Jmas Fan Fiction

TITLE: Windows and Walls
AUTHOR: Jmas
Date: August 17, 1999
EMAIL: jmasg1@bellsouth.net
CATEGORY: Drama, angst, h/c
SPOILERS: Almost every episode, up to and including 'Legacy'(just call me the flashback kid!)
SEASON / SEQUEL: Sequel to Walls
RATING: PG
CONTENT WARNINGS:
SUMMARY: While searching for a missing Stargate the team learns about themselves and each other...
STATUS: Complete
ARCHIVE: Stargate Fan, Heliopolis, Belle, Place of Our Legacy
DISCLAIMER: Characters are property of MGM, etc.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: *Things we keep hidden behind the walls we erect between ourselves and those closest to us can sometimes be glimpsed through the windows of the soul*...my philosophical contribution for the day.
Special thanks to Brenda Anders, beta and new friend, thanks for everything!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Chapter One

"Hang in there, Danny. We should be there soon."

Daniel nodded at the words, but Jack wondered if the younger man really heard him. Daniel seemed to be directing all of his attention towards putting one foot in front of the other.

'The kid never ceases to amaze me...' Jack thought.

Two days before they had been pulling Daniel on a travois because he lacked the strength to stand, much less walk. Jack remembered the argument Daniel had put up over the travois idea. In the end Jack had won, but as soon as Daniel had been able to walk without assistance the travois had been returned to its former status as a tent.

'Stubborn doesn't begin to cover it...' Jack mused; half in consternation, half in bemused admiration.

Jack was still having trouble sorting out the events of Daniel's strange illness; the alien venom that had broken down all mental barriers between Jack and the man he had thought he knew so well. In the later stages of the illness, Daniel had become lost within his own terrifying memories and it had been left to Jack to save his friend's mind..and his life.

In many ways, Jack had been shocked by what he had discovered while sharing thoughts with Daniel. It was one thing to know Daniel was the genius that everyone purported him to be...it was quite another to experience that brilliant, intuitive mind firsthand. It still made Jack dizzy to recall the lightning speed at which Daniel's mind operated...and it bothered Jack more than he would ever admit to realize that he didn't understand much of what went on in there.

Jack could feel the anger boiling inside him even now as he recalled other experiences he had unwillingly been privy to inside Daniel's head. No one person should have to deal with so much grief in a single lifetime...

'The kid is just such a ...good guy.' Jack thought with a quiet snort. 'One of those annoying people who just wants to see everybody get a happy ending...even if it means giving up his own.' Jack knew that some people considered that very naive, but some people just didn't know Daniel...

An unfamiliar wave of sympathy swept through Jack. He'd been brought up to believe that the scales of life balanced out in the long run. Given the tragic events of his own life, he wasn't sure what he believed in anymore. What he did know was that, somehow...someday, Daniel had more than earned the chance at something good.

As they neared the top of the rise, Carter called out that they were almost there. Jack breathed a deep sigh of relief. Between their four canteens, they might have had a pint of water. They had used the last of their MRE's for breakfast. The river was their best chance of surviving until Daniel could decipher the symbols in the stone structure Carter and Teal'c had found three days ago. Hopefully the writing would provide a clue to the disappearance of the Stargate.

'If Daniel can decipher it,' Jack thought with his usual pessimism, then he remembered the vast knowledge his young friend possessed, the intensive drive that even now shocked him...he'd always known Daniel was single-minded, almost to the point of obsession, but he'd barely seen the surface of Daniel's incredible 'quest' to learn all it was possible to know...

'Daniel will do it,' Jack affirmed to himself. 'He's got to...he's the only game in town.'

The 'only game in town' gasped a little as he stumbled once again on one of the multitude of sharp, volcanic rocks that seemed to make up the entire surface of P3J050. Jack reached out a hand to steady Daniel and received a small smile in return. Jack took the opportunity to check Daniel's temperature once again and smiled himself at the fact that Daniel didn't bite off his head...or his hand...at the paternal gesture. Daniel usually did not react well to what he termed Jack's 'mothering.'

As they crested the ridge, Jack felt a surge of hope for the first time since they had arrived through the Stargate. Below them stretched a green fertile valley, so incongruous to everything they had seen so far. A small forest skirted a small, winding river at the base of snow-capped mountains.

Jack reached out to stop Daniel, who had once again been walking with closed eyes.

"We're here, Danny..." He said gently.

Daniel opened his eyes, looking out over the valley, swaying a little now that he had stopped moving. Jack put out a hand raising his eyebrow in a question. Daniel started to shake his head at the offer of help, then sighed and nodded. Jack readjusted his weapon and slipped an arm under Daniel's shoulder, allowing him to lean a little of his weight on Jack.

Carter looked over in concern making a gesture as if to ask if the colonel needed assistance, but Jack shook his head. It was better not to make a big deal of it. It was just as hard for Daniel to ask for and accept help as it was for Jack. That self-reliant streak was something common to both men; it was the source that was different. Jack had learned to count on himself over years as a tough city kid and later as a covert operative in the military. Daniel's independence came from necessity...he had never had anyone else to rely on.

As they approached the river, Jack scouted visually for a likely campsite, finally settling on a defensible spot near the stone structure and the river. Jack helped Daniel to the ground up next to a tree. Daniel nodded gratitude, but didn't open his eyes. As Jack moved to help the others set up camp, he motioned for Carter to check out Daniel.
After the tents were set up and the necessary gear unpacked, Jack broke out the fishing line and hooks from the survival gear. Motioning for Teal'c to grab the canteens, they headed for the river. Jack spent a few minutes showing Teal'c how to set up a trot line, which Teal'c dubbed a "most efficient way to capture fish."

When Tealc left to return to camp, Jack took the opportunity to wash off a week's worth of P3J050. Getting his body somewhat cleaner made him realize how dirty his clothes were and he made a mental note to set up a laundry detail when time allowed. As Jack finished dousing his head into the river, Carter came through the trees waving a couple of bandannas. She tossed one to Jack, who used it to dry his face.

Jack just looked at her, he didn't need to ask the question.

Carter shrugged her shoulders. "I don't know, Sir. The arm looks better, the fever hasn't come back. He should be getting stronger, but..."

Jack cut her off there, he was in mood to hear 'buts', it was enough right now that they were finally here and Daniel was alive...

"He's gonna be fine, Carter. He's got more going for him than any of us ever guessed at..." Jack stopped, realizing that he was saying too much.

Carter arched an eyebrow at him in curiousity at the unexpected outburst. Jack knew she'd been dying to know more about the three days the team had been separated, but Jack was determined not to tell her more than the general information he had already given her...It was just too....too close, too private.

Jack turned away and headed back to camp, leaving her staring after him as of he'd just grown two heads.

Teal'c had put on coffee for his friends. Although Teal'c did not share this peculiar Tau'ri addiction, he was generally supportive of it and had learned to make it some time ago. Thanks to Daniel's not-so-secret stash, coffee was one thing they still had plenty of.

Jack saw that Daniel was awake and trying to get up, holding onto the tree for support.

Before he could stop himself, Jack said, "Daniel, dammit...Would you just stay put!"

Daniel's eyes flashed, "Jack, I'm never going to get better if I don't try..."

Realizing that his friend was right, and that his comment had been unnecessary, Jack walked over and put out a hand to help Daniel. Daniel stared at the hand suspiciously for a moment, his expression clearing as his anger died its usual quick death. Daniel accepted Jack's hand and support as he moved over to the fire. The day had been exhausting and he simply didn't have the energy to walk any further. Teal'c handed them both a cup of coffee, which they accepted gratefully.

Daniel took a long breath, glancing quickly at Jack before speaking, "Teal'c, tell me about the writing you guys saw in there." His hand pointed at the small stone structure, just visible beyond the treees.

Before Teal'c could reply, Jack shot Daniel the C.O. look. "Daniel, it can wait."

Daniel returned Jack's glare with one of his own, the one that said there was a mystery at hand and they were wasting time.

"Tomorrow, Daniel," Jack said with finality, broaching no arguments.

Time, Jack realized, like coffee, they had plenty of.

Chapter 2

Sam had been full of questions already about what had occurred between the colonel and Daniel, but after the colonel's statement beside the river....

'The colonel pulling a Mr. Spock?' Sam just couldn't wrap her mind around the concept...

It was true that the colonel had always been more than usually tolerant with the young scientist and over time she had watched that tolerance grow into respect and even affection. Still, the colonel had always seemed to be more of the 'tough love' type, pushing Daniel for what the colonel considered his own good. This new attitude was something she didn't quite fathom...

'He's got more going for him than any of us ever guessed at...'

Sam had always...well, nearly always...known there was more to the gentle, intellectual scientist than met the eye. They all had. But now the colonel said it with a conviction that hadn't been there before. She had caught the colonel watching Daniel several times during their long hike with an expression of total bafflement. It was almost as if his 'kid' had grown up suddenly before his very eyes.

Daniel had certainly not been giving any clues away. Of course, Daniel hadn't been able to do more than sleep, eat and walk for the past three days...

He'd eaten better last night. Daniel knew as well as she did that if he didn't take care of himself the colonel wouldn't let him attempt the translation. Afterwards, Daniel had fallen asleep again leaning up against the log next to the fire. The colonel and Teal'c had carried Daniel into his tent without even waking him. Sam had seen the colonel check Daniel's temperature one last time before leaving the tent. That was their tough-guy colonel alright...

This morning the colonel had coaxed Daniel down to the river to clean up a little before going to see the writing. That, a cup a coffee and a breakfast of more fish had seemed to energize the young man. He was more animated than she had seen him in too many days. Privately, she thought his energy had more to do with the mystery at hand than anything else.

From the moment they entered the rather plain stone structure, Sam realized that they were lost to Daniel. Daniel started muttering to himself right away, his mind racing far ahead of his speech center. Sam knew at that moment they had become little more than a rag-tag honor guard; all they could do now was look after Daniel, making sure that he ate, slept, breathed (it had happened before). Sam smiled as they all moved out of Daniel's way as he moved around the walls, still muttering. This was classic Daniel and she was more than happy to see it...

She glanced over to see the colonel rolling his eyes and grinning, but behind the gesture she could see an edge of concern. They all knew how necessary it was to determine if this writing could help them find the Stargate, but Daniel was recovering from a very serious illness.

They fell into the routine with the ease of long practice. Teal'c moved to guard the entry. The colonel laid a fire in the brazier at the center of the room to drive away the chill dampness. Sam pulled out the digital recorder, moving around the walls behind Daniel. who was muttering something about "indefinite language roots" and taking notes so fast she was getting dizzy just watching.

After thoroughly taping the inscriptions, Sam settled next to the fire beside the colonel, who was still watching Daniel like a hawk. "Or a mother hen with one chick," Sam thought with an inward giggle. Daniel had been going at it steadily for nearly three hours and Sam noticed that he needed to lean on the wall for support more often. 'It won't be long now,' Sam thought, watching the colonel watch Daniel. Sure enough, Daniel stumbled a little against the wall and the colonel was on his feet in a flash, making Daniel sit down to rest near the fire.

"I'm okay, Jack..."

The colonel made a rude noise, handing Daniel the canteen. As the young scientist raised it to his lips his hands were shaking. From the colonel's tight-lipped expression, Sam knew that he noticed as well.

"Time for a break, Danny..." Sam recognized the soft, private tone that the colonel used; it was a rare tone, one that could break through the worst of Daniel's moods and one that Daniel almost always responded to.

Daniel nodded and let the colonel help him lay down on the floor near the fire. This wasn't the first time Sam had witnessed the unexpectedly gentle side of the relationship between the two men, but it never failed to touch and surprise her. They were both such powerful personalities; almost always directly opposed to one another in any argument. It never failed to amaze her that at the core of everything, they were such good friends.

Sam realized that they had been so busy just trying to survive that she hadn't stopped to think how close her two friends had come to dying. If she and Teal'c hadn't returned when they did, if the colonel hadn't been able to find his way out...

Sam shivered, despite the warmth of the room and got up to cover the reaction, moving to join Teal'c at the doorway. The colonel covered Daniel with his jacket, then joined them.

"We'll give him an hour," The colonel said, quietly. "Why don't you two go back and see about putting together some kind of dinner? I'll stay here and keep Daniel out of trouble..."

They all smiled at the unlikelihood of that concept, turning as one to glance at the sleeping form still clutching his notebook to his chest. Sam had the sudden thought that it wasn't fair that all their hope to get home was centered on the Daniel, who, by all rights, should be in a hospital.

'But then,' Sam thought sadly, 'when have things ever been fair for Daniel?'

Chapter 3

Daniel awoke with a start, for a moment unsure of where he was. He was still feeling more than a little disassociated from the 'psychic bug juice', as Jack had dubbed it. He had experienced flashbacks of memories he knew did not belong to him. He could still hear the sound of the shot...

"Daniel?"

Jack was looking at Daniel an expression of concern that made Daniel want to cringe; he hated being the cause of concern to his friends, especially Jack. Daniel moved to get up, but Jack gripped his shoulder to keep him down.
"Daniel, we're not running a race here. Now that we have food and water, we can afford to take a little time with this."

Daniel tried not to gape at Jack's unusual attitude, realizing just how worried Jack was about him. Normally, Daniel would have found the paternal sterness of Jack's tone irritating, but right now it was a source of comfort. Daniel gave a brief smile and leaned back. It had been a rough time for all of them and he didn't have the energy or the desire to argue.

Jack was regarding at Daniel with a questioning look, handing over the canteen. Daniel noted with consternation that his hands were still trembling with exhaustion. He hated the pervasive weakness that had been his constant companion for nearly a week now.

"So, find anything out so far?" Jack asked in that pseudo-interested way that told Daniel that Jack understood.
Daniel laughed a little at the obvious diversionary tactic and allowed himself to be steered away from his dark thoughts.

"Yeah, actually the writing is an offshoot of the Egyptian sub-family of the Hamito-Semitic languages, but there's an odd flavor to the vowel patterns..." Daniel trailed off, noticing Jack was looking at him strangely. "What? Should I start over...?"

Jack shook his head. "No...uh...I actually think I understood that."

Jack sounded so amazed that Daniel almost laughed. "It must be some kind of residual..."

"Weirdness from that over-stuffed head of yours." Jack finished and Daniel nodded agreeing to the concept, if not the words.

They hadn't really spoken about their shared memories other than a brief 'thank you' as Daniel had fallen asleep just before they had set out on the long hike to the river. Daniel vaguely recalled that Jack had promised they would talk about it later. He wondered if now was 'later' enough.

"Jack, I..."

Jack put up a hand to stop Daniel, looking away briefly before speaking. "It's nothing we didn't already know..." Jack's voice was low and rough, too close to that emotional center that he rarely allowed to show.

"...just more." Daniel agreed, his own tone hesitant. He was no more comfortable talking...or thinking...about what had happened than Jack was.

The two men looked at each other and laughed ruefully, deciding they could live with it. Talking wasn't going to change the simple facts of the reality. Jack put out a hand to help Daniel to his feet.

"I'm hungry. Let's call it a day."

While they waited for dinner to cook (fish and some sort of root plant that Sam had found and cleared as edible), Daniel poured over his notes, transcribing his unique shorthand into something more detailed. He didn't notice when Sam placed his food next to him. When it became obvious that direct action was called for Sam reached out and removed the notebook and pen from his hands, replacing them with the plate and fork.

"Eat first," she ordered gently.

Daniel had the good grace to look apologetic. As he began to eat mechanically, his mind still reviewing his notes, even without the visual aid, Daniel was unaware of the surreptitious looks of his teammates. Finishing his food and returning to his notebook, he was equally unaware of the sigh of relief and amusement his friends released.
As darkness approached, Teal'c called Jack to the edge of the clearing. After a brief, quiet conversation, Daniel was startled out of his concentration by a loud curse from Jack.

"Teal'c's pretty sure we're being watched," Jack announced, going into C.O. mode without missing a beat. "I don't want anybody going off alone anymore and we're going to double up on guard duty. Teal'c and me first, then Teal'c and Carter."

It was simple logic, Daniel knew that. Teal'c simply didn't require the sleep that the humans did; a few hours of meditation were all that he required to replenish his energy. Teal'c understood Jack's reasoning and moved off to do just that.

Daniel looked up at Jack, blue eyes glowering as he prepared to argue with Jack that he was fully capable of standing watch like the rest of his team. Jack kneeled down next to Daniel with a sigh.

"Look, Daniel...That out there,' he motioned vaguely at the forest around them, "that's a maybe. This," he said, tapping the notebook in Daniel's hand, "is not. We need you to do what you do best...translate that thing and get us the hell out of here."

Daniel blinked at the off-hand compliment, accepting Jack's assessment, but his expression made it plain that he was not happy about it.

"Okay, Jack."

Jack smiled, pleased to have won another argument, and started to rise.

"For tonight anyway..." Daniel added, firmly.

The qualification wasn't lost on Jack, who sighed and gave a noncommittal grunt.

Chapter 4

Daniel kept working well into the night. When Jack caught him blinking blearily at his notes in the firelight, Daniel was packed off to his tent. Jack heard the distinct phrase, "Enjoy it while you can" and the young scientist was asleep. Jack laughed, glad that Daniel was regaining his strength...as well as his sense of humor.

Jack took the time then to familiarize himself with the sounds around him. Some of those sounds were surprisingly normal: cricket-like chirruping, leaves rustling in the light breeze, the occasional gurgle as the river flowed its way over stones. Once Jack felt confident that he could recognize any disturbances in the peaceful night routine, he let himself relax somewhat.

Jack found his attention wandering back to Daniel's tent and he could just make out the young man's face in the firelight, brow creased as if he were still hard at work, even in sleep. Jack became aware of being watched and turned to meet Teal'c's eyes, finding understanding in the dark depths. They both knew how close they had come to losing Daniel on this one.

Jack sighed only slightly embarrassed to be caught in 'mother hen' mode. Jack knew Teal'c shared the strange compulsion to watch over and protect the younger man. 'Maybe it's an unwritten law,' Jack thought with a smile, 'look out for children and one overly-intelligent, far-too-trusting, entirely-too-sensitive, universal conscience.'
Jack's smile faded as he wondered how Daniel had managed to maintain that wide-open acceptance, that air of wonder at everything...and everyone...he met. Given what Jack had picked up on concerning Daniel's early history,

it was hard to imagine how that essential goodness had survived...


Even lost in thought, Jack could hear Carter slip out of her tent and move straight for the coffee pot. When she indicated that she was awake and taking over, he made a goodnight noise and crawled into his own tent.

'Jack!'

Jack shot out of the tent to find Teal'c and Carter staring at him strangely.

"Sir?" Carter asked in confusion.

"Didn't you hear...?"

Jack moved to Daniel's tent, feeling an immense dread as he bent to look inside....

Daniel was gone.

Jack's mind reeled and he felt a distinct, sharp pain at the base of his neck that drove him to his knees, then Carter and Teal'c were beside him helping him to sit down.

"Sir? What is it?"

In a haze, Jack could see them taking in the fact that Daniel was missing, but it took him a few minutes to regain his composure and speak...

"It's not me...Daniel...Something hit him..."

Carter's eyes widened as she took in the full implications of that statement. Jack nodded, holding his head at the pain it caused.

"Yeah.."

Jack got to his feet, trying to pull himself out of Daniel's pain so he could function. Teal'c returned from checking the perimeter and Jack could tell from the closed expression that the Jaffa had found nothing to indicate who, or what, had taken their friend.

Carter had been searching Daniel's tent and came back to Jack carrying Daniel's hat in one hand and his notebook in the other. There was blood on both.

Fighting a rising wave of panic and anger, Jack took the notebook. There was something important about the notebook...

Trusting that he was somehow picking up on Daniel's thoughts, Jack started to thumb through the pages full of Daniel's tight, distinctive handwriting. To his shock, Jack found he could actually make some sense of the unfamiliar words and phrases. On the last page he found it...what Daniel wanted them to know....

Three words that were like a knife in Jack's gut...

'Temple of Nirrti'.

"Nirrti?" Carter was as shocked as Jack. "I thought the System Lords..."

She trailed off as she realized they had no idea what sort of punishment the Goa'uld System Lords might have imposed on Nirrti for trying to kill Cronus, not to mention withholding her phase shifting technology.

Either the punishment hadn't been very severe...or the self-proclaimed Goddess of Darkness' had escaped...
Jack's thought had mirrored Carter's. "Yeah. And either way, she hasn't got much reason to be happy to see us."

Teal'c had taken it all in silently. "But why take only Daniel Jackson?"

Jack knew the answer, dreaded what it meant for Daniel...

"He's the bait. She wants us to come to her...."

Chapter 5

Dawn was less than an hour away as they began breaking camp, taking only essential supplies so they could travel more quickly. Teal'c could not defeat a feeling of trepidation as he thought of their young friend in the hands of one of the most cold-blooded Goa'uld he had ever known. They all knew of Nirrti's actions on Cassandra's planet, her plans for the innocent girl, her plot against Cronus...

Teal'c had heard tales of even worse atrocities, but wisely did not inform Carter and O'Neill, they had enough to worry about and wild speculation would not help...

Teal'c had suggested that O'Neill concentrate on his earlier, brief mental contact with the missing scientist. O'Neill had tried it, receiving a fleeting, uncertain impression that Daniel Jackson was east of their current position, toward the mountains. Despite O'Neill's doubts, they had travelled in that direction. It was against O'Neill's usual methods to rely on nothing more than "mumbo-jumbo", but at the present, Teal'c reasoned, they had nothing else to go on.

Carter had agreed that whatever had occurred between the two of them before hadn't completely disappeared and that the extreme situation had reactivated the connection. O'Neill had looked at his major with a bemused expression, but accepted the convoluted logic of her argument.

Hours later, as they drew closer to the mountains, O'Neill had fallen once again, clutching his temples. He had shakily informed them that it felt like his brain was on fire...a Goa'uld ribbon device. When he had recovered somewhat, O'Neill felt sure that Daniel Jackson was alive...

Teal'c theorized that it was a deliberate act by Nirrti to draw them to her. She was somehow aware of the mental bond between O'Neill and Daniel Jackson...had perhaps even caused it.

Carter tended to agree with Teal'c's theory. They had not seen any other 'psychic bugs' in the many days they had been on this planet and with the phase-shifting technology it would have been easy to plant the bug on Daniel Jackson. Carter even extrapolated that it was very possible they had been observed from the moment of their arrival on P3J050. O'Neill restated his original theory that the Stargate was somehow deliberately being hidden from them. At the time, it had seemed O'Neill's usual cautious paranoia, but now...

It had been a trap. A clever, insidious trap designed to lead them to this point...If Nirrti had been observing them all along, she knew all she needed to in order to exact her revenge...and none of them doubted that revenge was what Nirrti wanted.

Just before dark, they came to the base of the mountain. Teal'c and Carter watched as O'Neill tried to calm himself, to touch the presence of their missing friend. It was visibly difficult. As they had drawn closer to the mountain, O'Neill had been like a man possessed, pushing them onward. The feeling of 'Daniel', he said, had been fading steadily ever since the last wave of pain...

With a sudden jolt, they were all brought to their hands and knees by a sharp, burning sensation across the chest area. Teal'c was the first to recover, helping the others to their feet.

"Daniel?" Carter was in shock from her first experience with what O'Neill had been going through.

O'Neill was nodding his head, still unable to speak.

"How?" Carter didn't have to explain what she meant and the answer was evident to all of them. If they were all feeling Daniel Jackson's pain it could only mean one thing...

Nirrti had subjected their friend to a fresh dose of the alien venom, the venom that had caused him to become lost in his own mind...

O'Neill urged them forward, passing into a narrow crevice barely visible in the growing darkness. Teal'c knew...they all knew...that it was all the more urgent that they find Daniel Jackson...and soon. If O'Neill hadn't been with the young scientist the first time, he could have been lost forever in the dark places of his mind. Now, alone and in pain, there was no one with Daniel Jackson who cared enough to pull him away from the abyss of his own demon-ridden thoughts...

Passing through the crevice into a canyon, they were not entirely surprised to find an ornate temple carved into the face of the living rock.

Teal'c noted sadly that Daniel Jackson could have told them the meanings and origins of the symbols carved into the facade. There was no doubt in any of their minds though that this was the temple in Daniel Jackson's notes...the Temple of Nirrti.

As a unit, they readied their weapons...years of training taking over. The very stillness screamed out a warning to Teal'c as they moved quietly into the temple...senses heightened to pick up the slightest movement.

The team fell into the dance that had become second nature to them...point, flank, rear guard...It came with the ease of too much practice in too many tense situations. The dance was marred only by the stark realization that one of the dancers was missing...

For all his aversion to things 'military', Daniel Jackson had earned a place for himself in that dance. He performed it with a reluctant precision born out of necessity and the desire to protect his team...just as they protected him.

O'Neill indicated through silent gestures that he knew that Daniel Jackson was somewhere ahead of them. Teal'c and Carter moved to cover O'Neill, who decided to take a direct approach into whatever danger lay ahead, pushing the doors open with his foot, weapon at the ready....

The room was large and dark, lit only by two torches on either side of a low circular slab of dark stone at the center. In the guttering light, Teal'c could make out a figure lying on the slab....

It was Daniel Jackson...

Chapter 6

"Dammit..."

Jack couldn't hold back the curse as he moved to Daniel's side. Teal'c and Carter flanked him, sweeping the room with their weapons as they went.

From the referred pain they had experienced on their way here, Jack hadn't expected Daniel to be in the best of condition, but this....

Daniel's jacket, vest and uniform shirt were missing and the black T-shirt had been sliced open down the front revealing what looked like claw marks running jaggedly from his left shoulder across to just above the beltline on the opposite side. Green-black bruising spread from Daniel's left ear to disappear beneath what was left of his shirt and blood was seeping lazily into the younger man's eyes from a gash across his forehead.

"Sir?" Carter was pointing at Daniel's wrist, swollen and red with striated lines running outward from a bite wound almost directly over the one that had nearly healed. It was an all too familiar sight...

Jack put out a hand and felt the fever burning once again in Daniel's body and for a moment gave free rein to the raging anger that burned inside him just as intently as the fever that raged inside Daniel.

"We've got to get him out of here," Jack knew he was stating the obvious, but at this point he had to say something...anything...before he could explode. There were no easy quips, no gentle teasing, no derisive comments that would ease the white-hot rage burning through his mind...

Teal'c moved forward to carry the limp form of their friend while Jack looked around warily. He was beginning to get a bad feeling about this. It had been too easy.

If they were lucky, Nirrti was off doing the sarcophagus thing. Jack wasn't feeling particularly lucky....

"Did you think I would forget about you so soon?"

They turned toward the source of the vaguely feminine, dual-tone voice...that inflection so unique to the Goa'uld.
Nirrti hadn't changed much; dark hair, flashing eyes...striking, but not really beautiful in any way that Jack appreciated the quality. The cold face reflected the cruelty at the core of the 'Goddess of Darkness', robbing her of all pretense of beauty.

"I really had hoped you would..." Jack was stalling, trying to think...

Nirrti smiled, not pleasantly.

"No, indeed. I have not forgotten you."

With a regal wave of her bejewelled hand, Nirrti indicated ten Jaffa lining the walls, staff weapons at the ready. Jack knew they had been there all along, hidden in the darkness beyond the torchlight.

"You will dispose of your weapons now." Nirrti ordered.

Jack was torn...

Teal'c was hampered by the necessity of carrying Daniel. Jack knew he and Carter could probably take out several of Nirrti's Jaffa, but the door seemed impossibly far away...

'Jack...fight...'

It was Daniel, barely there, but urgent.

Jack didn't know if Carter had heard it or not, but he did know that she would be watching for his signal. With the slightest of nods, he gripped his weapon tighter...smiling thinly in satisfaction as he saw Carter follow suit.

"I...really don't think we want to..."

Teal'c broke for the door then as Jack and Carter laid down a covering fire, backing out behind them. Several of Nirrti's Jaffa fell as bullets sprayed across the room.

'Just a few more feet...' Jack thought.

Jack felt a sudden scorching sensation across his shoulder and heard Daniel cry out at the same time. Jack realized at that moment that Daniel's mind was wide open to everything going on around him; feeling the pain, the death...
As he looked back toward the door, Jack saw more Jaffa streaming into the room and knew they weren't going to make it.

Nirrti called for her Jaffa to stop firing.

In the sudden stillness, Jack could hear, and feel, Daniel's pain. The young man was moaning softly; his mind reeling from the bombardment of sensations all around him.

It wasn't worth it...

Jack knew that whatever Nirrti had in mind, she wanted them alive. Jack was more than a little familiar with a Jaffa's deadly aim; if Nirrti had wanted them dead, they would already be so.

If they could stay alive, and together, they had a chance...

With a resigned sigh, Jack lowered his weapon.

The Jaffa quickly stripped them of their weapons and outer garments. Daniel was roughly pulled away from them and dropped back into the center of the stone slab. The rest of the team was led to three posts arranged in a semi-circled around the stone slab and chained to them with their hands above their heads, effectively keeping them on their feet.

Nirrti watched the process with a dark smile that chilled Jack to his bones. He had come to expect cruelty from the Goa'uld; he and his team had personally ticked off more Goa'ulds than he could count. But this...

Nirrti didn't just want them dead....she wanted to grind them up into small pieces and burn what was left...
Jack understood now why the normally diplomatic-minded Daniel had urged them to fight their way out of here...

Daniel knew that the Goddess of Darkness intended to live up to her name.

Chapter 7

Daniel came awake with the awareness that he was once again lying on cold stone.

'No....'

Consciousness returned in a rush as he realized he could 'feel' his friends close by. The pain, the concern, the steady presence that was at the same time a comfort and a source of guilt.

Bits of memory, not all of which was his, helped Daniel piece together recent events...

Nirrti, cold, dark thing that she was, revelling in revealing her plans for the Tau'ri who had brought about her downfall....

The pain she had inflicted on him with such lascivious pleasure, serving the dual purpose of allowing her to vent her rage as well as providing the means to draw the rest of the SG team to her....

The aborted rescue against overwhelming odds; Jack's realization that they had no chance...and no choice....
Daniel had wondered at first why Nirrti hadn't simply captured them all and gotten it over with, but soon realized the pleasure she took in the game.

When her Jaffa had informed her that the others were near, Nirrti had reintroduced Daniel to the Kray'toc insect that possessed a venom which broke down the mind's natural defences...usually leaving its victim dead...or hopelessly insane, broken under the weight of psychic overload. Daniel seemed to recall a drawn out explanation of the Kray'toc's origins, but after he had been bitten again, his mind had become so preoccupied with blocking out the alien evil that was Nirrti that he could no longer hear her.

It had been at that point that Nirrti had raked her hand, bearing the ribbon-device with its metallic fingertips, across Daniel's chest in an agonizingly languid caress that would have made him spit in her face if it hadn't been for the onslaught of sadistic pleasure which poured into his mind. Nirrti had used the pain to shatter the barriers Daniel had fought so hard to hold in place.

Daniel breathed deeply, fighting the memory. He couldn't allow himself to be drawn back down into that dark place he'd almost become lost in before.....

'If it hadn't been for Jack...'

Jack. Teal'c. Sam.

They were there with him. Daniel had almost forgotten. If he let his control slip just a little he could feel them. Jack's concern-resolve that somehow they would find a way out. Sam poured out waves of hope, certain in that courageous heart of hers that together they would find a way out. Teal'c was a steady beacon of indomitable will, overlying a deep sense of guilt for failing his friends...

'Got to work on that,' Daniel thought wryly, '...later'.

Daniel slipped his precarious control back into place, not wishing to impose his own thoughts and pain on his friends. He tried to open his eyes, to let them know that he was alright....

'Well....sort of,' came the unbidden voice of truth that Daniel so often wished would just shut up and let him remain blissfully ignorant. It never listened.

On his second attempt, Daniel succeeded, blinking blearily around the room. With vision more blurred than usual without his glasses, he could make out the forms of his friends standing several feet away from him, tied to something he couldn't quite see...

"Daniel?"

Jack's voice helped Daniel locate the older man as he tried to wipe the blood and sweat from his eyes.

"J-jack? Shouldn't be here..."

Jack forced a laugh. "Newsflash, Danny...None of us should be here."

Jack quickly outlined their theory that everything that had happened since the team's arrival on the planet had been part of an elaborate trap.

Daniel confirmed it with a nod. "I think we..."

"Ticked her off?" Jack finished the thought with his usual talent for bluntly cutting through to the heart of a matter.

Daniel tried to raise himself up, but found his left leg had been shackled to a ring embedded into the center of the stone slab. He could stand, but wouldn't be able to move more than two feet in any direction. Deciding it wasn't worth the effort, Daniel laid back down.

"Daniel?" Sam's voice, concerned.

" S'okay...just tired...." Daniel tried to sound reassuring, but knew he hadn't quite pulled it off. It was taking all of his limited energy to protect his friends...from him.

Daniel could feel his control wavering, trying to pull him down into the maelstrom of pain, darkness...

"Wh..where is she?" he asked, unsure if they could even hear his strained voice.

"Nirrti has left us alone to contemplate our fate," Teal'c answered in a tone that left no doubt as to whose fate Teal'c was contemplating.

Daniel couldn't see Jack clearly, but looked straight at where he knew his friend's face was, letting Jack see his eyes. Daniel knew that Jack could always read the truth in his eyes...

The both knew why Nirrti had left them alone. She was waiting for the venom to take full effect, for the fever to rage within Daniel until he could no longer maintain any semblance of control, for him to entrap his friends in that netherworld of nightmare and memory....

Jack quietly confirmed Daniel's unspoken assessment in terse, angry voice. "Yeah."

Daniel knew that Jack understood everything; that even now Daniel was fighting a losing battle to shield them. to shield himself from their emotionally-charged distress. Daniel knew with a dreadful certainty that all too soon he would lose his battle and Nirrti would get what she wanted.

Daniel closed his eyes, gasping at the sudden onset of the headache he had been dreading; it would only get worse now...

Beyond the building pain in his head, Daniel could hear Jack's voice, tense and quiet, talking to Sam and

Teal'c...something about clearing their minds.

'If only... ' Daniel thought, distantly amused at how much a certain Colonel's sarcasm appeared to be rubbing off...

Suddenly, Daniel could feel energy flowing through him. There was something about it that felt like....
Jack.

Daniel recognized the rock-hard determination, the unswerving focus that was Jack flowing into him, easing the burden...

All too swiftly it was gone, but Daniel felt uplifted by it. Stronger. Able to keep on fighting. He found he was able to open his eyes again and looked toward his friend.

"Jack? How?"

Even without the aid of his glasses, Daniel could make out the flash of Jack's self-deprecating grin.

"Practice, Danny. Practice."

Chapter 8

Sam couldn't believed what she had just witnessed...

'Mr. Spock, indeed...' She thought, still gaping at her if-you-can't-see-it-it-ain't-real colonel.

Sam had felt a heaviness lift that she hadn't realized was not her own; Daniel's stress had evidently been seeping through to all of them. Its absence was a welcome relief until she realized that Daniel was still feeling it. The colonel's effort had simply strengthened the barrier Daniel was using to protect them.

She had no doubt that this mental battle was one which required great effort. Daniel was trembling, his face a mask of concentrated effort. The colonel looked severely drained, hanging limply from his chains, after only a few minutes of trying to bolster Daniel's failing strength.

Sam hadn't entirely understood the look that had passed between the colonel and Daniel, but she knew her young colleague well enough to read the inevitability in those expressive blue eyes...

Sam was startled from her thoughts by the sound of footsteps approaching the door.

The colonel stood up quickly, speaking quietly, but urgently. "Whatever happens, try to keep your minds clear. It's hard enough for him without us adding to it..."

The 'him' in question seemed to be gathering his scattered energies, preparing for what he, better than any of them, knew was coming.

Nirrti swept into the room grandly, a goddess in attitude, if not in aspect.

"I trust you have had time to reflect?"

Sam felt like Nirrti was speaking to all of them, but her eyes never strayed from Daniel. Sam had the distinct feeling that Nirrti had not expected to find Daniel doing quite so well.

As Nirrti ran a finger across the gash on Daniel's forehead, Sam felt a flicker of pain before the barrier snapped back into place. Nirrti seemed to notice it, too.

Calling two of her Jaffa, Nirrti directed them to hoist Daniel to his feet and hold him there. Grabbing Daniel by his hair, she raised his face and looked into the pained eyes. Sam could read the determination in Daniel's eyes, he wouldn't give in willingly...

A flash of gold was their only warning as Nirrti struck Daniel across the cheek, drawing blood once again. At that same moment, Sam felt the heaviness return a hundredfold, intermingled with physical and mental pain so intense that she felt her knees give way. It took all of the discipline learned from her father's example on up until she herself had gone through Air Force training, all of the Tok'ra training she knew from Jolinar, everything she had ever learned about controlling her thoughts and emotions... not to cry out, to give voice to Daniel's mute pain.
Sam was marginally aware that Teal'c was straining against the chains that bound him, his muscular frame a study in agonized futility. The colonel...the colonel was standing arrow straight looking at Nirrti with a cold rage in his eyes that promised slow, unmerciful death...

Just as quickly Sam saw the mask settle back over the colonel's features; he was sublimating his own rage to protect Daniel.

Daniel was trying so hard to regroup, to recapture that fragile control. Sam saw the colonel close his eyes and knew what he was attempting to do...As she watched, Daniel seemed to stand a little straighter, his eyes regaining focus. Nirrti seemed enraged by this defiance, clearly she hadn't expected the Tau'ri to be capable of fighting her chosen weapon.

Nirrti tightened her hold in Daniel's hair."Fight as you will, in the end you will fail."

Daniel glared at Nirtti with all the dignified contempt he could muster, not wasting his energy on words she would ignore anyway.

Sam could see a cruel smile begin to form on Nirrti's pale face and felt her blood run cold. Before Sam could cry out a warning, Nirrti had activated her ribbon device...bearing down on Daniel with agonizing slowness...

The pain was like nothing Sam had ever known...echoing through Daniel's mind to all of them. Sam felt blackness threatening and knew that, for Daniel's sake, it would be best to give in to it.

Chapter 9

Jack came awake with a start, remembering the last thing he'd felt before passing out. Daniel...his mind on fire, still valiantly struggling to protect them. Jack remembered thinking that things would probably be easier for Daniel if they all did pass out; it would allow Daniel to focus what little energy he had on protecting himself, but that would have meant leaving Daniel alone with Nirrti...

Jack had tried to reach out one last time, support his friend as he had before...

The pain was intense. Daniel had compared it once to being inside a pressure cooker...the pain building, quantifying itself with every wave....

Jack had managed a weak contact...and been shocked to the core when Daniel pushed him away with a flash of fear for Jack's safety...

Jack's head...hurt, his arms aching from hanging from the chains, his body numb from lying on the cold stone. On the cold stone?

Despite the pain it caused, he opened his eyes scanning the room around him, only then realizing that they were all unchained...except for Daniel.

"Daniel?"

Jack raised up, too quickly, and felt blackness threatening. Teal'c moved out of the shadows to support Jack as he made his way over to the still figure lying in the center of the room.

It was evident that Teal'c and Carter had tried to clean Daniel's injuries. His face was free of blood for the first time since they'd entered this place. Jack wasn't sure if he liked being able to see Daniel's face like this. Daniel looked dead; a paleness beyond transparency, cheekbones hollow beneath the gash that ran from upper lip to ear, eyes sunken and bruised-looking from the hollow, purple smudges beneath them.

Teal'c and Sam had found their discarded jackets and had covered Daniel with all of them. The bundling only served to heighten the sense of frailness that clung to the young man like a shroud...

Jack shuddered, casting off the dark thoughts; negativity wouldn't get them out of here...

Jack sat down next to Daniel, wondering again why Daniel was still chained. Jack could feel the fever radiating off Daniel without having to touch him and realized suddenly why Nirrti had left the young man chained...

She knew they couldn't get out of the windowless room, even if they could...they wouldn't leave Daniel...

"Daniel Jackson is very ill," Teal'c announced in as gentle a voice as Jack had ever heard from the big Jaffa. Teal'c didn't make a habit of putting his emotions on display, but long acquaintance had taught Jack to recognize the signs of extreme distress in the other man.

Carter had been rattling around in the corner and came over to Jack with a bowl of something that didn't smell too inedible.

"I guess Nirrti wants to keep us alive for the next round." Carter said tersely. Her eyes were dark with worry as she looked down at Daniel.

"Has he...?" Jack didn't have to finish the sentence.

Carter shook her head. "No, Sir...he hasn't come around at all. Not even when we..." her voice caught and she gestured to indicate the blood-soaked rags they had used to clean Daniel's wounds.

Jack drank some of the water, trying to clear his aching head. He had to think, he had to do something...anything...to get his team out of here.

"Jack..."

The voice was barely a breath of sound, but it made them all jump.

Daniel was looking up at Jack, the hooded blue eyes nearly black, reflecting the infinite weariness of a spirit pushed beyond endurance and on the verge of letting go...

Jack tried to keep his voice level."Daniel, how you doin'?"

'Lame, Jack,' he thought to himself, 'a blind man could see the kid's dyin' here...'

Daniel nodded slightly and Jack realized his thoughts had been 'spoken' as loudly as his words. Daniel knew how bad things were, but Jack knew he would let his friends harbor their illusions if it would make things easier for them.
Jack felt a surge of unreasonable anger at Daniel. He wouldn't let his friend quit now; he had to keep Daniel fighting...

"Look, Danny..."

Jack took a deep breath, wishing that Teal'c and Carter would disapppear for a minute, then decided it didn't mattter. They were in this together

Jack tried again. "Daniel, you are going to make it. I'll think of something. Don't I always?"

Daniel gave a ghost of a smile, before he was gripped by a wave of pain and could no longer hold the walls in place...

Pain...His brain was on fire!...Third time was supposed to be a charm. God, it hurt....Jack...Sam...Teal'c....can't hold on.....

Daniel's pain and regret rolled over them in waves, but somehow Jack managed to put a hand on Daniel's forehead, diving once again for that place he was beginning to know so well; shoring up the walls, lending support to the failing strength...

Jack opened his eyes to find Teal'c supporting him next to Daniel. Jack felt drained beyond measure, but realized it had been the only thing he could do to help Daniel. Until he'd touched the weakened core of his friend, Jack hadn't let himself believe that Daniel could actually die.

Daniel was the comeback kid. When life knocked him down, Daniel got back up and kept living....

Daniel couldn't die...

Jack wouldn't allow it.

Chapter 10

Teal'c recognized the reckless look that came into O'Neill's eyes. Knowing that something profound had passed between the two men beside him, Teal'c could only wait and see what the usually resourceful O'Neill had planned.
Daniel Jackson was looking slightly stronger and Teal'c noticed a look of anguish pass over the young man's features.

"Jack....no...."

Whatever O''Neill had in mind, it was clear that Daniel Jackson vehemently opposed it.

O'Neill glared at the seriously ill young man, not unkindly. "Daniel, for once, would you just let us help you without arguing about it..."

Teal'c felt there was probably more to the thought by the way that Daniel Jackson was looking at O'Neill with brows furrowed and eyes reflecting a pain that was more than physical.

O'Neill got up unsteadily, motioning Teal'c and Carter away from Daniel Jackson. A futile move, in Teal'c's opinion, as it seemed that Daniel Jackson did not need to hear their voices to know what was being said.

"Look, guys....the only way out of this for Daniel is to... go through it," O'Neill hesitated a moment before continuing. It seemed to Teal'c that O'Neill was debating something within himself.

"It won't be easy...," O'Neill glanced uncomfortably at Daniel Jackson, obviously aware that Daniel Jackson knew what they were saying on one level or another. Teal'c understood the Tau'ri prepossession with personal privacy, but there was a point, he knew, where privacy ended and survival began.

"Daniel Jackson cannot survive another encounter with Nirrti," Teal'c observed, putting into words what they had all most certainly been thinking. "He has fought bravely, but he cannot continue...We cannot allow it."

Carter nodded firm agreement. "We can't let her win, Sir."

O'Neill looked at them, gratitude and something much more profound shining out of his eyes. He looked over at the pale, huddled figure of Daniel Jackson.

"We won't." O'Neill drew a deep breath, exhaling slowly. "He's gonna hate this, but I think...together...we can speed things up a little." O'Neill smiled grimly, a ghost of his usual good humor. "Hell, if two heads are better than one, four should be downright unstoppable."

Daniel's voice moaned softly, "Jack, you can't..."

The group rejoined a visibly agitated Daniel Jackson, who was trying to raise himself up. "Jack, I can't let you guys do this..."

O'Neill put a gentle hand on Daniel Jackson's shoulder. "Daniel..." O'Neill took a deep breath as he looked into Daniel Jackson's eyes. Teal'c was sure that on some level, be it mental or simply the depth of communication these two men had long seemed able to express with little more than a glance, O'Neill and Daniel Jackson were reaching an agreement.

Daniel Jackson was the first to look away, closing his eyes in resignation, "Okay, Jack..." He looked up at Teal'c and Carter, apology in his eyes.

Carter put into words what Teal'c could not. "Daniel, we want to help you. You're our friend."

Teal'c nodded once in mute agreement, letting his eyes speak what he was not able to.

Teal'c knew, as they all did, that the sometimes self-effacing young man often had difficulty understanding the value they all placed on him; not only as a member of the team, but also as a friend. Daniel Jackson, for all his great knowledge, could not fathom his own worth.

O'Neill smiled in a blatant attempt to break the somber mood. "Hell, Danny...Let's just call it group therapy."

Chapter 11

'Group therapy, hunh?'

Sam recalled the pain-ridden thoughts that had assailed them all before; beyond the immediate pain she had been aware of brief images of other, remembered pain....

Ra...Sha're...Apophis....Hathor...

Sam had been trying to deal with those spectral flashes of memory since she'd awakened, cold and stiff on the floor. She thought she'd gotten used to dealing with alien memories with Jolinar, but this felt, somehow, more intrusive. A person's life was full of thoughts and feelings that were private...not to be shared except by choice.

Daniel hadn't been given a choice...

Sam reflected again on the many ways fate had conspired to torment one of the best people she knew. It was like some kind of cosmic bad karma had settled over Daniel in childhood and was determined not to grant him peace...

The source of her concern was still protesting weakly as they prepared for one of the toughest battles of their lives...for Daniel's life.

The colonel was no longer arguing with Daniel. He had decided on a plan, all that was left was to carry it out; and the colonel never debated a plan of action...especially when it was the only one they had.

"Jack, please..." Daniel's tone had changed; no longer argumentative, but softer and more urgent.

Sam saw the colonel's eyes flash, "Daniel, don't..."

Sam wasn't sure what Daniel had been about to say, but she was sure that the colonel was flat-out refusing to hear it.

Sam realized that in Daniel's place, she would have been trying to say goodbye...just in case; to settle things with her friends. Sam wondered why Daniel had even attempted it. Daniel knew the colonel as well as she did...better, in fact...

Colonel Jack O'Neill did not accept the possibility of defeat.There would be no goodbyes, not even the contemplation of them, not until all possible alternatives had been exhausted...and probably not even then.
The colonel seated himself beside Daniel, gently maneuvering the trembling form up to lean against him...grimacing in apology for the pain it caused. Teal'c settled himself on the colonel's right while Sam settled on his left.
The colonel gave them an intense look that spoke of battles won, of purposes joined, of a commonality of spirit that made them the team they were...

Sam realized that Daniel was looking at them, too. His look was softer, more personal; speaking of shared pain and shared joy, of friendship and gratitude...

It was the goodbye that Daniel could not voice....

Sam tried to respond with her own determined smile, encouraging him to fight, but wondered if it really managed to register with Daniel whose eyes were beginning to lose focus as another wave of pain approached...

The colonel breathed deeply one last time, his eyes focused solely on Daniel, revealing things in those dark depths that Sam could only begin to guess at...

With a quick, tight smile the colonel asked, "Ready?"

Daniel laughed then at some private joke between the two of them and shook his head, "No, but let's do it anyway..."

The colonel's smile deepened, eyes reflecting a brief flicker of something deep and bittersweet, "That's my boy..."

Sam had only a moment to steel her nerves and clear her mind, before Jack nodded and the journey into Daniel's private hell had begun...

Chapter 12

Daniel was falling....

It was a sensation that was becoming irritatingly familiar. Memories flashed by at breakneck speed, clashing and intertwining into nightmare...

Daniel was assailed by waves of strong emotion as he passed by, falling ever downward into that dark prison of his soul; guilt, anger, hurt, betrayal...

All the large and terrifying nightmares of his life seemed to conspire against him, pulling him at him...

A part of Daniel was aware that there was something subtly different this time. He knew that his body was far weaker than it had been the first time, but it was something more than that. Perhaps he had been holding those walls in place too long, trying to protect his friends....

**His friends...what an amazing concept...except for his brief time on Abydos and the distant memory of belonging he'd had with his parents, Daniel had never known such acceptance...struggled daily to be worthy of their esteem...

The rock-solid presence was there now, chasing away the self-doubt. Daniel anchored himself to that discernable 'Jack-ness', holding to it as if it were his last hope...

It embarrassed him slightly to need that support; he'd felt so completely adrift lately...

A rueful 'laugh' echoed through the bond they had created, 'That's what friends do...'

Daniel was shocked to hear the open admission from Jack, for all they'd been through the words had never been said...had never needed to be....

Here, it seemed, all the barriers were down...and all the rules had gone out the window....

Daniel felt himself slipping away from Jack...only to feel himself supported by another steady strength. Teal'c? A feeling of calm touched Daniel's exhausted spirit...an affectionate respect for the non-warrior who nonetheless met conflict with courage and passion...

All too swiftly that presence slipped away. Daniel couldn't seem to keep his friends in focus...so tired...

A gentler touch grabbed onto him; holding him, keeping him from the darkness. Sam? Sam knew this pain...knew what it was to become lost in a flood of memory...

**He'd rejected her...feared her...feared for her...**

The hard-edged sweetness that was Sam forgave him, had never blamed him. Understood...

Daniel felt a surge of strength. Jack again. Comfort flowed; a steady, surprisingly gentle strength....

A profound sadness swept over Daniel, a heart-stopping ache that never went away. Daniel 'shared' a surge of grief and regret for all that his steadfast friend had lost...opening himself to take some of that pain away....

With an amused exasperation that was all too familiar to them all, Jack reminded Daniel that he was the one they were 'here' to help, but Daniel would not, could not, bear to leave that pain unattended. Extending his heart and mind a little wider, Daniel accepted into himself as much of Jack's hurt as he could bear....

It was hard...

Daniel had shared this with Jack before, remembered the physical ache of it when he'd awakened after that first experience. He tried to take more, but Jack stopped him with a mental nudge; a reminder that time was short. A deeper, subtler contact spoke of respect and gratitude for Daniel's willingness to put others before himself...
Teal'c rejoined them then and together the team encircled Daniel's flagging spirit, guarding against any and all threats to their young friend.

Daniel felt as if he were at the center of a protective shield which met and deflected all it came into contact with; the team worked as it always had, each using their own unique abilities to confront and defeat anything that would threaten one of its members...

When the demons came, Nirrti's evil gift, they fought their way through them together, helping to keep Daniel grounded, not allowing him to sink back into the darkness...

Frightening images assailed them all; Nirrti's centuries long thirst for blood, for pain...

**Her plan to keep all her planets under watch, hoping to someday exact her revenge on the Tau'ri who had brought about her downfall...

**Planting the Kray'toc on the young human; knowing that he would be the one who would first figure out that this was her world...buying time to put a plan into place...

**Watching the two Tau'ri at the campsite...seeing the value these humans placed on friendship, forming a plan based on that weakness...

**Abducting the young one, playing with him, laying out her plan and watching his agony as he fought so futilely against the inevitable...

**Forcing him into her mind, enjoying his disgust; proud that he hated her darkness and allowing him to feel so much of it...

The team reeled under the weight of everything that Daniel had gone through at Nirrti's hands; taking the burden and sharing it, accepting it and making it their own. A lesson learned from Daniel, who had done it for them so many times....

Chapter 13

In some private corner of his mind, Jack grieved.

It had been a long time since he had allowed himself the luxury of release and he knew he should not be doing it now, but the pain of loss was as fresh in his mind as it had been that day...nearly four years ago now....

Jack could not believe that Daniel, for all the pain he, himself, was going through would put aside his own immediate need to tend to Jack's old familiar pain. It had been a long road to understanding Daniel and Jack was beginning to realize he probably never would, and that was okay...he knew what was important to know.

Jack refocused all of his attention on the efforts of his team, never more proud of them than he was at this moment. The team that had been considered the 'least likely to succeed' from several quarters had once again proven itself. ..
Daniel 'felt' stronger to Jack, the younger man was still far too weak...they could all feel the pervasive pain of Daniel's injuries like distant, hollow echoes in their own bodies, but the fever had eased and Jack knew their task was almost complete.

Teal'c had been trying to keep a portion of his attention 'outside' to warn them and broke into the link to tell them that footsteps were approaching...

'Damn, that woman has lousy timing...'

Jack tried to untangle them from their mental 'huddle', pulling back slowly to make sure that Daniel would not falter...

Too late!

Nirrti was here...aware of what they were doing...diving in to stop them...

Jack had a brief impression of things getting crowded and then had no more time to think...

Nirrti, or rather the blackness that represented her in this place, was bearing down on them...focusing her attack on Daniel, who threw up a weak barrier between Nirrti and his friends...

Nirrti, ancient and powerful in the ways of assaulting the human mind, broke through with little effort...again advancing on Daniel with an alien cry full of rage.

Teal'c jumped to the forefront, imposing his great will upon the Goa'uld who would bring harm to his friends, but Nirrti 'cast' him aside with a blast of thought.

On some level, Jack knew that alone they had no hope of defeating Nirrti, but together...

Nirrti was overwhelming Daniel, determined to eradicate this Tau'ri who so stubbornly refused to allow her the victory she craved. Jack could feel the darkness pushing Daniel downward, trying to undo all they had worked so hard to accomplish. With an almost instinctive insight, Jack pulled Carter and Teal'c together, directing and focusing their individual energies to form one concerted 'push' forcing Nirrti to retreat for a moment in shock.
Taking advantage of Nirrti's absence, Jack gathered his team around Daniel, drawing him into their merged strength...

It was as if a part that had been missing had suddenly moved into place. Together, they 'fit' in a way that Jack would never have believed possible. Each of them possessed unique, individual strengths; strengths that made them operate in a way many found difficult to understand. The alien warrior, the soldier-scientist, the civilian-scholar and the irrepressible officer...an impossible combination that had learned how to work together against impossible odds and found itself stronger with every effort...

The SG1 'presence' took advantage of Nirrti's momentary lapse. Under Jack's direction, the team formed a battering ram of concentrated will, pushing the darkness away from Daniel, back to her own mind...

With an effort, Jack dissolved the link, briefly hoping that Daniel had the strength to hold his own without them. Jack fought off the exhaustion, noting that Nirrti was still reeling from their 'push' and that there were only two Jaffa with her. Jack sprung to his feet quickly, disarming one Jaffa with a body blow that focused all of the repressed energy and anger he'd been holding in since they'd lost Daniel.

To his left, he noticed Teal'c was up and engaging a second Jaffa, easily relieving the stunned warrior of his weapon and opening fire. Jack disposed of his target with his newly acquired staff weapon and looked around for Nirrti...

The Goddess of Darkness was gone...

Jack started to go after her, but looked back to see Carter bending over Daniel. Deciding that Nirrti could wait...or go to Hell for all he cared, Jack moved to Daniel's side...

The kid still looked half-dead, but a little less so than when they had started out. Sam was busily checking vital signs, nodding at each new encouraging improvement.

"I think he's going to be alright, Colonel..."

The unspoken 'but' just lingered there. Jack knew, they all knew, that Daniel needed to get home, back to SGC and Dr. Fraiser...but there was still the little matter of a missing Stargate and the strong possibility of fighting their way out of here.

"Let's just get him out of here." Jack ordered, incredibly relieved to be saying the words...to be able to meet the crisis with some form of action. "We'll worry about the rest later."

Teal'c stepped up to the chains which held Daniel to the stone slab. Activating the staff weapon and wielding it with the skill of long experience, Teal'c blasted away the metal shackle that held the young man.

Teal'c handed over the staff weapon to Carter and bent to lift Daniel, nearly lost in Teal'c's jacket, with the utmost care. After their experiences of the past few hours, they were all feeling a residual closeness; a need to protect that fragile link that had completed them in a way they had never felt before.

Jack took point with Teal'c following and Carter bringing up the rear. The hallways were eerily quiet, Jack moved forward slowly glancing briefly around a corner...

A staff blast ripped chunks of masonry from the ornate wall, scattering debris over them. Jack rolled forward firing as he went and Carter moved up to cover him. Nirrti's Jaffa fell, the lighted eyes of his helmet flickering once before going out. Jack checked the remainder of the hallway, motioning Teal'c to follow, and they moved ever closer to the door.

A weak voice stopped them, " Wait, Jack...."

Jack remembered a time when he would have ignored the plea, but now...in this place...after everything that had happened....

Teal'c placed Daniel gently on the ground and Jack bent to join him.

"What is it, Daniel?"

Daniel was fighting his exhaustion, but was obviously, urgently, trying to make them understand something. " Jack...the gate..."

"What about it, Danny?" Jack was fighting his natural instinct to act first and talk about it later.

Daniel took a deep breath, visibly gathering the last vestiges of his strength, " It's here, Jack. The Stargate is here...in the temple."

Chapter 14

Daniel Jackson had lost consciousness again following his revelation that the Stargate they had entered this world through was somehow here in this temple, a week's journey away. Carter theorized that Daniel Jackson had probably been privy to many of Nirrti's thoughts, beyond those that the evil Goa'uld had purposely inflicted upon him.

Teal'c felt a familiar surge of protectiveness for his young friend. Having touched Daniel Jackson's thoughts, Teal'c knew that the young man whom he had always held in high regard was more than his equal, if not in strength, then in determination. Teal'c realized it was something he had always known.

O'Neill was thinking, trying to formulate a plan based on this new information. O'Neill's glance at Daniel Jackson, lying pale and boneless in Teal'c arms, spoke volumes of his desire to get the ill young man away from Nirrti's influence...as far and as fast as possible.

Teal'c could still feel something of the bond between them, although the feeling seemed to be fading over time. It had touched a place in him that he had thought lost long ago. He had known many associations among Apophis' Jaffa, but nothing like the closeness he shared with these particular Tau'ri. This...unity, the sensation of belonging to something that as a whole was far greater than the sum of its parts, was something new to Teal'c. Individually they each possessed exceptional abilities and talents, but together they were a team in every sense of the word that Teal'c understood...and a force to be reckoned with.

O'Neill came to a decision. "Let's find a place to get him under cover. Teal'c and I will take care of Nirrti and the rest of her Jaffa." O'Neill looked regretfully at Daniel Jackson. "Carter...I hate to do it, but you'll have to wake him up, find out what he knows about the 'gate."

Teal'c could hear the anger in O'Neill's voice; anger at the necessity of once more asking Daniel Jackson to go beyond the limits of his endurance, asking him to do the impossible...knowing that he would gladly do it, for their sakes if not for his own.

Teal'c took the young man into his arms again effortlessly. Daniel Jackson had been too ill for too long now and his weight was far less than it had ever been in the time that Teal'c had known him.

O'Neill reached out to pull the jacket closed over the young man's bare chest, his eyes reflecting a deep concern and unspoken rage that equaled Teal'c's own.

"Let's do it, kids."

The team moved out again quietly; O'Neill stopping at every door along the narrow corridor, visually searching every room. When they came to a rather lavish bedroom, likely Nirrti's own, O'Neill decided that Carter and Daniel Jackson would remain there. The room was large and "over-done in a Goa'uld-y kind of way", as O'Neill termed it; but it had a bed, access to water, linens for bandages and only one entry.

Teal'c lay his fragile charge gently upon the bed, covering him with a velvet blanket. The battered face looked almost lost among the opulence and Teal'c felt a surge of anger renewed ...

O'Neill called them over to the door without a backward glance and Teal'c understood all too well that O'Neill was feeling the same anger that now burned within him, looking back at Daniel Jackson would only serve to fuel the already raging fire...

O'Neill was about to admonish Carter to lock and blockade the door behind them when Teal'c caught a flash of movement near the bed...

Nirrti, ribboned hand on Daniel Jackson's forehead, smiled coldly at them...certain of her victory.

"You have fought well Tau'ri, " Nirrti sounded surprised, "but the battle is over."

Teal'c looked at O'Neill, ready to follow his commander's instincts on this.

O'Neill flashed Teal'c and Carter a look that Teal'c recognized as being far from defeat. Teal'c felt a surge of adrenaline; if O'Neill was willing to fight, he had a plan...

O'Neill smiled at Nirrti, Oh...I don't think so...."

Several things happened quickly: Daniel Jackson's eyes snapped open, both hands pushing Nirrti backwards as he threw his weakened body off the opposite side of the bed; two Jaffa burst into the room behind them, Teal'c and Carter whirling around to take them on; O'Neill launched himself across the bed towards Nirrti, who activated her ribbon device, focusing it on O'Neill.

O'Neill stiffened, caught in the grip of the mind-searing pain...

As he fought Nirrti's Jaffa, Teal'c was aware that Daniel Jackson was moving, slowly and with little coordination, but advancing on the Goddess of Darkness...

Teal'c dispatched his opponent and took possession of a staff weapon, firing upon the Jaffa that Carter was fighting. They both turned just in time to see Daniel Jackson strike Nirrti on the back of the head with one of her own ornate vases. ..

Nirrti fell to the ground heavily. Carter and Teal'c moved to help O'Neill to his feet, holding him as he shook off the effects of the ribbon device. Daniel Jackson stood, swaying unsteadily, staring intently at the remnant of the vase in his hand.

O'Neill looked questioningly at the young scientist. "Daniel? What..?"

Daniel Jackson finally looked up at them, a ghost of his usual enthusiasm in his eyes, "Jack...this was a First Kingdom original, it..."

They would never know how Daniel Jackson intended to finish the statement; even as the relief washed over them at Daniel Jackson sounding so much like Daniel Jackson, the young man dropped the shard in his hands and collapsed into Teal'c's arms.

Chapter 15

Sam led the colonel to the bed, sitting him down beside their once again unconscious friend. Teal'c had moved to restrain Nirrti, but found that she was gone...

'Good riddance,' Sam thought, her own anger was far from sated, but they had more important things to worry about....

"He's gonna be just fine..." The colonel said, smiling down at Daniel, relief evident in his voice.

Teal'c looked confused. "Was there some doubt of that, O'Neill?"

Sam recognized a brief expression of fear in the colonel's eyes, quickly hidden. "No, Teal'c...I guess there wasn't...."

Sam insisted that the colonel wait with Daniel while she and Teal'c checked out the temple. The colonel was about to argue with that when they heard the sound of transport rings. Sam and Teal'c ran across the hall just in time to see Nirrti and her remaining Jaffa dematerializing within the rings.

"There will be another time..." Nirrti's voice echoed, long after the rings had swept her away.

They returned to the bedroom to find the colonel trying to wake Daniel.

"Come on, buddy...time to get out of here..." The colonel shook Daniel hesitantly, trying not to disturb his injuries.

Daniel came awake with a jump, looking around as if for a threat. "Jack..."

Sam recalled that nightmare look and realized that although their memories seemed to be fading, Daniel's would be a long time going away. The things they had encountered inside Daniel's mind were far too ingrained to be melted away in the space of one fell swoop of 'Dr. Jack O'Neill's group therapy'. Sam only hoped that some of Daniel's self-doubt and uncertainty of his place among them had been healed...

The colonel had put a hand on Daniel's shoulder, squeezing it reassuringly. "It's okay, Danny....Nirrti's gone."
Daniel laid back, nodding, breathing deeply to calm himself. "Dead?"

Sam shook her head, regretfully, "No, Daniel...she transported out."

Jack grinned, "Ran like a scalded dog."

Daniel raised a hand to rub his eyes, smiling a little. "How appropriate..."

Sam laughed at the implied insult in that observation. The colonel smiled as well, turning his attention to their immediate situation.

"Daniel, we need to find that 'gate and get out of here," he said gently.

Daniel nodded, raising himself up slowly and putting out a hand for the colonel to help him up. The colonel started to protest, but Sam saw something pass between the two of them, something that spoke of pride, dignity and seeing things through to completion. The colonel took the offered hand and together they staggered their way down the hall, leaving Teal'c and Sam to stare after them in confusion before following.

Daniel led them slowly down into the depths of the temple; stopping often to rest, but pushing onward under his own steam, leaning on the unsteady support of the colonel. It had been a long difficult week for the entire team, but Sam knew the two men leading them had been through hell and back again in a way that she and Teal'c had only begun to understand.

From her brief experience inside Daniel's mind, Sam knew that there were depths there that she would never know, that Daniel would never allow her to know. Something in the trust that Daniel held in the colonel had allowed Daniel to let the colonel in to those dark, hidden places...believing in his friend enough to trust him with them. Sam had briefly discovered similar hidden depths within the colonel that she would never have suspected. A core of pain and long-disused empathy that only rarely was allowed to come to the surface...she'd only seen brief flashes of it in the time she'd known the colonel...always welcome, aways surprising.

Daniel led them to a door at the end of yet another dark hallway, stopping to lean against the wall as his strength began to fail...

Teal'c offered silent assistance, but Daniel shook his head...that core of steel asserting itself to finish this thing on his feet...

Sam and Teal'c took the lead, opening the door cautiously and sweeping the room with their stolen staff weapons...

There, in the center of the room stood the Stargate....the most welcome sight any of them had viewed in too long a time. Sam moved to the DHD, awaiting the order.

The colonel smiled as he and Daniel moved forward together, reeling slightly in a way that made Sam wonder who was supporting whom...

"Dial us home, Major."

Chapter 16: Epilog

Jack leaned back in his chair, stretching broadly until he felt the twinge in his aching shoulders. He was glad to be back on Earth, even if all he'd seen so far was the Gateroom, a couple of hallways and the inside of the infirmary...

They'd walked through the Stargate together...he and Daniel...holding on to each other for support. It was appropriate, Jack thought; the entire mission had required them to support each other in ways they never had before. Jack had felt Daniel's knees give way as they'd stepped into the event horizon and had tightened his hold on his friend.

His friend....

'Yeah,' Jack thought, 'that's what he is...'

It wasn't an easy admission for Jack to make, even to himself. He'd never felt like he needed much in the way of friendship. The life he'd led had never lent itself well to forming long-term relationships. There was never enough time, always one more mission....

Then along had come Daniel. Geeky, true...but so damn likeable...in an irritating sort of way...

Daniel...

Jack turned to watch his friend, sleeping once again in the infirmary, an all too familiar sight. Doc had sewed Daniel up, stuck him back together again...said something about acute lymphangitis, dehydration...and a lot of other -itis's and -ation's that Jack had no desire to learn the meanings of. The bottom line was that with treatment and rest...Daniel was going to be fine.

Jack remembered the tingle in his head, back in Nirrti's bedroom...a, by then, familiar carrier wave that had told him that Daniel was awake, waiting for Jack to make a move...

He'd always known that the kid had more guts than luck...

Those little flashes of Daniel were fading rapidly now that the venom was working its way out of Daniel's system. Jack was glad of that...as enlightening as it had been taking a tour through Daniel's psyche, it wasn't a trip that Jack cared to repeat any time in the near future...

Jack hoped he wouldn't completely forget everything, but a lot of it he prayed that he would...and soon. There was a lot more to Daniel than Jack had ever really given him credit for. Some of it he had known on that deep, instinctive level that he usually relied on to measure the worth of a person; the part of him that had responded to the man so unlike himself. Some of what Jack had learned about Daniel, he'd already guessed at on those few occasions that he allowed himself to become reflective...times like this in fact...waiting to see if the famous Jackson luck was going to hold out one more time...

Other things Jack had learned had rocked him to the core...things that still made him feel like an eavesdropper...

"Me, too..."

It was Daniel's voice, raw with exhaustion.

Jack started to make a rude joke when he realized that he hadn't been speaking aloud.

''Oh, shit...''

Daniel laughed, "Don't worry, Jack...it's going away." Daniel looked away slightly. "It's just easier to 'hear' you because..."

"I know...we had more practice..." Jack shook his head, reaffirming the decision he had made nearly a week ago...it didn't really matter.

Daniel shifted, wincing in pain at the pull on his stitches. Jack could tell from the way his friend was looking everywhere but at him that Daniel was trying to find words that wouldn't come easy to either of them. Words like 'thank you'....

Daniel looked up at him then, nodding solemn agreement to the unstated thought...

Jack laughed softly, shaking his head.

Daniel looked at him curiously. "What?'

"Just thinking..." Jack was being purposely coy.

"What?"

"We need to get Feretti into a card game before this stuff goes away..."

"Jack..."

They laughed together at the lame joke, needing to laugh, to feel the normalcy slip back into place. Jack knew they'd be a long time getting over all that had happened to them, all that had passed between them...but they would make it. The walls might slip back into place...it was only right that they should; but they'd learned the hard way how to trust each other, to read each other to the point of knowing what the other was thinking...Nothing had happened to change that and Jack hoped it never would.

Jack felt the little tickle that was Daniel in his mind again.

'Me, too, Jack. Me, too...'

*fin*

 

 

 

 

 

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