Knifepoint by Catsmeow
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Category: General
Genres: Action/Adventure, Angst, Friendship, Hurt/Comfort, Team
Rated: Mature
Warnings: Adult Themes
Series: None
Summary: Jack's worst nightmare comes true and he takes Daniel along for the ride.

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Author's Chapter Notes:
This is NOT my usual fluffy silly style. Here there be whumpage. And many angsty bits. Did I mention the violence? But don't worry - everything works out. Eventually.

Many, many thanks to my beta's Mare, AnnO and Barb for their encouragement, patience and guidance. It's much appreciated, ladies!
KNIFEPOINT BY CATSMEOW

CAPTURE

It was a lazy summer afternoon and the savannah was quiet except for the constant drone of insects and the occasional bird call. A large stone ring sat upright, perpendicular to the short platform on which it rested. The insects suddenly became silent when, one at a time, the chevrons lit up and thunked into place. With a roar, what looked like a huge splash of water spilled sideways out of the ring then collapsed back into itself, filling the center of the ring. What looked like a shimmering pool of water was really the event horizon of a wormhole connecting two planets.

With a soft plopping sound, four people stepped out of the shimmer and onto the platform. This was SG-1, Stargate Command’s premiere team led by Colonel Jack O’Neill. He and Major Samantha Carter held P-90 machine pistols in addition to the 9-mm Beretta holstered to their thighs. Doctor Daniel Jackson – archeologist, linguist, and scholar– also had a pistol strapped to his thigh, though his hands were empty of any other weapons. The last member of the team was Teal’c. The Jaffa carried the ubiquitous Beretta, but preferred to use the staff weapon that was almost as tall as he was.

The Stargate was set in the middle of rolling fields of grass, giving the team a clear view of the area as they arrived on PR4-972. They had 48-hours to check out the temple half a mile away and gather scientific data about the planet.

After a quick check revealed no immediate threats, Colonel O’Neill spoke up. “The UAV showed no signs of any people, right, Carter?” Keeping one hand on his weapon, he used the other to adjust his sunglasses. Short grey hair peeked out from under the decidedly non-regulation ballcap he preferred to wear.

“Yes, Sir,” replied the Major. The tall blonde woman was both the science officer and the second in command of the team. “Well, to be precise, the UAV showed no signs of any civilization within a 20-mile radius of the gate.”

“Guys, do you mind if I skip out on setting up camp and go straight to work?” Doctor Jackson‘s attention was drawn to the only visible structure between here and the horizon. He took a few steps toward it as he spoke.

“Daniel, you know the rules. No wandering off alone.” Jack wished he would at least turn and look at him, but Daniel was completely focused on the stepped pyramid. Jack wasn’t sure he was really listening.

“I’m not wandering off. I’ll just be right over there.” Daniel pointed at the temple. “That ziggurat is huge. We’ve got so little time that I want to get started as soon as I can.”

“Not until I can go with you.”

“Jack, there are no roads, no houses, no other buildings of any kind. You can barely see the outlines of the ruins of roads or buildings. The ziggurat is the only thing standing. There’s obviously no one here.”

“Yeah, well, just because it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, that doesn’t mean it won’t try to bite us in the ass the first chance it gets.”

“I was not aware that the waterfowl of the Tauri possessed dentition, O’Neill.”

Jack swiveled his head to look at the Jaffa. “I wasn’t aware you knew words like ‘dentition’, Teal’c.”

“I wasn’t aware you knew words like ‘dentition’, Jack.”

Great. Now he had Daniel’s attention. Jack waved a hand in dismissal. “Whatever. The point is nobody goes anywhere alone. We pair off as usual. Carter and Teal’c. You and me. I can’t go until camp is set up. Therefore…?” Jack rolled his hand in a ‘continue’ motion.

“Jack!”

“Daniel?”

“Jack?”

“Look, Daniel. The sooner we set up camp the sooner you can go play.”

Daniel capitulated with a sigh. “Fine. Let’s set up camp then. Where?”

Jack led the way down the steps and into the waist high grasses. “We’ll bivouac just on the other side of that rise there. We’ll be out of sight if anyone comes through the gate, but still in easy reach of your Zagnut and Carter’s sample areas.”

“Ziggurat”

“Gesundheit.”

Jack smiled to himself as Daniel rolled his eyes. Looked like this was going to be a fun mission.

~~~

Samantha Carter was very glad her duties kept her outdoors on this trip. It was a beautiful day here on PR4-972. There were just enough trees dotted across the rolling hills to provide patches of shade without provoking Colonel O'Neill into a round of tree-hate. Her long stride made quick work of the mile from camp to the first collection site.

“This looks like a good spot, Teal’c. We can set up the sensor array here in the grassy area so we get full sunlight, then head into that stand of trees and collect our soil samples in the shade.”

Her team-mate set down the large grey metal case he was carrying then slid his backpack down to the ground. Sam did the same with her backpack and the sample case. She took a minute to stretch a bit and ease a kink out of her shoulder. Teal’c flipped open the big case and got to work. He had a surprisingly light touch for such a big man. Sam learned long ago that she could trust him with the most delicate of instruments. With the ease of long practice, they worked together quickly to set up the science station.

“Okay, this will register the full spectrum of solar radiation, background radiation, and several types of energy fields. We can check it on our way back to camp this afternoon, but I’d like to leave it in place until right before we leave so that we can get as much data as possible.”

“Certainly, Major Carter. How many soil samples do you wish to procure in this location?”

“Most of the interesting UAV readings came from a rocky area about five klicks from here. I’d like to save most of the tubes for that, so, let’s just do two or three soil samples here. However,” she reached into the sample case and pulled out a handful of heavy duty, self sealing plastic bags, “this is a good spot to get some plant specimens for the Botany Department since we have both the grasslands and the woods within reach.”

She handed him the bags, grabbed a couple of tubes and they set off for the trees.

~~~

Jack made sure that Daniel was happily ensconced in front of the “amazing frescoes, Jack, just look at that clarity, those colors, so perfectly preserved!” and set out on a sweep of the interior rooms of the temple. The small light clipped to his weapon illuminated the place a little piece at a time. He passed room after empty room. Some had paintings around the doorways. Some had paintings or carvings inside on the walls or floor.

He methodically checked each room opening off of the main hallway before running into a cross-corridor. He decided to check the side corridor before moving farther into the building and turned to the right. So far, it looked the same as the main hall. Every room he passed was empty except for layers of dust and cobwebs in the corners. One had no decoration except for a fresco on the ceiling. Jack wasn’t sure what the scene was intended to represent, but he did know you weren’t supposed to do that to a goat. If these people had had furniture, they had taken it with them.

He was near the end of the secondary corridor when something in one of the rooms flashed as his light swept across the doorway. This door had no markings of any kind. Shining his light into the room, he could see it was just as plain inside except for one big difference. Whereas every other room had been completely barren, this one had a pedestal with some kind of covered vase on top of it. The only markings were on the vessel and the base of the pedestal. It was a dim reflection from the vase that had caught his eye.

Jack stepped inside to get a better look at the markings, wishing he had Daniel’s small floodlight. What did Daniel call those again? Oh right. Ideograms. He wasn’t sure, but he thought the ideograms in here were different than those in the main room where Daniel was. He peered closely at the vase, trying to figure out just what was so different about it.

There was a whiff of something sickly sweet, like decaying flowers. The P-90 slipped from his hands. What the hell? There was a buzzing in his head and suddenly the room tilted. He could feel cool stone against his back as he lay on the floor. He tried to reach for his radio. His outstretched hand lay unresponsive where it had fallen. He tried to yell for Daniel even though he knew he was too far away for Daniel to hear him. It didn’t matter. He couldn’t make a sound. He couldn’t even tear his gaze away from the vase.

There was a muted click. He could see the lid of the vase slowly rise up. Oh, no! Hell no! Fuck! FUCK! Jack lay perfectly still, but inside he was frantic and on the verge of panic. It felt like he was battering at the iron bars of a prison cell, unable to escape. He desperately wished he could at least close his eyes against what was coming.

~~~

Teal’c made sure that all of the specimen bags were tucked neatly inside before he closed the sample case. “Shall we proceed to the next collection site, Major Carter?”

“In a minute. I just want to check the readout on the sensor array and make sure everything’s working properly.”

Carter knelt down by the machine and checked the digital displays. Everything looked okay. Next, she pulled out the paper on which the data was recorded. Sliding it through her hands, she examined the entries. Broad spectrum UV readings were very similar to Earth. Background radiation seemed fine so far. Uh-oh. What was that? She frowned at the print-out.

“Is the equipment recording the data properly?”

“If it is, we may have a problem.” Teal’c moved to kneel beside her. She pointed to the paper. “There was an energy spike a few minutes ago.”

“What type of energy was detected?”

“It’s one of the frequencies emitted by crystalline technology.”

“Can you ascertain the cause of the energy emission?”

She shook her head. “No, not from this. Those crystals are used in so many ways, it would be impossible to narrow that down just from this one reading. Plus, the carrier wave attenuates with distance. This spike could represent a huge burst of energy that was very far away, or it could be a tiny spark very close by. Without more information, there’s no way to tell.”

Teal’c reached for his radio. “Colonel O’Neill.” There was no response. “Colonel O’Neill, please respond.” He waited a moment then tried once more. “Colonel O’Neill, Daniel Jackson, do you hear me?”

He stood, gripping his staff weapon tightly. “I believe we should proceed directly to the temple.” Carter held her P-90 at the ready and followed him back the way they had come.

~~~

“…fifth panel which seems to be about the Lord of the Harvest thus continuing the theme of a nature-based pantheon.” Daniel shifted the video recorder to focus on the next panel. Using his foot, he gently pushed the little floodlight on the floor so the lights clearly picked up the details in the wall paintings . “Now, this last portion of wall is done in the same ideograms as the other panels, but the subject seems to be different and this section here,” Daniel watched through the viewfinder as his hand pointed to a specific bit of text, “is in a different style than the rest. It may be something that didn’t translate directly such as an abstract concept or a proper noun. I won’t be able to tell for sure until I know the context. However, looking quickly, I can see this is…”

Daniel chattered on, trying to get as much done as he could in the limited time he had. Forty eight hours wasn’t even enough to do a proper preliminary study, much less a true site survey. It was like holding Tolstoy’s War and Peace in your hands and being told you had thirty seconds to read it all.

Behind him he could hear footsteps. Keeping the camera trained on the walls, he looked at the doorway. It was Jack all right, but there was something wrong with how he walked. Had he hurt his knee again?

“Are you okay?”

Jack made no reply, but kept walking toward Daniel in that same lurching gait. Daniel noticed Jack’s empty hands and shifted from concern to worry. Jack never left his weapon even when injured. In fact, there were times that one of his team had to pry the weapon out of clenched fingers so that an unconscious Jack could get medical treatment.

“Jack, what happ-“

The camera and Daniel’s glasses went flying as Jack viciously backhanded him across the face.

~~~

Carter and Teal’c walked steadily through the knee-high grass. The direct route to the temple would take them past the Stargate. From there it would be just another few minutes until they would be at the temple. Teal’c tried twice more to raise their team-mates on the radio with no results.

Cresting one of the low rolling hills, they could see the Stargate, less than 500 feet away to their right. Colonel O’Neill was at the DHD punching in an address one-handed. His right side was toward them as he faced the gate. Daniel lay on the ground at his feet.

“O’Neill!”

Jack looked over at them when Teal’c shouted, then hit the center crystal. The spinning blue vortex of the wormhole burst out then collapsed back to shimmer like water in the center of the gate.

As she and Teal’c sped up, Carter tried to figure out what was going on. The Colonel must be taking Daniel back to the infirmary. But what happened? And why wasn’t he answering his radio? Even at this distance, she thought she could see it on his vest.

“What happened, Sir?” she called out. “Is Daniel hurt?”

O’Neill didn’t answer. Reaching down with his left hand, he grabbed the collar of Daniel’s jacket. He roughly hauled Daniel up and pulled him toward the gate. Daniel’s face was bloody. His glasses were missing. He couldn’t get his feet under him and half stumbled, half crawled, banging his shins on the stone steps of the platform as Jack surged forward relentlessly.

Now running flat out, Teal’c’s long legs outpaced hers. “O’Neill!” he shouted again. “You must stop!”

Jack threw Daniel across the threshold of the gate and into the wormhole then stepped through himself.

Seconds before Teal’c and Carter reached the dais, the wormhole blinked out. Their friends were gone. She looked over at Teal’c who was closest to the DHD. “It must have been a medical emergency” she said hesitantly. “Maybe there was no time to wait?”

Teal’c shook his head. “I do not think that to be the case, Major Carter. I believe Colonel O’Neill has in some way been compromised.”

“He didn’t look…right, did he?” She bit her bottom lip, thinking. “Well, let’s follow them back and see what he has to say.”

“We will not find him at the SGC. I was unable to see the entire address before the Stargate shut down, but O’Neill most certainly did not return to Earth.”

“He didn’t…” Carter’s stomach did a flip.

“No. He did not.” Teal’c’s face was grim.

“So, Daniel’s hurt, there’s something wrong with the Colonel, and we have no idea what happened or where they are?”

Teal’c gave one short sharp nod.

Carter’s eyes widened. That flip in her stomach got worse. “Holy Hannah. Dial the SGC, Teal’c. We need to call for help.”

~~~

With a whir and clunk, the first chevron on the Stargate engaged and the gate room at the SGC sprang to life. Alarms blared throughout the underground base. Troops poured in past the thick metal blast doors on each side, keeping their weapons trained on the gate. The sound of their booted feet was loud in the concrete room. Up in the control room, the technicians watched their monitors closely. General Hammond appeared next to Sergeant Davis who controlled the iris that protected the gate from unwanted intrusions.

“Are there any offworld teams due back, Sergeant?”

“No, Sir. SG-3 is scheduled to leave in a few minutes, but no teams are scheduled for either a return or check in at this time.” Davis watched the flow of information across his screen. “We have an IDC, Sir. It’s SG-1”

Hammond could feel his lips tighten. SG-1 had only been gone a few hours. This couldn’t be good. “Open the iris.”

Davis complied. The iris snicked open, but no one came through. Instead, they heard a voice transmission from Major Carter.

“Stargate Command, this is Major Carter of SG-1.”

“Go ahead, Major”

“General Hammond, we need a search and rescue team for Colonel O’Neill and Doctor Jackson.”

He knew it. It was always a bad sign when a team called in early. Almost as bad as a team calling in late. “What happened, Major?”

“I’m not really sure, Sir. Teal’c and I were gathering samples while the Colonel and Daniel were at the temple. We lost radio contact with them and decided to return to the temple. On the way there, we saw Colonel O’Neill activate the Stargate and force Daniel to go through it with him. Daniel appeared to be injured and there was something wrong with the Colonel as well.”

A chill ran up Hammond’s spine. This was far worse than he thought it would be. If the men had fallen off a cliff or down a hole or gotten lost there was a good chance of getting them rescued and returned to the SGC. But they couldn’t be rescued if no one could find them.

“Do you know where they went?”

“Not exactly, Sir. Teal’c was able to see part of the address. I can compare that to the addresses in the computer which should help narrow the field slightly. First, I think that we need to search the temple. Find out what happened. That may give us the information we need to track them down. And General, I think the sooner we get started, the better.”

Hammond was nodding as she spoke, even though he knew she couldn’t see him. “Agreed, Major. You’ll have Major Ferretti and SG-3 at your disposal within fifteen minutes. In the meantime, I want you and Teal’c to stay put. You are not to investigate those ruins by yourselves, is that clear?”

“Yes, Sir. We’ll be right here.”

“Fine. Hammond out.” The General motioned to Davis and the transmission was cut. A second later, the wormhole collapsed and the gate shut down. The troops in the gate room relaxed their weapons. The alarm was silent. Then Hammond started barking orders and a whole new flurry of sound and activity began.

~~~

The DHD was right there, not twenty feet away from where Daniel knelt. From this angle he couldn’t tell what shape it was in. He would have to assume it was in working order. He needed enough time to get to it, punch in the address for PR4-972 and get through the gate. He would round up Sam and Teal’c as quickly as possible and return to get Jack – except Daniel didn’t know the address to this planet. Okay, scratch that plan. He’d have to take Jack with him through the gate, which meant he’d have to overpower him. He was six feet tall to Jack’s six feet two inches, he had a slightly longer reach than Jack, but they weighed about the same. While Daniel was younger, Jack was a wily old bastard with decades of special training and experience who wasn’t above fighting dirty. Even on his best day, Daniel would be hard pressed to get the better of Jack in hand to hand. And this was definitely not Daniel’s best day.

Okay, what would Jack say to do? Assess the situation. Right. Better start the assessment with a physical inventory. Daniel hurt everywhere. Just staying upright was exhausting him. His ribs were bruised if not broken making every breath a stabbing pain. His right eye had rapidly swelled up and was almost shut. That punch from Jack had nearly knocked him out. Good thing his glasses had already come off by then or the broken glass from the lenses could have blinded him. As it was, the punch, combined with the initial backhand to the face, had left him so dazed and confused he could barely fight back. Daniel reached up and felt a knot on the side of his head. He was pretty sure he had hit his head against the stone walls – he felt another knot at the back of his head – and the stone floor of the temple. He wouldn’t be surprised if he had a concussion, especially since he had been nauseated. In fact he was still kneeling next to a nasty puddle of – okay, don’t think about the puddle. Stomach getting queasy. Do NOT think about being sick. Maybe he should do something to take his mind off of it. How about assessing his physical condition? Okay. He hurt everywhere, especially his ankle, and his ribs were –

Oh, déjà vu. He just did this a second ago. His mind was really wandering. It was so hard to focus. Let’s put a mark in the “definitely” column for the concussion, he thought. Daniel knew what condition he was in. It was bad, really bad. But what condition was Jack in? He looked up at the platform where Jack was still standing.

~~~

It was obvious that whatever had happened to the Colonel and Daniel, it had happened in the ziggurat. The wide swath of flattened grass that started at the foot of the Stargate led directly back to the temple entrance. From the many scrape marks, it was clear that Daniel had been dragged to the gate in much the same way that he had been dragged through the wormhole.

With no rocks, trees or other cover to hide behind, the six-man team could do little to disguise their approach. Fanning out, they advanced on the entrance as cautiously as they could with their weapons held at the ready. Teal’c and Ferretti took point and led the way up the broad shallow steps to the columned portico. Teal’c entered the doorway first with Feretti hard on his heels. Carter and Lt. Stepanovich slipped in next, with Evans and Bassler bringing up the rear.

Silently, they passed through a grand vestibule, their booted feet nearly noiseless against the dusty stone floor. What little sunlight made it inside the building was concentrated by the entryway. Within a few paces, the team was enveloped in darkness. The beams from the lights clipped to their gun barrels swept around, criss-crossing each other, as the team moved carefully forward. Past the vestibule, the temple opened up into the main chamber. Carter estimated the ceiling was at least 20 feet high; it was about the same distance from where she stood to each of the side walls, so make it about 40 feet wide. The chamber was deep enough that her flashlight couldn’t penetrate the gloom in front of her.

Spreading out in a line from side wall to side wall, the group moved forward cautiously. Soon their lights were touching the back wall of the room. The only other way out of the room was the doorway in the back wall. Like the main door to the temple, there was no actual door, just a large rectangular opening framed by carved stones. The darkness on the other side seemed absolute, giving the impression that the opening was looming over them

“Here,” Stepanovich whispered. He shined his light in the back corner of the chamber. Daniel’s backpack, reference books, and archeology tools were scattered all over the floor. The small floodlight Daniel used had a crack through the glass covering the bulb. Stepanovich shifted one of the books with the toe of his boot. Daniel’s glasses, broken and twisted, were underneath it.

“Looks like the Doc was working here,” Ferretti said quietly. “Looks like he put up a fight, too.”

Carter nodded. “I don’t see anything that would explain what happened, though. This room is empty except for Daniel’s things.”

“Perhaps there is another chamber hidden within this one,” suggested Teal’c.

“I suppose it’s possible.” Carter thought for a moment. “Feretti, you and Evans stay here and search the room. See if you can find any concealed compartments. Lieutenant, you and Bassler are with me and Teal’c.”

Once again, Teal’c lead the way. They passed a few small empty rooms, then came to an intersection. Carter and Bassler stayed with the main corridor leading farther into the temple. Teal’c and Lt. Stepanovich took the smaller hallway. Within minutes, Teal’c found what they were looking for.

Teal’c clicked his radio on. “Major Carter, there is a room which holds a pedestal topped by a container of some sort. The lid to the container is open. Colonel O’Neill’s baseball cap and weapon are on the floor by the pedestal.”

Carter’s voice replied, “Don’t touch anything until I get there.”

“You may be assured that we have not entered the room, Major Carter.”

Ferretti’s voice cut in before Sam could respond. Even through the radio he sounded upset. “Carter, there’s something else you need to see first.”

“Roger that,” she replied. “We’re on our way. Teal’c, Bassler meet us back in the main chamber.”

~~~

The whole time Daniel was trying to gather his wits and his strength, Jack was pacing around on the gate platform. His movements were awkward. He would look at the encroaching trees, overgrown bushes, and jumbled ruin of what had been the road leading to the gate. Then he would stomp around the platform waving his left arm. He would stop, look at the waist high grass poking up through the paving stones and go back to stomping and waving. It was obvious that whatever Jack had expected to find here, this long-abandoned world wasn’t it.

Daniel noticed that Jack barely moved his right arm. In fact, his whole right side seemed stiff. Could Jack have had a stroke? That might explain the lack of control on one side of the body but not the violence. Could there have been some sort of contagion? No, it happened too fast. Maybe some kind of poison or drug? Daniel nodded to himself. That seemed most likely. Jack still hadn’t said anything, either. What if it was a neurotoxin? Whichever it was, hopefully the damage wouldn’t be permanent, but the faster Daniel could get help for Jack the better.

~~~

Ferretti started speaking as the others came down the corridor into the main room and gathered around him.

“We found Dr. J.’s video camera over by the wall. It was running when everything happened. Must’ve shut off automatically when the disc filled up. Battery’s still good so I turned it on. I’ve cued up the start of the important bit. It’s hard to see exactly what’s going on, but I gotta warn you,” he took a deep breath, “it’s pretty rough.”

He handed the camera to Carter. Teal’c and the others crowded around, trying to get a good view of the tiny screen. Carter could feel Teal’c’s body touching hers and the knot in her stomach dissipated a little. It was a comforting reminder that she wasn’t the only one worried about her team-mates. Pushing down a feeling of dread, she switched on the camera.

The screen showed the wall near the back entry. Daniel’s voice, tinny-sounding from the tiny speaker, discussed the markings. Occasionally, his hand flashed into view. There was a noise in the background. Daniel stopped talking. The picture jiggled a bit but still focused on the wall. The noise became a little louder and Carter realized she was hearing footsteps, but the rhythm was off. She heard Daniel ask “Are you okay?” There was no answer. The picture swung around jerkily. Off kilter and partly out of frame, she could see Jack, walking toward Daniel.

Daniel spoke again but before he could finish his sentence, Jack backhanded him across the face. The picture on the screen flipped and rolled as the camera went flying. Carter could hear grunting and the sound of flesh hitting flesh again and again. The picture steadied as the camera stopped rolling. There was nothing to see on screen except the floor, which was slashed diagonally across the screen due to the angle at which the camera came to rest. The men were out of sight. Over the sound of scuffling, punching and fighting, she could hear Daniel trying to talk to Jack, calling his name and telling him to stop.

Daniel cried out after one particularly loud smack. He fell into view, sprawling face down on the floor a short distance from the camera. The soles of his boots filled most of the screen. He rolled over onto his back, one hand reaching for his radio. His knuckles were scraped. What little Sam could see of his face was bloody. The toes of Jack’s boots moved into frame. Jack’s hand came into view, wrenching the radio out of Daniel’s grasp. A second later there was a clattering sound that Sam presumed was the radio being thrown across the room.

Daniel managed to pull his pistol but Jack kicked his wrist and the gun went flying. Jack followed up with a kick to the ribs. Daniel rolled with it and tried to get to his feet. Jack’s boot lashed out again. Daniel grabbed the boot with one hand and the ankle with the other and twisted. The momentum threw him back down onto the floor. Carter could only see the men from the waist down, but it looked as though Jack fell face first onto the stone floor next to him. Daniel reached across him, grabbing for the pistol in Jack’s thigh holster. Jack tried to roll over, but Daniel started punching him in the back and side with his left hand. With his right hand he was still scrabbling for the pistol. Carter could hear both men panting from the exertion. Jack managed to twist so that he was face up under Daniel. He rolled them both over so that Daniel was underneath.

As they grappled, their upper bodies shifted closer to the camera. Jack clenched his fist in Daniel’s hair and cracked the back of his head against the stone floor, then stood up, using his grip on Daniel’s hair to haul the younger man upright. Only their legs were in frame now. Daniel’s legs were wobbly and he fell to his knees. Carter could only see him from the shoulders down. Jack must have let go of Daniel’s hair, because that hand came into view as Jack snatched Daniel’s injured wrist and squeezed hard, making Daniel yell before folding Daniel’s arm behind his back and shoving it high up between his shoulder blades.

As the sound of their footsteps faded away the recording fell into silence. It was only then that Carter realized that she had never heard Jack’s voice on the tape. Over the other noises of the attack, she had heard Daniel speaking, Daniel grunting with effort or impact, and Daniel crying out with pain. But the Colonel... the Colonel had never made a sound.

~~~

Jack stopped in the center of the platform, and then slowly turned in a complete circle, frowning at the trees. At least, the left half of his face was frowning. The right half wasn’t sure what it was supposed to be doing. The effect was creepy and made Daniel uneasy. As Jack faced away, Daniel thought he saw something on the back of Jack’s neck. Squinting to see better, a chill ran through him when Daniel realized it was blood. There was blood on the back of Jack’s neck and on the collar of his shirt.

Jack finished his circle. His gaze zeroed in on Daniel. He came down the steps in that odd choppy gait and stood in front of him. Daniel did his best to look non-threatening, which was pretty easy considering his battered state.

Putting his hands out in “peaceful explorer” mode, Daniel spoke quietly “Jack, whatever’s wrong, we can fix it.” It hurt to talk with a split lip and he had trouble speaking clearly. “Let’s go get Sam and Teal’c, okay? We’ll all go together and get some help for you. It’ll be all right.”

Jack opened his mouth. His jaw and lips moved but he didn’t seem to be forming words. A guttural noise came out. It was the first sound Jack had made. He snapped his jaws shut. His right arm dangled at his side, but his left hand clenched into a fist. His eyes narrowed and he looked seriously pissed. Without warning, he lashed out with his left foot and kicked Daniel in the balls. Daniel screamed and fell over, curling up in a fetal position with both hands clutching his crotch. Just before he passed out, he saw the glowing eyes.

Jack was a Goa’uld.

JOURNEY

From the moment Jack fell paralyzed, he knew it was going to be bad. It wasn’t until he saw the lid on that damn jar lift up that he knew he was totally screwed. The one thing he feared above all else happened. He’d been taken as a host by the Goa’uld.

The pain as it slid into the back of his neck was excruciating. Jack could feel the snake in his mind, poking around like a burglar ransacking a home. Random flashes of memory flitted through his mind, some too quickly for him to recognize, as it plundered through his life. He heard snippets of songs, voices, animal sounds and other noises that passed too quickly to identify. Faces of friends and family whipped by from childhood, from the early days of his career, from the SGC. It was like standing in the middle of a whirlwind of memories.

Jack still had all of his senses. He could still feel everything his body did even though it was no longer under his direction. He could feel himself get up off of the floor by the pedestal. He could feel his boots hitting the stones as the Goa’uld walked him back to the main chamber. And, God help him, he could feel every second of what it had done to Daniel. Never had he felt so powerless.

On the walk from the ziggurat to the stargate, Jack had been able to make headway in his struggle. If he concentrated very hard, he could impede its movements slightly, but he couldn’t initiate any movements of his own. That wasn’t enough to stop it, though. All he could do was watch as the snake dragged Daniel off to some other equally deserted planet.

Now here they were on Planet Where The Hell Are We Going. The Goa’uld was pacing back and forth on the gate platform. As it moved restlessly, Jack tried to get as much information on his surroundings as he could. From this vantage point, Jack could see the gate was in a small clearing in the woods. Tall grasses and scraggly bushes filled the clearing. A jumbled line of rough stones led into the trees. Jack caught a glimpse of Daniel on his knees in the grass, puking. Daniel’s glasses were missing and there was a piece of grass stuck to the blood on his swollen face. Jack didn’t have time to see any more as the Goa’uld swung around and paced the other way.

Suddenly, superimposed on his view of the overgrown weeds and bushes was a vision of a tidy lawn bisected by a well built road of paved stone. Confused at first, Jack quickly realized he had just seen something from the Goa’uld’s memory. It was unexpected. He didn’t think he could see anything the snake didn’t want him to. But that brief memory was accompanied by feelings of surprise and dismay. Maybe that surprise had loosened the Goa’uld’s grip on Jack. He tried again to wrest control.

“There is no point in fighting me.”

Jack was startled. It was weird to hear someone talk to him inside his own head. It seemed no different than any other conversation except that he could feel its emotions as it spoke. Maybe he could keep it busy talking. “Oh yeah? It’s just a matter of time until I get it all back.”

“Boast all you wish, Tau’ri,” it sneered, “but better men than you have also failed.”

“You’ll get nothing from me but trouble,” promised Jack, “so you might as well give up now. Besides, this body’s a fixer upper. Check out the knees if you don’t believe me. You’d be better off back in your box.”

“Oh, but you are wrong, Tau’ri. I have already gained much from you. This body is easily healed and it is only part of what you have given me.”

Jack could feel the snake’s smug satisfaction. Whatever it was going to tell him, he knew he wasn’t going to like it.

“It is from you that I learned of Daniel Jackson’s value to the System Lords. And it is thanks to your training that I was able to capture him. He will make a fine gift to buy my way back into power.”

Jack swore to himself. “If you want a hostage, take me. There’s a price on my head that’ll make it worth your while.”

The Goa’uld chuckled. “You misunderstand. I am taking Daniel Jackson in addition to yourself. With such an offering as the two of you I shall regain my rightful status immediately.”

As it spoke, Jack could feel its longing for power and revenge. A chaotic rush of images flowed over him. They made no sense at first. Then he understood that he was seeing its memories. He knew what it had done, who it had been. He even knew its name.

“Sesmu? What kind of a name is Sesmu?” taunted Jack. “Sounds like the answer to ‘What does the cow say?’. I guess all the good names were already taken.”

“I see you have heard of me” replied Sesmu, ignoring the jibe. “My name is still spoken despite my long absence.”

“Sorry, Cowsays. Never heard of you at all. You’re not even a blip on the radar screen.”

“How else would you know of the Great God Sesmu?”

“You told me. I got it right out of your thoughts. And ‘great god’? Laying it on a bit thick aren’t you? From what I saw it was more like Sesmu the Small and the Meek. ”

“Impossible! I have not allowed you to access my mind.”

“Impossible? Let’s recap, shall we?” Jack was at his snarky best. “As the very minor God of Wine under Ra you were supposed to pay him tribute by sending all the good stuff his way. Eventually, you started sending him the cheap stuff and selling off the good stuff. Ra found out and had you stuffed in that jar. Right before he closed the lid he whispered to you, said you were lucky he hadn’t put you through one of your own wine presses. No one heard that but you. Now you just want to regain the status you had before you got greedy.”

“How can you know this?” Sesmu’s tone was one of disbelief, but Jack could feel the underlying fear.

“Told ya. I got it straight from your own snaky little brain. By the way, that whole ‘getting in good with Ra’ thing you have planned? Not gonna work. Ra’s dead. We killed him.”

Astonished, Sesmu came to a halt on the platform. Apparently, it had not been able to access all of Jack’s memories.

“That price on our heads is strictly from the System Lords. But if you want to collect you better hurry. We’ve taken out a few of them, too.”

“This cannot be! You lie!” Jack could tell the Goa’uld was utterly shaken. “You shall be punished for this falsehood!”

“It’s the truth all right. And nothing you can do will shut me up.” Jack tried to project his memories of the deaths of Ra, Apophis, Hathor, Seth, Heru’ur and other Goa’uld as well as memories of every time he suffered at the hands of the Jaffa or even his fellow man.

Sesmu was silent for a moment. “So. Ra is indeed dead and you truly are willing to suffer and die for your people if necessary.” Sesmu turned on the platform and walked over to stand next to Daniel who was still kneeling in the grass. “Let us see if you care what happens to your friend.”

Jack could feel his foot pull back then Sesmu kicked Daniel hard between the legs. Daniel screamed and fell over. Jack thought Daniel may have passed out, but he wasn’t sure, because Sesmu wasn’t looking at him anymore. Jack hated not being able to choose what to look at.

“Every time you defy me, it is he who will suffer.” Sesmu knelt down next to Daniel and Jack could see that he had definitely passed out. “Consider that before you dare speak again.”

Jack fumed in silence as Sesmu used the unconscious man’s belt to tie his hands behind his back. “There is a chamber hidden deep within my palace which should still await me, despite the passage of time. I will array myself as befits a god then seek out the System Lords with my offering.” Sesmu hoisted Daniel onto one shoulder began marching down the ruined road.

~~~

Carter crouched down near the bottom of the pedestal. It was the only thing in the small room. The walls and floor were of cut stones, like the rest of the temple. However, unlike the rest of the temple, the walls were plain. The only decoration was on the base of the pedestal itself and on the urn that had once been displayed on top of it. Briefly she wondered if the lack of adornment itself had held some significance for the people of this planet. Too bad there were no indigenous people left to ask. The urn, now empty, was back at the lab being analyzed by Dr. Bill Lee. The pedestal was the same color as the stone, but seen up close, it was obviously made from a different material. She held the scanner in her left hand and fought the urge to keep her right hand on the butt of her Beretta – just in case.

“Major Carter, are you sure that’s safe?”

Carter flicked a glance over at the young Marine in the doorway. He was about her height and build with dark hair, dark eyes, and soft skin that looked like he’d never had to shave. Good Lord, she thought, he doesn’t look like he’s old enough to graduate high school, much less travel off-world. He fiddled nervously with his weapon. She couldn’t blame him. She felt nervous too, but she hoped she was better at hiding it.

“That’s what you’re here for,” she said. “But don’t worry. The only thing the scans are showing is a residual power source.”

“But what if it’s hidden? What if the scans are wrong or – “

“Corporal!” She spoke sharply to get his attention, and then used her best ‘confident’ voice. “The scans are functioning properly. There’s nothing hidden. There are no other Goa’uld here.

He swallowed then visibly pulled himself together. “Yes, Ma’am!”. He nodded at her and adjusted his grip on the P-90.

Carter turned her attention back to the pedestal and checked the readout on the scanner. There was definitely something there. She ran her right hand slowly over the markings on the base by the floor. She examined that section thoroughly then shifted to the right and repeated her actions. She fell into a rhythm as she searched – scan, feel, shift; scan, feel, shift. She finally found what she was looking for three-quarters of the way around on the left side of the base. She couldn’t help thinking that if she had gone to the left when she first started instead of the right, she would have saved herself a good twenty minutes of painstaking work. Oh, well. At least she had found it. Let’s see, press this and this at the same time, then twist this and voila!

With a slight hum, the pedestal rose up like a periscope, growing three feet taller. The crystal-based mechanism that had been hidden in the section of pedestal below the floor was now completely exposed. Carter smiled in satisfaction. Time to really get to work.

~~~

Daniel’s head was pounding. He was being jostled, and there was something hard poking him in the abdomen. Every jolt made his arms hurt, his head hurt, and his ribs hurt. His crotch felt like someone had set it on fire and then stomped out the flames. What the hell was going on? And what was with the jostling? Was he on a train? Slung across a pack mule? He opened his eyes. Oh. He opened his eye. The right one seemed to be swollen almost shut. He couldn’t see much, but most of what he could see was olive drab. Flashes of black moved in and out of his field of vision and it took him a moment to recognize that those were boots. It took another minute to remember everything that had happened right up to the damn Goa’uld kicking him where no man ever wants to be kicked. Now, he was draped over the Goa’uld’s shoulder as it was striding down the uneven remains of a road, surrounded by forest.

The Goa’uld came to a halt. It shrugged and dumped Daniel off of its shoulder. Daniel tried to catch himself before he realized his hands were tied behind his back. He landed in a painful heap on the broken remnants of the road. The Goa’uld stared down at him. One booted foot poked him in the chest. It grunted at him, but didn’t say anything. Daniel noticed that the right side of the body still wasn’t working quite right, either. He really hoped that meant that Jack was in there somewhere, fighting like hell for control.

Another grunt and the toe of the boot poked him in the side, right over his cracked ribs. Guessing that was his signal to walk, Daniel shifted around, trying to get into a position where he could rise without using his hands. Apparently he wasn’t fast enough for the Goa’uld. Casually, it flicked out its foot and pushed his hip, sending him sprawling again. He started to wiggle into position again when the Goa’uld reached out with its left hand, grabbed his arm, hauled him upright, and started walking.

~~~

Once more, Dr. Babbington flipped through the journal lying on the desk in front of him. The pages made a snapping sound as he vented his frustration on the book. The notes were written in English, Goa’uld, and a smattering of other languages. It had taken most of the linguists, several dictionaries and one Marine who happened to speak Dutch to translate everything. Apparently Dr. Jackson wasn’t fussy about what language he used when he took notes. The sloppy writing and abbreviated words were a hurried attempt to capture the bare bones of a thought as it flashed through his mind, to be fleshed out in lavish detail later when time allowed. Dr. Jackson never had that time. Babbington abruptly shoved the journal away. He hadn’t come up with anything new in the last couple of hours. Maybe, he thought uneasily, maybe he would have to play the video again.

In all the hours Babbington had been at this he had only watched the recording one time. As he filmed the temple walls, Daniel commented on the scene in front of him as usual. Babbington took notes as he listened to the off-the-cuff narration. Nobody had warned him that the attack had been recorded.

The suddenness and ferocity of the assault, the sounds of flesh hitting flesh, the blood, and Daniel’s cries of pain made Babbington sick to his stomach. What gave him chills was the absolute silence from O’Neill as he attacked his friend with unrelenting brutality.

Horrified, Babbington had fumbled at the DVD player for long seconds, eyes averted, trying to ignore the sounds coming from the speaker, before finally shutting the machine off. He sat for a minute until the shaking and nausea subsided, then pulled out Daniel’s pre-mission report and working journal and went to work. Now, hours later, it was time to admit he couldn’t go any further without seeing the video again. Making sure the disc was cued up to start at the very beginning, as far from the violence as it could get, he hit play.

~~~

Daniel staggered as his foot hit a rock. At least, he thought it was a rock. He might have stumbled for no reason. Everything hurt so much it was difficult to walk and they had been walking for what seemed like hours. The throbbing pain in his head and groin flared up with every step. If he could just get the pain under control, maybe he could think again.

A sudden shove between his shoulder blades sent him staggering again. This time, he lost his footing. With his hands bound behind him there was no way to regain his balance. His knees thumped to the ground first, then his chest. He turned his head to the side trying desperately not to smash his face. The impact knocked the wind out of him and sent a huge burst of pain all throughout his body. He thought he might pass out but then the pain subsided a bit. The same hand that had shoved him now roughly gripped the back of his jacket and hauled him upright.

“You know,” Daniel panted, trying to catch his breath, “if you’re in a hurry we’ll probably get to wherever we’re going a lot faster if you quit pushing me down.”

~~~

“It’s a time lock!”

Carter had barely stepped through the wormhole onto the ramp at the SGC when she started speaking. General Hammond and Teal’c, waiting for her at the bottom, both raised their eyebrows.

“A time lock?” asked Hammond. “The temple?”

Carter handed her weapon to the waiting airman. The gate room was loud with the metallic clomping of booted feet on the ramp. She moved to one side as the rest of the off-world team came through the gate behind her. They turned in their weapons and headed for the infirmary for the standard post-mission exam. Carter would join them after she finished briefing the General.

“The pedestal. It’s a time lock.” Carter said. “It was set to keep that Goa’uld inside for a certain time and then unlock. It was probably used as a punishment. Anyway, the Goa’uld was imprisoned for several thousand years. After that time, the pedestal was programmed to release the Goa’uld when the first viable candidate came by. Part of the mechanism released what I think was some kind of immobilizing gas. The canister was empty, but hopefully there will be enough residue for us to study. Once immobilized the victim would be unable to resist or defend themselves in any way while the urn opened and the Goa’uld took over.”

There was a pause while they each visualized what must have happened to Jack. Hammond paled and swore under his breath. Carter could see the muscles in Teal’c’s jaw shift as he clenched his teeth. She realized she was doing the same. She felt her eyes start to water and pushed the feeling aside. This was not the time indulge in her emotions. If she couldn’t stay detached then she wouldn’t be able to help her friends.

Taking a deep breath to steady herself, she continued. “If my calculations are correct, that time would have been up a few hundred years ago. Now, Daniel” her voice cracked slightly when she said his name, “Daniel said that the area had been abandoned for about a thousand years.”

Hammond nodded. “That’s right. Dr. Jackson said that in the briefing, though he did say that was a very rough estimate based on the rate of plant overgrowth and deterioration of the area surrounding the temple.”

“Right.” She took a deep breath. “I think that the area became deserted long before the lock opened. This means that there was nobody to trigger the release until we arrived. That room was one giant trap and the Colonel was the one to get caught.”

“If what you are saying is so, then it could have been anyone of us to have the misfortune to activate the system.” Teal’c frowned. “Had O’Neill not been the one to check the interior rooms, then it would most likely have been DanielJackson now enslaved as host.”

Hammond looked grim. “I don’t know which scenario is worse.” He paused for a moment. “Major Carter, after you visit the infirmary I’d like you to check in on Dr. Lee and see what he’s been able to learn about the urn. Teal’c, I’d like you to check in with Dr. Babbington. Perhaps you can help him determine just which Goa’uld we’re dealing with.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Indeed I shall, General Hammond.”

The small group split up. Hammond watched as Carter strode quickly down the corridor, with Teal’c half a pace behind her. He hoped to God his people could figure this out. Losing either Colonel O’Neill or Dr. Jackson to the Goa’uld would be bad enough. But to lose both...it would tear up the remaining members of SG-1. Hell, it would tear up the SGC itself. To be stripped of Dr. Jackson’s brilliance and O’Neill’s military expertise would be devastating. To also have their knowledge in the hands of the enemy could be a fatal blow. On a personal level, he couldn’t stand to think of how much the two men must be suffering and so far he hadn’t been able to do a damn thing to help them. Hammond walked to his office and for the first time he felt very old.

~~~

Mental warfare was far more exhausting than Jack expected. Yet, each time he was forced to rest he always started back up again as soon as he could. He still couldn’t do anything more than stop the Goa’uld from having full movement of the right side, but he took pleasure from the fact that it was annoying Sesmu. That alone gave him the energy to continue.

“This is pointless!” snapped Sesmu. “You cannot gain control.”

“Watch me.”

“This body is now mine. Accept your fate.”

“Sorry, Sesame. This body is occupado. No vacancy. No room at the inn. There’s only one per customer and I’m the customer.” Jack could feel his hold growing weak again. Each time he made headway he found that he had to rest sooner and that it took longer before he was ready to try again.

“Need I remind you that if you defy me, your friend will suffer?” As he had several times before to punish Jack, Sesmu pushed Daniel forcefully in the back. Daniel fell hard, narrowly avoiding bashing his face on the ground.

“Stop it! He’s no use to you. You don’t need him. He’s just slowing you down. Let him go!”

The Goa’uld grabbed the back of Daniel’s jacket and roughly pulled him to his feet. Winded and obviously hurting, Daniel spoke through clenched teeth. “You know, if you’re in a hurry we’ll probably get to wherever we’re going a lot faster if you quit pushing me down.”

If he could have, Jack would have laughed out loud. Way to go, Daniel, he thought proudly. Show the snake what you’ve got!

“Insolence!” Sesmu was furious. Jack could feel it trying to speak and focused his will on keeping his mouth shut. Briefly, he wondered what it must look like to Daniel when Jack and the Goa’uld fought over possession of Jack’s body. So far, Jack had been able to keep the Goa’uld from saying anything out loud. Too bad he didn’t have enough control to speak for himself.

Daniel spoke again keeping his tone low and soothing, “Look, I think it’s obvious that whatever you’re looking for it isn’t there anymore. Why don’t we go back to the stargate? We have friends that can help you. Maybe even find you a willing host.”

Not being able to speak only fueled Sesmu’s rage. It raised a hand to strike Daniel, who flinched and stepped back to avoid the blow. Sesmu followed, trying again to hit him. Even hampered as he was with his injuries and his bound hands, Daniel managed to evade the Goa’uld at first. Daniel turned away from Sesmu, hunching one shoulder and ducking his head, trying to protect his face. Sesmu was so focused on hurting Daniel that Jack was able to gain control of his right hand. While Sesmu grabbed at Daniel with the left hand, Jack was able to loosen Daniel’s bindings with his right hand. Sesmu satisfied himself with shaking Daniel and knocking him to the ground again.

Jack could feel the Goa’uld’s anger ebb. As it ebbed, so did Jack’s control of his hand. The bad news was Jack was right back to being barely able to hamper Sesmu’s movement. The good news was the Goa’uld hadn’t noticed what Jack had done. Loosening the bindings wasn’t much but it was a start. Maybe Jack could get control again. If not, at least Daniel had a better chance of getting away now than he had before. Jack might well end his days stuck in his own worst hell, but he consoled himself with the thought that Daniel might not share his fate.

RECOVERY

When Daniel had felt the hand loosen the belt around his wrists, hope for Jack surged within him, giving him a new energy. Jack was still in there, still fighting the Goa’uld, and still trying to help Daniel. As much as Daniel wanted to take advantage of the loosened bindings, he could not. Since the Goa’uld walked directly behind him, his hands were in full view of it at all times. Daniel had to be patient and wait.

Finally, night began to fall. The Goa’uld herded him a few feet into the woods beside the ancient road. When they got to a small clear spot, the Goa’uld pushed him to the ground then sat with its back to one of the trees. Daniel was getting to be an expert in How To Hit The Ground Without Using Your Hands And Not Further Injure Yourself. Perhaps he could add that to his lecture series at the SGC. His body felt like one big bruise. He was hungry, thirsty, and completely worn out. He didn’t bother trying to get up, but lay facing the Goa’uld. Finally, his hands were out of its sight.

“So,” he said, “I take it we’re stopping for the night.”

The Goa’uld shifted its gaze to him but made no other movement. Daniel was testing its mood. It hadn’t attacked him immediately this time, which was good.

“I don’t suppose you plan on building a fire. No? Any plans for dinner? Water? Anything like that?” Daniel wanted it to get used to hearing sound coming from him, just in case he made any noise trying to free his hands. If he was very lucky, it would decide to ignore him.

The Goa’uld continued to stare at him. It was eerie to see Jack’s face not be Jack’s, to have what looked like his friend stare at him with cold, dead eyes. Even in the gathering twilight, Daniel could see the arrogance and hostility it directed at him. He wondered why it hadn’t killed him yet. Then he thought that it might be best if he didn’t know what it had planned for him.

“Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve had a hell of a day and I could use a nap.” He shifted to get more comfortable on his bed of hard dirt and tree roots. He watched the Goa’uld from the corner of his eye. It turned its face away from him, put its hands in its lap and closed its eyes. That was Daniel’s cue. Very carefully, he started working on the belt that bound his hands.

~~~

Teal’c could faintly hear Daniel Jackson’s voice as he approached the door to Babbington’s office. Babbington was watching the tape, his back to the door, and didn’t notice Teal’c enter the room.

“Doctor Babbington, have you been able to determine anything of value?”

Startled, Babbington turned in his seat to look at Teal’c. He shook his head. “No, not yet. I’ve done as much as I can with the field notes. Now I’m hoping that maybe Dr. Jackson came across something germane in the frescoes.”

“Is there any way in which I may assist you?”

“No, I don’t-“ Babbington stopped abruptly. “Well, actually, there is a section near the end that I could us your help with.” He cued up the recording as he continued to speak. “Dr. Jackson said this last panel tells of a god who fell out of favor and was banished. He was doing a rough translation on the fly so some of the details may be a little off. The story is told in the ideograms. The name of the god is here, in this section that is unlike the others.”

Babbington paused the recording and zoomed in. Teal’c studied the blurry picture, hoping it would hold the key to his friends’ salvation. To his disappointment, it did not.

“The writing appears to be a variant of that used on Chulak, however it is not one with which I am familiar. I regret that I am unable to read it.”

“That might not matter.” Babbington scrabbled through the untidy papers that littered his desk. He pulled one out with a flourish.

“Here we go. Doctor Jackson said the same thing, that he wasn’t sure which variant it was. However, he also said that if it was Variant D then this would translate to a name. Sesmu.” Babbington looked hopefully at him. “Does that ring any bells?”

Teal’c smiled. “It does, indeed. Sesmu was a minor Goa’uld under Ra. He supplied wine to the highest ranking of the Goa’uld. Many thousand years ago, Sesmu fell into disfavor. Ra had him imprisoned and replaced with another to show that no one Goa’uld under his rule was indispensable.”

“Maybe that’s the Goa’uld that was in the jar. Do you know where this Sesmu was locked up?”

Teal’c shook his head. “No, I do not. However, the address to Sesmu’s former home world contains the four symbols used by Colonel O’Neill.” Teal’c felt hope return to him. With this knowledge, the search for his comrades could begin. Finally the waiting was over.

~~~

Daniel jerked awake. He had finally gotten his hands untied and the first rush of circulation hurt like hell. The muscles in his arms and shoulders were likewise painful from being in one position for so many hours. By the time he had released his bonds, it was pitch dark under the trees. He wasn’t sure how well the Goa’uld could see so he shifted enough to ease the pain in his arms without making it obvious that his hands were free. He had intended to wait long enough for the muscle cramps to ease up before he tried to take out the Goa’uld. The next thing he knew, he was waking up. Daniel felt better after his unintended nap. True, his muscles had stiffened up, but they felt less painful. He had more energy and was clear-headed.

A fair amount of time must have passed. It was still night, but at least one moon must have risen. In the faint light he could see the Goa’uld was still sitting against the tree with its eyes closed. Keeping his eyes locked on the Goa’uld, Daniel began to rise. He kept all his motions slow and cautious, trying to stay as quiet as possible. This would only work if he could get the drop on it. He had gotten onto his hands and knees when it moved. Daniel froze. It shifted a bit but then settled back down. Daniel brought one knee up, placed his foot on the ground and rose into a crouch. The Goa’uld was only a few feet away. Still stooped over, Daniel took two quiet steps forward. He squinted hard with his one good eye. The Goa’uld had ditched the vest and radio hours ago, but not the utility belt. Was Jack’s gun still in the holster? Daniel couldn’t tell in the dark. He’d have to find out the hard way.

Daniel took one more step forward and the Goa’uld’s eyes snapped open. Before it could get up, Daniel launched himself at it, slamming it back against the tree. The impact jarred him as well, but he kept struggling against it. He tried to keep the Goa’uld pinned down while groping for Jack’s gun. The Goa’uld surged up, flipping Daniel onto his back, pressing him down against the hard earth. Daniel clawed frantically for the holster at its hip. The Goa’uld wrapped both hands around Daniel’s neck and squeezed. He tried to push it off of him, but couldn’t. His chest burned with the need for air and he could feel himself losing consciousness. Briefly he wondered if this was what it would be like to drown.

As Daniel flailed ineffectively at the Goa’uld, he felt the handle of Jack’s knife hit one thrashing palm and he grabbed it. Snatching the knife from the scabbard, he stabbed the Goa’uld in the side, feeling the blade scrape against a rib. The Goa’uld arched up in pain, giving him the room he needed to get a knee between them and pry it away. It still had its hands around his neck, so Daniel stabbed it high up on the back, in the shoulder. Its grip eased a bit. He stabbed it again and the hands fell away. The Goa’uld collapsed on the ground, curled up on its side. Daniel took in huge gulps of air holding the knife ready in case it attacked.

The Goa’uld still hadn’t moved by the time Daniel caught his breath. He took the strap that had tied his own hands and began to tie the Goa’uld’s hands. His movements were awkward because he held onto the knife. He didn’t want to tie the Goa’uld’s hands behind its back because of the shoulder wound even though that would be less risky than tying them in front. As a compromise, Daniel slipped one end of the strap down behind the belt still on Jack’s pants, effectively pinning the Goa’uld’s hands at its waist.

As Daniel tugged at the knots, testing their strength, the Goa’uld finally stirred. Still lying on its side, it opened its eyes and Daniel could swear that it was Jack looking at him. It whispered his name.

“Jack? Is that you?” Daniel leaned forward cautiously, squinting in the dim light.

There was a slight nod and a barely heard “Daniel. Go.”

Daniel could feel his heart racing. That was Jack, still alive, still fighting. “I’m not going to leave you, okay? I’ll be right here with you,” Daniel assured his friend.

Jack gave one small shake of his head. “No. Go.” He sounded bone-weary and Daniel could barely hear him. “Run. Now.”

“No, I won’t go without you.” Daniel shook his head vehemently. “We don’t leave our people behind, remember?”

Daniel felt a chill as it suddenly occurred to him that the Goa’uld may have abandoned the injured man, hoping to change hosts. Even if he still had his glasses Daniel wouldn’t have been able to see it in the dark, but he couldn’t help looking around anyway. He could almost feel it creeping up on him and hunched his shoulders up as though that would protect his neck. “Jack, is the Goa’uld still in there?”

Jack moved his chin down once. Daniel took that as a nod. “Sesmu…here. Busy…fixing…me.” Jack had to take a breath between each whispered word.

“Sesmu?” Daniel recognized the name. His guess at the temple had been correct. “Jack, I’m going to help you to stand, okay? Then we’re going to walk back to the gate.”

Daniel put his hands under Jack’s arms and pulled him to a sitting position. Jack gasped, “Hurts.”

The sense memory of the blade scraping bone flared up and Daniel felt sick at what he had done. “I know, Jack. I’m sorry.” Daniel took a deep breath and focused on the task at hand. “I know it hurts, but you have to stand. I can’t carry you. We’ll get you to the Tok’ra but you’ll have to walk on your own.”

Daniel braced himself to haul Jack to his feet, but before Daniel could lift, Jack spoke again.

“Daniel…don’t...un…un” Jack faltered, breathing heavily.

“Don’t untie you?”

Jack did that same abbreviated nod.

“Okay, I won’t.”

“Promise.”

Daniel hunkered down so that he was looking directly into Jack’s eyes. They were the eyes of a man on the last ragged edge of pain and exhaustion, but they were Jack’s eyes and it was Jack looking back at him.

“I swear,” said Daniel, “that no matter what happens, I will not untie your hands.”

Jack smiled faintly and leaned his forehead against Daniel’s. “Good…boy.”

It took a minute of careful maneuvering, but Daniel managed to get Jack upright without too much pain. Jack swayed a little, but he stood on his own. When the Goa’uld, Sesmu, had first captured Daniel, it had discarded his weapons and used the belt from his BDU pants to tie his hands, but left Daniel’s utility belt in place. Daniel quickly transferred Jack’s pistol to his own holster and made sure the tie-down strap was fastened. He didn’t sheath the knife.

With his other hand, Daniel took Jack’s elbow and guided him back to the road. It was difficult for both of them. There was very little moonlight under the trees so they had to feel their way step by step over the broken ground. Whether from pain, exhaustion, or a reemergence of Sesmu, Jack tended to stumble and lurch. Already fatigued by his own ordeal, Daniel could feel himself quickly tiring each time he kept Jack from falling.

As he kept them moving forward in the dark, Daniel was thinking furiously. If his resources were being strained by a docile Jack, what would happen if Sesmu made a come back? Jack only had control because Sesmu was fully occupied repairing the damage Daniel had done during the fight. At some point as the body healed Sesmu would take over. There was a distinct possibility that it could free itself and take Daniel prisoner again. Even if it couldn’t free itself, all Sesmu had to do was refuse to move. Daniel was in no shape to force it to walk or to carry it, and Jack would be lost.

Daniel had to have a plan already in place and he better think of it now, because he had no idea how long it would be before Sesmu reappeared. Time for some of that out of the box thinking everyone said he was so good at. Basically, Daniel’s best bet for success was to keep the Goa’uld dormant and Jack in control. And the one way he knew for sure to do that... Daniel’s hand clenched involuntarily around the hilt of the knife. Yeah. Out of the box alright. Daniel really hoped it wouldn’t come to that.

~~~

“I’m sorry, Major Carter. There’s not much I can tell you at the moment.” Dr. Bill Lee fidgeted with his glasses. “Initial examinations show that the urn is made of ordinary ceramic, so we’re using the standard multi-method qualitative procedures that we would for anything else the archeology department sent over.”

“Do you have the results?” She ran a hand through her hair, frowning.

“Some. We didn’t get anything unusual until we did the petrographical analysis of the thin-sections. The back-scattered electron images showed an unknown element in the ceramic matrix.”

“What is it?” Carter spoke more sharply than she meant to and took a calming breath before continuing. “If we can find out what that unknown element is we might be able to pinpoint the planet where the container was made.”

“We don’t know yet. We’re doing spectrographic analysis on the sample and at the same time, we’re comparing the specimen to the other thin-sections in both the archeology and geology data bases. We’re working as fast as we can, but it’s still going to take time.”

Dr. Lee looked as frustrated as Carter felt. She was really hoping the analysis of the urn would have come up with something, anything that could be used to find Daniel and the Colonel.

“So at this point all we can do is wait for the results?” she asked.

He nodded. “With any luck we’ll find a match near the beginning of the data base search. If that’s the case, it won’t take as long.”

As Dr. Lee finished speaking, his computer beeped. The two scientists hurried over to it. Dr. Lee tapped a couple of keys and smiled. “We have a winner. There’s a match in the geology database.”

~~~

A second, far brighter moon had joined the first one. The extra light made their journey easier. They had stopped once, where a stream crossed the road. With no sterilizers, drinking the water was risky, but both of them were dehydrated. Daniel asked Jack whether they should chance it, which Jack found very comforting, even though all he could do was nod in reply. There was just something so normal about Daniel looking to Jack for guidance that it made his situation less frightening. Daniel cupped his hands and helped Jack drink then pulled a couple of squashed power bars from a pocket on his pant leg. He fed one bar to Jack before eating the other and then slaking his own thirst.

When they got back on the road, Jack no longer needed a steadying hand, so Daniel stayed behind him. Jack never thought he’d see the day where getting better was A Bad Thing. The excruciating pain in his side and shoulder had dulled down to an ache. It didn’t hurt to breathe anymore and while he didn’t exactly have a spring in his step, it wasn’t such an effort to move. He wondered how much longer he had before Sesmu finished tidying up and took control.

Oh, crap. Not as long as he thought, apparently. Jack felt his left hand move again, pulling against the bindings. He opened his mouth to warn Daniel, and Sesmu shut it hard enough to make his teeth clack together. Jack managed to make a grunting noise before Sesmu clamped down with a vengeance, shutting Jack out entirely.

“Jack?” Daniel touched his arm. “Are you okay?”

Sesmu swung around to face Daniel, straining to break the bonds on its wrists. Daniel immediately pulled back and held out the knife in a defensive position.

“Oookaaay.” Daniel peered into its face. “We’ve had a change of command, haven’t we?”

Sesmu lunged at Daniel, who stepped aside easily. Sesmu turned and charged at him again. This time Daniel knocked it to the ground.

“Not such a hot shot without that sucker punch, are ya, Semi?”

“You will be quiet,”snapped Sesmu. Jack could feel a tiredness underlying its irritation.

“Quiet? Me? You’ve obviously forgotten who you’re dealing with here. Jack O’Neill, leader of SG-1? Legendary Tau’ri warrior? Jack the Gao’uld Killer? Any of this ringing a bell?" Jack could feel its anger building as he taunted it. If he could make it mad enough it might focus on him and leave Daniel alone.

“Silence!”

“Or what? You’re gonna stop wallowing in the dirt here and get up so Daniel can smack you down again?” Jack projected as much sarcasm and contempt at Sesmu as he could. It was like poking a bee’s nest with a stick. Sesmu fairly hummed with rage as Daniel moved closer.

Daniel stood over Sesmu. “We haven’t been properly introduced. I’m Dr. Daniel Jackson and that man whose body you’ve usurped is my friend, Colonel Jack O’Neill. Now, whether you like it or not, you don’t get to keep him. Our friends the Tok’ra can remove you safely. Who knows? Maybe they’ll even find you a host. A willing one. But you can’t have Jack.”

As Daniel finished, Jack felt his body stop breathing. He knew it would take several minutes for him to die this way, but he’d be unconscious long before that happened. He wondered how long Sesmu would have to restart his body before death was permanent. His eyes rolled up into his head and there was a rushing noise in his ears. Jack could barely hear Daniel’s panicked voice.

“All right! I get it! You can kill him any time you want. Now, let him breathe!”

Jack felt the cool night air rush in and soothe the burning in his lungs as Sesmu let him take breath after sweet breath. Waves of triumph from Sesmu washed over him. The snake thought it had won. Jack hoped it was wrong.

Daniel knelt down next to him. Jack was pleased to see that Daniel was cautious enough to say out of reach even though the Goa’uld’s hands were still bound.

“If you think that little demonstration means that I’m going to let you take Jack, you are sadly mistaken.” Daniel’s words were full of conviction and determination. “I know that Jack would rather be dead than live as a host, so if I have to, then I’ll kill you both. As it happens, I want my friend back which means that you get to live too.”

“Your companion is a fool who does not know when he is defeated,” sneered Sesmu.

“Big talk from someone trussed up and flat out on the ground.” Jack knew Daniel would think of something, he just wasn’t sure what it would be. Then Daniel shifted his grip on the knife and suddenly Jack knew exactly what he meant to do. It was a brilliant move.

“I know you won’t cooperate so I’m going to put Jack back in control.” Daniel shuffled forward on his knees then hesitated. “Jack, if you can hear me, I’m sorry. I know it… I don’t…oh, God…” Daniel wavered, the knife tip lowering.

“You see? He fails you even now,” crowed Sesmu.

“Don’t count him out yet, Mu-Shu. Daniel’s the strongest person I know. He’ll do it,” said Jack. Please, please let him do it, he thought. Come on, Daniel. You know what you have to do. Just do it, please, please, please…

Suddenly, Daniel leaned over and pressed one hand to Sesmu’s chest, pinning the Goa’uld to the ground. Looking straight into its eyes, Daniel made the first cut.

~~~

Hammond stood at the briefing room window contemplating the Stargate. For good or bad, the gate had made an impact on everyone that knew of it. Now it had taken two of the finest men he had ever met. He knew it was just his imagination, but as he stared at it, the gate seemed to darken, looming over the gate room with a sinister air. A movement caught his eye and he saw Teal’c reflected in the glass of the window walking silently toward him.

“General Hammond, may I speak with you?”

Hammond turned to face Teal’c. He hoped he looked as imperturbable as Teal’c did and wondered what it would take to disturb the Jaffa’s constant air of calm. “Certainly, Teal’c. What can I do for you?”

“I believe we may have located Colonel O’Neill’s destination. Based on information supplied by Doctor Babbington and by Daniel Jackson himself, I think it most probable that O’Neill was taken as host by Sesmu, a minor god under Ra’s dominion. The address to Sesmu’s planet of origin contains the symbols which I observed.”

Hammond felt his heartbeat quicken. “Are you sure?”

“I will be more certain once we journey to the planet and begin our search. A team could be ready within the hour, could it not?”

“I understand your eagerness, Teal’c, but I can’t send a team through the gate without knowing what’s on the other side.”

“Doctor Babbington cross checked the dialing address I provided against the list of addresses in the SGC computers. The planet is designated as PX2-485 and was visited many months ago by SG-13. Colonel Dixon’s report states that the planet appears to be uninhabited and although suitable for agricultural development, it offers little by way of mineral resources.”

Hammond thought for a minute. If the planet was deserted, and if no Jaffa had taken up residence since SG-13 had visited, then it would be a simple matter to gate through and look for signs that Colonel O’Neill and Doctor Jackson had been there. “Very well. I’ll want a MALP sent through first, then –“

Hammond broke off at the sound of booted feet racing up the stairway in the corner of the room. He looked over to see Major Carter hurrying toward him. Her face was flushed and she was smiling.

“Sir! I think I know where they!” she exclaimed. She came to a halt between him and Teal’c. “Dr. Lee did an analysis of the urn and found an anomaly in the material consistent with a mineral we found in the soil on PX2-485. That anomaly is NOT found on the planet where the temple is. Now, I’ve-”

Hammond interrupted her. “Did you say PX2-485?”

“Yes, sir.” Carter tilted her head at him inquiringly.

Hammond looked at Teal’c who nodded in confirmation. “That settles it, then. Major, I want a MALP sent through ASAP. You, Teal’c and SG-3 are to be ready for S and R within the hour. Teal’c, please inform Major Feretti and have him prepare his team. Dismissed.”

Hammond watched as they hurried off to organize the rescue, and then turned again to the Stargate. It no longer seemed dark or threatening. The sinister air had been dispelled by the hope of recovering his missing men.

~~~

Teal’c stepped through the gate first, his staff weapon held ready for use. Although the MALP had shown no activity, he felt it was only prudent to be prepared for hostile activity. As Major Carter and the others arrived behind him, he was already scanning the ground for any sign that O’Neill and Daniel Jackson had passed that way. He quickly found what he was seeking. He moved carefully to study the marks without obliterating them. He looked up at the platform when Major Feretti called out to him.

“Hey, Big T, is it okay if we step off over on this side?” Feretti pointed away from where Teal’c was crouched. “I don’t want to mess up any tracks.”

“That will be acceptable. The majority of the signs are over here.” As the rest of the team gathered around him, Teal’c pointed out the marks. He was always surprised at how little most of the military personnel knew about tracking. Specially trained warriors such as O’Neill and Feretti were much better than the others, but not even they could match Teal’c’s skill. He used these tracks for what Daniel Jackson would call a “learning opportunity” and quickly outlined the sequence of events from the time his friends arrived on the planet to the time they left the clearing.

“There’s only one set of footprints. How can you be sure they both left here?” asked Lieutenant Stepanovich.

Teal’c pointed to two boot prints, pleased to see that Bassler and Evans were also paying close attention. “Note that this impression is much deeper than the other. The ground is as firm under each so the difference must be in the weight pressing upon it.”

Evans nodded. “Okay. Gotcha. But how do you know it was Colonel O’Neill carrying Doctor Jackson and not the other way around?”

“O’Neill’s boot is one half size larger than Daniel Jackson’s. It is the larger print that is holding the weight.” Teal’c stood up. “Now let us pursue our comrades. It will be dark soon and I wish to cover as much ground as possible while there is light enough to do so.”

The group moved out with Teal’c on point and Major Carter immediately behind him. Bassler covered the rear. After only a few minutes walk into the trees, Teal’c heard something moving on the road up ahead of them. He gestured and everyone quickly melted into the trees on either side of the road, weapons ready to ambush whoever was coming.

To their surprise, it was Colonel O’Neill carefully picking his way over the broken paving stones followed by Daniel Jackson. O’Neill’s hands were bound at this waist with the belt from a BDU. His uniform was tattered and covered in blood. With his eyes half closed and his clumsy movements, he seemed to be working on auto pilot.

Daniel wasn’t in much better shape. His uniform was in better shape and far less bloody, but his face was battered, one eye was swollen shut, and he had deep purple bruises covering that side of his face and around his throat. In one hand he held a survival knife, walking as though it took all his concentration just to put one foot in front of the other.

“Colonel! Daniel!” Carter stepped out from the tree line, but Teal’c grabbed her arm and kept her in place.

“Remember,” advised Teal’c, “that at least one of them is a Goa’uld.”

Feretti stepped onto the road. “Hey, Doctor J. Good to see you.” His tone was friendly, but he had his finger on the trigger of his P-90.

Teal’c realeased Carter’s arm. “I can sense only one Gao’uld presence. Daniel Jackson is not a host.”

It was only when Feretti spoke up that O’Neill and Jackson seemed to notice the people standing a few feet away and came to a halt. O’Neill shut his eyes and swayed unsteadily on his feet. Daniel blinked a few times, staring at them.

“Sam? Lou? What are you doing here?” Daniel’s voice was raspy and he seemed confused.

“We’re here to rescue you, Daniel” Carter’s voice cracked as she took in their condition.

“Rescue me?” Daniel had to think about that for a minute. “Oh. Um. Right. Jack’s a Goa’uld so don’t untie him until after we get him to the Tok’ra.”

“Indeed, we shall not,” Teal’c assured Daniel, stepping forward to face O’Neill. “I would in fact suggest that we use these instead.” Teal’c reached into the cargo pocket on his pants and pulled out a set of manacles. O’Neill made no attempt to move as Teal’c fastened the chain around O’Neill’s waist and secured the handcuffs around his wrists. Once O’Neill was fully secured, Teal’c removed the improvised bindings.

This close, Teal’c could see that O’Neill’s clothing was not torn but had in fact been cut. Considering the knife in Daniel Jackson’s hand, Teal’c was certain he knew what had transpired. Glancing at Major Carter, he could see that she was already distressed at the appearance of her team mates and decided to keep his knowledge to himself.

Carter took the stained knife from Daniel and put one arm around him. “We can take the Colonel straight to the Tok’ra,” she said to Teal’c. “They’re on standby just waiting for us.” She turned to Daniel. “SG-3 will take you straight to the infirmary at the SGC.”

Daniel was more aware than he had been at first. He shook his head. “No. I’m going with you to the Tok’ra.”

“You need to be in the infirmary.”

He shook his head again. “No. I promised Jack.”

“Daniel, you’re hurt. We need to get you to the infirmary as soon as possible.”

“Sam, I’m not going to leave Jack. Besides the hand device the Tok’ra have can do a lot more for me than the infirmary.”

Feretti grinned. “He’s got you there, Major.”

Carter frowned at him. She opened her mouth to reply, but Teal’c spoke first. “Daniel Jackson is correct. The hand device will take care of his injuries far faster than a stay in the infirmary. Therefore, he will come with us to the Tok’ra base. Major Feretti, you and your team are to return to the SGC and notify General Hammond and Doctor Frasier that we will be returning as soon as the Tok’ra pronounce Colonel O’Neill and Doctor Jackson fit for travel.”

“You got it, T. We’ll make sure you guys get through the gate okay, and then we’ll scamper off home and have Doc fluff the pillows for you.”

With that, they headed back to the gate.

~~~

Rushing through the wormhole threw Daniel off balance. As he and Carter arrived at the Tok’ra base, he stumbled and would have fallen flat on his face if not for her support. His head was spinning and his limbs felt boneless. Jack and Teal’c had gone through the wormhole before them and judging by the grip Teal’c had on him, Jack was in a similar state. Waiting for them were Jacob Carter and a Tok’ra that Daniel didn’t recognize. Then again, with no glasses and one eye swollen shut, Daniel was lucky to identify Jacob.

“Holy Hannah!” exclaimed Jacob. “You fellas look like you’ve really been through the mill! Must have been a hell of a fight.”

Too tired to speak, Daniel just nodded.

Carter let go of Daniel long enough to give her father a quick hug. “I’ve got a feeling we don’t know the half of it, Dad” she said grimly.

Daniel was thankful that she immediately returned to his side because he wasn’t sure how long he could stand on his own. He glanced over to see how Jack was doing. Teal’c had Jack clenched against his side. One arm was around Jack’s waist pulling Jack into him. Teal’c’s other hand gripped Jack’s upper arm nearest to Teal’c’s own body, locking Jack into place. Jack was swaying, eyes closed, and Daniel could see his muscles trembling. It seemed as though Teal’c was the only thing holding him upright.

Jacob gestured to the Tok’ra standing next to him. “This is Elliazor. He’ll be performing the procedure on Jack.”

“I suggest we proceed with all haste,” said Teal’c. “I believe Colonel O’Neill to be at the point of collapse.”

“Certainly,” nodded Elliazor. Unlike Jacob, he spoke in the deep tones of the symbiote. “Please come this way. It is but a short distance.”

Elliazor led the way down the corridor with Jack and Teal’c close behind him. Jacob dropped back and helped Carter with Daniel. Flanked by Carter and Jacob, Daniel felt as though he was floating as they propelled him down the hallway. He saw the others turn into a doorway ahead and expected to follow them in. Instead, Jacob kept going down the corridor.

“Stop! Where are we going?” Daniel tried to slow down but his helpers kept him moving.

“It’s okay, Danny,” soothed Jacob. “I’m taking you to my quarters so you can lie down and rest while Selmac uses the hand device to heal you.”

“No!” Daniel struggled to turn around. “We missed Jack! We’ve got to go back!”

“The Colonel’s okay, Daniel,” said Carter. “You got him to safety; now let us take care of you.”

Daniel’s lips were set in a firm line. “No,” he repeated stubbornly. “I didn’t come all this way just to abandon him at the very end.” He dug his heels into the floor and went totally limp, forcing them to halt and catch him.

Jacob looked him over with a critical eye. “Even with the bruises and the swelling I know a mulish look when I see one.”

Daniel stared at him. “Trust me, Jacob, it’ll be quicker to give in and take me to Jack than to try to move me against my will.”

“Yeah,” sighed Jacob. “Selmac agrees. Okay, kiddo. You’ve got your wish.”

It only took a few moments for Daniel and his escort to get back down the hall. The first thing Daniel saw as they entered the room was Jack lying on a table. His eyes were closed and he was still shackled. Teal’c stood at attention off to one side. Elliazor and two other Tok’ra were adjusting various pieces of equipment including a holding tank for the Goa’uld. In other circumstances, Daniel would be curious and asking questions about the equipment and the procedure. At the moment, all he cared about was Jack.

Elliazor looked questioningly at Jacob, who just shrugged, so the Tok’ra spoke directly to Daniel. “Dr. Jackson, we have already administered the sedatives for the host and for the symbiote. If Colonel O’Neill is not asleep yet, he will be shortly.”

Daniel shook off the hands holding him up and walked over to Jack. Using the table edge for support, he leaned over and softly called Jack’s name. Slowly, Jack’s eyes opened.

“You’re going to be okay, Jack.” Daniel tried to smile reassuringly at him, though the pain from his split lip reminded him what his face must look like.

Jack squinched his eyebrows together, looking uncertain. “You trust them?” he asked in a whisper.

“I do,” Daniel nodded solemnly, “and I’ll be right here to keep an eye on them. I promise you, Jack, if for some reason this doesn’t work, you will not have to live as a host. I’ll kill you myself if I have to. You have my word.”

Jack smiled faintly. “Thank you, Daniel,” he murmured and then closed his eyes and went to sleep.

~~~

The infirmary at the SGC was dimly lit due to the late hour. Carter pulled the blanket up around Daniel’s shoulders, careful to avoid the wires hooking him up to the monitoring equipment. He never moved as she gently ran one finger over his eyebrow, still amazed at what a thorough job the hand device had done. Not a trace of the bruising or swelling remained. Even the split lip was healed up as though it had never been. Her father had assured her that all of the internal injuries had been healed just as completely. Carter looked over at the Colonel; sound asleep in the bed on the other side of Daniel.

“It’s a miracle, isn’t it?”

Carter looked over her shoulder. “Hey, Janet. I thought your shift ended.”

Dr. Frasier moved between the two beds and looked at the monitor readings for each man. “It did. I just wanted to check on them one more time before I go home. I promised the sitter I wouldn’t be too late.” She examined the IV in the back of the Colonel’s hand, and then patted his arm. “I can’t believe how lucky we were to find them.”

Carter gently brushed one hand through Daniel’s hair. “I know what you mean. It almost doesn’t seem real. Two days we thought we might never see either of them again and now here they are, sleeping soundly with not a scratch on them.”

“Sleep being the operative word.” Dr. Frasier looked pointedly at Carter. “That’s something you could use as well.”

“Janet –“

Dr. Frasier cut off Carter’s protest with raised hand. “Even without the sedative, they would both be asleep from exhaustion. As it is, I can guarantee you that they won’t be awake for hours. You should get some food and go rest up yourself.”

Carter shook her head. “I’ve already freshened up and had a bite. Teal’c’s off doing the same now.”

“Sam, I know how hard you two worked trying to find them and how little sleep you’ve had.”

“Janet, I promise, once Teal’c gets back I’ll go lie down for a bit, okay?”

“Okay.” Dr. Frasier hesitated a moment, “Sam, the medical data that the Tok’ra sent back with them included a list of the injuries that Daniel and the Colonel had sustained. It was a pretty long list. Do you have any idea what happened out there?”

Carter shook her head slowly, her eyes locked on Daniel’s sleeping face. “No. When we found them, they were in no condition to talk and they’ve been out of it since we got them to the Tok’ra.”

“I have a feeling that treating their physical injuries will be the least of their problems.” Dr. Frasier put her hand on O’Neill’s shoulder. “I just hope their friendship is strong enough to get them through the rest.”

AFTERMATH

Carter grabbed a glass of juice and put it on her tray next to the yogurt, then moved along the line to check out the other breakfast foods. She took a bowl of fresh fruit salad and went to sit with Teal’c. As usual, his tray was piled high with food. Granted, he was a big guy – well over six feet tall, shoulders as wide as an axe handle, and with more muscles than two other guys put together. He could (and did) eat like this for every meal without gaining an ounce, whereas tall slender Carter had to work very hard to maintain the ‘slender’ part. She looked at his double stack of pancakes then back to her dinky cup of yogurt and sighed. Some things were so unfair.

It was still early, so for the moment they had the commissary to themselves. They ate in silence for a few minutes before Carter spoke. “Teal’c, I’m concerned about the Colonel and Daniel.”

“As am I, MajorCarter.”

“I mean, the Colonel got Goa’ulded then beat up Daniel and kidnapped him …”

“And DanielJackson was forced to injure O’Neill repeatedly in order to free him from the Goa’uld.” Teal’c made short work of the pancakes and dug into the plate full of bacon, sausage links, and sausage patties.

“Right. Even though everything worked out in the end, there’s bound to be a lot of emotional fallout from something like that, but it’s been almost three weeks. Things should be getting better between them, but I don’t think it is.”

“I believe you are correct. However, it is my understanding that Dr. MacKenzie has approved both men for off-world travel and they are no longer required to visit him.” The inflection was so subtle that most people would never have heard it, but to his team mate, it conveyed his acute dislike of the doctor.

“I know, but the Colonel just seems – off.” She frowned, trying to define just what was bothering her. “He’s spending more and more time in his office. And he’s been so…so quiet. It’s just not like him.”

“Agreed. Daniel Jackson is likewise subdued. Moreover, his appearance suggests that he is still unable to sleep well.”

Carter nodded in agreement. She had bumped into Daniel the day before and was dismayed by how tired and unkempt her friend looked.

“Speak of the devil,” she said softly.

Teal’c raised an eyebrow. “On the contrary, I was speaking of DanielJackson.

“I’ll explain later.” Using her chin to point, she discreetly gestured to the other end of the commissary.

They turned to watch as Daniel headed straight for the large coffee urns at the far end of the room. He was holding the empty carafe from the coffeemaker in his office. His hair was rumpled, there were dark circles under his eyes and he had what looked like a pillow mark creasing one side of his face. His BDU’s were not only extremely wrinkled but loose, as though he had lost weight since his return. Carter and Teal’c watched as he filled the carafe. Before he could leave, Teal’c called out to him.

“DanielJackson. Will you not join us for the morning meal?”

Daniel looked over in surprise, noticing them for the first time. “Oh, um, thanks, guys but I’m not hungry.”

“Please, Daniel?” Carter asked. “We’ve hardly seen you since we got back from – since we got back.”

Daniel ducked his head and fiddled with the carafe. “I’m, uh, I’m sorry guys. I’ve just been really, um, busy.”

Teal’c seemed displeased by Daniel Jackson’s refusal to join them. “In that case, you must be in even more need of sustenance.”

“Oh.” Daniel hurried over to the refrigerated case. “I’ll be sure to eat.” He grabbed a protein drink and waved it at them. “See? I’m eating. I’m just gonna eat in my office.” He slipped out the door as he spoke.

Carter and Teal’c traded grim looks.

She flicked her fork into the empty fruit bowl harder than was necessary. “If the Colonel and Daniel are still acting like this in three days...”

Teal’c nodded. “Then we shall be forced to intervene.”

~~~

Jack typed, erased, and typed again. The slow clicking of the keys was a muted counterpoint to his muttering and frustrated sighs. He only had one sentence to show for 15 minutes work. Exhaling sharply, he ran a hand through his hair, rubbed his eyes and deleted the sentence. Crap, this was hard.

Twenty minutes later, his memo to General Hammond was as done as it was ever going to be. Jack still wasn’t happy with it, but then again, he wasn’t happy with what he had to do. He looked over the end result.

I hereby respectfully request a transfer from SG-1. As there are no missions presently scheduled, I would ask that it be effective immediately.”

Short and to the point. All that typing and retyping and he ended up with what he had written to begin with. Jack checked his watch. Good. General Hammond should still be in a meeting at the Air Force Academy. Now to slip the memo on the General’s desk while the office was still empty. Jack felt a brief pang of conscience for being too much of a coward to hand it directly to Hammond. Then again, he thought, if he wasn’t such a coward he wouldn’t be leaving his team in the first place.

~~~

Daniel sat at his desk, staring blankly at his computer, hands unmoving on the keyboard. He’d been at work for hours and had gotten almost nothing done. He couldn’t stop thinking about what he had done to Jack. Add to that yet another sleepless night and he was lucky he had accomplished anything at all.

Even during the day, with his eyes open, he could visualize the knife cutting into Jack and the blood welling up. At night, though… at night it was so much worse. His dreams were full of cutting, stabbing, blood and torment. Mostly it was Jack’s blood but some of it was his. There were times in the dreams when he was both the victim and the perpetrator at once. He sliced and was cut. He saw blood and was bleeding. He screamed and screamed but no one heard his cries. He already knew that the nightmares were going to be added to the list of recurring ones that would plague him the rest of his life. Sure, he had spent a few hours with Dr. MacKenzie, as ordered. But Daniel was smart enough to know what Mack the Quack needed to hear in order to sign off and close the file.

“Daniel? Daniel!”

Startled, Daniel looked up to find Carter standing in his doorway.

“Geez, Daniel. You were really out of it.” She frowned a little “Want to tell me what’s wrong?”

There’s nothing wrong, thought Daniel. I deliberately carved up my friend. What could possibly be wrong? Carter’s eyebrow rose and for a second he was afraid he’d spoken out loud. Then he realized she was still waiting for an answer.

“No, no,” he said hastily. “Nothing’s wrong, just working.” He tried to smile but it felt strained even to him.

Carter looked at him skeptically, and then gestured to the screen saver floating across his computer monitor. “Typing away, were you?”

Daniel blushed slightly. “No, not…not typing. I was, um, thinking. The translation of that tablet that SG-11 brought back is kind of tricky. I was just going over it in my head. What, um, what can I do for you?”

Carter didn’t say anything right away. He could tell she was trying to decide whether to call him on his obviously bogus explanation. Apparently she decided to let it slide. “I was just on my way to lunch. Thought I’d see if you wanted to join me.”

At least someone on the team still wanted him around. Well, to be fair, Teal'c also seemed to be fine with him. If only Jack would make it unanimous. “I’d love to Sam, but there’s something I have to take care of first. Can I take a rain check?”

She looked disappointed, but nodded and said, “I understand. If you change your mind you know where to find me.” She hesitated then added, “If you need anything, anything at all, just let me know.”

“Thanks, Sam. I will.”

Daniel sat staring at the doorway long minutes after Carter left, thinking. Jack hadn’t come by to get him for lunch today, just like he hadn’t come by yesterday or the day before. Even if he didn’t come to get Daniel for lunch, Jack still stopped by several times a day. Sometimes it was job related, but he also stopped by to chat or fidget with whatever he could get his hands on.

At least, Jack used to come by.

Jack hadn’t come to Daniel’s office since they had returned to the SGC. The only times Daniel had seen him were purely by accident as they passed in the hallways. Each time, Jack hurried by, eyes downcast or looking past Daniel down the corridor, tossing off remarks like “Busy day” or “Gotta run” or “I’m really late”. Daniel could swear that one time Jack had even ducked into a supply closet to avoid him.

This had gone on long enough. It was time to confront Jack and apologize. He had to make Jack realize that the only way to keep the Goa’uld from overpowering Daniel, who wasn’t in top form as it was, was to keep it weakened. And the only way Daniel had of doing that was to keep it busy healing the host.

Daniel left his office to look for Jack.

~~~

Normally, Jack would be tempted to make the rounds of the SGC to avoid sitting in his office waiting for the inevitable phone call from General Hammond. These days, however, roaming the halls presented its own problem, namely running into Daniel.

He couldn’t look at Daniel’s face without seeing his fist smashing into it, remembering the feel of the impact with Daniel’s flesh, hearing the crunch of bones, the meaty smack as flesh bruised and split.

Forget the fact that they were friends; it was Jack’s job to protect Daniel. Not only did he abjectly fail to protect him, but Jack had been the one to hurt him. That damned Goa’uld had had total control of Jack’s body. It kept him immobile but it let him see everything, hear everything, feel everything. He had railed against it, shouting and cursing it in his mind. In return it laughed at him, ignoring the vitriol and enjoying his frantic attempts to retake his own muscles.

Despite the abuse he suffered at Jack’s hands, Daniel had saved him. Daniel, being Daniel, always did the right thing, regardless of his personal feelings in the matter. Daniel had suffered enough. He didn’t deserve to spend every day forced to work with his tormentor. No, the best way for Jack to show his gratitude was by leaving the team.

Jack had been in his office only a few minutes when the phone rang. If it was Hammond, then the meeting had been a short one. Jack picked up the receiver, hoping it was someone else. “O’Neill.”

“Colonel, is this some kind of joke?” It was Hammond, and he was definitely ticked.

“I, ah, see you got my memo, General.” Jack fidgeted with a pencil, rolling it back and forth on the desk top.

“What in the blazes do you think you are doing?” snapped Hammond.

Jack winced at the tone. “After what happened between us, Sir, I’m sure you’ll agree that there’s only room for one of us on SG-1.”

“I take it, then, that you haven’t talked to Dr. Jackson about the, ah, incident?”

“Talk to him? Sir, I can’t even look at him. SG-1 will have to look for a new team member.”

“Colonel….” Hammond’s voice became concerned, “Jack, I think if you just sit down and talk to Dr. Jackson you’ll realize things are not as bad as you think. Nobody, least of all Dr. Jackson, blames you for what happened. Don’t look for guilt where there is none.”

“Oh, there’s plenty of guilt here, General. I walked into that room, I got snaked, and I hurt Daniel. It’s my fault, every bit of it.”

Hammond sighed. “Jack, I think you’ll find that you’re the only one who sees it that way. If you hadn’t set off that trap, then Dr. Jackson would have. Tell me, if that had been the case, would you have blamed Dr. Jackson for what the Goa’uld did while he used him as a host?”

“God, no!” exclaimed Jack.

“Then cut yourself the same slack. Now, I’m not going to make this an order yet, but talk to Dr. Jackson. Until you clear this up, SG-1 is grounded. Is that understood?”

“Understood, Sir.”

Jack hung up the phone. Resting both elbows on the desk he put his head in his hands. The last thing he wanted to do was talk to Daniel. Sure, maybe they could still work together as Hammond had implied, but Daniel wouldn’t want anything else to do with Jack. Their relationship would be distant, impersonal, and professional. He didn’t want to hear Daniel’s anger and contempt as he demoted Jack to co-worker. The longer Jack put off the talk, the longer he could pretend they were still friends.

¬¬¬¬¬¬~~~

Daniel poked his head into the gym. Nope. No Jack here, either. As he turned to leave he almost collided with Sgt. Siler in the doorway. “Oh, excuse me!”

“Sorry, Dr. Jackson. I didn’t expect you to come back out so suddenly.”

“Yeah, sorry about that. Um, I’m looking for Colonel O’Neill. Have you seen him today?”

“The Colonel’s been in his office a lot lately. You might try there first.”

“Great. Thanks, Sergeant.”

“No problem, Dr. J.”

Daniel went straight to the elevator. He swiped his card through the reader. The doors opened in short order and he stepped in, punching the button for Jack’s floor. The ride gave him time to think.

Holed up in his office, eh? Jack usually spent most of his time in the gym, or the commissary, or Daniel’s office or Carter’s lab or pretty much anywhere else in the SGC. If anyone ever wanted to find Jack, the last place they’d look would be his office. That proved it then. If Jack was camped out there, it meant he really was avoiding Daniel.

The elevator doors opened and Daniel strode down the hallway, determined to hash out this thing between them. He could see the door to Jack’s office was open. As he got nearer he could hear Jack’s voice. At least he knew Jack was in. Daniel slowed up, not wanting to interrupt if Jack was with someone. No, he only heard Jack, with pauses between speaking. He must be on the phone. Daniel paused by the door, intending to wait until the phone call was over before he entered. Then he heard what Jack was saying.

“After what happened between us, Sir, I’m sure you’ll agree that there’s only room for one of us on SG-1.” There was a pause as Jack listened then spoke again. “Talk to him? Sir, I can’t even look at him. SG-1 will have to look for a new team member.”

Daniel gasped and walked away as quietly as he could. His knees were shaking and his heart was racing as though he had just had to make a mad dash to the gate with a platoon of Jaffa on his heels.

Off the team. Jack hated him so much he couldn’t even look at Daniel, much less work with him. He was kicking Daniel off of SG-1. Did that mean Daniel could transfer to another team? Or was he being grounded altogether? He always said he needed more time to work on the things that SG-1 and the other teams brought back, but to be permanently grounded…. Suddenly a terrible thought struck him. What if he wasn’t just being kicked off of SG-1, but out of the SGC all together? Daniel staggered a little, putting one hand on the wall to steady himself. He kept walking aimlessly, not noticing where he was going.

Grounded. Permanently. Never to feel the warmth of an alien sun, feel alien dirt beneath his boots, meet new people, smell the air that never smelled the same as it did on Earth. To be forced to give all that up, that was his punishment. Considering what he had done to Jack, he supposed he deserved it. He just wished Jack would be the one to tell him. That way, Jack would have to look him in the eye one last time. And maybe, just maybe, Jack would see how sorry he was.

~~~

Teal’c walked the corridors of the SGC. Although the base was staffed 24 hours a day, it was always quieter once the normal work day was over. He had only passed one other person on his way to the security office. He nodded in greeting to the Marine posted at the doorway.

“Good evening, SergeantTrotter.”

“Hi, Master Teal’c. How’s it going?”

“It is going well. I hope that you may say likewise.”

“Oh sure, can’t complain. I’ve been practicing that move you showed us in training last week. I think I’m getting the hang of it.”

“That is good to hear, SergeantTrotter. I look forward to seeing your improvement in the next sparring session.” Teal’c gave a very small smile and inclined his head. “In the meantime, do you have the information I requested?”

“Sure.” The sergeant pulled a much folded piece of paper from his shirt pocket and gave it to Teal’c. “Everything’s there – sign in and sign out times for both Colonel O’Neill and Dr. Jackson for the past two weeks. Both men have deviated from their usual patterns. Basically, Colonel O’Neill has been spending much less time on base and Dr. J. has been spending much more.”

Teal’c unfolded the paper, examining it as Trotter spoke. “The Colonel has been coming in later every day and leaving earlier each time. Dr. Jackson has rarely gone home. Twice he’s gone at least three days before signing out, and even then he was back within hours.” Trotter pointed at the paper in Teal’c’s hand. “Today, Colonel O’Neill signed out at 16:45. Dr. Jackson is still on base.”

“Thank you, Sergeant.” Teal’c headed down the hallway.

“Um, hey!”

Teal’c looked back at Trotter, who seemed to be debating something.

“I, I heard what happened. If there is anything else I can do to help, please let me know.”

Teal’c inclined his head once more. “Your concern is most appreciated, SergeantTrotter.” With that, Teal’c moved quickly down the hallway, heading directly for Daniel’s office.

~~~

Daniel rubbed his eyes, and then stretched his arms out wide, rocking a little in his chair to ease the ache in his shoulders. He had been sitting at his desk for hours and all he had to show for it was a stiff back.

Ever since he overheard that phone call, all he could think about was Jack wanting him off the team. Every time he heard the phone rang or footsteps in the hallway, he expected a summons to Hammond’s office and the disgrace of being grounded. The constant anticipation had him on edge all day, too wired to work or eat. It made the day go by excruciatingly slowly.

At least it had been quiet since the daytime staff had gone home. No, wait – he spoke too soon. He could hear footsteps in the corridor coming closer. He shut his eyes. Please go by, he thought, please keep walking. The footsteps stopped in the doorway.

“DanielJackson. Are you well?”

Daniel opened his eyes. They wouldn’t send Teal’c to tell him he was no longer part of SG-1, would they?

“I’m fine. Just resting my eyes.”

“It is 20:30 hours. Perhaps it would be best if you were to rest at home.”

Okay, so Teal’c wasn’t’ there to tell him he wasn’t wanted, or to drag him to Hammond’s office so that Hammond could deliver the news. Lord knows Jack wasn’t going to be the one to tell him. Jack couldn’t even look him in the eyes. Daniel realized his attention was wandering again.

“You know what, Teal’c? I think you’re right.” Daniel saved his document and started shutting down his computer. “I think it’s time I left my office.” He tidied up his desk, closing file folders and re-arranging the stacks.

“I am glad to hear it, my friend. I believe you will feel much better after you have rested in your own home.”

Daniel shut off the light, ushering Teal’c into the hallway with a wave of his hand, then shut and locked his office door.

Daniel clapped Teal’c on the shoulder. “Thank you for thinking of me.”

“You are most welcome.” Teal’c bowed slightly then left.

Daniel walked quickly to the elevator. He would feel better tomorrow all right, but not because of sleep. No, he would feel better because he was going to confront Jack and get it over with. This waiting for the other shoe to drop was killing him. He was going to take the bull by the horns and rip the bandage off all at once and get the pain over with. Damn. He really must be tired if he was mixing his metaphors like that. The elevator doors opened and Daniel pushed the button for the floor to the locker rooms. The sooner he got changed the sooner he could hash this out with Jack.

~~~

Jack sat in the recliner, beer in one hand, remote in the other. He flipped through the channels for the umpteenth time but nothing held his interest. No matter what channel he landed on, all he could see was Daniel’s battered face and body. He felt sick and ashamed at what he had done. Most of all, he was angry at himself for failing his friend. He was angry for allowing it to happen. The more he thought about it, the angrier he got.

He raised his beer for another swig and was surprised to find it empty. As he got up to get a replacement, he heard the doorbell. It rang twice more as he walked down the hall to answer it. Who the hell could be so impatient to –oh hell. Daniel. It had to be Daniel.

Jack flung open the door to find Daniel with one hand raised ready to knock. His eyes were narrowed, lips thinned, and his chin jutted out defiantly. He radiated upset and determination.

Great. All Jack wanted was one last night to pretend they were still friends and Daniel wouldn’t even give him that. Jack let the anger he’d been feeling for himself flare out. Dropping his eyes to Daniel’s shoulders, he barked “Whatever it is, Daniel, it can wait until morning.” He tried to shut the door but Daniel blocked it with his forearm and wedged one foot between the door and the jamb.

“No, Jack, it can’t wait. Not anymore. I’ve waited all day and I’m sick of it!”

Jack tried again to close the door but Daniel was wedged in too well. Jack turned his head away so that Daniel was looking at his ear.

“I want to get this over with, Jack. All I ask is that you look me in the eyes when you tell me.”

Jack didn’t move his head. “Just leave, Daniel, and shut the door behind you.”

“Look at me, Jack,” demanded Daniel. “You can’t, can you?”

Jack let go of the door, lips pressed into a thin line. “Go away, Daniel.” He walked down the steps into his living room, running one hand through his hair. Behind him he could hear Daniel following him. Without turning around, he snarled “Damn it, Daniel. Get out.”

“No! Not until you tell me to my face!”

Jack spun around, expression dark with anger. “Tell you what? What do you want to hear?”

Daniel pointed his finger at Jack, punctuating his words with short sharp jabs. “If you’re going to throw me off the team, the least you can do is tell me yourself.”

“What? You’re not off the team.”

“The hell I’m not!” Daniel was seething. “I overheard your little conversation with the General. ‘After what happened between us, there’s only room for one on SG-1’? Ring any bells, Jack?”

Confusion started to overtake anger as Jack replied. “Well if you heard, then why do you think you’re off the team?”

“I heard you say that SG-1 would have to look for a new member.”

“For starters, Daniel, it’s not nice to eavesdrop. In the second place, Hammond vetoed my suggestion. SG-1 is the same as it has been. And anyway, it isn’t always about you, Daniel,” he sneered. “It wasn’t you that would be off the team.” Jack knew he was getting Daniel wound back up again but he couldn’t seem to stop himself. After what he’d done to Daniel he didn’t deserve anything but Daniel’s anger. “You hear that and the first thing you think is that it’s gotta be about you. You. You. You.”

“Hell yes, it’s about me.” Daniel angrily slapped his chest for emphasis. “If one of the two of us is getting transferred because of what happened, why would it be you?” He jabbed a finger toward Jack.

Something in Jack snapped. All the guilt he had tried to suppress burst up at once. Finally looking Daniel in the eyes he shouted angrily, “Because I hurt my friend!”

“I TORTURED MINE!” Daniel thundered in return. His face was flushed and he was trembling.

Jack’s eyes widened and his mouth gaped in surprise, overtaking the other emotions. What the hell was Daniel talking about? “My God, Daniel, is that what you think? Why? I mean, what I did to you was –“

“Was nothing, Jack! You did nothing to me! The Goa'uld change hosts the way we change clothes. It put on a Jack outfit and went on its merry way. The Goa’uld hit me. The Goa’uld kicked me. The Goa’uld dragged me off that planet and onto the next one for God knows what reason. You had absolutely nothing to do with it.”

“But what I did…” Daniel’s voice broke slightly, “… what I did was far, far worse. It was me that hurt you. It was methat cut you, methat inflicted every one of your injuries. And my every action was absolutely premeditated, deliberate, willful, and intentional; all specifically designed to cause you grievous bodily harm.” Daniel’s hands were clenched tightly, his breathing erratic as he tried to control the tears welling up in his eyes.

“Oh, God, Daniel,” Jack whispered. It had never occurred to him that Daniel would feel badly about saving his life. His chest felt like a tight band was wrapped around it, making it hard to breathe. There was a lump in his throat. It physically hurt him to see his friend in such distress. Jack reached out to touch Daniel’s arm.

Daniel twisted away from Jack’s hand. He stared at Jack with haunted eyes. “Every injury was well thought out. Well planned in advance. I had to do enough damage to keep the symbiote busy trying to heal you, without doing so much damage that it couldn’t heal you and you’d both die.” He gave a humorless smile. “I was balancing on a knife point, literally as well as figuratively.” He squeezed his eyes shut, spilling the wetness down his cheeks. “No wonder you can’t ….can’t look at me. Can’t look at what I’ve become. I used to be your friend. Now I’m just the monster that hurt you. I wouldn’t look at me either.”

At the end, Daniel’s voice broke completely. Grimacing, he tried to stifle the sobs that choked him. Jack, his own eyes filling with tears, enfolded Daniel in a comforting embrace. This time Daniel allowed the touch. One hand went to the back of Daniel’s head, pulling it down against Jack’s shoulder. With his other hand he rubbed Daniel’s back soothingly. For a few moments Jack just murmured quietly, “It’s okay, Danny, we’re okay, it’s all right now,” until he could feel Daniel start to relax and settle down.

“Don’t you see Daniel?” Jack had to clear his throat before he could continue. “I feel the same way. It doesn’t matter that the Goa’uld was the impetus behind it. It was my hand that struck you. Mybody, myknowledge, mymilitary training, all used to make you suffer. And not a damn thing I could do to stop it. I’m supposed to protect you out there. How could I look you in the eye after failing you like that?”

Daniel sniffed and raised his head. He seemed embarrassed about having cried, however briefly, where someone could see him. Red-rimmed eyes were framed by wet lashes that stuck together in spiky clumps. His complexion was blotchy and he was breathing through his mouth. “That’s why you were avoiding me? Because you felt guilty? But, Jack …”

“C’mon,” interrupted Jack, “let’s move this to the couch.” Jack discreetly wiped the tears from his eyes as he sat and noticed that Daniel did the same. “Daniel, do you think that what you did made you a bad person?”

“Well, what kind of person could do that, Jack? I don’t just mean thinking about doing it but carrying it through, actually doing it.” Daniel’s shoulders tightened up. His hands clenched into fists and pressed into his knees.

“I’ll tell you what kind of person, Daniel.” Jack put his hand over the nearest fist. He rubbed his thumb across the knuckles. “The kind of person with the courage to do whatever it takes to save his friend, even if the cost is his own soul. Most people would have thought only of saving themselves. They’d have tried to escape back to the gate and abandoned me to my fate. You didn’t. You could have killed me, put me out of my misery. That would be hard, too, but you’d still have a good chance of getting away. You didn’t do that either. You picked the option that gave you the most risk and gave me the most hope. You chose to save me, too. Every cut, every blow, every injury brought me closer to salvation. You. Never. Gave. Up.” Jack stared straight into Daniel’s eyes, hoping the other man would see the conviction in his next words. “I can never truly thank you for being strong enough, brave enough, friend enough to carry it through.”

Daniel stared back at Jack. “You really mean that, don’t you?” he said wonderingly.

“Hey, I don’t let just anybody get snot on my shirt,” Jack teased.

Daniel blushed. “Um, sorry about that.” He looked down at Jack’s hand covering his fist. He opened his fingers and took Jack’s hand in his. Daniel’s shoulders slumped as the tension eased out of them.

Jack clasped his other hand to the back of Daniel’s neck, squeezing affectionately and smiled. “Just don’t make a habit of it.” Daniel nodded in return. “Good. Now, how about you order pizza while I go change?” Jack let go and stood beside the couch. If he hurried, it would only take a minute to get a new shirt from his bedroom. He didn’t want Daniel to be alone too long, or he might start brooding again.

He walked across the living room. Maybe the best way to reassure Daniel would be to let him see that nothing had changed between them. Trying to sound normal he said, “I don’t know about you, but I find a good catharsis works up quite an appetite.”

Jack felt the tightness in his chest ease up when Daniel managed a tentative smile. “You work up an appetite just sitting on the couch watching “The Simpsons”, Jack.”

Jack felt relieved at Daniel’s joking reply. His tone was genuinely light-hearted as he retorted, “Yeah, but that calls for sandwiches. This needs pizza.”

“No.”

“No?” Jack stopped just inside the hallway, turning to look warily at Daniel.

“I think catharsis calls for pizza… AND beer.”

Grinning, Jack moved down the hallway, tossing one last remark over his shoulder. “Well, good. Beer I have plenty of, so we’re okay then.”

“Yeah,” Daniel said quietly as he reached for the phone. “We’re okay.”

FINIS
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