Jmas Fan Fiction

T

Heart of Darkness

By

Jmas

~~*~~


Chapter 1

In solitude, where we are least alone. 

 

~ Lord Byron

~*~

 

 

The voice whispered softly in his ear - tickling, insistent, alluring, undeniable….

Colonel Jack O’Neill sighed and rolled over, arms seeking this dream lover, the one with the hypnotic, compelling voice and found…nothing but the rough, durable military bedding on the too-narrow bunk in the cubicle optimistically termed ‘quarters’ he used when staying over at the Cheyenne Mountain military complex.

Jack frowned as memory penetrated his sleep-deprived brain. His team - three-quarters of it at any rate since Teal’c lived on base - was restricted to the mountain for a few more days following their last, very difficult, mission. They had all been pushed to their limits during a week of playing tag with some very unfriendly natives who seemed to view anyone and anything coming through the Stargate as a potential addition to the dinner menu.

Upon their return, Doctor Fraiser had insisted they were all dehydrated, under-nourished and generally exhausted, not to mention possessed of an impressive assortment of cuts, scrapes, bumps and bruises.

The petite doctor had summoned the not inconsiderable force of her medical will to browbeat them all into staying on base so she could keep a watchful eye on them. Jack had grudgingly admitted they were all pretty thoroughly drained by the prolonged tension of outrunning and outsmarting the rather aggressively hungry natives.

‘Probably would have given them terminal indigestion anyway…’ Jack reflected philosophically, letting his mind wander over the macabre possibilities.

He smiled at the image, and the certainty, that Daniel would have proven as difficult to digest inside as his ten-dollar words often were outside. Carter tended toward the same sort of wordiness as Daniel when it came to her specialty of quantum physics, so Jack imagined a Carter-like wormhole virus decimating the ranks of any of the scruffy humanoids who dined on her. Jack figured Teal’c would have been a lot like himself, tough going down and sticking around for an encore.

‘Forget Montezuma’s revenge, we’d have caused a run on the market in the local version of Pepto-Bismol.’

Jack chuckled to himself, knowing the graveyard humor was just his way of dealing with the frankly harrowing reality of what had been one of the narrowest escapes in a long and time honored tradition of close encounters for SG1.

Breathing deeply and making a concentrated effort to dispel the images, Jack rolled onto his stomach actively intending to seek out the dream voice. Closing his eyes, he decided there were far more pleasant pursuits at his disposal than hindsight.

Then he heard it again.

It finally dawned on him the voice was not a part of his dreams. It was real; someone was calling to him.

Sliding off the bunk and into his fatigues with the practiced ease of a man used to being dragged out of bed at all hours, Jack slipped his feet into his boots without bothering to lace them up and moved into the corridor with a sense of overwhelming urgency.

He had to - go.

 

~*~

 

Major Samantha Carter shifted and sat up, straining her ears for the sound that had pulled her from the first real sleep she had managed in days. As tired as she was, Sam had found sleep both disturbing and elusive since their return. The past week had stressed her mind and body to the point where her attempts at rest had been filled with a heightened awareness of every small noise and movement. Her brain could supply a reason behind every tap and groan inside the living rock, but her mind was having trouble convincing it to just shut up and let her sleep.

Sam hated feeling out of control.

A large part of her life and career had been spent in attaining a high level of professionalism and, more importantly, the respect of her peers; to her way of thinking it was a regrettable but necessary part of the process of gaining acceptance in her chosen field as both scientist and military officer. Both her worlds still tended to operate under a ‘boy’s club’ mentality she found difficult to infiltrate, and anything which threatened the status she had managed to achieve was completely unacceptable to her.

Sam felt she had acquitted herself well on the last mission but was more aware now than ever before of how the flight instinct could easily become a living nightmare.

Shaking off the depressing thoughts, Sam ruffled a hand through her short, honey-blond hair, wincing as one of the many headaches she had suffered over the past few days centered itself directly between her eyes. This particular side effect was one all three human members of SG1 shared.

The supplies in their daypacks had run out quickly and the necessity of continued movement had left little time to explore native food sources, leaving them all extremely depleted.

Sam shook her head again and got up, slipping her baby pink robe on over the grey fleece pajamas her father had bought for her on the bonding vacation they had taken following his rescue from Naetu. She grinned at the memory of Jacob’s sheepish expression when he’d given her the woolen long johns, explaining that Alaska was a lot colder than he’d expected as he held up his own lumberjack-red pair. It had been a great vacation, and she found herself wearing the pajamas quite often as a reminder of the warmth they had shared in the wake of the nearly fatal mission.

Moving into the tiny utilitarian bathroom, Sam swallowed two of the analgesics Janet Fraiser had prescribed for all three of them. Looking into the mirror, Sam was shocked by the gaunt image staring back at her. She smiled wanly at her own reflection and thought it was amazing what a week of near-starvation, constant movement and frayed nerves could do for the figure.

Hollow cheeks and eyes from lack of food, lack of sleep and lack of anything approaching a moment’s peace were yet another side effect all of SG1 shared.

‘Share and share alike, any more sharing and they’ll start calling us the Musketeers...’

Sam wondered if - -

There! There it was.

Soft, mournful, beseeching…

She had to go…

 

~*~

 

From deep within his healing meditative state, Teal’c felt a strange compulsion drawing him outward.

Trouble, someone was in danger…

Teal’c opened his eyes to find himself on the floor of his room, surrounded by the candles he always lit to aid in kel’no’reem, the deep state of concentration that allowed his Goa’uld symbiote to heal and maintain his body. There was no one else in the room, yet Teal’c still felt an overwhelming need to seek out the source of the feeling that had disturbed him…

Rising to his feet, Teal’c scanned his small room. Nothing. He moved swiftly to the door and opened it, peering intently up and down the empty corridor.

Shaking his head, Teal’c began to wonder if he had managed to sublimate as much of the past week as he had thought. He had been very much afraid he and his team would not escape this time, and the memory of his friends growing weaker by the day caused a surge of emotion to well up into his throat, almost choking him in its intensity.

In the four years since the day he had thrown off the yoke of Apophis’ control and decided - in a moment of life-changing clarity - to support the strange humans who had so passionately captured the hope Teal’c had thought long-dead within him, Teal’c had developed a depth of caring toward his teammates that often surprised him. Each one, for their own individual strengths, had earned a place in his regard; he had no desire to lose any of them.

The last mission had brought them near the possibility of death on almost an hourly basis and there had been nothing Teal’c could do but help them stay - sometimes literally - one step ahead of the natives.

Teal’c shivered involuntarily, thinking perhaps he should spend more time in kel’no’reem.

There.

A voice, a call for help.

Pulling on his uniform jacket, Teal’c started down the corridor. Someone was in need.

He had to go…

 

~*~

 

Doctor Daniel Jackson thumbed left-handedly through the index of the reference volume on his desk. The notepad beneath his right hand was nearly full; he had been at it quite a while. He winced as he realized Doctor Fraiser would be more than a little angry with him if she discovered he had worked through the better part of the night in direct violation of her medical orders to rest.

The clock on his computer told him it was nearly three-thirty, and Daniel knew he really should make some attempt to go to bed, but the enforced alertness they had become accustomed to on the last mission had only fed his habitual insomnia. Long experience had left him fairly certain sleep was impossible at this point, and he was in no mood to lay around on the lump-stuffed sack the military passed off as a mattress.

With a sigh, Daniel nodded to himself as he found the reference he’d been looking for and decided he would try to get through a few more pages before quitting, hoping by then he would be tired enough to pass out.

The pattern had been set early in his life; he had always been too in love with knowledge to easily let go of the quest. Later, long nights in the company of books had become a refuge of sorts to him as a teenage college student out of place among his academic peers and even, ironically, people his own age. Still later, it became a habit to escape the nightmare of life and the actual nightmares it caused, by focusing his mind to the exclusion of all else. A shaky system at the best and worst of times but it was the only one he had.

Realizing he was letting his mind wander into the very areas he was staying awake to avoid, Daniel refocused his attention on his notes and scribbled a few more lines before being interrupted by a niggling - sound.

Beguiling, calling to him…for help…

Daniel stood stiffly, stretching the aching muscles beneath his t-shirt. The voice seemed to be coming from below him.

The gate room?

Without stopping to put on the heavy boots he’d kicked off hours before, Daniel edged into the corridor and headed for the elevator.

He had to go.

~*~

 

Jack stumbled into the quiet gate room. No teams were off world at the moment so the control room was empty and dimly lit; the yellow off-shift lights were glowing dully on the surface of the Stargate. The large naquada ring dominated the room, silent and benign for the moment, but experience had taught him that it could all too quickly become otherwise.

In the time since Daniel had first deciphered the complex coding that allowed the gate to establish a wormhole between Earth and other worlds, they had come to realize the Stargate was both blessing and curse. They had discovered many wonderful things, established lasting friendships with other races and cultures, helped so many in need. Yet it had all come with a price; a price counted in lives and loss and pain, a price that had, in ways both large and small, been extracted from all of them and continued to make demands.

Deciding that the voice which had drawn him here must have been some lingering remnant of his dreams, Jack turned to go.

Only to walk straight into Carter in her fuzzy terrycloth robe and slippers…definitely out of uniform.

“Um, Major…?”

Carter had the grace to look embarrassed at being found in her nightclothes. “Oh. Sorry, sir. I thought I heard…”

“A voice?” Jack finished for her.

“A voice requesting assistance.” Teal’c joined them through the open door.

Jack felt his nerves tingling. “Okay, this is weird.”

“We can do weird,” came Daniel’s dry retort as he entered the room behind the jaffa.

Jack studied the younger man’s hollow eyes, socked feet and state of dress, knowing full well Daniel had not even been attempting to sleep. Making a mental note to have a team-leader to team-archaeologist chat later, Jack looked at Daniel questioningly. “Any clue what we’re all doing here in the middle of the night?”

Daniel’s face shifted into what Jack had come to recognize as ‘theory mode.’
”It’s possible…” he began - before being interrupted by a soft, feminine voice.

“You must help us.”

~*~

“Holy…” Jack jumped involuntarily as a figure materialized on the ramp microseconds after the voice.

“Lya?” Daniel questioned, recovering and recognizing the visitor a moment sooner than Jack.

The petite Nox woman gazed upon them with the look of gentle tolerance common to all her people. The Nox were a highly advanced race, possessed of a seemingly effortless technology and mental abilities bordering on the mystical. With their be-feathered hair and shimmering clothing, they resembled nothing so much as woodland elves. Yet for all their advancement, the Nox preferred a life in tune with nature, living as one with their environment.

Jack had seen the Nox do many amazing things, including resurrecting himself and his team from the dead, and had to admit the charming, diminutive people were near the top of his A-list of favorite aliens. Despite the tendency to treat the Earth people with the amused forbearance of grandparents toward precocious children, Jack knew the peaceful Nox would never do anything to cause deliberate harm, an assurance he could accord very few of the other races they had met.

Daniel moved closer to Lya. “What’s wrong?”

Jack wondered at the younger man’s question then looked closer. Lya’s eyes were anxious, almost…

Fearful?

Trouble...’

Lya regarded them all with a small sigh. “Our world has need of your help.”

“You need our help?” Jack couldn’t keep the patent disbelief from his tone.

Lya nodded, favoring Jack with a level gaze. “Yes, Colonel. Our world is in imminent danger.”

Jack stood a little straighter, slipping into command mode without conscious thought. “Carter, get General Hammond awake and down here—“

“No!”

The sharp tone was so totally unexpected from the normally poised and gentle voiced Nox woman that Jack felt his instincts twitch. Something was not quite right…

“No,” Lya repeated. “Please. You must come immediately. This is the only chance I will have to bring you back. We must go.”

Jack’s instincts were practically dancing a jig.

“Just like that? In the middle of the night without a word. Without orders? Just take off and hop over to your place?”

Lya’s eyes grew sad, brimming with tears. “Yes. Leave a message if you wish, but there is no time to waste.” Lya leaned forward, hands extending in entreaty. “Truly, Colonel, we would not ask if it were not so vital. We can provide all you will need, but you must come now.”

Jack was not a happy man. Every instinct he had was leaping up and down screaming for him to pay attention, and yet - these were the Nox, next to the Asgard one of Earth’s most trusted allies. The Nox had always helped them; most recently Lya herself had helped them free Daniel’s brother in law, Skaara from the goa’uld parasite that had controlled his life for three long years.

They owed the Nox.

Looking at each of his team members, Jack gauged their reactions. Teal’c looked suspicious - then Teal’c nearly always looked suspicious - but the big Jaffa nodded acquiescence. Carter had the heavy frown between her brows that generally noted deep concern, but her little half-nod indicated that she, like her commander, trusted the Nox. Daniel was looking distracted, his eyes troubled, and that worried Jack.

Daniel trusted nearly everyone, most especially the Nox who seemed to think, as humans went, Daniel was not quite so young as the rest of them. Jack quirked an eyebrow, begging the question. The recent near soul-stealing episode with the Eurondans had made Jack particularly sensitive to dismissing Daniel’s ‘feelings;’ it was a mistake he did not want to repeat - at least not for the same reasons or in the same hurtful way.

Daniel shook his head as if dispelling his doubts and nodded.

Lya was waiting.

Jack sighed mightily, forcing the huge lump of misgiving lodged in his throat to settle itself so he could speak.

“I guess we go then.”

Carter moved toward the technical computer station against the wall, typing in a message. With a nod from Jack, Teal’c left the gateroom at a run. Motioning Daniel aside, Jack managed to meet the younger man’s eyes, seeking confirmation of what were plainly strong reservations.

Daniel shrugged, “It’s probably nothing…”

“Daniel?”

Daniel shook his head. “It just seems so…”

“Fast?”

Daniel nodded, glancing over to where Lya was looking at them almost impatiently.

“It feels…”

“Weird?”

“Yeah, but these are the…”

“The Nox.”

“Right.”

Jack sighed. Daniel’s thoughts reflected his own worries. “What can we do? It’s not like they come to us every day. Whatever is going on, they need our help.”

Daniel favored Jack with a long look and a sardonic smile. “That’s usually my line.”

Jack frowned and returned the smile. “Now that’s…”

“Weird.” Daniel finished for him with a tired lift of his eyebrows.

Jack laughed softly. “Yeah, that too.”

Teal’c returned then, carrying weapons and two packs.

“We must go, Colonel.”

Jack sighed again, noting his team looked more than a little disreputable between the socks, shirtsleeves, fuzzy robe and slippers. But it seemed this was a ‘come as you are’ party; there was no time for anything else.

“Okay. We’re as ready as we’ll ever be.”

Lya smiled, activating the Stargate with a familiar sweeping gesture of her arms.

“Then come.”

Lya backed into the blue ripples of the wormhole. As she disappeared, Jack felt a renewed sense of hesitation. Fighting down the persistent feeling of deep foreboding, he took a deep breath and stepped through the gate.

 

~*~

 

The bitter cold of the wormhole invariably tended to have the effect of slowing down time, something they had all come to recognize and guard against, but there was always a split-second of disorientation upon finding themselves in an entirely new place, no matter how familiar. Jack had expected to exit the gate on the grassy hill they had seen on their last visit.

This was not it.

They were inside what was all too clearly a goa’uld mother ship and surrounded by a dozen Serpent guards, holding a dozen charged staff weapons, aimed directly at SG1.

“Oh, crap…”

Chapter 2

He who has a thousand friends
Has not a friend to spare,
While he who has one enemy
Shall meet him everywhere.

 

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

~*~

 

Serpent guards.

Daniel felt the unfocussed doubts he had experienced harden into the reality of one much-hated name: Apophis.

Apophis: the false god, destroyer of lives and hopes and dreams.

Apophis, the parasitic goa’uld who had kidnapped Skaara and Daniel’s wife, Sha’re.

Apophis: the snake-like creature existing within the body of an innocent Egyptian scribe stolen from his intended life away thousands of years before.

Apophis who took on the outward persona of the Egyptian god of night in order to subjugate thousands of human lives to his will.

Apophis, the hated, who had implanted Sha’re and Skaara with other creatures like himself, creatures with ancient names and evil purposes equal to his own, callously recreating Daniel’s wife and her brother as his own wife and son, Amaunet and Klorel.

Apophis: the bastard who had destroyed Daniel’s dreams....

Daniel still recalled the feeling of utter loss the moment he had seen the gentle eyes of his wife light up with the malevolent glow of goa’uld power, goa’uld control. Barely a day or night went by when the feeling was not there, whether in dreams or a moment’s flash of bitter memory. Jack had once assured Daniel eventually the pain would fade, but he was still waiting for that time.

After Sha’re’s death, Daniel had slowly come to realize his wife had essentially died on the day Amaunet had been implanted, not later when Teal’c had been forced to kill the goa’uld who held him in the grip of a hand device, thereby killing Sha’re, to save Daniel’s life. He had shared only a few short hours of bittersweet reunion with his wife in the three years of her absence, a fleeting moment nearly marred by his inability to accept the fact that she was pregnant with Apophis’ child at the time.

With Teal’c’s help Daniel had overcome his shock in time to enjoy an all too brief interlude before the child had been born and Amaunet had reasserted control. Through Teal’c’s quick thinking they had slipped away with the child, but Sha’re had been lost to him once again.

As she was forever lost to him now.

During those three years and afterward, SG1 had managed - quite proudly - to become a rather sizeable thorn in Apophis’ side, and the System Lord had many reasons to hate each one of them.

After decades as Apophis’ First Prime, forced to perform uncounted atrocities at the parasite’s every whim, Teal’c had rediscovered hope in the person of Colonel Jack O’Neill, putting an end to his own slavery.

Jack had never bothered to make a secret of his disgust for all things goa’uld, most especially Apophis, and had managed in his always unique and effective way to irritate Apophis at every opportunity.

Sam was largely guilty by association with the rest of them, not that it bothered her very much to be on Apophis’ bad side.

And Daniel knew Apophis plainly hated him.

The feeling’s definitely mutual…’

Apophis had taken away everything important to Daniel - his wife, his brother, his home - and in return Daniel had fought, threatened, and defied Apophis at every opportunity. From stealing away Sha’re’s child - a child of particular power Apophis intended to take as a new host thereby making him all-powerful among his kind - to openly and sullenly defying the arrogant parasite to outright threatening to kill him, Daniel had more than earned Apophis’ hatred. It was a fact of his life that provided Daniel with a rather dark satisfaction that disturbed him when he allowed himself to dwell upon it at all. Hating Apophis was easy; living with that inner darkness in his daily life was the much harder part of the task.

As SG1 handed over their few weapons and were led off down the corridor, Daniel traded glances with Jack. They both understood now why it had felt so wrong to come here; it had been a trap. Lya had been gone before SG1 had ever stepped through the Stargate, if indeed she had ever been with them at all.

The goa’uld had centuries of experience as technology thieves and could easily have tricked SG1 into believing the evidence of their eyes in any number of ways, counting on their unique relationship with the Nox - and Lya in particular - to serve as the final, emotion-driven lure.

Arriving at a familiar corridor, Daniel realized they were being led to the ship’s holding cells. Once there, the guards roughly shoved SG1 inside and marched away, boots echoing a familiar and dreaded staccato down the corridor and away.

Jack prowled the small room in obvious irritation.

“Well, isn’t this just peachy?”

Daniel slid to a sitting position against the rear wall with a distinct déjà vu feeling. He had certainly been here - here being a similar place and situation, not this particular holding cell - before. With a private snigger at his own mental rambling, Daniel scrubbed at his eyes, feeling the adrenaline rush suddenly giving way to utter exhaustion, a yearning for sleep he knew he would not be able to indulge for quite some time.

Teal’c settled nearby with a raised eyebrow and a concerned look in Daniel’s direction but made no comment. Sam paced a little longer then huddled down on the other side of Teal’c. By silent accord they all watched as Jack continued to pace, slowing gradually, completely unaware of his audience.

Daniel almost laughed at the preoccupation in Jack’s face, at the range of emotions clear to those who knew him so well. Jack was angry, mostly with himself, for falling so easily into this trap. He was worried because Apophis had them. He was concerned that his team was in no way up to this after the last grueling mission. Daniel picked up one last familiar expression, one meant only for him, an expression of apology for acting against Daniel’s instincts as well as his own.

Daniel shrugged with a wry smile, letting it go. They had gotten past the anger and confusion of Euronda. Right now, they had far more important things to worry about and they both knew it.

With a brief touch to Daniel’s shoulder, Jack settled down beside him, sighing loudly.

“Okay, kids. What do we know?”

Daniel smiled slightly at the ‘time to go to work’ tone he knew so well. Jack was thinking now, falling into his accustomed role of directing their separate strengths into one.

“We know we are being held by Serpent guards, which would seem to indicate Apophis,” Teal’c stated grimly.

Sam nodded agreement. “We may be on the Nox world.”

Daniel rubbed his eyes again. “They used Lya or something that looked like her to get us through the gate with a minimum of trouble and weaponry.”

“Not to mention wardrobe.” Jack offered with a raised eyebrow first toward Daniel’s socked feet then toward Carter’s ensemble.

Daniel allowed a half-smile at the lame joke, knowing Jack was trying to lighten the grimness of the moment. “There had to be some measure of mind control. I mean, we all heard the ‘call,’ right?” Each of them nodded reluctantly. “What if it was more than just a voice in the night?”

“Hypnosis? Nishta?” Sam suggested, wrapping her robe more snugly around her although it was quite warm in the cell.

Daniel shrugged. “Or something else we haven’t seen yet. Something that would cloud our judgment just enough to make us buy into everything ‘Lya’ told us.”

“Makes sense…”

The approaching cadence of many jaffa boots alerted them to unwelcome visitors. Jack stood and reached down to help Daniel to his feet as well.

“Guess this is where the fun starts,” he muttered with a worried look at his team.

 

~*~

 

Sam watched the guards approach the door with trepidation. She had a very bad feeling about the whole situation. Someone, presumably Apophis, had gone to a great deal of trouble to get them here and she did not believe it was as simple a thing as revenge - even goa’uld revenge. Something was up, something really, really bad.

The jaffa guards opened the door with raised weapons and the leader pointed at Daniel. “You are summoned before your god.”

Sam was not sure if she wanted to kiss - or hit - Daniel when he replied, “No god of mine…”

The comment earned him a cuff to the head, knocking him against another guard who hauled him up roughly by the scruff of his shirt and dragged him bodily out the door before any of them could react.

The colonel kicked the grating on the door in frustration. “Damn it!”

“What do you think Apophis wants with him, sir?”

Shaking his head sharply, the colonel sighed. “I wish to hell I knew. Nothing good I’m sure.”

Sam nodded grimly in agreement. Daniel had been far from diplomatic the last time he and Apophis had met face to face - snide was actually the word that came to her mind. It had felt to Sam as if Daniel had been pointedly baiting the disfigured goa’uld, rashly attempting to deflect all Apophis’ frightening attention to himself; Apophis had not been amused.

Could it be that simple?

Apophis wanting to exact revenge from the man Amaunet’s host had loved - a man who had so clearly loved her as well? It was also entirely possible Apophis knew it was SG1 who had defeated his plans for the Harsesis child on Kheb and destroyed his new battleship while under the influence of the ability-enhancing Atenik armbands.

Whatever the reason, Sam knew Apophis was not likely to treat their friend to ‘get reacquainted’ tea and conversation. Daniel was in very big trouble.

They all were.

 

~*~

 

Daniel Jackson had been gone a very long time.

Teal’c’s imagination, fueled by years of dark experience, allowed him no peace. Teal’c could not pace away his frustration as O’Neill and Major Carter did; it was not an outlet he understood. It made no sense to him to expend energy in a futile activity that did nothing to assist the object of their concern. It was wiser to wait, conserve energy, then act when the opportunity presented itself.

Still, it was very difficult to do nothing.

Teal’c watched as O’Neill made yet another circuit around the cell, hands clenching reflexively. To those who knew him well, the dark eyes showed deep concern.

O’Neill’s caring was an important part of what made him a great leader, and his conviction that harm to any member of his team was harm to all. Teal’c respected O’Neill immensely and wished there was something he could say or do to alleviate his commander’s obviously troubled thoughts.

There was nothing.

They all knew the goa’uld too well - and Apophis better than any other. In the Tau’ri vernacular, there was no ‘bright side’ to this situation. Taking Daniel Jackson, for whatever purpose, was only the first step in some greater plan. Teal’c was certain of it.

~*~

 

Memories replayed themselves over and over in Jack’s mind. Memories of blood, bruises, pain, loss. Memories of the last look he had seen Apophis give Daniel, a look promising revenge and ‘great suffering’ for daring to defy the god Apophis believed himself to be. Daniel’s mouth had a tendency to run away with him when it came to the goa’uld, an admirable but dangerous quality in Jack’s estimation, but one guaranteed not to endear his friend to Apophis.

From within the black shadows of his own thoughts, Jack heard the returning guards. A look to Teal’c and Carter stationed them on either side of the door. A useless precaution, Jack was sure, but there was always a possibility the jaffa would give them an opening. Through the door grate, Jack could see at least six guards, and that two of them were dragging - something.

Daniel.

‘Apophis, you son of a bitch…’

As the door opened, Jack waved off Carter and Teal’c. This was not the time to try anything. They were outnumbered with a man down or at least in uncertain condition - bad odds in any situation. The guards threw Daniel to the floor, eliciting no sound or reaction from the fallen man, and left without a word. Jack stood defiantly until they had closed the door and retreated down the hallway as Carter ran to Daniel’s side. Teal’c had moved between the two of them and the door, an obvious and imperious bodyguard.

Remaining at full attention until the guards were out of sight, both men quickly knelt beside Daniel.

Their friend had very clearly been ‘questioned.’ Thoroughly. Bruises stood out starkly against the pale face, his torn shirt revealed more of the same underneath. A purpling lump stood out on his forehead - most likely the blow that had sent him into unconsciousness. Jack idly noted the younger man’s socks and glasses were now missing, but a quick check told him nothing was broken, Daniel’s lack of consciousness being the greatest concern.

It was bad but not nearly as bad as Jack had feared.

‘A taste of things to come? A first strike to wear us down?’ The possibilities were endless when it came to figuring out goa’uld motivations, and the exercise tended to make Jack more than a little queasy.

Carter had slipped out of her soft robe, throwing it over Daniel’s unmoving form for warmth. Jack found himself slipping a hand over the younger man’s forehead, ostensibly checking for fever though he knew it was more a way of reassuring himself Daniel was back with them, alive and solid.

Daniel stirred slightly at the touch, eyelids fluttering.

“No, no…Jack!”

Daniel awoke all at once, sitting up quickly.

Too quickly.

“Whoa there, Daniel…”

Jack reached an arm around Daniel’s swaying form as his eyes closed against the dizziness and he leaned into Jack’s support. Daniel breathed hard against the pain and grew agitated again.

“No, Jack…have to tell you…”

Jack rubbed at the tense, trembling shoulders with his free hand. “It can wait…”

At the sound of footsteps approaching, Daniel took a deep shuddering breath, visibly pulling himself together.

“No, Jack, you need to know…”

A clang at the door interrupted them as someone entered the room, a tall man, dark, familiar…

“Connor?”

~*~

 

Daniel could see the hope rising on Jack’s face at the sight of Lieutenant Connor of SG11, missing for many months and presumed dead. He’d felt the same elation, the same rush of relief, before…

“Jack, it isn’t him,” Daniel warned.

As Jack stared from him to the figure standing before them, Daniel could see the older man finally take in the way Connor was dressed, the coiling device around his wrist extending to the fingertips. Jack’s hand tightened on Daniel’s shoulder.

“Who?”

Daniel sighed deeply, forcing the words through bruised and bleeding lips. “Klorel. Looks like he found a new host.”

They all looked up at their former friend and comrade. Dark eyes glowed briefly as a slow smile – a sick parody of the quiet, engaging man they had known - spread over his face.

“Welcome…my friends.”

 

Chapter 3

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.
 

~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 

~*~

 

Klorel smiled at the humans huddled on the floor around their fallen teammate. The shock of recognition on their faces, first of a friend then of an enemy, was most - pleasing.

Striding into the room, Klorel enjoyed the grace and power inherent in his new body. This human had been a perfect choice. Finding Connor among the prisoners executed at Apophis’ training facility had proven a most fortunate stroke of luck. Klorel had taken charge of the human’s body immediately after Apophis had killed the humans as a visual aid to insure the infiltration force’s continued loyalty and fear.

Klorel had seen possibilities in keeping a Tau’ri for questioning, something Apophis had been far too short sighted to consider. It had been a simple thing to retrieve and revive the body, keeping the human in custody for further questioning.

His unscheduled visit to the Tollan world had interrupted Klorel’s plans to question the human, but events had definitely worked to his advantage. After losing his former host, Klorel had known precisely which body would serve as a replacement. He had always felt so small and delicate in the diminutive body of Skaara, a body pleasing to his father’s eye but decidedly lacking in the ability to physically dominate – which had also pleased his father.

Apophis was no longer of concern to Klorel. He had made new alliances and become powerful in his own right. Apophis’ pitiful attempts to regain his former rank among the System Lords using Sokhar’s stolen assets were doomed to failure - Klorel would see to it.

O’Neill was rising. “So. Long time, no see.”

Klorel reveled in the ability to meet this tall, arrogant human’s gaze levelly. “Too long, O’Neill. I did promise you would pay.”

The human did not react to his words.

Klorel longed to see fear in the face of the man his former host had regarded as a hero. The Abydonian boy had been full of images of his ‘O’Neill,’ brave in battle, eyes flashing in determined strength. Klorel swore to remove the images from his own memory even if he could no longer torment the boy. It would be accomplished.

“Oh, come on. Don’t tell me this was all for Apophis?” O’Neill was rather ineptly attempting to gain information.

Klorel laughed. “My dear father no longer concerns me. His fate was sealed from the moment you sent him into Sokhar’s hands. I survived his humiliation, along with his queen, until you interfered. I have not forgotten the part you all played in Amaunet’s death. Nor have I forgotten your role in driving me from my former host, although I am quite pleased with this new body.” Strolling around the room, aware of O’Neill’s eyes following every movement, Klorel smiled. “A most acceptable replacement, is it not? Young, strong, pleasing to the eye…” Looking down upon the injured Tau’ri, Klorel smiled again. “Very strong, indeed.”

The man looking up so coldly at him now was another of his former host’s heroes. Granted, Daniel Jackson was a most arrogant and stubborn human. Klorel had many examples gleaned from Skaara’s mind of the depth of spirit and feeling the young Tau’ri was capable of, many images of strength and purpose embodied in the somewhat harmless-looking form. Skaara had been an easily impressed child, yet very clear in his conviction that Daniel Jackson deserved the designation of ‘savior’ – a virtual god in human form who had saved his people.

The earlier questioning had been most satisfying yet somewhat disappointing in Daniel Jackson’s lack of response. Skaara’s memories had been full of this human’s stubbornness as well, a trait his host had found admirable and worthy of emulation.

Despite all Klorel’s efforts, Daniel Jackson had remained sullenly silent, and when he was not silent his comments had been derisive and dismissive. An almost impressive display of bravado, but the ‘questioning’ had been a mere taste of what Klorel had planned; he wanted to see that defiant spirit broken.

Completely and utterly broken.

 

~*~

 

Teal’c stood straighter as he noted the shift in Klorel’s demeanor. Something very bad was about to happen.

Klorel called out to the guards, demanding the ‘other guests’ be brought to this cell. Other prisoners, Teal’c was sure.

Of greater concern to Teal’c was the distinct hatred in Klorel’s continued regard of Daniel Jackson, an underlying darkness much more complex than the ‘god over slave’ superiority Teal’c was all too familiar with as part of the goa’uld psychology.

Teal’c could see the same knowledge in O’Neill’s eyes as the other man moved in front of Daniel Jackson, physically blocking their friend from Klorel’s predatory stare. As more guards approached the cell, Teal’c knew with the certainty of a lifetime’s experience O’Neill’s protective gesture was a futile one.

The door opened to reveal the guards pushing before them two rather small humanoids. It was the Nox, Antaeus and Lya.

The usually serene pair bore expressions of extreme sadness, eyes large and full of emotion. Both of the newcomers reacted with such open surprise at SG1’s presence it confirmed Teal’c suspicions Lya was blameless in bringing them into this increasingly hopeless situation.

As soon as the guards released them, both Nox rushed to Daniel Jackson’s side.

Teal’c looked at Klorel, noting a look of arrogant tolerance – one such as an over-indulged child might bestow upon an ill-favored pet or toy. Teal’c shuddered inwardly at the comparison. Years of service to such ‘children’ had proven to him how poorly they treated their playthings once they tired of them.

 

~*~

 

Jack turned his back on Klorel, pointedly ignoring his presence. He watched as Lya gently stroked Daniel’s arm, looking deeply into his eyes as if assessing much more than his physical condition, the sudden tears in her eyes confirmed it.

After their first encounter, Daniel had theorized the Nox were likely telepathic, definitely with each other and probably others to some extent. Jack was more than a little uncomfortable with things he could not see, but he could not deny had seen pretty amazing things from the Nox.

Daniel was blinking heavily now, and as Jack watched the pain lines around his eyes and mouth softened. Whatever Lya was doing, it seemed to help. Daniel smiled at Lya, sharing some private communication then closed his eyes, his body relaxing against Carter. Jack sighed, releasing a tension he had been only dimly aware of.

‘This is good. Love that,’ Jack thought in slightly awed gratitude. He had no idea how the Nox did what they did, but he was damn glad they could do – whatever it was.

Jack felt the distinct itch between his shoulders years in the field had helped him recognize as trouble in close proximity. Klorel was still back there – watching.

Jack sighed again, this time in quiet frustration. The situation was growing worse by the moment. Klorel had managed to capture Antaeus and Lya and possibly other Nox, defeating the technology Antaeus had been so serenely certain would protect them. Either Klorel had gotten a lot smarter since their last encounter – highly unlikely if not downright impossible in Jack’s estimation – or he’d gotten his hands on some major, no doubt stolen, technology of his own.

Next to the Asgard, the Nox were one of the most advanced races to which the SGC had become unofficially allied. From Jack’s own experience, he knew the Nox were one of the oldest of the known races. The Asgard Jack had met following his run-in with the alien download device had mentioned an alliance of four races: The Asgard, the Ancients, the Furlings, and the Nox. Daniel had later theorized the Ancients were the original builders of the Stargate and believed a race so advanced millennia ago had probably evolved so far beyond human understanding as to make the Nox and Asgard ‘magic’ pale by comparison.

While the goa’uld did develop their own brand of technology, they were largely as much parasites in that endeavor as they were in biological fact. The goa’uld preferred taking to actually thinking. Somewhere, somehow, Jack was sure Klorel had stumbled over some long-forgotten weapon and now had the power to back up his bold words.

A rustling step behind him revealed how close Klorel actually was, hovering only a few paces away and exuding a nearly palpable menace. Rising to stand and look into the eyes of an enemy who once again bore a familiar face, Jack tried to keep his expression blank.

‘Never let them see you sweat. ’ Words to live by from an antiperspirant commercial that had no clue what constituted a bad day in Jack O’Neill’s world. ‘Not even close.’

“So,” Jack said lightly. “What do you really want, Junior?”

Klorel’s eyes glowed briefly as he smiled unemotionally. “I should think it would be quite simple to understand, O’Neill. I want it all.”

 

~*~

 

Antaeus could barely deflect the dark malevolence behind the seemingly innocuous words Klorel spoke. It was very difficult for his mind to encompass the darkness the goa’uld had brought to their world.

The Nox had lived apart for a very long time – and for very good reasons. Negative energies were like a highly contagious disease with no cure and, once exposed, their influence would continue to spread unchecked. The Nox had believed isolation from the source would protect them and allow them to grow beyond such things. It was a good way. Many thousands of years had proven it. Yet Antaeus knew Lya believed there were other factors to be considered. She had looked into the minds of the humans on several occasions. Although it was a difficult and often painful process for her, Antaeus was well aware of her need to heal all she came into contact with. They had been mates for many, many years – long enough for him to recognize in her a distinct and elemental need to rescue every stray species she came into contact with, even as she was attempting to help young Daniel now.

The boy – they were all children to him, both in years and in development – was one of Lya’s favorites among the Earth people. She saw great promise in Daniel – an inkling of their own spirit that made him unique and no doubt isolated among his own people. Antaeus remembered Opher speaking of Daniel’s curiosity and quick mind with much fondness after the humans had left them. Antaeus himself, though invisible, had been near enough to hear the pained regret in Daniel’s voice as the humans had left the Nox world, never to return. The words had left him cautiously hopeful.

Now Opher was among the missing and their son, Nefreyu, was almost certainly dead. Things had happened so quickly when Klorel arrived, but Antaeus had seen his son fall before his own capture. Something, he assumed some weapon of Klorel’s, had interrupted their harmony – effectively disrupting their means of protecting themselves.

Many of their gifts were genetically inherent: the means of mentally shielding themselves and others, the ability to heal, the way they communicated. Other things were done in harmony with their technology, which their personal gifts allowed them to tap into at will. Somehow Klorel had disrupted both and taken over their world.

Some of their gifts still functioned - albeit sluggishly - but it was as if they had to dredge them up from cloudy depths, a process both exhausting and painful. Antaeus could feel the pain easing Daniel was causing Lya even now. Of all their abilities it seemed empathy was the least affected.

Antaeus knew many of his people were dead; there was a faint echo of sadness and loss over the distance between him and the others when he sought them out with his mind. Opher, as a family member, should have been quite easy to find with concentrated effort, but as yet there had been nothing.

Antaeus felt the peace descend over Daniel as Lya’s healing took hold, and curiously enough he could feel it echoed in all three of his friends. Strange, the easing of the pain of one eased all.

Through their own connection, Lya sent images of what Daniel had gone through at the hands of Klorel, disturbing images of cruelty so foreign to Nox thinking it rocked Antaeus for a moment. They had always believed in protecting all and harming none. This – this blackness of spirit was something beyond Antaeus’ experience or ability to understand.

Even now Antaeus was trying to shield himself and Lya from the waves of barely controlled rage emanating from Klorel, a hate so strong Antaeus had no basis for comparison.

He feared the Nox way might not hold a solution to their current situation and was suddenly very glad the humans were here. The Nox preferred the peaceful path, in fact could not cause injury without harming themselves, but they were by no means complacently pacifistic. The Nox way was to remove the aggression or remove the aggressors. Antaeus realized with regret that this might be a situation in which other ways might prove necessary.

Watching O’Neill face Klorel with apparent impassivity, Antaeus could also feel the underlying rage the human suppressed. It was an impressive performance, but Antaeus was quite aware of the integral differences in the emotion shared by O’Neill and Klorel; O’Neill’s anger sought only to protect, Klorel’s to destroy. Touching the mind of his mate, remembering the death of his son, Antaeus was sad to realize he could understand both.

‘They cannot win, my own.’ Antaeus offered privately.

Lya’s eyes were brimming with tears as she stroked Daniel’s hair soothingly. ‘Yet they cannot do less than try.’

Antaeus nodded once, looking up at O’Neill. The determination of the human was evident in every move he made. Regrettably, it was also evident in Klorel – and the goa’uld most assuredly held the advantage in this situation.

‘Yes, they will try.’

 

~*~

 

Sam watched the two Nox from where she sat with Daniel’s head pillowed on her lap. Thankfully her friend’s body was now relaxed, the trembling pain she had felt from him earlier having evaporated under Lya’s ministrations.

The Nox were one of the mysteries of their rapidly expanding experience that tended to irk Sam’s scientific mind. As hard as she tried, Sam could not explain away the Nox and that fact bothered her more than she could fully express.

Sam liked things she could explain; it was how her mind worked. Her world, for as long as she could remember as the daughter of a military man, had been structured, consisting of a logical and consistent ‘order’. Her chosen professions were both equal parts theory and structure, but even the theory portion was based in solid logic and definable laws. She could explain, at least on some level, every physical phenomenon they had come across with those laws – every phenomenon except the Nox.

The Nox refused to conform to her theories or the known laws she had always accepted as inviolable truth of how the universe operated. Sam knew Daniel’s theories and agreed with most of them, but the healing and the seemingly psychic communication were a little too far left of center for her comfort. Yet Daniel was better. Still pale and bruised, but better – and Sam could offer no explanation as to why.

Daniel had always been more open and accepting of things outside the boundaries of pure science. His impressively analytical mind could easily compete with hers; they worked so well at times it was almost scary even to her. But Daniel, with his broader acceptance of things outside the strict lines of science and his intuitive leaps of intellectual faith, could think her to a standstill sometimes – times which made her just as uncomfortable with him as she was with the Nox.

Looking up, Sam found herself eye to eye with Lya’s crystal blue gaze – a gaze full of sad sympathy as if….

‘No, don’t even think it. She couldn’t know…’

A bare lift of Lya’s fine eyebrow made Sam even more uneasy, so she returned her focus to the stand-off between her commanding officer and Klorel. The two stood at rigid attention, negative body language radiating increasing tension. If something – or someone – didn’t give soon, Newton’s Third Law was about to be displayed in all its inexorable certainty. An even greater certainty was that Colonel O’Neill would not be the one giving in.

Suddenly Klorel smiled. “Enough. You will bow before me, O’Neill. Make no mistake of it. You, your world, your people, the Nox, the Tollan – the System Lords themselves - all will come to know me as supreme ruler.” Klorel stepped forward confidently menacing. “Or all know my wrath before being consumed.”

The colonel’s back straightened even further. “Not going to happen.”

“You think not?” Klorel’s voice was chilling, as he stepped around the colonel to stare down at Daniel’s sleeping form.

Sam slid an arm protectively around Daniel, noting Lya’s look of alarm.

Klorel’s eyes glowed in hot hatred. “I think you are mistaken.”

 

 

Chapter 4

The day is done, and the darkness
  Falls from the wings of Night,
As a feather is wafted downward
  From an eagle in his flight

 

~Longfellow

~*~

 

 

Lya could sense an energy building around them, an energy originating elsewhere but focused through Klorel. She had no doubt who the target would be; it had been clear to her from the moment she had stepped into the room.

Klorel hated Daniel with a force that was almost a living thing unto itself. Klorel did not simply want Daniel dead; he wanted to destroy him from the inside out.

The sudden realization both repelled and fascinated Lya. This sort of darkness was so foreign to the Nox as to be inconceivable. While her people were by no means as naïve as O’Neill seemed to believe, she knew their tendency to take the higher path by way of detours was never going to change the sort of evil the humans fought on a daily basis. Since the Triad, Lya had spent a great deal of time contemplating the nature of such change – and the possibility the Nox way was not always the best way either.

Klorel’s eyes continued to glow, shifting to a malevolent green, and Lya felt a silent warning from Antaeus. She could feel their attunement, even through the layers of disharmony Klorel had brought upon them and let it wrap around them in a barrier of protection they could only hope would hold.

O’Neill seemed to sense the danger as well, perhaps not what but certainly to whom. At the same moment Klorel reached out a hand toward Daniel, O’Neill launched himself at the goa’uld’s body.

As if he had known what his commander was about to do, Teal’c also leapt forward and engaged the guards massed inside the cell door. Carter had been tensed and ready for this moment, quickly shifting Daniel over to Lya and joining Teal’c in his struggle.

Lya felt Antaeus’ presence beside her, saw one hand move to Daniel’s chest to gauge his physical condition and attempting, with a small understanding smile toward Lya, to encompass the unconscious human into their protection.

There was far too much going on around them to watch it all, so Lya focused on what she felt was the greatest threat – Klorel. O’Neill was forcibly restraining the goa’uld with all the strength of his considerable determination. Klorel arched his body, taking O’Neill’s feet off the floor and driving the human into the wall.

As O’Neill slumped limply to the floor, Klorel extended his hand device back toward Daniel and activated it. Instead of the expected golden light, the device glowed the same sickly green as the goa’uld’s eyes. Lya watched helplessly as the device concentrated its energy and pulsed outward in a steady stream of malignant purpose.

Daniel’s body stiffened in pain, and Lya felt the assault on his mind; it was as if something were attempting to rip away Daniel’s very spirit. The pain, even by referral, was greater than anything she had ever experienced - wrenching, aching, rending. Lya drew on her own rapidly fading strength in an effort to stave it off but knew Antaeus was as drained as she; they couldn’t protect Daniel, or themselves, much longer. Dimly, Lya could hear sounds of violence and pain around them; sounds that were slowly fading as her own hold on consciousness wavered, drawing her into Daniel’s abyss and away from Antaeus’ protection.

Without warning, the light faded as O’Neill fell across Daniel’s legs and was caught in the residual sparks of green still playing over Daniel’s body. As Lya watched, the energy slowly dissipated, and the two men stilled….

The sound of an energy weapon caused Lya to look up sharply. Carter and Teal’c were standing over them, weapons in hand. Klorel was slumped against the far wall, his Jaffa similarly scattered on the floor around the room.

Carter bent beside O’Neill, patting at his cheeks in an attempt to wake him. Already he was stirring.

Daniel, Lya knew, was far beyond that simple expedient. The young human would not wake for quite some time and she feared what they would find when he did. Klorel - through the strange, new device he possessed - had mercilessly attempted to rip Daniel’s soul away, and only she and Antaeus knew how terribly close it had come.

 

~*~

 

Jack felt…strange.

Directing Teal’c to pick up Daniel, Jack stood shakily and walked a few steps around the room to regain his composure.

What the hell had that thing of Klorel’s done?

This was nothing like a zat blast - or even the effects Daniel had often described of the usual variety of ribbon device. It was weird; he felt so - disjointed.

They needed to get off the ship, he knew that, yet it was so hard to bring his thoughts to coherency and direct his team as he knew he should. He had to pull himself together…

“Sir? You okay?”

Carter’s voice barely penetrated the fog in his brain; she was staring intently at him, eyes all huge and concerned.

‘No, I’m not okay. Do I fucking look okay?’ Jack thought for a moment he had actually said the cruel words out loud as Carter flinched back. ‘Damn, I must really look like shit…’

“Sir? We need to leave now.”

Leave? He could do leaving. Jack nodded shakily and waved a hand for her to lead the way, knowing full well he was in no way capable of it himself. Carter seemed to understand and passed him a staff weapon as she took point, peering into the hallway before stepping out. Jack held back until Antaeus and Lya went through, falling in beside Teal’c as he shifted the burden on his shoulder.

Even upside down, Daniel looked like crap.

Jack nearly giggled drunkenly as his mind wandered off on a tangent of convoluted logic: did Daniel look like crap because he was upside down, or had he looked like that before? Jack seemed to have trouble remembering.

Carter led them in ever-widening circles from the center of the ship toward the outer walls. They all had more experience than they had ever wanted with ships of this sort. Jack found himself flashing clearly on their too damn narrow escape from Apophis’ ship two years before. The three of them - believing Daniel dead - had gotten out through the glider bays while Daniel had dragged himself back from the brink of death, first to the sarcophagus, then to the Stargate and made his own way home. It seemed the glider bay was where Carter was leading them now and it occurred to Jack to wonder why, but words were beyond his ability at the moment. He could only follow, acting in faith that - as always - she knew what she was doing.

~*~

 

Teal’c could feel Daniel Jackson’s pounding heartbeat against his back and worried at the younger man’s condition. There was no time to stop and examine him; they had to escape while they could. Klorel was dead, but they all knew death was far from a permanent condition where the goa’uld were concerned.

Major Carter was taking them deeper and deeper into the ship, knowing, as Teal’c did, the patrols in that area would be fewer with the ship on a planet. The hangar doors would be near enough to the ground for them to climb down with little difficulty, even with an unconscious Daniel Jackson and an obviously disoriented O’Neill.

Teal’c had realized some time ago that his commander was not completely recovered from the effects of Klorel’s device. The pseudo-ribbon device disturbed Teal’c. He had seen Daniel Jackson’s face - as well as those of the Nox - and knew more had been taking place than was externally obvious. In fact, he feared for Daniel Jackson’s sanity as much as his life. O’Neill had been affected after only a few seconds of exposure. How much greater would those unknown effects be in Daniel Jackson after the long minutes he had suffered?

Teal’c shifted his grip slightly, turning to make sure O’Neill was close behind.

He was.

Less than two paces away and focused upon Daniel Jackson as if nothing else existed.

“O’Neill?” Teal’c asked quietly.

There was no reaction in the fixed expression.

“O’Neill!”

The brown gaze dragged itself upward with painful slowness. “Teal’c?” O’Neill’s voice was hoarse, seemingly coming from a great distance.

“Are you well, O’Neill?”

O’Neill looked confused at the question, blinking heavily as he concentrated on giving an answer. “Um…no…”

“Can you continue?” Teal’c was growing concerned at the obvious effort thought was requiring.

After several seconds O’Neill nodded, his gaze immediately returning to Daniel Jackson’s limp form. Teal’c felt a shiver of foreboding, but nodded once in return before turning again to follow Major Carter and the Nox.

~*~

 

Sam could hear Teal’c’s questions to the colonel and knew something was seriously wrong, but they could not stop to examine either man until they were safely away from the ship.

If memory served her, the hangar bays were just one level below their current position. From there it should be relatively easy to open one of the launch hatches and climb down the slope of the pyramid ship.

They had to get off the ship and far away before the guards revived Klorel. The mercurial goa’uld was still nursing a grudge because the colonel had shot him on the hat’ak nearly two years earlier to save Daniel; he would be absolutely murderous now they had ruined his plans for vengeance and stolen away two of his hostages.

Sam noticed the exhaustion on the faces of the two Nox. On some level she knew they had tried to protect Daniel from the effects of Klorel’s device, and it was quite evident the effort had exhausted both of them; Lya was leaning more on Antaeus with every step. Sam could only hope that, once outside the ship, the Nox could lead them to a place where they could all rest and recuperate while they formed some plan to defeat Klorel.

‘A little C4 would be nice about now…’ Sam looked down at her grey and pink ensemble, swearing to destroy the embarrassing things at the first opportunity and wishing for her usual mission attire with its many hidden pockets full of useful items, which would have included - on a mission like this - C4.

The packs Teal’c had brought might have contained some of the explosive, but they were somewhere on the upper levels and there was no way, with four compromised people to take care of Sam would take a chance on their lives right now. Her first priority was to get them all to safety; they would worry about the rest later.

Sam held up a hand to halt the others as they reached the set of stairs she knew would lead them to the hangar. Holding the zat gun Teal’c had appropriated from a weapons store several corridors back, she edged downward far enough to look carefully around the huge room.

Everything was powered down; no one was in sight.

Gesturing for the rest to follow, Sam led them cautiously across the catwalks, below the suspended gliders, and toward the large bay doors. With a last sweep of her weapon she activated the doors, holding her breath as they slid slowly upward in their tracks.

Teal’c was watching their six - as well as the colonel, who still seemed aware of very little but the back of Daniel’s head.

Sam frowned. ‘Weird. Too weird.’

Finally the doors locked into place revealing a familiar hillock twenty feet below, but the stargate was missing.

Rendered invisible by the Nox, Sam wondered, or dismantled by Klorel?

Quickly scanning the surrounding terrain, Sam climbed out onto the ridged surface of the ship, finding the block-on-block facade to be quite an effective ladder.

Reaching the ground, Sam turned to encourage the Nox to follow, noting the solicitous way Antaeus assisted Lya. The Nox woman was trembling by the time they stepped off onto the grass and Sam motioned for them to rest while they waited for the others to join them. Teal’c was halfway down with the colonel as close behind as possible without standing on Teal’c’s already overburdened shoulders. The colonel seemed almost frantic as he moved to keep pace with Teal’c, hurrying to close any gaps between them. As the jaffa’s feet touched the grass, the colonel jumped from his position two blocks above to land at Teal’c side, gaze once again returning to Daniel.

Sam sighed, intensely curious, but also aware of the need to get under cover as soon as possible.

“Antaeus, this is your territory. Where can we go?”

Antaeus considered the question for a long moment. “I know of a place.”

The Nox moved to take the lead and Sam followed after a quick glance to be sure the others were behind her. She realized she need not have worried, Teal’c was bringing up the rear - and the colonel was doing a more than convincing imitation of a puppy at heel.

‘Very weird…’

 

~*~

 

Antaeus led the weary group further into the forest. He remembered a place from his childhood, a cave of good proportion and well hidden among the trees. He had intended one day to show it to Nefreyu, to spend several passings in exploration and companionship.

Antaeus sighed at the memory of those happy plans, his breath catching at the realization all such hopes were now gone.

Lya brushed his mind with gentle comfort, too exhausted to do more. He pulled her small frame closer for a moment, returning the gesture physically. There would be time to grieve later. When their people and the humans were safe.

Night had nearly fallen by the time they reached the cave. It was even better hidden than Antaeus had remembered; several large trees nearly obscured the narrow entrance. With a great deal of judicious squeezing, they all slipped inside and followed Antaeus into the darkness. Antaeus knew the jaffa had eyesight roughly equivalent to that of the Nox, but the humans did not so he extended a hand to guide Carter and instructed Teal’c to do the same for O’Neill. When they had reached the large central chamber, Antaeus stopped.

“We can rest here.”

Teal’c eased his burden to the ground carefully as Carter fumbled her way to the wall. Antaeus could see O’Neill kneeling beside Daniel, but even his eyesight could not help him decipher the expression on the older human’s face. He was far too weary to attempt any mental explorations, but he knew something had occurred to affect the two humans, something that connected them in ways they would all need to spend a great deal of time exploring if they were to help them.

Teal’c had gathered a small amount of wood and placed it in the rear of the cavern where a slight draft would draw the smoke away to some unseen air vent. With a word of warning, Teal’c’s stolen staff weapon ignited the wood, bringing heat and light into the chill darkness.

Carter sighed in relief and moved closer to the warmth before looking over to see O’Neill with his hands planted firmly on Daniel’s chest, gazing down on the younger man with an expression of mute pain.

“Colonel?”

Very slowly O’Neill’s troubled eyes rose to meet Carter’s.

“It hurts. Daniel hurts.”

 

Part 2

 

 

 

 

 

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