Jmas Fan Fiction

Title: A Brand New Game
Status: Complete
Author: Jmas
Category: Drama, angst, H/C
Rating: PG..mostly because of Jack
Email: jmasg1@bellsouth.net
Archive: Stargate Fan, Heliopolis, Belle, Place of Our Legacy
Disclaimer: Characters are property of MGM, etc.
Spoilers: Almost every episode up to and including Gamekeeper.
Summary:Games are all too real in the minds of those who play them...
Author's note: More insight, such as it may be, into the inner workings of Jack and Daniel...such a lovely and strange place to dwell....

This is for Brenda...the wonder beta. And for Yum@, who is in my thoughts.
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Part One: Jack

This shit is getting old....fast.

It's bad enough what with all the stuff we've been through lately to be stuck on base this long with no breaks, but to have to argue with Hammond that my team has been pushed way beyond any reasonable limits for way too long....

In the past month, we've all been put through a couple of different kinds of hell. Daniel almost died, Carter got that little Tok'ra guest, Daniel got zatted...by Teal'c no less, we got sent to prison, Daniel almost got the life squeezed out of him by that big smelly guy. Not to mention our last mission to the Gamekeeper's planet where Daniel and I got to relive a couple of our worst nightmares in that twisted do-over virtual reality.

As I make my way to my Jeep, I notice that Carter and Daniel have already left and pray that the old girl starts for once or I'll be commandeering a staff car to take me home. The engine grinds a few times, but finally catches and I am out of here....
..........................................................

The road down from the mountain requires a good driver to pay attention at the best of times. At night and as tired as I am, I have to fight to stay focused on keeping the Jeep between the lines. When I catch myself blinking, I decide I'd better put the window down and let the cool air keep me alert. I glance down at the dash clock...1 a.m...and look up just in time to see a car stopped dead in the road....

I hit the brakes hard, jerking the wheel sharply left and come to a stop just inches from the stupid jerk who....

Daniel?

That's Daniel's car. What the...?

I take a deep breath to settle my already jangled nerves and jump out of the Jeep. Daniel better be okay because I am really going to chew his ass for dinner if he hasn't got a damn good reason for almost killing us both...

He's there in the car, slumped over the wheel. Asleep? I check his pulse...it's racing as if he's just run a mile, not passed out behind the wheel of his car...

He starts to stir a little at my touch...

"Daniel?" I try to keep my voice low and steady, something isn't quite right here....

Daniel raises his head, blinking at me but not like he's really seeing much.

"Jack?" Daniel's voice is barely audible here in the quiet darkness of the road.

"Yeah, it's me, buddy. What the hell happened?"

I'm starting to get a little worried here. This isn't like Daniel at all. I've seen Daniel push himself beyond normal human capacity repeatedly, but I've never seen him so far gone that he couldn't function as long as he needed to. Could he be sick?

Daniel's shaking his head at me. "What happened?"

I don't know if he's repeating my question...or if he just didn't hear it. I shift him around so I can get him out of the car; no way is he doing anymore driving tonight.

"C'mon, Danny, let's get you into my car..."

For once he doesn't argue with me, letting me put him into the front seat of the Jeep with a totally unexpected docility. By the time I get back from parking his car on the side of the road, Daniel is curled up in the seat, dead to the world.

This is just so out of character for Daniel, but considering everything that's happened lately maybe he finally *has* reached his limit. Funny, I never really thought he had any. I know he seems to think he doesn't.

One sure thing, if I take him back to his apartment he's just going to wind up brooding; not eating, not sleeping....

That last mission to the Keeper's planet was an emotional wringer for both of us....

It was bad enough for me to watch my unit die, again and again, in that instant replay, but for Daniel to watch his parents get crushed under that coverstone....

That still blows my mind. He'd never said anything about 'how' his parents died. Hell, he never said anything about them dying at all. I knew, of course, because I've seen his personnel file...but that was only the bare facts; "Dr. Daniel Jackson was orphaned as a child." That file doesn't say anything about the fact that the boy who was Daniel stood there and watched it happen, heard the screams....

God...I can't imagine....

Well, I guess I can...but he was just a kid. Kids shouldn't have to deal with stuff like that. Kids should have fun, be loved, have a chance....

I kill that train of thought right there. That's too much heavy thinking on an empty stomach.

Spotting a pizza place that's still open, I pull into the drive-through. Looking over at Daniel as I place my order, I'm struck once again by how young Daniel looks when he's asleep. The fine lines of his face are relaxed and far more open in sleep than when he's awake. When he's awake Daniel's brain is going full tilt at the latest windmill...usually closely followed by his speeding body...and his eyes look too haunted to be mistaken as young. Knowing what I do now, I doubt Daniel ever really *was* a kid...

As I finally pull into my driveway, I catch myself steeling my nerves. Daniel's had a little rest now; sure as I'm sitting here he is going to argue with my decision to bring him home....

Figuring it won't get better with waiting, I reach over and shake him a little bit.

He wakes up with a start, bumping his head on the door glass. "Ow...Jack?"

"Let's...eat?" I say a little lamely. Maybe food can sooth an irate scientist just like that savage beast everybody talks about.

"Jack..." Daniel's blinking, still not taking in much of his surroundings. "How did...?"

"You fell asleep....?" I lead him off, but, unlike usual, he's not really catching the uptake. This is getting a little too weird...

"C'mon," I make it an order. "I want to check you out, make sure you didn't hurt yourself back there."

Daniel weaves his way into the house and collapses on my couch. Putting down the pizza box, I bend over him and check for bumps and bruises, but I don't see anything. Daniel is just laying there with his eyes closed, but I don't think he's asleep again.

"Danny, come on...let's eat first, then we can crash for two days."

He lifts a hand, barely, to let me know he hears me, but makes no further moves.

I go into the kitchen and bring back napkins and a couple of beers. Daniel hasn't moved and is snoring softly, asleep again...

I decide to let him sleep....for now. If he's still this out of it tomorrow, our friendly neighborhood SGC doc is going to get an early morning phone call....


Part Two: Daniel

Sha'uri tells me again that Jack and Skaara are back from their hunt. She knows how wrapped up I can get in my work and has learned to be amazingly tolerant of my less attentive moods. After three years she should be...

I take her into my arms, enjoying the feel of her swollen stomach against mine. Our second child nudges me as I hold its mother close. I'm hoping for a girl this time, as spirited and darkly beautiful as Sha'uri.

I'm glad Jack decided to stay with us on Abydos. The kinship he's found here with these desert people is every bit as strong as my own. They look to him now as a leadership figure, just as they look to me for knowledge. We've both come to love and respect the people of Abydos for the joy and simple pleasure they find in every moment...thousands of years of slavery has taught them to appreciate every small moment of life. A talent neither Jack nor I had opportunity to learn on Earth.

As Sha'uri and I walk back towards the village, I can't help but swallow at the bittersweet feeling that this shouldn't be happening...I don't deserve this happiness. Sha'uri smiles at me in her understanding way. She knows me; she's the best part of me, how could she not know?

Jack smiles at me as we come into the communal area. I can see the hunt was extremely successful and congratulate him in the Abydonian language he's been working so hard to master. He responds correctly with just a trace of an accent and smiles even more broadly.

The young men take the bounty of the hunt outside for cleaning and we settle around the central fire pit with a cup of Skaara's special brew...well-watered of course. Jack tells us about the hunt and the discovery of a hidden room. Not so long ago I would have jumped at the chance to check something like this out, but now...it feels me with a mind numbing fear...

Jack looks at me strangely, brushing the long hair out of his eyes in a gesture which should seem familiar but, somehow, isn't. I feel a sudden chill and Jack looks at me in concern...a look I *do* know all too well. I can't shake the feeling that something is very wrong...I shouldn't be here...

I *shouldn't* be this happy...

I should be....

..........................................................

"Daniel?"

Jack's voice. Where am I? What happened?

I can't quite get enough focus to ask him, but he answers as if I had.

"It's okay, Daniel. You passed out."

I did? I don't remember....

I open my eyes and for a moment I see Jack in street clothes with short hair, still looking at me in that concerned way that seems more familiar, more comfortable, than the reality I should know so well...then the image is gone..and Jack is there in his dusty Abydonian robes, long hair framing his face...

I look at Sha'uri next to him and see her eyes glowing, dead to me....gone to a place where I can never find her...

I close my eyes again as the darkness threatens to return...

*This is real.*

*Here.*

*Now.*

*It has to be...*

Jack is rattling on about the room they found, describing curved golden walls covered in glyphs....

It sounds so...

"It's a map." I blurt it out before I'm even aware of thinking it. I open my eyes to meet Jack's narrowed ones. He feels it, too.

This is more than just an odd feeling of deja vu; something isn't right.

Worse than that...

Something isn't real...


Part three: Jack

What the...? Now *that* was a weird dream....

Me and Daniel still on Abydos...Daniel a father....

Entirely too Twilight Zone.

I can see Daniel having a dream like that, but me?

Speaking of Daniel...

I get up quickly, checking the clock as I go..3 a.m...Damn. This leave is not turning out as planned..

Daniel's still on the couch, mumbling something in his sleep.

I decide to wake him up, make sure he's okay. If nothing else he needs to get into a real bed.

"Danny?"

I jump back as he shoots up like a rocket in terminal lift-off mode...

"Jack!"

As I grab hold of him to keep him from falling, he's looking around the dark room wildly, as if he isn't quite sure where he is.

"Whoa there, Danny. It's okay...I'm here..." I tighten my grip a little, trying to tune him into the here and now. I remember him having dreams like this early on, just after Chulak; dreams that would bring him awake in a cold sweat, dreams of being helpless ...hopeless...but I haven't seen him like this in a long time.

He's still shaking, but his breath is coming slower. I'm still whispering to him, talking him down. He's nodding his head now as he rubs his eyes, trying to chase the last of the ghosts away.

"I'm okay...I'm okay..."

I don't know if he's trying to convince me or himself, but it doesn't seem to be working on either front. At least he seems alert for the first time since I found him on that road. Too bad it took something like this to get him there...

I go to the kitchen a throw together some coffee and hear him stumbling to the bathroom. By the time the machine sputters out its last drop, he comes into the kitchen and plants himself at the counter. He looks a little better, but there are dark smudges around his eyes and he acts like the lights are too bright...

Daniel sits there gulping at that coffee like he can't wake up fast enough. Just from what I saw at my end of things, I can't say as I blame him. He gives me a half-nod, telling me he's okay, but I can see that he isn't. I guess it's just as obvious from my expression that I don't quite believe him there. He gives me that quirky little head shake that says 'whatever' and gets up to refill his cup. He keeps this up and he'll never sleep, but I guess that's what he's got in mind.

"Daniel." I drawl it out; he knows my tones of voice well enough by now. This one says talk to me.

He looks at me directly for the first time, the shadows of his dream still lurk there in his eyes. Whatever it was hurt him, scared him in a way that he isn't ready to talk about. I can accept that...for now. I go to the bathroom and bring back two of those little blue OTC sleep aid pills. He looks at them like they're contagious, but takes them anyway.

"C'mon," I make it an order.

I lead him into the guest room and take away his coffee.

"Jack...?" His tone is quiet, questioning.

"Yeah, Danny?"

"When's the last time you had long hair?"

What the....

Nah...I need some more sleep....

...........................................................................................................


"Fire!"

Maybourne yells it out as if on a battle field....

As Daniel stands there slightly down-ramp from Lya....who is in the process of making the Tollans disappear....I can't believe my ears. Daniel looks up at Maybourne with that dismissive, what-an-asshole expression I've already become all-too familiar with and I start to laugh in agreement....when I hear the shot.

Somehow the commmanding tone of Maybourne's voice and the ill-luck that seems to follow Daniel like a constant companion have once again conspired against my well-meaning friend...

Daniel stands there for just a moment, looking up toward me in confusion...his head shaking slightly. Then he looks down at his hands which are covered in blood...his blood.

I'm down the stairs in a flash, bursting through the gateroom door just in time to see Daniel fall to his knees. Lya is gone, but I don't think she could have seen what happened; she wouldn't have left Daniel like this....

I reach Daniel in time to catch him before he falls....

"Jack?" The 'why' implied in Daniel's tone is as much a mystery to me as it is to him. Why a power-hungry jerk like Maybourne ever got placed in a position of power...a position to hurt innocent people with a single word....is beyond my comprehension.

The bullet has hit Daniel almost dead center in the upper left chest...all too close to that amazing heart....

I'm vaguely aware of several things happening at once: Teal'c takes down the unintentional shooter with one blow, Hammond calls a medical emergency...finally, and Maybourne is looking down at us with a look of such total satisfaction on his face that I just want to go up there and shove that look up his supercilious ass.

Teal'c punched out the wrong guy. That kid may have held the gun, but Maybourne pulled the trigger...

Daniel slumps in my grasp and I reach for a pulse...

Nothing.

God...

"Daniel!"


Part 4: Daniel

"Daniel!"

God...I thought....I *was* dead...What a dream...

"Daniel!"

I open my eyes to see Jack bending over me in concern. I must have been making a lot of noise...

"Jack? Did I wake you?"

Jack's shaking his head. "No. I woke myself....you aren't the only one with bad dreams tonight...."

I nod at him, rubbing my chest...it still hurts....

It felt so real....

Jack's looking at me strangely, but shakes his head as if throwing off the last remnants of his own dream. I think I've had enough rest for now and start to get up....only to find the room going black around me....

I feel Jack's hand on my arm, guiding me back down and pushing my head between my knees. He's saying something about the pills he gave me earlier, something about coffee and an empty stomach. He's asking when's the last time I ate...

I honestly don't remember....

I think I say it, he acts like I did as he helps me to stand up a little slower. I'm still a little light-headed, but at least the room isn't spinning anymore...

Jack parks me back on the couch, acting so solicitous, it's kind of got me worried actually. I hear a lot of rattling and banging from the kitchen, but between my headache and the lingering pain in my chest I don't really feel like going in there to investigate. I lay back on Jack's couch and put my feet up on Jack's coffee table and listen to Jack's noise. I hear a little ting and a clatter and a few minutes later Jack appears with coffee, scrambled eggs and slightly green-tinged toast. I look up at him as I poke at the green.

"So I haven't shopped in awhile. " He shrugs a little apologetically. "Just think of it as raw penicillin...Eat."

Stifling a little nausea, I sit up and take a stab at it. My chest is throbbing now and Jack notices as I rub at it, his eyes ask the question...

I shrug my own shoulders, not really wanting to get into a discussion about the physical after-effects of dreams. "It's nothing...must've slept too heavily..."

He looks at me a little strangely, but nods, not pushing it. He grabs the remote off the coffee table and flips through the t.v. channels. Not much on at this time of night. He settles on an old movie. I don't think either one of us is in a hurry to go back to sleep...

I finish the eggs and eat around the green parts of the toast. I hadn't realized how hungry I was. I sit back again and sip my coffee as my headache eases...

.........................................................................................

"Jack!"

We're running for the Stargate as fast as we can...faster than I ever thought I could....when I see the beam start to fall...

I yell out a warning, but between the noise of the storm and the castle falling down around us, it's just too loud in here. Jack can't hear me. I make a dive at his legs in an attempt to push him out of the way, but it isn't enough. The beam comes down on his legs, crushing them.

The debris seems to slow down for a moment as I stoop down beside him trying to free him. He's in obvious pain...his eyes already glazed in shock, but trying to look past me at the 'gate. It's sputtering wildly, completely unstable.

"Daniel, get out of here!"

I knew he was going to say it.

Just like I know I'm not going to do it.

Just like he knows I won't.

We already know each other well enough not to argue about that...That won't stop Jack from trying though....

He wouldn't be here now if it weren't for me. If I hadn't become so obsessed with studying the Heliopolis communication device, I would have been up here with my team...where I should have been...

Jack looks at me strangely for a moment, a pain that isn't entirely physical in his eyes.

"Daniel...don't...."

I just look at him. There aren't enough words to express my regret, my sorrow...The only thing I can do now is to stay by him...not let him die alone....

As the light from the Stargate sputters one last time and fades completely, the tower shakes and the ceiling begins to fall....

Part 5: Jack

I chase after him down the long corridor. I don't know how this could have happened. He's my friend, or was until now...

Now I'm not so sure who he is...

The docs say he's got a snake in his head. I don't want to believe them, but he's already killed two people. He'll kill more if I don't stop him, here...now...

Where the hell did this happen? We were all okay when we jumped for the gate as Apophis' Jaffa were hot on our heels back on Chulak. He looked fine when we came through, although he did complain of a headache...

I've got to stop him.

He'd want me to stop him.

Even if it means killing him.

I finally pry open the doors of the elevator. Carter's humped up in the corner there, out cold. Daniel stares at me wild-eyed and breathing heavily.

I look at him as I hold my gun on him to prevent his escape from the elevator, trying to gauge how much of my friend actually looks back at me.

I remember Daniel's words back there in that dungeon, 'Something of the host must survive."

I also remember Teal'c shaking his head hopelessly...negating Daniel's words.

I know Daniel well enough to know he wouldn't want to continue this way, wouldn't want to hurt anyone else, wouldn't want us to take the risk of allowing him to escape....

Those expressive eyes hold a silent question, a silent prayer...

I fire the gun.

....................................................................................

God...

What the hell is going on here tonight....

I look over at Daniel, huddled uncomfortably at the other end of the couch, his coffee cup still balanced precariously on one leg.

I don't know where that last dream came from. I don't care what happens to him...there's *nothing* that would make me shoot Daniel...especially not some damn snake.

Even in those early days, there was just something about him....

I can't even put a finger on it now. Daniel is....unique. I've never known anybody like him, and probably never will. He can go from up to down and all points between within the blink of an eye. He can be arguing with me one minute, then turn around and ask if I'm okay in the next. He opens his heart up to hurt without question, but at the same time feels things on a level I'm only beginning to comprehend. There's no doubt in my mind, though, that of the two of us...he's the better man.

He looks like a kid laying there against the couch arm, head nearly falling off the hand holding it up...a kid who doesn't want to be alone...

I know how he feels.

I take the coffee cup out of his hand and put it on the table, then throw an afghan over him and pile up at the other end of the couch. Whatever is going on with us tonight, we aren't going to go through it alone....

Part 6: Daniel

Why couldn't they have listened to me?

Why didn't they believe me and act when we still had a chance to stop this?

Why...

We're sitting here watching an eerily familiar sight. At least, it's familiar to me.

Apophis' ship is slowly settling onto Cheyenne mountain.

Jack looks at me and his eyes echo the same question that tears at my soul...

Why?

I know he regrets it now...but regrets won't buy us anymore time. In a few short minutes the SGC and Earth, as we knew it, will no longer exist...

They tried to get Sam and me to go through to the Alpha site, but we both know our place is here. I knew we would fail....just as we failed before....but I couldn't go. We've been a team for over a year now; we've fought together...and died together, actually. We've been through too much together not to want to see this through to the bitter end.

All we can do now is wait.

When the Jaffa finally break through, the failsafe device will explode...hopefully taking most of them with us....

Jack looks at me again. I can see he wants to say something...anything...to heal this breach between us before...

What *can* he say?

I wish I'd believed you, Daniel? I wish I'd believed *in* you? I wish that I'd had the faith in you that you always had in me?

What good will it do now?

He didn't have faith in me, he didn't believe me, didn't take the chance that I *could* be right, stood by and watched as the gate was sealed and two months later stood by and watched as the dual blips on the NASA radar got close enough to recognize as pyramid ships.

Too late Jack realized I'd been right. And now it's too late to do anything about it.

A wedge was driven between us then that will never have a chance to go away. I was never able to bring myself to trust him as much as I had before, as I had from the very beginning. Jack's lack of faith when it really mattered told me that he didn't respect me; he may have believed the facts I was able to recite...but man to man, when it really counted....he couldn't believe me when I so desperately needed him to...needed all of them to....

And now it's too late.

Earth is dying...and soon we will, too.

And even now Jack can't admit that he was wrong, because that would mean admitting that I was right. His stubborn pride will remain in place until this mountain blows sky high...and I'll never know if he even cares that I forgive him...

I look over at him, sitting there stoically watching the security cameras track the Jaffa's incursion into the mountain. It's Shak'l leading the attack this time, not Teal'c, but the results will be the same. At least we didn't bomb Chul'ak...at least no more innocents had to die as a result of a simple lack of faith.

*I thought we were friends, Jack...Why couldn't you trust me?*

As the countdown reaches one minute and relentlessly continues downward, I see a single tear coursing down from the corner of Jack's dark eyes. He looks straight at me now and a shadow of the friend I knew two months ago looks back at me...

But now it's too late...


Part 7: Jack

"What fate Omarocca?"

The fishy guy is getting really ticked off at Daniel....

I guess that's only fair because Daniel is getting pretty ticked off at him...

It's been two days now and that's just about all the big bluegill has managed to say. He whumped Daniel up against the wall with some kind of energy burst the last time the kid said he didn't he didn't know...

Me? I'm just hanging around over here in my corner, tied up to some bubbling tube of a thing. I don't know if I'm here as some kind of insurance that Daniel won't escape or as a contingency plan if he doesn't come up with the answers Nem wants.

Half the time I they both forget I'm even over here, they're so busy glaring and arguing.

"What fate Omarocca?"

"What *is* Omarocca? *Who* is Omarocca?"

"What...fate...?"

"I don't know!"

It would almost be funny if it weren't for the fact that we're being held prisoner here in this underwater...whatever...against our will. And, of course, there is Nem's promise that we're going to die if Daniel doesn't come up with the right answer to a question he doesn't even understand.

I've never seen Daniel so frustrated.

He's doing that little bouncy thing...like Tigger in hyperdrive....that tells me he's reached the end of his patience. Messing with Daniel when he gets like that is like playing hockey with a ticking time bomb...fun up to a point, then boom!

Nem is getting madder by the minute. They're arguing about whether Earth is still controlled by the Goa'uld. Then Daniel suggest Nem use that brain-drain thing to get the information he wants...

"Unh-unh...bad idea...." I yell it out, but they ignore me.

Nem tells Daniel that it could kill him. Daniel looks over at me and I shake my head. Bad plan, Daniel. Really bad plan.

But he's the one who isn't tied up and he's the one who's got Nem's answer somewhere in that thick skull of his. He's also the one who's so obviously trying to ignore me right now....

Nem hooks Daniel up to the machine that he used to make Carter and Teal'c think we were dead. It starts out okay, but Nem keeps cranking it up until the sweat is pouring off of Daniel's face and the veins are standing out in his neck and arms as he tries to talk through the pain.

I'm pulling on these ropes as hard as I can, but they won't give at all. I can only sit here and watch as Nem pushes Daniel harder and harder. I'm screaming my lungs out over here, but there's nothing I can do to help Daniel....

Daniel is finally able to tell Nem that his mate, Omarocca, is dead. Nem doesn't take the news very well...he cranks the machine up even further. Daniel screams once, his body arching against the restraints and then collapsing....

Nem roars in anger, grief...whatever....and finally really looks at me for the first time. His strange eyes look almost human as he apologizes to me for hurting Daniel. I tell him to save it and go help Daniel, but Nem says it's too late....

It can't be. Daniel can't be dead....

I should have been able to stop it....

This isn't supposed to end like this!

Part 8: Daniel

I feel like there's a parade marching over my grave.....

I've died more times in my dreams tonight than I have in real life.

Jack's asleep under a blanket at the other end of the couch and there's another one over me. I guess Jack's in major watchdog mode tonight...

If I hadn't been having bad dreams before I'd blame it on the green toast.

One things for sure...I've had more than enough of these things for one night, I need some coffee. I start to get up, but a wave of dizziness hits me again...

Something is definitely not right about all of this.

The dreams...

So close to reality, but so...wrong.

I try again to raise up, but can't seem to find the strength.

It's so cold...

......................................................................................................

Cold.

Mind numbing, bone-chilling cold.

I open my eyes to find myself surrounded by ice.

Where the hell are we?

We should be back at the SGC....

Jack? Sam? Teal'c?

I raise up off the icy ground slowly. My head's throbbing...and bleeding, must've been what knocked me out.

Jack?

He's laying up against an icy wall, unconscious. When I turn him over, he looks...bad. His breath is raspy, his pulse is thready and erratic, his leg is obviously broken...

I don't see Sam or Teal'c anywhere...

I know I dialed Earth...I know it!

Jack is stirring. He comes back to consciousness with a yelp of pain...

"Daniel?"

"Yeah, Jack, I'm here..."

I try to sum up our situation for him as best I can, then try to prepare him for what has to be done. I've set broken legs more times than I can count, on Abydos mostly...but also a few times on remote digs where medical help may be hours, or even days, away.

Jack understands what I have to do, and I try to be as gentle as possible, but I know it hurts him. It can't be helped. He knows that as I do....

Once Jack's leg is set and splinted, I try to make him as comfortable as possible. He's trying to keep up a front for me, but I know there's something very wrong with him...

I've got to get us out of here. Somehow.

The Stargate is here, nearly embedded in the glacial ice, so the DHD has to be here too. After searching for what seems like hours, I finally find it, layered over with what could be millenia of ice, and start chipping away with my knife. Jack wants to help, but I tell him to keep still and talk to me...

I have a feeling that he should stay awake. If he goes to sleep in this cold, he could...

Can't think about that.

Jack talks away as I work; talking about sports, life in the military, flight simulations. When he runs out of topics, I prompt him with one of the many bad jokes that I've learned from him. Of course, I tell it wrong and he has to correct me, but I don't mind it...at least he's talking.

Jack's rather debatable sense of humor is one of the many things about him that it took me awhile to understand . It's definitely taken me awhile. In a way it's a compliment to have Jack aim his wit at you. If he doesn't like you, he aims that other weapon at you...that dripping sarcasm that lesser souls can't begin to comprehend. . They may *think* they've been insulted, but they're never quite sure...

I realize that Jack's stopped talking and climb down to where he is to check.

He's gone to sleep...

Got to wake him up.

Jack...

God, Jack, you can't do this...

You can't leave me here alone...


Part 9: Jack

Whoa....

This is *not* good...

I've had about all the rest I can handle for one night.

Where's...?

Why is Daniel on the floor?

I get up and lean over him. He's shaking like he's as frozen as I was in my...

What the hell?

"Daniel?" I shake him, hard.

We've got to wake up, here; figure this thing out. I've got a funny feeling, the kind I get when things aren't quite as kosher as they seem...

Daniel is stirring, still shivering and mumbling something about being alone.

I shake him a little harder and his eyes finally open, blinking at me in confusion.

"Jack?" His voice is raw with some deep emotion that I can't quite fathom...or maybe I can. "Jack, what's going on?"

I shake my head. "I dunno, buddy. How'd you wind up on the floor?"

"I wanted to stay awake," he says, his voice shaking as much as he is. "I...think I wanted to tell you something. Must've passed out."

I lead him to the kitchen and pour us some coffee. Something's screwy around here and it's way past time to get to the bottom of it.

Daniel's still shivering so I crank up the thermostat until the furnace kicks in. Between the heat and the coffee he gradually seems to thaw out.

He looks like grade 'A' shit...hollow eyed and trembling, every nerve seemingly stretched to its limit.

"Jack...what is all of this?" His hands hover vaguely, but I know what he means.

He looks at me expectantly...

We've always managed to find answers before, but this....

I lay my head on my hands for a moment.

Got to think....

.................................................................................................................

No....

This is my old house.

The house where Charlie....

Charlie?

He's running across the lawn, bounding onto the porch and into the house with all the youthful energy and enthusiasm that I remember so well. His blond hair bounces in the sunlight and it's almost like a slow-motion image...as if I have to memorize every detail while I can...

I know where this is going.

I don't want to be here.

"Jack?"

Daniel is beside me.

Daniel shouldn't be here.

I didn't even know Daniel back when....

I shake my head numbly; my entire body is braced for the sound that I know is coming soon...

The sound that changed everything...

The sound that never stops...

Daniel's pulling me, turning me away from the house, making me look at him...

"Jack, this isn't real. We have to go...now!" Daniel's voice is forceful, demanding in a way I've never heard before.

Part of me knows this isn't real; part of me knows that nothing will change here...

I know this is a dream.

This *has* to be a dream.

Get me out of here, Daniel...

"Jack!"


Part 10: Daniel


"Jack!"

Jack looks like he's just seen a ghost.

In a way, he has...

It's a feeling I'm recently familiar with.

Jack is still breathing deeply, clinging onto my hand like a lifeline. I know how he feels...and now I think I know why.....

The thing is...how can we stop it?

*Can* we stop it?

"Jack? Look at me..."

He looks up at me, still shaky but recovering. I have to make him listen while we still have time...

"Jack, what's the last 'real' thing you remember from our last mission?"

He looks at me like he thinks I've gone over that edge we've been dancing on all 'night'...but he's trying...

"I remember....the Keeper. He was really pissed because we let the cat out of the bag. Or rather, the residents out of the environment. Then we gated home..."

I'm nodding my head, trying to fight this pervasive exhaustion and piece together a theory that on the surface may seem more than a little far-fetched, but...

"Did we?" I ask it quietly. "Jack....What did you 'dream' about....?"

Jack looks at me, eyes clouded by the same weight that has pressed upon me through all of this...

"You and me on Abydos, you getting shot when we helped the Tollans, me....us...dying on..."

"Ernest's planet? Me possessed by a Goa'uld? Apophis attacking Earth?"

He's nodding now, catching on. "Nem, but you died. Freezing to death in Antarctica. You're trying to tell me..."

Even as I nod my head, the room fades.

The facade of normalcy is no longer needed and as we turn around, I know what we'll see.

The Keeper.

Jack is livid, stalking toward the Keeper with his fists raised.

The Keeper touches the device on his forearm and we're back in the museum again. I'm quite frankly afraid to turn around, afraid to see if it's going to happen again. This has all just been too much...I don't think I can go through this again, too....

Jack takes my arm, squeezing tightly. He looks...there...and shakes his head, no.

The Keeper is still looking at us with that sickening, inscrutable smile. "You are, indeed, an obstinate race. It took time for me to construct a scenario capable of distracting you."

He smiles again, indicating the museum. "My initial efforts were faulty, but I learned from those mistakes. I realized the only way that you would play was if I could keep you from realizing that you were. I added extra substances to your infusions to keep you further under and, since you, O'Neill were the more aggressive, I added the extra distraction of your friend's incapacity."

"But we have realized it," Jack sneers at him. " And now we want out!"

"I don't think so." The Keeper's smile fades. " The two of you are an inexhaustible source of entertainment for the residents. Such rich interaction, such a wealth of magination! They have grown very fond of you. I think we'll keep you."

"You'll *keep* us?' Jack sputters. "We aren't some damn lab rats!"

"Don't you care how much pain you're causing us?" I jump in, trying to lend a voice of reason to Jack's tirade.

The Keeper looks at me blankly. "You have suffered no physical injury...yet."

Yet? What's that supposed to mean? I can see Jack caught that one, too.

"There are other kinds of pain...Have you so completely lost touch with reality that you can't see the kind of emotional pain you're inflicting?"

The Keeper looks at us blankly. I don't think he understands. They've been so devoid of outside influence, simple human interaction, for so long....

Jack still looks like he wants to punch something.

The Keeper just smiles again and touches the device.

The room fades into a replica of Skaara's ship.


Part 11: Jack

We're back in our black uniforms, back on the bridge of Skaara's ship as it moves closer to Earth. It's just the two of us this time though. Daniel looks at me, paler and more drained than before, if that's possible. This is not a good memory for either of us...and we both remember the way this story ends....

"Jack..."

Daniel is looking at the stars. I know what he's thinking. I'm thinking it, too.

The Keeper has learned how to manipulate our memories, our nightmares. The inevitable end of this episode in our lives was bad enough. What kind of sick scenario has he got planned for us in this place?

"We could just refuse to play again?" I don't really think it's possible. I just hope it is.

Daniel nods half-heartedly. "We could try..."

I squeeze his shoulder, turning him around. "We'll get through this, Daniel."

He nods again, trusting me. I hope I can keep that promise.

"O'Neill."

It's Skaara...Klorel...

I try vainly to talk to Skaara, but this time I don't have a zat gun.

The Jaffa disarm us, while Klorel gloats.

"My host's former brother...The former husband of my father's Queen's host...the Tau'ri who opened the Chaap'ai and set all of this into motion....." Klorel waves a hand grandly, taking in the ship, the stars....

Daniel's shoulders droop...I knew he felt that way; being who he is, he had to...but he's wrong...

"Daniel..." I start to tell him that none of this is his fault...never was. One of the Jaffa lands one in my back, sending me to my knees. Daniel gets a swipe across the legs...consistent, these guys.

Klorel is carrying on as if he hadn't been interrupted. " Perhaps you would like to see who is with us here."

He commands something in Goa'uld and Daniel goes even paler. I look at him sharply, asking the question with my eyes. He shakes his head...tries to speak, but before he can we hear another Goa'uld-ish voice.

"My Daniel."

It's a cruel twist on the name that Sha'uri always used with Daniel. But this isn't Sha'uri...just like Klorel isn't Skaara...

She looks at us coldly...as much a stranger now as her brother.

Ska...Klorel tells us this is Amaunet...Apophis' queen...

Like he's introducing us at a garden party.

He knows what he's doing. They both do. The worst thing is, they're enjoying it.

Daniel is barely holding on. He's put on that still face he uses when he's trying not to let his deep emotions show. He's had a lot of practice with that one.

Amaunet lifts Daniel's face up by the chin, studying his eyes.

"This isn't real Daniel..." I have to say it....even though it earns me another punch in the kidneys.

Amaunet looks at me, "I assure you Tau'ri, this is quite real."

She activates her ribbon device, bringing it to bear on Daniel.

Whatever else is going on here...it's obvious that the pain is real; I can only hope not fatally so. Daniel is frozen, the pain etched on features locked in the gruesome hold of that Goa'uld weapon. I don't know what to do, but I know it has to be now....

I dive for Amaunet's hand breaking her hold on Daniel. As the Jaffa grab hold of me again and Daniel drops to the floor trying to breathe through the pain, Amaunet laughs.

"Not to worry, O'Neill. I don't intend to kill him. Not just yet."

She and Klorel smile at each other, not a good thing.

I don't care if the Jaffa do hit me again as I reach over and help Daniel sit up. I can feel the tremors of pain racing through him as his breathing slowly evens out. I just hold on to him as it passes.

For some reason Amaunet and Klorel allow it. This may be one of the Keeper's 'games,' but Daniel is very *real* pain here. I remember him rubbing his chest earlier after I...we...dreamed that he'd been shot...

Daniel looks up at me, nodding that he's okay...but I can see in his eyes that he's not. That sadistic, cold-hearted bastard couldn't have designed a worse scenario.The stuff the Keeper threw at us before was bad enough, but these two people were Daniel's family.

Skaara meant a lot to me, too. His youthful energy and willingness to fight against his 'god' helped pull me out of a very bad time in my life. Skaara and Daniel, in totally different ways, touched a part of me that had given up on life...reminding me that some things *were* worth fighting for.

Then it all went to hell....

Now the image of Daniel's wife stands here looking down on us like we're....worse than strangers...enemies and Daniel's got more fodder for his real life bad dreams, as if he needed it...

Daniel's trying to sit up straighter now; still shaking, but better. I let him go, keeping a hand on his shoulder to let him know I'm here. He nods again in thanks and looks at me with his eyes full of things unstated, but understood, between us. We've been through a lot together and I recognize that Daniel is as close to breaking as he's ever been...

Amaunet laughs shortly. "How touching. It seems my Daniel has found a friend. So human of you, my husband."

I can feel the tensing of Daniel's muscles under my hand. She's deliberately pushing all of his buttons and it's working.

"Don't let her get to you, Daniel." I say it forcefully, but gently.

He looks at me again. He knows, but knowing doesn't make it any easier.

Klorel speaks again. "What shall we do with them, My Queen?"

She really seems to consider it.

"Kill them...slowly."

Amaunet smiles as her eyes glow.

Part 12: Daniel

*God...

Make this stop.

This isn't real; I know it isn't real.

But it hurts.

Sha'uri...not Sha'uri....

Help me, Jack.*

I can feel the steady presence of Jack's hand on my shoulder and it helps to anchor me, helps me remember that this isn't my wife wanting to kill me.

It's an image out of a dozen nightmares. An image that's kept me awake more night than I can count. The two people I once knew better than I knew myself turned into this parody of themselves, a parody of the familiar that hides the evil core within.

The Jaffa march us to a cell. Whatever they have in mind, they must want to give us time to think about it...

I just lay there where they push me down. It's too much of an effort right now to get up. Jack's here beside me, one hand checking the pulse under my jaw. If he'd asked me, I could have told him it's racing like wildfire and my heart's about to explode...

"Daniel?" Jack sounds worried.

I look up at him finally, trying to force a reassuring smile that I don't begin to feel.

His eyes say 'bull'...or some similar sentiment...and he helps me to sit up slowly. Those ribbon things always give me a banging headache....

"Daniel?" Jack's making me look at him again. "You *have* to remember that none of this is real."

I'm rubbing the back of my neck, trying to ease the pain in my head. "It *feels* pretty real, Jack..."

He nods shortly at that. "Yeah, I've been thinking about that, too. We could be in a heap of trouble this time..."

I actually do smile at that one, which is probably what Jack intended. He smiles back at me, asking the question, and I nod my head...I'll be okay. Maybe not any time soon...

The cell looks like the same one we were kept in...before...but I doubt that Bra'tac will be coming to our rescue this time.

I reach to Jack and he helps me to stand...it's touch and go for a moment, but I manage it.

We're trapped in a dream within a dream...

How are we going to get out of this one?

I start pacing around the cell, trying to get my brain pumping on all cylinders. Jack watches me from where he's standing against the wall...he knows me.

"The Keeper said he was drugging us before. That explains how he kept us in the dark so long...but now we *do* know what's going on...but somehow, I don't really believe that we can just refuse to play, like we did before. If...Amaunet....and Klorel decide to kill us, there's a very real possibility that our minds will accept that and we *will* die. And, yet, I don't think the Keeper wants us to die...that would effectively cut his 'game' off right here and now...but can we count on that? I expect Sam and Teal'c are trying to get back to us, but can we count on that remote possibilty in time? The residents...are an unknown factor...could we influence their perceptions from inside this scenario, help them see what they're doing...like it seemed the first time? Can we influence the scenario, since it's being generated from our imaginations...."

Jack is nodding and shaking his head alternately. I wasn't even aware that I was thinking out loud and smile in apology.

"I'm...getting used to it...." Jack says it like it's some great admission.

"But does any of it help?"

Jack takes on that deep frown he gets when the strategist in him takes over. Then he smiles...he's got a plan.

"Maybe we should try a little...passive resistance, with a twist?"


Part 13: Jack

I hope this works...

Daniel's hanging on like the trouper he is, but it's definitely by his fingernails.

We make ourselves as comfortable as possible on the floor of the cell...and I look at Daniel. He nods that he's ready...but I wonder if he's really up for this.

This has *got* to work.

We start off by thinking of the Keeper's planet, the way it looked when we first gated in. It's a beautiful planet...nothing at all like the Keeper has led the residents to believe. I use my anger toward the Keeper and all he's put us through to, hopefully, plant the seeds of doubt in their minds. I know Daniel is trying to communicate the concepts of pain, both emotional and physical...I don't even want to think of how he's doing it. I just know that, regardless of his own feelings, he'll get it done.

The second part of the plan is a little trickier, but I turn my thoughts in that direction and move as quickly as possible.

We must be doing something right...or maybe wrong, depending on your point of view...because I hear booted footsteps approaching the cell door. The Jaffa are back, grabbing us off the floor and shoving us roughly down the corridor. They return us to the bridge where Klorel and Amaunet are waiting.

I'm trying to keep my mind on the plan and I can see Daniel is, too.

Klorel is gloating about what he's going to do to us, while Amaunet is running a possessive hand down Daniel's back. He doesn't react...doesn't respond...sticking to the plan. They seem to be getting angrier by the minute. Which probably means the Keeper is getting just as angry...

Good. It's about time he joined the fun.

Amaunet brings her ribbon device to bear...aiming it once again at Daniel, this time flinging him against the wall. He goes down hard, but waves a hand to let me know he's mostly okay. We know now that this is the Keeper's way of trying to distract me; I'm just sorry Daniel has to serve that unenviable purpose.

We stick to the plan.

Amaunet looks at me strangely for a moment. "Do you not care what happens to him, O'Neill? He is your friend."

"He was *your* husband, that doesn't seem to be stopping you." I say it under my breath, trying to keep to the plan...but my mouth always did have a mind of its own.

She activates her ribbon thingy again, shoving Daniel back against the wall. It's all I can do *not* to react, but I can't...

Daniel gets up again...slower, real or not....something hurts.

Amaunet is enraged. "How can you allow this, O'Neill?" She orders something in Goa'uld-ish and one of the Jaffa raises his staff weapon, activating and firing it before either of us can react. I have another one of those slow-motion moments...I can see Daniel bracing himself, his eyes closing and I know he's trying to convince himself that the blast of energy coming toward him isn't real...

God...I hope we're right...

The flash strikes him, but that's all....Daniel's still standing.

Amaunet, Klorel and the Jaffa fade out.

I run over to Daniel and catch him before he can fall down. There's no visible damage, but it's like he said before....the mind can convince the body of many things...

"I'm okay, Jack," he's breathing heavily and his voice tells me differently, but I nod my head anyway.

"So what happens now?" I ask.

He starts to answer, but another voice interrupts him.

"Now, you *will* die."

Part 14: Daniel


It's the Keeper...

And he seems to be royally ticked off...

Good.

He's not used to dealing with things outside of his control...which we definitely are.

Jack helps me to stand, again...but it's not easy. Every bone and muscle in my virtual body aches. Jack keeps a hand under my arm, holding me steady as we face the Keeper.

The Keeper's face is red with rage. "What do you think you are trying to do?"

Jack responds with that 'stupid question' tone. "We're trying to get out of here!"

"I really am losing my patience with you. Why can you not submit and join in the games?"

I have to respond to that. "It isn't part of our nature...of *human* nature to submit to the control of another."

The Keeper looks at me in confusion...the concept is so foreign to him that he can't begin to grasp it. He's been in control of these people, this place, for a thousand years.

"Irregardless, you cannot be allowed to continue to influence the minds of the residents in the manner that you have been attempting." The Keeper's voice turns cold. " You have the option of re-joining the game...or ceasing to exist." His expression doesn't change...to him the choices are clear cut and immutable.

Jack's about had enough. "You are going to let us go...now!"

The Keeper laughs at the seeming ridiculousness of that statement.

"Or...?" The Keeper asks.

"Or your people are going to turn against you."

That was the second part of Jack's plan. Teaching the residents a few things about freewill and independence. Something we both know a few things about...

"You tried that once before, if you will recall. It cannot be done."

Jack smiles. "Wanna bet?"

The figures in black are there all around us. The first time we've actually seen them throughout this whole thing. The veils are removed and they are looking at the Keeper with an odd mixture of contempt and sympathy.

The Keeper is backing away from the residents. I have no doubt that this time they are real.

A young woman begins to speak. "These two have shown us the true meaning of 'life'...it is more than you have allowed us. A thousand years ago, the environment made sense...but we have grown less human with every year. You protect a planet that has no life, because we are locked up in here."

Jack jumps in. "You kept them away from the planet to protect it, but you took away something far more important."

The Keeper looks at Jack in confusion.

"The right to choose." I answer.

The Keeper is shaking his head. "No! I will not allow it!" He reaches for his bracelet, but one of the men in black grabs his arm and removes it.

"Now it is you who has no choice."

The man pushes one of the buttons on the device and suddenly we are back in those cocoon things. Jack jumps out of his, giving me a hand out of mine as my legs give way. I still feel like hell...

The people have gathered around us...still very quiet, as if the experience of being free of the cocoons is still a very fragile concept to them. I know how they feel...

Jack is looking at me with that concerned look again...It really is getting to be a bad habit.

The young woman is speaking again. " You have shown us many things and we are very grateful. "

The man holding the Keeper's device agrees. "There are many things we have forgotten as we wasted our lives in the environment. Thank you for reminding us what it is to *feel* again."

I nod my head. I don't have the energy to respond at this point.

Jack promises to send back help. People to teach them how to take care of themselves *and* their planet.

The man hands Jack the device. "Take this with you. We will not need it again."

Jack smiles and nods."Glad to hear it"


Epilog:Jack

Once again, Daniel is sleeping on my couch.

It's been a long week since we got back. In a strange kind of deja vu, I felt the need to bring Daniel back here. If he had reason to have bad dreams before, he had even more of them now. Basically, I just didn't want him to be alone.

Fraiser checked us out after our reunion in the Gate room. Outside of some residual effects from the Keeper's drugs, she said we were fine. Daniel's exhaustion was just that...physical and emotional exhaustion. Fraiser didn't want to let him go until I promised her that I'd watch out for him.

At first I couldn't get him to go to sleep at all. When he finally did...it was bad. We both expected that.

The dreams were there, waiting, every time he closed his eyes.

And so was I.

I held him when he cried over Sha'uri, Skaara, his parents. I held him when he came awake thinking I was dead. I held him when he woke up in pain as he re-experienced every damn thing the Keeper pushed on him back there.

I only had a few of those bad dreams to deal with...

What I tried to keep uppermost in both of our minds was that, regardless of the bad stuff, we'd gotten through it together. We each kept the other sane through all the waking nightmares. He sure as hell came through for me when I saw Charlie...

I finally got him to eat a little tonight. He even made a joke about green toast. He's getting there...it just may take awhile.

He stirs a little on the couch, but settles down again.

No dreams this time.

He really *does* look like a kid when he's asleep.

I remember the look on his face when that energy blast was heading straight for him. He looked so certain. He'd come up with the idea, I'd come up with the plan...but he was the one who had to look death in the eye and deny its existence.

I don't know if I could have done it.

He trusted me.

That counts for a lot in my book.

In the end, it counts for everything.

*fin*


 

 

 

 

 

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