11

The Circle Closes

'What?'

Daniel's warm breath tickled Jack's ear. Jack hugged him tighter, quite intent on squeezing the stuffing out of his friend.

'Nothing. Didn't say a thing.'

'You called me something.'

'Nope. Not me.'

'Did.'

'Didn't.'

Sheesh, what was it with his self-control? One little reunion with a long-lost Daniel and you get foot-in-mouth again. At least no-one else had heard that name. It'd taken months for Lou to stop teasing him about Spacemonkey.

'Busted.'

Jack could feel the joy in Daniel's voice. Neither of them looked to be letting go any time soon, either. And that was okay. He used their clinch to surreptitiously check Daniel out.

'Love the hair.'

Daniel felt thinner, but not underweight. There was more lean muscle on his bones now. And he was holding himself strangely, listing to the left by a fraction.

'It's what everyone is wearing this year,' Daniel mumbled.

'You're hurt.'

Jack eased Daniel back so he could see his face: tanned, healthy skin, hair looking fairer than usual, eyes shimmering behind his – surprise there – glasses.

'It's old. Nearly healed now.' Daniel gave him a sheepish smile.

'Broken?'

'More like shattered,' Daniel said thoughtfully. 'Bumpy landing in a damaged escape pod. Haranith says three more weeks and she'll take the cast off.'

'But you're okay?'

'I am now.' That rare, sweet smile seemed permanently etched on his face.

'Daniel?'

That querulous voice did not belong to his tough as guts 2IC.

'Sam!'

Daniel launched himself out of Jack's arms and nearly bowled Carter over. To the accompaniment of many 'I thought you were dead', 'I was so worried' and mutual 'I'm sorry I couldn't protect you's, Jack took his first good look at the natives.

'Whoa-ho!'

From the small group standing nearby, to the large gathering a short distance away in what looked like a garden or park, to the thousands gathered around the perimeter of a pretty huge square; these people were tall.

'Hey, Teal'c – looks like you're not the big man in town anymore.'

Teal'c didn't reply. He was busy smothering Daniel in a bear hug. Fair enough.

Jack stepped over to the MALP. 'O'Neill to Kasuf, do you read me?'

'It is I, O'Near.'

Jack had his mouth open, ready to reassure Kasuf all was well, but Daniel lurched into him, fumbling for the microphone control.

'Kasuf? Good Father…' And rattled off a stream of Abydonian.

Kasuf eventually got a few words in. Jack heard Skaara's name mentioned, which made Daniel whip around so fast Jack automatically steadied him.

'Skaara!'

Daniel threw himself at his little brother, nearly knocking them both to the ground.

'Looks like he's okay, Kasuf.' Jack turned back to the MALP. 'We'll bring him home soon.'

'I await my sons, O'Near. Fare you all good journey.'

'O'Neill out.'

Jack cut the transmission and the wormhole shut down, leaving them in a pool of pink-toned artificial light from lamp posts scattered all over the square. Daniel had moved on to Jacob, Lou, Roberts, Beechworth, Bairnsdale, then Seni and Tobay, hugging everyone in turn.

'Guess I'll do the introductions, then.'

He walked over to the man who had peered at him through the MALP vid-pickup.

'Jack O'Neill. Greetings.'

The man – he had to be way over seven feet tall – bowed and flashed a bright white smile.

'Greetings, Jaack. I am known to be Sabire of the Clan Kendasai, the Clan of Daaniel of Eart.'

'Pleased to meet you.'

Carter and Teal'c edged closer, tearing their gaze away from their Lost Boy with difficulty.

'This is Major Sam Carter, and Master Teal'c.'

'Ooh, Sam of the Golden Hair. Daaniel has told us much about you, but he neglected to describe your beauty in the proper manner. I am Sabire. Let me serve your every whim and desire.'

The cheeky grin that came with that sentence had Jack smothering a laugh.

'Uh, oh, thanks. Nice to meet you to.' Carter offered her hand only to have it smothered in kisses.

'Slick, Carter,' Jack muttered.

'And Teal'c: bravest of the mighty warriors.' Sabire stuck his hand out in a tentative greeting. 'Daaniel tells us this is a correct greeting method, and that I may judge your strength of soul and heart by grasping you and shaking you heartily.'

Teal'c crooked an eyebrow and offered his own hand. 'Indeed. Kel sha, Sabire of the Clan Kendasai.'

The two shook hands like it was an Olympic event. Sabire's grin grew even wider.

'We know much of you all from Daaniel's words. He does you great honour in his regard. I see you are worthy of him.'

'Swell. Thanks.' Jack looked at the earnest group of people gathering around them. 'How about we go say hi to the folks?'

Å

Daniel couldn't remember ever being so exhausted; his face ached from smiling non-stop. Jack, Sam, Teal'c and everyone had been introduced to Gramire, Gransire, the Elder Council, every adult of Clan Kendasai and any junior members still awake – most of them. Then they had gone further a field, talking to the scientists working on the Gate, and the academics from all the buildings surrounding the square. Ferretti and his team were now making their way along the crowd barriers, greeting as many of the eager spectators as they could and being swamped in a polite but persistent wave of locals eager to touch and see them.

He sat in his chair near the central campfire, watching with bemusement as Skaara and Sabire got to know each other. Despite the two foot height difference they were establishing the beginnings of a beautiful friendship, based he suspected as they both glanced over, on shared stories about him. He still couldn't get over Skaara's hair.

Sam, Teal'c and Jack particularly had not ventured too far from him, despite the growing party atmosphere in the square. Jack turned around, caught Daniel watching him. A half-smile creased his face and he excused himself from the Elders he was talking to. He snagged a stool and sat down next to Daniel.

'Nice hair.'

The teasing glint in Jack's eye sent a pang through Daniel; suddenly faced with that which he'd been missing so much for so long.

'Thanks. Teni is the champion of braiding.'

He pointed her out, still stubbornly awake and making animated first contact with Tobay.

Jack's eyebrows did a waggle.

'Pretty. Tall. Very tall.' He sent a sidelong glance at Daniel. 'You didn't get married again, did you?'

Daniel's mouth fell open, words lost in a rush of outrage.

'Hey, it happens.' Jack shrugged, unrepentant. 'Usually to you.'

'No, Jack.' He ground the words out. 'Not married.'

'Huh. Just thought… you know.'

Daniel pinned him with his best Jack-slaying stare. 'She's twelve.'

That shut him up. Almost.

'D'oh.'

He couldn't help the smile that crept back. 'What happened to your hair?'

'Whaddya mean what happened to my hair?'

'Nothing. Just—' He waved a finger in the region of Jack's silvered temples.

'All down to you, buddy.'

'Sorry.' He strove to sound contrite, but it was hard to conceal the guilty pleasure.

'Anyway.' Jack leant back, remembered he was on a stool, pulled his legs under him, then stretched them out again. 'We got your message.'

Daniel stared at him blankly.

'You know, the Tok'ra relay picked it up and they actually passed it on to us. You looked like you were in the shower or something. Anyway, however you managed it, we were damned relieved to see it.'

'Oh, right, yes. Wow, you actually got it?'

In a rush of recollection he was back in his room on Tsydon, turning Ba'al's betrayal into the slimmest hope. 'The recorder… well, it's a long story. Ba'al was not pleased.'

He pushed away the memories before they took hold and forced a smile for Jack.

There was a dangerous glitter in Jack's eyes. He wasn't fooled by Daniel's bravado.

'Ah, yes. Ba'al. Had a little chat with old Ba'al, not so long ago.'

'Wha—er… what? You did what?'

Sam and Teal'c wandered up and settled on the ground in front of them, but Daniel kept staring at Jack.

'We paid a visit to Tsydon, looking for you.'

'You did.'

'Turns out, you weren't there.'

'I wasn't.'

'Met some nice folks, though.'

'Oh?'

'Met some nutcases, too.'

'Uh…'

'Daniel, we've been on your trail for months,' Sam said. 'Once we saw you with Ba'al in Yu's palace, we've been working to get onto Tsydon to find you. Unfortunately, because of the Goa'uld attack, we were unable to get there before you were taken off-world.'

He stared at her, embarrassment heated his face. 'You saw me?' Dressed like that?

'We saw only a brief glimpse of you, Daniel Jackson.' Teal'c's voice was low and soft. 'A Tok'ra operative filmed the meeting between Yu and Ba'al. We were fortunate to see your face when you were sitting by Ba'al, nothing more.'

'Oh.'

Teal'c's explanation was a little too detailed, but Daniel was happy to move on.

'You actually went to Tsydon? And he let you leave?'

'That we did.' Jack's mood changed like a cold front sweeping in over a seaside holiday. 'There I was, all ready to put the snakey bastard down, and I ended up having a chat with him.' Jack leant close. 'He's looking for you.'

The cold front swallowed Daniel whole, bringing to the fore everything he'd wrestled with every day of his stay on N'Has'y.

Sam slipped her hand into his and he hung on tightly.

He talked until there was nothing left in him. From being tied down on the warehouse floor in New York, to discovering the Stargate here on N'Has'y. From Boch to Astarte, Eshmun to Prize, Tysdon's public celebrations to the Goa'uld's private ceremonies, from Yu to the Companions, and every flavour of Ba'al in between. He surged on, past those last dreadful days, not sparing himself or his listeners. Once he started, Daniel couldn't stop the words. The whole grizzly story poured out of him, along with the fears and conjectures that had been circling his brain for so long.

Barely pausing to down the hot drink Ayshal offered them, he kept going, through the space battle, the crash and his slow recovery, to the soul-healing journey across the sands of N'Has'y.

Eventually he trailed off, hoarse, head pounding but definitely lighter in spirit for sharing his burdens with his team. Dawn was spearing the sky with mauve shards of light. Words had emptied out of him and he had nothing left to say. Sam's fingers were wrapped fiercely around his and he felt like an old saggy house, propped up by the strength of Jack and Teal'c on either side.

Jack was quiet for a long time, staring at the colours racing across the sky. Finally he turned back to Daniel, the twinkle returning to his eyes.

'Houseboats, you say? I'd like to see those.'

Å

Daniel would have happily led everyone down to the dock to show off the Clan's homes, but Haranith, backed up by Ayshal, Jinya and Sabire, insisted that staying awake for twenty hours was more than enough and he was to take himself to the rest tent or be carried.

He considered protesting, for oh, at least ten seconds, then capitulated.

'I'll just take a quick…' He gestured vaguely at the orange sides of the sleeping tent. The last word eluded him. 'Um.'

'C'mon.' Sam pulled him upright. He leaned into her, buried his face in her hair and inhaled that familiar scent. She squeezed him tight for long, wonderful moments.

'Daniel?'

He flinched and opened his eyes. 'M'awake.'

'Uh huh.' Jack took his arm, Sam the other and they guided him somewhere. Then there was muted light, soft pillows and blessed sleep.

Å

It was a day and a half before they even started for the harbour. He'd slept 18 hours straight. Chagrined, he'd stumbled outside to find life had gone along smoothly without him. The crowd around the square was even more densely packed and apparently still celebrating.

The Tau'ri / Abydonian contingent was well established with quarters in matching paisley-patterned tents. Diplomatic and scientific discussions were well underway, and a subtle guard set up around the Stargate. Daniel saw that, frowned, and opened his mouth to protest that guests had no right to appropriate other people's Stargates.

Jack unfolded himself from a lounging seat and said, 'Incoming. Not outgoing.'

He thought that through. 'Oh.' Then he grinned. Jack and he were still on the same frequency. 'Is there any food?'

'I dunno. You missed breakfast, and 'tea time' and lunch, and another tea time and dinner and supper and breakfast… I tell you, Daniel, Teal'c is in hog heaven.'

The grin on his face grew wider as he spotted Jinya, bearing down on him with an armload of plates and bowls. 'So was I, Jack.'

'You sure fell on your feet here, Daniel.'

'Pardon the pun.' He settled into his chair and attacked the food with indecent gusto. 'What's been happening?'

Jack sat opposite and began sneaking tidbits off his bowl. 'We've contacted Hammond. We have a 72 hour mission window, with option for extension. He's happy to follow your recommendation in establishing a relationship with the M'djay people. Carter's off talking with some scientists, Skaara and the kids are comparing language dichotomies with a bunch of scholars from the academy. Lou and Roberts are pow-wowing with the Elder Council, and Teal'c is on his fourth breakfast.'

'Comparing language dichotomies?'

'Apparently.'

Daniel shook his head. 'This all feels so unreal. Every day here I've been focussed on getting home, and now…'

'Here we are.'

'Here you are.'

'And you're coming home.'

'And I'm going home.' He and Jack stared at each other. 'Huh. Hey, did anyone feed my fish?'

'We did better than that. Teal'c moved into your place.'

'He did?'

'Oh yeah. We used it as our mission control to coordinate the search. When we got the lead to Boch and Ba'al, Teal'c asked that lady on 2 to look after your fish.'

Daniel gazed down at his empty bowl. 'Thanks Jack. Thanks for not giving up on me.'

'Well, the mission rota was getting a bit same-old, same-old, you know.' Jack scrubbed a hand through his hair. 'Hey, how about we go see those houseboats of yours. Sabire's been telling me all about them. I may get one for my retirement.'

Daniel snorted. He rose. 'You'll never retire.'

'Once I get you back where you belong, I might just do it.'

'I don't know where I belong anymore.' The words had left his mouth before he realised how true they were.

'You belong where I know you're safe and out of harm's way,' Jack said. 'Now, that may be Earth, Abydos, here or somewhere else. Once you decide and I've scouted it up the whazoo, there you'll be.'

Daniel walked next to Jack, heading toward the main Kendasai tent.

'Whazoo?'

'Technical term.'

Å

A couple of hours later saw them at the eye of a cheery whirlpool of onlookers, touring the piers, looking over Sabire's home and out towards the rest of the caravan moored in the marshy edges of the opposite bank.

Daniel was up on Sabire's roof, para-kite in one hand. He'd described the flight to Skaara and wanted to show him the kite.

'Teal'c?' He called down to the Jaffa still resolutely on solid ground. 'Have you seen Skaara?'

'I have not, Daniel Jackson. Not for some time.' Teal'c glanced out over the crowd.

'He was here a few minutes ago.' He clumped down the steps, the greater height of the roof no advantage in finding his brother.

'Ayshal?' Have you seen my brother, Skaara?' He waved a hand around shoulder-height, indicating the shorter Abydonian.

'Na'nay, Daaniel. I too seek Jinya. She was bringing tea for the Elders, but has not returned.'

'That's odd. Teni! Have you seen Skaara? Or Jinya?'

Teni turned to face him, her young face still alight with excitement. 'I have not, Daaniel—'

There was a searing burst of light, a sensation of rapid upward movement and Teni was gone. A smell of burnt ozone floated over Daniel. He went cold all over.

'No, no, no. Jack! Teal'c!'

Cries rose up all around him. The para-kite fell from his grip. Staring down at the dock he met Teal'c's grim gaze.

'Asgard transportation beam,' Teal'c boomed. Zat gun in hand, he keyed his radio and began barking alerts.

Daniel made for the stairs, nearly tripping in his haste. On the landing he ran straight into Sabire.

'Daaniel, what happens here? Teni has been spirited away before our eyes. What manner of fiend can do this?'

'Fiend? The biggest fiend of all, Sabire.' He could hear his words echoing in his head. His ears seemed to be plugged with cotton wool. He pushed past Sabire, stumbled down the steps and onto the pier.

Jack shoved his way through the milling crowd, Sam at his heels.

'Teal'c! You're sure? An Asgard beam?'

'I am, O'Neill. Daniel Jackson witnessed it as well.'

'He's here, Jack,' Daniel said woodenly. 'He's found me.'

'If it was him, why take a kid? Why not you?'

'He's Ba'al.' The simple truth. Then his blood turned even colder. 'Skaara, Jinya—'

Jack's face paled, then hardened with fury. He grabbed his radio.

'Ferretti! Code red. We have hostile Goa'uld in orbit. Dial the gate – Theta site. Keep it open and defend at all costs.'

Jack reached out and grabbed a fistful of Daniel's tunic. 'We're out of here. Teal'c, take point. Carter, cover us.'

'Wait, what? We can't go, Jack!'

Daniel found himself hauled along in Jack's wake as he ploughed a path through the crowd. He tried to pull out of Jack's grip.

'He's after you, Daniel. We get you out of his sights. That's my mission.'

'I don't care. Jack, please—he's got Teni. She's a child. If he's taken others… He's got Skaara.'

'Not for long,' growled Jack. He forged on, relentlessly dragging Daniel off the pier, through the docks, heading towards the square and the Stargate.

There was chaos all around. He could hear Lou confirming the Stargate was engaged and the exit point was clear. Behind them, Sabire was calling for him, echoed by Haranith, Gramire and Gransire. Daniel twisted, tried to break Jack's grip.

'I can't abandon them. Dammit Jack, stop.'

A flash of light streaked down from the sky, 50 yards to their left. People screamed and scattered. Jack increased their pace.

Another beam of light filled the air, this time rising from ground level. It soared above the brightly coloured waterside shops, expanded and thickened, coalescing into the shape of a man.

'Vocume,' Teal'c called out.

Their pace slowed as they looked up.

Ba'al stared down at them. Dressed all in black, he peered at the gathered people with mild interest. He gestured and the picture widened, revealing a cluster of people behind him, among them Haranith, Jinya possessively clutching Teni, and Skaara – a trickle of blood on his face, hands bound behind him.

Daniel heard Teni's mother cry out. He forced himself to stare up at the image, waiting for the words he dreaded.

Ba'al smiled. 'Hello, people of the M'djay. We are Ba'al, a traveller of the black roads of space. We hope our appearance in this manner has not caused you distress. We seek our friend, lost to us in the confusion of war. We are anxious to ensure his well being. Do you know our friend, dear M'djay? He is a little different from your good selves, smaller, lighter in colouring; he is an intelligent and compassionate man. His name is Daniel.'

Daniel felt his cheeks burn as a hundred faces turned to stare at him. Jack's hand tightened on his tunic and he started tugging Daniel on, muttering instructions to Lou over the radio.

'Daaniel!' Sabire shoved his way through the throng to reach them.

Daniel grabbed him, trying to anchor himself against Jack.

'Sabire, get everyone away, tell them to scatter in every direction. Ba'al might start firing weapons at any moment.'

'He can do that? From a vision of himself?'

'No, good sir.' Ba'al's voice boomed down on them. 'We would not unleash our considerable arsenal on unarmed innocents who have no means of defence – or retaliation. We are not a monster. We would never rain wholesale slaughter on such attractive men and women. And children, beautiful children. We treasure beauty. We would keep it close to us, that we may always admire it.'

Ba'al strolled over to the hostages and caressed Teni's face. In the background could be heard a stream of Abydonian: vicious invective from Skaara.

'We ask only that you help us find our friend, Daniel. We expect to see him in twenty minutes. That will give him time enough for farewells.'

Ba'al's eyes met Daniel's. He grinned, then the Vocume picture collapsed and vanished.

Å

Daniel stood at the centre of a vortex, quiet, surreal, swamped in the worst fears he'd fought for months. Jack was shouting, so was Sam. They were trying to get him moving, but he was rooted to the spot: a pillar of salt in a sea of confusion. He bowed his head. A laugh escaped, small and slightly hysterical.

'Daniel!' A warm, calloused hand tapped his cheek. 'We gotta go.'

He looked up into Jack's soulful eyes.

'Yes, you do.'

Jack narrowed his eyes. 'Oh, no you don't. You're not playing martyr, not now. You're coming home. We'll find a way to get those people back.'

'"Those people"?'

He pursed his lips, bizarrely amused. 'Haranith cared for me every day. Jinya fed me, clothed me. Teni save me from sand pirates, all by herself. She'd make a good host, don't you think, Jack? They all would. Strong and healthy, they could stand years of abuse.' He grabbed Jack's shirt and hauled him close. 'I will not leave Skaara in the hands of another Goa'uld. Do you want to tell Kasuf he's a prisoner again?'

'If I have to.' Jack's face was hard, that closed-off single-minded stubbornness that Daniel hated.

'You won't have to.'

Jack reared back, then jabbed him hard in the chest. 'No—no way are you going to hand yourself over to that maniac.'

Daniel wrapped his hand around Jack's. 'I don't want to. Believe me, I don't want to. But I think this has always been inevitable. It's the only way to be free of him.'

Jack glared at him for the longest time. 'I won't stand here and watch you throw your life away, Daniel.'

'I don't have a choice, Jack.'

'Yes, you do.'

Daniel shook his head. Sadness swamped him. Disappointing Jack always cut him to the core.

'Fine. Take care of yourself.'

Jack turned away and disappeared into the crowd.

'Jack?'

Stung, he looked at Sam and Teal'c, afraid he would find the same rejection.

Sam was angry and upset, but she reached out and hugged him fiercely.

'I don't know what to say,' she whispered.

'I'm sorry.'

'This is not your fault, understand? We'll find you, Daniel. Don't give up on us—or the colonel.'

'Love you, Sam.'

'Love you too.' She planted a wet kiss on his cheek and pulled away.

Teal'c stood next to her, resolutely hiding his anguish. He grasped Daniel's forearm. 'Fight well, my warrior-brother. May you walk in the light of the true gods.'

'Look after Sam, and Jack, for me.'

'Indeed. I shall. We will meet again soon, Daniel Jackson.'

Daniel hugged him, the lumps and bumps of Teal'c's armaments pressing into this skin. He turned away to find his Clan were all around them.

'Daaniel – this is the snake-man who has tormented you for so long?' Sabire's elegant hands were pressed together in anxious knots.

'It is, Sabire. Ba'al. He's found me.'

Daniel swept his gaze over those around him; faces he'd come to know and respect and cherish. Gramire, Grandsire, Ayshal, Chanla, Tretish… so many. 'You have all been so good to me. Given me a home, cared for me, brought me back to life.' His throat was closing up. 'I will see you all again. I promise.'

He reached for Sabire's hand and was swept into an embrace.

'My brave, pale little brother,' Sabire murmured. 'We shall meet again soon.'

Daniel nodded. He stepped back, a lone figure surrounded by faces stricken with grief, buoyed by love.

He tilted his face to the sky.

'Ba'al – come and get me.'

Brilliant light washed over him and N'Has'y was gone.

Å

The metallic tang of filtered air was so different to the warm, life-laden breezes he'd grown accustomed to. It was the first thing that hit him as the transport beam faded. Dully-lit golden walls closed in on him. Heart pounding irregularly, Daniel firmed his grip on his walking stick, and stared straight at his nemesis.

Ba'al wore that same self-satisfied smirk that had graced his features for much of Daniel's stay on Tsydon. Flanked by Jaffa, he smiled and extended his arms welcomingly.

'Daniel! We are so pleased to see you again. We searched so long and in so many dreadful places, and here you are, living with these lovely people. Had We not detected the traces of naquada from the wreck of Our poor Jaffa's vessel, We may have passed this little planet by. Such interesting people We found. We hope you have enjoyed your stay.'

Daniel ignored him, looking beyond the Goa'uld to his friends clustered together under armed guard.

In Abydonian he said, 'Brother of mine, are you well?'

Skaara nodded. 'This pile of mastage dung tried to touch the child. I changed his mind.'

'Such language.' Ba'al tutted at Skaara. 'Ever the fiery one. Klorel would never have won out over you. But, in my defence, she is such a pretty child.'

Daniel moved four steps away from the transport platform.

'Skaara, Haranith, everyone, get over here on the platform.' He fixed his attention on Ba'al. 'You're all leaving, now.'

'Oh, so soon? They could stay, dear Daniel. We have plenty of room.'

'They're going, Ba'al. You want me, here I am. But that's all you get.'

Ba'al studied him for a moment. 'Oh, very well.' He gestured. The guards released Skaara and moved aside.

Cautiously, the group of hostages gathered on the transport platform. Daniel looked at them briefly, unable to dwell too long on the people he'd come to care for so deeply.

'Dan'yer.'

He nodded brusquely at Skaara, and then they were gone in a flare of light.

'Pity. They seemed so nice, apart from the Abydonian. Still, we can always bring them back – if you get lonely, dear Daniel.'

'No, Ba'al, you won't. You'll stay away from this planet. You'll leave here and never return. None of your ships, your Jaffa or anyone working in your name will ever come here.'

'The future is always so fluid. One can never say what will happen.'

'You can. You will. Here in front of your men, Ba'al, you'll give your word – as a god – that this planet and its people will be untouchable by you or any other Goa'uld. You always say you are bound by your word. You'll give it to me now.'

'And why do you think We would do that?'

'Because I have what you want. I am what you need to complete your plans. And if I detonate this you'll never get it.'

He raised his right hand from the concealing fold of his tunic, and displayed the grenade he had lifted from Teal'c's belt.

'A primitive explosive, crude, very effective. Not even a sarcophagus could put my head back together if it goes off.'

He held the grenade next to his ear and flicked the pin out. It fell tinkling to the floor.

Ba'al glared at him. The Jaffa brought their weapons to bear on Daniel, but the Goa'uld waved them off. He sighed theatrically.

'Very well. We certainly do not want your troublesome brother back. And We have enough planets with many people who adore Us. We do not need these whom you have undoubtedly taught to be as difficult as you are.'

'Swear it.'

'Oh, We do bring these troubles upon Our poor head. Very Well. I, Ba'al, Most High Priest and Master, The Eternal One, Lord of the Gods, Storm God, Bringer of Rain, God of the Sun, Conqueror of Warriors, Mightiest-Most High-Supreme-Powerful-Puissant God, Master of the Earth, Rider on the Clouds, give here in the presence of Our trusted warriors, Our word that the planet N'Has'y and all who live upon it shall for ever be protected. No System Lord, Goa'uld, Jaffa or agent thereof will bring harm to this planet and its people. Upon the honour of Ba'al it shall be so.'

Ba'al gave a short bow to Daniel. 'Satisfied?'

'Yes.'

His hand was sweaty and fine tremors were shaking his body. He knew Ba'al's pride would never let him renege on his sworn promise. His friends were safe. It was as much as he had hoped for.

Daniel bent, picked up the pin and secured the grenade. Leaving it on the floor, he straightened, and prepared to face his fate.

'Such dramatics. You do make life so interesting, Daniel.'

Ba'al walked with him to the chamber door.

'And whatever have you done to your leg? You really must learn to care better for yourself.'

The door hissed open. Ba'al's next words caught in his throat.

The hallway beyond was littered with stunned and semiconscious Jaffa, bodies trailing down to the door that led to the Stargate chamber.

Standing in the middle of the corridor, arms crossed casually over his weapon, a feral grin on his face, and several tears in his best fishing shirt, stood the last person Daniel would have expected to see.

'Jack?'

Å