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Chapter Data

Posted September 6, 2011

Fan Fiction: The Grail Prophecies

4: Choice of Sacrifice

"And every bridge as quickly as he crost
Sprang into fire and vanished, though I yearned
To follow; and thrice above him all the heavens
Opened and blazed with thunder such as seemed
Shoutings of all the sons of God."
--Lord Alfred Tennyson, "The Holy Grail"


The strangest things often went through Daniel's mind when he hovered on the brink of death. The address to a safe world. A piece of old lore almost forgotten, suddenly relevant to his continued existence. The perfect words to say to convince a dedicated foe to back down. The insane possibility that a human mind might be able to hack an army of Replicators. That sort of thing.

It was as though his subconscious mind was even more determined to survive than the rest of him, frantically scrambling for additional options while he was occupied with other things. Getting strangled, for example. Dodging bullets, caught in a virtual tent with a human-form replicator doing her best to strip-mine his memories... or facing down the full might of a quasi-Ascended being.

Do you ever give up? Jared Kane had asked him the year before, in a situation as bleak as any he'd ever been in. Not until I'm dead, he'd replied, and sometimes not even then.

And as he braced his bolstered strength against the fury of the Orici, this was what floated to the surface of Daniel Jackson's thoughts: Favored of Merlin.

Favored. Gifted. A line from a Grail poem. A line from a prophecy?

The hot rush of power flowing through him began to falter, just as several clues abruptly fell into place in the mental puzzle he'd been piecing together for months. A touch of curiosity stirred from the mental overlay left behind by Merlin, as a sick certainty sank like a stone in his gut... but he shunted both emotion and revelation to the back of his mind in order to better defend against Adria's next strike. There was no time to explain things to his passenger, to untangle the mental exclamation point of symbol and association that had struck him like a bolt of lightning; nor, truth be told, good reason to do so even if he wasn't sorely pressed.

He blocked that thought away swiftly as well, drawing on reflexes built during his mental war with Replicator Sam, and focused his sole being on holding Adria off.

It couldn't last. Inexperience, and a body not fully adapted to the energies he was wielding, told against him. But he fought hard enough for the others to escape, and the wormhole to close behind them.

Demon Queen's Snare, he thought again, incongruously, as he collapsed in front of the Stargate. For just a second, he thought he saw blonde hair and solemn green eyes screening him from Adria... then the Orici strode through the phantom image, smug and triumphant as she stared down at his conquered form.

Flames flashed in Adria's eyes. Darkness closed over him, and Daniel thought no more.

He woke to the unfamiliar sensation of someone else thinking orderly thoughts, like the steady clicking of a cartoon accountant stacking coins, or the metronomic tapping of a 'hunt and peck' typist hovering over a keyboard. He still had a passenger: all that was left of Merlin, packed away in his skull.

An image of Sha'uri's eyes, lit from within by golden fluorescence, floated disapprovingly through his thoughts. Daniel grimaced as he sat up, reminding himself that Merlin was no Goa'uld, no Anubis using him to further his own goals. Well, at least not by intention; he had acted to save lives, and Daniel had willingly invited him. It had been the only possible way to preserve a chance at defeating the Ori.

Indeed, Merlin's consciousness conveyed to him, as matter of fact as the old Ancient had been in the flesh. Oma was right; you have done well.

I've done nothing so far but deliver your knowledge into the hands of the Orici, Daniel countered.

He slitted his eyes open, squinting against the glare from the lights overhead and the steady afterpulse of an exhaustion headache, and took in the confines of his new cell. The walls were less ostentatious than what he'd have seen on a Goa'uld ha'tak-- no solid gold paneling or runic accounts of glorious deeds carved into every wall-- but it was still clear from the design that he was aboard an enemy warship. The Ori flagship, most likely. He was the only thing in the room; he hadn't even been left food or drink, or a pallet to sleep on.

Merlin replied with unexpected cheer as Daniel slowly sat up, rubbing at the bridge of his nose in an automatic effort to reduce the throbbing pain in his skull.

Yet even this circumstance may be turned to our advantage, the old man's voice threaded through his thoughts. Consider that she will most likely have access to a construction device similar to my own; and consider also that her vessel will provide a means of delivering it that the Ori will not detect with sufficient time to devise a counter.

A plan unfolded in his thoughts: one that relied heavily on Daniel's practiced silver tongue, Merlin's knowledge, Adria's obsession with earning her mother's affection, and the tenacity of Daniel's team in coming after him. It... could work, in theory. It had better than appalling odds, which was more than Daniel had any right to expect, and gave him a chance at completing the Quest whose pursuit had brought him there in the first place. There was just one obvious drawback he could see.

If he did as Merlin suggested, there could be no doubts, no second chances. Adria would have to believe she'd found a chink in his armor for his capitulation to be convincing; for her to willingly grant him the power to effect her defeat. She already knew how loyal SG-1 was to each other, and he'd long since made his determination not to submit to another's will perfectly clear. He'd have to expose a conceivable weakness through which she might reach him, or they'd be lost before they'd even begun.

He could think of one off the top of his mind... but it would require every fragment of acting ability he had to pull off. She was a beautiful young woman, surrounded by men she could only see as beneath her: her mother's husband, the avatars of her masters' false faith, and soldiers who would sooner bow the knee than look her in the eye. She possessed a human body, with human emotions and hormones, and no practical experience in doing anything with it but eating, sleeping, and exerting martial power. Daniel fit into none of those molds; he'd be an object of fascination to her. And he had also--

--all fate shall balance on the outcome of their Quest, his thoughts whispered--

--recently been disappointed in love, he told himself, drawing the role about his thoughts like a shroud. Clearly, Buffy must have known what she was doing when she brought him the book whose prophecies were apparently being fulfilled at that very moment. Therefore she was most likely a plant of the Ori, somehow snuck past Earth's defenses. Or an agent of Ba'al's network on Earth, wielding knowledge inherited from Anubis, watching to see what would happen when SG-1 unwittingly followed the clues. That would neatly explain Ba'al's insistence on risking himself in person on the Grail planet, wouldn't it?

Daniel let himself stew in the sting of those possible-- though unlikely-- explanations, carefully ignoring any remembrance that might suggest otherwise. The warmth of her laughter. The curve of the smile that she saved just for him. Her quiet understanding when old griefs rose to haunt him, and the trust she had offered him in return. The complete absorption with which she'd approached their few weekends physically together, as though nothing in the world mattered in that moment but the touch of his skin against hers. None of that could be allowed to matter, if he was to succeed in fooling Adria.

Never mind that Adria would always be Vala's daughter, to him. Never mind that she was technically less than six months old. He was simply... engaging in a little pre-emptive manipulation, with the lives of half the galaxy at stake.

He felt Merlin's surprise at the intensity of the emotions he packed away at the back of his mind where Adria would hopefully be unable to detect them, not to mention the screen of disappointment and betrayal he erected as a guard on his spirit, and was briefly glad that the Ancient had been too aged to finish constructing the Sangreal device himself. For all his wisdom, for all the lifetimes he'd spent among humans, Merlin was still first and foremost a scion of a race that had abandoned their responsibilities in the physical world in pursuit of personal enlightenment; he would have been particularly ill-equipped to forge the sort of emotional connection that the plan would require to succeed.

But only briefly: because when Merlin was gone, the consequences of the plan would be Daniel's alone to bear. Every betrayal of not only his own spirit but his promises to others... he felt preemptively stained just thinking of it.

So, no different from any other time his fate had crossed the paths of the Ancients, then. Shifu. Jack. Abydos. Anubis. And now....

I have to let it happen, he'd told Vala. It was as true in that moment as it had been then.

He reminded himself of the stakes, then wrapped his arms around his upthrust knees and waited for Adria to come. Let the games begin.

The tingle of the Odyssey's transporter relocating him, nearly two months after his abduction by Adria, was the first opportunity Daniel had to let his guard down in a very long while.

She'd come to him, not long after he and Merlin had concocted their plan, and spent the next few weeks doing exactly what he'd expected: making every effort to convert him in person. She used logic, straight out of the Book of Origin; she wielded smiles, complimenting him and staring into his eyes as though he was the most important thing in her world; and she constantly pressed against the edges of his mind, effortlessly reading his surface-level emotions and projecting a constant wave of assurance that he could trust her in return.

Had he been the Daniel who'd first stepped through the gate to Abydos, it might have worked. She was dangerously persuasive, even with all his experience. But he'd held out against far more powerful minds in the past ten years with far less at stake; and as far as Merlin was aware of Daniel's intentions, he reinforced Daniel's semi-permeable mental shielding, making sure Adria would see only what they wanted her to see.

It had paid off. She'd made him a Prior and asked him to complete the Sangreal; they'd daydreamed together about converting her mother; and she'd listened as he suggested alternative methods of presenting Origin. He wasn't sure whether she actually bought his claim that they'd convert more with honey than vinegar... but it had provided a perfect opportunity for her to send him out to test his theories, and thus for SG-1 to catch him. That was all he'd needed to put the final pieces into play.

They'd done it. But they weren't the only ones waiting when the Odyssey beamed him up. Daniel felt relieved for all of about two seconds... until he noticed a slender, leanly muscled form in a standard SGC uniform standing beside Teal'c, a hard, determined look in her leaf-green eyes.

"What took you guys so--" he blurted, even as he registered her presence. "Buffy?"

Memories stirred: things he'd deliberately tried to block out to keep them from Adria, and others he'd pushed even farther down to minimize the risk they'd come to Merlin's attention. For about half a second, he wanted nothing so much as to step forward and replace the lingering taste of Adria's mouth with a far more welcome greeting... but the game wasn't over yet. Hurriedly, he yanked his gaze away from her, focusing instead on the incongruity of Buffy's younger sister standing beside her with a pack slung over her shoulder. What had happened on Earth in the last few weeks that a college student years from any accomplishments that might grant her entry to the program was aboard the SGC's most advanced space-going vessel?

"Dawn, what are you doing here?" he frowned, taking in the girl's pale, nervous expression.

She opened her mouth as though to respond, then closed it again and looked at her sister; Buffy stepped forward, narrowing her eyes at him, then glanced at something behind him. "Wait...." she said.

As she spoke, he heard the sound of a zat opening behind him, and another voice answering: "Buffy. This isn't the time, we can't be sure he...."

"We can. Unless you've decided the prophecies don't mean anything after all?" she replied tartly. "In which case, why the hell am I even here?"

She did know, he thought, allowing himself a moment of grim confirmation. From that sliver of possibility, he had built an entire edifice of betrayal for Adria to find purchase in; finding it to be true only strengthened his resolve to finish this before it all fell apart.

But what was it she knew? Merlin asked, not for the first time; then continued with a new argument, one Daniel could not so easily ignore. And how came she here, if she is not among those you expected to use to fulfill our plan?

Merlin was right, of course. The fact that Buffy was here meant she'd convinced the team to trust her, and book of prescient verse or no, that would not have been a simple thing to accomplish. If Daniel allowed himself to dwell on that fact, it would rather undermine the conclusion he'd been using as a shield the last couple of months... but he couldn't allow his resolve to crack at this critical stage of proceedings.

"But we discussed this; physically free doesn't necessarily mean mentally free," Mitchell said, replying to Buffy.

Daniel latched onto the words with an effort, an excuse to avoid answering Merlin's question; and as he did so, someone else decided to lend a helping hand. A curse in a deeper voice than Mitchell's echoed from his team leader's side, then someone else opened their zat'nik'atel and fired. Electricity raced up Daniel's nerves, and his old friend Darkness opened arms to him once more.

Neither Buffy nor Dawn were present when Daniel came back to his doubled self again, strapped into a restraint chair under the effects of an anti-Prior device. He was relieved, but not surprised; the surprise had been that they were there to greet him in the first place.

They didn't return while he explained the details of his plan to his skeptical teammates, either. But he knew they must be close. Particularly when Sam exchanged a purse-lipped, knowing look with Mitchell and commented, "Vanquish thy enemy, huh? Suddenly, the need for Aurora's gift makes more sense."

He'd just finished presenting his case for deactivating the Supergate in order to send the Sangreal through to the Ori galaxy, so the vanquishing part made sense, but the rest of it... "What are you talking about?"

It was obvious that Buffy had shared the book of prophecies with the rest of the team, but not why, nor what Aurora's gift might be. He'd been too busy not dwelling on the details since he'd realized they applied, one particular detail in specific, to spare much thought to the nature of the gift he'd be expected to use. He'd simply assumed it would be on hand when the moment came, since its name wasn't familiar and he could hardly search for it under the current conditions. Did they know?

But-- no, he couldn't afford to dwell on it now, either. Not yet. "Nevermind," he waved it off, clearing his mind of the speculation with an effort. "So how about it?"

Mitchell frowned at him, crossing his arms. "Let's just say we believe you. That you're not actually still working for Adria, and we open up the Supergate like you want. What's to stop the Priors from leading the rest of the fleet through, Ori or no Ori? The Sangreal will only kill the Ascended bad guys, not their followers. And probably not even Adria, since I'm assuming Merlin intended to spare himself and any other Descended Ancients with him when he was originally going to set the thing off."

"The peoples shall burn," Sam muttered unhelpfully, brow furrowed.

He could feel Merlin's curiosity starting to poke at the back of his mind again as the phrase rang another chord in his buried memories, and Daniel forced himself to overreact with exasperation, blocking the Ancient consciousness back out the only way he knew for sure would work: with an excess of lower-level emotion. "Just stop!" he slashed a hand at her, then laid a particular emphasis on certain words in his next sentence. "If you have an alternative, I'm all ears. But for the love of God, don't quote any of that worthless poetry at me again."

Surprise, then hurt, then a sudden, alert awareness flashed over Sam's face. She stared at him wide-eyed for a moment, then grabbed Mitchell by the elbow and started dragging their protesting teammate out of the room. "We'll get back to you on that!" she called as the door shut again behind them.

You'd think after all this time, after all our years together, they'd trust me more than this, he deliberately thought at Merlin.

There were times when I wondered at what we had sacrificed to achieve our advanced stage of evolution, Merlin thought back, a clear note of suspicion underlying his words. But you expend so much energy on such minor interpersonal reactions when there are no vast ideas or even lives at stake. Even Camelot was not free from such strife.

But that's what makes us human, Daniel thought back. I would rather die mortal-- I would rather suffer every day for the rest of my life-- than lose the ability to emotionally engage with others; to identify when something's right or wrong and do something about it.

And that is why you lasted so little time among us, Merlin sighed back. You cannot achieve true enlightenment if you cannot let go of such anchors holding you back.

Daniel couldn't quite keep his mood from souring with the words, nor images of Oma and Morgan and the Others he'd met in that celestial between-planes diner from flashing through his thoughts. Even the most helpful of the Ascended he'd met had a tendency to avoid responsibility for the ultimate consequences of their actions. How many thousands of years had it taken Oma to act against Anubis? He had benefited from her attention, as had many others... but he couldn't excuse her reasons for it. Yes, I've heard how 'small and insignificant' our plane of existence is in the scheme of things. Even you wouldn't have helped if the Ori weren't using us as a power source, would you?

You still do not understand, Merlin thought, and dug once more at the barrier at the back of Daniel's thoughts.

Daniel set his jaw, tilted his head back, and focused his mind on what he'd say to the next visitor to come to him. Hopefully Jack. He might have a shot at convincing Jack. I understand enough, he said. Be patient; minor details aside, I trust my team. They'll find a way to get it done.

He visualized the pyramid at Abydos-- the taste of dust on his tongue, the quick flash of Sha'uri's smile as he described the text he was uncovering, the enthusiasm of the gate room guards as they reported the return of O'Neill, then walked himself back through his first meetings with each of his other teammates as well. It made for a good distraction, and reminded him just how much they'd been through together. His plan was going to work. He was sure it would.

It wasn't that simple, though. Nothing ever was. Several long, frustrating conversations with Jack, Teal'c and Vala later, each of whom seemed to only grudgingly believe him, Sam and Mitchell still hadn't 'got back to him' about that alternative. The hourglass running in the back of his mind was approaching the last trickling hours' worth of sand, and Merlin was growing more and more mistrustful.

If Woolsey had his way and they killed him-- or even if they only made him wait until he was himself again, all traces of both Adria's and Merlin's alterations deprogrammed-- they'd lose the entire opportunity. No choice he made would affect anything, then; all the sacrifices of the last couple of months would come to nothing, and Adria's army would continue their march across the galaxy with even less reason to think fondly of the Tau'ri.

He focused on finding a way around the Prior device to keep himself from going crazy or revealing too much in his impatience, and waited for something to change. As much trust as he placed in his teammates, present and former, he knew they might not end up the ultimate voice of authority regarding his fate.

Finally, Jack returned, this time alone, to ask for the details so that the rest of the team could complete the Quest without him.

"C'mon, Daniel," he said, "you had to know we weren't going to shut down that Supergate for you."

"Well, we didn't have much choice," Daniel replied, lingering heavily on the last word. If Sam had picked up his clue....

Jack tucked his hands in his pockets, a twitch of a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth, and nodded. "Uh-huh. Thought so. As it happens, we may have a means of creating a portal to the Ori galaxy without going to that extreme. The IOA won't go for springing you. But if you can give us the intel on where the ship is and how to complete the weapon, we won't even need your Prior abilities. We'll just-- send it on through, using the aforementioned... means. And that will be that."

"But I didn't think Earth had access to any more ZPMs, or even any valid gate addresses for the Ori galaxy," Daniel said for Merlin's benefit, digging his fingernails into his palms.

"Oh, none of that will be necessary," Jack said smugly, rocking back a little on his heels. "Just tell us where to go, and what to do when we get there, and we'll take care of the rest."

If we cannot free ourselves of the anti-Prior device in time... Daniel prodded Merlin.

It has become clear you are concealing something from me, Merlin replied, but I do not sense any wavering in your commitment to destroy the Ori. Very well.

Daniel took a deep breath and told Jack what he wanted to know.

"Got all that?" Jack asked when he'd finished, glancing vaguely toward the ceiling.

"Got it," Sam's voice replied over the radio. "Mapping coordinates now. Give us-- fifteen minutes."

"You know where to reach us when you're done," Jack replied.

"Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel," a considerably younger voice chipped in, nervously.

"Aye, sir," Sam spoke over Dawn, amusement and tension in her voice. "Carter out."

Daniel took a shaky breath. Dawn again, whose presence he still didn't understand... except, perhaps as her name related to a particular Latinate deity....

The pressure in the back of Daniel's mind increased ten-fold, and he threw his head back, gritting his teeth. "Ah, Jack," he ground out.

"Daniel?" Jack replied, cautiously approaching him with an intent expression. "You all right in there?"

"Zat me, would you? I chose-- ah!" He flinched as Merlin latched onto the memories he'd been hiding, and knew he had only seconds until the Ancient consciousness finished conquering the Prior device-- and probably Daniel himself at the same time. He could not be allowed to clue the Others in on what was coming. "I ch-chose my forfeit already, so-- don't let me up until I change back, would you?"

"Huh. Not what I expected you to ask, but-- yeah, all right. Better than what Woolsey has in mind." Jack shrugged, then raised his zat'nik'atel and fired.

Waking from a stun shot never got any easier, whatever its method of delivery. And that time was worse than most: Daniel screamed hoarsely as a tide of energy tore through him, gouging hot fingers through the part of him that had thought of itself as Merlin.

"Daniel? Daniel!" Hands pressed against his shoulders as he thrashed in the chair. "What the hell? I thought you said it would be hours yet before anything happened."

Daniel blinked then pushed at the newly empty feeling in the back of his brain like a child with a lost tooth. "I... I think they did it," he said blankly, feeling a little like his thoughts had shrunk to a handful of peas rattling around in a large, empty bowl. Merlin was definitely gone. "They must have set off the Sangreal...."

"I thought that was supposed to happen in the Ori galaxy," Jack frowned. "And how the hell would you know, anyway? I thought you said it wouldn't affect anyone Descended."

"It didn't," Daniel shook his head. "Affect me, I mean. I wasn't sure-- I didn't think it would affect the download Merlin had left me-- but it manifested as such a complete consciousness, I'm really not surprised he put a little more of himself in it than he let on. This isn't his body, so...."

He let the thought trail off as it sank in: Merlin had been stripped from him. Any Ascended being within a galaxy's width of the Sangreal when it went off would have been affected similarly. In the other galaxy, that meant the Ori. In theirs? The Ancients.

All of them.

Angels and demons both
Shall fall under her pitiless touch. Mortals saved....

No more Merlin. No more Morgan le Fay, or Oma Desala locked in unending battle with Anubis. No more Others, looking on and refusing to lower themselves to help. The lost opportunity for knowledge was immense, but.... the only ones he would have truly regretted were his goodfather and his people, given what Jack had told him of the final events on Abydos. They'd been even less prepared for Ascension than Daniel had been, though, and he rather doubted they had remained in that state.

He'd never told anyone, but SG-3 and SG-5 hadn't been his first offworld visitors on Vis Uban. An older man who'd called him 'goodson' had walked up to him a few days after his awakening and told him he 'must not feel guilty' for what had happened, for he had done all he could; it was one of the reasons Daniel had been so convinced he must have done something wrong when Jack first tried to persuade him to come home. He'd also told Daniel not to give up traveling amongst the gods, for it brought great honor to both family and tribe; and that he was grieved that it would be the last time they would meet.

He hadn't understood, then. But he did now. He firmly believed Kasuf and Ska'ara had gone to join Sha'uri, or he'd have seen them at some point since, especially after Oma's departure. That they'd accepted Shifu, and that all three awaited him now in whatever afterlife might exist. Maybe he was only telling himself that so he wouldn't feel the need to grieve, but....

He started laughing, whole body shaking with the force of his disbelief. He'd done it. His team had done it. They'd pulled off the impossible.

"Daniel. Daniel! Crazy times later. What about Adria?"

"Oh, she's still there," he said after a moment, once he'd calmed long enough to breathe. "It wouldn't have affected her, or a being like Khalek, if any existed. And of course, there are probably still Ascended beings in the Pegasus galaxy. But I don't think we'll have to worry about those anytime soon."

"But what about the ones in the Ori galaxy? You never answered that question," Jack frowned.

"Don't worry; they're dead," Daniel smiled lopsidedly at him. "Did you know, in Roman mythology Aurora is the goddess of the Dawn? She renews herself every morning, announcing the arrival of the sun."

"Which... you knew all along?" Jack made a perplexed face. "Buffy said she never told you they had the gift thing, whatever it actually is; and you never said anything to hint you'd caught a clue."

"She didn't. I should have guessed earlier, but I didn't actually put the pieces together until I was fighting Adria outside Merlin's cave. And by that point, I couldn't let myself think about it, much less tell anyone, as long as Merlin was with me. To let him in on the secret would have been to choose 'ash and blood' by default; to 'wholly fail'. He'd never have agreed with me, and I have no doubt he could have got a message to the Others to stop it if he'd figured out what the real plan was."

"Ah," Jack sucked in a breath. "So when you were saying, before I shot you just then-- you chose us."

"Was there ever any doubt?" Daniel snorted, sagging against the restraints. "If I never have a headache like this again, it'll be too soon. Trying to play Merlin and Adria both against each other with neither catching on to exactly what I was keeping back from them, trusting that you guys would come through...." He swallowed. "Ah. Speaking of. How'd Buffy take the whole...." He made a vague gesture.

Jack shrugged. "Better than she took your ignoring her when they first beamed you up. And I kind of think the look was a little...." He gestured toward Daniel's face. "Please tell me that's still going away when Merlin programmed it to?"

"You mean it hasn't...?" Unable to touch his skin, Daniel wrinkled his facial muscles up, and groaned as he realized he was still in Prior form. "Let's hope so. I'm not sure I can undo it, even if Merlin didn't have time to take the skills back when his memories were ripped out of me."

"Maybe we can get Adria to...." Jack started to suggest, then made a face. "Yeah, no. Still not looking forward to the next time we have to deal with her."

"Crap! Is the door open yet? She followed us!" a sudden, unexpected voice sounded from the back of the large room Daniel had been imprisoned in, and both men turned their heads to find the source.

"Speak of the devil...." Daniel blurted.

A curtain-- not of light, but of dimness somehow-- shimmered there: Daniel could see shapes moving on the other side, blurred a little by the difference in light gradients. Then a body stepped through: Mitchell, his P-90 at the ready in front of him, which he lowered with a sigh as soon as he recognized them. "Right on target, guys. Come on through!"

Vala followed, swiftly; then Teal'c; then Dawn, busily wrapping a bandage over what looked like a nasty scratch on her palm; then Buffy and Sam, springing through side by side, the former wielding a wicked-looking blade Daniel had never seen the like of before.

"Can you close this one any faster?" Sam barked, aiming her P90 back into the curtain.

"I think so, there's something I can try...." Dawn squeezed her eyes shut, then began chanting something under her breath in a sing-song voice.

Something else appeared in the curtain as she spoke: an Ori soldier, who whipped his weapon around in disorientation as he stepped through. Buffy swore, tackling him back across; Daniel held his breath, but he could still see her silhouette moving on the other side, and she was back again half a second later.

"That's the last of the soldiers, but Adria's coming," she panted. "Dawnie?"

"Got it!" A bright green glow flashed from Dawn's hand; then her eyes rolled up and she slumped over backward. The portal collapsed at the same moment, vanishing with a thunderclap of sound.

Buffy caught her sister and lowered her to the floor; Vala knelt with her, but the others turned toward Jack and Daniel as Dawn sat back up and Buffy nodded to them that she would be all right.

Jack clapped his hands together then, staring speculatively at the group. "So... campers. I gather congratulations are in order?"

"Yes, sir," Mitchell said, brightening as he replied. "I have to admit, I had my doubts... but the ship was right where Daniel said it would be, and the weapon fit together like he said it would, too, and Dawn got the door open like she said she would... there was a little last minute interference from Adria, but Buffy held her off with that other anti-Prior device we brought long enough for the Sangreal to go through. She's mighty pissed, but she's alone in the universe now, and she knows it."

Something unknotted in the back of Daniel's mind, and he realized the anti-Prior device on the Odyssey had just stopped working against him-- and that, in fact, he did still have his altered abilities. Perhaps only until Merlin's original deadline. But perhaps not. "Not entirely," he said, forcing the restraints open with his mind and stepping down to the deck. "Her army's still with her; we'll still have to stop them. But she won't be getting any reinforcements."

"Daniel....?" Buffy said softly, expression as cautious as the others' as they watched him.

No one twitched a weapon in his direction this time, though, and he had eyes only for the short blonde staring back at him. "Some courting gift," he said. "I don't think I'm going to be able to top this one."

"You're not mad I didn't...?" She trailed off warily, but he got the idea.

He shook his head. "If you'd told me any more, there would have been too many associations in my mind to hide; as it was, I barely kept Merlin from figuring out there was more to it before the end. I won't say I'm exactly happy that the choices were genocide for us or wiping out two entire races that used to be people, too...."

"Oh, don't worry. You get used to it," she said lightly. "There's a lot I should have told you."

"I thought there might be," he shrugged. "But whatever they are, your secrets can't be any heavier than mine."

She walked up to him fearlessly, took one of his altered hands, and leaned up to fit her mouth to his. Daniel savored it for a long, long moment-- until Jack groaned and told them to get a room.

"We'd better beam down and debrief Landry," he added, surveying their motley group. "And Daniel... no wandering around until we figure out if that look's permanent, okay? Don't want you scaring the troops unnecessarily."

"If they aren't scared of him already-- if they aren't scared of all of you-- they're brain dead," Buffy snorted.

"Yeah, well. Mild mannered archaeologist, irreverent general, geeky scientist, Jaffa revenge guy... not exactly glasses and a plaid shirt, but it worked for us," Jack smirked back. "Even the new kids are in on it; you know as well as I do that down-home Southern thing and the shiny-obsessed featherbrain tactics aren't the be-all and end-all. Little Miss Cheerleader."

She gave him her best innocent eyes at that. "What, are you suggesting I actually was visiting Giles' library for the books?"

"I'm on to you," Jack warned, wagging a finger in her direction. Then he keyed his radio. "Odyssey? This is O'Neill. Eight to beam down."

The light took them, this time. Daniel smiled, feeling a little sore inside, as it swept through them... as though his heart had been dislocated and was only just now slipping back into place.


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