Jmas Fan Fiction

Title: Where Roads Meet
Date: January 21, 2000
Status: Complete
Author: Jmas
Category: Drama, angst, smarm, h/c…the usual.
Rating: PG-13, language
Email: jmasg1@bellsouth.net
Archive: Stargate Fan, Heliopolis, Belle, Place of Our Legacy
Disclaimer: Characters are property of MGM, etc.
Spoilers: Foothold, Pretense, Devil You Know, Forever in a Day, Enigma, Secrets, Children of the Gods, Stargate the movie, Enemy Within, likely more….
Summary: Lives change where roads meet….
Author's note: Our lives are often affected by things we never realize were there all along…

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Chapter 1: General George Hammond

I’m really getting too old for this…

Not too long ago I was ready to retire, kick back and let Tessa and Kayla spoil old grandpop. Write memoirs that no one would ever read…and certainly wouldn’t get shot for…and dream of nothing more Earth-shattering than UV rays and how to improve my golf swing.

Of course, that was before the Stargate sprang to life after a year of silence…spilling out Goa’ulds and Jaffa. Before Colonel Jonathan ‘Jack’ O’Neill gave me that first shit-eating grin. And way before my perceptions of ‘clear and present danger’ were forever altered in the face of a universe suddenly much larger and much more dangerous than I had ever suspected it could be.

Things moved surprisingly quickly after that. Stargate Command was thrown together with all the finesse of a runaway train…necessity creating a sense of urgent purpose…held together with a lot of will and a collective prayer. But somehow we made it all work. The first few missions were a little…hell, a lot…rocky, but we got better at it. Better than better. This is without a doubt the finest group of people I’ve ever had the privilege to command. What we lack in finesse, we more than make up for in energy, commitment and heart. We may not always observe parade ground rules, but traveling to unknown sectors of the galaxy and facing dangers so surreal they could come straight out of the Twilight Zone, risking lives in ways so horrendous and alien…well that kind of forgives a missed salute on occasion. We pull out the company manners when we need to, the rest of the time we get the job done.

The SGC has been called the first line of defense against dangers few people on the planet are aware of and we’re damn proud of that. A certain PhD once said we were the ‘single most important human endeavor in the history of mankind’. Heady stuff that, but, by God, Doctor Daniel Jackson knows better than anyone the simplicity of truth in that statement.

When Dr. Jackson opened the Stargate the concept of ‘mankind’ took on a whole new meaning. It isn’t just Earth anymore. There are literally millions of humans out there, stolen out of time by the Goa’uld and transplanted throughout the galaxy like seeds scattered in the wind…slaves and potential hosts for the most part. Sometimes still under Goa’uld control, other times simply people who were discarded and forgotten at the whim of a bunch of parasitic aliens who steal what they want with arrogant expectation and without a glimmer of regard for the lives they alter and destroy. We *are * the first line of defense for Earth and, over time, I’m discovering a very real sense of cosmic responsibility. Lord, that sounds like something Dr. Jackson would say. He’s fought our military mindset from the very beginning, and somehow he's managed to drive the message home…at least to the best among us…that it *is * more than just what’s best for Earth now.

Teal’c calls Earth the ‘First World’ and I’ve finally come to realize just how appropriate that is…it all started here. And the Goa’uld made damn sure it wouldn’t end here.

From the first time the Stargate formed a wormhole at the bottom of Cheyenne Mountain a whole new can of worms was opened. God, that sounds like one of Colonel O’Neill’s bad puns. Too bad we can’t put the lid back on that can and forget we ever wanted to go fishing in the first place. No, I don’t really mean that. Unlike certain shit-head senators and narrow-minded NID colonels I know for a certain-teed fact that it’s thousands of years too late to reseal that can. The best we can hope for is to learn some new ways to fish.

And that’s why it’s so important we keep doing what we do. We are learning. We’re making new allies, making life better more often than not for a lot of those offshoot societies that Dr. Jackson worries so much about. Now, I’m career military…my thinking tends to stay inside those admittedly pretty black and white lines…but I’m not stupid. It may have taken me awhile to figure out just how important this culture-science-goodwill stuff was, but I did figure it out.

Not bad for an old country boy, hunh?

What surprises me is the way Dr. Jackson has managed to win so many converts over to his Church of Universal Responsibility and Ethics. Even Colonel O’Neill has gotten a healthy dose of that particular philosophy. Yes, I mean the same Jack O’Neill who got picked to go on the first mission through the Stargate because he was the meanest SOB to ever grace the ranks of Covert Ops. And that would be the same Jack O’Neill who was ready and more than willing to blow up an entire planet and himself, taking a potential threat to Earth with him. And that’s certainly the same Jack O’Neill who kept the truth of what really happened there to himself so a lot of innocent people could live in peace for the first time in millennia. And that would be the same Jack O’Neill who fought tooth and nail to keep that ‘scientific crap’ out of his missions. And that’s definitely the same Jack O’Neill who would give his life for any member of his team, not to mention a whole lot of other folks out there in the universe. Yep, that’s him. Three years later and he is nowhere near the same guy General West described as an ‘accident waiting for a place to happen’. I’ve watched Jack O’Neill change from a distant and pretty damn flippant 'retired' officer to one of the finest team leaders…and friends…in this facility. Which is only right I guess considering he heads the best damn team we’ve got.

Those first few weeks…that runaway train phase…I was as sure as I could be that SG1 would be our first train wreck. I never would have thought those four people would manage not to kill each other much less come to work together so effectively that sometimes it’s downright scary to watch them operate.

A word, an eyebrow, a shrug. At first I thought it was just my imagination, but after awhile I figured out these people communicated on such a subtle non-verbal level they didn’t even realize the rest of us weren’t up to speed on SG1-ese. Not that they don’t communicate pretty damn well…and pretty damn loud too…in the vocal range, but even there I can’t seem to keep up as well as I’d like to. Colonel O’Neill and his cliché mangling tirades, Major Carter and her quasi-quantum-whatever-the hell’s, Dr. Jackson …you’d think a linguist would recognize that 10-syllable words work better on paper than spoken out loud…. Sometimes I think Teal’c is the only one I can count on to make some measure of sense out of what the rest of them are saying. Worst part of that is that he mostly understands it, processes it, distills it, then gives me the short and sweet version all in the space of time it takes me to figure out that I don’t have the slightest idea what’s going on. They really are a pretty smart bunch of people all around…though Colonel O’Neill tends a little too heavily toward the smart ‘ass’ side of the equation for my sanity’s sake sometimes. The simple fact of the matter is they are the best at what they do.

Which makes it all that much harder for me to walk into that briefing room and tell them I’ve got to split them up…


Chapter 2: Major Samantha Carter

A month? He’s reassigning all of us for a month? General Hammond waltzes in here, drops a bomb on us and sits there like we’re supposed to like it. What’s wrong with this picture?

When I can think again, he’s telling me that Teal’c and I are going to some Pentagon information exchange, the colonel’s going to do some recruitment screenings at Eglin, and Daniel supposed to go help those NID hacks at Area 51.

Something is seriously wrong with this picture….

The colonel feels it too. I can see it in that little squinty thing he’s doing with his eyes. Teal’c’s giving me the eyebrow lift and Daniel….

Now that’s strange.

Daniel’s not looking at anybody… No reaction at all…

Uh oh….

The colonel sees it, but he’s not saying anything yet. I guess that means we shouldn’t either, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it General Hammond’s still going on about “well-deserved downtime” and I admit we’ve had some really rough missions lately. Maybe it’s just the colonel’s suspicious nature rubbing off on me, but I have a really bad feeling about all of this. Why not just give us a week’s leave? Why send us off to opposite ends of the country for heavens sake?

Not to put too fine a point on it, but we’re needed here. We’ve already got too many teams out on medical stand down or on long-term missions off-world. I don’t understand the reasoning behind all these comparatively trivial assignments at this particular point in time.

I keep waiting for the colonel to protest. I can see he’s working up to it, sifting his way through General Hammond’s words for some clue to latch on to. I also see the little side glances he’s giving Daniel, expecting support but finding only a head bowed into a hand rubbing away at another headache. I pick up on the little edge of concern creeping into the colonel’s eyes. Daniel’s had a lot of headaches lately…ever since Amaunet used that ribbon device on him. I know Janet’s keeping an extra close eye on him because of it…we all are. Things haven’t slowed down very much for any of us since then; Daniel was knocked around pretty thoroughly on Netu, then there was the alien body-double thing, and just last week the Triad thing with Skaara which put a lot of pressure on Daniel and the colonel. Business as usual has been way too busy for SG1.

The colonel’s gaze goes from Daniel to Teal’c to me without a word. When General Hammond finally winds down to the inevitable request for questions, I’m not entirely surprised when the colonel shakes his head and allows us to be dismissed.

As Teal’c and I head for the door, I see the colonel touch Daniel’s arm causing pain-filled eyes to finally look up. A killer headache…no doubt about it. The colonel gives Daniel one of those long stares that Daniel dismisses with a wave meant to be reassuring, but it just comes off looking terribly tired.

“I’m okay, Jack…” It’s barely a whisper, meant only for the colonel’s hearing.

The colonel just nods, putting out a hand to help Daniel to his feet. Houston, we have mother-hen mode. The colonel takes Daniel’s arm and guides him to the door I’m now holding open for them. The colonel meets my worried look with a shrug and a tight smile. I can see the thought as clearly as if he’d said it, ‘maybe we really can use the down time.’ I nod my head in response as I follow them down the corridor, but I’m hit by that sneaking suspicious feeling again.

There’s more to all of this than we’re being told….


Chapter 3: Colonel Jack O’Neill

I am not a happy camper.

Something is so not right, I can feel it right down to my bones….

I’m about as useful here as a vintage DC-9…at least it would have had more to show for two weeks of so-called work. I look at files and talk to these hotshots who think they’ve got the world by the tail, but would probably lose more than their breakfast just looking at a wormhole. God, I was never that young….

I talked to Carter last night, she and Teal’c are feeling about as necessary as I am while getting the royal run-a-round at the five-sided fun house. The hell of it is none of us has been able to reach Daniel. Not that it’s very easy to phone home to Area 51, but I do have certain connections, not to mention the rank, to get a message through. He’s never at the hotel he’s supposedly checked in to. Even Maybourne isn’t that much of a slave driver…

Maybourne.

Colonel Harry Maybourne would need to climb a ladder to get to the bottom of my shit list most of the time, but he did come through for us during that Foothold situation. Even so, I get a little queasy when I think of Daniel being exposed to Harry’s less than tender mercies for too long a stretch. Harry’s still got a slow burn going over that Tollan thing…

But what the hell….

Maybe I need to have a little colonel to colonel chat with Harry…make sure he’s taking care of Daniel. I think Harry knows me well enough to realize he’d better be.

I didn’t like this whole plan from the beginning, but my team was tired…bone tired and more than a little stressed. Daniel’s headaches actually had me a little scared. Janet swears it’s just stress and maybe some residual effects from Amaunet’s attempt to fry Daniel’s brain. Maybe. I just know I’m not going to feel any better until I hear Daniel’s voice, then I’ll know he’s okay.

I have to go through three Airmen and an officious-sounding lieutenant to get to Harry, but finally I hear those clipped, nasal tones in my ear.

“Colonel O’Neill. What can I do for you?”

I just can’t help myself when it comes to Harry. “Hey, Harry, dissected any good aliens today?”

I hear him sputter a bit. “What do you want, O’Neill?”

*O’Neill, hunh? It’s just too damn easy to bait you, Harry… *

“I want to know why you’re keeping my archaeologist so busy he can’t take a damn phone call?”

The silence on the other end is just a hair too long. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, O’Neill. Everyone on *my * team works hard, but I’m no slave driver.”

That little silence helps me decide a little brown-nosing might be in order. “C’mon, Harry…I just want to make sure the kid’s okay. He wasn’t feeling too well the last time I saw him.”

Harry sighs loudly…too loudly. “Jack, I haven’t seen Dr. Jackson…today. You know these scientists, they get so wrapped up in their work you hardly know they’re around.”

Uh hunh…

“I’m familiar with the feeling, Harry. Could you let him know I called…when you see him?” I can almost hear the smile on the other end of the line…message received.

“I’ll do that, Jack.”

“I owe you one, Harry.” Boy, that hurts to say…

“I’ll remember that.”

He clicks off on that and I’m left wondering why I never seem to learn to listen to my gut. Carter and Teal’c are where they’re supposed to be, I’m stuck here at Anderson like I’m supposed to be…Why in the hell isn’t Daniel in Nevada where he’s supposed to be?

Remembering Daniel’s headache the day before we left, I wonder if maybe he got too sick to ship out. I dial his apartment, but the machine picks up. From the length of the tone it’s obvious that Daniel hasn’t picked up his messages for several days at least. Just to be on the safe side I call Daniel’s neighbor, Mrs. Ellis. Mrs. Ellis is a lovely old widow who picks up Daniel’s mail and feeds his fish when he’s away…not to mention supplying him with actual home-cooked food on a semi-regular basis. We’re not the only ones who think the kid forgets to eat. I try to keep my voice calm when I talk to her, but she’s already upset. Seems Daniel was expected back a few days ago and didn’t he seem awfully tired before he left? I agree with her, but try to make light of it, reminding her that yes, Daniel is such a sweet boy, but he does tend to get wrapped up in his work. Before I hang up, I have her laughing and making plans to fix us both a nice dinner when Daniel does get home.

This is getting seriously weird…

We were all sent off on these assignments with the understanding that they’d last the better part of a month. Okay. So why did Daniel tell Mrs. Ellis that he’d be back in less than two weeks? He’d go out of his way not to worry her. Harry hasn’t seen Daniel at all. Where the hell is he?

I have one more call to make; I just hope I can catch him at home…

“H’lo?”

“Ferretti?”

I don’t even have to identify myself, Ferretti’s two jumps ahead of me.

“Where the hell are you man? I’ve been trying to reach you for days.”

That sends a chill through me. “Why? Where’s Daniel, Lou?”

I hear him take a deep breath, it doesn’t help my state of mind.

“Jack…he’s missing.”

“I *know * he’s not at Groom Lake, Ferretti. Just tell me…”

Feretti gets agitated easily at the best of times, but he’s nearly hyperventilating now. “No, Jack. He didn’t go to Area 51, he went through the gate…and he’s three days overdue.”

The chill I felt earlier is quickly displaced by a heat I hardly know how to control. I manage to keep my voice steady as I ask Ferretti to slow down and give me everything from the beginning. One thing’s for sure…if I have to walk, I’m heading back to Colorado.

Tonight.

Chapter 4: Major Louis Ferretti

Man, the colonel sounded thoroughly pissed.

And he doesn’t know the half of it yet. Considering he was calling from one of the biggest Air Force installations in the states, I wasn’t real comfortable giving him more detail than necessary over the phone. We’re both in enough hot water as it is and all he really needed to know was that more was going on here than just a case of Daniel not being in Nevada like he was supposed to be.

I still don’t know as much as I’d like to…and not nearly enough to satisfy the colonel I’m sure. I just know that I saw Daniel go through the gate alone in the middle of the night with only Hammond, Harriman and, for some strange reason, Fraiser as witnesses. I wasn’t supposed to be there. I’d left a report behind in the control room and was heading up there to get it when I heard the first rumble of the gate activating. I knew there wasn’t anyone expected in or out that night so I was sort of anticipating an alert when I started up the stairs. When the alert didn’t come, being the nosy bastard that I am, I slipped on up to get a look. I ducked out of sight and looked through the observation window just in time to see Daniel, in those funky Abydonian robes, starting up the ramp alone. Hammond was staring down there with a look I’d never seen on his face before and I swear his voice was almost breaking as he told Daniel to be careful and they’d see him in two weeks. I could just see Daniel’s face from where I was…sad, determined…before he nodded to the general and stepped into the wormhole. As the blue light died with a whoosh, I could hear Fraiser protesting that Daniel was in no condition for this mission. The general had to clear his throat before answering that Daniel had to be.

Right about then I figured it was the better part of valor, not to mention ass preservation, not to get caught where I shouldn’t be. I slipped out of the shadows and down the stairs while they were still arguing about whether Daniel should have gone out alone. I can’t be sure, but I thought I heard Hammond say that he wouldn’t be alone…but I can’t be sure. He looked pretty damn alone when I saw him.

I tried to reach the colonel that night and most of the next day, until I finally got Jimmy in records to admit that the colonel had been assigned TDY at Eglin. I must’ve called a half dozen times before catching on to the fact that nobody was delivering my messages so I figured okay…I’ll just keep my eyes and ears open and see what else I can find out. Which wasn’t very much. A few innocent questions to Fraiser just earned me a guilty look and a wide-eyed stare. Harriman’s been hanging around Hammond too long, I couldn’t get so much as a blink out of him. Being fairly fond of my backside, I didn’t even try Hammond.

Now here I am, freezing said backside off waiting at this private airfield. I don’t know how the colonel managed to get his hands on a civilian aircraft in northwestern Florida…I probably don’t want to know…but this is where he said to meet him. He is going to be shit deep in trouble when Hammond gets through with him. SG1 or no, there’s only so much bull the old man will take from the colonel. Going AWOL…even from temporary duty…definitely falls under Hammond’s definition of ‘bull’.

I hear the plane before I see it. Cute little Cessna, I wonder…no I don’t…that’s one of those things I don’t need to know. I’m not really surprised to see that the colonel piloting; he wouldn’t want to involve anyone else in this.

Me? I got involved the day Daniel saved our asses on Abydos and it’s kind of gotten to be a habit. I like Daniel. I know I didn’t cut him much slack at first, but he really came through for us then…and so many times since. We talk a lot. I can listen to Daniel talk all day…I know that sounds strange for an old country boy like me, but the guy just knows so much about…so much. I’ve never met anybody that smart. Just off the top of his head he can leave me in the dirt with his words…not that he would. He always takes care to make sure I understand, explaining things in a way that doesn’t leave me feeling like I’m any less than he is because I didn’t spend over half my life in school. And I like to think I help him, too…he knows he can ask me anything. While I might laugh with him, I don’t laugh at him…not anymore. We’ve been through too much for that.

The colonel shuts the plane down and climbs out, making his way over to my old Bronco. SGC pays me enough to get something better, but like my daddy always said…if it ain’t broke, you don’t need a new one.

Even in the dim moonlight I can see the colonel’s face is locked into that ‘screw around with me and die’ mask that probably saved his life more than once in Covert Ops. I’m not at all sure that kind of attitude will make any headway with Hammond so I need to get him calmed down and thinking clearly before we get back to base. It’s times like these when I really miss Kowalsky…he was better at taming wild-eyed Colonel O’Neill’s than I am.

As the colonel climbs in beside me, I see the mask slip just a bit and start telling him the whole thing from the beginning. I can’t gloss over the details…he’d see right through it anyway…but I can see him start to thaw a little as I talk. I guess he had that whole long flight alone to run through a bunch of pretty awful possibilities, but now…faced with the facts as observed by Ferretti…he’s starting to chill out and think more like a commander than a worried friend.

I realize my own tension is easing up now, too. Whatever is going on with Daniel, the colonel is here and one way or another…even if it ends with us up on charges…we’re going to find out the hell is going on.

Chapter 5: General George Hammond

I am not going to lose my temper.

I am not going to let this total disregard for protocol and regulations…however well-founded and well-meaning…affect my already too high blood pressure.

The hell I’m not….

“Colonel O’Neill, can you give me one good reason why I shouldn’t turn the both of you over to the SP’s and be damned any possible consequences? Major Ferretti, the colonel was not included in this mission for a reason. Are you operating under the sadly misguided assumption that you can countermand my decisions at will?”

Well at least they look suitably contrite. I guess I haven’t lost my touch after all. The thing is….and I’ll never admit this under pain of death…I was going to send for Colonel O’Neill anyway. He’s the only other one who can go after Dr. Jackson now. I’m hoping things haven’t gone to hell as badly as I fear they have , but Dr. Jackson is three days overdue…

My problem now is I have to give Colonel O’Neill what he wants…to go after Dr. Jackson…without leaving him with the very much mistaken impression that he can go around flaunting orders at will. We’ve been here before, that whole saving-the-Earth-against-executive-orders thing…not to mention the thing with the Orbanians. I granted a hell of a lot of leeway then, but this cannot go unremarked.

I stand a little straighter and put on what my kids call my pissed-to-the-max bellow. “Colonel O’Neill, you will be receiving an official reprimand on your record, expect it. You will not be making a habit of disregarding my orders in future…Is that clear, colonel?”

He has the good grace to look uncomfortable, but he’s not the least apologetic. As Dr. Jackson would say…déjà vu. We have definitely been here before.

I switch targets while I’m on a roll. “Major Ferretti, the phrase ‘need to know’ is part of the military lexicon for a purpose. You will live, breathe and practice it. Consider them words to live by for as long as you are attached to this facility. Am I making myself clear?”

I’ve managed to make Ferretti uncomfortable and apologetic…so I’m feeling somewhat appeased. Of course with Ferretti it’s never easy to tell how much of his contrition is real and how much is his patented line of BS, but I think the message is received. These guys have a long way to go before they get *that * much over on me.

I have the singular pleasure of dismissing Ferretti at this point and seeing a totally shocked expression come over his face.

“Need to know, Major.” I smile at him as I close the door in his face.


Chapter 6: Colonel Jack O’Neill

I do not believe this….

What the hell did Daniel think he was doing?

Well, duh, O’Neill… you know what he thought. He thought he was protecting us, he thought we’d stop him, he thought something I haven’t figured out yet…something that convinced Hammond to buy into this crazy plan.

Janet said Daniel was still having those headaches when he left….

I knew I should have stuck around when they took that snake out of Skaara. I guess it was still to soon after my own up close and personal encounter with one of those things…I just couldn’t stand there and watch. But Daniel could…and did. He’s good about things like that. No matter how personally grossed out he is, he stands by his friends. I don’t doubt that there was also a little piece of him that wanted to see the thing come out of Skaara with his own eyes….one small victory to offset so many defeats.

Skaara already knew that Sha’re was dead. I know he and Daniel did a little grieving together before Skaara left to see his father. I hope Skaara decides to stay with the Tok’ra…the wealth of knowledge he gained as Klorel’s host would go a long way toward fighting the Goa’uld. Much as I would have liked it, it wouldn’t really be practical to expect Skaara to adapt to life on Earth…and there’s the distinct possibility that Harry and his crew would turn him into some sort of lab rat. We’d all die before we let that happen…and at least now he’s free.

So somewhere along the line Skaara passed on the little tidbit of news about maybe knowing how to find Kheb. Fine. Why send Daniel out there alone with Skaara? Didn’t they think I could be subtle enough not to get caught even though I can’t speak the lingo like they can? Daniel’s face is about as well-known as mine on the Goa’uld hit parade….

This whole plan was crazy…

I am so thoroughly pissed…

And worried….

This is the most screwed plan in the history of screwed plans….

At least Hammond let me come after them….I think he really believes I didn’t know he was going to recall me anyway. Right, George.

I make my way around the village carefully. I’ve been lucky so far not to run into anyone who’s inclined to talk. Except for the sparse greenery, this place reminds me a lot of Abydos. The level of development, the architecture…really close. I just don’t know how to go about finding Daniel and Skaara without making at least some contact with the locals. And what am I going to do the first time somebody asks me a question? Play deaf and dumb?

C’mon, guys…where the hell are you?

I move through an open area, trying to look a little inconspicuous and keeping one hand on the zat under my robes. I’m taller than anybody I’ve seen so far and slightly lighter-skinned, but these people are totally clueless. Hello? Big, pale stranger here…I’m guessing these people haven’t had much interaction with the Goa’uld, they’re entirely too trusting here.

There are a lot of small buildings down by the stream and I figure I may as well start there. As I make my way closer to the rough stone houses, I see a couple of the natives take notice of me and go back to their work. Off to one side, I notice a hooded figure watching just a little too long before slipping off to a house set away from the rest. That’s my target.

The hooded guy is standing in the darkened doorway as I approach, moving back as I reach the threshold. I touch the zat under my robes again and step inside. As my eyes adjust to the dimmer light the hood falls to reveal Skaara.

“O’Neill! I knew you would come!”

The kid gives me a bouncing hug…so intensely familiar…and steps back. “Come, Danyer needs you.”

That causes my gut to twist in a way that it is uniquely attributable to Daniel. I’ve got one of those for everyone I care about, but Daniel’s seems to get more than its share of practice.

Skaara leads me into room made as dark as possible in daylight, heavy cloths covering the windows and lights a single oil lamp revealing a figure huddled on a mat against the wall.

“Daniel?” My body reacts faster than my brain…like that’s a new concept…and I’m on my knees beside him before his name fades.

Daniel turns a bit but doesn’t open his eyes. “Jack?” The voice is barely a whisper, but even that seems to hurt him.

I lower my voice in sympathy with that pain. “Daniel, what’s wrong?”

Skaara moves forward to kneel beside me, speaking softly. “Danyer has been in great pain for many days. Light and sound, even moving, make it worse. I could not leave him.”

I put a hand on Skaara’s shoulder. “You did the right thing. Did he have any medicine with him?” Surely Janet didn’t send him out here without something.

Skaara nods. “It is gone. Two days ago.”

I scoot closer to Daniel, touching his forehead carefully.

“Jack?” That whisper-voice tells me more than a dozen words could. Daniel is really hurting here.

“Take it easy, Danny…we’ll get you out of here…”

Daniel shakes his head. “Can’t go, Jack. Can’t…”

I look at Skaara, hoping he knows what Daniel’s thinking but he just shakes his head helplessly. I’m guessing they’ve already had this argument. I don’t know why Daniel doesn’t want to leave, but right now it’s secondary to getting him back to the SGC and Doc Fraiser’s infirmary.

I motion for Skaara to follow me into the other room so we can make a plan without disturbing Daniel. I open my mouth to ask Skaara what’s been going on when we hear an explosion of sound.

Moving to the doorway, I watch in dread, knowing what I’m going to see…

Jaffa.

Dozens of them.

Systematically blasting away at these innocent natives.

A voice from the hilltop stops the destruction.

A familiar voice.

Even before I look I know what I’m going to see….

We are in so much trouble here.

Chapter 7: Skaara of Abydos

I have never been so glad to see O’Neill.

I have been so afraid for Daniel. He was rarely ill on Abydos, just one episode of sun sickness that he learned from and never risked again. Even his allergies were not a great problem as long as he stayed away from the mastadge pens and aired out the tunnels he was so fond of exploring. Sha’re certainly allowed no dust to linger in their home to cause my chosen brother discomfort. It was never difficult to want to help Daniel, the love he shared with us was all we required to want to make him happy…and keep him healthy.

I have missed him so much. Our time apart has changed us both in many ways, but the feelings have not changed. Even with Sha’re lost to us, we are still family. I was very afraid at first that Daniel could not forget the things my demon used my body to do. I should have known better. Daniel would never blame me. He understands.

He told me about Sha’re…her child, her death….and about the images placed in his mind as Sha’re fought her demon’s attempt to kill him. I miss my sister. I saw Amaunet often, but only once in all those years did I truly see Sha’re. It was just after Amaunet returned from Abydos and the demon had yet to regain full control. With all of my strength I fought for control of my body and won. Sha’re’s eyes glowed with her own strong spirit as she told me Daniel still lived and searched for us…still loved us. I held that knowledge close to my heart, letting it ease the ache I had felt since my demon had so nearly killed him on the Ha’tak.

That image will never leave me. I could not fight the hate my demon felt for Daniel…for no other reason than because he was important to me. I had regained control for just a few moments that day and even influenced the demon’s thoughts regarding Teal’c. My demon hated me for causing it to weaken, it felt the joy in my heart upon seeing Daniel and tried to use me to destroy him

I remember O’Neill’s voice calling my name as Daniel struggled to breathe under the demon’s onslaught. I fought so hard to stop it, but the hate was too strong. I was so glad when O’Neill fired his weapon. As I fell I could hear Daniel draw a choking breath and knew that he lived. With that treasured knowledge, I welcomed death…

Daniel, our gentle teacher and reluctant leader. Time has changed him, but I hope those things will never change. He is stronger now, in ways both saddening and heartening. I am glad he has learned to protect his body, but can see that he has also learned to conceal his innermost heart. I see it when he speaks of Sha’re…like a curtain falling across a doorway. He thinks he failed her, but I know the truth…nothing could have saved Sha’re. Amaunet was most strong, ancient and powerful in the ways of dominating a host. My demon was young and untested, it was far easier for me to fight than for Sha’re. Daniel did not fail, there was never a chance for a true battle.

When Daniel told me of Kheb, I remembered something my demon had heard about the place. I did not know its location, but I did know this world contained a temple with writings which spoke of it. The language of the Ancients is as much a mystery to the demons as the Tau’ri, but Daniel was confident he could decipher it.

General Hammond had requested I be brought to Earth to speak of these things and I was surprised O’Neill was not present when I arrived…he is Daniel’s commander and friend. Daniel told me O’Neill would not be joining us at the meeting or on the mission, but did not explain why. I could see the pain in Daniel’s eyes when he told me General Hammond had decided to send only the two of us alone. I think it was as much Daniel’s decision as the general’s. I think Daniel feared to risk his friends. That thought was affirmed when Daniel tried to persuade me not to come either, but I have learned enough about my stubborn brother to know how to argue with Daniel. I believe Daniel thought even then that something would happen here and did not wish to risk any but himself.

Once we arrived here Daniel seemed to accept my presence. We found the temple without difficulty and fell into patterns established long ago on Abydos; Daniel studied and recorded the strange writings while I took care of our physical needs. The natives were quite hospitable, providing food and quarters without many questions. I know Daniel well enough to know he will work ceaselessly when faced with a mystery…I have seen it often. Sha’re and I devised many ways of seeing that he would eat and sleep regularly when his mind became so busy that nothing else would exist for him. It was such a pleasure to return to those patterns, to the relationship I had thought lost forever.

We found time to talk after the first few days. We spoke of our lives since we parted on Chulak, of things long past and things painfully fresh. We spoke of Sha’re, grieving and rejoicing together that her beautiful spirit was gone from us but finally…thankfully…free.

One week later, we were nearly finished copying the writings…Daniel was already certain of many references to Kheb…when the worst of the headaches came. Daniel had been taking the medicine Dr. Fraiser had given him before we left…the pain had come before, but gone fairly quickly. That attack was frightening. Daniel is as strong as he is intelligent…a quiet strength of spirit many do not suspect in one so gentle…I have never heard him cry out in such a manner. For many long minutes he was blinded to everything…he did not seem to feel or hear me as I led him back to our sleeping rooms. Even Dr. Fraiser’s small pills took hours to have any effect on Daniel’s pain. I remembered my mother had such head pain when I was very small…Sha’re and our father would blanket all light from her room and keep me quiet. It seemed to work for Daniel, if only for a short time. I wanted to return with him to Earth right away, but Daniel insisted we finish what we had come to do. I promised him we would.

I knew O’Neill would come. I know much of what I feel for O’Neill is what I felt when Daniel would tell us tales of our heroic ancestors on Earth who fought the demons…but under that I also know that O’Neill is strong and would never abandon his friends. When Daniel did not return…O’Neill would come.

Now I almost wish he had not.

Looking toward the hilltop, my heart wants only to flee but knows it cannot…

Heru’ur, hated enemy of my demon.

Heru’ur, who tried before to take the child.

Heru’ur, who stands on the hilltop…with my father in chains.

Chapter 8: Kasuf of Abydos

My sons are here.

I do not understand how I know this, but I am certain of it.

My wild, beautiful Skaara, alive and finally free of his demon as his sister will never be. I will grieve to my last breath over the loss of my daughter, but offer all thanks to my good son, Daniel, and his tribe for bringing my other son home to me.

Now we are here and not home. But my sons are here and I will not fear. They will free me…or will see me die with honor. Those are acceptable choices to me, but I fear they will not be for my impetuous boys…

Before the revolt against Ra, I feared the energy and rebellion in my Skaara. Even as a child, he was not the sort of boy who would easily follow…he was a leader in the crib and that never changed. I felt shame at my own weakness in the face of Skaara’s willingness to join the strangers against Ra. It was not until Daniel…such a quiet boy at first…showed me the face of my gods that I realized my beliefs, and those of my people, were based on lies.

My children were so much wiser than I.

Even Sha’re, my gentle firebrand, fostered a hatred for the ‘aliens’ who posed as gods in order to use our people, her passion tempered only by her love for our people. After the defeat of Ra, it became very obvious, even to these old eyes, that Daniel would remain…the shared joy that passed from him to my daughter was a breath of rain on the desert. The span of days between O’Neill’s leaving and return were full of new things as Daniel learned more of us than we were ever allowed to know…and shared it all with a quiet power that earned him a place in all our hearts. Through his wisdom we discovered a heritage we had never known or expected, a proud history to supplant the centuries of slavery. I like to believe that in us he discovered love and belonging, and a strength of spirit even greater than what he already possessed. Much as I love my daughter’s husband, I fear he lacked awareness of his own worth…I like to believe that we helped him find a measure of it.

I do not see them, but I know they are here. The demon, Heru’ur, believes it…else he would not have brought me here. I find myself praying to the Allah Daniel calls the One God that O’Neill is here and can protect my sons from their own misguided loyalty that would deliver them to this demon for the sake of my life. I do not wish it so. Heru’ur cannot be allowed to take either of my sons…the battle against the demons is far too important, as is the child.

Daniel and Skaara must remain hidden.

Many have died here…for that I am regretful, but in the face of the larger battle nothing is more important than my sons and O’Neill. They are the strength and wisdom that will defeat the demons. O’Neill possesses the drive and determination of his people…he is not the sort of man to accept defeat. Skaara holds his own unique determination…and now the knowledge of his demon. Daniel remains the wisdom, but now also a sad purpose and stubbornness…he will not yield until his body fails him or the battle is won. And nothing short of death will deter him from keeping his final promise to my daughter.

I will not have his fate rest on my poor life.

I will die before that happens.

Heru’ur calls out again for my sons. He threatens my life, but I know he will not kill me yet. O’Neill will know this as well. As long as I live, I am a tool for the demon…an object with which to bargain. If he kills me, my boys are still hidden from him…still beyond his reach. He will use me to set a trap…I can only hope my boys will not be caught in it.

The battle is all that matters.

My sons must remain free or all will indeed be lost.

Chapter 9: Colonel Jack O’Neill

Big H thinks we’re coming out, he’d better recheck his snake-thoughts and try again.

I like Kasuf. Hell, more than like him….but no way in this world or any other is Heru’ur getting his hands on Skaara or Daniel…and I know Kasuf understands that it just can’t happen.

Skaara is straining against my hands, trying to go out there after his father. I’m whispering to him that now isn’t the time, we’ll get Kasuf back. Finally I can feel him relax against me, his eyes looking at me with a trust I can only hope to live up to. I pull him back into the darkened room and go to Daniel again.

He’s awake. “Jack? What is it?”

I let out a deep breath then explain the situation to him. Just as I expected, he tries to get up.

“We have to go after him, Jack….”

Daniel is pale even in the dim light, but his half-open eyes are full of determination.

“We will, Daniel. Let’s just try to do this without getting anybody else captured.”

He nods and slips back to lean against the wall. “Any chance of going for help?”

There’s that Dr. Jackson military mind at work, again. I shake my head. Heru’ur is bound to have the gate under guard. The trick’s going to be getting out of this village right under his snaky nose.

I peek out of the window and see the Goa’uld setting up camp on the hilltop. Heru’ur is sitting on a big throne of a thing…these guys sure believe in bringing along the comforts of home, no doubt about it. Kasuf is chained to one of the scruffy trees, still looks okay…for now. The few poor villagers who weren’t killed or couldn’t run fast enough to escape are being herded into one of the outbuildings…looks like a couple dozen older folks and a few kids. Damn…better not tell Daniel or Skaara about that just yet.

For the moment Heru’ur holds all the cards and I’d bet good money he knows it. Kasuf being here tells me Mr. Earrings has been planning something like this for a while...probably since he tried to kidnap Sha’re’s child back on Abydos. With Amaunet and Apophis, please-please-let-him-be-really-dead-this-time, gone and now with Klorel hopefully still host-less…Heru’ur must figure the Harsiesis child is up for grabs. He’s probably had spies on Abydos and even in Apophis’ own back yard all along. When Skaara returned home for a visit, Heru’ur must’ve set this all in motion.

I don’t doubt for a minute that he remembers Daniel…and me. Daniel pretty much spit in the guy’s face in that way only Daniel can do…multi-talented, our Daniel. And I did sort of give Heru’ur something to remember me by. Much as I hate to say it this particular Goa’uld is plenty smart enough to put two and two together…Kasuf plus Skaara plus me and Daniel plus a missing kid plus a little snaky espionage has got to add up to trouble for us.

Yeah, by now Heru’ur has to know the kid never was with Apophis and Amaunet. If he was watching Kasuf, he knew who Skaara was when he showed up back home. He’s probably had somebody here watching Daniel and Skaara for days. He may not know exactly how Daniel figures into all of this, but he likely figures it’s pretty fishy that Daniel was around back when the kid disappeared.

Daniel is visibly trying to pull himself together…it sure doesn’t look easy. His eyes are unfocused, the hair on his forehead damp with sweat, and his mouth is drawn tight in a way that tells me he’s trying hard to hold back the sounds of pain his body is screaming to release.

I dig into their packs and come up with two first aid kits and an empty bottle of prescription painkillers. Damn Fraiser anyway, letting Daniel go off-world…without us…in this condition. There’s *got* to be more behind all this than anybody’s telling me. I don’t care how good a line of archaeo-bull Daniel ran past Hammond, the old man had to think there was a damn good reason for putting the SGC’s number one resident expert in all things linguistic at risk.

I think maybe…maybe hell…I’m just a little pissed at Daniel, too. But I can’t yell at him right now. I guarantee he knows we will be talking about this later. I pass three aspirin out of the first aid kit to Daniel and he swallows them without comment. He’s looking at me like he expects me to lay into him any minute now…any other time I would, but I just can’t look into those eyes full of physical and emotional pain and think about making it any worse. Colonel Marshmallow, that’s me.

I try to smile reassuringly at him again. “We’ll get out of this somehow, Daniel and get Kasuf back."

Daniel nods and motions for me to help him up. “God, I hope so, Jack.”

Daniel’s pretty shaky and breathing hard, but he manages to stand on his own. It’s getting darker outside so he risks a peek out the window. I see the shadows in his eyes deepen as he catches sight of Kasuf. Daniel closes his eyes for a moment then looks up at me in question. I nod my head, promising in the gesture that we aren’t going to let anything happen to Kasuf. I get a tight smile in response and start to feel a little better about the situation. Daniel may be hurting, but he’s focusing on the bigger picture…a determined Daniel is a guy I always want on my side.

Heru’ur is standing now. That superior tone I remember so well drifts easily down to us. “Dr. Jackson, Skaara…I know you are aware of my guest. I know what he is…to both of you. You have until sunrise to come to me freely…or he dies.”

Okay, there’s the expected ultimatum. These guys must take classes in unoriginal domination. So, we’ve got until sunrise. Now all we need is a plan.


Chapter 10: Dr. Daniel Jackson

God, this is all my fault.

I set it all in motion. I insisted General Hammond send the others away so they wouldn’t fight me on it…or try to come along. I wanted to do this on my own, I needed to…and I can be pretty damn persuasive when I want to be. Jack and the others have been pretty good about helping me with the search for the child, but this was far too risky a situation to ask them to follow me into on a maybe. Skaara, the general and I are the only ones who know this planet is one of Heru’ur’s. I can definitely wait before passing on that bit of information to Jack.

I also fought against Skaara coming along, but once here I was glad he came. Our time here together has reaffirmed our closeness and sense of family, something I didn’t realize how much I’d missed until I felt it slip back into place. It’s almost like those cosmic powers that be finally decided to let us win one. There will always be a part of me that will wish we could have won with Sha’re, but I know she’d be pleased we saved her brother.

He’s changed in some ways. His mastery of English is exceptional and he still retains the memory of spoken and written Goa’uld. Physically, he hasn’t changed at all…courtesy of Klorel…but he seems older. His eyes are dark with things he’s only begun to work through. All the evil he was powerless to prevent his own body from acting out, I can only begin to imagine how it has wounded his spirit. Skaara was always rather wise beyond his years, but now it seems he possesses a maturity honed painfully sharp by his time as a prisoner inside of himself. His entire life had been spent as a slave, except for that one year after Ra, the last three years as a slave of the worst possible kind. Skaara is a man in a boy’s body who must now reconcile the many fractured shards of his self and discover just who he is now.

I know I scared him with these headaches. I tried to tell him how sorry I was, but he learned early on in our year as a family how to cut me off mid guilt trip. The Abydonians aren’t very understanding of self-pity. After thousands of years of slavery, daily reminded of their lot in life, they adapted an attitude of acceptance one might almost term complacency…if one didn’t take into account their incredible zest for truly living life while they could.

This time here was good for both of us. It helped me remember a few things about myself I’d let myself forget. I was more than a little aware of how much of myself I was losing with every day and month and year that passed without finding Sha’re and Skaara. I gained so much in those years…Jack, Sam, Teal’c…but the nature of the job took a lot of me with it…the me I was on Abydos. It had come to seem like a dream, an ideal almost…once it was lost I could no sooner recapture it than I could a waking dream.

A lot of things have changed since then…some good, some not good at all. I’ll never know what might have happened if we’d rescued Sha’re and I can’t let myself dwell on what-ifs..it’s just too soon and too damn hard to try. For the foreseeable future I can only focus on the now…and right now we’ve got to find a way to help Kasuf.

Kasuf, my good father. He still is that. Even with Sha’re gone, he still sees me as his son. I like that….so many times lately I’ve needed that. It’s a connection to her, to our lives together I hope never to lose. He has so much faith in me and my ‘tribe’ to save them from the demons…to fulfill my promise to find the boy….

I just wish I could think. The headache is easing slightly…which isn’t saying much. Jack and Skaara are giving me nearly identical looks of concern as we sit here waiting for nightfall. I can’t slip anything past the two of them. I’d be mad about that if I weren’t so glad they’re both here.

I’ll have to ask Jack how he managed to get Hammond to let him come…I should have figured Jack wouldn’t just stay in Florida when he didn’t hear from me. The general and I had pretty much agreed no one else would be risked on this…at least I thought we’d agreed. I wonder how much trouble Jack’s in, and how worried Hammond must have been to send him.

Jack’s got a plan. He hasn’t gone into any details…to be honest I wasn’t in much shape to listen if he had. Just knowing Jack is here and working on it helps. I know he’s worried about me holding it together long enough to get out of here and get Kasuf back. I wish I could put his mind at ease on that score….

This is the worst pain I’ve felt since the withdrawal…I don’t even want to compare the two. Janet says it’s some sort of after-effect of Amaunet’s attempt to kill me. All I know is it’s getting progressively worse with every attack…and the attacks themselves are coming more often. It’s been two months now and I’ve gone from one or two episodes a week to almost daily attacks lasting for hours on end. To be honest I’m more than a little worried myself.

I have to much to do…especially now…to let something like this slow me down. I have a promise to keep and nothing…nothing…is going to stop me from keeping it.


Chapter 11: Skaara of Abydos

O’Neill is worried.

He tries to hide it, but his eyes tell everything.

He is afraid for Daniel, as I am. Daniel is working very hard to convince us he is well, it is not quite a lie. Daniel does not lie…but he is very good at concealing the truth especially as it concerns himself…

The white pills O’Neill made Daniel take seem to be helping, but the crease between overly bright eyes speaks of pain beneath the mask Daniel is showing us now. Daniel will put away his own hurt for the sake of our father, O’Neill seems to recognize this as well.

I fear what Heru’ur intends to do to Kasuf. We have just found one another again, I cannot bear the thought of losing him…not in this way. Abydos, my home, has become as much a target as Daniel, O’Neill and now me. If…when…we succeed in retrieving my father, we must find some way to keep him and my people safe.

None of us is likely to be safe again, not until the last of the demons is destroyed. This hatred I feel for them is strong…I cannot seem to stop it. I know I must try to keep it controlled…it cannot be allowed to control me. It would be as complete a possession as that of the demon. Daniel and I spoke of this a little, the intense feelings we have toward the demons. He admitted feeling a rage at least the equal of my own…it was not something I expected from Daniel. He was always the gentlest of us all…it pains me to see the sharp edge of anger bleeding through his words when he speaks of the demons. One more loss to feed my hatred.

O’Neill looks to both of us, his eyes lingering an extra moment on Daniel’s pale face. “We ready, guys?”

Daniel nods, his body moving with purpose as he rises. I move to stand at his side, sensing O’Neill’s unspoken desire to give Daniel what support we can without implying he cannot fend for himself. The look of gratitude in O’Neill’s eyes tells me I am right. Daniel looks from one to the other of us and I realize he understands…and accepts it. This concerns me all the more…it is frighteningly telling of Daniel’s frame of mind. He is admitting, however obliquely, his weakness and I am afraid for him in a way I have not been since the Ha’tak.

O’Neill has noticed it as well and his eyes narrow in concern. This is not the Daniel we know so well. O’Neill seems to gather his own thoughts and strength before motioning us to the rear window. We have been watching that area since sunset…there has been no movement there. O’Neill believes we can run from here to the stream without being observed from the hilltop. If we can make it to the stream, the water is deep enough to float us away from view where we may come ashore and make our way around Heru’ur and his Jaffa. It will be difficult, the water is cold and swift-running, but as O’Neill says…we have no other options.

I can hear Daniel draw a shuddering breath and vow to stay with him, whatever may happen. O’Neill climbs silently out the window and Daniel follows just as quietly. I pass the packs to O’Neill and join them outside. The moonlight glows dully behind sparse clouds, bright enough to help us see our way, but not so bright as to make us visible to those who might be watching. We move low to the ground, keeping our footsteps soft and nearly silent. We reach the stream within minutes and O’Neill slips into the water, guarding our entry with his “zat gun”. Daniel draws air sharply as he enters the stream, but quiets himself immediately. I join them in the water and we slowly immerse ourselves up to our necks…keeping the packs as much out of the water as possible, moving slowly downstream with a care born of the need for silence.

We make good progress. I begin to relax when we move beyond the view of the village. O’Neill motions for us to continue a little further. O’Neill keeps looking back at us as if to reassure himself, Daniel seems to be doing quite well though his breathing is somewhat strained. There is little we can do now except keep moving and get out of the icy water as quickly as possible.

O’Neill leads us further, several more minutes, then points to a flat area on the streambank. We make our way to it and climb out. O’Neill scans the area quickly then reaches down to help Daniel rise. Daniel is shaking, whether from the cold or a return of the pain I do not know. I see a dark place among the rocks and point it out to O’Neill. We help Daniel into the small cavern and he slumps to the ground, hands going to his head as he stifles a moan. O’Neill hands me the weapon and sinks to the ground beside Daniel.

“Danny?”

O’Neill’s voice once again holds the same note of love and caring I heard when he found us in the village. I had not realized how very much my other friend had changed in our time apart. O’Neill has learned to open his heart, even as Daniel has learned to close his. I cannot help but wonder at the differences in both of them. O’Neill moves his hands to stroke Daniel’s forehead with a gentleness I have never seen in him before. I smile in the near darkness, my friends are well matched…and have found in each other a comfortable balance, a counterpoint they probably did not realize how desperately they needed.

Daniel sighs deeply. “Thanks, Jack. I’m okay.”

I can see O’Neill’s eyes roll in disbelief, but he only nods. “Let’s get into some dry clothes and get some rest. Tomorrow’s going to be a long day.”

I reach for my pack and pass the clothing to them, moving to the cavern entrance to keep watch while they change. I can hear their soft voices, O’Neill’s gently cajoling as he helps Daniel who responds with soft acceptance. I think Daniel would only allow this from O’Neill. There is no barrier of pride between them…they know each other too well for such things. It is very strange to watch them together in this setting. During the Triad, I could see them working together, each in his own unique way, to defend my right to my own body, but this is different. Now they interact as friends of the soul, heart to heart….

My own heart is glad for them.

I smile again in the darkness, suddenly much more optimistic about what tomorrow might bring.


Chapter 12: Colonel Jack O’Neill

I need to get Daniel home.

He’s finally asleep after another handful of aspirin…at this rate they’ll be gone in two days…not that we have two days. Now all I have to do is figure out a way to get past Heru’ur, get Kasuf back, get to the gate, and get Daniel back to Doc Fraiser.

Piece of cake.

I’m starting to think Fraiser’s wrong about these headaches. Daniel’s always had more than his share of garden-variety stress headaches…hell he works himself to a frazzle at the drop of an artifact…but I’ve never seen him like this. I’m no stranger to migraine pain myself...this ain’t it. When the pain’s at its worst he’s actually running a fever and I’ve seen him holding his chest several times tonight when he thought no one was looking. I need to get him to Doc.

Now…just how are you going to manage it, O’Neill?

According to Skaara, we’ve got about seven more hours of darkness. If Heru’ur keeps his promise, he’ll kill Kasuf at sunrise. I can’t let myself believe he’ll actually do it. Kasuf is his only real bargaining chip, he loses his power over us if Kasuf dies, but that won’t stop old snake face from hurting Kasuf to make us do what he wants. There’s also the matter of those innocent people locked up in the village. I know I come from a different sort of place than Daniel and Skaara, but one thing I do know…I can’t just stand by and watch Kasuf be harmed. Just like I can’t let Heru’ur get his hands on any of us.

I never used to have these kinds of conversations with myself…things were clear-cut, good guys lived-bad guys died, orders were orders…no matter who got hurt. I can’t do that anymore. It does matter…a hell of a lot more than I would ever have imagined pre-Stargate years. Things changed for me then, life got…bigger….

Of course, three years of exposure to a walking conscience probably didn’t hurt. I make jokes about it, but Daniel really is that…and more. It really didn’t even take three years for me to realize that about him. Hell, the first…no second…mission out found him in my face and definitely, stubbornly in the way of my usual, bulldozer’s-got-nothing-on-me tactics. I caved on that one, I’m still not sure why…and was glad when it turned out Daniel was right. Pissed, but glad. Little did I know it was just the beginning of our ‘battles’…battles I gradually learned really were worth the time, the energy and the passion we brought to them. Sometimes I was right, sometimes he was…which is the way it should be. And I like to think I’ve changed enough to bring some hopeful realism into the mix. I know there’s been more than a few times lately when Daniel has surprised me by coming up with some downright masterful…though often painful…strategies, getting that communication device from Apophis was just one. The point is we’ve both grown…

Boy, does that hurt to admit….

Daniel shifts a little in his sleep and I bend over to check him. He’s hot again. Skaara rolls over and looks up at us, his eyes begging the question. I just shrug my shoulders at him, it isn’t good…but damned if I know how to help Daniel.

Skaara sits up, drawing the space blanket over his shoulders. God, he looks so young…even now. I know that’s just an illusion. His eyes aren’t young anymore...I doubt they ever will be again.

“What will we do, O’Neill?” he whispers. His eyes are on Daniel, but I know he’s talking about more than just our friend.

I shake my head, I know Skaara’s not the wide-eyed hero worshipping kid he was three years ago, but I can see in his eyes the absolute faith in me…the expectation that I will come up with some way to make all this right. He still believes in me…but I don’t know if I deserve it.

I just can’t admit to him that I still don’t have a clue.

Chapter 13: Lord Heru’ur of the Goa’uld

These Tau’ri will be mine.

When I first plotted to gain control of the Harsiesis child at its birth I had thought the plan to be more than elegant in its simplicity. Amaunet’s host’s planet was absurdly vulnerable. Little did I suspect that two Tau’ri and one of my own Jaffa would prove so irritating. Of course, once I identified the two Tau’ri, I soon realized that the apparently traitorous Jaffa was the Shol’va, Teal’c.

The Tau’ri.

They had to be the same Tau’ri who escaped me on Cimmeria..and destroyed my plans to take over the Asgard protectorate. The Shol’va had been recognized by my Jaffa, it is commonly known he has joined the Tau’ri against us. There has been a price on the heads of those Tau’ri since they destroyed Apophis’ Ha’tak vessels before they could remove the First World from our midst. I have no particular love for Apophis…quite the opposite…but the fact they *achieved * such a thing marked them as a danger to us all. When Apophis set a price on the heads of the Tau’ri responsible and broadcast their likenesses, I recognized my own personal irritations rather quickly.

Dr. Daniel Jackson, so full of arrogant defiance on the slave’s planet, Abydos…knowing even then the child was hidden from Apophis and me, and Colonel Jack O’Neill, who broached my personal shields and caused me such pain as I had not known for a very long time…

It took very little investigation to discover Dr. Jackson’s slave of a wife was after all Amaunet’s host. Information from a few well-placed spies helped me construct a plan to retrieve the child of Amaunet and Apophis, I already knew the child was not with them. The relationship between Klorel and Amaunet’s hosts was easily discovered…as was the fact that Jackson had been present at Amaunet’s well-deserved demise. She thought herself clever for taking the Abydonians, but I knew her true purpose…the child.

My spy on the Abydos, discovered something far more personal to despise the Tau’ri for…they were the one’s who killed my father and mother. I had no familial loyalty toward Ra, I may in fact have killed him myself given time, but it was my right to do so. The same could be said of Hathor…though we did have a rather more congenial relationship. I would have killed her easily enough had she attempted to stand in my way…but again, it was my right…not theirs.

The Asgard treaty prevented me from acting upon my desire for vengeance in a more direct fashion, but I have learned over the generations the value of good information. When Klorel was separated from his host, I knew the host’s eventual destination would be the slave planet…Abydos. I knew the host’s father would be a weakness for both him and the Tau’ri, Dr. Jackson…it is a useful weakness indeed this emotion. The one certain tool to their downfall…thus my need for the slave, Kasuf.

I owe these Tau’ri much pain. They have thwarted my plans in ways they could not begin to know. I will see them suffer for their insolence, suffer until they reveal the child’s location…and then I will see them die.

Chapter 14: General George Hammond

I’ve been so wrong about this.

Umpteen years in a position of command and I let myself be bushwhacked by an idealistic academic on a mission…

Must be Colonel O’Neill’s influence…

Sure it might be a little risky, General, but the natives are friendly. Just a week or so, in and out for the transcription. And oh, yeah, General…you know Jack won’t let me go off alone. Isn’t there somewhere you can send SG1 while I’m gone? Sure this is one of Heru’ur’s planets…and no I haven’t forgotten about the bounty on our heads if we’re caught on a Goa’uld world, but Skaara says Heru’ur hasn’t been there for hundreds of years. My head ache? Nothing at all, sir…maybe I just need new glasses?

The condensed version sounds even worse than the reality. Dr. Daniel Jackson in full lecture mode can turn a simple grocery list into a major dissertation. Then he turns that earnest, intelligent stare at you and you wind up buying the whole load of goods sight unseen for twice the price you thought you were paying. And damned if I didn’t buy into it like a first-year cadet.

I just hope Dr. Jackson isn’t the one who ends up paying the ultimate price.

It’s not Dr. Fraiser’s fault the test results got mislaid.

One of the conditions I put on Dr. Jackson’s trip was that he submit to a full physical with all the trimmings before he left. Dr. Fraiser and I were both pretty surprised at how quickly he agreed. We thought everything had come back clean, although his blood pressure was slightly elevated….little wonder considering the stress he’s been under lately. Beyond her expected protests, Dr. Fraiser couldn’t give me any concrete reason why I shouldn’t let him go on this mission and I felt a lot better about it when Skaara rather forcefully invited himself along…pointing out to me that I couldn’t order him not to….and assuring me he could handle any and all of “Danyer’s” protests. Damned if the kid didn’t do it, too. So Skaara went ahead to Abydos to get his things together and Dr. Jackson followed the next day…and somehow, I actually managed to convince myself it would be okay.

I am a two star idiot.

Now Dr. Fraiser tells me the missing test shows some kind of abnormality on Dr. Jackson’s brain. Good news would be a brain abscess, which can be treated with mega-doses of antibiotics…bad news a tumor, which I refuse to even consider…and there’s no way to find out until we get him back here for more tests. Either way, the longer he goes without treatment, the worse it’s going to be.

Dr. Fraiser tells me abscesses can result from previous injuries or infections, she’s thinking of the situation with the ribbon-device or the alien devices used on us during the foothold situation…Hell, it could be nothing more exotic than an infection brought on by his allergies. First order of business is to get him back here…ASAP.

Colonel O’Neill’s been gone a little over twenty four hours, if he were able to get them back he’d have done it by now.

It’s two p.m. in DC, I can have Carter and Teal’c back here by dinnertime. I hit the buzzer and tell Harriman to find Ferretti, then reach for the phone to arrange a jet to bring the rest of SG1 back.

One way or another…we’re going to get our boy home.


Chapter 15: Dr. Daniel Jackson

I don’t know how Jack thinks we’re going to pull this one off…

He says we can do it and I really want to believe him, but I just don’t see how the three of us can hope to go up against twenty-odd Jaffa with just Jack’s zat and my pistol. But we have to get Kasuf back….

I can’t lose him too….

I haven’t told Jack just how sick I’ve been feeling since I woke up. It’s all I can do to keep putting one foot in front of the other. The pain is dulled by the aspirin, but so constantly there it’s hard to concentrate. Jack and Skaara are both giving me their own versions of the ‘look’... I don’t mind it so much though. I never thought to see that look…or any other not tainted by the Goa’uld inside him… in Skaara’s eyes again. Just wish I wasn’t the cause for it.

We’re making our way around the hill where Heru’ur is encamped. Skaara says we have about two hours until sunrise. I’ll take his word for it. I’m just trying to stay focused on Jack’s back, placing my feet in his footsteps. If this plan fails, I don’t want it to be because of me.

We reach a small copse of brush about twenty yards from Heru’ur’s tent. Kasuf is chained to a tree a few yards beyond that. Jack points out the Stargate just beyond the trees on the other side of the encampment. Jack starts to use those little hand gestures to outline his plan, then stops at our blank looks and sighs, looking almost apologetic. I’ve come to understand some of them, but Skaara is totally lost.

“ Sorry,” he whispers. “ Skaara, your job is to get Kasuf loose and run for the gate. Whatever happens, don’t stop…and don’t look back.”

Jack throws me a look. I know what he’s thinking…we’re almost certain to be captured or killed, but Skaara has the best chance to get Kasuf out of here. I nod my understanding to him. I can live with this plan…as long as Skaara and Kasuf have a chance. Skaara glances from one to the other of us, nodding. He knows.

Jack catches my eye with a quirk of an eyebrow, asking if I’m up for this. I can’t honestly say that I am, but I’m as ready as I can be…whatever may happen.

Skaara hesitates, catching my eye with an expression full of love and regret. As I watch it shifts to determination….reflecting that inner strength I remember relying on so much. We hug for a long moment and he whispers an Abydonian farewell into my ear…the farewell of travelers vowing to meet again. I return the sentiment and feel the heat of emotion in my throat. Jack makes a small noise, indicating the skyline…we don’t have much time. Skaara embraces Jack, then fades into the bushes.

I hope he makes it. We have to make sure he does…

Jack gives me another look, in the starlight I can see him checking me out with evident concern.

“I’ll make it, Jack,” I assure him. “Just tell me where to shoot.”

He laughs softly at that and clasps my shoulders, squeezing lightly in a way that says more to me than words ever could. I return the touch, knowing he’ll understand. Jack nods and helps me stand. It’s time.

Whatever happens…at least we’re together.

Chapter 16: Major Louis Ferretti

Damn.

This just keeps getting worse and worse….

Damn, damn, damn…..

The colonel is going to freak when he finds out about this. It was bad enough they sent Daniel out without back-up, but now we know he’s out there somewhere with some kind of time bomb in his head…and the only real difference is whether it’s a short fuse or a long one….

I pat the med-pak Fraiser gave me earlier. Just in case we can’t get Daniel back right away. Just in case it’s the long fuse time bomb…please God, let it be that one….

This can’t be happening to Daniel. The poor guy just can’t seem to catch a break. I am so sick of seeing him get one raw deal after another. Hell, I’ve never been a big believer in the fairness of life in general, but damn it all, this just isn’t right…

My team is ready to go, we’re just waiting for Carter and Teal’c to join us. I can see them up there in the briefing room right now, geared up and getting the bad news from Hammond. Even from down here I can see the both of them look like they’ve just been run over by a very big, very malicious truck.
I sure do know *that* feeling…

This whole situation just plain sucks….big time.

Okay, they’re moving now. I give my guys the signal and they start their weapons check. I’ve got a great bunch here, we are the best at what we do….if I do say so myself. Next to SG1, we’ve got the best record going. Not to mention the fact that we’re one of the few teams with all its original members intact…well since I took command, anyway. This is a high risk, high stress business…you’ve got to be damn good or damn lucky to keep each other in one piece…physically and mentally…in this business for this long. I like to think we’re a whole lot of both.
Carter and Teal’c join us. Carter’s lips are set in a grim line, she’s worried as hell but ready to go get the job done. Teal’c…man….I’ve never seen the big guy look like this….not even after Amaunet. His whole body is strung as tight as an arrow in a bowstring, ready to be shot through the gate and straight to Daniel.

Those two never stop surprising me…Teal’c and Daniel. They’ve found something in each other that not even the worst crap can keep down for long. It’s pretty amazing really when you think about it. Who’d have ever imagined they could become so close? The geeky idealistic scholar and the rigid warrior whose actions...however well meaning or unintentional…brought an awful lot of grief down on Daniel. I know it’s not as simple as all that, I know there’s whole lot more to both of them than I’ll ever know…but I still think it’s pretty incredible.

The gate rings start spinning and we take our positions. It’s time to go. The wormhole settles down and we step through…

…into hell.

A goddamn firefight.

There are four…no, five…Jaffa on the ground and it looks like maybe a dozen more trying to find cover among the scruffy trees between us and…

Oh, hell…

O’Neill’s head pops up from behind a bunch of brush and takes down another Jaffa with a double zat blast. Where one of them is the other can’t be far and sure enough Daniel’s head comes out of hiding and fires off two pistol rounds before disappearing again. I point them out to Carter and Teal’c and get ready to deploy my team when I see Skaara and his father break from the trees heading straight for us.

I send Sanders and James to help them while we lay down a cover fire. Carter hunkers down with Skaara for a minute and yells that we have to get Skaara and Kasuf out of here. I give her the thumbs up and signal for James to dial it up. Carter makes her way back to me and explains Kasuf had been taken hostage by Heru’ur to capture our guys. Can’t say I’ve had the displeasure, but I’ve heard a lot of nasty things about this guy.

I look around in time to see Sanders step through the wormhole with one hand on Kasuf’s shoulder. I signal James to go through with Skaara, he hesitates…not wanting to leave us, but I signal again and he starts through. At he very last moment, Skaara jerks out James’ grip and pushes him through…breaking for us at a dead run. A staff blast comes close enough to give the kid a sunburn as he dives into the dirt next to me.

This kid always did have more guts than a damn regiment of marines…

“What the hell are you doing, Skaara?” I yell at him, but I can feel the big grin on my face.

Skaara gives me those big worried eyes. “I will not leave Danyer..”

There’s not much I can say about that…I know exactly what he means. The trick’s going to be getting Daniel and the colonel from over there to over here through a wall of ten...no, nine…Jaffa and a pretty pissed off Goa’uld. Heru’ur’s standing there beside his tent looking madder by the minute while he watches his Jaffa drop like flies. I can see his ribbon device activate while his beady little eyes search for a target…

I motion for Teal’c to take his best shot with his staff. I hold my breath as I watch the blast explode against Heru’r’s side. He manages to stay on his feet and whirls around to look at us with the kind of glare that could almost kill on its own. The ribbon device focuses on us. I shout a warning and brace against the wall of energy I know is coming…
Carter, Teal’c, Skaara, and I are pushed back to the DHD, a little ruffled but not too badly hurt. Malcolm and Santos were out of range and lay down some lead to cover us until we can get behind the DHD. Heru’ur is royally ticked now and he concentrates his Jaffa on our position. I can see what he’s trying to do…force us back until we either run out of places to hide or have to dial back out. I motion for Carter to do just that…we need that option open.

Teal’c taps me on the shoulder and I see the colonel coming around the back of the hillside, holding onto Daniel…who doesn’t look too hot, he’s barely keeping his feet under himself. We intensify our fire and I recall Santos and Malcolm to help us here.

The colonel and Daniel are forty yards out when the gate starts to fluctuate…it’s now or never…
I order my guys through, and we back up to the wormhole still firing.

Thirty yards.

A blast hits the DHD. The wormhole jumps again and I push Carter through…Man, she’s going to be ticked at me…

Twenty yards.

C’mon, Colonel….

A blaze of staff fire tears up the ground between us and the colonel has to stop.

He gives us a look…God, I hate that look…and motions for us to get out…

I look at Teal’c and Skaara.

It’s a no-brainer really…

We step off the gate platform and run like hell for our friends…

Chapter 17: Colonel Jack O’Neill

God…no…

Get the hell out of here, guys…

I should have known they wouldn’t go.

Teal’c is beside me in less than a minute, lifting Daniel onto his shoulder and running with him while Ferretti and Skaara cover our six. The staff blasts are close, but we manage to stay ahead of them and finally reach the trees. I motion for them to keep going, the cavern we spent the night in isn’t far. Skaara moves up beside me…probably expecting me to be mad at him. Hell, I never could stay mad at him when he looked at me like that. I give him a smile and clap his shoulder as we run. I’m not exactly happy he didn’t get away while he could…but I sure as hell understand it.

At least Kasuf is safe now.

Damn, I wish we could have got Daniel through. So close.

Ferretti keeps looking back at me like he’s got something to say. Something’s wrong…or at least more wrong than it already is. He’ll tell me when we get under cover. Skaara moves ahead to show Teal’c the way through the brush, wish I had half the energy the kid’s got.

I pretty much thought we were dead back there, Daniel did too. When Skaara got those chains off and took off with Kasuf, I had definite visions of Butch and Sundance in my head. I’ve got to admit I was pretty surprised by Daniel; he really pulled it together even when I could see every gunshot was like a spike into his head. He did it, though…just like I he always does when he has to. But by the time we headed around the back of the hill toward the gate, he just couldn’t hold on anymore. He tried to get me to go on without him…like that was going to happen. He ought to know how impossible that was…for such a brainy guy he really needs to buy a few clues when it comes to friendship. He’s learning…but sometimes he just doesn’t get the point. I left him behind before…I swore I never would again.

He’s going to be doubly ticked off to see the others here. Teal’c, I expected it from…Ferretti, I guess I really shouldn’t be surprised…Daniel works his magic in the most unexpected places. Too bad he doesn’t even realize what it is he does that makes people either like him…or totally hate him. Funny the ones I’d least suspect are the ones who usually wind up liking him. I’m not even sure what it is…just that it’s something I wish I could have….

We get inside the cavern and Teal’c and Skaara get Daniel settled in a corner while Ferretti pulls me off to the entrance. I’ve got a bad feeling about this.

He starts out slow, giving me a look like he’s wondering when I’m going to punch him….

Oh, shit. Holy living shit….

This can’t be right.

Why in hell didn’t Fraiser catch this weeks ago?

I really do want to hit something about now.

Dammit!

Ferretti’s going on about some medicine in his pack. Okay, I can do this. We give Daniel the meds like Fraiser said and hope like hell it’s just an abscess. Right. I can do this. Jesus, I just hope the DHD isn’t permanently damaged. One good thing…if it is then Heru’ur can’t send for reinforcements that way, and it would take awhile to get a ship here…I hope…

I nod at Ferretti to let him know I’m…sort of…calm now.

We’ve all got to hold it together now if we’re going to help Daniel.

Chapter 18: Teal’c of SG1, formerly of Chu’lak

I have failed my friend.

Daniel Jackson must return to the SGC and the doctors there…I must ensure it.

He appears so pale, lines of pain exist even as he sleeps. Major Ferretti has administered the first doses of Dr. Fraiser’s medications. Medications we cannot be certain will even help.

I do not understand Daniel Jackson’s actions here. We should have been here with him. I can see from O’Neill’s expression he does not believe Daniel Jackson should have been here at all. He was ill when we left him to go on these pointless errands. He should never have come within Heru’urs grasp with only Skaara for protection. I mean no disservice to the young Abydonian, but he was ill-prepared to face what has happened here.

Daniel Jackson would certainly not approve of my thoughts…he does not feel he requires protection. Yet I know that he does. Not because he cannot look after himself, but because he deserves it. I have found no better human…save O’Neill. Humans such as Daniel Jackson must be protected, there are so few of them in my experience…and it will be him and others like him who will finally and totally defeat the evil that is the Goa’uld.

And he is my friend.

One of the few I perceive as such.

I will not lose him while it is in my power to prevent it.

O’Neill sits against the wall near Daniel Jackson, ostensibly resting…but I know he will awaken immediately when the need arises. Major Ferretti has gone to scout the perimeter with Skaara while I watch over my friends’ rest. Heru’ur has been gravely injured, if the DHD is damaged, he will call for a transport to take him to a sarcophagus. Major Ferretti was quite sure there were only eight Jaffa left alive. They will not leave Heru’ur, it would be as much as their lives are worth to part from their fallen god. They will guard him until he can be brought to help, I am certain of it.

I can hear Major Ferretti and Skaara returning, their slow pace telling me all is well. O’Neill opens his eyes as I move back into the small cave to allow them entry.

“They are gone!” Skaara exclaims with a smile.

Major Ferretti’s expression tells me there is less welcome news. “The DHD doesn’t work. Heru’ur transported out through some of those rings and took all his guys with him. Guess he knows we can’t go anywhere while he’s gone.”

O’Neill nods, his face still although his eyes rage coldly. “Feretti, why don’t you and Skaara go down and keep an eye on the gate? Stay out of sight but be handy in case they open it from their side. We need to let them know not to come back through…and a portable super-computer would come in mighty handy about now…”

Major Ferretti smiles tightly. “Will do.”

“We’ll relieve you in a couple of hours if necessary.” O’Neill stands and stretches. “Be careful. After meeting Heru’ur, the natives might not be inclined to be quite so trusting.”

The major nods again and they depart.

O’Neill moves to sit beside Daniel Jackson, a hand reaching to check for fever. “What do we do, Teal’c?”

I am unsure which situation he is referring to, but can only consider one answer.

“We help Daniel Jackson.”

Chapter 19: Kasuf of Abydos

I should have known they would not leave me.

But it cannot have been at the cost of their own lives.

My heart soared at the sight of Skaara’s face when he appeared at my side to free me from the demon’s chains. It was even more wonderful to run at his side as we did when we drove Ra from our midst forever. It was only when I realized our escape was being guarded by my other son and O’Neill that my joy diminished. I did not want to accept the cost of my freedom. When the other Tau’ri appeared through the Chaap’ai my hope was reborn.

I waited with General Hammond as the Chaap’ai sprang to life again. Carter returned, then two of the soldiers…but the blue waters died without bring forth any others. General Hammond attempted to reopen the Chaap’ai three times before admitting defeat. Carter believes one of the Jaffa weapons may have “over loaded” the device…that it may reopen once the energy fades. I pray she is right.

Carter escorted me to the same doctor…Janet…who was so kind to me after my Sha’re died. I did not know what to think of a female healer, but she was very patient with me and pronounced me well. From there my lovely guide brought me to the eating place and joined me for a meal.

It was then that she spoke of Daniel.

I could hear the sadness in her voice as she told me of this illness that plagues my son. I will not accept this. Daniel is not my son by birth…but by my heart’s choice. Even had he not married my daughter it would have been so. This cannot happen. O’Neill, Carter, Teal’c, Janet, General Hammond, Ferretti…my son’s tribe….will find a means to prevent it.

Carter was so distraught as I told her this I felt compelled to embrace her…to allow her to weep in the presence of one who cares for Daniel as much as she. I told her that even warriors must grieve…so they may move on to action. She smiled at the words, tears still flowing, and told me I sounded like Daniel. I replied that Daniel was a good son and had learned well from me. We both laughed in the face of our fear…joined in that one timeless moment by our love for my son.

Then it was time to try again to reach them.

The Chaap’ai opened and one of the wheeled machines went into it. Carter said it was safer to do this as we could not know what may have happened after we left. She showed me the images of the place we had been. The device which controls the Chaap’ai was clearly damaged. Within a few moments a voice called for General Hammond…Ferretti, the one who fought with us against Ra and then again so bravely when my children were taken.

He tells us Heru’ur was wounded and has left them…but he believes the demon will return when healed, They are safe for the moment. Janet asks about Daniel. Ferretti tells us they are giving my son medicine, but Daniel is far from well.

Part of me wants to return there to be with my sons…but I know I cannot.

General Hammond tells Ferretti they will find a way to bring them home…I can see in his eyes that he wants this to be true. He is a caring and wise leader he will not rest until our missing men…our family…returns.

I think none of them will.

Chapter 20: Skaara of Abydos

Daniel sleeps.

Ferretti is giving him more of the doctor’s medicines through a tube stuck into his hand and I think perhaps it is those which keep him asleep. I am glad if it spares him pain, but wish he were awake. There is such fear in everyone’s eyes…as I am sure it is in mine. It is far more difficult to keep our minds from Daniel’s fate now that we have so little to occupy us.

We have made a proper encampment of this small cave with the supplies General Hammond sent to us…blankets, food, clothing, weaponry…as well as more medicines for Daniel. The doctor gave Ferretti much instruction on how to help Daniel. Major Carter has sworn she will find a way to bring us back and I believe her.

Teal’c and O’Neill have assembled small beds for us all and there is now a portable heater to warm the damp air. Ferretti is cooking a kind of soup he calls ‘chili’ and jokes that it will burn as strongly as my moonshine. I smile at the memory and tell them the story of how Daniel taught me to make it.

Daniel had spoken of the many helpful uses for such a liquid…to clean wounds, to sterilize objects, to dull pain…but finally, reluctantly admitted to me it was also a drink similar to our neshya wine albeit much stronger. Being young and adventurous, I could not resist trying it first myself. I remember very little of the experience…only the terrible sickness the following morning. I woke to find Daniel hovering over me with a disturbingly sympathetic smile and the reminder that I had been warned.

Daniel had laughed gently and told me moonshine should be weakened with water before drinking. He then proceeded to explain the “finer points of social drinking”. At the time I did not totally understand his words, but, as brothers will, I took them to heart and never drank the pure moonshine again.

“No, you saved that for unsuspecting visitors like me,” O’Neill says softly, smiling for the first time since Ferretti told us of Daniel’s illness.

I return his smile, then feel a heavy sadness come over me. That day, that memory was the last joy I knew until the moment I spoke in my own voice and begged the Tollans for help. My eyes burn at the thought. In the prison of my soul I was locked in a world of ultimate madness, forced to contend with thoughts so horrendous I constantly wished for the release of death…knowing it might never come. Only by focusing what remained of myself on the memories of Abydos, and on learning all I could of the demons in some distant hope it could someday be used against them was I able to maintain some measure of ‘Skaara’…who I was…who I am now…

The darkness came very close to destroying me…

Only the light and love of Abydos, of my father, my sister, my brother, and O’Neill kept me from becoming truly lost. I am free now. Yet I wonder if…No, I know…my life will never be as sweet again. Life…everything I had ever known of it…changed while I was imprisoned…it can never return to what it once was and neither can I.

Warmth touches my bowed head. O’Neill. I look up to see understanding in his eyes…and something more…as he moves to leave the cave. I look to Teal’c, so silent and supportive, but he shakes his head once before looking toward Daniel.

I understand.

Teal’c knows that which I am only now learning. More has changed in my absence than just what I perceive in relation to myself. Daniel has touched many more lives than just us…his family on Abydos.

He has become a part of something even greater...something strong and real and unstoppable. Something that will one day defeat the demons because it cannot perceive anything less. Something of which Daniel is a vital and irreplaceable part…

Daniel must not be lost.

Chapter 21: Colonel Jack O’Neill

I don’t have time for this.

Daniel doesn’t have time for this so stop feeling sorry for yourself and do something, O’Neill….

But that’s the problem isn’t it? No way to fight this for him. No real way to help him fight for himself. I can ‘be there’….but what real good is that going to do?

I guess that’s the thing it all comes down to…

I mean, beyond the friendship thing, what if this whatever in his head…whichever whatever it is….really is going to kill him? What can I do for him except stick with him, be there, watch him die…?

God…

There’s two words I never like to connect in my brain. Daniel, death…definitely not a good combo. Pretty damn unthinkable when you get down to it. I mean four years we’ve known each other now and yet it feels like I’ve always known him, always had that piercing stare at my side keeping me honest, keeping me on my toes. Funny how all that boiled down to one of the best friendships I’ve ever known. He expects certain things from me, things I really didn’t even know were in there. He doesn’t even have to say a word…just give me that sideways, big-eyed…look…and I know he sees something inside me, something…good. And it makes me want to be just that. Something more, something better…

Let’s face it, there are times in my life I’d just as soon forget, stuff I’m less than proud of, stuff that makes me sick when I let myself think about it. It’s not just a matter of honor, duty, country…more like get them before they get you, follow orders regardless of personal thoughts, feelings or beliefs. It was becoming so lost in those things that you forget what sort of person you once were in those innocent days when conflict was little more than deciding where to go on a Saturday night. It was more than just a loss of innocence, it was a loss of identity…a loss of Jack O’Neill, son of Jake and Gloria from the South side of the Windy City.

Daniel helped…helps…me find that guy again. With Daniel I’m not ‘Colonel’ or ‘commander’ or ‘protector’ or ‘defender’…I’m just ‘Jack’. Jack of the bad puns, of the rough affection, of the tough moments when no one else can really understand what he’s feeling, of the late nights spent doing nothing more than sitting together on my roof looking at the stars because he just can’t spend another night alone. I’m just Jack to Daniel…and that makes me happy. It’s so nice now to know I *can* be just me…it was a real surprise to discover I really was still in there underneath all the crap I let take the place of ‘me’. I can’t lose that now, I can’t lose him now.

I keep praying Carter will come up with something. Hell, all we need is a powerful enough power source, then when can dial out manually. She’s got to do it. Soon. I know she and her team have been weeks on that naquada reactor we got from the Orbanians. Last report I had said it was at the testing stage. Hopefully this situation qualifies as sufficient to warrant a field trial.

He’s barely been conscious since we came back up here to the cave. He didn’t so much as stir when we finally got the cots put together and moved him onto one. Teal’c wakes him up every so often to make him drink something, but half the time he doesn’t even open his eyes. Ferretti says Fraiser told him to keep Daniel on those painkillers religiously, so I guess this is normal…but it’s also pretty damn scary.

I never have liked seeing Daniel still. I know it didn’t…doesn’t, dammit stop thinking past tense…always seem like it, but half of Daniel’s means of expressing himself is in his eyes and hands. They always tell as much or more than his words. And now he and everything that makes him *him* is so much a part of my world I can’t begin to imagine life any other way.

I don’t want to.

“O’Neill!”

Skaara’s voice.

Stark fear leaps into my throat and I try without much success to swallow it back down. My body starts to move me back to the cave even as my mind refuses to allow my heart to jump to any conclusions as to what’s going on.

Daniel’s okay…that’s as simple as it is.

I won’t let him be anything else.

It just can’t happen.

I won’t let it.

Chapter 22: Teal’c of SG1, formerly of Chulak

I am afraid.

In my many years as a Jaffa there has been very little capable of causing this feeling in me. I felt it the day my father died, the day I returned home to find my family gone, the day my son fell under the spell of Apophis. There have been other times revolving around some threat to my friends, but few so completely disturbing.

I must sit here watching Daniel Jackson sleep so quietly, stirring only occasionally when the pain attempts to break through the wall of ease the drugs impose. Major Ferretti checks the intravenous solutions often, far more often than is probably necessary, but I understand well the fascination of watching each precious drop flow through the tubing making its way all too slowly into Daniel Jackson’s arm. I try to imagine the fluid coursing its way into his bloodstream, seeking out this enemy within his body and attacking it with a determination worthy of Daniel Jackson himself.

Major Ferretti tends to Daniel Jackson with a gentleness I would not have expected from him. He is a good man and clearly cares quite deeply for Daniel Jackson, it is eloquently present in his every gesture as he performs the tasks Dr. Fraiser has charged him with. Although this is not an area he would otherwise choose for himself, he goes about it with a certain cautious optimism. It is clear that he chooses to believe these medicines will be helpful to Daniel Jackson’s condition. I wish to believe it as well.

Skaara has finally succumbed to sleep. I am somewhat surprised he has not done so sooner. He was tending to Daniel Jackson for several days before O’Neill arrived and has had little respite since. The young Abydonian is far stronger now than when I last saw him on Tollana, he has regained his strength as well as the strength of his personality. It is a difficult thing to regain one’s identity after being possessed by a Goa’uld…and rarely successful…many go mad or simply succumb to the near impossibility of returning to their former lives. I have heard many tales of such things, few of them end well.

O’Neill has yet to return. We are much alike in that we both are more at ease with taking action. There is no action for us to perform here…other than seeing to Daniel Jackson’s comfort and safety. It is not enough, which is why O’Neill seeks solitude. He must come to some sort of peace with this situation…as must I.

Daniel Jackson stirs. I soothe his brow again with the moist cloth expecting him to return to sleep as he has done before. He does not. His eyes open and he looks around himself slowly, taking in his very much altered surroundings. His gaze finally returns to me.

“Guess it’s a lengthy tale…?” His voice is rough from the fever.

I smile, remembering my own words from so long ago. “Quite lengthy, Daniel Jackson.”

A small smile curves his dry lips. “Somebody want to fill me in?”

Major Ferretti joins us, looking at me in question. I understand what he asks, but do not believe we should withhold the truth from him…Daniel Jackson values truth above all, he expects it from us…from me…and I will give him no less. His eyes close as I reveal to him Dr. Fraiser’s diagnoses, and the possible ramifications of both, then he nods once and looks directly at me.

“And Heru’ur?” He asks quietly.

“Gone for the moment. He was injured in the same battle which disabled the DHD. He will return.”

“Yeah,” he drawls in that way he has which means his mind is considering many things at once. “You guys should have left while you could.”

Major Ferretti and I speak once.

“We could not.”

“Not a chance, Daniel”

Daniel Jackson smiles at us, closing his eyes. “Thanks…” he whispers. “Teal’c?”

“Yes, Daniel Jackson?”

“I need to talk to Jack.”

Chapter 23: Dr. Daniel Jackson

Well, it’s not like I didn’t suspect something like this.

I knew after the first few weeks these weren’t like any kind of headaches I’ve ever had in my life. It wasn’t long after everything with Amaunet so Janet was inclined to think it was nothing more than stress, too much caffeine and a return to my evidently predictable patterns for dealing with it. After a while, I just got used to the pain…until Netu when everything started getting worse…nausea bad enough to kill my appetite, spells of blinding pain no amount of Tylenol would faze, vision distortions. I was worried enough to let Janet run her tests before I left…that should have made her more suspicious than anything else. But I was just as determined to do this.

And now my friends are trapped here, Heru’ur’s going to be back any time now, and they’re all looking at me like I’m going to…

Yeah, like that.

Like Jack’s looking at me as he runs into the cave.

I try to smile at him and wave him over to me. Teal’c and Ferretti back off none too subtly, for which I’m grateful. This is going to be hard enough…I don’t want an audience.

Jack puts on his best gung-ho smile. “Welcome back. I was starting to get a little worried there.”

I nod at that and take a long look at him. The way his brow creases and the tight lines around his mouth tell me he’s worried. The dark shadows in his eyes tell me I’ve got him scared…I hate that…

“Don’t…” It’s almost a whisper, but Jack’s voice never needed volume or a lot of words to make itself understood…I guess he’s reading a few things in my face as well. He leans closer, keeping his voice soft. “Don’t, Daniel. We’ll handle it. Just like always.”

I almost laugh at that, would if I had the energy to spare. It’s just so much like Jack to think sheer stubborn will can make a difference here. Who knows? He may be right. And between us…well, that’s a lot of stubborn.

Okay, I can go along with that…

Jack smiles again, broader this time. We haven’t said a dozen words, but then…when have we ever needed to? The promise has been given and accepted. I won’t give up, he won’t let me…

Now we just have to figure out a way to get us all home.

“Carter’s working on it, Daniel.”

Just those words, but the meaning is clear…Sam is every bit as stubborn as we are, she won’t give up either.

I nod my head again. I’m getting tired, but I really don’t want to sleep anymore.

“How about some dinner?” Jack asks.

Just the thought sends a wave of sickness straight into my stomach and I shake my head. I reach out a hand asking for help to sit up. Jack looks over at Ferretti, hovering just out of earshot. Ferretti shrugs his shoulder…I think he’s wondering when he became the resident medic.

“Jack…” I’m asking a lot here, they’re afraid and I understand that, but I won’t just lie here helplessly and play the patient patient.

They all trade a look that quite clearly says they aren’t happy about it, but ‘hey, what can we do with him when he’s like that?’ I almost laugh at them…it’s good they know me so well.

Jack sighs hugely, reaching out a hand.

Yes, it’s a very good thing…


Chapter 24: Captain Janet Fraiser, M.D.

This has to work.

Sam says it will, but I can hear the echoes of self-doubt in her voice. The naquada reactor is nowhere near its intended date of completion. The tests look good, but actual field performance is an entirely different thing. What neither of us is saying…we don’t have to, our thoughts scream it…is that Daniel may not have time for her and the techs to be any more sure than what they are. Sam Carter’s “pretty sure” is as good as most people’s “positive”…in my considered opinion.

The last communication with Ferretti sounded promising…hopeful. Daniel is awake, aware and the pain doesn’t seem as bad … of course regular doses of demerol tend to do that. Ferretti mentioned a fever, that’s actually a good thing. A fever equals infection and that’s something we can deal with. I just hope it isn’t some secondary thing he’s picked up on that planet. No, no negatives. I want to stay as guardedly positive as I can be about Daniel’s condition. I try to share that attitude with the general and the others as often as possible.

The general is really tearing himself up over this. I know I argued with him in the first placce over sending Daniel off this way…but I have to admit the test results just weren’t proof enough not to. Of course, I didn’t have all the tests…and I’ve got my own opinions about that, too. A certain doctoral doctor and I are going to have a long and undoubtedly heated discussion about that once I get him back on his feet. He knew. Maybe not exactly what, but he’s too damn smart not to have guessed something close to the truth. And I have no doubt he wasn’t exactly forthcoming when it came to symptoms. I can’t blame his silence on some macho military thing so I guess I’ll chalk it up to pure male stubbornness…heaven knows he’s got a healthy dose of that.

I wish the general would allow me or one of my staff to go through, but I understand his reasoning on the subject. They’re sitting on a powderkeg over there and Heru’ur could show up anytime to strike the match. Major Ferretti is more than capable and he’s had plenty of field experience. I know he can be trusted to do everything right, but it’s hard not to want to be there. Daniel is my patient…sadly one of my more regular ones…and I can’t help feeling my place is there.

I’m operating, figuratively speaking, in the dark here and that’s not an acceptable condition for me. Daniel needs to be here. He needs tests, steady monitoring, and too many other things he just can’t get in a cave halfway across the galaxy.

Beyond preparations to receive Daniel, things have been rather slow around the infirmary. I’ve been trying to keep Kasuf occupied while Sam’s busy with the reactor. Kasuf really is a dear man…and so terribly concerned about his “boys”.

I’ve noticed a definite kinship building between the general and Kasuf. It’s no too strange a friendship when you consider they’re both leaders of their respective ‘tribes’. After all, a tribe is an extended family banded together for a common purpose and that’s us in a nutshell.

And right now every ounce of energy possessed by this tribe is concentrated on bringing its missing members home.

Chapter 25: Heru’ur of the Goa’uld

They will die.

Slowly.

Repeatedly.

The shol’va and his companions have earned my complete and utmost wrath. I will not rest until their blood runs freely through my hands and stains the steps of my temple. They will be mine or the planet will burn around them, they shall not live to breathe another day.

We are less than three winwet from the planet. They have neither the intelligence nor the ingenuity to have escaped the planet without the dialing mechanism. They cannot have escaped. My former Jaffa…those who failed me on the planet…remarked on the rather foolish actions of the Abydonian, the shol’va and another Tau’ri warrior. Forsaking their means of escape to aid Jackson and O’Neill….

How weak they are…

The Jaffa were under the impression Jackson was ill or injured. That is good. An injured man will slow them, make them that much easier to corner…and give me a very effective weapon against them.

They will suffer for as long as it pleases me…for as long as it takes to find the child…and then they will die.

Three winwet and I will remove these far too persistent thorns from my mikta…

Forever.

Chapter 26: Major Louis Ferretti

Two hours.

They send the naquada reactor through in two hours.

Carter’s on the radio now giving us a full set of instructions on how to operate the thing. Daniel’s taking notes as fast as she can talk…and that’s pretty damn fast.

I see his eyes squint occasionally as if he’s having trouble focusing, but otherwise it doesn’t seem to be hurting him. I think it does him more good to be helping out the cause this way. I can see the others checking him out and reaching the same conclusion.

Actually he’s seemed a lot better since his little heart to heart with the colonel. It didn’t look to me like they were saying much, but it must’ve been pretty important stuff to get both of them looking so…bull-headed. It seems to me like a corner’s been turned that I didn’t even know needed turning.

I guess the colonel and Daniel did.

That’s what counts.

Teal’c and Skaara are packing things up, just the essentials and the stuff we don’t want to leave lying around on a primitive planet. They’re taking it all to the MALP that brought it here.

I’m not taking out Daniel’s IV until the last possible moment though. I gave him a dose of demerol two hours ago, it’ll be cutting it close for him but he doesn’t want anymore until we’re back home…or not. I’m keeping a hypo handy just in case we cut it too close for him.

The colonel isn’t budging from Daniel’s side, reading the notes as he writes them, committing the procedure to memory. Occasionally I’ll see his eyes slide to Daniel’s face…still too pale, perspiration coursing a trail from hairline to sideburns. If it weren’t for those tell-tale signs of the illness still at war inside Daniel this might be just another joint mission…a badly screwed one, but still…

Daniel’s so intent on getting everything down he doesn’t seem to notice our concern. It’s almost as if none of us can keep our eyes off him for very long. I don’t know if we’re looking for some sign of things getting better … or signs they’re getting worse. Maybe we’re just letting the sight of him sitting there doing such a normal, everyday thing reassure us that there’s a very big factor at work here called hope.

Yow, Ferretti…maybe you’ve been spending too much time around the kid. Some of that Indo-pseudo-whatever philosophy rubbing off….

I laugh quietly at the thought, remembering us back on Abydos the first time. He seemed like such a clueless dweeb. Boy, was I wrong. When push came to shove Daniel stood up to Ra, his Jaffa and, by God, even that totally dark-side version of Colonel O’Neill…something none of the rest of us had the desire or the suicidal guts to do.

I remember Daniel sitting there on that dusty floor after we’d escaped from Ra. Shivering from the desert cold, coughing his lungs out from the blowing sand, shaggy hair all over the place, he fixed those clear blue eyes on the colonel. For a minute I thought the colonel was going to practice his famous fire-breathing act on the guy, but Daniel didn’t even have to raise his voice…direct words delivered with that mule-headed tenacity that won’t let go of a bone once he’s latched on to it.

Thankfully, some things have changed. Daniel’s learned a little about choosing his bones since then. Hell, the colonel’s not breathed any noticeable fire for quite awhile now.

Teal’c and Skaara head out with the last load. The colonel glances up, letting me know he’s noticed. I look at Daniel, just finishing up his rewrite of Carter’s instructions then back at the colonel. Something passes between us then … an acknowledgement, a promise ... that says we’re going to do our dead-level damnedest to make sure everything turns out right for Daniel.

And for us.

Same thing really …

I reach for my pack and almost laugh again as I realize that almost-conversation I noticed between the colonel and Daniel probably ‘said’ a lot more than I could ever fathom. Sometimes you really don’t need the words…

You just need understanding.

Chapter 27: Teal’c of SG1, formerly of Chulak

One hour.

I have faith in Major Carter’s solution, I know she has given all of her energy to finding the means of returning us home. Her work with the naquada reactor has consumed most, if not all of her on-planet hours. She and Daniel Jackson are much alike in their ability to focus their intelligence and physical resources on a problem, pursuing it unerringly until success is met…or those physical resources simply refuse to be pushed further.

I must admit I am quite anxious to return to the SGC for Daniel Jackson's sake. I can see the lines of stress on his face, the way his eyes flinch involuntarily at every noise, the way his mouth tightens when he stumbles in the path. Major Ferretti tried to offer pain medication, but Daniel Jackson refused…an action that clearly disturbed the major, but I saw him place the hypodermic purposefully in Daniel Jackson's pocket with quiet words which brought a smile to Daniel Jackson's face.

Skaara waits for us in hiding near the Stargate, close enough to observe without being observed. I felt it wise to have someone watching our only means of escape, but also felt the necessity to guard my other friends. Skaara agreed without comment, a small smile expressing understanding of my torn desires. He called me "Danyer's Jaffa" with all the seriousness and depth of the remarkable young man he still is. I am thankful for his sake and that of his family that he has adjusted so well to the changes he has survived.

Daniel Jackson's Jaffa.

Perhaps. Perhaps not. Daniel Jackson would greatly dislike the connotations of that statement, but I do not doubt he would realize a certain element of truth in it also. My life is as sworn to his protection as it ever was to Apophis…much more so in fact because it is a service I choose freely and with a commitment I never felt for my former master. Daniel Jackson is not my master...he would be extremely angered at the very thought, but in many ways he does rule my actions…and my loyalty. Very little could change that. I would not wish it to.

O'Neill, Major Carter, General Hammond and Master Bra'tac reside in my circle of protection and loyalty. Yet there is place far deeper within me that only Daniel Jackson may reside. The things that have passed between us have earned him a place in my heart surpassed only by the feelings for my son. It is an extremely apt analogy, but still does not encompass the totality of the truth….

Daniel Jackson's life and spirit must not be allowed to end here.

I become aware of O'Neill watching me from his place beside Daniel Jackson. The resolute fire in his eyes tells me he knows my thoughts…and agrees wholeheartedly. Daniel Jackson will be fine. We will make sure of it.

We approach Skaara's hiding place and move to sit beside him amongst the trees. Daniel Jackson accepts water from O'Neill, nodding gratitude before laying his head on his knees. O'Neill rubs a soothing hand over Daniel Jackson's back as he glances at his watch. I mirror the gesture without thinking.

Forty-five minutes.

We must succeed.

There is no other option.

Chapter 28: Skaara of Abydos


The reactor has arrived.

O'Neill and Teal'c are connecting the many lengths of cable to the Chaapa'ai - Stargate - as Major Ferretti reads from Daniel's notes. I sit quietly beside Daniel, he seems to be asleep, but I think it is simply a matter of conserving strength.

I keep a keen watch around us. The place where Heru'ur transported to his ship is just a small distance up the hill. It is reasonable to expect he will return in the same fashion. My body is tense as I look for any disturbance that might warn of the demon's return. The more time that passes, the more my concern grows. Heru'ur will not rest until he exacts revenge on us. I know this with the certainty of three years of exposure to the pervasive evilness of Goa'uld thinking. Just as my own demon sought every bit of information that might bring him closer to revenge against those who demeaned him in the eyes of his father, then destroyed Apophis before he could prove himself worthy again. Klorel would have eventually plotted against Apophis, but there was much he had yet to prove to the one who gave him life.

Heru'ur will return.

We must not be here when he does.

O'Neill keeps looking in our direction, his mind is clearly on Daniel. I reach to touch Daniel's forehead. He is very hot. He stirs, but does not raise his head. I try to convey my concern to O'Neill without words. O'Neill nods once, his mouth set in a grim line, then turns back to his task with determination.

They are almost ready. O'Neill reaches down to turn on the device, I can see the furtive glance in our direction and the small hesitation in his hand before he pushes the button. There is a spark of power from Major Carter's box, but nothing more for many long moments.

Slowly, almost with a deliberate pause, the hum of energy builds. Teal'c reaches for the first chevron of Earth's address, shifting and locking it into place. The lock holds…and glows.

Daniel finally raises his head at the sound,, eyes barely focused. O'Neill moves to us and bends to sit beside him so I may go to help Teal'c. I am small enough to climb easily on the larger man's shoulders and adjust the higher symbols. I hear O'Neill speak to Daniel in soothing tones, promising we will soon be home.

With a last glance toward the hillside, I speak a small prayer, to whoever might be listening, that he is right.

Chapter 29: Heru’ur of the Goauld

I think perhaps I may let some of them live.

Klorel would likely favor an alliance--however short-lived once I gain access to his resources...in exchange for the host who escaped him. Rather a puny specimen, but pretty in its way.

I could certainly find many uses for Daniel Jackson…he is handsome enough to serve as a host, perhaps for my own next form…I grow rather weary of this one. It is certainly a possibility worthy of consideration. An appealing body and from all reports a mind full of knowledge of the Tau’ri. He would make a pleasing change as I wait for the child to grow to a suitable stage. Unlike Apophis and Ra, I prefer a variety of hosts.

The shol’va, of course, must die….there is no question of that.

And then there is O’Neill.

I’ll want to keep him around for a time, kill him at leisure. Wipe the insolence from his face as often as I may. Let him watch me dominate his friend then kill him again in that form.

Yes.

I do think that shall suit my pleasure quite nicely.

We have arrived.

I signal my Jaffa to gather at the transport rings. I check my personal shield once more…I shall not be left vulnerable again. When the Jaffa are in position, I press the activator on my wrist feeling the distinct surge of anticipation.

My revenge shall be sweet indeed.

Chapter 30: General George Hammond

Major Carter estimates they should have the reactor attached and activated by now. Manual dialing is a slow process, but SG1 has done it more than once. I have faith in my men, they’ll get the job done.

The atmosphere here in the control room is thick with tension. Kasuf and Dr. Fraiser stand near the stairwell. I know Dr. Fraiser’s team is prepped and on standby, she’ll be down those stairs the moment the gate’s inner ring moves. I just hope Dr. Jackson…Daniel…is holding on. The last report sounded good….well, not so bad anyway.

Kasuf is a good man, a good father to both his “boys”. I can’t help but smile when he calls Daniel that. How many times have I fallen into that same mode of address when it comes to our young civilian? Daniel Jackson is “our” boy just as much as he is Kasuf’s. A fact we both seem to recognize. We take our responsibilities seriously…neither technology nor cultural separation make a damn bit of difference when it comes down to family.

Major Carter is alternately fidgeting at her computer station and chewing on her nails. I’d tell her to stop, but I know it helps her get through this terrible waiting. This is going to work…I believe that. Deep down I think she does too, but she’s got her usual case of “what-ifs” and there isn’t much I could say to help. We’ve been there and done this way too many times. It’s a wonder she’s got any fingernails left.

I’ve noticed a definite tension throughout the base since Kasuf came through with two-thirds of SG2. The grapevine I’m not really supposed to know exists has been in full operation and the facts of the situation are pretty well known all over the mountain. Personnel who have no real business or duty in this section ate finding reasons to stick close to the corridors from the gateroom to the infirmary. I could order them all back to their own areas, but I know they’re just as worried as the rest of us…wanting to help, powerless to do more than wait.

If shared thoughts and energy hold any power in this universe then the SGC is lit up like a mega-watt Christmas tree and pouring out amps of goodwill for our missing men…

As the minutes click by, I’m starting to get a little…hell, make that a lot…worried. Carter’s tapping her fingers lightly on the computer monitor…it’s almost like she’s willing the glyphs to spin and lock into their slots. I notice Harriman’s little wince of irritation. He prefers a more ordered procedure in the control room….But I know he understands the major’s nervousness, I’ve seen his toes tapping when he thinks no one notices.

I feel like I ought to say something encouraging, but somehow I can’t bear to shatter this utter stillness. To break the spell of concentration and hope that’s settled over us. I finally move to go top off my now-cold coffee….

The click-whine of a gate sequence initiating reaches my ears, the sound we’ve all been waiting for with every passing minute.

There are no teams off-world.

Barring an surprise visit from the Tok'ra or…heaven forbid…an attack from still another pissed-off Goa'uld….our boys are coming home.

Chapter 31: Dr. Daniel Jackson

The reactor works.

I knew Sam could do it.

Guess I owe her a nice dinner at that Moroccan place she likes so much. If I can…

Don't go there, Daniel. No negative thinking on that front, you made a promise. It's hard not to be negative when your brain is doing pressure exercises on your skull. Jack always did say I had too much stuff in my head…

God, now I know I'm sick. I'm doing Jack-jokes.

Jack's giving me that "no shit, things will be okay" look…the one he uses when he feels like things are going just a little too well. He's waiting for the cloud to fall over this silver lining. I think we all are. It's already been longer than I expected, Heru'ur should have been back by now. He's not going to just let this go…It's a genetic thing with the Goa'uld I think. Hurt for hurt, pain for pain….

Don't think I want to go there either….

Five chevrons locked. Skaara's balancing like an acrobat on Teal'c shoulders to reach the sixth one. I'd laugh at the image if I didn't know it was going to hurt. I'm trying my best to stay calm here, I promised Jack I wouldn't give up. I won't.

It just hurts so damn much.

My hand brushes across the hypodermic Ferretti put in my pocket. It's tempting. Jack notices and gives me that other look, the one that speaks of sympathy, empathy…the desire to take the pain away. Jack's got that mile-wide protective streak…he can't stand to see any of us hurting. He really does see us as his family, as well as friends. Jack really should have had another chance at being a father…he'd be a great one. A lot of times he's hardly more than a big kid himself.

The big kid gives me a smile as we hear the last chevron locks and the wormhole springs to life with the sound that's become so thrillingly familiar. Jack stands and reaches down to help me up.

"C'mon, Danny…We're going home."

It takes a few seconds for me to find my feet…and a few more seconds to suppress a laugh at the inanity of that thought. Jack steadies me without a word, putting an arm around me and guiding me toward the gate. Teal'c and Ferreti are guiding the MALP back through. Skaara is focused on the hilltop, I know he's as worried as I am that…

Skaara's eyes grow wide suddenly.

I don't even have to look to know the cause.

Jack curses beside me and tries to pick up our pace. I'm trying, but I don't think….

A staff blast between us and the gate affirms my fears.

We aren't going to make it.

Chapter 32: Colonel Jack O'Neill

Damn.

This whole situation has sucked from the beginning…now it's just plain ridiculous. I knew things were going too well. Five lousy minutes…two even…and we'd've been long gone. But nooo, Big H. has got the same screwed up timing as the rest of the Goa'uld.

Teal'c and the others are trying to give us cover, but they're way too exposed there. The DHD is barely big enough for one person to squeeze behind, much less three.

Daniel is doing his best. Like he'd do any less. I can feel his muscles trembling under my arm, but he's giving it all he's got.

This feels too damn familiar.

I hate that feeling.

As we get closer, the others start backing toward the gate.

Good.

I don't want them coming after us again. We just got lucky last time because we hurt the mean old Goa'uld, now he's mean and pissed. Teal'c's blasting away, Skaara's found the zat gun again and Ferretti just used up a clip on his M15. Damn good support, damn good guys. If they can just keep those Jaffa too rattled to shoot straight, we may have a chance here.

Almost there.

I don't even try to look up the hill. The staff blasts tell me all I need to know about how close they're getting. Doesn't seem to be as many blasts as there were a few minutes ago. A few points for the home team.

Less than ten yards now.

I give Teal'c a nod, he understands and pushes Skaara through bodily. Ferretti looks over his shoulder and keeps shooting.

Closer…

I yell at Ferretti to go. He looks like he's about to argue but starts backing toward the gate, firing every step of the way.

We're at the steps.

Ferretti disappears into the wormhole.

Teal'c won't go, I'm not even going to try. He's shooting that staff so fast I can barely count a second between the shots.

First step.

Second.

Thir…damn.

Danny's down…


Chapter 33: Major Samantha Carter

I knew it would work.

'Right, Sammy, tell yourself another one.'

My father's voice is as plain as if he were standing right beside me.

I wish he were.

I can't remember ever feeling quite so helpless…well, maybe there have been a few other times….

No negatives, Sam.

Daniel always tells me that when we're in the midst of some puzzle that's got us stumped and I'm ready to give it up.

No negatives.

My classically trained scientific brain didn't have a clue as to what Daniel meant the first time he said it. I couldn't figure out why I shouldn't be negative when faced with a seemingly impossible task that every theory I'd come to recognize as immutable fact failed to explain it. But then I watched him. The incredibly intuitive brain working seemingly tirelessly through one night and into another, seeing things I'd overlooked, countering my negatives with…if not exactly positives then alternative perspectives. Perspectives which, if not entirely correct as a whole, bought about enough of a change in my thinking to lead us to another path…another way of viewing the problem and eventually to an answer.

I love those 'Doctor Jackson sessions', as I call them. The times when Daniel can and does bring to the forefront that impressively-educated, and decidedly unorthodox, intelligence. His hands and voice race one another in their haste to express themselves as quickly as his brain.

Sometimes I'll just sit back and simply enjoy the show. The ever more frenetic pacing, the hands…so expressive in their own right, the eyes that seem to focus on things just outside of my ability to perceive.

It's quite a sight to behold…

I remember the first time Colonel O'Neill walked in during one such session. The look that came over the colonel's face was priceless. It was pretty obvious to me that, while the colonel had previous been aware of that Daniel was "way smarter" than most, it was probably the first time he'd actually been privy to the process proving it. The rapid-fire self-dialog expounding on obscure fact…I mean nobody really is supposed to know this much stuff without a mountain of reference books. Daniel in full 'Doctor Jackson' mode is a scholar's dream…or nightmare depending on the topic in question. The colonel just stood there staring, his open-mouthed expression shifting from mild amusement to deep confusion to just plain disbelief. Over time I've seen that disbelief shift to respect…a further foundation for the unique friendship the two of them share.

The sixth chevron has locked before I pull myself out of my thoughts to monitor the final glyph locking in. I'm chewing on my thumbnail again as we wait for the iris code.

I knew we'd done good work with the reactor, but that knowledge did little to ease my fears that something…anything…could go wrong. When the inner ring started to spin I was able to release the breath I'd been holding since Ferretti pushed my backside into the wormhole…literally.

That man had better watch his own backside. He's definitely on my shit list for the foreseeable future. I'm not seriously angry with him…much…and if this works I'll be glad he did it, but it just a matter of principle with me…

My place was with my team.

The MALP comes through but nobody's breathing yet.

A huge cheer goes up when Skaara nearly flies out of the wormhole.

And there's Major Ferretti…coming out backwards, gun still raised.

There's two…

Long moments pass…

Too long…

Where are SG1?


Chapter 34: Heru'ur of the Goa'uld

This cannot be!

They are escaping.

I will not allow it.

A force of nine Jaffa against three Tau'ri…and six of mine have fallen. My Jaffa masters will pay dearly for this ineptitude.

How is this possible?

The shol'va is very good, I will grant him that…he would have to be to serve as first prime to one as hated as Apophis. The humans…are obviously more fortunate than skilled.

O'Neill and Jackson should have been left behind…yet the others do not yield until the shol'va forces them through the chaap'ai. No there is only the shol'va to guard their approach. I urge my Jaffa forward, this is our chance.

Protected within my personal shield, I advance quickly. Another Jaffa beside me falls…incompetent fool. One manages to scorch O'Neill's shoulder as he reaches the final step with his burden. The shol'va kills that Jaffa also. No matter. I am close enough now. With all the anger of the previous defeats I have suffered at the hands of these humans I reach out a hand to gather Daniel Jackson to me. They are mine now, they will not leave him…I have seen that.

O'Neill climbs to his feet and the shol'va approaches slowly, weapon at the ready even now. I nod to my last remaining Jaffa and he takes the weapon. They both watch me with a wariness and anger that almost makes my previous defeat palatable. I have found their point of vulnerability, I hold him apart from them and they hate me for it. Good.

Jackson is clearly weak and ill. He can barely remain standing in my grasp, I am unsure he even realizes he is within my grasp. Irrelevant. I will take him to my sarcophagus and have him for a host. My plans will come to pass as I use this one to kill O'Neill and the shol'va, then delve into his knowledge and take his entire planet. The first world…the world that dared to rebel against my father…shall be mine.

O'Neill is shouting at me. He thinks his words will sway me? I have no desire to listen to his posturings. He is defeated, he has only to accept it. The shol'va knows, he whispers words of his new reality to the human. O'Neill nods and acquiesces as my Jaffa forces them both to their knees. The chaap'ai flickers behind them…it will close soon.

Jackson raises his head at the sound, but seems barely able to comprehend what he sees. I loosen my grip to force him to his knees as well, but feel a sudden stabbing in my neck.

Jackson!

He has injected me with something.

He did not pick his target randomly, my essence is quickly being affected by some drug.

No!

Jackson pushes me away and stumbles toward the others. The were obviously prepared for Jackson's attack on me, the shol'va advances on my Jaffa with impressive speed and snaps his neck with little effort. I try to raise my own weapon, but find my strength failing me quickly.

The two humans stagger together through the fluctuating chaap'ai as the shol'va retrieves his weapon and follows them. The last thing I see before my vision fails me is the energy of the staff weapon exploding against the device attached to the chaap'ai.

Then I see nothing at all.

Chapter 35: Major Louis Ferretti

C'mon, guys…this is taking too long…

Skaara stands beside me; he feels it too.

The wormhole is destabilizing…a few more minutes and it'll be gone. They were nearly on the dais when I last saw them….Teal'c had them covered. What could've happened?

Well, duh, Ferretti…Heru'ur is what happened….

Somehow, someway, old baldy has done something to slow them down, but he was a good twenty yards off when I last saw him. How fast can snakes run anyway?

I look up toward the observation window. They're all up there, locked in some sort of frozen concentration on the Stargate like it holds the answers to all the mysteries of the universe. In a way I guess it does…our little piece of it anyway. Carter manages to break out of the spell, meeting my eyes with questions I don't need words to understand. I can only give her a helpless shrug. They should've been here by now. I would never have left them if I hadn't believed that. Carter nods, she understands that.

Not that it helps….

The tech starts counting down the seconds until the gate shuts down.

Ten damn seconds.

C'mon…

The event horizon flickers once. Twice.

I look at Skaara again, his eyes are bright as hope starts to die.

Dammit, we were so close.

I put a hand on his shoulder, thinking to get him away from here when a thud hits the ramp behind me. We turn around together to see the colonel and Daniel stumble to their knees a few feet out of the gate. Another flicker of the wormhole and Teal'c is there, staff in hand and a look of almost smugness on his face.

We all just stand there.

The colonel is sitting there on his knees, blood seeping down one shoulder from a staff wound while Daniel leans heavily on the other. The colonel just hangs onto him, finally looking up to see all of us staring at them.

The colonel grins and nudges Daniel who raises his head slowly, smiling.

"Think we could get a hand here guys?" The colonel's voice is soft, almost conversational. "We're just a little…."

As the colonel's voice trails off, Daniel fills in, "…tired. Actually we're very, very…"

Daniel slumps a little further against the colonel, who finishes the thought with, "…very tired."

These guys ought to take this show on the road.

The familiar interchange seems to pull us all out of the spell that's held us motionless for so long. Hammond starts yelling for medics and the well-oiled machine that is the SGC swings into action.

Fraiser is there beside Daniel…I never even saw her come in. The corpsmen are loading Daniel onto a gurney over his protests, Fraiser stops him cold with a bantam-weight finality I've never been able to argue with. Daniel tries but he's out before they even hit the corridor.

Teal'c has got the colonel to his feet so I go help just to have something useful to do.

As we head toward the infirmary I just have to ask, "So, guys, anything interesting happen on the way to the gate?"

Chapter 36: Kasuf of Abydos

My sons have returned to me.

Skaara has washed and changed. He sits now in the shelter of my arms much as he did when he was a child. He has been very strong protecting Daniel, now he needs to feel protected.. I am glad to serve as his guardian now, as I always have been…and ever shall be.

For a moment time falls away and we are back on Abydos, holding one another against the terror Ra always brought with him. I would draw both my children close to me as the walls seemed to shake with Ra's anger. Against such fear I had only my presence with which to comfort them, as their presence comforted me. As long as we were together, I would tell them, nothing else had power over us. Not even vengeful gods.

How wrong I was in that assumption…

Now my son rests in my embrace once again as we wait to discover Daniel's fate. Carter sits beside Teal'c across from us, the large man's reassuring presence is almost strong enough to encompass us all. Ferretti is here with Hammond.

O'Neill walks…I know it is his way when concerned for one he cares for.

I have watched this tribe gather itself, working tirelessly to bring its lost brothers home. It is a good tribe; Hammond is a good leader. He feels deeply, cares much. I think he considers Daniel as much a friend as O'Neill does. I have seen the lines of guilt around his eyes, he feels responsible for this. He need not. I have told him, and will tell him again, that no one may stop Daniel when he truly does not wish to be stopped.

It is a difficult lesson to learn, but I very quickly learned this about my new son. Daniel is like the vernala…the creature that hunts in the deserts, stalking its prey tirelessly for many days and nights until the unfortunate animal is collapses from exhaustion. Daniel pursues his own goals in much the same manner.

We have waited many hours now. Janet has not come to tell us anything, whether this is a good thing, I do not know. O'Neill should rest, his arm is obviously giving him much pain, but he will not sit. He is completely focused on a place none of us may intrude, a place where he gives his strength to Daniel…refuses to accept any other outcome than that Daniel be well. They are all focused so. I have seen this tribe do this before when they worked so hard to bring them all home…I see it now as they sit here together in silence, concentrating their strength on their friend…their brother…beyond the closed doors.

I pull my youngest son closer to me, feeling a measure of hope that the love of these good people will perform the miracle that makes my other son well.

Chapter 37: General George Hammond

All we can do is wait.

After too damn many years in the military I know a lot about waiting….but I still hate doing it.

We'd all been working toward the goal of bringing our men home for so long…it's still a little hard to accept that we've done it. The silence in the gate room as we all just stared down at Colonel O'Neill and Daniel thundered in my ears. It took us time to register that the furious battle to get them back was over…the storm had passed. Then it hit me…as I'm sure it did so many others…we'd only weathered the first wave.

Now the second front is upon us…and we have to stand fast against it.

Dr. Fraiser finally came out to give us an update on Daniel. It is an abscess, but it's too big and pressing on some pretty vital parts of his brain. They're going to drain it, dose him up with the latest antibiotics and hope for the best. Dr. Fraiser told us the next twelve hours will tell the tale.

More waiting.

Daniel has been asleep since Dr. Fraiser broke up the floor show on the ramp, but she's going to let us in to see him one at a time. I'm trying not to think about why she's doing it…and I for one am not going to use my time to say any goodbyes. Too often in the past we've all given up on Daniel Jackson. No more. We aren't going to let him give up…I can see that determination on every face in this room. We'll hold on…and help him to do the same.

SG1 is doing that silent communication thing again. Fleeting looks, bare hand movements…promises made in silence, sworn on the blood and tears they've shared over three years together as a team. A team in the fullest, richest, most enduring sense of the word. They'll stand together with Daniel, regardless of the outcome….

And, God forbid, if the worst should happen they'll stand with Daniel every moment until the last…and beyond.

I've been watching Kasuf as he sits there holding his son. The man has an amazing capacity for caring….it pours off him in waves. Compassion, concern, strength. His entire body, so still as he embraces Skaara, seems to embrace us all. I'm glad he's here….that he's been here all along. I consider it the highest honor Kasuf calls us his friends, calls Daniel his son.

Son. I always dropped that time-honored term for any man younger than me like a cadet drops the word "sir." But it's more than that now. Just like Kasuf considers his tribe to be his children, the members of the SGC are mine to worry over, to care about, to put back in line when they mess up.

I guess this old Texan can learn a few new tricks.

As Teal'c goes in to visit Daniel, I reach out a hand to Kasuf's shoulder, lending support where I know it is needed and will never be asked. His eyes smile at me…so wise. He understands what I'm feeling.

We'll see this one through together…one father to another.


Chapter 38: Teal'c of SG1, formerly of Chulak

Daniel Jackson looks far too young lying there.

He has always looked so to me, but when he is awake his eyes are so full of wisdom one forgets. I would wish to see his eyes, to see the small smile that would at once lend comfort and reassure. Even should he be dying…even then he would first be concerned for us. His heart is true, has always been so. I cannot think of my life in this place without thinking of Daniel Jackson.

From the moment I felt a tap on my leg and saw the symbol sketched into the dirt by the sad-eyed young man who stood up to Apophis only to be struck down, to the moment Daniel Jackson forgave my grievous transgression against him, to the moment I was forced to kill his beloved…Daniel Jackson has been 'open' to me. He has taught me much of this world, as well as many others. He has taken the time to show me the goodness in the Tau'ri when it appeared to me there was very little. By his example, Daniel Jackson has shown me a path other than that of the warrior. I am not prepared to allow him to falter. I believe there is much yet for him to achieve on that path.

Paths…

Strange that our divergent lives would come together in this place and time. I had nearly given up hope that my life would change from what it had become as First Prime of Apophis. If it had not been for the strength and determination I witnessed in O'Neill and his group…so much would have been different.

O'Neill, Daniel Jackson…they would have died that day. The Tau'ri would have remained just as much a mystery as they had always been among the Jaffa. I would have continued as I had always done until the day I died in service to the false gods…or killed myself when it all became too difficult to live with any longer. My son would have followed my footsteps down the same road of self-hate and helplessness…

My life would have ended that day though my body lived on.

On a moment's notice, for reasons I have never totally discovered, I made a choice. I have never regretted taking that new path, but I know this road I travel will become much less without Daniel Jackson to share the journey.

I raise a hand to his forehead, willing him to understand the many things I cannot speak.

I smile as my fingers brush back his damp hair realizing he already knows.


Chapter 39: Captain Janet Fraiser, MD

Waiting has never been my strong suit….

As a physician, it's hard enough to wait for test results that hold a person's fate in the balance. As a friend of the patient, it's nearly impossible.

That specialized knowledge I worked so hard to gain gives me a vantage point no one else could possibly share. I know the prognosis, I know the odds, I know all too well what could go wrong, all that could go wrong…

I'm not going to think about those things now…not with the rest of the SGC out there putting every ounce of their energy into positive thoughts. I have to keep believing that…once again…Daniel will defeat the odds.

I've seen him do that so many times, each time making me wonder whether this will be it. The time when he doesn't pull some miracle out of his floppy hat, the time when we finally lose the wonderful spark he brings to our lives, the time I actually have to face the rest of his team with the words I never want to have to say…

I won't say them…not even in the privacy of my own mind.

Daniel can't die.

I reach for another cold compress. He's still so hot. I wish he were awake, I need to see him awake, but the sedatives we gave him to perform the drainage procedure will keep him out for awhile. When he's awake, those eyes provide a comfort all their own. A comfort born of endurance, of survival, of a strength of 'self' and an expansiveness of heart I've rarely had occasion to know in another person. I've come to rely on that comfort…

I thought I'd lost it once after the fiasco with Machello's machines. It was touch and go for a while there, I wondered if Daniel would ever be able to forgive me for my part in that. I should have fought harder to keep him here with us. I shouldn't have let MacKenzie strong-arm me into taking his diagnosis on face value. After all, damn it, I've seen stranger things than that in my time with the SGC…I should at least have suspected something else. But I didn't…and no excuse in the world will ever make up for it.

But he let me off the hook…

It took some time, but he let it go…and worked really hard to get me to do the same.

The whole thing put a strain on Cassandra and I think in the end that was what did it. He couldn't bear to see Cassie hurt by our differences.

That was nothing compared to the hurt she'll feel if he….

Don't think that way, Janet. Cassie is not going to lose her 'Uncle Daniel'…

I won't let her.

Chapter 40: Major Louis Ferretti

I think the colonel's about to crash…

It's hard enough holding everything together after a mission like we just went through. Your brain keeps telling you it's over but your body's still on this major high that keeps all your senses on full alert. On top of it all this time we have the added tension of not knowing what's going on with Daniel…

The colonel's been pacing the floor non-stop ever since the medics tied his arm up. Maybe it's adrenaline still working on him….or maybe just the fact of not wanting to stand still and think about what might happen…

No. That's not how the colonel operates. He doesn't deal with problems by avoiding them. He looks them in the eye and meets them with a conviction I've often envied…at least now he does. Before Abydos it would have been an empty darkness in his eyes, making them glow like embers from hell's own pit…the look that made you want to pull the ragged edges of your soul around what was left of your heart and pray he wasn't aiming that look at you…

I remember the look a lot of people mistakenly referred to as the 'O'Neill cold-ass bastard glare'. Kowalski and I talked about it once, pretty much agreeing there was nothing cold at all about Jack O'Neill…

That look was fire…promising retribution in ways only seen in imagination…or nightmare….

There's still a lot of fire in the colonel's eyes, but now it's more like a fire tempered by feelings he wouldn't let in before. Feelings that didn't exactly die with his son, but definitely got lost for awhile…

Whoa, Ferretti, that's pretty deep even for you…

It's true though…

The colonel O'Neill from four years ago and the one pacing the floor of this room projecting every ounce of spare energy he's got through those doors and into Daniel's room are as far apart as Earth and Abydos…in every way. This Colonel O'Neill is one hell of a guy…and a damn fine friend.

I think the man lying in that room had a hell of a lot to do with that change, more than any of us…even the colonel…ever realized. Daniel doesn't even seem to notice the way people take to him, try to be 'more' around him….he'd laugh at me for even thinking something like that.

Maybe it's just because he's become such a breath of reality among us. Not to say we've forgotten how to be 'human' in that broad metaphysical sense, but without a doubt a lot of us…especially those who've seen combat…tend to misplace that particular trait…and tend to treasure it whenever we do see it.

I just wish…

No. Daniel doesn't need wishes tonight. Instead I try to remember the prayer Mama taught me as soon as I was big enough to realize there was more to the world than just Mama and Daddy and the farm that *was* my world up until then.

I just hope the Good Shepherd is inclined to let us keep our particular treasure around for awhile…

Chapter 41: Major Samantha Carter

I hate seeing him so still.

Daniel's never still…

I want him to wake up now and be okay. I want him to smile the 'gee, guys, were you really worried about me' smile that never seems able to accept that anyone could possibly spare the time to be worried about him. Daniel's got a hundred different little smiles, almost all of them tainted by a ghost of self-deprecation…a simple lack of understanding of his own worth. Those little smiles alternately cause my heart to break for his sake or to work all the harder to chase those ghosts away.

Goodness knows Daniel's got more than his share of ghosts…

I hate watching his head turn away when emotions get too near the barriers he raised around himself when his parents died, barriers that grew stronger with every subsequent loss. Little by little he's been letting us behind those barriers, but there's still a hint of…something. Something that wants to let go, but is still just too damn reticent to let it happen. Something we've all subconsciously responded to and worked hard to dispel…

Three years ago I went to Abydos expecting to meet the incredible mind that had deciphered the Stargate in a fraction of the time the rest of us had spent scratching our heads over it. Up until that point I think that was all I expected to meet….I'd never stopped to consider the person beneath the intellect…and I distinctly remember feeling a rather superior disgust at the thought of such an obviously brilliant man wasting it all on a primitive planet light-years from Earth.

Then I met him.

Now admittedly I was a little clueless myself at the time. I'd always been so wrapped up in my theories and studies…not to mention proving myself to the Armed Forces good ole boy network…to have much of a social life (not counting Jonas, of course, and I'd really rather not count him at all). But after watching Daniel with his wife and his chosen family, I suddenly understood it all…and quickly discovered the amazing heart that came part and parcel with the package known as Daniel Jackson.

Those first weeks back on Earth put Daniel through a form of hell I had no reference for until my father was captured by Sokar. I only had to survive a few days of the startlingly painful uncertainty Daniel had to cope with for three years.

I don't know how he did it…

The enthusiasm remains only slightly dampened, the wonder barely muted, the openness only mildly tempered by a hard-won caution…the wit has definitely grown an edge but that's as much in response to the colonel's influence as anything else.

Daniel…our conscience, our voice, our friend.

No longer as innocent as he once was…if he ever truly was…facing life with agelessly wise eyes and an openness to all the wonders of the universe made all the more miraculous for the things he's had to survive. We need that wonder, that reminder to look at all sides of the equation…

I brush a hand through the scruff of bangs across his forehead thinking it possibly seems a little cooler than it had been when I first came in…

C'mon, Daniel, keep fighting and come back to us.

We need you.

Chapter 42: Colonel Jack O'Neill

I need you to wake up here, Daniel….

Doc's almost ready to shoot me full of the same stuff she gave you and dump me in the next bed. Hell, it's just a staff burn. We both know we can keep going with one of these…not much fun, but with enough of a reason…

Don't care one bit for this reason, Danny…

Doc says even if---after tonight-- you'll have to stay on antibiotics for a month or so, but you could go back to work in a couple of weeks. We'll find us a couple of nice safe, deserted temples and let you dig to your heart's content. Hell, I'll even grab one of those little trowel things and help…for a while, at least…

I think I'd give every cent of my retirement to see your eyes light up over some incomprehensible marks on the wall. Hell, just to see your eyes open in something other than pain or fever…or fear.

You're good at hiding it, you know. The fear. But I've learned how to read those eyes and I know just how scared you really were back there when Heru'ur grabbed you, scared for us as much as yourself. I can't believe you did that, buddy. You are definitely going to be tops on his hit list for a while…you know how those guys like to hold on to grudges. Don't worry about it, though, we'll be around to back you up…just like always. Just like you're always around to back us up.

It's what we do, right?

It's what we've worked so hard to learn to do…and dammit you are not backing out on us, you hear me? We're finally getting to the point where we're getting this teamwork thing…this friendship thing…down pat and I'll be damned in a dozen hells before I let you go now.

It is just not happening.

Damn.

C'mon, Daniel, give me a little sign here. You know how much I despise waiting around for you to get to stuff in your own good time…it's a flaw on my part and I'm honestly working on it, but I need something to hang on to here. I don't know how much longer I can keep holding on here without you to back me up. We have to fight this together…kinda hard to do with you off in Doc's drug induced o-zone. She says you need it and I guess she's right, but…

God.

I sound pretty stupid here, don't I? But you're used to that by now. You know what I'm trying to say anyway, you've gotten pretty good at deciphering O'Neill-speak…Guess that's why you're the linguist, huh?

I'm just trying to say, I need you, my friend…and you are my friend, you know that, right? The best kind of friend…You don't give in to me and my moods, and somehow you don't make me feel like a total ass when you do it…that's a hell of a gift all by itself. You stand by me through a lot of shit, a lot of which I tend to dish out personally…but you see under all of it and try to find me. You don't try to change me, except by damn fine example…and I do appreciate the fact you realize that tactic wouldn't work real well with me. Lot of work, aren't I?

I think I'm learning just how much work goes into being a friend…not that I'm complaining, you understand. Just realizing there's more to friendship than beer and pizza and a game on t.v. It takes time and commitment and sometimes just a simple willingness to be around, even when you're complaining you don't need a babysitter. I'm not your babysitter, Daniel…although you do look damn awful young lying there like that…I'm just your friend…first, last and always. Some things are definitely worth the effort.

C'mon, Danny, we've still got work to do 'out there'…

I'm not saying we can't do it without you…but it'd sure be a hell of a lot less fun. You know Teal'c doesn't understand my sense of humor, Carter…well…I think they removed her funny bone at the Pentagon…At least you give me the eyebrow-wince thing…and, admit it, I've seen you smile now and again. Really, I know you do.

Just like you are right now…

"Daniel?"

Chapter 43: Dr. Daniel Jackson

I feel like I've been floating for a very long time…

A peek upwards confirms I'm in the infirmary…why am I not surprised…?

The abscess, Janet said something about draining it…

Yeah, I remember that part…

I remember her voice as she put me out, and other voices…after…

People talking to me. Not letting me go too far….

It felt good, anchoring…

Jack?

He's sitting over there mumbling to himself, something about his sense of humor….

What sense of humor, Jack?

He looks pretty rough, I'm surprised Janet's letting him hang around…

Oh.

I guess she might have had more reason to let him stay…

Wow.

That's a creepy thought.

Jack's still over there mumbling, but I can't seem to find the energy to let him know he's got an audience.

Hey, big guy, over here. Archaeologist? Bed?

He looks up finally and I smile at him…sort of. It feels like I'm smiling anyway…

"Daniel?"

Jack's voice sounds raw…like he's been too quiet for too long. That's never good where Jack's concerned. I try to force some sound out of my own throat, but it just comes out as a breath with a "J" at the beginning….

Jack smiles anyway, reaching a glass and straw to my lips.

"A little dry there?" Jack's eyes are looking deeper than just the surface, like he's trying to fathom something even he isn't sure of.

I nod thanks to him for the water, and try again. "Okay?"

I'm not sure if I'm asking if he's okay, I'm okay…or just things in general, but he seems to understand.

"I'm better now," he smiles. "You?" His hand touches my forehead. "Actually you feel cooler…I should get Doc…"

He starts to get up, but I reach up to grab his arm before he can get out of range.

"What's wrong, Daniel?" His eyes are on me again.

I shake my head, trying to put a lot of things into words my brain isn't quite ready to process. I can feel moisture in my eyes, emotions threatening to spill over when my words can't…

Jack sighs, a deep cleansing sound and his hand touches my cheek with a brief tap. "It's okay, Daniel. I hear you…"

Chapter 44: Skaara of Abydos

Daniel is going to recover.

Dr. Fraiser sounds almost joyful as she comes out of the room to tell us. She is a very small woman, and is likely well practiced in the ways of Daniel's friends…as soon as she says this, she moves quickly out of the doorway.

It is impossible not to want to go to Daniel…to see for ourselves that he is returned to us.

He is lying there in the small bed, looking paler than I ever recall seeing him and his eyes are shadowed, but no longer reflect pain. He is smiling a little, but has no strength to do more than raise a hand in greeting.

Father is watching Daniel's friends, a smile in his eyes at their apprehensive silence, finally stepping forward to gently embrace Daniel.

"I am happy to see you well, good son." Father's voice is soft, as befits a sickroom, but infinitely expressive.

Daniel returns the embrace weakly, his hand lingering a moment, speaking much with his eyes. Father smiles, tears threatening, and steps away.

The others follow Father's example, stepping to Daniel's side for a few whispered words and a moment's touch to reassure themselves of his continued presence. Major Carter kisses Daniel's forehead lightly, leaning down to whisper something about his smile. Teal'c, massive in his presence most of the time, gently touches Daniel's hand, not speaking…yet something is shared. Ferretti smiles broadly, eyes gleaming, but cannot seem to find sufficient words. General Hammond speaks quietly of family…and a long talk they must have later.

Finally it is my turn, I have no words for the fear I have felt for Daniel through all of this…no words could express it all. My thoughts turn to my life since being taken from Abydos, my feelings of aloneness and hopelessness. There is only one thing I feel compelled to say to Daniel at this moment.

"I love you, my brother."

Daniel's blinks at me, eyes filling quickly as I move to embrace him firmly. His arms grasp me weakly and his eyes move to O'Neill, a silent request evident even to me. As I move to step away, O'Neill moves beside me, one long arm bringing me close sheltering me in a strength I have not felt in myself for a very long time.

When I look again, Daniel is asleep.

Dr. Fraiser herds us from the room with the force of her flashing eyes…she has a very strong personality for one so small. As we move into the room we have waited in so long, I watch O'Neill and his team gather together in the corner. Without speaking, they lean into one another, O'Neill's arm going around Teal'c's shoulder, Teal'c's hands touching Major Carter's arm. It seems to me they are communing in some way known only to them…reaffirming their friend is alive, is still a vital part of what they…together…have become. Daniel has found a home here. A good home with good people and a purpose he cares for greatly.

When he is well I will return to *my* home. I cannot return to my former life, I have learned too much of the immensity of evil that lies beyond the suns of Abydos. I cannot rest while they destroy so many lives. Somehow, I will find a means to help fight them…and then I, my father, my brother and his tribe shall indeed be free.

*fin*

 

 

 

 

 

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