He knew it the moment it happened.

Stepping into the hole, leg twisting as his knee went down, he felt it when it blew. Biting down on his lip, Jack stifled the cry of agony he knew would give his position away.  It was already beginning to swell, spikes of pain radiating through his leg. 

He lay where he’d fallen, turning onto his back and momentarily squeezing his eyes shut as he tried to get his breathing under control.  The sounds of battle were distant now, moving away from him, but a twig snapping had his eyes flying open and his hand reaching for the P-90 that had flown from his hands when he’d impacted the ground. 

Spotting it to his left, he grabbed for it just as a Jaffa stepped through the brush, staff weapon primed and aimed directly at him.  Pushing panic aside, his sweaty fingers fumbled for their familiar positions on the weapon but he knew he’d be too late.

The Jaffa’s finger moved on the trigger just as a green blur dove through the bushes, tackling the Jaffa to the ground. 

Eyes still stinging with pain, Jack watched as the two bodies rolled together, then separated.  The stunned Jaffa had dropped his staff weapon, but, without hesitation, launched himself at the green blur that was lifting a Beretta in his direction. The green blur—Daniel—managed to pull off a shot, but it was deflected from hitting anything vital as the Jaffa slammed into him, knocking the gun away. 

Jack willed his shaking hands to still and steadied his weapon, waiting for his chance.  But the Jaffa had his hands wrapped around Daniel’s neck with Daniel’s back to Jack, depriving him of a shot. 

Decision made, Jack began to pull himself, one-handed, into a better position to aid his friend.  Crushing pain erupted as he moved his useless knee and he sucked in a breath as he stilled his movement. 

Glancing to his teammate, Jack saw Daniel’s hand inch toward his belt and release his knife as the other hand remained wrapped around the wrist of the hand that was choking him.  Daniel drew back his arm and plunged the knife forward into the belly of the enemy.  The Jaffa roared and Jack knew Daniel’s knife had hit the Jaffa’s vulnerable spot—his prim’ta.  Bull’s eye.

Unbelievably, the Jaffa lifted Daniel even higher, then flung him away with incredible force.  Daniel’s head and back impacted with the knotty trunk of a huge tree several feet to Jack’s right; Jack flinched as he heard an audible crack.  Daniel’s eyes closed as he slid bonelessly to the ground. 

Another roar from the Jaffa pulled Jack’s attention away from his friend.  Red-faced and panting, the Jaffa reached for the knife in his belly and slid it free. 

What’s it gonna take to kill the son-of-a-bitch? 

Without hesitation, Jack lifted his P-90 and fired, the bullets impacting the Jaffa’s chest with a thut, thut, thut.  The Jaffa wavered, crashed to his knees, and fell face first in the dirt. 

Breathing a sigh of relief, Jack turned to Daniel, who was lying still at the base of the tree. 

“Daniel!”  Jack only risked a loud whisper, not knowing if there were any more Jaffa nearby.  Daniel didn’t move and Jack reached for his radio.  His finger hovered over the button.  Would he give away Carter and Teal’c’s positions if he used it?  He’d ordered them to the gate when everything had gone to hell.  Had they made it?  He glanced back at Daniel, knowing there was no way the two of them were gonna make it back on their own.  If Carter and Teal’c were still nearby, they could come back for them.  If not, well, he didn’t want to think about that option.

Scanning the area, he strained to hear the sound of weapons fire.  They were faint, in the far distance.  He’d have to risk it.  Deciding to keep it short, he radioed, “Carter.”

A couple of seconds stretched interminably long before his radio crackled with a reply. 

“Here, sir.”  Her strained, breathy voice told him she was on the move.  “We’re almost back at the gate.  Got a troop of Jaffa on our six.”  Her words were punctuated by the staccato sound of a P-90.  “What about you and Daniel?”

Jack quickly scanned the area again before replying.  “Not good.  Gonna need help getting to the gate.”

“O’Neill, are both you and Daniel Jackson incapacitated?”  Even Teal’c’s voice was strained from exertion. 

“‘Fraid so.  My knee’s gone and Daniel’s out cold.”

More agonizing silence; it was all he could do to keep from thumbing his radio again.  Finally, Carter’s frantic voice replied.  Carter was rarely frantic—Jack knew it wouldn’t be good news.

“Sir, we can’t hold our position, there’re too many of them.”  The endless zap, zap of Teal’c’s staff reaffirmed her words. 

“Get through the gate, Carter.  You can come back for us later.”

“Sorry, sir.”  Her voice relayed the guilt that was already forming.  In the background he could hear the gate’s ring begin its spin. 

“Go, Carter.”

“Yes, sir.”

That was it. Silence descended again, this time feeling much more final.


Jack turned to Daniel.  “C’mon, buddy, wake up.”

He was rewarded with movement—a face scrunching up and then eyelids fluttering.  “Jack?”  The soft word was followed by a hacking cough and another moan.

“That’s me.  How ya doin’?”

“Oh, God.”

“That good, huh?”

Daniel seemed to suddenly realize where he was as his head whipped upward, eyes searching.  “Jaffa—”

“You got him, Daniel, or rather, you got him and then I got him.” 

Blue eyes squinted in his direction and Jack noticed for the first time that Daniel’s glasses were gone—again.  Probably lost when he tackled the Jaffa.  Which reminded him, “By the way, what the hell were you thinking, throwing yourself at that Jaffa?”

Daniel got his hands under him and pushed himself up, hissing in the process.  Once upright, he wrapped an arm around his middle and leaned back against the very tree that he’d been thrown against. 

“He was about to shoot you, Jack.  And you’re welcome.”  Another wet cough shook his body and Jack watched him pull his arm more securely around his mid-section. 

“Where does it hurt?”

“Just got the wind knocked out of me.”

Jack could see the lines of pain etched on Daniel’s face.  “Uh huh.”  His sarcastic tone earned him a glare that quickly dissolved as blue eyes slid shut.  The lack of a witty comeback was what concerned Jack the most.

The only sounds breaking the stillness were Daniel’s raspy breaths. 

“Can you walk?”

Eyes still closed, Daniel replied, “If I have to.”

“Well, you’re gonna have to.”

Daniel opened his eyes and met Jack’s assessing gaze.  “Why?”

“I’m not goin’ anywhere.”

Daniel’s gaze traveled down Jack’s body, widening as they took in his swollen knee.  Arm still firmly around his stomach, Daniel slowly pulled himself the short distance to where Jack leaned on one elbow. 

“What’d you do?”  Daniel asked reaching his free hand towards Jack’s knee.

“No touching, Daniel.”  Jack reached out and grabbed Daniel’s hand before it made contact.  “Stepped in a hole and wrenched it—it’s blown.” 

Daniel pulled his hand back and Jack could tell he was considering the ramifications of the situation. 

“What about Sam and Teal’c?”

“They were outnumbered and couldn’t hold the gate.  I sent ‘em through.”  Daniel’s gaze locked with his then.  “They’ll be back for us.”

Jack had Daniel’s full attention now.  He understood as well as Jack that there was no hope of the two of them getting to the gate on their own. 

“We’d better find someplace to hide till they get back, then.”  Daniel’s decisive tone held a challenge and Jack knew he was going to have a fight on his hands. 

“I’ll hide here, Daniel, but you need to get closer to the gate so you’ll be ready when Carter and Teal’c come back.”  Jack could sound decisive, too, for what little good it would do him.

Daniel snorted.  “That’s a good one, Jack.  You really think I’m gonna leave you here alone?”

“Daniel, you know the Jaffa patrols are gonna be lookin’ for us.  You’ve got a better chance if you’re free to move around on your own.”

“Not gonna happen.”

“Dammit, Daniel!  Just once—”

Distant voices silenced Jack’s rant.  “Crap.”

“Okay, time to go,” Daniel said moving closer to Jack.  He let go of his middle and reached over, grabbing Jack’s arm and pulling it around his own neck.  “C’mon, Jack.”


“Shut up and move, Jack.”

Daniel reached around Jack’s waist and gently began pulling him up.  Jack clipped his P-90 to his vest and let Daniel take his weight as he focused on minimizing the amount of jarring his leg took.  He could feel Daniel’s hot breaths pulsing against his neck and heard the soft grunt of pain as they both straightened.  Biting down on his cheek, he fought against the need to cry out as horrendous pain shot from his knee to the rest of his body.  He could do this—he had to do this.  The alternative was . . . unacceptable. 

Slowly, they made their way through the dense foliage, moving at an angle to the voices that were continually getting closer.  Two sweat-soaked bodies moved as quietly as possible, pushing branches out of their way as they searched for a safe haven.  The excruciating pain in his knee and leg drew all of Jack’s attention and he willingly allowed Daniel to guide him. 

Daniel brought them to a halt a short time later and Jack could feel his friend’s chest moving in and out with labored breaths.  After a few seconds, Daniel started moving again, apparently having made a decision about the direction they should go in.   Jack’s world narrowed to two things:  keeping weight off his knee and not crying out when he failed.  Beside him, Daniel gave an occasional soft grunt of pain as he guided them through the thick brush.  The whole thing seemed futile; as soon as the Jaffa discovered the body of their comrade, he and Daniel were toast.  No reason they should both go down when one of them had a chance to get away. 

Jack tried one more time.  “Daniel—”

“I said shut up, Jack.” 

Daniel’s words were hissed through clenched teeth.  Jack wanted to argue, but didn’t have the strength.  It would only be wasted energy—no way would Daniel leave him.  He’d do the same.

Once again Daniel brought them to a stop and they both stood, breathing heavily.  Jack’s T-shirt was plastered to his sweat-soaked body and he could feel Daniel’s was also.  Grateful for the break, Jack began to sink, but Daniel pulled him up again. 

“Not yet.  Almost there.”

“Where?”  Jack lifted his head and Daniel nodded ahead. 

Jack wasn’t sure he could move again.  A shout behind them in the forest changed his mind.  Daniel began moving again, picking up his pace as he gripped Jack tightly.  Daniel led and Jack let him, angry voices pushing them on. 

Daniel pulled up short and tugged back a leafy branch, revealing a dark opening.  “Head . . . down.” 

Jack didn’t miss the fact that Daniel had abandoned complete sentences in favor of short phrases.  Just conserving his energy, he tried to convince himself.  Jack obeyed, ducking as Daniel guided them through the low entrance to a small cave.  Musty but dry, Jack wondered if it was also well-hidden.  They’d find out soon enough if it wasn’t. 

“Here.”  Daniel stopped and helped Jack lower himself to the floor.  He sucked in a breath as he stretched his swollen leg and leaned back against the rough wall.  Daniel slid down next to him, doubling over as he was seized with a coughing fit.  Seconds later it ended but Daniel continued to sit with his head down, arm securely around his stomach. 

“You okay?”  Jack could see Daniel’s back rise and fall, deep movements that belied his less than perfect health. 

“Been better.  You?”  The last word almost became another cough.

“Peachy.”  His own breaths came fast, marking time with the throbbing of his knee.

“Stepped in . . . a hole, huh?”  There was humor in the gasped words. 

“Well, at least I didn’t get up close and personal with a tree.”

A breathy snort.  “Not my idea.”

“Whadda ya expect, throwing yourself at that Jaffa.”

“Throw—?”  Daniel shook his head.  “I kinda . . . thought . . .  the knife . . . might . . . slow him . . . down.”  He lifted his head and looked at Jack.  His breathing was slowing back towards normal and Jack was happy to hear him speak a complete sentence, even if it took him a while to get it all out.

“I’d say your calculations were off.”

“Well, I’m not Sam,” Daniel returned with a twinkle in his eye.  Jack took that as another good sign. 

“Thanks for the clarification.  I always get you two mixed up.”

Daniel smiled and started to reply, but instead his face contorted as another cough erupted.  This time, Jack could hear a distinct rattle accompany it.

Breathing heavily, Daniel reached up and swiped at his mouth.  He pulled his arm away and Jack felt his heart drop to his boots.  Glancing first at the crimson spots dotting his sleeve, Daniel turned his eyes to Jack.  All humor was gone, replaced by what Jack could only describe as resignation. 

“Daniel, you’re not—”

Loud voices ended his intended speech, and, exchanging an understanding glance with Daniel, both men began to move further into the shadows of the small cave.  Jack bit down on his lip as he dragged his leg painfully across the rock-strewn floor.  After only a few feet, his back struck solid rock.  Some cave.  If the Jaffa discovered it, they’d also discover the two of them.  Jack hoped the foliage would hide the entrance, but if Daniel had found it, well . . . 

Daniel coughed again and buried his face in the crook of his arm in an attempt to muffle the sound.  Voices outside, closer now, argued angrily in Goa’uld.  Daniel struggled to suppress his coughing, but at the same time, Jack could tell he was trying to concentrate on the Jaffa’s words. 

A sharp bark of orders—Jack recognized that even if he didn’t understand the words—and the voices began gradually moving away.  Neither man spoke, keenly aware of the need to be sure they wouldn’t be heard. 

“‘Bout time we got a break,” Jack whispered after the voices faded.

Daniel didn’t respond and Jack realized his silence wasn’t due to caution; he’d passed out. 

Slowly, carefully, Jack pulled himself closer to Daniel until he could reach over and place his fingers on his friend’s neck, sighing with relief when he felt the steady beat of a pulse.  Daniel’s encounter of the leafy kind had obviously done more damage than either of them had realized. 

Jack situated himself so he was leaning against the wall, shoulder to shoulder with Daniel.  He groaned as he straightened his legs out in front of him, his knee reminding him Daniel wasn’t the only one with problems.  Unclipping his P-90, he laid it next to him, then reached over and pulled Daniel’s unresisting head to rest on his shoulder.  Closing his own eyes, he ignored the sharp points of rock jabbing him in the back, and tried to pinpoint the exact moment this mission had gone to hell. 

It was purely a diplomatic mission.  He rarely went offworld these days but the Creterins had requested his presence along with SG-1, to formally celebrate the signing of their treaty.  Thinking back, Jack realized it had been a set-up from the start. 

~ ~ ~

Daniel, having done most of the work writing the treaty, had been asked to join the Mishant, the Creterins’ leader, on the platform that had been erected in front of their temple.  Here a blessing would be given.  Naturally, Daniel was asked to leave his weapon with an eager attendant.  Following the blessing, the Mishant asked Jack, Sam, and Teal’c to join them on the platform so they could be presented to the crowd. 

Jack couldn’t explain the uneasy feeling that crept over him at that moment; maybe it was the attendants that quickly appeared at their sides, just as eager to divest them of their weapons as their comrade had been to take Daniel’s.  Or maybe it was the uneasy smile on the Mishant’s face, along with the beads of perspiration forming on his forehead, even though it was early and the day had yet to turn steamy. 

Gently declining the offer, Jack gave Sam and Teal’c a look that, after so many years together, was quickly understood.  Even Daniel, long past being the oblivious civilian, realized there was a problem.  Too late.  Their ‘attendants’ jumped, wrestling for their weapons.  Fighting their way through the crowd swarming the platform, Jack caught sight of Daniel grappling precariously with his own attendant at the edge of the platform.  In a flash, both men tumbled off, falling out of sight to the ground below. 

Jack fired into the air, Sam and Teal’c following suit, and the natives pulled back.  A tiny bit of relief crept in before Jack saw a line of Jaffa appear through the trees on one side of the temple. 

The Mishant cowered in a corner, only lifting a hand to point in their direction.  “Back to the gate,” he ordered Sam and Teal’c.  She hesitated only a second, a nod acknowledging the order and his unspoken intention to find Daniel.  Thoughts of why the Creterins would sell them out took a backseat as Jack worked his way through the screaming and fleeing crowd.  When he reached the side of the platform, Daniel was gone and two Jaffa were headed his way.  He quickly dove into the thick tangle of foliage that surrounded the village, cursing to himself. 

~ ~ ~

Opening his eyes, Jack checked on Daniel, noting his friend was still unconscious. 

“Shoulda shot the bastard,” he mumbled aloud, still caught up in his anger at being treated like royalty while all along the Mishant planned to turn them over to the Jaffa. 

“He was scared.”  The voice was soft and hoarse.


“Garamil.  The Mishant.  Doubt he had . . . much of a choice.”  Daniel didn’t attempt to pull his head away from Jack’s shoulder, a sign of just how bad he felt.  But he’d read Jack’s thoughts and understood who he was talking about. 

“There’s always a choice.”  Jack wouldn’t forgive the Mishant so easily. 

“Humpf.  Changed . . . your tune . . . a bit, haven’t you?”  A harsh, flemy cough followed and Daniel leaned forward, bracing his stomach. 

Jack put one arm around Daniel’s shoulders and grasped one arm with the other hand, hoping to keep his friend from taking a nose dive.  Daniel’s head came up slowly, watery blue eyes fixing on his.  A thin trail of red trickled down his chin to his neck and he swiped at it with his sleeve.  Jack knew what those eyes were saying and he also knew there was no way—no way in hell—he would let it happen again. 

“You can get that thought outta your head right now.”

“Jack—”  Wet, gurgly, resigned, but stubborn as ever. 

“No, Daniel.  I don’t wanna hear it.  Carter and Teal’c’ll be back with reinforcements, so just zip it.”

Daniel stared at him, silent but unyielding, then dropped his gaze to the floor.  Jack tugged him gently back, arm still firmly around his shoulders, and Daniel laid his head back where it had been. 

“Don’t blame Garamil.”  More coughing, and now Jack could hear wheezing.  “They couldn’t . . . fight . . . Jaffa.”

“Yeah, well, they should’ve asked for our help.”

“Don’t . .. know us . . . that well.”  Wheeze, gurgle.  Jack tightened his hold, as though it would stop the worsening sounds coming from his friend. 

“We told them we’ve defeated most of the goa’uld out there.”  At least the conversation would keep Daniel distracted.

“Hard for them … to believe . . . then Jaffa show up.”

“Wonder which snakehead it is?  I thought we’d gotten rid of most of them.  And how did they know we’d be here?”

“Does it . . . matter?”

“Changed your tune a bit, haven’t you?”

The body beside him trembled slightly; Jack didn’t know if it was laughter or something else.  “Rest.  We’ll just take a little nap and wait for Carter and Teal’c.”

“You, too?”

“Not tired.”  Jack could do stubborn, too. 


Receiving no further rebuttal from Daniel, silence settled over them, broken only by the sound of wheezing as Daniel labored to move the stale air in and out of his lungs.  Jack checked his watch, wondering how long it would take Carter to organize a search and rescue team.  Knowing Carter, not long. 

Half an hour passed, then forty-five minutes, Daniel’s wheezing gradually increasing in volume and wetness.  He needed help—soon.  C’mon, Carter.

“They might not . . . be able . . . to get . . . through.”

Jack was surprised Daniel was awake, but not that he knew what he was thinking.  “They’ll make it, just give ‘em some time.”  Jack could sound confident, even if he didn’t feel it. 

“Don’t think . . . I’ve got much . . . to give.”  Daniel didn’t so much cough as gurgle, his body quivering beneath Jack’s arm. 

Jack’s chest tightened in that adrenaline-fueled way it does when you’ve had a sudden scare.  And Jack would admit it—he was scared.  Neither of them was capable of making it to the gate, even if the Jaffa weren’t looking for them.  They didn’t have a med kit, either, though Jack remembered he did have some Tylenol.  He doubted it would fix whatever was wrong with Daniel.  And by the look and sound of his friend, there was plenty wrong. 

But the most wrong thing of all was hearing Daniel admit defeat.  That was just unnatural, and unacceptable. 

“Buck up, Daniel.  You know Carter and Teal’c will come through for us.”

“Buck up?  That’s . . . your . . . advice?”  Daniel would have sounded angry if he weren’t struggling for breath to get the words out. 

Jack inwardly flinched, suddenly remembering another speech where his choice of words had been poor.  All right, they sucked. I may have, might have, uh, grown to admire you a little, I think.  Had he learned nothing from that experience?  The burning sensation in his chest began spreading until his whole body vibrated with dread.  They were not going to repeat that performance.  Daniel would survive—Jack wouldn’t let him do otherwise.  And if the time did come, well . . . he’d make sure his words conveyed his true feelings.  Maybe now was a good time to start.

“I’m sorry, poor choice of words.”  The gurgle that followed might have been a snort of acknowledgement.  Jack plowed ahead.  “We’ve been through worse, Daniel.  I know how stubborn, how strong you are.  Just hang in there.”

“Like to . . . not my . . . choice . . . though.”

Choice.  There was that word.  Daniel had offered him another choice in Ba’al’s cell.  It wasn’t the choice Jack had wanted, but it was the one Daniel had chosen when Oma had offered it to him. Jack couldn’t see too many options at the moment.  Hang in there, or . . .  Although, if anyone had another choice, another option, it was Daniel.  He shook his head, unable to believe he was even considering it.  There had to be another choice. 

Grasping at straws, he keyed his radio.  “Carter, Teal’c, respond.”

Nothing.  Nothing but increasingly labored breathing coming from the person tucked under his right arm. 

“SGC, this is O’Neill.  Please respond.”

Seconds ticked in time with his heart; he couldn’t slow either one. 

“Sir, it’s good to hear your voice.”

Relief flooded through him.  “Same here, Carter.  Give me some good news.”

“Sorry, sir.  Gate’s too heavily guarded.  Every MALP we’ve sent has been destroyed. What’s your location?”

At least he knew they’d made it safely back to the SGC.  “In a cave about halfway between the gate and the village, and not going anywhere.  Besides my busted knee, Daniel’s got internal injuries.  So, what’s the plan?”

“We’re working on it, sir.  Right now, the best option we have is a Tok’ra ship that’s about twelve hours away from the planet.”

So not what he wanted to hear.  Calmly, he laid it out for her.  “Not gonna be soon enough, Carter.”

A slight pause told him she understood the situation.  “We’ll keep working on it, sir.”

“You do that.  O’Neill out.”

Silence descended again with a finality Jack didn’t want to accept.  “Damn.” 

“Let it . . . go, Jack.”  Daniel’s body moved with every breath.  In, out, in, out.

He couldn’t let it go—he’d vowed not to let this happen ever again.  The last two times had seemed so final, but Daniel had surprised them on both occasions, pulling off a miracle not once, but twice.  Could he do it a third time?  It was better than the alternative.  Still, Jack couldn’t believe he was about to suggest it. 

“Daniel, there’s another option.”

Daniel’s body tensed almost imperceptibly.  “Not . . . this time.”  Words so soft and full of pain, Jack almost couldn’t hear them.

“You’ve done it before, Daniel, you can do it again.”

“Had . . . help.”

“You’ve done it twice already; I thought a genius like you’d have it all figured out by now.”

The attempt at humor fell flat; the time for jokes had passed. 

“Not . . . that . . . easy.”

Jack tightened his hold on Daniel’s shoulders and spoke his words slowly and deliberately.  “You don’t need Oma to do this, Daniel.  You’re a good person, and one of the smartest people I’ve ever known.  I have no doubt that you’re capable of . . . ascending on your own.  You can do this.”

Daniel pulled away, just enough so Jack could see his eyes.  Eyes that held two things he’d rarely seen in them:  fear and uncertainty. 

“Might . . . not . . . work.”

A droplet of scarlet swirled over Daniel’s lip.  Jack reached up and wiped it away with his thumb, staring back into shimmering blue eyes.  One last chance to get it right, O’Neill. 

“Daniel, I once said I admired you.  I do admire you, but it’s much more than that.  You’re that rare find—a friend who pushes you to be your best, who accepts you faults and all, and who, when things go terribly wrong, still stands by your side.  Even when you don’t--when I don’t--deserve it.  You once told me I was a better man than I thought I was.  Well, if I am, it’s because you made me one.  No one else has ever seen that kind of potential in me.  I don’t have what it takes to ascend, Daniel, but you do.”

Jack placed his hand on the side of Daniel’s head, stilling its movement as he began to protest.   “Oma saw it in you right from the start.  She ascended you not once, but twice, because she knew you were too valuable to lose.  She’s right, Daniel.” 

He held Daniel’s gaze, hoping he was getting through to him.  Hoping he’d gotten it right. 

“Might not . . . able . . . come back.”  Daniel held Jack’s gaze as he struggled to breathe, intent on getting the words out. 

“You’ll remember how; like riding a bike, right?”

The slightest spark of humor lit Daniel’s eyes, easing the trepidation and fear. 

“Okay, maybe not a bike, but I know you—you’re a fast learner,” Jack said smiling. 

“Tryin’ . . . to get . . . rid . . . of me?”

Jack couldn’t help the laugh that burst out. He quickly sobered, forgoing the comeback that was on his lips and turning serious again, knowing without a doubt that Daniel’s time was quickly running out.  “Never.” 

Still holding Daniel’s head, Jack squeezed gently, reassuringly.  “Even if you decide to stay and explore, well, that’s okay, too.  We’ll know you’re out there.  And if I know you, you won’t be able to stay away; you’ll be keeping an eye on us.”

The shimmer began to fade from the blue eyes and Daniel’s breathing became slower and slower.  Jack scooted sideways, sucking in a breath as he jarred his knee, and pulled Daniel’s body down so his head rested on Jack’s lap.  More blood oozed from the corner of Daniel’s mouth and once again, Jack gently wiped it away. 

“Take . . . care . . . Sam . . . Teal’c.”  Words whispered between ragged breaths; one final request. 

“You know I will.” 

Daniel lifted his hand weakly towards his friend and Jack grasped it in his own.  Blue eyes slid closed as his face relaxed.  “Thanks.” 

Jack placed his other hand on the top of Daniel’s head. “No, thank you, Daniel, for being my best friend.”  Leaning down, Jack gave a final benediction—one he should have given long ago.  “I love you, buddy.”

Lids opened, revealing a sliver of blue awash in tears, then closed again.  No words were needed.  Jack kept his hand on Daniel’s head, running it soothingly through his hair, and with the other continued to firmly grasp Daniel’s hand.  Leaning his head back against the wall, he listened to his friend’s breathing continue to slow, the gurgling sounds dissipating with each in and out movement of his chest. 

He lost track of time as he sat and waited.  Waited for Daniel to . . . die . . . to ascend, he didn’t know which.  He felt it the moment Daniel’s body stilled.  Looking down at the face of his best friend, he wondered if it would be for the last time.  

The tingling started in his hands where they held his teammate and spread rapidly through the rest of his body.  Daniel’s form began to glow, the intensity of the light growing so strong, Jack had to raise one hand to shield his eyes. 

Squinting around his hand, Jack watched the glowing form rise until it hovered in front of his face.  Embedded in the bright light was a pair of familiar eyes.  A tendril of light swirled towards him, touching his face and infusing him with a peace he hadn’t felt in a very long time. 

In an instant, the eyes and the tendril vanished and the ball of energy that was Daniel Jackson drifted up until it touched the ceiling of the cave, and was gone. 

Jack looked down at the pile of clothes lying across his lap and smiled. 

I’ll just hang on to these for you.  You’re probably gonna need them when you come back.



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