why he'd been on a team for his abilities, but not as a commander or second-in-command or strategic advisor. Now, though, he didn't have the luxury of being curious for curiosity's sake until Jack or Sam or Teal'c called, 'Enough!' He was on his own now.

"It's not enough when my friends could die," he said. "There are priorities. Sometimes defensive and offensive reasons have to come before academic curiosity, and now, I can't do anything about it."

"Your friend Martouf has been here less time than you, and already he is adjusting to--"

"Then maybe you should've Ascended him instead of me in the first place."

"You know that's not what I mean," Oma said.

Daniel shook his head. "Doesn't mean it's not true."

"You were trained," she said carefully, taking a step toward him, "to believe that you had a duty--an obligation to fight while most others would stand aside. What was it you told Teal'c in his dream? That he didn't have to do what he did for Bra'tac at the risk of his own life?"

"But he did it anyway," he said. "Because he had to. I have to. I can't sit here and do nothing when I know what's at stake for them."

"Every person has a right simply to be," she said. "You and your team fought hard to give other people that chance, and you have paid dearly for it. You've earned the right to stop fighting--to leave that to someone else who has not already given his life for others."

"What kind of person would that make me?" he said.

Oma sighed. "Just a person, Daniel," she said. "That's all. There are people like you in every society. The Jaffa have warriors. The Alterans--the Ancients--had fleets with armies. On Abydos, you called them watalu--the village Guards."

"That makes no sense; I was never one of the Guards or a...a Jaffa warrio--"

"In your country on Earth," she went on, "they are called soldiers." He shook his head, but she was already continuing, "And...airmen, marines, firefighters...ones who run into fire when others run away. We are born with the instinct for survival--it takes hard training to learn to put that aside, and not everyone can. That is nature, not cowardice. You weren't always one of those warriors, Daniel. You've done your part--it's time to let that go."

"You said 'we are born,'" he countered. "You and the Others can distance yourselves from the...the lowers as much as you want, but we were them once, and you know it. We can't just turn a blind eye. Maybe I wasn't always one of...of the front line, Oma, but I'm not a child anymore, and I refuse to stand aside like one."

Oma shook her head, reaching up to his shoulder to smooth the nonexistent cloth of his imaginary clothing, and he glanced down to see that he was wearing his old SG-1 uniform now. "Growing up does not have to mean putting yourself aside for others," she said, squeezing his arm gently. "The way you've lived, I wonder if you truly understand the difference."

"I don't know anything else," he said, wondering if she had taken this last mannerism from his memories of his mother or if it was simply how she always acted around her children. "What do you want from me?"

"I only want you to reach your potential," Oma said. "And I want you to trust me on this: this fight with Anubis is not your battle. It's not for you to fight, and it's not one you can win."

But I have to fight it, he almost said, and You shouldn't have picked me.

Whether it was Morgan's warning, though, or something else, he stayed quiet. Better if no one suspected him of anything. Speaking up was all well and good, but sometimes, maybe he had to start thinking the way Jack would have, like he was facing the prospect of a campaign that could take either minutes or years to finish. He needed information, now, and a plan.

"Why is Anubis different?" he asked instead of answering her directly. "How can that possibly be something I shouldn't know about?"

"Because it's not your business," she said, sounding tired. "It's mine."

To disguise his curiosity at that answer, Daniel turned back to studying what little he'd found to the Eye of Seth. "What about the six Eyes?" he said. "What's he doing with them?"

"For now?" she said. "Collecting them. After that? You know we can't tell the future."

"But we can make a good guess," Daniel said. "They're weapons of some sort. Right?"

"Each of them is, yes," Oma said, "and all of them together would make a weapon many times as strong as the sum of its parts, as I'm sure you know from your own recent research."

Daniel thought that over. Sam and Martouf had examined the Eye of Tiamat back when they'd first found it, but they hadn't understood it. Daniel could see how the devices worked now, though, because it was, after all, only a mildly complex network of matter that directed energy in certain ways. If anyone alive knew how to do it, then Anubis--as old as he was, as powerful as he had grown--would know. Perhaps other Goa'uld knew, too. Some were old enough that they had surely seen the Eyes used before they had all been lost.

"So..." Daniel said, "I know there's an Eye of Osiris, Seth, Apophis, Tiamat. Probably Ra, given how important that symbol was to him. If there are six, there's still one more I don't know about..." He looked up at her hopefully.

"I won't help you go down this path, Daniel," she said.

He had to find someone who would help him, then. Shifu wouldn't if she wouldn't--if Oma thought Daniel had been indoctrinated by the SGC, certainly Shifu had been by her. Ganos Lal might wish for good, but she was too frightened of the Others' attention and too willing to accept collateral damage, if there was any truth to the stories of her and Merlin.

But there was one who had seemed willing to help him...

"Maybe I'll just ask Jim," he said.

"Don't," Oma snapped, and actually reached out to grab his arm. "Daniel! Whatever you do, do not tell him anything you know about the Eyes. I know you think I'm being...unreasonable or paranoid, but sometimes you have to trust me."

Daniel backed away from her--she had no power here, away from Kheb--and freed himself from her grasp. "I'd like to," he said. "Tell me what you have against him--tell me anything without all the evasions, or I'll go and ask him myself."

"He's...not a good person," she said. "Why do you think he was talking to you and just happened to bring up the Eyes? He wants them for something terrible."

"If he's so terrible, how did he even Ascend?" Daniel said, and then remembered, "He called you 'Mother.'"

She looked down.

"You helped him Ascend," he said.

"Yes, he's one of mine," she said. "He found me at Kheb--fooled me deliberately. He is the reason I was exiled."

"No--I thought you were exiled because you helped people in general Ascend--"

"You helped Martouf," she said impatiently, "and even with the Others' suspicions on you, you remain, more or less, free. It was a very special case that brought their wrath on me."

"But...he can't do anything," Daniel said. "The Others would..." He trailed off, thinking of what else Jim had said to him that one time they'd met. "This is...that's why the Others don't like people like me. Is this...was he..."

"You are not like him," she said sharply. "However much you disobey the Others, you would never be as corrupt as he."

"But how is he corrupt?" he asked, teetering between skepticism and a sense of dawning horror. "And did he start out that way? I mean...maybe he...he doesn't like the Others, Oma. I agreed with everything he said--he--maybe it's just a matter of...of...methods, and--"

"He lied to me," she said again. "He reached Ascension by lying to the one person who might be foolish enough to believe him. He knew exactly what he was doing."

"But Jim told me about Anubis," Daniel said. "He told me about the Eyes. Why would he--"

"He asked you about the Eyes," Oma said. "Remember? He charmed you just like he charmed me. He told you what you wanted to hear and even gave you some harmless information to seem helpful. And then he asked you about the Eyes--what you knew, whether the SGC had them..."

"But I didn't know anything about the Eyes," he said, not wanting to believe her because it made everything more complicated. "Except--"

"Don't," she interrupted. "Whatever it is, I don't want to know it. Anubis has already shown interest in you several times--or, at least, interest in taunting you--and if he's listening..."

"Anubis hasn't shown interest in...me..." Daniel started, but Oma lowered her eyes again, and again, Daniel felt the pieces click into place far too late. "Jim? He's...Anubis is...I had a conversation with Anubis?" And then, "You Ascended Anubis!"

"I have tried to undo the mistake," she insisted. "But mistakes like Anubis are why the Others disapprove of what I do."

"I'm not like him," Daniel said, even as he thought that he was, a little. Anubis had been playing him for a fool--calling himself Jim, using Jack's words and Tau'ri turns of speech, commiserating about Anubis...but some of it had to have been true. What did it mean that Daniel had so heartily agreed and still did now, even knowing what he knew?

"No," she said quickly. "You're not. You have qualities that cause the Others to see you the same way, which is why you have to be that much more careful. But you are nothing like him."

"Qualities," he repeated hollowly.

"You're both...keen to have power in your hands," she said. "Not for the same reasons, I know--"

"I don't want power," Daniel protested.

"You Ascended because you thought you could do more this way," Oma said, "not because you thought you could be more."

"But how can that be wrong?" he said.

"I didn't say it was," she said. "You know my beliefs. But it scares the Others. If you were someone else, it might scare me, too. Sometimes, it still does."

"I wouldn't do something terrible," Daniel said. "Not like Anubis."

"I don't think you...would try to do anything wrong," she agreed, and despite her soft tone, he could hear the careful phrasing of her words. "But Anubis certainly has and would."

"And that's why you spend so much time watching me," he said.

"Everyone needs a guide in the beginning," she said tactfully.

"Was Anubis like me at first?"

"No," she said. "You seek power because you wish to do good. He sought power because he wished to rule. But my punishment is to have no power to stop what he's doing."

"The Others will--"

"No, Daniel," she said, shaking her head. "They won't. They sent him back, but only partially. A mistake made by an Ascended being with a mortal... I made the mistake. If they fixed it, it would only encourage what I do."

"They'd let the whole galaxy suffer for your mistake," Daniel said, not sure why he was still surprised. "To punish you?"

"Don't forget how small that galaxy is to them," she said. "Billions may suffer to punish me, but seeing what I caused might stop me and others like me from committing--or facilitating--hundreds of trillions of more crimes."

Daniel exhaled slowly, staring at his feet. "You don't think they could've stopped Anubis when they realized it hasn't worked as a deterrent for you?"

"But it has," she said quietly. "I've been careful. I haven't stopped my work because it wouldn't stop the mistake I already made, but I haven't made a mistake like that since Anubis. Many, many more people would have Ascended with my help if I hadn't realized I had to be more careful, and I might have done something...even worse."

Despite everything she had done for him, a sense of horror kept trying to creep in when he looked at her. "You Ascended Anubis," he said again.

"And people have died for my mistake," Oma said. "I know--believe me, I know. All I can do--"

"There has to be something," he said. "I don't believe there's simply no way."

"You don't think I've tried?" she said.

"I don't think you've tried enough," he retorted.

She didn't answer.

"It's not fair," he said, feeling betrayed, though he couldn't have said who he thought had betrayed him. He'd tried so very hard to convince himself that he was taking the wiser path by standing aside, no matter what atrocities he could see on the lower planes. He didn't have the right to step in when mortals had problems, and he might have trouble adhering to that philosophy, but he wasn't essentially opposed to it.

But Anubis.

Anubis wasn't of the lower planes anymore; he was a product of Ascension and mistakes made by Ascended beings, perpetrating crimes on mortals who had little or no way to stop him. How could that possibly be fair? How could it be right?

Maybe this was Daniel's tipping point. Maybe that had been Jim's--Anubis's--plan all along, to make him step out of line and remove himself from the collective of Others who could potentially influence him, but he didn't care anymore--Anubis might have said it first, but it was still true. Maybe Ascension wasn't Daniel's path, and it was time to make that decision.

Oma sighed, looking dejected. "Do you understand now why I try so hard to stop you from defying them?"

Yes, Daniel thought, and, Not good enough. "He's looking for the Eyes," he said. "He's trying to build a weapon. You've been watching him too, yes?"

"Yes. He's only missing two: the Eye of Ra and the Eye of Tiamat."

"Wh--wait a minute," Daniel said, frowning. "I thought he'd only found the Eyes of Osiris, Seth, and Apophis."

"The other is the Eye of Anubis," she said, looking resigned. "He didn't need help to find that one. You've asked me why you can't see Anubis like you can see everyone else--he might be only partially Ascended, but he is so much more experienced than you. You've balked at learning the rules, but he didn't--he learned how to use them for his ends. Please. If you listen to nothing else I say, please leave him alone, for your own sake."

There were two Eyes left. One was on Earth--probably gathering dust on a shelf by now, since no one knew how it worked. The other, the Eye of Ra...there was only one place it could be. Daniel and Skaara hadn't found it before, even with the help of Robert and SG-11, but they hadn't known what they were looking for. Now...

Abydos had been the center of Ra's domain. Anubis would know that, too. Daniel couldn't let that happen, not when he knew what Anubis was and when they had tried so hard to keep Abydos a safe haven in the galaxy.

If he did anything, no one would turn a blind eye. Even Oma wouldn't shield him. Ganos Lal might be planning something--something huge, if she was telling the truth--but if he did this, he would never gain enough trust among the Others to be able to help her. Maybe they would kill him for it, or whatever the equivalent was for someone already Ascended. Whatever happened to him this time...

But what was the point of living--of existing--if he didn't do this? There was no choice, really, not when it was his home, his family, his people at stake.

"Okay," Daniel said calmly, as if he weren't contemplating which plan of action would let him survive the longest before the Others stepped in to punish him. "I'm going to do some more research. I want to know more about how all of this happened. I'll be wandering around, all right? Maybe look through my library again."

Oma looked at him suspiciously. "You'll do nothing?" she said.

"I understand the consequences," he said solemnly. "You know I wouldn't risk my friends."

"All right," she said. Daniel tried not to look like he was hurrying as he slipped away.

...x...

He went to his library first. He'd already learned as much as he could about the Eyes, so instead, he pulled out Ganos Lal's--Morgan's--book and flipped several pages past the note she'd left him.

I'm not your scapegoat with the Others, he wrote in the margin, and I have my own path to follow. Whatever you're planning, do it yourself.

He'd just finished when Oma stopped by. "What, you didn't think I'd be here?" he said, flipping surreptitiously back to the page with Morgan's note, hiding his own words from view.

"I thought you acquiesced too easily," she admitted. "I'm glad to be wrong."

With a silent apology, Daniel turned Morgan's book around to face her and said, "Oma, I found this note in a book Ganos Lal gave me--I guess you were right in thinking she was trying to manipulate me." She looked at him sharply and took it from him, skimming quickly. "Don't tell on her," he said, trying to look earnest while nearly squirming with impatience. "Maybe she can do some good. I just...thought you should know."

Oma scowled and took the book. "I won't say anything to the Others," she said, "but she shouldn't have put you in this position. I need to speak with her." She gave him a small smile. "Thank you, Daniel. I'm glad you brought this to me."

"Of course," Daniel said, willing her to go away. He tried not to think too hard about what she'd just told him: that Anubis had lied to her, too, because she was the only one who cared enough to believe it. "It seems you're the only one I can trust here."

Her smile brightened, gentle, honest, and genuine. However cynical she sometimes seemed, she hadn't truly learned the lesson the Others' punishment should have taught her; she could still believe so strongly in her latest child's goodness that she could be fooled by him.

Daniel smiled back at her and carefully pushed the thought aside as she left. The end didn't always justify the means, but sometimes it did, and if Daniel had learned anything in his time here, it was that he could not sit by like this any longer when the Others were letting one of their own slaughter mortals. Oma would disapprove. He only hoped she would understand afterward.

...x...

"Martouf," Daniel said when he found his friend. "I need your help."

Martouf studied him with a look of vague consternation but said, "What is it?"

"Nothing big," Daniel promised. "I'm about to do...something. Oma's busy for now, but when she's done with that, if you can do it without drawing suspicion, ask her a question or...or whatever. I just need a little time without her watching me. If anyone starts looking at you, then...then back off. Don't put yourself in harm's way."

"Daniel," Martouf said quietly, "what are you doing?"

"Try to buy me a little time," he said without answering, "but don't draw attention to yourself."

"You can't tell me something like that and expect me to stand aside," Martouf said.

"Look, I can't do this," he said. "Maybe you can do good up here among the Others, but my fight is down on the lower planes. I'll feel better knowing that someone as good as you is up here."

Martouf looked torn. "All right," he said. "I'll find Oma for you, but--"

"Do me a favor, okay?" Daniel interrupted. "If you want to help, there's an Ancient here named Ganos Lal--her name on Tau'ri is Morgan le Fay. See if you can figure out what her endgame is and if it's something worth your help. If not, then leave it--turn around and keep going on your own path." Martouf started to say something. "I have to go," Daniel said quickly and rushed away to set his plans into motion.

XXXXX

Daniel had never gotten lost on Abydos. Now, especially, with his mind clear with intent, it was simple to find Kasuf's dwelling, but Kasuf wasn't there; Sha'uri was.

"Sha'uri," Daniel said.

She jumped and whirled around. "Dan'yel?" she breathed. She looked around himself, as if expecting some trick. "What--is it you?"

"It is," Daniel said. "I am as Shifu was when you last saw him." Her eyes widened in understanding, and he added, "Your son is well, Sha'uri."

"Good," she said, a little faintly. "Then..."

"Where is Kasuf?"

Sha'uri swallowed, looking out the doorway as if to see if anyone else was around, then said, "My father is old. He has been ill in recent days. He is resting now."

Oh. Daniel hadn't expected that, for some reason, even knowing that Kasuf was middle-aged by Tau'ri standards but a very old man by Abydonian ones. Janet and a medical team, had helped to improve sanitation and some basic practices here, but modest improvements could only do so much. People who worried about having enough food to feed the village for a whole year didn't think too hard about what foods were more nutritious and what work was less dangerous.

Keeping his face carefully clear, Daniel said, "Then you govern here now? In practice, at least?" Sha'uri nodded once. "I need you to call the full council. Abydos is in danger."

"What are you saying?"

"Anubis, Sha'uri," Daniel said, watching her stiffen. "You know of him?"

"All Goa'uld knew of him," she said softly.

"Then you know there is little time."

She took a breath and nodded. "I will gather the elders."

"Bring Skaara," Daniel said.

She stared at him for a moment, knowing that there was only one reason he would want Skaara at a council meeting. "We cannot defeat a Goa'uld like Anubis with weapons, brother. Even the Tau'ri could not do it."

"Trust me," he said, and wasn't sure whether or not he was lying as he continued, "I would not lead Abydos to its destruction. Send messengers, call the council, and bring Skaara with you. I will return and explain when everyone is together."

...x...

There was a space behind Sam's lab for storage. Daniel moved immediately to the depleted devices that had been found in the secret chamber of Ra's pyramid on Abydos. He didn't think the Eye of Ra was in here--surely a jewel with a wedjat on it would have been noteworthy--but everyone had been very preoccupied with Jack's disappearance on Edora at the time. It wouldn't hurt to take another look, and he also needed to find the Eye of Tiamat.

He'd moved on to the storage area near the archaeology office when--

[Dan'yel,] Sha'uri said. [What is it you have to tell us?]

[Dan'yel?] Kasuf added; he was sitting with the elders, too. [Are you there?]

He checked the shelves behind him one more time, and then left.

...x...

"...said that Abydos was in danger," Sha'uri was saying when Daniel stepped into a dark corner of the hastily-erected tent, set in unclaimed territory between Nagada and the next largest town.

"How can you be sure you saw true?" said Itet of Kalima. "You told us yourself that Dan'yel of Tau'ri was no longer in our world."

"If my daughter says she saw Dan'yel," Kasuf spoke up, "then she did."

"Then where is he?" Skaara said.

Daniel stepped out and pulled back his hood. "I am here," he said. All eyes fixed on him. Skaara made a movement as if to get up, but Daniel continued before he could. "There is not much time--listen carefully. The Goa'uld Anubis has become the most powerful of the false gods. He is seeking a device that will make him too powerful for any to defeat."

"Why would he attack Abydos?" Kasuf said. "We have nothing he wants."

"You do," Daniel said. "The device he seeks is here, left somewhere on our land by Ra. He will come soon, and when he does, he will crush any who stands in his path until he finds it. You must stop him."

"We?" Skaara said. "I have heard of Anubis. We cannot win against him."

"We cannot let him win," Daniel countered. The faces around him looked uncertain--few of them were fighters, much less knew what it meant to face a Goa'uld like Anubis--and he added, "I believe in Abydos. We are a strong people, and we can stop Anubis from taking the Eye of Ra."

Skaara sat straighter. "The Eye of Ra? Then, could it be...our chamber--"

"Yes," Daniel said, nodding once. "It must be there, and you must find it. O'Neill and his team will help you, but I need you to show them the way. When Anubis comes..."

"We will fight," another man said, raising his chin. Daniel didn't know his name, but he was the chieftain of one of the tribes that never settled--they knew hardship, but they were known for their pride, as well. "We will die before we surrender to another false god."

Itet nodded. "Our lives are meaningless if we do not stop him from finding what he seeks. There is more to think of than only ourselves."

Skaara was trying to catch Daniel's eye. Unwilling to let anyone else distract him, Daniel watched Kasuf, knowing that this decision lay ultimately with him, not Skaara or even Sha'uri. Finally, Kasuf said, "We will take the women and children to the caves of Kalima. Skaara, you must return to Nagada and gather all those capable of fighting."

All those willing to die, Daniel thought, but Skaara was looking at him with such faith that he couldn't bring himself to say it. He summoned a small smile and nodded once, pained by the determined smile Skaara gave him in return. He thought about how many people he was betraying in this last effort and wondered if this was how Jack had felt every time Daniel had accused him of not thinking of the collateral damage and the morality of their actions.

"Go," Daniel ordered. "It is a long journey to Kalima, and there is no time to waste."

...x...

He returned to the archaeology archives to look for the Eye of Tiamat, and his frustration was just beginning to mount when something caught his eye.

A tablet lay on the shelf--'Ra's Ancient tablet,' he'd always called it before. He'd struggled with the translation before putting it aside. Now, though, what it said was clear. The tablet was written by the Ancients, and it told the story of their Ascension.

The Others--or, at least, the first of them--were Ancients.

He'd gotten so close to the answer so many times--he'd even found out that Morgan le Fay, an Ancient, was also now an Ascended being. He'd known there was a connection he had been missing, and it even explained why some of Anubis's technology looked like some kind of Goa'uld-Ancient hybrid. If the Others wanted to hide something about Ascended beings they disapproved of--Anubis, perhaps, or even some larger, darker faction--it might explain why they had refused to let him learn about the Ancients, the first people to have Ascended.

If only he had put the pieces together sooner...

Before he could finish reading, a light flickered on overhead. Daniel turned around and found himself face to face with Jonas Quinn of Kelowna.

"Um...hi," Jonas said. It wasn't until his eyes flicked briefly down and back up that Daniel realized he still appeared dressed as if for the desert. "How did you get in here? Who are you?"

"I'm an Ancient," Daniel blurted, still thinking about the tablet.

"Sure you are," Jonas said, clearly not believing him. "Let's try that again. Who are you and what are you doing?"

"No, uh...no, sorry," Daniel said, wishing that he'd been faster or that someone else had been the first to see him here. "Jonas Quinn, I'm Daniel Jackson." He started to extend his hand in greeting, then thought better of it.

Well. This wasn't the time for pleasantries, anyway.

"You're...wait a minute," Jonas said, his eyes suddenly widening. "Then...but you're--"

"Call Jack," Daniel said, recovering and returning to the matter at hand. "Or Sam or Teal'c. No one else."

"Okay," Jonas said warily, backing up two steps. "Uh...I'll, uh...I'll just--"

"Don't touch that," Daniel said, not wanting to waste time, and Jonas slowly pulled his hand away from the alarm near the door. "And don't raise your voice. Phone. Call your team. Only them."

"Okay," Jonas said again, and, without looking away from Daniel, moved to the closest phone, dialed, and said, "Sam, good, you're there. You...um, you need to come here. The--it's--you really need to see this for yourself.... No--no, right now.... Yeah.... Them, too. Right. Uh, thanks." He hung up the phone.

"You believed me?" Daniel said, a little impressed.

"Sam has a picture of you," Jonas explained. "I've seen you before. Sort of. And there was that thing with Martouf, so whatever doubts I had... Also, there's no projector around, so you're not a hologram, and your foot is sticking into the wall."

Daniel extracted his foot. "Right." As they waited, he asked, "Do you know what the wedjat symbol is?"

"Ye-es," Jonas said, his tone making it sound like a question.

"Draw it."

"What?"

"Draw the eye of Ra," he repeated. "For reference. It'll save me from having to describe it to the others."

"Right," Jonas said, and slowly found a legal pad. "Uh...so, listen. Aren't you dead?"

"No," Daniel said, and turned back to the artifacts.

"Oh," Jonas said.

A hand went through Daniel's arm. "Don't do that," Daniel said, still looking at the shelves.

Jonas snatched his hand away. "Sorry," he said, looking embarrassed. "That's pretty amazing, that whole--not the dying," he said. "Or almost dying. But the...you know, the..."

"Ascension," Daniel filled in.

"Yeah," Jonas said, deflating.

Daniel glanced away momentarily when Jonas continued staring once he'd finished sketching. "I was sorry to see what happened to Kelowna," he said. "And the fallout--I wish I could have done something. But you've done a good job here, so thank you. For watching their backs."

"Whoa," Jonas said. "That's...a little creepy. I mean, yeah, sure."

Jack's voice in the office called sharply, "Jonas? You all right?"

"Colonel, we're in here," Jonas said.

Daniel turned around just as Teal'c stepped in with a zat'nik'tel, Jack and Sam both behind him. "That won't do you any good," Daniel said, nodding to the zat, but even as he spoke, it was already being lowered. "And I'll thank you not to zat my artifacts."

"Oh my god," Sam whispered.

Jonas swallowed. "He said he's--"

"Daniel Jackson?" Teal'c said.

"Sam," Daniel said. "Teal'c. Jack. I need your help. Abydos is in danger, and soon, Earth will be, too. Do you remember the Eye of Tiamat? Well, there were five others, each very powerful on its own, but to use them in combination increases their power tenfold. Anubis wants them. He already has most of them, but he's missing the Eyes of Tiamat and Ra. He'll head for Abydos soon to look for the Eye of Ra. Now, either it's still there, in the secret chamber--you know the one I'm talking about, under the pyramid--or we brought it back without realizing it."

"I don't think it's here," Jonas offered.

"Yeah, I'm getting that impression," Daniel agreed. "There's not a lot of time. Anubis can't get the Eyes of Ra and Tiamat. If he does, he'll be unstoppable--"

The sound of a throat clearing stopped him. "Hey, Daniel," Jack said casually, sticking his hands into his pocket and taking a few steps forward. "How're you doing? Long time. How are things on the higher planes?"

Daniel bit his lip and stared at the floor until he lost the urge to do something the Others couldn't help but notice.

Fine. He could play this game.

"Hi, Jack," Daniel said, imitating Jack's casual tone and drawing the others' incredulous stares. "I'm great. How--how are you doing?"

"Fine," Jack said, shrugging. "Just fine."

"Oh, good," Daniel said, smiling in a way that he hoped conveyed his deep annoyance. "Good. So...what's new?"

"Um...actually, a funny thing happened to me today," Jack said, raising his eyebrows. "I'm getting off the elevator, and Teal'c grabs me. Says something funny's going on in the archaeology office, and I thought, what could possibly happen in a boring old archaeology office?" Daniel pressed his lips together. "But when I get there, an old friend of mine--someone who...never calls, never writes--"

Daniel rolled his eyes.

"--just shows up," Jack went on, "and tells us about this very important and apparently urgent mission that needs my attention."

A glance away showed that Anubis's fleet was in the midst of ransacking one of Marduk's old planets, but soon, they were going to put the Eye of Tiamat aside and start looking for Ra's planets instead. "Are you going to help," Daniel said, annoyed, "or--"

"No, wait, wait," Jack said. "Let me tell it--it's good. You see, this friend of mine has...Ascended. To a whole new level of existence." Daniel nodded slowly. "Do you see the irony? He's asking for our help, and he's this great and powerful being."

"Jack, we've been through this," Daniel said. "I can't actually do anything. Just talking to you is a violation."

"What, like jay-walking, double-parking..." Jack said.

"Wait a minute, Colonel, you've seen him before?" Jonas interrupted.

"Uh..." Jack shrugged. "Yeah, actually. Wasn't sure at the time, but, yeah."

"I also have seen Daniel Jackson before now," Teal'c said.

"Yeah, me too," Sam said, looking surprised. To Daniel, she added, "That's why you wouldn't talk to me! Because it's a violation of some kind?"

"I didn't know that," Jonas said, though he looked more curious than disappointed.

"Well, you got here first this time," Daniel said impatiently. "Was anyone listening to the part about Anubis? I really, really need your help."

"Didn't you say you were an Ancient?" Jonas said.

"What?" Sam said.

Daniel found Ra's Ancient tablet again and waved at it where it lay on the shelf. "Yeah, I just found out. Not...not me, but the Others like me--they're the Ancients. I sort of suspected, but I never knew..."

She stepped closer to join him in peering at it, as if he'd never left at all. "We never even considered that possibility. Is this Ra's tablet from Abydos? What's it say?"

"That..." Daniel skimmed the tablet. "...the Ancients were a race of humans who lived long before we did. They were destroyed by a plague--many of them learned to Ascend, and the others died out. And...and it talks about a lost city." A chilling thought struck him. "When Anubis comes here looking for the Eyes of Tiamat and Ra, you can't let him take that tablet. If he finds the lost city of the Ancients before you...then the war's over and we lose."

"Why would Anubis look for the Eyes here?" Jonas said. "He doesn't know Earth has one of them. Right?"

Daniel continued staring at the tablet until he could be sure his expression was completely blank when he looked up. "Don't underestimate him," he said without answering the question. When Jack started to narrow his eyes, as if in suspicion, Daniel added, "Anubis is Ascended."

"What?" Sam said again, her eyes wide.

"Or...half-Ascended or something in between," Daniel said. "The Others sent him back, but not all the way because they...they couldn't or wouldn't--I don't know, I don't really care. The point is, he's obviously found a way to keep a physical form, which does limit him, and he's under some restrictions, but he's a lot more than you think he is, too. Do not underestimate him."

This tablet wasn't all--it was just the first piece of a puzzle. This one told of the Lost City, but it would take some more searching to find where the City actually was. He'd never seen it before and suspected it was one of the things the Others didn't trust him with, but if Daniel looked for it specifically, now that he knew what he was looking for and he knew who the Ancients actually were, he was certain he could find it. If nothing else, he could ask Ganos Lal under the guise of still being curious about the Ancients and then somehow find a way to lead SG-1 to the city.

"So..." Jack said. "A partially incorporeal force of evil with superpowers is collecting the pieces of a super-weapon."

"That's one way to put it," Daniel said. "He's going to start by tearing Abydos apart, and if he gets his hands on the Eyes before you do, he'll come here and destroy Earth."

"Where exactly is the Eye of Ra in that secret chamber?" Sam said cautiously.

"I don't know," Daniel said.

She raised her eyebrows. "You don't know?"

"See," Jack said, gesturing with a hand, "I'm starting to think this whole Ascension business is a bit overrated."

Me too, Daniel thought, but pointed out, "If I'd died instead, you wouldn't have had any warning before Anubis came this time."

"So do something about that," Jack said.

"If I take any action on my own," Daniel repeated slowly, "Oma will stop me to prevent the Others from stopping her and all of her followers. I'm walking a very fine line already. I can't jeopardize what she does for people, and she wouldn't let me."

"So, what," Jack said, "we skip on over to Abydos and look for a...what does it even look like?"

"Uh...like this, I think," Jonas said, picking up the quick sketch he'd made.

Daniel glanced at it and nodded, satisfied that it was a decent approximation of the wedjat. "Think of what the Eye of Tiamat looks like," he said. "It looks similar, but with that symbol on it, possibly some Goa'uld writing on the side. It's--"

[Dan'yel,] Sha'uri said. [Where are you?]

"Hello?" Jack said, waving his arm through Daniel's chest. "It's...?"

"I have to go," Daniel said distractedly.

"Now? Where?" Sam said, her eyes widening.

"I've told you what you need. Don't...don't lose that tablet about the Ancient city; I'll help you with the translation when this is done"--Jonas was already starting to take it from the shelf, wrapping it carefully and setting it aside--"and get the Eye of Tiamat from...your lab, Sam, or Area 51, wherever you put it. Keep it close. And Abydos--"

[Dan'yel, are you there?]

"Daniel?" Sam said.

"Anubis cannot get the Eyes," Daniel said, looking at Teal'c, because whatever the others thought or felt, Teal'c would remind them that there was a serious risk-benefit ratio to consider for this mission. "I told Skaara to meet you when you go to Abydos. He'll brief you on their situation then. Uh...oh, and extra artillery wouldn't hurt."

"Daniel!" Jack snapped, but by then, he was already on his way.

...x...

Sha'uri was in the empty house where Daniel had used to live as a child. Sounds from outside said that there were still people here, in the village, but a quick look showed him that most of the Nagadans had already evacuated and were on their way to Kalima.

"Has Kasuf gone ahead?" Daniel said when he arrived.

She spun around to face him. "Yes," she said. "I am to lead the last group."

"Then go. Hurry."

"No," Sha'uri said instead, any of her previous surprise or awe dissipated into firm protectiveness. "Warriors from other villages have come to join the fight, but if Anubis is coming here, then fleeing to the mountains will not save any of the Abydonian people, no matter how many try to oppose him. There is not enough time for all of us to leave through the Stargate, but if we are to fall, we would die fighting, not hide to wait for our slavers."

"Anubis does not care about Abydos itself," Daniel said, hoping he was right. "I will make sure that he has another goal he cares about more. You only need your fighters to buy enough time for the Tau'ri to play their part here."

"To play their part," Sha'uri repeated, staring at him. "I know you, brother. You are hiding something--if not from us, then from them, and if not that, then from someone else. Are we also only playing our part in your game?"

"This is not a game," he said, even though she was right in many ways. He would simply have to finish it before he had a chance to feel guilty about it. "You know me, Sha'uri--trust me. Everything I have done since leaving this world the first time was try to keep Abydos safe."

She nodded and looked down. "I know," she said. "We will fight on your word. But Dan'yel, you have lived on a world that knows a woman can fight beside her brothers."

Daniel had almost been expecting something like that from her, after all she had seen and done. "Skaara's men were trained; most of the women are not. We need each gun in the hands of someone who at least knows how to use it."

"What about me?" she countered. "I know more of war than any of my brother's men."

"Skaara can command warriors, but he does not know how to lead a world," he said. "You were taught to follow Kasuf as leader. Abydos will not be left unharmed, Sha'uri. When Anubis comes, we will need warriors. In the days after that, you will need leaders. And I...would like to know that someone who understands will watch over our people after this."

She narrowed her eyes. "Where will you be?" she said, sounding suspicious.

"I will be with those who stay and fight," he said and didn't try to guess where he'd be afterward. He couldn't say much for the fate of the ones who stayed to fight, and even though he knew it had to be this way, he hoped she could forgive him for what he was sending her brothers into. "I am not saying this only for you, sister. They need you."

"And they believe in you," she said quietly. "Do not give us hope and then take it away."

Daniel took a breath. "But they won't survive on hope alone. You can help to give them the rest. Please, Sha'uri. You have to go now."

"The people would do almost anything for you," she said.

"Not for me," he said quickly with a pang. "Abydos has had enough of following the words of people who claim to be more than men. Let me be part of your history. Lead them to Kalima so they can be free, in their own name."

Sha'uri nodded, looking satisfied with that answer. "Promise me you will return," she said. "I have lost enough brothers, and I will have lost more before Anubis finishes here."

"I promise," he lied, because he would have promised anything to speed them along. He might not know what would happen to him afterward, but they would be safe by then, and Sha'uri and Kasuf and the others would push through, no matter what. He had not lied when he had said Abydos was strong. "Anubis will be here in days, maybe less. You must leave now."

...x...

Daniel waited and watched and waited until he was sure everything was going to plan. When the preparations were underway on both sides, he slipped into Anubis's hatak. This time, he went directly to the peltak, where Anubis sat on his throne.

The First Prime strode in. "My lord," he reported, "we have turned the hatak toward Abydos."

Anubis didn't move at all as he said, "Good. We can seek the Eye of Tiamat again once we have the Eye of Ra."

The Jaffa hesitated for a moment, as if unsure whether to stay or to go, then finally bowed to Anubis's back and left.

"You won't do anything to Abydos," Daniel said once they were alone.

Not turning, Anubis said, "And you will stop me?"

"I can," Daniel said. "You know I can."

"What I know," Anubis said, turning to look at him, "is that you can do nothing but stand there and utter empty threats, and that you will stand by and watch as I destroy your world."

Leaving no room in his mind for apology--or for imagining the look on Jack and Sam and General Hammond's faces--Daniel said, "The Tau'ri will find the Eye of Ra before you."

Anubis fell silent for a moment. "You told them," he said, almost disbelieving. "What about the Others?"

"Like you said, Jim," Daniel taunted. "Sometimes, someone has to take a risk. You won't tell them, will you, Jim. I'm pretty sure you're the one person they like less than me."

"Then I will have to take the risk of destroying Earth," Anubis countered, and then laughed, sounding genuinely amused. "Ah--I understand now. Daniel Jackson, blood of Tau'ri but son of Abydos. You would let your base be destroyed in the place of your home."

You could never understand, Daniel thought. "So you're going to destroy Tau'ri, are you?" he said. "And let the Eye of Ra be destroyed with it?"

"I will find the Eye of Ra first," Anubis said confidently, "and then Tau'ri will fall."

"Then I suppose you're willing to let the Eye of Tiamat join the debris of Tau'ri?" Daniel said, and had the momentary satisfaction of seeing Anubis's armored hand tighten around his chair. "That's right--they found it when you couldn't. Turn around now. If you harm Abydos or Tau'ri, they will destroy both of the Eyes. And then I will destroy you."

"There is nowhere you can go that I will not see," Anubis said. "And the Others will stop you if you touch me."

I know, Daniel thought, and said, "You can't watch me where I go, not this time. If you watch me and act on the intelligence you gained as an Ascended being, the Others will stop you." He had no idea whether or not that was a bluff, but hopefully, Anubis was wary enough of the Others that he would err on the side of caution.

"Get off my hatak," Anubis said, finally standing to loom close to Daniel, until his mask was visible. "Or stay and watch as your home burns."

Daniel had to risk it. Abydos wouldn't escape unharmed, but Anubis would be in a hurry to get to Earth; he wouldn't take the time needed to lay waste to Abydos. They could rebuild. Daniel hoped he wasn't wrong and quickly quashed the doubt that lingered in his mind. He had to be sure of what he was doing.

"I won't be staying," Daniel said as he turned to leave. "I have better things to do."

...x...

"Lord Yu," Daniel said.

Yu whirled around. His First Prime darted in front of him, staff weapon raised and primed, but before he could shoot, the Goa'uld grasped him by the shoulder to stop him. "You," he said, looking at Daniel, surprised for a brief moment before recognition changed into anger. "How did you board my hatak?"

"If you thought I was dead, you were almost correct," Daniel said, moving deliberately so that his arm sank into part of the wall. Yu's eyes fixed on that, and his First Prime froze where he stood. "Tal bet, Jaffa. And don't call your other guards. I won't let anyone else see me, and they'll think you're losing your mind...more than they already think it, I mean."

"How dare--" the First Prime started.

"Oshu, ar'ee," Yu interrupted.

Daniel watched the Jaffa, Oshu, who lowered his weapon but didn't quite obey the order to stand down. "Am I wrong?" Daniel asked him honestly.

Part of him hoped he was wrong--dealing with the Goa'uld was complicated enough without adding senility--while the rest hoped he was right. Convincing a Jaffa to see reason, especially one like Oshu, who seemed able to see through the godlike façade and maintain a respectably tight control nonetheless, might be easier than convincing a Goa'uld.

"Of course you are wrong," Oshu lied badly, standing squarely in front of the main console. It was obvious which of them was the one in control. "Lord Yu is a god."

"Silence!" Yu demanded again. But even furious, insulted, offended, and maybe a little threatened--his Jaffa had doubts about his mental faculties already, loyalty notwithstanding--Yu was a practical person, able to bend when he had to. "What do you want?" he demanded quietly. Oshu's jaw tensed, but he didn't speak.

Daniel looked outside. "So. You've been given command of the System Lords' armies. You hope to stop Anubis at Abydos?"

"I will stop him," Yu said.

"The Asgard Supreme Commander Thor couldn't defeat Anubis's hatak," Daniel said. "Are your weapons are so much stronger than the Asgard's?"

"Anubis has one hatak," Yu pointed out. "I command many."

"Anubis has four of the six Eyes," Daniel countered.

"We will destroy him before he can find the last ones."

"Not if he destroys you first."

Yu clenched his jaw together and breathed in through his nose. "Tell Anubis we will not surrender," he spat.

"Do you really think I came from Anubis?" Daniel said, and added, to test the waters, "If not for him, I would have killed you and all the other System Lords that day at the summit--you must know that."

Yu was angry, but that didn't matter. Daniel's posturing here was for Yu's sake, but his information was for Oshu, the one in true command of the fleet. Interestingly, the First Prime's face showed as much hatred as his master's, and Daniel wondered how a man could see through his enslaver's lies and still serve as well as this Jaffa did.

All right. Then antagonizing Yu would get Daniel nowhere, but he could certainly use Oshu's loyalty. The Jaffa rebellion must seem like a betrayal of their principles to Oshu, too, if he still served the Goa'uld, which meant he could be made to cooperate by threatening exposure of Yu's weakness to the other Jaffa--some of them would desert or revolt.

"I came to offer you the last two Eyes," Daniel said. Yu didn't so much as twitch, but Oshu straightened, looking more closely at him. "The Tau'ri have one; soon they'll have the other. Anubis knows that and will seek both on Tau'ri, but you'll be waiting for him there, with the Tau'ri's two Eyes and your entire fleet."

"You deceived me once," Yu said. "You made a fool of me. How can I know you are not lying now?"

"I've been watching you," Daniel answered. "You've done more than any other to hold Anubis at bay, but you will need the SGC if you want to succeed without being killed yourself. The Tau'ri don't know how to use the Eyes--I assume you do."

But Oshu might not know, he realized. He watched the Jaffa, who looked uncertain for the first time as he stared back. "My lord?" Oshu said quietly when Yu didn't answer.

"Of course I know," Yu said angrily. "I am the oldest and wisest of the System Lords."

Daniel couldn't tell whether he was telling the truth or not, so he stilled the airborne vibrations near Yu's ears and said, "I can show you how." Oshu nodded very slightly. When Daniel was sure that Yu hadn't heard, he dropped his hold on the air.

"And what happens if the Tau'ri betray me?" Yu said.

"Don't worry about them," Daniel said. "Wait in orbit around Tau'ri--cloaked--and send word to the SGC. They will give you the weapons you need to defeat Anubis, and you must attack swiftly, without any hesitation, if you hope to win."

"I do not obey you, Daniel Jackson," Yu said. His lips twisted. "My traitorous lo'taur."

"You denied Anubis a place among the System Lords," Daniel said, "and you signed a treaty saying you would stop attacks on an Asgard Protected Planet. We've been on opposing sides, Lord Yu, but you have your honor and I have mine. Help me, and I'll help you. Are we agreed?"

Yu's lips were pressed together in a thin line, but he nodded. "If the Tau'ri give me the Eyes as promised," he said, "I will stop Anubis from attacking their planet. But if they betray me, I will consider the Protected Planets Treaty void." Daniel glanced once at Oshu, who nodded surreptitiously as well.

"I'll hold you to that," Daniel said, and let himself begin to dematerialize, knowing Yu and Oshu would see it as an inexplicable, glowing light. He didn't return completely to human form as he bluffed, "If you betray them, don't bother worrying about what the Asgard have planned for those who defy their treaty; I'll deal with you myself."

...x...

Once the ship was on its way to Earth, Daniel slipped into the engineering room and found Oshu waiting. After checking to see there was no one else there, Daniel walked up behind him. "This panel," he said. "Open it."

Oshu jumped, raising his staff weapon by reflex until he turned and realized who it was. "If you betray my master again..." he warned quietly.

"Open the panel," Daniel repeated. "Now. Unless you want someone else to walk in and realize your master is no longer fit to tell you this himself. And put down your weapon--you'll only damage the hatak if you try to hit me."

A muscle twitched in Oshu's jaw, but he exhaled sharply and opened the panel with a jerk.

Daniel peered inside, quickly cataloguing the crystals stored in it. He didn't have all the knowledge of someone like Sam, but, unlike her, he could see and feel the energy emitting from each part of this ship if he chose and know what it was doing. "These crystals," he said, pointing. "And those, over there. No, not--yes, that one. Do you know what they are?"

Oshu touched one of them, then reluctantly shook his head. He was the general here, not the engineer. Like most high-ranking Jaffa, he probably knew basic protocols to replace or bypass malfunctioning systems, but that didn't mean he understood the hardware and how to adapt it for a new input. "I do not," he said resentfully.

"They set your weapons' controls," Daniel said. "That is what determines the energy output. Replace your usual weapons with the Eyes, and connect them to here and here. The naquadah rims around the Eyes will serve as an interface to your ship's power, but have your engineers bring materials to bridge the connection between the Eye and the weapon. You understand?"

"That is all?" Oshu said.

And what would happen when the fight was over?

Daniel stared at the panel, imagining not two Eyes, but six. Whoever won the battle would undoubtedly salvage the rest of the Eyes from the losing side, and all six Eyes in Yu's army wouldn't be much better than all six in Anubis's army. He couldn't play with Anubis's weapons, but he held influence over someone in control of Yu's ship. And whenever energy was being produced by naquadah in a some sort of reactor, there was always a chance of overloading it just by tweaking the right things. The tricky part would be timing...

An idea forming, Daniel said, "That is all," and quickly faded out of sight.

"And if you are lying?" Oshu said, still looking at the panel as if to commit it to memory. When Daniel didn't answer, he looked up, scowled to find himself alone.

Daniel silently melded into the ship's systems. There, he hesitated--Anubis was restricted to things he could have done as a mortal, and there was no telling what would happen if Daniel broke that rule. He peeked upward, though, and saw--

[...is the core of our philosophy, Martouf,] Oma was lecturing as Martouf listened intently. [Come--I can show you the...]

Relieved, Daniel returned to the ship and pulled on the circuits, gently, creating a switch between the thermal output and the power input that would close once the weapon was deactivated. Hopefully, the overload wouldn't happen until after the battle was already won and would be enough to prevent anyone from having all six Eyes. Hoping no one had seen him, he withdrew.

...x...

Daniel looked over all of Abydos before joining SG-1 in the catacombs. They had taken the first day and night to organize the men and station them all around the pyramid, taking what little cover they could find. Teal'c was with them now while the rest searched the secret room Daniel and Skaara had found.

Finally, Anubis's mothership exited hyperspace, and Teal'c was shouting, aiming his weapon at an approaching udajeet as the men around him raised their own guns.

"Daniel!" Jack yelled from the catacombs. "We're only here because of you!"

"Jack," Daniel said aloud. They spun around to see him. "It's here--I know it."

"O'Neill, ground forces have landed," Teal'c reported over the radio. "We will not be able to hold them off for long!"

"You hear that?" Jack said, pointing up toward the surface.

"I can't do anything about that," Daniel said. He'd already stepped far, far too far.

"I don't care," Jack snapped. "Do something, or we walk."

There was a loud boom from the surface. "Remember that fine line we were talking about?" Daniel said, wishing Jack didn't have the ability to push him past fact and into feeling.

"Cross it," Jack hissed.

"Maybe there's a secret compartment," Sam said, distracting them.

"A secret compartment in a secret chamber?" Jonas said skeptically.

"Why not?" Sam said.

Jonas raised his eyebrows, then shrugged. "Why not," he conceded. He picked up the nearest blunt object and began tapping the walls.

"O'Neill, we cannot hold our position," Teal'c said.

Jack reached up to his radio. "Fall back to the pyramid," he ordered, then lowered his hand. "Daniel, our people are getting slaughtered. If you're the person I used to know, do something."

Daniel swallowed hard, harshly pushing down a spike of apprehension. He looked back at the other two--they would find the Eye of Ra. They were almost there. He had done what he needed to do--his part was all but done.

"All right," he said, resigned now to whatever fate awaited him. He had never been one to do things by halves. "I'll help you hold them off."

Looking triumphant, Jack said. "You two stay here--Daniel, let's go." He started toward the stairs, Skaara behind him.

"Before I go," Daniel said, making his way toward the stairs leading out of the catacombs, "you should know that I told Anubis about the Eye of Tiamat. So once he knows that the Eye of Ra isn't on Abydos anymore, he's going to make his way toward Earth."

"What!" Jack said, running to catch up with him. "Daniel, what were you thinking? How could--slow the hell down!"

"Lord Yu is waiting for you at Earth," Daniel spoke over him, not slowing. The sound of gunfire and staff weapons was getting louder. "He has a fleet of motherships that should be in orbit soon, and he's agreed to stop Anubis if you give him the Eyes."

"Not a chance in hell!" Jack yelled. "Daniel--!"

"It's your only chance!" Daniel yelled back, reaching the top of the stairs, only to find that Teal'c and Skaara's ragtag militia--the few who were left--had taken up position inside, closely pursued by Jaffa. Skaara ran to the other side and took cover. "It'll work. Hand over the Eyes when you get back. Yu has helped us before--Jack, down!"

Reflexively, Jack ducked as a staff blast flew over him and went harmlessly through Daniel's chest. The Jaffa who had shot it froze in shock, and someone's bullet tore through his side in that brief second.

Jack scrambled out of the way and behind a pillar. "Now would be a good time for some fireworks!" he suggested.

Even knowing there was no going back, knowing he didn't want to go back and had already committed himself to whatever the Others had ready for him, Daniel still hesitated, some instinct for self-preservation overcoming his resolve.

Then, Tobay screamed as a staff blast struck him, and he fell--

--and Ascended.

Daniel stared as the glowing form rose. He wasn't the only one--the Jaffa seemed stunned into inaction, Skaara had lowered his weapon, and Jack was looking at Daniel. "Huh," Jack said, turning back to the fight and taking advantage of the Jaffa's momentary shock. "All right, well, take care of him up there--"

"That wasn't me," Daniel said. "Oma's here." Recruiting, he thought grimly with a pang he couldn't afford to feel now, since she'll be losing her most recent follower. Martouf must have run out of distractions by now. One false step, with Oma watching... Out of the corner of his eye, he saw one of the Jaffa recovering, raising his staff weapon while some of the Abydons were still distracted by Tobay's Ascension--"Skaara...no, look out!"

Too late--Skaara crumpled to the ground.

"Skaara!" Jack called, ducking and making his way around to Skaara. "Carter, what's taking so long!"

"We found it, sir," Sam said through his radio, the sound muffled by gunfire and yelling. "We're on our way."

Skaara wasn't moving. Another man was shot and promptly Ascended, but Skaara was still lying there, on the ground, and he wasn't Ascending. Daniel willed him to get up--he hadn't spent years scouring reports and hoping to find a trace of information that said Skaara was still alive, only to have him die now.

"--said, do something! Do you hear me? Daniel!" Daniel turned. Jack was crouched over Skaara's body. "He's not gonna make it if we don't get him out of here," Jack called. "Whatever you're gonna do, this is our last chance!" He turned back to the fight and opened fire.

With no barriers or inhibitions remaining, Daniel took his place behind Jack, Teal'c, and the Abydons. He faced the Jaffa, closed his eyes, and let his image brighten, more and more, until everything else around him felt cold and he was standing in flaming light.

The shouting redoubled, but while the staff blasts faltered, the gunfire continued strong. Daniel opened his eyes again to see some of the Jaffa stumbling back, the rest squinting, as if they were shooting into a glaring sun.

"Keep firing!" Jack ordered. Those still alive--gods, only four left, Jack and Teal'c and two Abydons, one already injured but still firing, firing--responded eagerly, desperately, their backs to Daniel.

Stop, Oma said, whispering through his mind like a knife. Stop it.

I can't, Daniel told her. Go away. Please, Oma.

You have crossed a line, she said as staff blasts passed uselessly through him. I can try to lessen your punishment, but there is a balance. For everything you do, I must take from you in return, or the Others will take from Abydos. Stop now.

Daniel wondered what there was to take from him for holding the enemy off from Abydos, then decided that it didn't matter what they took from him. He'd called men here to die; the least he could do was make sure their families stayed safe, because if they lost now, they were all dead anyway. No, he told her. My choice.

"Colonel, we...have it..." Sam's voice said. "Oh my god."

Daniel turned to see her holding the Eye of Ra in her hand, Jonas right behind. Sam thrust the Eye into Jonas's hands and rushed past, joining the fight.

"Dial Earth," Daniel told Jonas. "You're done here. Get back to the SGC for the next battle."

"For the what?" Jonas said, moving toward the DHD.

"Dammit, Jonas, dial!" Jack yelled. "Everyone fall back--fall back!"

A sound from the ceiling distracted Daniel. He looked up to see the ring mechanism opening, a matter stream already descending from the hatak above. "Jack, rings!" Daniel called.

"Teal'c, get Skaara," Jack ordered, whirling to aim at descending rings as Daniel tried to make himself as blinding as possible to anyone who appeared on the platform. Even as he did all he could do without doing anything, the Stargate whooshed open.

"Colonel, iris is open!" Jonas called. "We have to go!"

"They have the Eye," Anubis's First Prime yelled. "Stop them!"

"Jonas, take the Eye and go," Sam ordered.

Daniel Daniel Daniel, Oma said urgently, the Others are watching. Now now now now--

"Jack, hurry," Daniel said. "Teal'c--"

Energy crackled in the air above him. Daniel looked up, ignoring Jack as he emptied his last magazine with a curse, ignoring Sam as she shouted that they had to go, sir, they couldn't hold it any longer, ignoring Teal'c as he said Skaara's pulse was faint...

Anubis was in his peltak, his hand on the weapons console as he looked down at Daniel.

Stop, Oma said.

"Don't," Daniel told Anubis, terrified, furious. "Don't you dare!"

Try and stop me, Anubis answered, and charged his weapon to fire.

"Run!" Daniel yelled. Sam was already through, Teal'c behind her with Skaara. Jack was the last, looking at Daniel--he was always the last, because he'd never leave a teammate behind--so Daniel screamed, "Now! Close the iris behind you--"

"Daniel--" Jack said.

"Jack--go!" Daniel said. He gathered everything he had and focused it upward, knowing he could stop the blast from reaching Abydos, if only they would let him--

I'm sorry, Oma said.

The blast shook the pyramid around him. Just as he felt the heat spread and collide with his own energy with a shuddering crash, Daniel's grasp was cut, and he felt himself being dragged away from where he stood. "No," he gasped. "Don't do this--"

The Others will do worse, she said.

"Nothing is worse!" he yelled, holding on with all his might. All he had ever held onto through the war was the hope that Abydos would stay safe. He had been devoted to his team and to the SGC, but they were warriors there, willingly facing the risks that all warriors faced; Abydos was their one haven that had managed to remain relatively unharmed if not unscarred, and it was all he had left to fight for. "Nothing could be worse!"

The pulling sensation paused, and he braced himself again against Anubis. Daniel... she said.

"Take anything from me," he begged, pushing, pushing, trying to force the evil that was trying to rain on his home. "Anything! Just let me do this one last thing." Heat was rising around him, pushing against his shield--Anubis had stopped firing and turned toward Earth, but there was too much naquadah in the land and the damage would be unstoppable if he let go now.

They're here, she said. The Others have seen you, they're going to take away your--

Something ripped itself violently from him.

Daniel felt himself shaking in its wake, not sure exactly what he had just lost and not completely sure where he was when it was gone, but it didn't matter, not now, so he gathered together the last bit of strength he had and pushed harder against Anubis's weapon, as hard as he could. The pressure began to lessen all around him, and--

I have to act now, Oma said, and Daniel was yanked away from the lower planes.

...x...

"What was that?" he said when he felt Oma's grip on him and they returned to Kheb. "What happened to Abydos? I didn't see everything--what happened?"

"As my punishment for the unwilling Ascension of six Abydonian lowers," Oma said, "the Others could not reverse what Anubis did."

"No--" Daniel gasped, and tried to escape her. Why wouldn't she let him see? "No! Oma?"

"And as your punishment," she continued, "they have taken your home from you."

"From...just from me? Am I exiled from there? What about my people?"

"You will never return home to Abydos again," Oma said. "Do you remember Nagada?"

"Remember what?" Daniel said. He tried to turn, to look, to see what had just happened. "I want to Descend," he said quickly. "I can choose to Descend! Like Orlin did, like...like Moros did to become Myrddin--"

"I cannot let you Descend with everything you learned here," she said, holding tight to him and not letting him turn or see anything other than Kheb. "All of that will be buried in your mind so far you may never find it again."

"Fine," Daniel said determinedly. "Fine! Let me go!"

"And--Daniel, look at me," she insisted, shaking him. "I told you there had to be a balance. What Anubis took from Abydos today in the wake of your manipulations, the Others have taken from you. That is gone. Not buried; gone. Do you remember your village--Nagada?"

"What village?" Daniel said, confused. "Oma, please--let me Descend, however it has to happen. I don't want this anymore. This isn't my path."

Her grip tightened even more. "You tricked me," she said, and he had been anticipating her anger so much that he was staggered to hear only hurt and betrayal in her words.

"I'm sorry," he said, remembering all the times she'd led him by the hand and guided him when he'd been lost. "Oma, I'm sorry. I had to."

"I know. And I'm sorry, Daniel," she whispered for the last time, and then, he saw nothing more.


Continued in Part IV: The Lost


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