A Cry for Help by Selenay
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Category: Jack/Daniel
Genres: Action/Adventure, Angst, Drama
Rated: Teen
Warnings: None
Series: Inner Voices
Summary: As Jack and Daniel tentatively begin to explore their new relationship, a call for help from the Asgard interrupts a date.

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Daniel checked his watch as he hurried down the corridor toward the Gate room. It only took one or two - or three or four - late arrivals for missions to get a reputation for always turning up late. Today he was on time and had everything he would need including extra batteries for the digital camera. There would be no accusing glances from Sam this time if the damn thing started beeping.

Jack grinned at Daniel as he strode through the doors, sending a pleasant flutter to his stomach. Daniel had already mastered the technique of not tripping over feet each time that happened so he casually walked over to Jack and glanced around the room.

"Aren't we short a couple of people?" he asked lightly.

Jack rolled his eyes. "Sam's calibrating something and Teal'c's somewhere important."

As he spoke, the Jaffa appeared in the doorway and nodded politely to Jack before moving to stand at the base of the ramp.

"Are we prepared to depart, O'Neill?" he asked.

Daniel hid a smile at Jack's annoyed snort.

"Nice of you to join us." Jack looked up at the control room window. "Carter, are you done up there yet?"

"Almost, sir," Sam's voice floated down. "I'll be down by the time the Gate finishes dialling."

A moment later the familiar grinding sound began as the ring began turning.

"Do you know what she's doing?" Jack asked quietly.

Daniel shook his head. "Ah, no. She mentioned an experiment and naquadah."

"She knows how to have fun," Jack said.

Daniel exchanged a grin with Jack and said, "Fun comes in many forms."

"Chevron three encoded," Sergeant Davis called out.

"Uh, Jack?" Daniel moistened his lips and hoped he did not look as nervous as he felt. "Do you want to claim that dinner I owe you tonight? Joe and Nyan have been talking about a new steakhouse all week, if you're interested."

Hiding in plain sight had been the tactic that they had both agreed on in this new relationship, but Daniel still could not help feeling anxious any time they discussed plans on-base. They'd eaten meals together, hung out at each other's houses and caught movies together for years so no one would be suspicious, but he was now so aware of everything he did and said to Jack that he was constantly fighting the impulse to check whether anyone was watching them.

"Sure," Jack said casually. "You're buying."

Most of the tension flooded out of Daniel. "Fine."

"Chevron five encoded!"

"I'm expecting good steak, mind," Jack continued. "Nice, rare, juicy steak with all the trimmings."

"I'll make sure it moos on its way to the table."

"Chevron six encoded!"

Jack ostentatiously checked his watch. "Carter!"

"On my way, sir."

Daniel glanced at the Gate out of habit, which was why he was the first to see the last symbol fail to engage and the lights on the ring die.

"Chevron seven . . . will not engage," Davis called.

All activity in the Gate room immediately ceased, and Teal'c left his post at the base of the ramp to join his teammates. Daniel craned his neck to look up at the control room window, but all he could make out was dark shapes moving, a flash of Hammond's blue shirt and the top of Sam's blonde head.

"Running Gate diagnostic now, sir," she called.

Daniel felt as well as heard Jack's sigh and sympathised. They'd had to rearrange their mission schedule to include P2S-4C3, and Hammond apparently had the Pentagon breathing down his neck about it.

"Gate checks out fine," Sam announced.

"SG-1, briefing room in five minutes," General Hammond added.

"Ah, crap," Jack muttered quietly.

Daniel agreed wholeheartedly.

***

Sam was the last to arrive in the briefing room and she slid into her seat without a word. There was no sense in bringing any reports with her; she could remember the results of her initial investigations perfectly.

General Hammond turned to her. "Have you succeeded in dialling P2S-43C, Major?"

Sam shook her head apologetically. "We've tried re-dialling five times with no success. I've run a full diagnostic and everything checks out. I can only assume that at some time during the past two weeks something has happened to bury or destroy the Gate on the other side."

She could sympathise with the general's disappointment. The initial MALP survey had been promising, showing an industrialised society with some intriguing energy readings that everyone had been keen to investigate further. Yet again they would have to disappoint the Pentagon.

"I will have to inform the Joint Chiefs," Hammond said, his voice reflecting the reluctance he must be feeling. "They had high expectations for this mission."

"I'll add it to our cold-dialling program," Sam said. "Maybe their Gate will be unburied soon."

"You do that, Major."

The rest of SG-1 seemed as disappointed as her about the latest setback, although Sam suspected that it was due to itchy feet rather than dashed scientific curiosity. It had been over two weeks since PCR-578, which Jack had christened 'Smurf World', and events had conspired to keep SG-1 on base. There were only so many days that could be spent in a mountain complex with dull grey walls before people started to get cabin fever.

Hammond smiled gently around the table. "I'll push forward your mission to P1R-555. You leave in forty-eight hours, subject to the MALP data. I'm sure you can all find work to do here until then. Dismissed."

Sam heard Jack grumbling quietly about reports and memos as she gratefully escaped the briefing room and headed toward her lab.

***

When Sam finally took a break for lunch, the commissary was mostly empty and everything apart from a couple of forlorn portions of lasagne had gone. She spent a moment studying the congealed white sauce and unappetising mystery meat before deciding that a sandwich and some Jell-O were safer. The coffee seemed to be tar-like so she added a bottle of water to her tray and scanned the room for a seat. She was about to sit down at an unoccupied table so that she could read some reports as she ate when she noticed the lonely figure of Lieutenant Astor sitting in a corner, picking at a plate of lasagne. Sam was surprised to feel a touch of responsibility for the young lieutenant, even though in this world she had never commanded the woman.

Astor looked up with a surprised expression when Sam sat down opposite her. She half-stood as if to leave, but Sam waved her back and she warily sat.

Sam unwrapped her sandwich and took a bite. She chewed and swallowed before asking, "How's the lasagne, lieutenant?"

Astor grimaced. "You made a wise choice with the sandwich, ma'am."

Sam slid the other half of her sandwich over. Astor watched uncertainly for a moment before picking it up and taking a large bite. They both ate in silence for a while, and Astor began to visibly relax.

"The food isn't too bad," Astor said eventually, "but I'd kill for something that hasn't been mass-produced. I don't know how Teal'c and Nyan stand being cooped up down here all the time. I'm about to go stir-crazy."

"Teal'c spends a lot of time off-world," Sam said. "I'll have to ask Daniel what Nyan does."

"General Hammond wants me to live on-base for now," Astor said glumly. "Doctor Fraiser said that I can start going for walks topside tomorrow, though."

"That's good," Sam said with a smile.

Astor shrugged. "It'll be good to get some fresh air."

Sam pushed her sandwich wrapper aside and pulled over the Jell-O. "Has anyone spoken to you about your duties yet?"

Astor's face immediately went blank and she concentrated intently on tearing pieces off the sandwich wrapper. "No, ma'am."

The lieutenant seemed to be trying to avoid her eyes, which made Sam curious. She couldn't remember much about the Astor from this reality, just that she had been a member of a field team that had several run-ins with hostile Jaffa. That wouldn't give her any help with this Astor, she reminded herself, because this Astor had been on a research team.

"Lieutenant, how long had you been in . . . your Major Carter's team?" she asked.

Astor looked up and blinked. "A little under a year. Daniel persuaded me to put in for a transfer after a close-call on a Goa'uld world."

Sam nodded. That information shed some light on Astor's attitude.

"Would you feel comfortable going back to a field unit?"

Astor ducked her head. "No, Major. I was enjoying my work under y- . . . ah, her . . . and I'm not sure how I'd feel about fighting Jaffa again."

Sam scraped out the last of her Jell-O. Hammond and the colonel had both been trying to talk her into getting a full-time assistant for a couple of years. Graham was a good man, but he was far more useful as a Gate technician than a lab assistant and he was beginning to develop his own research. With a little training to build on what the other Major Carter had taught her, Astor could turn out to be a good assistant, and it would mean that she wouldn't have to wait for breaks in the mission schedule to run some of her experiments.

"Ma'am?" Astor asked, and Sam realised that she had been staring into space for several minutes.

"I need to talk to General Hammond," Sam announced.

"Um, ok."

Astor looked confused so Sam smiled at her reassuringly. "I have an idea, but I need to run it past him first."

She stood and gathered up her dirty bowl and water bottle.

"Thanks for the sandwich," Astor called.

"No problem."

***

"Daniel, did you know that Teal'c's giving Nyan and Doc Smith self-defence lessons?"

"Huh?" Daniel said inelegantly. He had been so absorbed in his work that even their connection had failed to warn him of Jack's sudden appearance.

"I just passed them on their way to the infirmary." He obviously noticed Daniel's alarmed expression and added quickly, "Dented, not broken. You might want to keep them on light duties for a couple of days, though."

"Oh."

"Yeah. Why is Teal'c giving them self-defence lessons? I thought they were strictly base-only guys."

The image of Nyan and his even shorter colleague facing off with Teal'c was either frightening or funny, and Daniel couldn't quite decide which.

"Joe wants to go on a mission with SG-14 but Hammond won't let him until he's had a bit of training," Daniel explained. "Nyan probably offered moral support."

"Brave guy."

Daniel shook his head with a grin. He knew why Jack was doing this to him. Their connection was communicating the colonel's frustration and boredom to him clearly. There also seemed to be some nervousness buried deep under the rest of the emotions, and that probably explained why Jack was here rather than in the commissary eating pie. He obviously wanted to ask something but he was trying to find excuses to put it off.

"Are you just here to interrupt me or was there something important?" Daniel asked, tapping his pen absently on his pad of paper.

Jack shrugged. "No, that was pretty much it. I thought I'd annoy you for a while."

"Can I get on with this while you do it?"

"That would kind of miss the point," Jack said, grinning at Daniel's irritated expression.

"Oh. Sorry." Daniel put down his pen, sat back in his chair and gestured for Jack to continue. "Annoy away."

The colonel sighed. "Sorry, you've spoiled it."

"Then can I do some work now?"

Jack rolled his eyes. "You know, you're as bad as Carter."

"Thank you," Daniel said politely, choosing to take that as a compliment rather than the insult that Jack probably intended.

At the door Jack hesitated. "Are we still on for steak?"

Ah, the purpose of the visit. Daniel grinned. "Pick you up at eight?"

Jack returned the grin. "Cool."

Then he turned and, hands in pockets, ambled out of the office. Daniel chuckled and went back to work, almost immediately becoming lost in the rhythms of language.

***

Jack was standing in front of the mirror in his bathroom giving himself a stern pep talk.

"It's just dinner, there's no point in freaking out."

This was, after all, their third official date and so far nothing had gone disastrously wrong.

"He'll pick you up and you'll have a nice dinner."

That was also true. Meeting at a pizza place and Jack picking up Daniel for Chinese had both worked out fine. He had enjoyed the warm companionship and gentle teasing. The tension between them had dissipated completely and that could only be good for their relationship at work. He felt more peaceful and secure than he had done for months.

"So what the hell is the problem?"

He was nervous and it had taken three changes of clothes before he was satisfied. He still wasn't entirely sure about the tan chinos. Too dressy? Too casual?

"It's not the clothes."

The clothes were only a focus-point so he didn't have to think about the real problem.

"Just admit it. If you can't say it here, what are you going to do when Daniel gets here?"

Panic, probably, a snide voice is his head taunted.

It was true, that was the worst part. He had been thinking about this all day, ever since Daniel had suggested dinner, and with each passing minute the feeling had grown.

"The other me was right. I am a complete screw-up."

The problem that had occupied Jack's mind for the past few hours - the past few days, if he was strictly honest - was simple.

"I want to kiss him."

He stared at his shocked reflection.

"I really did say that, didn't I?"

Throughout both dates Daniel had been polite and friendly. He had done his best to make Jack comfortable. He had obviously been trying not to move too fast and scare Jack away. Jack was grateful that Daniel was showing so much sensitivity, he really was. Daniel would never rush things beyond what they were both comfortable with.

It was also damned frustrating. The spark that had always been there between them had been smothered under Daniel's kindness and he missed it.

"Maybe I need a little pushing."

There was a difference between rushing and giving him a gentle nudge. Jack had finally worked out that he needed to let Daniel know that he was open to a bit of nudging.

"It's simple. All you have to say is 'I want you to kiss me'. He'll work out the rest."

Their connection was giving Jack no clue about how Daniel would react. The occasional bursts of emotion that he caught were hard to interpret without knowing the context. For all he knew, the frustration coming through could be irritation at anything from a difficult translation to the commissary serving the wrong type of coffee.

The peel of the doorbell interrupted Jack's thoughts and sent a bolt of nervous excitement through him. He swallowed hard and glared at his reflection.

"Don't stuff this up," he instructed himself.

Then he walked quickly down the hall and stairs, breaking into a faster lope when the doorbell rang again. He reached the door, took a deep breath and rubbed his sweating hands on his chinos before jerking it open.

All his words died on his lips when his eyes met Daniel's. He forgot how to speak and nearly forgot about breathing. All he could do was stare, taking in the navy shirt and leather jacket, and wonder how the hell he hadn't noticed how beautiful his best friend was.

"Uh, hi, Jack."

The colonel was still incapable of speech so instead he grabbed a handful of Daniel's jacket and tugged him inside.

"Jack?"

He pulled Daniel inside far enough to be able to close the door behind him. The part of his mind still able to think about anything else congratulated him on his prudence.

"Jack?"

Daniel's voice sounded worried and his blue eyes were searching Jack's for a clue about what was going on. Jack gaped at him helplessly for a moment longer before giving up on speeches and tugging Daniel towards him into a clumsy kiss. It was only a brief, awkward brush of lips but the panic loosened its grip on Jack's mind as they parted.

"Jack?" Daniel asked gently.

"Why don't you kiss me?" Jack blurted, his face flaming.

A faint grin appeared on Daniel's face. "I was waiting until you seemed ready."

Jack frowned. "We could have waited a long time then."

Daniel pulled back, but Jack tightened his grip on the leather coat.

"If you-"

"Daniel, if you're always going to wait until I look comfortable then we could spend the rest of our lives making googly eyes across restaurant tables. You might need to give me the occasional . . . nudge in the right direction."

"But-"

"Don't worry, you'll know if it's something I'm really not ready for."

Daniel gazed at him silently for a moment before a small smile appeared. "Okay."

Then he stepped forward and caught Jack's lips in a kiss. This time there was nothing clumsy about it. Jack closed his eyes and gave himself up to the sensations. His hand loosened its death-grip on Daniel's jacket and slid down to rest on his hip while his other hand slid round to Daniel's back and pulled him closer. Jack wasn't aware of it. Every sense was focused on the feel of Daniel's lips on his, Daniel's breath on his cheek, Daniel's hands on his back and in his hair . . .

A hot tongue swiped delicately across Jack's lips, making him gasp and immediately open to allow Daniel in. A low groan from someone made Jack's heart speed up. He was barely aware that they had stumbled back against the door. He just needed more . . .

Daniel tore his mouth away and said breathlessly, "Steak."

Jack nuzzled his neck and mumbled an agreement. It was impossible to think of anything with Daniel's scent surrounding him and their bodies pressed so tightly together.

"We should go," Daniel added, pressing a kiss on Jack's jaw.

The colonel reluctantly raised his head and met Daniel's eyes. Desire still lurked there, barely controlled. He could feel Daniel's emotions and for once they were easier to interpret; he was holding onto control, but the struggle was difficult with so much passion and desire bottled up inside. Jack traced Daniel's jaw with shaking fingers and watched as the archaeologist's eyelids fluttered before he valiantly forced them open again.

"Jack?"

"Right. Food," Jack whispered, intrigued by the way a muscle in Daniel's jaw twitched.

"Yeah, food," Daniel agreed.

Jack couldn't resist stealing another quick kiss. It might have become more but a piercing ringing sound interrupted. Someone made a sound that could only be described as a growl and Jack was surprised to realise that it came from his throat.

"I could ignore it," he said against Daniel's lips.

Daniel just chuckled as the cell phone rang again. Reluctantly, Jack moved away from him and immediately felt chilled. He pulled out the phone, opened it and barked his name.

"Sir?"

Jack released a frustrated sigh. "Carter, Daniel's just about to buy me a steak. A big, juicy, meaty steak. Do not ruin it for me."

"Sir, the Asgard need our help."

"There, now you've ruined it for me."

"Sorry, sir."

Jack sighed again. "We'll be there in thirty minutes."

He closed the phone and turned back to Daniel. He had used the break to straighten his shirt and was now leaning against the door with a small frown on his face.

"Asgard," Jack explained succinctly.

"Damn." Daniel straightened. "I was actually hungry."

Jack grabbed a coat from the rack and grinned at him. "Could have been worse."

"Oh?"

"They could have beamed us straight up to Thor's ship."

***

It seemed pointless to take two cars so Daniel drove and they stopped at a drive-through on the way to the mountain. Jack ate his burger in the car and passed the occasional French fry over to quiet Daniel's rumbling stomach. The desk sergeant gave them an odd look when he signed them in and directed them straight to the briefing room. Daniel thought that he probably didn't often see senior members of the program sharing a bag of fries when they arrived for duty. They were quiet in the elevators so that Daniel could quickly devour his burger before they reached the briefing room. The desk sergeant's instructions had come straight from Hammond; they could change later but they had to be in the briefing room immediately. Jack took Daniel's burger wrapper as they left the elevator, balled it up with the bag from the fries and ducked into an empty office to dump it in the trash.

"Maybe the Asgard have a nice reward for all the help we've given them," Jack suggested brightly.

Daniel only sipped at his soda silently as he paced along next to his friend.

"Maybe not," the colonel conceded after a beat.

They hurried through the control room, attracting curious glances from the technicians on duty, and jogged up the stairs. Hammond, Sam and Teal'c were already chatting quietly, and the general turned to look at them as soon as they reached the top of the stairs.

"Ah, gentlemen, good of you to come in," Hammond said, beckoning them forward. "I'm sorry if we've interrupted your plans."

Jack shrugged as he sat down. "I can get steak anytime. Saving Asgard butts is a special occasion."

Daniel sat down as Hammond chuckled.

"So what happened, sir?" Jack asked.

Hammond immediately became serious and gave Jack a sympathetic look. Daniel began to get a bad feeling about it.

"Jack, I'm sorry to have to tell you this. Thor is dead," Hammond said gently.

"Dead? How?" Jack asked after a shocked pause.

Hammond glanced at Sam.

"He was trying to stop a Goa'uld attack on a protected planet," she explained. "His ship was destroyed. Somehow, this Goa'uld has upgraded its shields and weaponry to be a real threat to the Asgard."

"Damn," Jack swore, and Daniel was fairly sure that he was only restraining himself from saying something else because the general was present.

"There's more," Hammond said heavily. "They want us to rescue a scientist that's trapped on the planet with vital information. I've already authorised the mission. We were only waiting for you to arrive."

"Why can't they rescue their own damned scientist?" Jack asked.

"Freyr came here by Gate," Sam said. "All their ships are currently needed in the fight against the Replicators."

"Did Freyr take Reese back?" Daniel asked.

Sam nodded. "He thinks that she could be useful when they've had time to study her."

"How are we supposed to rescue this scientist?" Jack asked.

"The Tok'ra helped us to repair the cargo ship," Sam reminded him. "It's not perfect, but we should be able to get to the coordinates Freyr gave us in about twelve hours."

"There's a chopper standing by to take you to the airstrip as soon as you've geared up," Hammond added.

"I guess we're going on a rescue mission then," Jack said.

"Good luck," Hammond said, standing. "I hope you won't need it."

***

Thump-thump.

Thump-thump.

Thump-thump-thump.


"Nice," Jack complimented as he caught the small rubber ball.

The hold of a Goa'uld cargo ship was not an exciting place to be for twelve hours, but it was wide enough to bounce a ball across and Jack just happened to have one. He eyed the stretch of floor between him and Daniel and, with a neat flick of his wrist, attempted to send the ball back with four bounces. That turned out to be over ambitious; the ball bounced badly and hit the wall just above Daniel's left shoulder before trickling away towards the back of the ship, forcing the archaeologist to stretch along the floor to retrieve it. The movement pulled up his jacket and T-shirt, exposing a couple of inches of skin. A shiver of something flowed through Jack and almost immediately his mind tried to cut it off and turn his thoughts to something safer.

Jack refused to allow it to happen this time. He pulled out the sensation and examined it. For a brief moment he had felt a surge of interest - no, desire - when he had looked at Daniel. His mind drifted back to the kiss in his hallway where the same feeling had almost overwhelmed both their better instincts. He looked at Daniel again, now sitting with his back against the wall and the ball poised to throw again, and had a sudden urge to crawl over and kiss him again.

"Jack?"

Instead he gestured for Daniel to send the ball over.

"You know what this place needs?" he asked to cover his moment of distraction. "A dartboard."

Thump-thump.

"A Playstation might be cool if Carter could get the power sorted," he added.

Thump-thump.

"I'd settled for decent beds," Daniel said, eyeing the pallets in the corner that everyone had spent a few hours trying to sleep on.

"Hedonist," Jack accused.

"Sleep-deprived," Daniel countered. "You can't say that those are actually comfortable."

Thump-thunk.

"Ow!" Jack exclaimed, rubbing the sore patch on his arm where the ball had impacted. "Watch the angle."

He retrieved the ball and bounced it back to Daniel, who was looking sheepishly apologetic. They bounced the ball back and forth in silence for a while before Jack cleared his throat awkwardly.

"Uh, about earlier . . . at my house . . . I . . . it was . . . you know," he said incoherently.

Daniel smiled at him, a smile he had never seen before but that immediately made that 'something' feeling shiver down Jack's spine again.

"I know," Daniel said. "Me too."

The best part, Jack decided, about dating someone who knew you so well was that they understood you no matter how incoherent you were.

***

The front view screen of the ship showed the flowing, rippling colours of hyperspace. It could be hypnotic if you watched it for too long. Sam and Teal'c were taking their watch in the cockpit of the ship, with Teal'c at the bulbous red crystal that controlled it and her in the co-pilot's seat. It was her job to keep an eye on the ship's systems but there was really nothing for her to do while they were travelling through hyperspace. She could hear the low hum of voices from the hold of the cargo ship, although not the individual words, and the irregular thumping noise of Jack's ball. At first the noise, coming from a fairly rickety ship, had alarmed her until she had gone back there to investigate. Sam had made a lame excuse about wanting a second breakfast and booked immediately without admitting to the colonel that his ball-bouncing had alarmed her. If he got so much as a hint of her worries over the condition of the ship he would just keep annoying her about it until she was ready to scream or possibly toss him out of the air lock. She wasn't really worried. Much. The Tok'ra had done a great job with it in the circumstances.

"Teal'c, Jack's awake if you want to take a break," she suggested.

The Jaffa's eyes did not wave from the front screen. "Thank you, MajorCarter, but that will not be necessary. I was able to perform Kel'no'reem at the beginning of this journey and it will be sufficient for some time."

"Okay," Sam said. "Any idea how much further it is?"

Teal'c glanced at a panel in front of him and returned his attention to the screen. "We will reach the Adar system in a few minutes."

"Thanks." She raised her voice slightly. "Colonel, Daniel, we're nearly there."

"Two motherships orbit the planet," Teal'c announced as Jack and Daniel emerged from the hold.

The two men took up positions behind Sam and she tried not to twitch at the feeling that they were peering over her shoulder.

"We won't be able to activate the cloak until we come out of hyperspace," she said as she readied the cloak to come on as soon as they were clear. "There will be a brief interval where they might detect us."

"How brief?" the colonel asked.

"A few seconds. The odds of them spotting us are pretty slim." Sam winced as she remembered that it was impossible to slip these things past her C.O.

"How slim?" Jack and Daniel asked together.

Sam gritted her teeth. "Hardly worth mentioning, sir."

"And yet you did," the colonel commented.

"Yes, sir." Sam added under her breath, "I'm beginning to wish I hadn't."

Someone touched her shoulder and she looked up to see Daniel give her a sympathetic grin. He had been on the wrong end of a couple of these conversations and by the look on his face she guessed that they produced the same mixture of frustration and homicidal urges in him.

The cargo ship shuddered slightly as it left hyperspace and Sam immediately touched the control that brought the cloak on-line. The colonel apparently didn't notice that she held her breath and crossed her fingers under the control board until an indicator showed that the cloak was working.

"The motherships do not seem to have noticed our presence," Teal'c said. "We are approaching the upper atmosphere."

Sam checked the readouts on her instruments. "It's pretty thick. Things could get a little bumpy."

The ship entered the atmosphere and began to shake violently. Her chair rocked as someone grabbed onto it and she glanced back to see the colonel holding onto the consol that housed the control crystals and Daniel holding onto him and her chair. After a couple more violent judders both men ended up on their knees, and Sam began to pray silently that the ship would hold together.

"Chairs would be good, too," the colonel said as though carrying on a previous conversation.

"And seatbelts. Seatbelts would be nice," Daniel added.

The front screen showed swirling clouds and Sam hoped that Teal'c could find their destination without ploughing into the surface.

"I've flown in worse," Jack said, his voice breaking partway as a sudden shake threw him against the central consol.

"Is that meant to be comforting?" Daniel asked.

Sam tightened her grip on the arms of her chair and stayed quiet. After a couple of minutes of heart-stopping juddering there was a quiet bump and the shaking stopped completely. Apparently they had landed.

"We have arrived at the coordinates given to us by Freyr," Teal'c said in confirmation.

"Nice view," the colonel commented as he stood.

The view out of the front screen still just showed thick, boiling clouds and Sam began checking instruments to find out whether it was breathable.

"This can't be right," she said. "The atmosphere is over eighty percent carbon dioxide with a surface temperature of over four hundred and twenty degrees Fahrenheit."

"Hot," Jack noted.

"How are we to locate the Asgard facility?" Teal'c asked.

Sam was about to answer when her vision dissolved into whiteness.

***

When Jack's vision cleared they were in a room that was unmistakably Asgard. There was something about the curves and colours that reminded him of the Stargate room on the Asgard homeworld. There hadn't been a single straight line there either and the shades of red and silver everywhere had been like nothing on Earth. This was a large oval room with a raised section running around the back wall that was partially hidden by silver pillars. There were a couple of boards with control stones that looked similar to the ones he had seen on Thor's ship and a blank screen faced the raised section. The rest of the team were looking around with just as much interest, and from Daniel's expression the archaeologist was itching to get a closer look at the control boards.

"Well that was easy," Sam muttered quietly.

Daniel gazed up at the curved ceiling. "What's next?"

"Ah, humans. Interesting."

Jack spun around to the raised section in time to see an Asgard appear and walk down the ramp. It looked like every other Asgard he had ever seen. Maybe it was a little thinner but it was hard to tell. It walked with the same odd, gliding motion that Thor had, but Jack thought that it had a bit more of a spring in its step than Thor.

"Greetings, I am Heimdall," the Asgard said as it reached the floor. "I assume you were sent by the Asgard High Council."

Jack tried not to goggle at the little creature. Compared to Thor this one sounded positively . . . bouncy. Giggly, even. It was hard to keep a straight face as he blinked up at them curiously. Jack settled for giving it a small wave and ignoring Carter's surprised grin.

"Not exactly," he said. "Colonel O'Neill, Daniel Jackson, Major Carter and Teal'c."

He bent down and shook hands with Heimdall. Its palm was smooth and slightly clammy, just like Thor's.

Heimdall almost seemed to quiver on its tiptoes. "I have heard much of your exploits on behalf of the Asgard. This is most exciting."

"Aw, shucks," Jack said with a grin. "They're exaggerating."

Heimdall looked as though he wanted to gush further, but Carter butted in and asked, "Where are we exactly?"

"Several hundred miles below the surface of the planet," Heimdall replied eagerly.

"Of course," Daniel murmured, gazing around the facility again.

"The Goa'uld are unaware of your presence here?" Teal'c asked.

Heimdall bobbed his head. "I have been monitoring their communications. They know the laboratory is somewhere on this planet, but, as yet, they have been unable to pinpoint its location."

"Well, why don't we get out of here before they find out?" Jack asked.

The little alien finally adopted something close the usual Asgard seriousness. "I am afraid we cannot. First we must rescue Thor."

It hit Jack like a punch to the gut. He had grown fond of the little guy and he had deliberately been trying not to think about his death. If Thor was alive then of course they had to rescue him.

"I thought Thor was dead?" Carter said, puzzled.

"He is not. However his life is in great danger. He is a prisoner of the Goa'uld."

Daniel was frowning thoughtfully. "How did they manage that?"

"After Thor's ship was destroyed, the Goa'uld detected an escape pod," Heimdall explained. "They managed to retrieve it before it could disappear into the atmosphere."

"How do you know Thor is still alive?" Carter asked.

Heimdall moved over to one of the control boards and moved a stone. The screen lit up and showed a schematic diagram with a blue blob at the centre.

"I am able to scan the interior of the Goa'uld mother ship," Heimdall confirmed. "I have located Thor's bio-signature here."

"Why don't you just beam him out?" Jack asked impatiently.

The Asgard bowed his head sadly. "Although my sensors can penetrate the Goa'uld shields, my transportation device cannot."

"The Goa'uld have become that powerful?" Daniel asked.

"Yes." Heimdall cocked his head. "I believe that they have had outside help."

"That would explain a lot," Daniel mused.

"Can you detect Goa'uld life signs as well?" Carter asked.

"I can," Heimdall said.

He moved another stone on the control board and a red blob appeared on the screen next to the blue one. "The red dot indicates the presence of a symbiote."

"So it's either Goa'uld or Jaffa," Carter concluded.

Heimdall lowered his eyes and looked morose. "In all probability Thor is being tortured for information pertaining to Asgard technology."

"With that kind of knowledge," Carter said, "they could easily come through our Stargate whenever they wanted. There wouldn't be anything we could do about it."

Jack frowned. "So we rescue him before they have time to do that."

Heimdall perked up. "Yes, O'Neill, we will."

"How are we going to do that?" Daniel asked seriously.

"We need a way to communicate with him," Jack mused. "Thor will need to be prepped for a rescue."

The grey alien moved one of the stones on a control board.

"I believe you have used a holographic imager?" he asked, gesturing to a raised pad that Jack recognised from Thor's ship.

Jack just nodded and moved to stand on the pad. Heimdall waited until the red blob moved away from Thor's blue blob before activating the imager. After a moment, the Asgard base disappeared and was replaced with the appearance of a Goa'uld room. It all looked real, as though he could reach out and touch it, even though he knew it was just an illusion created by the manipulation of light around him. The room was bare with gold walls covered in Goa'uld writing. It looked like a room from any mothership that Jack had been on over the past few years. The only thing in the room was a bed just in front of him where Thor had been restrained with an arch of metal. The grey alien looked to be asleep but when Jack called his name softly, he opened his eyes and turned his head.

"O'Neill, I am surprised to see you," Thor said quietly.

Jack leaned closer to him, careful not to move off the pad that he was standing on, and grinned. "Yeah, same here. We're down on the planet with . . ."

"Heimdall." Thor nodded and his expression did not look pleased.

"Yeah, we're working on a way to get you out of here."

Thor's eyes widened in alarm. "That would be unwise. You must take Heimdall and his research materials and leave immediately."

"What, are you nuts?" Jack asked, outraged. "I'm not going to leave you behind."

"More Goa'uld are coming. I have been informed that Anubis will be conducting my interrogation."

"All the more reason to get you out," the colonel insisted.

"I will resist their attempts to probe my mind," Thor said firmly. "I will die before I give them any information, but the very survival of the Asgard depends on Heimdall's discoveries."

"Sir, you've got company." Carter's voice floated apparently out of nowhere. "We're going to have to pull you out."

Jack looked down at Thor. "All right, listen. I've got to go but I'll be back."

The Goa'uld room disappeared when he stepped off the pad and Jack experienced a moment of disorientation at the abrupt change. He saw Daniel's eyes flick to his face, but no one else on the team appeared to notice.

"How's he doing?" Carter asked.

Jack shrugged. "Well, he's fine for now. Apart from the fact that he wants us to leave him behind."

Daniel shook his head as Teal'c asked, "For what reason?"

"I'd like to know that myself."

He turned to Heimdall and after a moment the little alien found himself the focus of several curious pairs of eyes. He wilted immediately under the pressure.

"Thor is no doubt concerned that, if we delay, the materials in this lab will fall into the hands of the Goa'uld," Heimdall said.

Carter glanced around the room. "What exactly are you studying here?"

Heimdall sagged further and, in his curiously gliding walk, moved over to a spot just below the raised section of the room. A round section of floor began to rise up, gradually revealing a transparent container taller than Jack. They all looked at it with gaping mouths. The container held . . . well, the only thing Jack could think of was that it was either an incredibly ugly human or an Asgard as tall as him. Green light reflected off pale skin, although whether the green came from a light or the preserving fluid around the creature, Jack couldn't tell. Its head was less bulbous than Thor's or Heimdall's, and its facial features were more human with smaller eyes and less pronounced tapering on its lower face. Jack could tell that Daniel and Carter were itching to know what the thing was, and he had to admit to a certain amount of curiosity himself.

"What is it?" he asked.

"Our salvation," Heimdall said. "We hope."

"Huh?"

Heimdall reluctantly looked up at Jack. "As a race, the Asgard reproduce exclusively by a process of enhanced cellular mitosis."

"Huh?" Jack asked again, feeling the words shoot straight over his head.

"Are you serious? You have no other means of propagation?" Carter asked incredulously.

"No," Heimdall admitted.

Jack took some satisfaction from the fact that Daniel and Teal'c were both looking as confused as him. "Carter, explain?"

"They're clones, sir. All of them."

"Ah, well, that certainly explains a few things," Jack said with a small grin.

"In fact, for nearly a thousand years, we have been physically incapable of achieving cell division through meiosis," Heimdall added.

Jack had that 'shooting over his head' feeling again.

His confusion must have showed because Daniel nudged him and whispered, "Sex."

Heat suddenly rushed to Jack's face and all he could manage was a strangled, "Oh."

He had no idea why Daniel whispering one word could affect him so badly, but it did. Maybe it was because Daniel was standing so close he could almost feel the warmth he radiated, or maybe it was because his mind had immediately shot back to their kiss in his hallway and how close he had come to asking Daniel to stay the night, never mind whether he was ready or not. Whatever it was, he knew that his face was red and he could feel Daniel's amusement and a hint of speculation through their connection.

Jack managed to pull himself out of the momentary short-out to hear Thor explain something about transferring consciousnesses into younger bodies.

"Unfortunately, the lack of genetic diversity has become a problem," Heimdall finished.

"Like making a photocopy of a photocopy," Daniel said. "Eventually it becomes unreadable."

Heimdall looked a little confused, but continued regardless. "We created a process of controlled mutation which has helped us avoid complete genetic breakdown, but we are at the limits of our technical capabilities. This body may be our last hope."

"How?" Carter asked.

"That is one of my ancestors. Thirty thousand years ago a ship was launched from the Asgard homeworld, its crew placed in suspended animation. There was a failure in the navigational system and the ship was lost. Through the millennia it drifted across the empty expanse between our galaxies before it arrived here. We discovered it six months ago."

"And this is one of the original crew?" Carter asked.

"The only one that was perfectly preserved. He is from a time before our program of genetic manipulation became irreversible." Heimdall touched the casing reverently. "His physiology may give us clues as to how we can regenerate our genetic material. We kept the laboratory in this galaxy to avoid the threat of the Replicators. Now we can no longer afford to wait. It is only a matter of time before the Goa'uld pinpoint our location."

Jack glanced around the base, the glimmers of a plan beginning to form. "Anubis isn't on that mothership so he must be getting on soon. Teal'c, would they lower the shields to let him on?"

The Jaffa shook his head. "They will adjust the frequency of the shields to accept a rings transmission."

Well, that made things tougher but Jack could still work with it.

"We can use the rings on the cargo ship to beam up at the same time," Carter said, confirming Jack's ideas.

"Great, then we can take out the shields from the inside," Jack said.

Heimdall was beginning to look excited and hopeful as he moved back to the schematic of the Goa'uld ship. "The shield generator room is located here. You can use explosives to disable the system and I will transport everyone out, including Thor."

"Once the rings have been activated the Goa'uld will be aware of our presence," Teal'c said.

"Okay, one of us stays here and uses the Asgard scanner to direct the others away from any guards or patrols," Carter said, her eyes already distant as she ran the plan through in her head.

"First I must complete my preparations for departure," Heimdall said. "The stasis pod and my transporter must be integrated with the systems on your ship."

Jack nodded. "Fine. Carter, you get Heimdall set up on the ship. Daniel, you're staying here to be our guides. Teal'c and I will go up and get the shields down."

Daniel's expression didn't change, but Jack felt a brief moment of rebellion through their connection that was quickly shut down. Did that happen every time he gave an order or was Daniel worried that their new relationship was affecting his judgement? Jack resolved that it was something he wouldn't worry about for now.

"I must remind you, O'Neill, that time is of the essence," Heimdall said nervously. "This laboratory will not remain undetected indefinitely."

Jack grinned at the Asgard. "I know. Now, can you get Teal'c and me back to our ship?"

Heimdall moved a couple of stones on the control board, and Jack's vision dissolved into white.

***

Daniel watched Jack disappear in that familiar flash of white light and felt a moment of . . . discomfort was the closest word he could think of. It wasn't pain or fear, it was just a feeling that something he depended on had moved further away. He frowned in concentration for a moment as he tried to isolate the sensation. The answer came in a flash of understanding. This was the first time he and Jack had been more than a few miles apart since Smurf World and the revelation of their connection. Jack was still there at the edge of his mind, but the sensation was fainter than he was used to.

He pushed down a shiver of worry at the prospect of feeling this odd disconnection every time they had to separate. What would it be like when they had to go to worlds that were light years apart?

Daniel was pulled out of his brooding by Heimdall's oddly high-pitched voice.

"Doctor Jackson, I must show you how the stones work," the little alien said.

Sam watched with focused interest as Heimdall showed him how to work the scanners and transporters, despite the fact that she already knew how to use it all. Anything scientific fascinated her. It was one of her more loveable traits. When Heimdall was certain that Daniel would be able to handle the controls, he handed the linguist a white crystal that was of a size and shape to fit perfectly into the palm of his hand. Heimdall explained that it was a communicator and Daniel attached it to his jacket. Then he began moving stones under Heimdall's supervision to track down one of the ring room's on the Goa'uld mothership.

"Jack, I've found a ring room that's clear," he said after a couple of minutes.

"Roger that," Jack said, his voice echoing around the room. "We'll wait for your signal."

Heimdall was monitoring another screen and after a couple of minutes he looked up. "A transporter ring has been activated."

"Now, Jack," Daniel said.

He waited and, after a few seconds, Jack's voice confirmed that they were in the ship. A green blob and a red blob had appeared on the schematic on the screen and Daniel nodded his satisfaction. No red blobs appeared to be in any of the corridors near Jack and Teal'c and they were only a few corridors away from the shield generator.

"Jack, you need to turn left out of the ring room and follow that corridor to the end," he instructed before turning to Sam. "I think I'm good for now. I'll yell if we get into trouble."

Sam and Heimdall both nodded and moved away to begin to secure the research for transport. At first it all went well. Daniel was able to direct Jack and Teal'c towards the shield generator and helped them to avoid a Jaffa patrol by ducking into an empty storage room. The problems came when he spotted two groups of red blobs moving towards his teammates, cutting off any escape. He double-checked the schematic but there was no way out.

"Uh, Sam, Heimdall, I've got a problem," he called to the two scientists.

"Problem? What kind of problem?" Jack demanded.

"There's a couple of patrols heading towards you," Daniel said nervously.

"What direction?"

"All directions."

"Crap."

"Yeah."

"There's no way out," Sam muttered.

"Don't say that," Daniel told her.

"Don't say what?" Jack asked irritably.

"Perhaps a diversionary tactic would be in order?" Heimdall suggested, gesturing towards the holograph pad.

Daniel caught on at the same time as Sam. She rushed over to stand on the pad.

"Daniel? Ideas?" Jack asked.

"Sam's had an idea," Daniel said. "Hold on a minute and she'll be with you."

"With us? What the-"

***

Jack broke off as the heavy tread of Jaffa footsteps echoed up the corridor. They were coming from several directions and here there were no convenient doors to duck into. He heard Teal'c's staff weapon power up and they exchanged a look of mutual frustration. One group of Jaffa rounded a corner in the corridor ahead of them just as a door opened a few feet away to reveal another group. Jack could hear a third group approaching from behind and the skin between his shoulders began itching as he anticipated a shot hitting him at any moment.

That was when Daniel's comment made sense. Carter suddenly appeared behind the two groups of Jaffa converging in front of Jack and Teal'c. She gave the Jaffa a manic grin and a cheerful wave.

"Hey guys!" she said cheerfully. "What's happening?"

Both groups of Jaffa turned and fired on her, the blasts passing straight through her insubstantial body. That only created a moment of hesitation, but it was enough for Jack and Teal'c to take advantage of. While the Jaffa were still staring at their holographic opponent, Jack opened fire with his P-90 and a spray of bullets sparked off their armour. Teal'c took down a couple of Jaffa with well-aimed shots before turning to take out the ones approaching from behind. In a couple of minutes all that remained of the patrols were bodies and the stench of burnt flesh. Jack carefully stepped over the bodies to approach the holographic physicist.

"Nice," he complimented, waving a hand through her arm.

Carter gave him a mock-aggrieved glare before turning her head slightly and nodding. "Heimdall says that the way ahead is clear."

"Thanks," Jack said.

He was able to see Carter's bemused expression just before he walked through her. It was an odd experience to walk through his 2IC and he noted out of the corner of his eye that Teal'c carefully skirted around her. Carter stood with her hands on her hips for a moment before disappearing.

"Jack, you need to follow this corridor to the end," Daniel's voice said in his ear.

"Got it. Hey, nice diversion."

"It was Heimdall's idea."

"It was most successful, DanielJackson," Teal'c said.

"How are the preparations going up there?" Jack asked.

"Heimdall and Sam just transported up to our ship," Daniel said. "They need to get his power-systems meshed with ours."

"But you know how to use all the doo-dads, right?" Jack asked, grinning.

There was a patient sigh. "Yes, Jack."

Jack detected a hint of a smile on Teal'c's face, but when he turned to the Jaffa, his face was impassive. Sometimes he felt as though the Jaffa was laughing at the antics of 'younger' brothers. It was nothing tangible, just the expressions that sometimes crossed his face when he thought no one was watching and the sly sense of humour that Teal'c had developed.

"Okay, you need to go right at the end of the corridor," Daniel said.

"Got it."

No Jaffa appeared from side-corridors or out of hidden rooms. The troupe that they had avoided a while ago by ducking into a storage room had given Jack shivers so he was being doubly careful. They had been escorting a figure in head-to-toe, billowing black robes. He hadn't seen the figure's face but there was no question in his mind that it was Anubis. Normally the cliché-villain outfit would have prompted a few sarcastic remarks; all Jack had felt was intense relief that he was gone.

A door blocked the end of the corridor so Jack and Teal'c were forced to halt. "Daniel? Directions?"

After a moment's pause, Daniel appeared in front of them. Jack couldn't prevent the involuntary grin that lit up his face when he saw him and the matching grin that Daniel sent him sent pleasant shivers down his spine. Luckily Teal'c didn't seem to notice anything amiss.

"The shield generator is through there," Daniel said, gesturing towards the door although his eyes never left Jack's. "There are six Jaffa inside."

"The odds are not insurmountable," Teal'c said gravely.

Jack shot him a quick look, wondering which TV show he had taken that from. He was about to say something in reply when he heard a faint hissing sound. A moment later he swayed as his legs suddenly turned to rubber. He heard a dull thump as Teal'c hit the floor and Daniel's panicked cry of his name before darkness rushed over him and he passed out.

***

Daniel stared in horror at his two unconscious teammates. He automatically reached out to shake Jack's arm but his hand passed straight through.

"Jack! Teal'c!" he called again, hoping to rouse them.

There was no response. He could see that they were both breathing shallowly and slowly but they were out cold. The heavy stomp of Jaffa footsteps began to reverberate down the corridor. He stared helplessly at them for another moment before forcing himself to step off the holograph pad.

"Sam, Heimdall," he said, hoping that the communicator crystal the Asgard had given him would direct the signal up to the cargo ship. "I've got a problem. Could I get some help here?"

While he waited for an acknowledgement from the scientists, he began shifting stones on the control board to locate Jack and Teal'c. He quickly found Jack's green blob moving down a corridor but Teal'c's red blob was lost with the rest of the Jaffa escorting them.

"Daniel? What's wrong?"

Daniel breathed a sigh of relief when Sam joined him at the control board. "Jack and Teal'c are . . . I don't know. Something knocked them out when they got to the shield generator room. I couldn't do anything. I . . . ah, they're there." He pointed to the schematic where a green and a red blob had come to rest in a room on their own. "We have to get them out."

"I see it," Sam said absently. "Heimdall, is there any way to find out their condition?"

Daniel hadn't realised that the Asgard had transported over too until the little alien cleared its throat. "Their signals are strong so they are relatively unharmed."

"We have to find a way to get them out," Daniel insisted.

"My transporter cannot penetrate the Goa'uld shields," Heimdall reminded him.

"I know," Daniel said, frustrated.

Sam gave him a reassuring smile, although she looked a little wild-eyed, and frowned at the screen. "Daniel, find out what their condition is and we'll work on something up here."

He nodded and stepped onto the pad again as Sam shifted a couple of stones on the board. Immediately the Goa'uld cell that Jack and Teal'c were being held in materialised around him. It looked like every other Goa'uld cell they had ever been held in; gold walls, black flooring and not many home comforts. Teal'c was already awake, sitting with his back against a wall, and he looked up as Daniel appeared.

"We appear to be prisoners," the Jaffa noted.

Jack was lying on an unpadded bench opposite Teal'c. He appeared to have been dumped unceremoniously by his captors, his arms and legs resting at uncomfortable angles that would have him in knots when he woke up. That looked to be the only injuries that either man had sustained, and Daniel breathed a small sigh of relief.

"How are you feeling?" he asked.

Teal'c's mouth turned down slightly. "The discomfort will pass in time."

Daniel winced. "That good, huh?"

"We have failed in our mission," Teal'c said unhappily.

"Not yet," a voice said groggily from Jack's direction. "What the hell was that?"

"Anubis released a gas that rendered us unconscious."

Jack turned his head enough to glare in Teal'c's direction. "I got that, thanks."

He carefully began twitching his arms and legs, checking for damage, before sitting up with a groan. "Feels like I've got a killer hangover."

"It will pass."

Daniel felt useless standing in the corner of the room, unable to help either of his friends as they slowly shook off the effects of the gas. "Sam and Heimdall are working on getting you out of here."

Jack slowly turned his head towards him and shook his head tiredly. "You should be getting Heimdall and his research out of here."

Daniel shrugged. "We've got some time. Heimdall's stuff is on our ship so we're just waiting for you guys to get the shields down so that we can get you all out."

Jack began patting the pockets in his BDUs. He'd been stripped of his jacket, vest and gun and Teal'c was only better off by one jacket.

"I'm coming up a little short on supplies here," Jack said, his expression growing outraged. "They took my watch - they took my ball! Tell me, how was a small rubber ball going to help me escape?"

Daniel could hear Sam and Heimdall's quiet conversation overlaying Jack's voice and they did not sound hopeful.

"Have you come up with anything yet?" Jack asked. "I'm guessing the answer is no."

"So far all their plans rely on you being able to get out of this cell," Daniel said.

"See, now that's the hard part."

Afterwards, Daniel was never sure whether Thor had been watching the cell through the ship's systems or if he just had really good timing, but his call of Jack's name was perfect. All three men started and stared around the cell.

"Thor? Is that you?" Jack asked. "Where are you?"

Thor's voice seemed to come from all around them. "I am still in my cell. However my mind has been linked with the ship's computer. I am using the internal communication system to synthesise my voice."

"Okay," Jack said slowly.

His face was emotionless and Daniel was too far away to feel anything through their connection. Jack's eyes, though, showed the hope that he was trying to push down in case it came to nothing.

"The Goa'uld are attempting to download the information stored in my pre-frontal cortex. It is only a matter of time before they break through my mental defences," Thor said.

"Yeah, well, love to help you but we've got our own problems here," Jack said irritably.

"I am aware of your situation. I believe I may be able to rewrite some minor subroutines in the security protocol."

"To what end?" Teal'c asked.

His answer was the cell doors opening wide enough for a man to slip through, although if that man was overweight it might be a tough job.

"Sweet," Jack murmured, exchanging a grin with Daniel.

"I am growing weak." Thor's voice sounded fainter. "Further communication will be impossible."

Jack carefully got his feet and looked slightly relieved that he stayed on his feet. "Hang tight. We'll get you out. Daniel, those plans that involved us being out of the cell might be handy right about now."

A flare of hope was already beginning to burn inside Daniel. Whenever Jack got that 'determined' look on his face nothing would stop him, no matter how impossible, until he had finished what he was so determined to do. It was part of the reason that SG-1 always came back from their missions. In Jack's book, no situation was ever inescapable, and there was always another way, even if at first glance it looked like this time they really were doomed.

"Sam," Daniel called, watching Jack and Teal'c warily slip out of the cell. "Thor helped them to get out of the cell."

There was an excited buzz of conversation and then Sam said, "I'm about to shift you. They haven't got their radios so you'll need to direct them. You'll be at a junction so direct them down the right hand corridor."

The world shifted nauseatingly at that moment and Daniel found that he was standing in the junction that Sam had described, waiting for Jack and Teal'c to appear from around a bend in the corridor.

"Heimdall is going back to the ship," Sam continued, her voice eerily appearing to come from nowhere. "He'll transport us up as soon as the shields go down. You're going to need to direct them to a control relay so they can pull the crystals. Anubis will be able to reroute, but there should be enough of a delay for Heimdall to get everyone out."

Jack appeared around the corner and began to jog up the corridor towards Daniel with Teal'c on his heels so Daniel nodded his acknowledgement and waited for them to catch up.

"So, what's the plan?" Jack asked.

Daniel relayed the outline of a plan that Sam had given to him, noting with relief that Jack wasn't going to play dumb for now, and that Teal'c seemed to understand exactly what the plan was.

"Which way?" Jack asked.

Daniel pointed down the right-hand corridor and watched them run down it until there was a dizzying shift and he appeared at another junction.

***

Jack followed Daniel's directions without protest. Each time there was any choice in direction or they needed to take a particular door, and they were always well hidden, Daniel was standing there waiting for them. He was surprised to realise that he was enjoying this, apart from the obvious problem that they were two unarmed men and a hologram trying to sneak around a Goa'uld ship. The part he was enjoying was the grins they traded when they met, and how Daniel's eyes sparkled with the thrill of the hunt.

It was at one of those junctions that Daniel suddenly looked round and frowned.

"Problem?" Jack asked, checking down each corridor for any sign of Jaffa.

"I'm not sure." Daniel's frown deepened. "Take that branch and follow it until you reach me."

That made sense, in a strange way, but the way that Daniel disappeared with a worried expression made unease creep up Jack's spine. Teal'c was already jogging up the corridor that Daniel had indicated and there was nothing that Jack could do, so he followed the Jaffa.

***

The ground shook as Daniel stepped off the holograph pad and the Asgard facility appeared around him. There was no sign of Heimdall, and Sam was gingerly peaking around the door to his left with her P-90 clutched firmly.

"Problem?" he asked warily.

"I think the Goa'uld have made our position," Sam said without taking her eyes off the corridor beyond the door. "Tell the colonel how to get the shields down."

Daniel glanced at the schematic on the screen of the access panel that Jack would need to find. Shifting the stones so that his hologram would appear in the right part was easy; trying to trace which crystals would need to be removed was harder. Sam's nervous tension seemed to radiate around the room, and Daniel took the time to arm himself with a zat before stepping back onto the pad.

***

Daniel appeared so suddenly in the corridor in front of Jack that he walked through the archaeologist before he could stop. The sudden appearance didn't seem to faze Teal'c, who stopped abruptly and raised an eyebrow. Jack walked around Daniel to face him and took in the pale face and the zat.

"Problem?" he asked.

"The Goa'uld have found us," Daniel said quickly. "Sam is guarding the door. The access panel should be around here somewhere."

All the surfaces looked the same to Jack. Daniel seemed to be having the same trouble, but Teal'c simply looked along the walls and found it immediately. He tapped one of the Goa'uld glyphs and a section of the wall slid out to reveal several coloured, pulsing crystals.

"Which one?" Jack asked, staring at the flickering lights.

Daniel shook his head and seemed to be listening.

"Daniel?"

"I have to go," Daniel said before stepping away and disappearing.

Jack exchanged glances with Teal'c. "Crap."

"Indeed."

***

As soon as Daniel stepped off the pad, Sam began tugging him towards the raised section.

"They're in here," Sam explained in a whisper. "We need to hide."

She pressed her palm to a spot on the raised section and a door in it slid open. Daniel eyed the small space dubiously, but there was no choice. He ducked into it, Sam followed, closing the door to leave a small gap to look out through. A moment later there was a heavy clanging sound and three Jaffa moved into view. Daniel barely managed to stifle his gasp as Sarah joined them.

It was still hard to think of her as anything other than the girl he had briefly thought himself in love with years ago. She had a millennia-old alien inside her and the sleeveless black robe she wore was something she would never have worn in her right mind, but she still looked like Sarah.

Osiris looked around the room with a frustrated glare.

"Find them," he ordered, as Sarah's eyes flashed.

***

"So, any ideas?" Jack asked, staring at the crystals.

"No," Teal'c replied.

They contemplated the problem for a moment before Teal'c's head shot up and he looked around the corridor. "Jaffa approach."

Jack immediately moved away from the crystals. The corridor bent in a sharp right angle just beyond their position so he used the turn as cover and waited. Teal'c waited next to the access panel and they exchanged nods just before Jack sprang into action. His kick took out the last Jaffa in the column in the chest and Jack immediately dropped to the floor as a staff weapon bolt singed the air above him. He grabbed the downed Jaffa's zat and zatted him before turning to see what Teal'c was doing. He had one Jaffa in a headlock and was using his staff weapon to disable another. Jack sighted and hit the last Jaffa with a well-aimed zat blast and then everything was still again.

"Good work, T," Jack said, gathering up another zat and a staff weapon.

"It was my pleasure," Teal'c said with a hint of a smile as he picked up another staff.

***

Through the small gap that Sam had left open, Daniel could watch as Sarah paced the facility restlessly. Her robe left her arms bare, revealing a bronze bracer on her left forearm and the snaking coils of a hand-device covering her right. The robe was slightly too long so she had to kick it out of the way each time it tangled with her legs, and each kick seemed to contain a little more anger and frustration.

Sam shifted slightly next to him. The space under the raised section was barely large enough for the two of them so she was practically in his lap. If either of them had been any larger, they wouldn't have fitted into the space at all. As it was, Daniel's legs were beginning to cramp up. He kept watching the scene outside the space, though, waiting for a chance to do something. He had no idea what he was waiting for, but when Osiris sent away another Jaffa to join the search so that there were only two bodyguards left he knew the time had arrived. Daniel craned his neck so that his lips almost touched Sam's ear.

"We can take her," he breathed.

Sam immediately shook her head and whispered, "We should wait."

"We'll never have another chance like this," Daniel argued.

Sam said nothing for a moment before reluctantly nodding. "On three, then."

Daniel wiped his sweating palms on his pants, grasped the zat firmly and took a deep breath before muttering, "Three."

***

Jack and Teal'c were back to staring at the crystals again.

"Perhaps we should take them all," Teal'c suggested.

Jack looked at the crystals, then at the staff weapon in his hand and then at the crystals again. "Here's a thought . . ."

He lifted the staff weapon, sighted along it and destroyed all the crystals with one blast. One of the lights in the corridor flickered for a moment before brightening again.

"It will take some time for those circuits to be repaired," Teal'c observed as he watched black smoke rise from the destroyed array.

***

Daniel burst out of the hiding place as soon as the door slid open, quickly followed by Sam. With unspoken accord, he zatted the Jaffa to his right and Sam took the one to their left before they both trained their zats on Osiris.

The Goa'uld's eyes flashed and he glared at them angrily. "What is the meaning of this?"

Daniel swallowed but did not lower the zat. "We won't harm you if you come with us peacefully."

Osiris sneered disdainfully. "You still think to rescue this host?" She lifted her hand and the crystal at the centre of the hand device began to glow. "You do not have the power. We have Colonel O'Neill and the shol'va in our custody. Anubis will take great delight in torturing them for any information they have."

"Now, see, that's where you're wrong," Daniel said with a slight smile.

Uncertainty flashed through Osiris' eyes for a moment before his natural arrogance reasserted itself. Osiris smiled cruelly and flexed Sarah's fingers.

A stream of blue lightening enveloped her before she could activate the hand-device and Sarah fell to the floor, writhing. Daniel was still staring at her when Sam dropped to the floor next to her and removed the hand-device, throwing it out of the way beneath one of the control boards. He slowly lowered the zat, and stared as Sarah's body stopped moving.

"Sam?" he asked.

She checked Sarah's pulse and breathing and gave him a reassuring smile. "She's just unconscious."

***

"Shields are down, what's the delay?" Jack muttered, looking around the corridor nervously.

"Perhaps Heimdall does not know that the shields have been deactivated," Teal'c suggested.

Jack shot him a disbelieving look that Teal'c ignored.

***

Daniel knelt next to Sarah and tentatively reached out to touch her hand. It seemed like hours since she had been rendered unconscious, but he knew that in reality less than a minute had passed. Her pulse fluttered under his fingers.

"Sarah," he said in a low voice.

There was a soft moan and then she stirred, turning her face towards him. "Daniel?"

He smiled wanly. "Yeah, I'm here."

"I kept dreaming that you'd rescue me," she whispered.

"We're getting you out of here," Daniel said. "Everything's going to be fine."

Her sad smile abruptly dissolved into white light and then Daniel was looking at the floor of the cargo ship, holding thin air. He stared uncomprehendingly at the bare black floor for a moment before standing up and looking around anxiously.

"No! We have to go back," he said urgently. "We can save her."

Sam was at his side in an instant, resting a restraining hand on his arm. "I'm sorry."

***

Osiris regained control of the host as Daniel Jackson and Major Carter disappeared in a flash of white light. He recognised the Asgard transporter and rage bubbled through him at the thought that the little aliens had interfered yet again. That rage gave him the strength to get some control over his host's weak, female body and he rolled onto his side. He could hear his Jaffa guards beginning to stir, but it was too late for them. Osiris forced his host to stretch a shaking hand out and grasp the end of a staff weapon to pull it towards him. The host's limbs were weak and uncertain but Osiris' will was stronger and he managed to force the body to kneel up.

Then with a roar of fury at the humans that had dared to challenge him, Osiris fired at his two Jaffa bodyguards and took pleasure in their agonised screams as he systematically kneecapped and then decapitated both of them.

***

The first thing that Jack was aware of was the waves of distress rolling off Daniel through their connection. His instinct was to go to him and try to sooth his distress, but there was no time. He had to block out the feelings and concentrate instead on getting his team and Heimdall away from this planet before the Goa'uld destroyed them.

He looked around the hold of their cargo ship and noted with approval that Heimdall's 'research' was resting in an out of the way corner, and Thor had arrived and been set down a couple of feet away. The Asgard was lying on his bed, still restrained by an arch of metal, looking tired and ill. Jack moved over to him and rested a hand lightly on his thin arm.

"Thor, buddy," he said softly.

Thor opened his eyes slowly. "O'Neill." He seemed to sigh unhappily. "You cannot take me with you."

"Why not?"

"The link between myself and the Goa'uld ship has not been severed," Thor explained. "They will be able to track our position. You must leave me behind."

"All right, that doesn't work for me," Jack said. "That's not an option for me, okay?"

Thor closed his eyes and said nothing. There was no way to tell whether he was asleep or unconscious, but he did not respond when Jack nudged him again. Jack lifted his head and glanced around the cargo hold again. Daniel was now sitting on a crate with a defeated expression and even though the urge to comfort him was getting stronger, Jack suppressed it. He managed to catch Daniel's eye and give him a small smile before the archaeologist bowed his head and stared at the floor. Sam sat on the floor next to him and put a hand on his wrist, offering her support, and Jack silently thanked her for it. Then he caught Teal'c's eye and nodded towards the door to the cockpit.

The Jaffa tapped in the code to open the door and preceded him into the cockpit. Heimdall was standing next to a piece of Asgard technology that had been wired into the ship's systems and he perked up as soon as he saw Jack and Teal'c.

"Well done, O'Neill," he said excitedly.

Teal'c was already taking the pilot's seat so Jack took the co-pilot's seat. He grinned at Heimdall and said, "Couldn't have done it without you."

The little alien quivered with pride. "Thank you, O'Neill."

Jack checked the status of the readouts in front of him as Teal'c started the engines. "Get us out of here."

Teal'c nodded, put his hands on the controls and coaxed the ship into a gentle lift. The atmospheric turbulence kicked in as soon as the ship was off the ground, and Jack had to grip the arms of his chair to stop himself being thrown out. Stumbling footsteps heralded the arrival of the rest of his team, and his chair shook slightly as Daniel and Carter both grabbed onto it to steady themselves. Outside the windows of the ship, white clouds still boiled angrily. Carter tapped his shoulder and Jack reluctantly left the safety of his chair, and took her position behind it, so that she could replace him. Her face was pale and she had a worried frown as she checked the status of the ship and tapped in commands.

"Carter?" Jack queried.

She shook her head and concentrated on the controls. A moment later the ship stopped juddering as they flew out of the swirling clouds and emerged into the star-spangled brightness of open space.

"Bringing up the hyperdrive," Carter said as her fingers flew across the consol.

The ship suddenly lurched violently and Jack was thrown to the deck, cracking his head on the floor so that he saw stars for a second.

His vision cleared as Teal'c announced, "Hyperdrive is off-line. Cloak is failing."

"The mothership is firing on us," Carter announced needlessly.

"Ya think?" Jack said as he got to his knees.

The ship rocked under another hit, and Jack was thrown sideways. He heard a muffled 'ow' from beneath him and removed his elbow from Daniel's solar plexus quickly. There was no time to apologise because another blast made the ship shudder and sent Jack rolling away from Daniel.

"Cloak is down," Teal'c said, a hint of worry in his voice. "We have lost our shields. We cannot sustain another hit."

"We're receiving a transmission," Carter said, more than a hint of worry in her voice.

The grating, grinding voice of a Goa'uld echoed around the ship. "Your ship is defenceless. You cannot escape. Surrender now."

Jack managed to get to his knees as Daniel sat up and asked, "Anubis?"

"Any ideas?" Jack asked, looking at his teammates.

Heimdall had amazingly managed to stay on his feet during the bombardment and said anxiously, "We cannot risk capture. We must destroy the ship ourselves."

Jack let that sink in for a moment before asking, "Any good ideas?"

It was pure luck that he glanced at the screen as he stood up and saw a hyperspace window open. Jack's heart seemed to stop for a moment until the ships came through and he could see that they were Asgard, not Goa'uld.

"Sir, I'm picking up a transmission to the Goa'uld ship," Carter said.

Jack held out a hand and heaved Daniel to his feet as the transmission played through the cargo ship.

"This is Freyr of the Asgard," a gentle voice said. "The vessels you face are far superior to the one you attacked. Challenge us at your own peril."

Freyr's voice was deceptively soft, reminding Jack of the old phrase about hiding steel under a velvet glove. Although the Asgard sounded kind and compassionate, his ships were terrifyingly powerful and probably capable of turning Anubis' mothership into kindling with a few well-placed shots. There was a tense pause before Anubis turned tail and ran, his ship disappearing into a hyperspace window without a word.

"The mothership is retreating," Carter announced. "It's over."

Jack considered the ships visible through their screen. "Well, that was a bit of an anti-climax."

Heimdall sniffed. "It was more than exciting enough for me."

***

For the first time in Jack's experience the Asgard stayed around long enough to help them home. Freyr and another Asgard, who was apparently a medic, beamed in to look at Thor while SG-1 waited anxiously. It only took them a couple of minutes to begin frowning unhappily at the unresponsive alien. The two Asgard tried to offer comfort, but their expressions said loudly that they were not sure whether there was any way to revive Thor. Jack had been half expecting it from the moment that he went to the hold and could not wake him, but it was still a shock. Freyr and the technician left with Thor a few minutes after their arrival, leaving Heimdall to say his goodbyes alone.

The little alien seemed slightly downhearted about Thor, but he rallied quickly and was soon chattering merrily as he separated his equipment from the ship's power supply. Most of it was gushing admiration for SG-1 and questions about missions that he did not give any of them time to answer before moving onto the next question. Heimdall thought that everything the team had done was absolutely thrilling.

"I've never had a fan club before," Daniel said softly.

He was standing next to Jack with his arms wrapped around his chest while they watched Heimdall disconnect the pod containing the preserved ancient Asgard. Carter and Teal'c were monitoring the ship's systems, which conveniently put them out of hearing range of their diminutive fan.

Jack moved a little closer to Daniel so that his arm brushed the sleeve of Daniel's jacket. "Are you all right?"

Daniel shrugged. "I'm not sure."

It was the most honest answer Jack had ever received to that question, which told him that at the moment Daniel was far from all right. He seemed to have locked his emotions down so that Jack could barely sense them, but that didn't necessarily mean that he was feeling any calmer. Jack itched to ask what had happened but this didn't seem to be the right time.

"Oh!" Heimdall exclaimed. "You must tell me about how you defeated Ra. That must have been an exciting moment. Of course, we could hardly believe that humans had advanced that far so it was quite a revelation for us. How does that victory compare to your more recent conquests? Oh, it is quite thrilling to finally meet SG-1!"

Jack grinned at Daniel and felt something in his soul ease when his smile was returned.

***

One of the Asgard ships towed the cargo ship back to Earth, reducing a trip of several hours to one of minutes. It disappeared into hyperspace as soon as the team were in sight of their planet, leaving Teal'c to pilot the rest of the way to the airfield. Sam had engaged the cloaking device as soon as they left hyperspace, so the short trip to the surface was uneventful. It was a sombre journey back to the SGC in a helicopter, each person caught up in his or her thoughts and waiting for someone else to start a conversation. The desk sergeant informed them that the general wanted to debrief as soon as they set foot on the base so they trooped down to the briefing room. Sam wished mournfully for a few minutes to shower and change out of her grubby uniform, but she was experienced enough to know that Hammond would ignore their less than pristine state in favour of immediate information.

He greeted them with a hopeful smile and the colonel gave him a reassuring grin as they all took their seats.

"We saved Asgard butt," he said with a modest shrug. "We've also got a fan club."

Hammond took his seat with a puzzled frown. "Fan club?"

"Heimdall was rather . . . enthusiastic about meeting us, sir," Sam explained.

"Ah. Well, it's good to have you back," Hammond said, beaming in them in a way that said 'well done' louder than words could have. "Did the Asgard give you any information about what their scientist - Heimdall - was working on?"

Colonel O'Neill nodded to her and Sam launched into a condensed explanation of the Asgard reproductive problems and Heimdall's potential solution followed by a rapid summary of the mission. Although his expression was occasionally incredulous, Hammond seemed to take it in and understand it although Sam knew she would need to provide more detailed information in her mission report. The idea that the Asgard might be dying if they could not find a way around their cloning problem seemed to shock him more than anything else Sam had ever seen. She could certainly understand that; the Asgard had helped them out of some serious situation and it always seemed like there was little their technology could not do. To find out that there were such serious limits on their ingenuity was somehow more worrying than the discovery that they were helpless in the face of the Replicator threat. Even as that thought passed through her mind Daniel asked about Reese and Sam took a moment to remember what Freyr had mentioned just before he beamed off the ship.

"Their examination of the android must have yielded some positive results because it looks like the Asgard have finally gained the upper hand against the Replicators," she said.

For the first time since they had been beamed away from the Asgard facility, some of the gloom lifted from Daniel's face. He wasn't actually smiling, but he did stop frowning.

"What about Thor?" the colonel asked. "I didn't get most of that stuff Freyr's friend was spouting."

"They managed to remove the device from his brain, but it may have been too late," Sam said. "Apparently he's lapsed in a coma. If they knew more about how the device worked they might be able to help him. They're studying it towards that end. Unfortunately it's unlike anything they've ever encountered before."

"It is apparent that Anubis has gained access to technology previously unknown to the Goa'uld," Teal'c observed.

"Which would explain his rapid rise to power," Hammond said heavily.

"Yes sir." Sam shook her head. "His ship was more powerful than anything we've encountered before. The Asgard were able to scare him off with several of their ships, but there's no telling whether they'll always have those kinds of resources if their research on Reese doesn't provide the information they need to defeat the Replicators."

"Sarah might have been able to tell us where he was getting his technology," Daniel said quietly.

Hammond's expression was sympathetic. "I know, son, but Heimdall did the right thing. From what Major Carter has said, there was no way he could have known what you were trying to do."

"I know sir, it's just that I was so close." The archaeologist sighed. "It's hard to watch another friend being used by a Goa'uld."

"You've all had a tough mission," Hammond said, looking around the table and catching each person's eye in turn, "and you've done some good work. I want full reports from all of you tomorrow, but take this evening off. Go home and rest. Dismissed."

***

Jack wanted to follow Daniel out of the briefing room when Hammond dismissed them, but the general beckoned for him to stay behind so he put on a professional face and stayed. Hammond only wanted a brief word about their mission schedule so Jack was able to leave after a couple of minutes, but Daniel was nowhere in sight. Their connection was quiet, which Jack now knew was a sign that Daniel was locking down his emotions and trying not to worry him. Carter's condensed version of the mission had told him all he needed to know to work out what was wrong. Daniel had been so close to finally saving someone he cared about from the Goa'uld and then it had been snatched away. Again.

How many times did that have to happen before the universe decided that the joke was getting old?

Although Daniel had closed down, Jack still had a faint sense of his presence and he felt too close to be anywhere other than on base. Jack's first thought was to check Daniel's office but it was locked and dark. That left a lot of base to search through. He leaned against the door while he thought, trying to put himself in Daniel's shoes. When the answer came, Jack could have kicked himself for not thinking of it first. Daniel had given him a lift to the mountain and, no matter how upset he was, that wasn't something he would forget. Daniel would probably have changed into his civvies and then waited for Jack. He almost went straight to the surface to check the parking lot, but something made Jack check the locker room first.

It was only lit by one weak lamp in the corner by the door and for a moment Jack didn't see Daniel. Then he noticed him sitting quietly on a bench in the far corner, half hidden by a coat. Daniel's hair was damp from a shower and he had exchanged his shirt for a long grey sweater. He was wearing the black jeans from the aborted date and the leather jacket was on the bench next to him.

Jack flicked on another light and Daniel looked up, squinting slightly as the light invaded his shadowed corner.

"Hey," Jack said softly.

"Hey," Daniel replied.

Jack strode over to Daniel's bench. "Mind if I sit down?"

Daniel shrugged, so Jack took that as an invitation and moved the leather jacket so that he could sit down. He sat close enough to brush shoulders with Daniel, and after a moment Daniel shifted slightly closer. Jack took that as a good sign.

"How do you feel?" he asked.

Daniel ducked his head and stared at the floor, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. "I don't really know."

"Do you want to talk?"

There was no reply so Jack cautiously put his hand on Daniel's forearm, feeling the muscles tense and relax through the thin wool. "Before we're anything else - partners, team-mates, whatever - we're friends, and friends help each other. I won't promise that we'll find her but you can talk to me."

For a long time there was silence and Jack thought that Daniel wouldn't talk, but then he quietly said, "I feel like I'm failing her."

When Daniel looked up and met Jack's eyes, the pain and anguish he was feeling shone there and seared Jack's soul.

"She said that she dreams about me rescuing her," Daniel continued. "Sarah sees everything Osiris does. It must be like living a nightmare every day. She was always so kind . . . so gentle . . ."

"Hey, it's not your fault," Jack said, sliding his hand down Daniel's arm to rest on his hand. "There was nothing you could have done to stop it. That thing was in her before you ever met up with her again."

"Sometimes I wonder . . ."

"Yeah?" Jack prompted when Daniel didn't continue.

The archaeologist shrugged and bowed his head again. "Nothing."

"Don't give me that. You can't lie to me, remember?"

There was a pause and then Daniel took a deep breath. "Sometimes I wonder whether it's me. Bad things happen to people I'm close to."

Jack sucked in a breath. That was perilously close to some of the things he wondered about, although he usually wondered it in a different way. Daniel seemed be asking whether it was his fault that things kept happening. Jack wanted to know why the universe seemed so determined to kick such a kind, caring, wonderful man in the teeth at every opportunity.

"I'm being silly," Daniel said, giving Jack a wan smile. "It's been a long day and I'm tired."

Jack slid his hand under Daniel's so that they were palm to palm with their fingers interlaced. His fingers were slightly darker than Daniel's. The back of Daniel's hand had a few fine white scars and the palm was lightly callused. He rubbed his thumb lightly over a scar at the base of Daniel's thumb. He had never noticed before that Daniel's hands were just as scarred and work-roughened as his own.

"You're not being silly," he said, "and you're not responsible for the crappy things that happen. I sometimes wonder whether the universe has a huge billboard out there with our faces on and 'kick me' written underneath."

Daniel gave an undignified snort of laughter. "I can actually imagine that."

"Bad stuff happens to all of us."

"I know."

"Your presence has made a lot of people's lives better. Do we have to watch 'It's A Wonderful Life' or will you believe me?"

"I'll believe you." The smile was becoming a little more heartfelt. "I'm just tired and maudlin, and it was a shock seeing her today."

Jack wanted to kiss him. They were sitting so close that he could smell the soap Daniel had used in the shower and feel their arms brushing each time they took a breath. He wanted to kiss Daniel until he forgot everything bad that had happened and gave him that happy, dreamy smile that Jack remembered from their last kiss.

Instead he cleared his throat and asked, "How do you feel about dinner?"

"I-"

Jack cut him off, half afraid that Daniel would say that he wanted to be alone. "It's been ages since we did anything as a team. We should find Carter and Teal'c and take them to that steak place we almost went to."

Daniel gave him a puzzled frown. "Jack, we've only done dinner as a team twice."

"So it's more than overdue."

"Don't you think someone might think it's odd?"

The locker room door suddenly flew open and Jack immediately dropped Daniel's hand and slid a couple of inches away from him. He swallowed hard, shot Daniel an apologetic smile and was relieved to see understanding on his face. Luckily Teal'c didn't seem to notice anything amiss. Jack made a mental note not to act guilty, no matter what happened; a guilty look was as good as telling everyone that you had been doing something illicit even if there was no actual evidence.

"Are you well, DanielJackson?" Teal'c asked, a hint of concern in his voice.

Daniel's lips curved into a small, real smile. "I am now, thanks."

Teal'c gave Jack an approving look. "I am pleased."

"T, we were talking about having dinner. As a team. In a restaurant," Jack said awkwardly.

"That would be most enjoyable," Teal'c said immediately.

"See?" Jack said.

Daniel shrugged and stood up. "I guess you were right. I'll wait for you at the elevator."

"Wait . . ." Jack looked down at his uniform. "Oh. Okay. Be out in a few."

Daniel nodded, picked up his jacket and left the room. Teal'c, dressed in a clean uniform, stared at Jack for a moment before dipping his head slightly.

"You are a good friend to him, O'Neill," he said. "I shall change in my quarters and meet you with DanielJackson."

Then he also left and Jack was on his own. He reviewed the past few minutes in his head as he gathered up shampoo and a towel and concluded that he had managed, somehow, to say the right thing.

***

Sam felt cleaner and more comfortable now that she'd had time to shower and change into civvies. The long-sleeved, white T-shirt and soft blue jeans were one of her favourite casual combinations, and the leather jacket slung over her arm would provide some warmth when she left the mountain and went into the chilly early spring air. Janet had invited her out for a drink to unwind when they were both finished with their respective duties. The addition of a pale blue beaded bracelet and choker kept the outfit comfortable but made it just smart enough for the bar they were planning to hit. An evening of fries, bar snacks, white wine and gossip sounded like the perfect antidote to a stressful mission.

The general had practically ordered them off base until tomorrow but Sam needed to talk to him before he left. She spotted his shirt disappearing around a corner as she was heading towards the elevators so she jogged to catch up.

"General," she called and he stopped to wait for her.

"Major Carter," he greeted. "I thought you'd be gone by now."

She shrugged and began walking beside him. "I'm on my way, sir. I was just wondering whether you'd had time to consider my proposal concerning Lieutenant Astor."

"I've considered it and I've spoken to the lieutenant and Doctor Fraiser. As soon as the doctor gives her the all clear, she'll be joining your staff."

Sam smiled. "Thank you, sir."

"I should probably be thanking you, Major," Hammond said, returning her smile. "You've solved a problem that's been giving me a headache for two weeks. Finding positions for duplicates of dead SGC staff was not an issue that anyone could be trained for."

"I'm glad that I could help."

"Yes, well, I'm hoping this is the last time that particular issue comes up."

"Believe me, sir, I think we're all hoping we won't be dealing with any more alternate universes."

Hammond shot her a puzzled look. "So why did you recommend against destroying the second mirror?"

"It's an amazing piece of science." She shrugged. "I also think we should never say never. We can hope that we're never in a position where we have to use it, but if we learn anything from those alternate universes it should be that we'll never know when a piece of technology might be useful."

They turned the last corner before the elevators and Sam was surprised to see Daniel and Teal'c waiting there dressed in civilian clothes. She had expected Daniel to be on his way home by now and Teal'c to be in the middle of Kel'no'reem.

"Hey guys," she said, giving them a curious look. "What's going on?"

"We're going to dinner," Jack said from behind her. He quickly stepped around her to join Daniel and Teal'c. "Want to join us?"

"I was going for a drink with Janet."

Jack shrugged. "So invite her along."

"Are you sure?"

"Sure I'm sure. We can cope with the Doc for an evening, right?" He glanced at his co-conspirators and Daniel nodded quickly while Teal'c bowed slightly. "What do you say General, are you in too?"

Hammond shook his head, chuckling. "I'm sorry, Jack, maybe next time. I have a lot of work to finish up here."

"Aw, come on. We're getting steak," Jack said cajolingly.

"I really would love to, but the Pentagon has requested some budget reports. I'll have to take a rain-check."

Jack gave in gracefully. "We'll hold you to that. Carter, grab the Doc and we'll meet you topside in ten."

Sam checked her watch and turned towards the infirmary. Janet should be just finishing her evening rounds so if they hurried, they'd make the colonel's deadline with a few seconds to spare.

***

Daniel stopped his car in front of Jack's house and turned the engine off. It had been a surprisingly enjoyable evening. As they were in a public place work talk had been strictly banned. That didn't stop Janet teasing them mercilessly about their new fan. Somehow, despite only SG-1 and Hammond knowing about Heimdall's fervent admiration, Janet had found out and was unlikely to let it drop for months. All she'd had to do was disguise the race and name and she had been unstoppable all evening. Daniel was privately forced to admit that it was quite funny. The Asgard were usually so sedate and serious, but Heimdall had been excitable and almost giddy. There had been a couple of times where Daniel had wondered if he was going ask for their autographs. Heimdall had looked close to fainting in ecstasy when Sam kissed his cheek before he left.

"What are you thinking?" Jack asked.

Daniel turned in his seat. "About Heimdall."

"He was pretty funny."

"That's what I was thinking." Daniel paused. "I was also thinking 'thank you'."

"For what?"

"For knowing what I needed even though I didn't know. If you hadn't insisted on dinner, I would have gone home and brooded with a bottle of wine. Instead I spent the evening with my friends, and somehow nothing seems as bad as it did a few hours ago. You gave me some perspective on everything."

"I'm glad I could help."

"You always do."

Daniel continued to look at Jack, noticing with fascination the way that the other man's eyes focused intently on his and how his tongue darted out to moisten his lips. A tide of heat flowed through their connection, and Daniel swallowed hard as he felt the raw emotions coming through from Jack. It would be so easy to get lost in the moment and do something they might both regret later. Daniel was determined that the first time they slept together, it would be without doubts or fear of recrimination. He dropped his eyes to Jack's shoulder and concentrated on putting his most dangerous emotions away in their mental boxes.

"We should probably . . ." he began unsteadily.

"Yeah," Jack agreed, his voice sounding a little hoarse.

Jack fiddled with his seat belt for a moment before he managed to unlatch it and open the door. Daniel followed suit and met Jack's surprised gaze over the roof of his car.

"I'm walking you to your door," he explained, flushing slightly.

Jack joined him in the sidewalk to walk up the path to the door. "Are you afraid that I'll get mugged on the way? Trust me, I'd be more worried about the mugger."

Daniel waited until they were in the hallway with the door pushed closed but not latched before he answered. Hopefully the breeze gusting through would remind them not to get carried away.

"I'm not worried about muggers," he said, giving Jack what he hoped was an alluring smile. "I just thought that kissing you in the street might not be entirely discreet."

An answering smile tugged at the corner of Jack's mouth. "I was kind of hoping that's what we were doing."

Daniel's heart was pounding so hard that he couldn't believe Jack couldn't hear it. This part of the kiss was always the part that made him nervous. He was fine when they were actually touching, but that moment when he was facing his partner and trying to work out how to approach always made his stomach churn with anxiety. The morning with Jack on his sofa was the only time he could remember not feeling stressed before a kiss. Something in the atmosphere they had created that day had just made nerves and fear irrelevant. It had felt like the most natural thing in the world to lean over and kiss him.

"Daniel?"

He took a deep breath, stepped forward and brushed his lips over Jack's. When he pulled back slightly there was a look in Jack's eyes that sent a shiver down his spine. Daniel closed his eyes and leaned into a slow, sensual kiss that left every nerve in his body on fire. Jack's hand drifted to his waist and pulled him closer as they passed control of the kiss back and forth, exploring leisurely. Daniel could taste coffee and mint overlaying a taste that was uniquely Jack. When his tongue stroked over Jack's, he felt a gust of warm air against his cheek and Jack's quiet groan thrilled him.

Eventually he had to tear his mouth away and rest his forehead against Jack's while he fought to reign in the desire that the kiss had unleashed.

"We just keep getting better at this," Jack said after a couple of minutes.

Daniel opened his eyes and met Jack's brown ones. "Yeah."

"I like this kind of nudging," Jack added. "I could probably get to like it way too much."

"Yeah," Daniel agreed again, and sighed. "That's why I should leave before we like it too much and go somewhere we're not ready for."

They reluctantly disentangled and stepped back a couple of paces. Daniel was gratified to see that he was not the only one who had been seriously affected by the kiss.

"I have no idea how I resisted you for so long," Jack said wonderingly.

"Self-preservation can be an amazingly powerful instinct," Daniel replied, running a hand through his hair.

Jack shuffled his feet and stuffed his hands in his pockets. "You know that I'm not in this just because you have certain feelings for me?"

Daniel nodded. "I know."

"I . . . the feelings are all there, it's just taking a while to get my head and my instincts to go there too."

"I know." Daniel tapped the side of his head. "Your emotions come through loud and clear most of the time."

"Most of the time?"

"Consciously or unconsciously, I think we both have ways to block this thing we have so that we can hide our emotions. We just haven't got the discipline to do it all the time yet."

Jack ducked his head. "I'm glad it's you."

Despite their words, it was hard to leave. A large part of Daniel wanted to stay with Jack and see where a few more kisses might take them. He could probably even manipulate Jack into bed, but that would be the worst thing he could possibly do for either of them so he pushed away the tempting inner voice that was taunting him with things he couldn't have yet. Instead he put his hand on the doorknob and pulled it open a couple of inches.

"Good night, Jack," he said.

As Jack stepped forward and brushed a light kiss on his mouth, Daniel reflected that the man would probably never stop surprising him. It was a comforting thought.

"Night, Daniel."

Daniel escaped through the door before any more temptation could be put in his way. Jack stayed at the door watching him leave until he was in his car and at the end of the street. Daniel tried to feel guilty for feeling this happy while Sarah was still a prisoner to the Goa'uld but he couldn't. The joy and anticipation kept welling up inside no matter how hard he tried to suppress it and as for the goofy grin, the muscles in his face seemed to be locked in position.

Daniel hoped that these feelings would never fade.

End (for now)
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