An untold tale from the Diary of Dr Daniel Jackson
All publicly recognisable characters and places are the property of MGM, World Gekko Corp and Double Secret Productions. This piece of fan fiction was created for entertainment not monetary purposes and no infringement on copyrights or trademarks was intended. Previously unrecognised characters and places, and this story, are copyrighted to the author. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
This story was originally published in Gateways 2. A huge thanks you to Joyce, Gateways editor, for her support, encouragement and dedication to the fandom. You're the best AJ!
Rated: R for violence.
Set after Serpent's Song but before Forever In a Day. No real spoilers for either.
Thanks to Ellen for beta reading and to Moonie for inspiration and nagging
Jack O'Neill was bored. Not only bored, but uncomfortable too. He'd been sitting on this conference room chair for two hours which in his opinion was approximately one hour and fifty-nine minutes too long. Personally, he blamed his aches and pains on Daniel's penchant for physical calamity - too many hours sitting in vigil on Janet's butt-killing infirmary chairs waiting for the archaeologist to recover from the latest disaster had taken their toll. Now, he couldn't even rest easy on what passed in the SGC for a comfortable seat.
He shifted his weight again, grimaced at Carter as she shot him an annoyed look, and tried to concentrate on the task at hand. Together with the rest of SG-1 and General Hammond, he was checking over some of the video pictures from a recent set of MALP probe missions. Fortunately for the group, the SGC's video monkeys had already weeded out several hours of tape that would no doubt have enthralled a convention of arboreal experts. Even so, there were way too many shots of trees for Jack's liking.
"You know we could always fund the SGC by running a side-line in lumber." Four pairs of eyes swivelled towards him. "And I was thinking, maybe we could trade in these dull green uniforms for plaid shirts and jeans. In fact, we could all get blue plaid shirts like that one Daniel is so attached to." He smiled in response to Daniel's long-suffering expression.
General Hammond fixed him with a vaguely amused look, a hint of a smile tugging at his top lip. "Perhaps you'd like to suggest it at the next finance committee meeting?" he said dryly.
"And bright yellow helmets," Jack added. "Don't you just love those yellow helmets?"
Hammond shook his head in good-natured exasperation at O'Neill's sarcastic sense of humor. "Have you considered retiring recently, Colonel O'Neill?"
Jack shifted his weight in the unforgiving chair. "As a matter of fact..."
He was interrupted by Teal'c, whose gaze had returned to the video screen. "I am familiar with this planet," he said, his voice giving no hint as to whether this was a good thing or not.
Everyone's attention immediately swung back to the video as Teal'c pointed to the top right-hand corner of the screen, indicating a collection of buildings only just visible in the distance.
"This was the favourite residence of Apophis during the hot months of the year," he continued. "I believe you can make out a palace against the hillside."
"A summer home?" Jack raised an eyebrow at the thought.
Teal'c considered the idea seriously before replying. "Yes O'Neill. Although not situated on a lake like many of your American homes and not made of wood despite the presence of many trees."
Jack blinked at the deadpan manner with which Teal'c delivered the end of his sentence, wondering if the Jaffa was intending to be funny. You could never quite tell with Teal'c.
Teal'c had, however, switched his attention to Daniel who was now scrutinising the video with elaborate care. "It is also home to his library - a place that would interest you, Daniel Jackson."
"Library?" Daniel intoned with instant enthusiasm.
Jack sighed. Terrific, Teal'c! Offer the guy a night in paradise and make this meeting last another hour or two. Now Daniel will move into that over-enthusiastic gear of his which is nearly always associated with several minutes worth of incomprehensible babble. Oh yes, here we go!
"What sort of library?" Daniel asked, pushing his glasses up his nose and peering at the screen intently as though he would find the answer there. "The Goa'uld have such a long life span we could find anything from clay tablets to scrolls to, who knows - those weird little globe things they use. Of course, there might be books. Books would be good. Unless of course, the humidity wasn't controlled in which case they would probably be little more than piles of dust held together by years of..."
"Easy now Daniel," Jack teased him gently. "You know your caffeine levels already have Frasier threatening to send you to rehab. OD on books and we may never get you out of her clutches."
As Daniel shot Jack a quick half smile that said he'd registered the sarcasm but wasn't going to be drawn into it, Teal'c continued. "Apophis was a proud man, and yes, Daniel Jackson, he did favour paper as the medium of his records. Indeed, he had many scribes to record his heroic deeds."
"Heroic deeds?" Jack snorted at the idea.
"As in your own history, the victor in battle is free to record events from his own point of view," Teal'c commented before turning to General Hammond. "I believe it would be valuable to visit this world. Since Apophis is dead, any serpent guards left to defend the palace will most likely have returned to their homes. We should be able to explore freely here, and it is possible we may learn something of strategic interest."
Still amused by Daniel's excitement, O'Neill caught the sudden change of expression on his face. Oh-oh. Something other than books had obviously crept to the fore of his mind. Judging by the fleeting trace of sadness that went with it, the thought was of something or rather someone much closer to his heart.
Daniel opened his mouth, immediately proving Jack's suspicions correct. "Teal'c, is it possible Sha're could be there?" Blue eyes scanned the face of the Jaffa almost begging for hope - no matter how small a crumb.
Teal'c, as usual, gave the question careful thought, apparently oblivious to the fact Daniel could barely keep his butt on his seat in anticipation of the reply. When he finally spoke, however, there was no mistaking the compassion in his voice. "It is not impossible, Daniel. If Sha're was not taken by Sokar, Apophis may have sent her here."
"But do you think she is?" The words were out of Daniel's mouth even though his face belied he knew the question was pointless. "Sorry. You couldn't possibly know whether she is or isn't."
"I hope for your sake she is," Teal'c offered.
It was all the encouragement Daniel needed. He swivelled round to General Hammond, his mouth opening to unleash a torrent of reasons why the general should allow the trip. For once though, Hammond was too quick for him.
"Yes, Dr Jackson. SG-1 can go!"
The look of gratitude that shot across Daniel's face wasn't missed by Jack. Neither was the fact the archaeologist seemed to pay barely any attention to the following discussion. If Daniel had got it into his impulsive head to launch a one-man rescue...
Rising to his feet to shut off the video, Hammond laid claim to Jack's attention as he outlined his requirements. "I want a full risk assessment for this mission, Colonel. Teal'c, you can brief SG-1 on exactly what you might encounter at this summer home including the size of any potential guard. If Sha're - or rather Ammonet - is there, I assume she won't be alone."
That comment drew Daniel's attention from whatever engaged his brain. "Do you think Ammonet would attempt to build a powerbase of her own?"
"It is possible," Teal'c said. "However, Apophis' power had waned considerably before he fell into Sokar's hands. It would not be an easy task. He was also very secretive about the location of this planet. To my knowledge, he divulged the address to no one. It is possible if he sent her there for protection, she would not have received news of his fate."
As Daniel and the rest of SG-1 absorbed the possibilities, Hammond moved into action. "Give it some thought." His gaze encompassed the whole team. "We'll meet back here in four hours to discuss mission details. Dismissed."
Jack caught up with Daniel in the storeroom. Closing the door silently behind him, he watched the archaeologist counting the cartons of videotape, obviously trying to decide how much he could possibly get away with. Daniel tossed five cartons into the cart by his side. Moments later, he retrieved one only to apparently change his mind and add two more. To anyone else, the intense activity might have been the normal outlet for an excited linguist cum historian cum whatever other hat Daniel choose to wear. To Jack, the fevered actions shouted one thing loud and clear. Daniel was making sure he didn't think about something important; he was most decidedly not thinking about Sha're.
"Thought I'd invite Bruce Willis along," Jack offered conversationally. "I hear saving the world is his strong point, and if we're going to have to suffer Apophis' heroic deeds we might as well do it in style."
Daniel swivelled round, a guilty look on his face, O'Neill's attempt at humour flying five thousand feet above his head. "Jack! I.. err. I just wanted..."
"To film an epic?" Jack finished dryly, his gaze flicking to the large pile of tape.
Daniel chewed at his bottom lip. "I guess it is a bit over the top. I mean, we can send in another team to do a proper survey when we get back. Dr Bugler has been recruiting linguists for the past month just in case we made such a find. After the initial investigation we can hand stuff over to them. Bugler's good; he won't miss a thing, and I've been checking..."
"Daniel!" Jack raised his finger, surprised to find the action actually stopped the babble of words. Daniel blinked at him, lips slightly parted, the firm lines of his face framed by the ridiculous military haircut he'd ended up with after foolishly getting into a poker game with SG3. "You do know Sha're might not be there."
Daniel looked away, licked his lips, looked at Jack again. "Yes!"
Oh-oh. The belligerent tone screamed 'Don't treat me like a kid'. Jack wondered briefly if he was out of line. No. He was going to bring Daniel back alive from this mission, starting by getting the young man to agree not to go charging off on some half-baked rescue mission the moment they stepped through the 'gate. Right! And exactly who was he trying to kid here? Since when had he ever managed to control Daniel Jackson? This time! This time he determined the team wouldn't walk into trouble.
Jack reigned in the urge to launch into one of the 'I'm in charge' speeches he used to regularly employ to knock sense into new recruits. Instead he merely nodded his approval at Daniel's reply. "Good! But if she is..."
Jack pointedly started his sentence again. "If she is, we handle things as a team. Right Daniel?"
A flash of anger twisted through Daniel's intelligent blue eyes. "She's my wife!"
"And we're a team!"
For a moment, the two men eyed one another. Jack could almost see Daniel weighing his options - the self-same options Jack had considered on his way to this confrontation. If Daniel really couldn't handle the team thing, Jack was determined to pull him off this mission faster than his butt could be kicked. Come on, Danny! You've learned how valuable being part of a team can be. Don't blow it now.
Daniel's anger dissipated in a barely breathed sigh.
"I know, Jack. We're a team." It was said without malice, and without any hint of the agreement being made purely for the sake of getting through the 'gate. It was simply stated as fact, and Jack was satisfied. The point had been made. Now all he had to do was get Daniel to remember it on the other side of the gate.
Yeah, right, Jack's mind snickered. Maybe you could get SG-3 to tattoo 'we're a team' on the back of his hand next time they trap him into a card game - somewhere nice and obvious in large easy-to-read letters so even if he manages to lose his glasses for the umpteenth mission in a row he couldn't have the excuse of not remembering. Shaking his head at his own thoughts, Jack set himself to helping Daniel remove the videotapes from their cartons.
As Daniel's rear landed rather too firmly on the damp soil of P3G-454 thanks to the uncharitable nature of the Stargate, his first thought was the face in front of him had a warm smile. Actually, it was more of a grin - the sort of grin that implied the owner was embarrassed to be amused by someone making a fool of themselves.
Figuring he was probably the someone, Daniel returned the smile as he picked himself up, brushed the mud from his pants, and held out his hand in greeting. "Hi, I'm Daniel."
The grin was exchanged for a look of confusion as the owner of the face, a young man of about nineteen, peered at the proffered hand. He hesitated a moment, bowed low, and addressed Daniel in an alien language.
Daniel blinked, tilted his head to one side and furrowed his brow. "Ahh!" he said as his ears began to attune to the dialect. He turned to Jack. "He asked if we're messengers of Apophis."
Jack raised his eyebrows. "Tell him no. Tell him we come seeking Apophis."
Daniel turned back and translated. The young man replied with a quick flow of words.
"Err... he says Apophis has not been here for two seasons. They eagerly await his return." Daniel's couldn't hide his disappointment as he quietly added, "and that of his queen."
Oh God, Sha're, what was it going to take to find her? Daniel felt as though every door he came across was slammed ruthlessly in his face. The young man politely welcoming him to his village might as well have slapped him - hell, it would've been a whole lot less painful than the casually delivered words.
With effort, Daniel forced himself to concentrate on the young man's speech. Skipping the non-essentials, he translated the final statement without enthusiasm. "He invites us back to the village to eat with them."
Jack merely nodded. "Good. You can pump them for intel on the palace while we're there." He glanced towards the horizon. "The sun's about to set. Seems we've got ourselves some kind of time difference to cope with too. If you get the chance Daniel, ask them if we can stay the night. We'll hit the palace at daybreak."
It was an ambush. Jack knew it the moment they stepped into the shadow of the palace. So much for not running into trouble! How it had been set up he had no idea, but suddenly the air was full of the acrid stench of staff weapons.
"Fall back!" he yelled, laying down covering fire for Carter as she dove for the meagre shelter of a small bush.
Jaffa! What the hell... Apophis was dead. And the villagers had reassured them no other Goa'uld was in residence. Told them too the serpent guards had left through the chapa'ai many moons ago. Lies! All of it lies. Anger surged through Jack's veins.
He glanced around, his military mind taking in the scene, rapid risk assessments spinning like roulette balls. Carter pinned down behind the vegetation. Daniel and Teal'c slightly ahead of him, their backs against the palace wall. Safe for the time being. The Stargate - much too far away. The trees were their only hope - so much for his earlier complaints. Yet, even they were barely within sprinting distance.
He detached a grenade from his belt. Caught Teal'c's attention and signalled his intentions. Watched as Teal'c passed on the signal to Daniel. How many guards? Two? Three? There must be more than that. He scrutinised the scene again. Recounted - still only three.
He pulled the pin and hurled the grenade. Two steps and he caught Carter by the arm, pushing her towards the forestry as the explosion rang out. To his right he saw Teal'c motion Daniel. Saw both men rise and run for all they were worth. Jack loosed a hail of bullets in the direction of the serpent guards, watching with satisfaction as dirt spat into the air as they impacted the ground. Then, he was running too.
Carter, always fast on her feet, was already within the relative safety of the forest edge. As Jack reached her side, gasping for breath, he swung round to lay down more covering fire.
Jack sensed Carter's gun jerk up to join his, as Daniel stumbled, the crisp blue spark of a zat gun fluorescing across his back. A yard in front of his team-mate, Teal'c must've heard the choked-off cry above the noise of the staff weapons because he turned back towards Daniel, who was now writhing in the dirt, blue energy still curling around his body.
"Daniel Jackson!" Teal'c had barely taken a step towards his stricken team-mate before another zat blast flashed out, engulfing him with fingers of sizzling lightening. With a groan, he slumped heavily to his knees.
Carter stepped forward, every muscle tensed to go to the rescue.
"Major!" Jack's hand caught her arm, restraining her.
Jack merely nodded towards the scene unfolding before them. More serpent guards were sprinting towards the fallen members of SG-1 - still not as many as he'd expected, but too many to take on with only Carter by his side. He allowed himself one last look at Daniel and Teal'c - now encircled by guards - and then gave the order. "Let's get out of here!"
"We can't rescue them NOW!" Jack cut off her words with barely restrained anger, his jaw set in a hard line defying any contradiction.
Training kicked the emotion aside, and he watched as Carter visibly swallowed her protest, replacing it with a brisk, "Yes, Sir!". Without another word, she stepped back into the cool shadows of the trees, did an about turn and waited for him to lead the way.
Shackled and on his knees, Teal'c found himself looking up at the face of the one Goa'uld he had hoped he would never lay eyes on again. Apophis!
As their eyes met - anger blazing from one set, amusement from the other - a serpent guard moved in front of Teal'c and slapped him hard across the face. "Sho'va! You dare look upon your god!"
"The Goa'uld are not gods," Teal'c replied determinedly, tasting blood in his mouth.
As the serpent guard glanced at his master for permission to strike the traitor again, Apophis stepped forward and took his place in front of Teal'c. "So you still dare to spread that lie, Teal'c!"
Apophis circled Teal'c leisurely, his expression making it clear how much he was enjoying the Jaffa's subservient position. He paused behind the man, being out of view a deliberate act to torment his captive. "Are you not surprised to see me, Teal'c?"
Twisting round, Teal'c replied coldly. "I am not. Your return merely confirms what I have learned on the Tau'ri homeworld - parasites are often difficult to kill."
This time Apophis slapped him, the force of the blow so hard it made Teal'c's head ring.
"You will regret the day you betrayed me, Teal'c. Now you are once again in my hands, I will reclaim all that was once mine. And I will revenge myself on the Tau'ri who dared stand against me. When I crush their world, the system lords will once again know Apophis is a force to be reckoned with."
Teal'c's face was set like stone as he listened to the familiar voice spouting yet more arrogant words. "You failed to take their world before," he goaded. "You will not succeed now."
Apophis laughed. "But I will. This time I will strike at their very heart." He lifted his right arm and revealed the remote transmitter strapped to it. "When I have the code to this device, my guards will step into the Tau'ri base and destroy it before they even know we are there."
"You will not learn the codes from me." Teal'c's face was as emotionless as his voice.
Apophis smiled cruelly. "I did not expect to, Teal'c. Your Tau'ri friend, however, presents much less of a challenge than a former first prime. And I will enjoy questioning the husband of my queen's host. Believe me, Teal'c, I have debts to repay to Daniel Jackson." The smile widened. "Tell me, how long do you think he will last before he begs to tell me the code? We could make it interesting and have a wager on the outcome. An hour? A day? He has much passion. Yet his capacity for pain... that will be interesting to explore."
Daniel Jackson! Teal'c's stomach lurched at the thought of Apophis torturing his young friend. He opened his mouth to offer himself in Daniel's place but knew immediately the sacrifice would be rejected. He clenched his jaw in frustration, causing the muscles in his cheek to twitch.
The reaction was not lost on Apophis. He casually rested his hand on Teal'c's shoulder and leaned close to whisper maliciously, "Perhaps when you watch him suffering, you may change your mind about telling me what you know of their planet. Remember that, Teal'c. Remember you have the power to stop the torture of your friend. You know the code as well as he does. The responsibility for his pain is all yours."
"Now what, Sir?" Sam leaned against a tree breathing heavily. The serpent guards had given her and O'Neill a good chase, but finally the two members of SG-1 believed they had shaken off their pursuers.
O'Neill bent, resting his hands on his knees, nosily drawing air into his lungs, his expression stating his often-voiced opinion that he was really getting too old for this.
Sam waited as patiently as she could. "Sir?"
"Yeah!" O'Neill straightened. He took another deep breath and looked at her. "You could have the grace to appear slightly breathless, Carter."
"Sorry, Sir." The response was automatic.
O'Neill drew in another breath. "We head back to the 'gate."
"I know. I know. I don't like it either. But if we go barging in there on our own, we're going to end up prisoners too. So... we return to the SGC. We get reinforcements. Then we come back and get them. Okay?"
I never leave my team behind. They were Jack O'Neill's words, Sam thought bitterly as they leapt to the front of her mind. She turned away, focusing angrily on a tree some distance away. The unbidden image of Daniel and Teal'c falling under the agonising strike of zats replayed itself, the harshness of memory mockingly severe against the peaceful susurration of the trees. Get a grip, girl. This isn't the same as leaving them behind. This is good sensible military tactics. A poorly thought through rescue would not help Daniel and Teal'c. Chances were it would end up killing them both. Hell, getting them all killed. She looked back at O'Neill, suddenly aware he was waiting to see if she would challenge his order. She took a deep breath, straightened her back, and waited for him to lead the way back to the 'gate.
Daniel woke with a groan, blinking his eyes in the vague hope the action would somehow make the dimly lit cell fade away. Instead moving his head sent sharp icicles of pain slicing down his neck and back. Not good - not good at all.
He took a deep breath, almost gagging on the foul stink filling his lungs and attempted to assess his situation. He was in a cell; that much was obvious. He was manacled to a wall in a sitting position, his hands chained securely above his head. At least that was what he hoped, all sensation having left his fingers thanks to the tightness of the cuffs around his wrists.
The soft sound of pacing feet made him suddenly realise he wasn't alone. In fact, it dawned on him he hadn't regained consciousness of his own accord, rather he'd been dragged from the comfort of oblivion by a sour smell held just below his nose. The pacing stopped abruptly. Somebody spoke in a low, alien dialect that sounded vaguely like Goa'uld, but Daniel was too groggy to attempt a translation. Instead he concentrated on making the shadowy blur that had appeared in front of him coalesce into a recognisable figure. Well a figure at the very least.
Whoever it was, the person was studying him closely. Even in the gloom and without his glasses, Daniel had the uneasy feeling the watcher was finding a certain delight in his predicament. He licked his lips, aware his mouth was painfully dry. What information were prisoners of war were supposed to give? Name, rank and serial number. Well he could manage the first. He didn't really have a rank. No, he corrected himself - civilian specialist - that would do. Number?
"I will make this easy for you, Tau'ri." The figure in front of him addressed him abruptly in English, cutting off his thoughts with a voice both cold and business-like. "I have the device you wear on your arm. You will tell me the numbers that allow you to travel safely through the Tau'ri Stargate."
Cut straight to it, Daniel thought sarcastically. Geez, I've been hanging around Jack too long. A slightly hysterical laugh escaped him, and he went with the flow, summoning up his best O'Neill mimic. "Sure I will."
The comment elicited no response other than a moment's silence. "And after the numbers - you will tell me where my son is."
That caught Daniel's attention. "Y-your son?"
The figure stepped forward and leaned over Daniel, the angle denying him a full view of his captor's face. Fingers tangled into his hair and yanked his head back so hard it hit the wall behind him with a sickening thud. Redness tinged Daniel's vision, and nausea curled its acid tentacles around him. "Yes, Daniel. You may not recognise me in the darkness, but I knew you the moment you stepped through the Stargate."
Daniel stared into the eyes of his captor, fear notching up a degree as a brief flash of glowing white greeted him. The tone of the Goa'uld's voice suddenly became sickeningly familiar. "A-Apophis?"
The Goa'uld smiled at the effect recognition had on the young man. "Yes, Daniel. Did you think you had rid yourself of me?" He tightened his grip on Daniel's hair, pleasure flickering across his face as Daniel bit down on his lip to stop a cry escaping. "This time, I am the one making the threats. And believe me, I have both the strength and the will to carry them out. In fact..." He leaned close enough for Daniel to feel warm breath on his skin. "I will enjoy every moment I watch you suffer. Remember, since I have escaped from the hands of Sokar, I can promise you the experience will be worse than anything you can even begin to imagine."
The fear had a tight grip now as Daniel forced himself to hold Apophis' gaze, never doubting for a moment the Goa'uld meant every word. Somehow, he forced his parched tongue to form the words. "I would rather die than betray my world."
Apophis merely smiled at him as he released his grip on Daniel's hair with a slowness so deliberate it was almost a caress. The laugh that accompanied the action however was so cold Daniel could feel his sense of resolve being stretched across its razor-sharp edge. "Then die you will, Daniel..." The smile widened, and with it came all the evil menace of the Goa'uld, "...eventually."
"Colonel O'Neill!" Hammond was waiting at the end of the ramp as Jack pulled to a halt and shrugged off his gear.
"We were ambushed Sir. Daniel and Teal'c are prisoners. Permission to return with SG3 and reinforcements."
Hammond glanced from the face of his senior officer to the concerned expression of Major Carter and back again. "Ambushed?"
"Sir, we don't have time for details. We wasted time enough humping it back to the gate. Do we have your permission or not?"
"Hold your horses, Colonel. SG3 and SG7 are both off-world. Three other teams are on stand-down and off base. I'll order every available man to report for duty immediately. In the meantime I need details." Hammond fixed O'Neill with a stern look. It wasn't that he had no sympathy for the colonel's urgency, but he had learned a long time ago that a rushed mission was a botched mission. He knew O'Neill would agree with him just as soon as the adrenaline drained out of his system.
Anger flared briefly in the eyes of O'Neill and Carter, but both were trained well enough to step back from the emotion and assess the situation and themselves. O'Neill blew a long breath, picked up his gear, and looked Hammond in the eye. "Yes, Sir!"
A tortured gasp escaped from Daniel's lips despite his best efforts to choke it back. He was spread-eagled on a cold metal platform positioned waist-high off the floor, his wrists and ankles held in a vice-like grip by silver-coloured cuffs that were now tinged red with the blood from his chafed skin. How long had it been? He couldn't think any more. His entire existence had become pain. Pain ripping through him wave after wave, building in intensity until he thought he couldn't stand it anymore - thought he must now lose consciousness and escape. Only he never did. Somehow it always seemed to notch back a fraction just as he reached for the blessed relief of darkness. And then... then it would increase worse than before.
The pain was increasing again now. A face swam into view - Apophis, his hand resting lightly on Daniel's chest, the glow emanating from the device he was holding giving the Goa'uld total control over the scientist's nervous system. Choking on a groan, Daniel squeezed his eyes shut, closing out the image of the face smiling at him in mock sympathy.
"The code, Daniel." Apophis' voice crooned near his ear. "Tell me the code and it will stop."
The soft voice of his torturer and the promise of relief slammed Daniel's mind into focus again. The code! The code! God, how he wanted to shout it. Spit it into Apophis' face. No! No! He mustn't. But he really couldn't bear this agony any longer. And he knew how to make it stop. He just had to open his mouth and speak.
"5... 5... 3..." The numbers spilled from his lips with painful slowness as he struggled to pull enough air into his lungs to vocalise them. "1... 4... 6." Apophis leaned closer, the familiar face moving from blurred focus into sharp relief. As dark eyes scrutinised him, Daniel dared to believe he had won himself a respite - even though he knew it would be temporary.
The problem was, there was one thing Daniel had never been terribly good at. Apophis' expression hardened abruptly. "Liar!" he hissed. "Now, tell me the real code."
With a strangled gasp, Daniel paid the price for his attempted subterfuge as the device glowed brighter over his chest, notching the pain ever higher. His back arched away from the metal, his head tipping back in response, muscles corded along his neck - but there was no escape, no respite, no relief. A scream tore him. He couldn't stop it. Hated himself for giving Apophis the satisfaction. A blood-stained darkness crept into the periphery of his vision. Desperately trying to drag air into his abused lungs, Daniel reached for it, knowing even as he did so the attempt was futile. His body belonged to Apophis.
Teal'c had been positioned in front of a large view-ball in an adjoining room, the spherical surface reproducing a perfect image of Apophis' actions, complete with amplified sound. Watching Daniel Jackson writhing in agony, Teal'c curled his fingers into fists, once again wishing he could exchanged places with his friend and once more cursing Apophis for knowing that and using it against him.
Teal'c bowed his head in anguish, but the image of Daniel's torture was already burnt into his mind and merely replayed more terribly than watching the real thing as another scream was torn from the young man's throat. The frustration Teal'c had felt for years as he served Apophis, knowing he was helpless to save any of the Goa'uld's victims, welled up in him. With a howl of outrage, he slammed his fist into the wall to the side of him. Immediately the weapons of his guards concentrated on him - reminding him there was no escape - not for him and not for Daniel.
His spirit crushed, Teal'c turned his face from the screen, leaning his forehead against the cold stone of the wall and prayed for the only hope of salvation he dared believe in - O'Neill.
"New York!" Jack O'Neill slammed his fist on Hammond's desk. "What the hell is he doing in New York?"
"Colonel O'Neill! You will hold that temper in check or I will have you removed from my office and put someone else in charge of this mission." Hammond's tone barked across the smooth wood dividing the two men.
Jack opened his mouth to protest, but apparently thought better of it. Mollified, Hammond continued. "Colonel Makepeace is on important family business. And the fact remains you are one team leader short."
"So promote someone! Or double up one of the teams," Jack snapped, unable to hold back his impatience any longer. "We're wasting time."
With effort, Hammond reminded himself O'Neill's attitude was driven by concern for his teammates, and sometimes, just occasionally, it was appropriate to cut the man a little slack. Besides, O'Neill had a point - precious minutes were rushing by as he struggled to pull together the right balance of men for the rescue mission. His tone had lost its brittle edge by the time he spoke again. "I want them back as much as you do, Colonel," he reminded his officer gently. "That's why I have another solution."
He moved to a closet at the back of the room, threw open the door and revealed a set of battle fatigues. "I'll command the third team."
Jack's eyes rested briefly on the general's round figure before he nodded. "Yes, Sir!"
Hammond self-consciously drew in his stomach, but his mind was made up. He might not be as fit as he once was, but he still had a sharp tactical mind, and he could shoot as well as a man half his age. "We'll be ready to ship out at 22.00 hours, Colonel," he continued. "I suggest you take the chance to freshen up. Get some food inside you."
Pain. It was waiting for him the moment consciousness returned, making him wish he could slide back into the comfort of oblivion. Daniel didn't even attempt to open his eyes as he waited for the agony to reduce down to a bearable level. It was as though Apophis had reached inside him, dragged every organ from his body and then slammed the whole lot back in a tangled knot.
The first to relinquish its hold was the steel band around his chest. Cautiously, he drew in a breath, gauging how far he could fill his lungs before the agony made him cry out. Slowly, slowly he was able to take in a little more air until at last he was breathing almost normally.
Gritting his teeth he prepared for the next step - opening his eyes. That wasn't so bad. Okay, so it felt like someone was driving a skewer through his head just above his left eye, but he could see. Not that there was much to see - just the darkness of his cell.
Okay. Try to move. A groan tore itself from his lips and he screwed his eyes shut again. Not good. Not good at all. The steel band was back. And now there were two skewers.
What the hell? That was really bad. Now he was hallucinating too. Cool hands brushed across his skin, massaging the agonising cramps from his muscles.
"Dan'yell. Oh Dan'yell. What has he done to you?"
That voice, so soft, so sweet. He had to be dreaming. Barely trusting himself to look he opened his eyes. Sha're!
Tears ran silently down her beautiful face as she looked at him. "Dan'yell." And then she embraced him, her fragrant hair filling his senses. Despite himself, he moaned in pain at her touch, and she snatched herself away from him. "Dan'yell, I'm so sorry." The tears fell faster, and she went back to her work of massaging away the knots from his shoulders as he struggled to look at her. To see for himself she was real - that he hadn't finally tumbled into an abyss of madness. "Lie still. It will bring relief."
So many questions. So much to ask and yet he hardly dared believe she was here. In this cell with him? How? Why? What of Ammonet?
She saw the questions in his eyes and pressed a finger to his lips. "Don't try to speak. I know your thoughts. Am I Sha're? Yes, Dan'yell it is me. The demon sleeps because..." Sorrow flickered across her face. "I am with child again. Apophis returned three weeks ago. Forgive me, husband."
Daniel tried to grasp her words through the pain-ridden haze that clung to him. "Oh Sha're. It's not your fault." The words squeezed from his throat in a hoarse whisper. The emotional anguish of knowing Apophis' had taken possession of his wife so completely not once, but twice, was far worse than any physical pain.
"Can you sit?" She slid her arm under Daniel's shoulders and eased him slowly to a sitting position. The pain peaked again, wrenching another cry from him and a sobbed apology from her, but then he was upright, breathing in short, laboured gasps as she hurriedly continued her explanation. "Apophis thinks I am too frightened to leave Ammonet's quarters, but I learned much from her about guile and cunning. The palace is full of secret passageways, and I have found a way to overhear his plans. I have even managed to turn some of the serpent guards against him." A shy smile crept onto her face. "I think, husband, perhaps I am no longer the Sha're you once knew."
With trembling fingers, Daniel merely reached out to caress her face. He didn't care if she'd changed. Hell, he hadn't expected her to stay the same. After all, he was no longer the man she had married more than three years ago. Somehow though they would work it out. All that mattered was they loved each other. He cupped a hand to her cheek, feeling the warmth of her skin - so smooth to his touch. Everything in him wanted her to be...
She was still talking. Her eyes flicking anxiously towards the door as she did so. "As soon as your strength returns, we will go to the Chaa'pai. Here, you must drink this - it will help you." She lifted a small vial to his mouth. Daniel hesitated for the briefest of moments, his eyes captured by hers, aware there was still mistrust in his own. Then he opened his mouth and let her pour the bitter liquid on to his tongue. He swallowed it with a shudder which cost him another round of agony.
"A few moments," Sha're said. "Then it will bring you strength again." Longing filled her face, bringing a poignant air to her fragile beauty. "I have dreamt of this for so long. For us to be together again. You and me, Dan'yell. And..." She paused searching his face. "My son. Apophis told me you took him. That you know where he is."
Daniel nodded weakly as he felt the drug begin to numb his senses. It was certainly a powerful painkiller, but it bothered him he was already having trouble concentrating. Was it supposed to do that? He tried to ask, but Sha're was speaking, and the thought skittered away from him as the sound of her voice captured his heart once again.
"You do know where he is, don't you?"
Her voice was so sweet - had it always been like that? The musical rhythm of the Abydonian language, rising and falling. Oh how he had been so desperate to hear her sing the way she used to in the evenings around the fire. He nodded in reply and whispered, "Yes, he's safe, Sha're."
Sha're brushed away her tears. "He will hardly be a baby anymore. Oh Dan'yell. If I could just hold him once more."
He wanted to please her now. Wanted to see her smile. "You will, Sha're. As soon as we get away from here, I'll take you to Abydos. We'll find him again."
"Abydos. You left him on Abydos?"
Daniel nodded, trying to force the cotton candy from his mind. What had she given him? "Sha're..." He shouldn't have mentioned Abydos. What was he thinking of? What if Apophis caught them? What if she wasn't...
She leaned close and kissed him full on the lips, slowly and gently. The taste of her brought tears to his eyes. "Sha're!" Her name escaped his lips like a groan, and everything in him desperately wanted to believe his wife was finally returning to him.
She helped him to his feet, leaning her body against him in support, her musky perfume filling his senses. "Come," she whispered. "We must go. I have your transmitter. I stole it from Apophis while he slept."
He nodded, but the determination of his mind wasn't matched by the willingness of his body. They took two steps towards the cell door before he felt his knees buckle. He stumbled, only just reaching the wall in time to hold himself upright. "I... can't."
"Dan'yell, Apophis' guards will come soon. We must leave." Her face was both concerned and fearful.
Daniel shook his head weakly, knowing it was impossible. They would never make it to the gate. As though reading his thoughts, Sha're leaned close and caressed his face. "Tell me the transmitter code. I will go through to your world and bring help. Your people can destroy Apophis. Dan'yell, we can be together again."
He gazed into her eyes - so beautiful. His Sha're - really his again. Yes, it made sense. She could escape. Bring back a rescue team. He opened his mouth to tell her the code just as she caressed him once again murmuring his name. "Oh Dan'yell. Beloved..."
"W...what?" His eyes widened in shock.
Sha're glanced fearfully towards the door again. "There is so little time," she said anxiously. "Tell me the code..."
"No!" Daniel was pulling his senses back under control. "What did you call me?"
She looked at him innocently as he rolled away from her, nausea rising in his throat with the horror of her words. "Oh God! You called me Beloved. You're not Sha're."
"Dan'yell please!" Fresh tears welled up in her eyes, threatening to tumble at any moment. "I am Sha're. The demon..."
"Liar!" Daniel was almost hysterical now. He pulled himself upright in the corner of the cell and wedged himself in the angle of the walls - only the solid rock keeping him upright. "You're Ammonet. Sha're never, NEVER called me beloved. It's all lies. All of it." His hand went to his own face, fingers brushing against something cold and metallic embedded in his temple.
"Dan'yell!" The tears flowed freely down her face. "Dan'yell, please."
Realisation crashed over him - he was being manipulated. Goa'uld technology. The drug she'd given him. It was just another attempt to try and break him. "God, No! Stop it!"
He stared at her in horror as the loving look on her face transformed into pure hatred, revealing her true identity. In two steps Ammonet was in front of him, delivering a back-handed slap with all the strength she could muster. The blow sent him sprawling back to the damp floor, his shoulder scraping against the rough brick of the wall as he fell.
She stood over him now, her expression merciless. "Filthy Tau'ri!" She spat into his face, contempt turning Sha're's innocent beauty into stony perfection. "I will enjoy watching you suffer."
Her foot contacted with his ribs, eliciting a cry as he curled over the pain. "No. Please! Sha're..."
She leant over him, snatched his head back with one hand in his hair. Her other hand closed around his throat, fingers seemingly superhuman in strength as they ground into the sensitive muscles, choking him. "You scream well, Tau'ri. I enjoyed watching my lord question you," she hissed as he twisted weakly beneath her grip, desperately trying to suck air into his starving lungs. A darkness that had nothing to do with the lack of light in the cell tugged at his vision, offering a tantalising escape from his misery.
With an icy smile, she suddenly released him. "You will regret not telling me the code," she promised. "What my lord has planned for you..." She left the threat hanging, her expression moving readily to triumph. "At least I know where the child is." She laughed as Daniel curled tighter in on himself, a moan of self-denial escaping him as she walked to the cell door and regally ordered her release. She was gone in moments, leaving Daniel distraught on the cold floor of the cell.
The serpent guards were obviously relishing their task as they dragged Teal'c to the center of the throne room and threw him to the floor. Seated in regal splendour, Apophis and his queen looked down on the former first prime without compassion as the Jaffa pushed himself awkwardly to his knees, his hands manacled behind his back.
"Teal'c," Apophis finally said, his voice full of feigned friendship. "It would seem I have lost our wager. Your Tau'ri friend is more resilient than he looks."
"What have you done with him?" Teal'c demanded. Watching Apophis torture Daniel had been a gut-wrenching experience, but far worse was not knowing Daniel's fate in the time that had passed since then. Left alone in his cell, Teal'c mind had conjured up a myriad of nightmare scenarios, not the least of which was his fear Daniel would be taken as a host in order to obtain the information Apophis sought.
"The Tau'ri is safe," Ammonet said, rising from her throne and stepping towards him. She looked Teal'c straight in the eye and coldly added, "For now." Turning towards Apophis she appealed. "May I tell him of our plan, my lord?"
Apophis smiled at her and nodded his assent.
"Since neither of you will betray the Tau'ri homeworld, we have decided to put your presence to a different use. One which will send a message to the system lords that my lord Apophis has returned to power." She turned to one of the guards. "Bring them in!"
Teal'c watched in horrified curiosity as ten young boys were ushered into the room. He didn't need to be told who or what they were. It was obvious they were young initiates from Chulak of the age his son Ryak had been when he received his first Goa'uld. How Apophis had found a way to obtain them Teal'c couldn't imagine. Why he would do so was obvious. He was rebuilding his serpent guard. Yet there was something else - Teal'c could tell from Ammonet's triumphant expression there was a more sinister reason for these children to be present.
"Tomorrow Teal'c, you will publicly declare your allegiance to Apophis once again and tell the people how mistaken you were to believe the lies of the Tau'ri."
"No!" Teal'c's denial exploded from him.
Ammonet merely laughed. "Yes! Because if you do not, these young boys will be sacrificed to the serpent god."
Now Apophis rose and stood beside Ammonet. "Not only will you declare your allegiance to me, Teal'c, you will prove it. Tell him, my queen."
Looking down on the Jaffa without the slightest hint of emotion, Ammonet continued. "We have spread word you returned with one of the Tau'ri warlords as your prisoner. Tomorrow you will publicly deliver ten B'Kat strokes to Daniel Jackson to demonstrate your loyalty to my lord and my lord's supremacy over the Tau'ri filth."
Ten B'Kat strokes! Teal'c's mind reeled at the thought. "No! That could kill him!"
"Perhaps," Ammonet conceded coldly. "That is of little concern."
"I will not do it." Teal'c set his face in a rigid expression of denial.
"Think, Teal'c," Apophis crooned. "Ten initiates. Ten strokes of the B'Kat. For each stroke you fail to deliver to my satisfaction, one initiate will die. Now tell me you will not punish the Tau'ri in the way he deserves."
Teal'c's gaze moved from Apophis and his queen to the faces of the innocent children. Never in his life had he felt so powerless. So trapped. Unable to do anything else, he bowed his head in defeated assent.
Daniel didn't know how long he lay curled on the floor of the cell after Ammonet departed. All he knew was the drug she had given him had eased his physical pain, but in exchange he felt like she'd ripped his heart from him, leaving in its place a raw black hole filled with anguish. He'd betrayed Kasuf and the child, and that knowledge scourged him with self-loathing. Sha're - she was his strength, and yet, also his weakness. A weakness Ammonet had ruthlessly used against him. Somehow he had to survive whatever Apophis was planning. He had to warn Kasuf. Something else drove him on too. Beneath the emotional hurt, there was still the glimmer of hope he would never let go of. As long as Ammonet lived, so did Sha're. Somehow, against all the odds of his current situation, he would find a way to get her back through the Stargate.
The sound of booted feet outside his cell broke his train of thought. Still weak, he managed to push himself into a sitting position before the door was flung open, and two serpent guards stepped in. Without a word, they grabbed him by the arms and began to march him through the corridors of the palace.
Daniel blinked in the brilliant sunlight as the guards led him outside, across a deserted courtyard, and out of the palace confines. Within moments he realised what their destination was: a circular building set a short distance from the palace on a grass-covered knoll. The white-walled structure was clearly the focus of some attraction judging from the steady streams of people that were hurrying from various directions.
Held tight in the grasp of the guards, Daniel barely managed to keep his feet as he was dragged across the open space to the building's entrance - a huge wooden gate richly carved with hieroglyphs. Still dazed from his treatment over the past few hours, Daniel sensed there was something out of place about the architecture. He just couldn't put his finger on what it. Whatever it was, he was convinced this was not a good place to be. It didn't take a PhD to figure out Apophis wasn't about to declare amnesty for Tau'ri archaeologists who happened to be married to his queen.
The thought caused a knot of fear to twist his stomach as he passed through the gate even though the academic part of his mind was still taking notes. As the gateway opened out into a circular arena with tiered open air seats, Daniel suddenly realised what was bugging him about the architecture. It was Romanesque. Well, that was a new one on him when it came to understanding the Goa'uld.
The knot in his stomach tightened as a fresh realisation hit him. The seats were filled with spectators who had, with a terrifying co-ordination, turned their attention towards him and begun to holler and shout. Oh God! They were baying for blood!
Daniel could barely breathe as fear crashed over him. Despite the hot sun, he suddenly felt deathly cold, and only the grip of the guards kept him upright as they mercilessly led him around the edge of the arena to the area in front of what could only be the royal box. A quick glance revealed the tall figure of Apophis, several young boys seated at his feet. And at his side - Sha're! Daniel squinted in the brightness as he caught sight of his wife dressed in Ammonet's finest robes, her hair intricately styled beneath the glittering jewels of her crown. She was so beautiful. So cold. He tore his eyes away, unable to bear the sight, as the guards forced him to his knees; a groan escaping his lips which was rooted in both emotional and physical distress.
Almost immediately a tall helmeted figure dressed in the ceremonial uniform of the first prime of Apophis appeared from a doorway in front of him. Marching past Daniel, the figure turned and faced the royal box, the crowd hushing in expectation. Oiled metal hissed as the serpent helmet opened. Held in place by the guards, Daniel was unable to look around, but as a familiar voice filled the air, he felt hope surge through his abused body. Teal'c!
"My Lord Apophis!" Teal'c's deep tones sounded harsh as he spoke the name. "I, Teal'c, beg to return once more to your service."
Daniel's jaw fell open. He twisted free of the guards just long enough to begin the painful struggle to his feet. "No, Teal'c..." Two strong hands on his shoulders forced him down again. A whispered threat reached his ears. No! This isn't happening. Daniel's mind reeled at the words he was hearing. Teal'c would never betray them to join Apophis again. He wouldn't believe it.
Teal'c ignored Daniel completely as he continued. "Let it be known, my Lord Apophis, I have seen the error of my ways! The Tau'ri are nothing! You are my god!"
Daniel bowed his head, trying to shut out the words coming from his friend's mouth. No wait! This had to be a ploy of some sort. Some plan Teal'c had concocted in order to set up a rescue attempt. His mind whirled through the possibilities. Apophis was speaking now - an elaborate speech accepting Teal'c back as first prime and declaring his intention to reclaim his power. Daniel paid little attention until Apophis' final statement.
"Now Teal'c, restored first prime of Apophis, prove your loyalty to your god."
Daniel's head shot up. That didn't sound good. He managed to twist far enough to see Teal'c execute a low bow before turning about and marching towards the center of the arena.
Almost immediately, a wall of sound assaulted Daniel's ears as the crowd went wild. Their collective attention focused on him once more, making him only too aware of the general sentiments being hurled in his direction - some laughing at him, some insulting the Tau'ri, and worst of all, the renewed baying for blood. With horrified certainty Daniel knew what the crowd wanted, knew why they were here.
They'd come to watch him die!
He was pulled to his feet and pushed roughly forward in the direction Teal'c had headed. No longer numbed by the drug, fresh pain from the torture Apophis had inflicted earlier curled along his muscles, causing him to clamp down on a cry. A dozen shaky steps took him half way to the center of the arena. Horror prickled along his skin as the contempt of the crowd washed over him. Worst still, out in the open individual voices were able to reach over the tumult. "Tau'ri filth," someone screamed. "The ground is too good for your blood." "Die! Sho'var!" yelled another. Something putrid-smelling hit him solidly in the chest, splattering his clothing with the foul yellow flesh of an over-ripe fruit.
Daniel looked straight ahead of him, trying to ignore the three hundred and sixty degrees of surround sound, but the sight that greeted him made his stomach flip flop in a crazy somersault of fresh fear. In the heart of the arena was a large X-shaped wooden frame. Romanesque. Crosses. Crucifixion. Daniel slammed the word into the most distant corner of his mind. No, he thought desperately as long-forgotten texts of the anguish of that particular form of execution struggled to find a foothold in his mind. Self-protection won as he forced himself to look instead at Teal'c - and with him, his hope of rescue.
They were barely six feet away from each other now. Abruptly the guards released Daniel's arms, the sudden loss of support almost causing him to tilt head first to the ground at Teal'c's feet. Somehow though he managed to stay upright, his eyes searching his friend's expressionless face for some hint of what would happen next, his brain still trying to figure out how salvation would appear.
As he gained no clue from the taut face in front of him, he risked a quick glance around the arena, fully expecting to see Sam, maybe in a toga, and Jack. Jack as what? Ben Hur? A laugh rose up in his throat and almost escaped. He was getting hysterical. Damn it! Stop it! He had to keep his thoughts under control. He had to be ready to react or he would be even more of a liability than he already was - barely able to stand upright and the target of hostility for what appeared to be every inhabitant on the planet.
Teal'c took a step forward, and Daniel saw the flash of a knife blade in his hand. It didn't seem like much of a way to tip the odds, but he trusted Teal'c implicitly. If the Jaffa believed they could get out of the arena armed only with a knife then...
"Daniel Jackson - I am sorry."
Daniel blinked, uncertain he'd heard the whispered apology. He barely had time to process the thought as Teal'c closed the space between them, and a huge dark-skinned hand grasped the neck of his t-shirt. This was a hell of a way to rescue him.
Oh shit! This wasn't a rescue!
The horrifying truth of his situation finally sunk in, causing a cry - half-denial, half-question - to rip from his throat. "Teal'c!" He tried to step backwards, but Teal'c's grip was far too strong, forcing him instead to grip the Jaffa's arm in a pathetic attempt to free himself. As the knife plunged toward him, he couldn't hold back a scream of denial - so certain was he that he was going to die at the hand of the Jaffa.
The knife however sliced harmlessly a skin depth from his chest, ripping through the material of his shirt. Daniel drew in a shuddery breath, trying to grasp the fact he was still alive. His eyes sought out Teal'c's, but the Jaffa was deliberately refusing to meet his gaze, his face set in the rigid mask of one who has an abhorrent but unavoidable task to carry out.
"Teal'c, speak to me," Daniel begged softly.
Nothing. Not a word. Not a glance. It was as though the Jaffa had become an automaton. With a single tug, Teal'c wrenched the slashed shirt from Daniel's body, tossing the ruined clothing to the ground. His free hand grabbed the waistband of Daniel's pants, the knife poised to rip through the fabric.
"God!" The word squeezed past Daniel's lips as he shut his eyes and braced himself for the horror of being stripped naked. He felt Teal'c's fingers twist tighter against his waist, then suddenly let go. As the crowd hissed its disapproval, a hand clamped onto his shoulder, spinning him round to face the mutated cross bars.
The rough-hewn wooden frame loomed in front of Daniel, momentarily blocking out the dazzling sunlight. Too stunned - too exhausted - to attempt a physical protest, he didn't resist as Teal'c pushed him towards it. However as Teal'c began to lash Daniel's right wrist to the frame with coarse rope, he tried again, desperately attempting to keep the panic out of his voice. "Teal'c, what's going on? Please! I have to know."
"It is better you do not."
The reply was so quiet Daniel barely heard it above the roar of the crowd. He winced as Teal'c grasped his left wrist, splinters stabbing needle-like into his skin as the rope lashed him tightly to the frame.
Fear edged Daniel's voice up a tone. "I have to know, Teal'c!"
For the briefest of seconds, Teal'c eyes met his. "I must do as Apophis demands or the lives of those children will be forfeit."
Daniel swallowed hard, stricken both by Teal'c's words and by physical discomfort - the burning of the twisted rope, the strain of his muscles as they tried to adapt to the unnatural pose. He was lost for words as he absorbed the meaning of the statement. His life or the lives of the children.
He closed his eyes, overwhelmed at the enormity of what he'd just learned. Teal'c meanwhile continued his task, kicking Daniel's left leg closer to the frame. More rope snaked around his ankle, then pulled tight, rasping his leg against unyielding wood, splinters knifing their way through the thin cotton of his pants into his hip and thigh. He groaned as his right foot was kicked from under him, throwing his weight onto the ropes around his already chafed wrists.
Struggling to find some relief from the awkward position, fate dealt Daniel one last card. His gaze fell on a tangled pile of leather lying a few feet from the cross. Even with his limited vision, there was no doubt in his mind it was a whip. His memory, trained and honed from years of dedicated academic study threw facts into his mind. A cat o'nine tails - capable of slicing a man to the bone, responsible for the painful deaths of many a rebellious seaman back in the 1800s. Blood. Pain. Fear.
No! He tried desperately to count the leather thongs. Surely there wasn't enough of a tangle for it to be nine. Besides - why should it be nine? This was PG3 something... not Earth! Insanely his mind refused to stop making calculations, the scientist in him coolly estimating how many strokes he could expect to survive if it was three, four, six thongs. Like it mattered! If Apophis had condemned him to death, he should be wishing for more thongs, not less. Get it over with quicker. He watched in horror as Teal'c moved into view, scooping up the instrument of torture. For a brief moment Teal'c looked straight at him, the pain in his eyes as real and as intense as Daniel's.
Daniel choked down the urge to beg for mercy, knowing it was impossible for Teal'c to grant him the wish. Instead he opened his mouth to utter the only thing left to him - the only act of defiance he could throw at Apophis. Dry-mouthed he desperately licked his lips to enable speech, but it was too late. Teal'c looked away and the whispered words of forgiveness were lost in the arena's tumult of hate.
As the Stargate leaped into life the watching serpent Guards trained their weapons on it. The small remote-controlled aircraft buzzing out of the event horizon took them by surprise, dropping its payload of gas before they could bring their weapons to bear.
Moments later, O'Neill, Carter and two specially selected riflemen rolled through the gate, came to their feet with military precision, and took the guards out with an impressive array of marksmanship.
"Nice shooting!" O'Neill congratulated as he tossed his gas mask to one side and turned his attention to the palace. "Let's hope the rest of the plan goes as smoothly. He glanced at his watch and waited patiently. Right on their mark, General Hammond and nineteen other members of the SGC stepped through the gate.
"'Gate is secure, Sir," O'Neill announced with satisfaction.
Hammond surveyed the surroundings, before glancing at O'Neill and nodded. "Lead the way, Colonel!"
Teal'c had often allowed himself to be quietly pleased with the abilities of his body. A trained warrior he spent many hours toning the muscles, working both for stamina and strength. For one stolen moment now, he observed his own hand and forearm, watching his long fingers flex and release, the muscles rippling from wrist to elbow. Such strength. Such power. Such a comfort to those who depended upon him.
Today though there was no comfort - just horror of what his body was capable of. It wasn't that he had never used his hands or weapons to inflict pain and even death. He had. It was part of his training, the crux of his service to false gods. The problem was the person against which his strength was to be turned today.
He glanced up, carefully schooling his expression for the crowd and felt his stomach lurch at the sight of Daniel stretched across the X frame, his face turned away from his torturer. The young scientist wasn't even making any attempt to twist around to look at him, no plea for mercy, no protest, no blame. Just a naked back - exposed to the blistering sunlight and the ridicule of the crowd.
For one last time, Teal'c weighed his options. The whipping had to be terrible enough to convince Apophis that he wasn't slacking in its delivery and yet not so terrible Daniel wouldn't survive it. For once, Teal'c suspected his wishes coincided with the self-proclaimed god's. Apophis hadn't actually commanded him to kill Daniel, and Teal'c believed it would probably please the Goa'uld if Daniel didn't die. Which just made the decision far worse. If Daniel Jackson survived, what fresh torments would Apophis find to inflict upon him?
The backdrop of voices raised a notch, mutterings of impatience now added to the blood-thirsty chorus, and Teal'c sent a dark glare over the faceless mob. He was delaying their pleasure, and they were not amused at the stalling.
Hesitating would do Daniel no good, either, Teal'c realised. He looked down again at his hand, feeling the sun-warmed leather handle of the whip soft and pliable against his skin. It was a particularly nasty implement from Apophis' arsenal; its looks deceptive. To the casual observer, it was a double-thonged whip, nasty enough in its own right. Embedded in the handle however was a compact device that delivered nanocytes along with each lash. Nanocytes which were programmed to both keep the victim conscious and lucid and also to inflict further pain as they burrowed their way into the raw flesh.
A fellow Jaffa, one who had had the misfortune of displeasing Apophis, had described the pain as a thousand tiny teeth snatching pockets of flesh in a kiss of fire. Teal'c had considered the description to be foolishly poetic, but even in his nightmares, it had never crossed his mind that one day he would be in a position to receive a linguistic alternative from Daniel.
Another murmur from the now-restless crowd and Teal'c's gaze moved from the whip to the ten young boys seated on either side of Apophis, unknowing pawns in this particularly cruel game. Their lives in exchange for the torture of his friend. A cruel, futile bargain with the devil.
The time for hesitation had passed. Apophis gently laid one golden hand on the shoulder of the child closest to him, long, metal clad fingers caressing innocent flesh, his eyes never leaving the gaze of his prodigal first prime. "Begin!"
Teal'c turned back to his task. With a long, deep breath, he pulled his arm back to deliver the first stroke.
The SGC troops marched swiftly to the village. This time O'Neill promised himself, the villagers would deliver correct information even if he needed to resort...
What the hell? O'Neill pulled up sharply. The narrow strip of dirt acting as a main street for the motley collection of brick-built houses was occupied by nothing except for a tired and dusty chicken.
"Deserted," he commented as General Hammond drew level with him. "Carter, check the houses."
In response, Carter signalled to the soldiers under her command, and they hastily fanned out.
Hammond lowered the rifle he had been carrying at the ready. "So it would appear," he said. His eyes narrowed as he surveyed the scene, mouth set in a grim line.
Minutes later, Carter reported back, her expression as dark as her commander's. "Nothing, Sir! "Where do you think they are?"
O'Neill's gaze fell on the Apophis' palace. "Only one place they could be. And I don't like it one bit."
An expectant hush fell over the crowd as Teal'c paused momentarily, trying to weight the blow just hard enough to break skin but not so hard it would flay into muscle. It had been a long time since he'd swung a B'Kat and never had he used one on someone he cared about. He couldn't do it. Not to Daniel Jackson. Couldn't... Instinct, he told himself firmly. Go with instinct. Do not think of who it is. Think only of what must be done.
The doing of it.
An image from his past flashed into his mind - a long-forgotten competition in his Jaffa training. Taking the skin off a pambu fruit with a piece of rope. Trying to be gentle enough not to splatter the sweet, juicy pulp held inside yet hard enough to remove the thin waxy outer layer. That was the key.
With determination, he prepared himself for the sight of a B'Kat-inflicted lash on Daniel's back.
What he was not prepared for was the sound.
The whip sang through the air - a soft, sweet whisper of sound which was almost a hum - finishing with a crisp snap as leather contacted skin.
It must have only lasted a second, but in that moment there was utter, complete silence as though the whole of the universe was poised on the teetering edge of a spinning coin. Then, the coin toppled.
The scream tore into Teal'c as mercilessly as the bite of the B'Kat shredding Daniel's skin.
He made a single step of retreat, overwhelmed by the anguish encapsulated in the sound. Almost immediately the crowd roared in tumultuous approval. One voice, another, then hundreds took up the chant. "Kill the Tau'ri! Kill the Tau'ri!"
Daniel had experienced pain before, but nothing had prepared him for this. The instant of numbness afforded by insulted nerve endings refusing to accept what had been inflicted vanished as pain scorched a path from his right shoulder blade to the point of his left hip.
A scream of agony ripped from his throat, and his hands twisted against the harsh rope binding him to the cross, fists clenched as he fought pain and shock.
He was going to die!
This time the thought assaulted him with all the brutality it could muster, driving everything else in its wake. This was where it ended. No last minute rescues. No magical resurrection. Oh God! He was really going to die. Painfully. Slowly. Publicly.
Teal'c took another step away, unable to tear his eyes from the brilliant slash of scarlet across Daniel's flesh. Every muscle and tendon in the young scientist's lean body was corded in a futile protest at the blow, telegraphing the intensity of the pain.
He couldn't do it again. He wouldn't do it again. Wresting his gaze away from his writhing victim, Teal'c half-turned to voice his refusal only to find himself looking straight at the face of the second initiate. A child with brown hair and brown eyes so like R'yak. The face innocent and trusting, blissfully unaware his life depended on the actions of the man in the centre of the arena.
Teal'c gave the briefest of glances at Apophis who was so avidly enjoying his order being carried out and knew there was no hope of respite. As he turned back to Daniel, stepping forward once again, his arm trembled as he drew the B'Kat back. The second stroke lashed into Daniel. Then a third. A fourth. The crowd chimed in with the counting now. Five! Six! Seven!
Teal'c's vision blurred as sweat ran into his eyes, yet still he was unable to blot out the evidence of his crime. Daniel wasn't able to support his own weight now and hung from the bindings on his wrists, blood streaking down his arms from his useless fight with the rope. More blood, so bright and glistening obscenely in the early afternoon sun, ran freely from the criss-cross of whip marks, dripping into the hot earth beneath him.
Shut out the sounds. Do not think this is Daniel Jackson. Complete the task. Eight!
This time, the cry punctuating each whiplash was absent - the continued abuse finally silencing Daniel. Was he still conscious? Of course he was! Teal'c's mind supplied the unwelcome information with merciless clarity. That was the whole point of the B'Kat nanocytes. Keep the victim alive and lucid until the punishment ended. And then... No. Do not think. Act only. Nine!
One more. He only had to deliver one more, and the initiates were free, assuming Apophis carried out his promise. His arm ached from the attempt to lessen the impact of the B'Kat without Apophis realising. How pathetic. He'd probably whipped his friend to within a hair's breadth of death and he was concerned with his own pain. Self-loathing washed over him. He paused and studied the crowd, picking out faces, and, at least for one moment, denying them their shield of anonymity. A young woman with blonde hair laughing. An old man, his face wrinkled by too much sun, shouting abuse. A man applauding, his face ruddy with excitement. Anger mingled with just a hint of sadness as Teal'c surveyed the scene. If they only knew the truth about Apophis! About Daniel!
"Jaffa!" Apophis shouted at him, addressing him harshly in his own tongue. "Finish it!"
Teal'c stared at the familiar face, before moving his gaze to the beautiful woman beside the Goa'uld. Ammonet. Sha're. Daniel's wife. Apophis' Queen. Oh yes, Queen Ammonet was clearly enjoying the sport.
Teal'c closed his eyes for one long moment, and then turned back to the bloody body spread-eagled before him in the sweltering heat. The whip sang for a final time. One last crack sounded across the arena. It was finished.
"Any ideas, Major?" O'Neill asked as the SGC rescue mission dove for cover. They had arrived at Apophis' palace just in time to see crowds of people streaming out of the gates of a circular building a short distance away.
Carter shrugged. "Some sort of religious ceremony perhaps."
O'Neill raised an eyebrow, not wanting to voice his worst fears, but not being able to prevent it. "Ceremony as in, taking a new host ceremony?"
"I hope not, Sir," Carter replied vehemently. "We still don't know for sure there's a Goa'uld here."
He nodded in response, wishing he didn't always jump to the worst case scenario. Carter was right. Serpent guards didn't have to indicate a Goa'uld in residence. It was just SG-1 had never run into them without some snakehead being around. He sighed, forced himself to be positive. Maybe, it was just a celebration. Summer solstice or something. Yeah, right! And maybe the world was flat too.
"Colonel," General Hammond appeared at his side, surprisingly stealthy for a man of his size. "We'll have to sit it out until the crowds thin. We can't risk getting into a fire-fight with all these civilians about."
O'Neill glanced around, looking for alternatives. "We could send a scouting party up ahead. See that break in the wall there? I could be up and over before anyone saw me." He pointed to a damaged section a couple of hundred yards away.
Hammond shook his head. "Nice idea. But I don't want to risk losing any more people." He patted O'Neill on the back as the colonel pulled a face. "I know how you're feeling. I want them back just as quick as you do. But you know as well as I, slow and patient will keep the odds on our side."
"Yes, Sir," O'Neill replied quietly. He shifted his weight into a more comfortable position as Hammond slipped away from his side. Under his breath he added, "I just hope Daniel and Teal'c have time on their side too."
Dishonour. The word rang in Teal'c's head like a bullet. He had betrayed his friend. The image of Daniel being dragged barely conscious from the arena, his back raw and bleeding, haunted him. That he had tried to spare him from as much pain as possible was little comfort. Perhaps he had even made things worse. Perhaps killing Daniel in the arena would have been the better choice. It would at least have freed him from any further torment at the hands of Apophis. Now Daniel was badly hurt and shut away somewhere in the palace.
That he had saved the lives of the young boys was no comfort either. Saved them for what? To be slaves to Apophis? To serve a false god as he wove his sick plans to regain power?
Despair washed over him in a dark wave. He had betrayed everyone - the Tau'ri, the SGC, Daniel Jackson. He did not deserve to live when he had brought such harm to his friend. He bowed his head, acknowledging his guilt, pronouncing sentence on himself. He truly was Sho'var. A traitor in everything he did.
Alone in the room assigned as his quarters, yet still not trusted enough to be left without a guard outside his door, Teal'c settled on a course of action. Piece by piece, he shed his serpent guard armour, dropping it to the floor with disgust for all it represented. Finally, he unbuttoned his shirt.
Closing his eyes, he withdrew into a meditative state, deliberately making himself aware of his Goa'uld larvae, sending it pacifying thoughts. Shutting out all indications of his actions, he thrust his hand into his stomach pouch, grasped the creature, and pulled it free of his body. Intense pain surged through him at the separation, then it was gone, leaving only overwhelming weakness. Hurling the squealing larvae across the room with one last surge of energy, Teal'c collapsed to the floor.
As the crowds began to dwindle away from the arena, the SGC teams moved into action. Breaching the outer defences of the palace proved easy. O'Neill was beginning to get the distinct impression these particular Jaffa weren't in the same league as Teal'c and Bra'tac. In fact, he was wondering if they had been trained at all. Of course, the whole thing could be another set up, but the O'Neill alarm bells weren't even whispering.
As they entered what was clearly a throne room and found it deserted he gathered his team around him and waited for Hammond to deliver orders.
"Colonel O'Neill, assuming we are dealing with a Goa'uld here, the chances are he or she will run true to form by holding Dr Jackson and Teal'c in the lower levels. Right?"
"Yes, Sir. They seem to have a passion for dungeons."
"Very well," Hammond addressed all three groups. "The mission is search and retrieve. Everyone keep in radio contact. Three groups as discussed. Colonel O'Neill, your team takes that exit." He pointed to a door at the rear of the hall. "Major Carter, take your team that way. Everyone else, with me."
With a chorus of smart 'Yes Sirs!, the teams spread out.
Jack navigated through the unfamiliar corridors using instincts honed through years of military service. If anyone had challenged him on his techniques he would've been hard pressed to vocalise the exact mixture of logic, experience, and gut reaction he was relying on. In fact, he had been heard to declare to one particularly insistent tactician that George Lucas was right; there was a force gluing the universe together which was just waiting to be tapped into by the subconscious.
The path he chose led him to a narrow set of stone steps at the bottom of which were two serpent guards and a locked door. Brute force, rather than anything supernatural, dealt with the first. A penknife dealt with the second. Cautiously, Jack pushed the door open and stepped into the gloomy cell. As his eyes adjusted to the light, he swore softly. A body was curled on its side on the damp floor, and even in the dim light, Jack could see whoever it was had been subjected to a severe whipping. At the sound of booted feet, the body curled even tighter, a soft moan escaping into the dank air. Oh no, it was alive!
Everything in Jack rebelled against the truth. He wanted to back out the door, close it behind him and continue searching for Daniel, the sight before him blotted out. Instead he forced himself to step forward. He had to see if this really was the nightmare he suspected. Another step took him within sight of a face. "Oh God! Daniel!"
He fell to his knees beside the younger man, reaching out a comforting hand but finding there was scarcely anywhere to put it. "Daniel, it's Jack. Can you hear me?"
At the sound of the familiar voice, Daniel tried to turn over, the action causing his features to transform into a grim mask of agony. "Jack?"
"Don't move, Daniel." The order was issued with heart-breaking softness. Jack turned his head to one of the men behind him. "Get me a med-kit. No make that two. And break out the morphine."
His attention turned back to Daniel, anger rising. A safe emotion as far as Jack O'Neill was concerned. One he could handle a whole lot easier than whatever else was threatening to rip out his heart. "God, Daniel! Whoever did this to you is going to pay! I promise!"
For some reason his words seemed to add to Daniel's distress. As the archaeologist muttered something Jack didn't catch, he leaned closer. "What was that?"
"N...n... no. Teal'c... had... no choice."
Jack frowned, unable to make any sense of the words. Delirium? His hand went to Daniel's forehead, but found only coolness. Dismissing the problem, he reached for the nearest med-kit, trying to concentrate on the job in hand and not on the fact this was his friend. Getting Daniel out of here was the main priority. They could worry about conversational niceties later.
A tremor rippled through Daniel, causing him to curl even tighter, his face etched with fresh pain. Jack grimaced, recognising the source of that particular anguish wasn't the lacerations on the young man's back, and suspecting Daniel had probably suffered a far worse torture than was immediately apparent. Damn Goa'uld technology, he swore to himself. What had they done to him this time? Someone handed him a syringe, and he leaned over Daniel, whispering quietly to him. "I'm going to give you a shot - something for the pain. Then we'll get you out of here."
The slightest nod of his head was the only response Daniel gave before O'Neill stuck him with the needle. Before the drug had chance to take effect, Daniel reached out a hand and snagged the corner of O'Neill's jacket, pulling the colonel's head towards his own.
"Sha're," he croaked. "She's here. Gotta find..."
Well that answered the question as to which Goa'uld was running the show. O'Neill shook his head. "Daniel, we have to get you out of here."
Blue eyes pinned O'Neill. "Okay, we'll try." Jack knew it was a lie. He had no intention of hunting for Sha're while Daniel's life was on the line, but he didn't know what else to say.
As he turned to reach for a med-kit, Daniel's grasp tightened, demanding his attention once again. This time the anguish on the young man's face was even more intense.
"Ammonet.. t-tricked.. Told her." Daniel drew in a shuddery breath, before forcing out more words. "About the boy."
"Take it easy, Daniel," Jack soothed. "Right now, we have to concentrate on getting you out of here, okay?"
"No, Jack! Have to warn Kasuf."
Aware of what the conversation was costing Daniel both emotionally and physically, Jack took his right hand in his own, gripping it tight to emphasise his words. "We will! Just as soon as we get back to the SGC."
As Daniel finally relaxed, Jack ripped into the med-kit, swearing silently to himself as he pulled out gauze, bandages and antiseptic wipes. It was typical of Daniel to be more concerned about the welfare of others than himself, but Jack knew enough about injuries to realise unless Daniel got urgent professional medical help quickly, Sha're and Kasuf would both find themselves short by one family member.
He looked at Daniel's back again, grimacing at the lacerated skin. God only knew how much blood Daniel had lost, or what germs had already invaded his bloodstream from the filthy floor. God! What a mess! As he patched up the worst of the wounds, Jack vowed again that whoever was responsible would pay dearly.
The guards Carter's team had stumbled across had been no match for SGC training either. Uncertain who she would find, Sam burst through the door they had been protecting, gun at the ready, only to let out a gasp of horror as she saw a Goa'uld larvae squirming on the floor, and Teal'c slumped in the far corner. "My God, Teal'c. Who did this to you?"
Grimacing at the thought of touching the larvae, Sam gritted her teeth and scooped up the slimy worm, holding it tight to ensure it didn't attempt to claim her as a host. Stepping to Teal'c's side she moved to re-insert the larvae in his pouch.
The fierceness of his denial shocked her. "Teal'c, you'll die without your larvae."
"It is what I choose, Major Carter. Please do not interfere."
As Teal'c closed his eyes in exhaustion, Carter looked from his face to those of the surrounding members of her team. What the hell was she supposed to do now? What would O'Neill do? O'Neill would... Hell! She didn't know what O'Neill would do, which meant it was her call. She looked at the larvae, squealing pathetically in her hand and then at the face of her dying friend. "Sorry," she whispered, not sure what she was apologising for. Taking a deep breath she pushed the larvae back into Teal'c's pouch.
Moments later Teal'c opened his eyes, the emotional pain in them causing Sam to step away.
"Teal'c..." she began.
"You had no right."
It was said without anger, but the cold certainty in Teal'c's voice struck her like a physical blow. What the hell was going on? She shook her head, took control of the situation. "Look Teal'c, I don't know what's been happening with you. But right now, there's a rescue mission taking place for you and Daniel. We have to go."
Sam frowned as she saw Teal'c flinch at the mention of Daniel's name. Okay, something very weird was going on. She made a mental note to find out exactly what as soon as they got back to the SGC. First though, they still had to find Daniel and get out of here.
She climbed to her feet, and moved to the door. Turning back, she discovered Teal'c motionless. "Are you coming?" she demanded, her tone making it clear a negative response wouldn't be acceptable.
He looked back at her for a long moment and stood up. "It seems justice must wait."
Sam blinked at the cryptic comment, but before she could question him, the sound of guards running towards the room grabbed her attention. She pulled a zat gun from the waistband of her pants, handed it wordlessly to Teal'c, and turned to do battle.
"Carter! Teal'c! Thank God!" Jack breathed the name with relief as the two SGC units ran into each other. He caught the anguished look on Carter's face as she recognised the motionless body slung over his shoulders.
"Alive? Yes! But he's not good." He turned towards Teal'c, crouching slightly to allow the Jaffa to take Daniel from him. "Here."
Teal'c took a step back, horror on his face at the sight of the blood-soaked bandages on Daniel's back. "I cannot."
"What?" Jack hissed. He exchanged a quick look with Carter who merely shrugged in confusion, her shocked gaze immediately drifting back to Daniel's battered form.
"I am not worthy to carry Daniel Jackson," Teal'c continued tonelessly.
The sound of staff weapons echoed in a distant corridor. Jack gave Teal'c a sharp look. There was obviously a serious problem here, but right now a more pertinent one was getting the hell out of this palace in one piece. "You may not be worthy, Teal'c. But I'm sure as hell not strong enough. Which means the job's yours. Now carry him!"
If Teal'c was going to protest further, he hid it well. Without another word, he grasped the archaeologist and transferred him to his shoulders. O'Neill groaned softly as the weight lifted off his strained muscles. For a slim guy Daniel sure weighed a lot.
"Status, Major," Jack demanded of Carter.
In quick, precise detail she filled in the number of serpent guards they'd encountered. "It's surprisingly few."
"Apophis has only just begun to rebuild his forces," Teal'c commented.
"Apophis!" Jack spat the name. "I thought he was dead!"
"Both Apophis and Ammonet are here," Teal'c said, as the chitter of automatic weapons interspersed with the unmistakable sound of staff blasts reached them from down the corridor.
"Sounds like General Hammond has found some action," Jack said, checking his rifle. "Time to move, campers. Carter, go bail out the general. Then head to the gate a.s.a.p. Teal'c and I will get Daniel back."
"Yes, Sir." In a moment, Carter and her team were gone.
Jack turned to Teal'c. "Shortest route you can give me!"
Teal'c quickly took stock, then nodded towards the door to the right of them. "That way."
The palace really wasn't that large, O'Neill reminded himself as they navigated their way back through the corridors. And there really weren't that many serpent guards around. Odds were they would get out without being spotted. Odds, however, had an uncanny knack of coming down in the other guy's favour, and they ran into smack into trouble as they re-entered the throne room. Trouble with a capital 'A'.
"Apophis," Teal'c stated needlessly as the Goa'uld stepped in front of them.
Jack already had his gun trained on him, his eyes searching the room for guards. Finding the Goa'uld system lord alone - make that ex-system lord, he reminded himself with satisfaction - was unusual. Clearly Teal'c was right, Apophis was only just beginning to rebuild his forces from this remote little world. Which gave Jack a crucial advantage right now given that his men probably outnumbered those of the Goa'uld.
"So... Apophis. Nice summer home," he began. "You might want to consider a pool though, maybe a few sun loungers..."
"O'Neill." Apophis glared at him and pointedly looked at the limp form of Daniel Jackson. "I will take pleasure in breaking you just as I have him."
Jack bristled at the threat. "Oh... I don't think so. See I have several hundred men surrounding this palace. And I'm calling the shots. Either we walk out of here unharmed or I order my men to blow us all to kingdom come."
Apophis stared Jack down for a long moment. "You are bluffing, O'Neill."
Neither man twitched a muscle as Jack calmly replied. "Call me out then."
Silence stretched, then abruptly Apophis raised his gloved hand.
"No you don't, you bastard!" A knife flashed in Jack's right hand. "I've done this before. I can do it again." His hand pulled back, the aim perfectly accurate.
Apophis howled in outrage as the knife embedded itself in his palm. Clutching his wounded hand to his chest, he stepped backwards and slapped down on a hieroglyphic wall panel with his other hand. A doorway slid open behind him. He glowered at O'Neill. "The Shovar has already served his purpose. You will regret this insult, O'Neill."
"Sir, shall we stop him?" one of Jack's men asked quickly as Apophis stepped into the darkness, the doorway already closing on his escape.
Jack glanced quickly round the group, weighing his options. "Yes, Sergeant. Take two men with you." He turned as the team automatically divided itself. "Everyone else, back to the gate. We'll send the marines to raze this place to the ground as soon a we're through. This is one vacation spot that won't be listed in the tourist guides in future."
As Sam reached the far end of the corridor, she cautiously peered round the corner to discover General Hammond and his team pinned down by four serpent guards.
Signalling to her troops, she quickly organised a battle plan. Three of her soldiers going low, another three high. On a count of five, everyone swung into action.
Someone, somewhere, missed their mark, allowing one of the serpent guards to swing round. Almost immediately six more appeared from a side entrance, but the distraction had been enough for Hammond and his force to break free of their cover.
As staff weapon fire blasted at her feet, Sam dove for the protection of a large statue, rolling as she did so, and coming up with her gun trained on the scene before her. She gasped in astonishment as her momentum stopped and she discovered Ammonet in her sights.
As though aware of her danger, the Goa'uld queen turned and looked directly at Sam. The major's finger tightened on the trigger as she focused on the face of the woman she had only briefly met two years earlier on Abydos. The same dark hair, the same full mouth. The memory of Sha're planting a to-die-for kiss on Daniel assailed her. Oh God! This was Daniel's wife! He would never forgive her. But... this was also Apophis' queen, a Goa'uld with as much capacity for evil as any of them. Sam drew in a breath, her mind resolved, her body tensed for action.
Too late! Ammonet stepped to the side and two serpent guards moved into Sam's line of sight. By the time they moved out again, the Goa'uld queen had disappeared. It happened so fast, Sam blinked, wondering if she had imagined the whole scene.
As her attention refocused she suddenly realised an unhelmeted serpent guard was standing right in front of her, his staff weapon powering up. Cold fear gripped her as she lifted her gun, realising in the split second left to her, she was too late.
As she tensed in anticipation of the blast of fire on her chest, a mountain of green khaki flashed in front of her. The sickening thud of flesh pounding into flesh assailed her ears.
"Damn!" General Hammond straightened up, shaking his fingers in pain. "Bastard had a jaw like a rock." He grinned at Sam. "Took him out though. Always did have a mean right hook."
Sam stared at him in astonishment as he whirled back into the battle, taking two more guards down in hand-to-hand combat, using a stray staff weapon bo-style with deadly accuracy.
He straightened, tugging his uniform down as his team took out the last two guards. Breathing heavily, his face flushed with victory, he turned back to her, his expression concerned. "Are you alright, Major?"
The question jerked Sam out of her shock. "Yes, Sir," she replied hurriedly. "Colonel O'Neill is with Daniel and Teal'c. They're heading for the gate."
"Very well! Let's get the hell out of here."
"Yes, Sir!" Sam repeated and began to move down the corridor after him, giving one last glance at the spot where Ammonet had been.
The SGC Stargate burst into action in the SGC, spitting out Jack O'Neill, who was already hollering for a medic.
Hot on his heels was Teal'c, Daniel Jackson still carried on his shoulders. "O'Neill. Daniel Jackson is conscious."
Jack took two steps down the ramp and then turned to see Teal'c with a look of total horror on his face. Without further ado, the Jaffa deposited the archaeologist on the ramp and backed away.
"What the hell are you doing, Teal'c?" Jack demanded moving towards Daniel with an expression of disbelief. As he knelt at Daniel's side, he glared at Teal'c, unable to fathom a reason for the Jaffa dropping his burden like it was burning him.
His attention back on Daniel, he squeezed the young man's hand reassuringly. "Take it easy, Daniel. We're back at the SGC."
Daniel's responded by grasping Jack's hand in a vice-like grip, his face contorting with pain. "God!" He sucked in a tortured breath. "It hurts, Jack!"
"I know, big fella," Jack replied, stamping down on his frustration. Why the hell was Daniel still in pain? He'd shot enough morphine into him to last at least four hours.
A small figure in a white coat blurred past the bottom of the ramp, a string of medical orders following in its wake. As Dr Frasier arrived at Jack's side she shot Teal'c a sour look, clearly having observed his action, before fixing her eyes on the blood-covered body on the ramp. "It's Okay, Daniel," she said in her calmest bedside manner. "We're going to get you to the infirmary. Just lie still. Let us do all the work."
Behind them the gate was beginning to spit out more SGC members. Carter came through at a run, skidding to a halt at Jack's side.
"Everything all right, Major?" Jack demanded.
"Yes, Sir!" She lowered her voice. "Apophis and Ammonet escaped."
Jack merely nodded, his attention snatched back by the fact Daniel was virtually crushing his fingers. Janet came to his rescue, gently releasing Daniel's grip as her medics began to ease him face-down onto a stretcher. Jack leaned over his stricken team-mate offering verbal reassurance in place of physical. "You're going to be fine, Daniel. Janet's here."
Frasier glanced at O'Neill and then at Daniel, offering up a silent prayer the colonel was correct, while acknowledging to herself the sooner she got Daniel to the infirmary, the sooner she could play her part in ensuring he was.
She glanced round at the other members of the returning teams, her eyes taking in the unusually ashen face of Teal'c. "Everyone else okay?"
The Stargate powered down as she spoke and she did a rapid head count. Three whole teams, and miraculously everyone appeared to be back in one piece. Except for Daniel, of course. God, why was it always Daniel! She turned back to him now, calling over her shoulder, her tone making her demand for information clear. "Colonel O'Neill?"
O'Neill's voice was mechanical. "He's been whipped. Figure a dozen lashes. Gave him a hypo of morphine less than an hour ago." O'Neill's eyes were on the stretcher which was now being lifted from the floor, causing Daniel to moan. "Goddamnit. A hypo that doesn't seem to have worked!"
Janet frowned, knowing full well the potency of field kit morphine. Then again, she knew how easy it was to lose track of time in the heat of a crisis. She dismissed the concern. "Anyone else anything to add? Teal'c?"
"Teal'c was kinda out of things when I found him," Sam offered. "Somebody had removed his Goa'uld larvae."
Janet turned towards the big Jaffa, her expression questioning.
"I am fine," he stated. "Please attend to Daniel Jackson."
With no reason not to take the words at face value, Janet ran after the fast-departing stretcher, her mind already planning the surgical equipment she would need for what she suspected was beneath those field dressings.
Without even looking at one another O'Neill and Carter automatically headed towards the door, intent on following Daniel to the infirmary. As they reached the blast doors O'Neill suddenly realised that someone was missing from their retreat - Teal'c. He whirled round and saw the Jaffa standing motionless on the ramp, his eyes fixed on the spot where he had dropped Daniel.
"Teal'c! You coming?" Jack hollered.
The Jaffa looked towards the colonel, his expression inscrutable. "No. Daniel Jackson would not welcome my presence."
Jack glanced at Carter who raised her eyebrows in surprise. "You go ahead," he said quietly. "I'll be right there."
As Carter hurried down the corridor, Jack turned back to the Stargate. "You want to tell me what's going on?"
Shamefaced, Teal'c looked at him. Abruptly he fell to his knees and bowed his head. When he spoke however, his voice was controlled. Too controlled.
"I have done a great wrong, O'Neill." Teal'c continued to gaze at the floor. "You must take my life."
The shock in Jack's voice caused Teal'c to raise his head. He repeated his statement calmly. "You must take my life, O'Neill. I tried to do so and failed. Now you - as Daniel Jackson's friend - must do so."
"Whooahh! Could we just back up a little bit here?" Jack said as he desperately tried to get his brain to make sense of Teal'c's words. He reached out a hand and pulled the Jaffa to his feet. "And you know we don't go in for all that kneeling stuff around here." Jack paused as Teal'c climbed reluctantly to his feet. "Now... why would I as Daniel's friend want to take your life?"
Frasier couldn't figure it out. She'd done everything by the book. IV drip in place replacing the vital fluids lost along with skin and blood. Followed by a more than adequate dose of lidocaine to allow her to do a thorough job of cleaning the wounds on his back and suturing what she could without causing him further pain. Yet the moment she touched him, Daniel had screamed in agony, begging her, in a voice already hoarse from earlier abuse, to let him be.
What had O'Neill said? That he'd given him a whole hypo of morphine earlier and he shouldn't be feeling anything. A sick feeling clawed at her stomach. She didn't dare increase the dose any further, yet she'd never known anyone be so resistant.
She shook her head in frustration. It was imperative she treat him. Along with cleaning the dried blood caked to his skin which impeded any proper examination, his back was coated with grime and dirt. Infection was almost inevitable, if it hadn't already set in. O'Neill's first aid, although efficiently administered, was hardly adequate. The only alternative seemed to be a general anaesthetic, but she was reluctant to knock Daniel out unnecessarily given the trauma he'd already suffered.
There had to be another solution. A reason for the lidocaine not working. The sick feeling notched up a gear, as she checked through the facts. Oh God, Daniel had been in the hands of Apophis for several hours! She moved round the table and crouched down to his eye level. "Daniel, can you hear me?"
His teeth clenched in pain, Daniel managed to nod his head.
"Were you subjected to any Goa'uld technology on that planet?"
"Some sort of... hand device. And..." Daniel grimaced. "One of those mind probe things... Drugged...."
Janet glanced up to the observation window, from where the worried face of Sam Carter looked down on her. "Sam? Get Teal'c for me. I really need to know what I'm dealing with. Let's hope he can shed some light on it."
"Teal'c." Sam sprinted into the gateroom and pulled to a halt as she saw the expression on O'Neill's face. "Sir?"
O'Neill's was clearly livid. He turned towards her, his tone acid. "Teal'c here wants me to execute him. He won't however give me any reason for this ridiculous request other than to say he has betrayed Daniel. Perhaps Major, you can shed some light on this insanity?"
Sam's eyes flicked from O'Neill to Teal'c and then back again. Her mind spun, recalling the sight of Teal'c lying on the floor of a well-furnished palace room, his Goa'uld larvae squealing in the far corner. God! Had he been trying to commit suicide? She opened her mouth to make some comment then changed her mind. Right now, Teal'c was standing here alive and well. Daniel however was still in serious trouble. Priorities were clear. "Teal'c. Janet needs you in the infirmary right away!"
"Daniel?" O'Neill's expression flickered instantly to one of concern.
Carter shot him a worried look. "He isn't responding to the anaesthetic. Janet thinks it might be something that was used to... when he was questioned."
"I can tell her what she needs to know," Teal'c said, his voice emotionless. Without another word he strode from the gateroom towards the infirmary.
Sam exchanged a puzzled look with O'Neill and then hurried after Teal'c, leaving the colonel swearing colourfully in her wake.
"Teal'c!" Janet looked relieved as the Jaffa entered the room. "I need your help. Daniel says..."
"Daniel Jackson has been infected with nanocytes," Teal'c said abruptly. "They were introduced into his system when I whipped him with the B'Kat."
"What!" Three voices spoke the word in unison.
Teal'c did not react to being the object of open disbelief. Instead he simply continued with his explanation. "I am responsible for Daniel Jackson's condition. I was the one who whipped him." He addressed O'Neill. "I must be punished for my crime."
"No..." The protest came from Daniel. "Teal'c... tell them."
"Tell us what?" O'Neill demanded. He glared at Teal'c who remained stubbornly silent. "Daniel?"
"Apophis... made him. Teal'c had no choice."
"No, Daniel Jackson. There is always a choice." Teal'c contradicted him.
"Gentlemen, please." Janet interrupted icily. "We can deal with who did what later. Right now, I need to know what these nanocytes are doing to Daniel." She looked pointedly at Teal'c.
"They are designed to keep the B'kat victim conscious," Teal'c explained. "Your anaesthetics will not work while they are in Daniel Jackson's blood."
"Conscious for how long?" Janet demanded.
"The B'kat is a Jaffa punishment. The nanocytes operate until the symbiant has repaired the injuries. Perhaps four days. Sometimes longer."
Janet shook her head, trying to absorb the unwelcome information. "What about sleep?"
"A Jaffa can go many days without sleep."
Janet's voice took on sharp edge, as she reigned in her frustration. "In case you haven't noticed, Teal'c, Daniel doesn't have a symbiant. I need to know how these things will affect him."
"My apologies, Doctor Frasier. I was not trying to obstruct your enquiry. I believe the nanocytes will keep Daniel Jackson conscious until his body heals."
Teal'c nodded. "That is so."
From his prone position, Daniel ground out words between clenched teeth. "That's not good... is it?"
Gently Janet placed one of her hands over his, squeezing his fingers sympathetically. "No, Daniel. It isn't."
"Somebody want to explain what the hell is going on?" Jack demanded.
For a moment Janet hesitated, uncertain about the medical ethics of discussing Daniel's situation with his team-mates. She was saved from her concern by Daniel himself.
"Just say it, Janet."
Realising she was still holding Daniel's hand, she gently unfolded her grip, and turned so she was addressing the whole of SG-1. "Daniel can't go that long without sleep. Nor can he continue to suffer this level of pain." Her gaze flicked towards a monitor. "He's already experiencing severe strain to his heart. It won't be long before other organs start to show signs of stress."
Her gaze moved from one face to another, registering the emotional anguish on Carter's and O'Neill's, the guilt displayed across Teal'c's, and the sheer desperation on Daniel's. Think! She had to think. There had to be another option.
As though reading her thoughts, Teal'c spoke. "If it were possible, I would gladly give Daniel my symbiant. Although a Jaffa will not sleep, there is rest to be found in Kel Noreem."
"Meditation! That's it." Sam almost tripped over her words, her face momentarily brightening. "Teal'c, when Marchello's device switched everyone around, you managed to teach Colonel O'Neill how to enter Kel Noreem, didn't you?"
Teal'c inclined his head in acknowledgement.
"So you could do the same for Daniel?"
Teal'c considered for a moment, just for an instant his guilty expression replaced with one of hope. "Daniel Jackson will not be able to reach full Kel Noreem without a symbiant. However, it is possible the techniques will assist him." He turned to Frasier. "Can Daniel be moved to my quarters?"
Janet glanced at the array of medical monitors surrounding the injured man. "That's a lot of equipment to move..."
"We will not require the equipment," Teal'c replied. "I believe Daniel will find it distracting. If Kel Noreem is to work, we require solitude and silence."
Janet frowned, running through the risks in her mind. Damn it! She'd never been one for alternative therapies, but since all her other options were pretty much zero. "Okay. But I insist on the drip. He still needs fluids and he's going to need antibiotics. Lots of them." As Teal'c inclined his head in agreement, she turned to Daniel. "Is this okay with you?"
"Anything!" Daniel hissed. "Can we just... get on with it?"
Through the haze of pain, it occurred to Daniel that being treated in Teal'c's quarters was infinitely preferable to the infirmary. For one thing, he was no longer on the receiving end of 'those looks'. The ones the nurses thought they hid from patients but which telegraphed loud and clear exactly how much trouble he was in. Not that Daniel was under any illusions on that score, anything which hurt this much had to be serious. Hell, probably worse than serious. He had a nasty feeling he was so far up the critical scale it was only the length of his fingernails that was holding him onto it.
The other main advantage was Teal'c had managed to do something Janet had never succeeded in - shutting the door in Jack's face. It wasn't that Daniel didn't appreciate Jack's bedside vigils, it was just... Well, to be blunt, there were times when he felt he had enough to cope with being in an infirmary bed without feeling responsible for Jack's anxiety too. He shoved the thought away, not liking the accusation of selfishness which inevitably followed that particular train of thinking, and knowing full well he would actually hate waking up to find no one from SG-1 was concerned enough to hang around his bed.
He focused instead on Teal'c, watching him light another candle. He knew Janet was waiting behind him with a tray of medical equipment, but he really didn't want to consider that right now. Just lying still was painful enough. His entire back felt on fire, an agony he could perhaps have handled if it wasn't for the other one - the unpredictable one. Every so often, some part of his back would provide him with the perfect imitation of being skewered, making him gasp in agony until the pain receded. The nanocytes, they were one hell of an invention. He'd really like to pump Apophis full of the little buggers and see how he enjoyed being the equivalent of a computerised shishkebab.
Teal'c turned to face him now, his emotional anguish still visible in his eyes. "Are you ready, Daniel?"
Daniel nodded. "Am I going to be able to do this lying flat on my stomach?"
"Assuming a particular physical position is but an aid to achieving Kel Noreem. You will succeed without it."
Daniel licked his lips, suddenly feeling nervous. This had to work. If it didn't... hell, he didn't know what he'd do if it didn't. Probably go stark raving mad. In fact, exactly that. It hadn't escaped his notice Janet's main concern had been about him sleeping. He knew as well as anyone sleep deprivation was in itself a form of torture. There was no point though in getting worked up about the what ifs. He had to concentrate on here and now. He turned his full attention to Teal'c. "Let's do it."
For the next thirty minutes Teal'c led him step by step through a series of relaxation techniques. Daniel was almost beginning to think he was getting somewhere when intense pain stabbed at his lower back.
"Arrgghhh!" His eyes flew open, the meditative state gone. "Oh shit! Oh shit! I can't. I can't do this!" He pounded one fist on the bed in frustration and pain.
"Yes, you can, Daniel Jackson!" Teal'c's voice was authoritative, cutting through Daniel's anguish. "We will begin again."
"No!" Anger flared at Teal'c insistence. Just where did this guy get off torturing him? He pounded his fists into the mattress as the pain flared again. His voice cracked with barely restrained tears. "No! It's pointless!"
Stepping forward Teal'c grabbed Daniel's fists, burying them in his own massive hands. His eyes pinned his teammate with a look which denied him the option of refusal. "We will begin again, Daniel Jackson."
Daniel buried his face into the mattress and sucked in a shuddery breath. Five long minutes passed in which Teal'c never slackened his grip on his hands. Finally Daniel looked up, a seed of resolve somehow transmitted through the physical contact. "We'll begin again."
Three hours. It was far too long in Janet Frasier's opinion, but the deal had been made. She would not attempt to clean Daniel's wounds until Teal'c gave her permission. Watching Daniel suffer as she sat impotently to one side was one of the worst moments of her career. Never had she felt so powerless - her reliance on equipment and drugs, even her knowledge, robbed from her.
Gradually though, she found herself drawn into the scene unfolding before her, no longer merely a spectator but a participator. As Teal'c took Daniel through various breathing exercises, the archaeologist's distress noticeably lessened, and with it Janet's own. Before long, she discovered herself inhaling and expiring with the rhythm of the two men, her own muscles relaxing, her hectic thoughts calming. It vaguely occurred to her there were a few other people on the base who could benefit from an hour or two of this therapy - an irate Jack O'Neill being top of the list.
Teal'c calling her name startled her out of her revelry. "Dr Frasier, you may begin."
She climbed to her feet, gathered up her equipment, and moved towards Daniel. Her eyes flicked towards him then back to Teal'c, who answered her unspoken question.
"Yes doctor. You may address him."
Feeling somewhat out of her depth, Janet set her medical tray to one side. "Daniel?" she said, quietly.
"Janet." His voice sounded calm, much of the tension and pain drained from it.
"You okay with this?"
Janet's eyes moved back to Teal'c who merely nodded his consent.
"Right," she slipped on a pair of surgical gloves as quietly as possible. "I'm going to begin with your left shoulder, work across to your right, down and back across. I'll clean first and suture where necessary." She paused, waiting for Daniel to comment. When he didn't, she took a deep breath and steeled herself for the job in hand. "I'm beginning now."
As the antiseptic swab touched Daniel's raw skin, he let out a long, low hiss. Janet pulled in a sharp breath, her hand hesitating over him.
"I'm okay," Daniel said. "Go on." He drew in breath nosily through his nose, one hand reaching for the Jaffa - clearly drawing strength from the physical contact. "But if you feel like breaking any speed records, feel free."
Trying to sound confident, Janet slipped into the easy-going banter used to lessen the tension in the infirmary. "Did I never tell you I was known as Fast Fingers Frasier at med-school?"
"Dr Frasier, Daniel needs to concentrate on maintaining his state of Kel Noreem," Teal'c said firmly.
Janet was suitably chastened and mouthed an apology at him. Without further ado she set about her task as gently as she could.
The following morning, as Janet pushed open the door to Teal'c's quarters, the scene which greeted her was identical to the one she had left the previous day.
Teal'c was sitting motionless at the head of Daniel's bed, his eyes closed, his chest rising and falling in a slow rhythm, one hand resting lightly on Daniel's forearm just below the stark white bandage that now swathed the young man's wrist. The only light still came from the flickering candles bathing the spartan room with a golden glow. The perfume of hot wax mingled with something richer, a musky scent of some kind which reminded her of a drowsy summer's evening once spent in foreign climes. Memory kicked in. It was the smell of the desert.
She was reluctant to mar the carefully prepared ambience and the comfortable intimacy of its occupants with her presence. Before she could close the door, however, Teal'c opened his eyes and saw her. Too late now to retreat, she stepped into the room. Teal'c leaned towards Daniel, who was still lying face down on the bed, and spoke quietly. "Dr. Frasier has returned."
As Janet closed the short distance between herself and her patient, Daniel turned his head towards her giving her a clear view of the bruise-like shadows etched by lack of sleep beneath his eyes. Oh boy! This was never going to work. She was only too familiar with the effects of sleep-deprivation, and even in this meditative state, she was far from convinced Daniel would not be affected. She pushed her pessimism aside, choosing instead to register a more positive fact. The pain-induced frown had virtually vanished from Daniel's features.
Daniel acknowledged her with the briefest of nods, before closing his eyes, apparently intent on once again matching his breathing to Teal'c's.
Wordlessly, Janet moved around him to inspect his wounds. As she lifted the first dressing she let out a slight gasp, her head coming up fast to meet Teal'c's eyes with her astonishment. "Incredible!"
Daniel turned his head a fraction, his tone worried. "What?"
"Daniel... it's amazing. Teal'c - look at this!" As Teal'c climbed to his feet and moved to observe Daniel's back, Janet began to remove more of the dressings, pointing to individual injuries. "Look here. Some of these smaller lacerations are virtually healed. It simply isn't possible in the time."
She reached out, gently brushing her fingers against newly healed skin where yesterday there had been raw flesh. "And here. Even the deeper ones look like they're beginning to heal. How?"
"I do not know," Teal'c began. "Kel Noreem would not cause such a thing."
"If not that, it must be the nanocytes," Janet immediately deduced.
"I do not think so, " Teal'c said. "They would require reprogramming to perform such a function. Such knowledge would only be possessed by a Goa'uld. It is unlikely Apophis would trouble himself with such an act of compassion."
"Sha're." Daniel's voice was little more than an exhausted whisper.
"Sha're?" Janet asked, not following Daniel's thoughts.
He gave a barely perceptible nod. "She knows what Ammonet knows. She could've..." He closed his eyes again, the effort of conversing apparently too much for him.
Janet looked at Teal'c, who responded after a moment. "It is possible. Ammonet would have the knowledge to do this. Sha're may have been able to influence her in this way. On Apophis' ship there were moments when Skaa'ra was able to influence Korel."
"It was Sha're," Daniel said, confidence unmistakable in his tone despite the weariness.
Jack shook her head in amazement and delight. There had been far too many occasions when she'd had cause to hate everything and anything remotely connected to the Goa'uld. This time though, she was more than happy to accept the offered reprieve. "Well if it was, we owe her a great deal," she replied. "This is wonderful news. Now if the little beggars would just let you get some sleep..."
Janet yawned as she turned her attention back to Daniel's medical report, making use of the quiet post-midnight hours to write her notes. It had been a long three days, and she felt mentally and physically exhausted. Not only had she remained at her post so she could check on Daniel and Teal'c every four hours, she'd had to cope with regular visits from the other members of SG-1 - not to mention various other people from the SGC who wanted regular updates on Daniel's progress.
Sam Carter had been in at least three times today, arriving in the infirmary with bags of chocolate walnut cookies, frustrated Teal'c still wouldn't allow her to see Daniel. Janet sighed. If Teal'c didn't ease up soon, she was going to have to join a healthclub or something. Thwarted from her desire to fill Daniel with baked goodies, Sam had insisted Janet help her eat them. Over the past forty-eight hours, Janet had eaten more cookies than she had in the previous twelve months, and she was convinced the waistband on her skirt was significantly tighter.
Then, there was O'Neill. The colonel had taken to patrolling the corridors of the SGC, pacing regularly from Teal'c quarters to the infirmary, becoming more and more verbally abusive with each cycle. His last visit had been a spectacular display of fireworks, complete with a colourful description of exactly how unimpressed he was with Teal'c's diplomacy and Janet's apparent lack of control over the situation.
She sighed. She'd always considered having SG-1 cluttering up her infirmary to be a nuisance when Daniel was in residence. SG-1 without Daniel was far, far worse.
Turning back to the archaeologist's file, she scanned quickly through the notes from the previous two days. It was a catalogue of ups and downs. On the positive side, the nanocytes were indeed healing the physical effects of the whipping with incredible speed. On the negative side was the total absence of sleep. Janet didn't need a medical degree to know that human body did much of its rejuvenation during sleep. Not only that, sleep was a vital ingredient for mental health. With each passing hour, Janet could see Daniel's overall well-being was on a steady decline.
It didn't help both he and Teal'c refused all attempts to encourage them to eat, and Daniel barely touched the cup of water she set by his bed each visit. Thank goodness she'd insisted on the IV staying with him. At least she could ensure some fluids entered his body. He was also running a fever now, although the antibiotics seemed to be keeping the worst of any infection at bay. Still, she remained uncertain that she shouldn't just call a halt to the whole thing and attempt once more to sedate him conventionally.
The last time she'd checked on him, he had been mumbling incoherently. The few words she had managed to make out were heart-breakingly painful whispers for Sha're. Even Teal'c, who had stubbornly refused to admit any possibility of failure, had admitted he was concerned Daniel could not sustain the Kel Noreem much longer. It seemed they had been pitched into a sick race - Daniel's ability to maintain whatever level of Kel Noreem he had achieved against the life cycle of the nanocytes with their devilish blend of healing and destruction.
Janet finished her report, signing her name neatly to the catalogue of concerns she had listed. As she closed the folder and set it to one side, her eyes fell on yet another bag of cookies. No, she thought, that isn't the answer to my worry for Daniel, any more than it's Sam's. She pulled her desk drawer open and pulled out a large bar of bitter dark chocolate - Daniel's favourite. Just as soon as the archaeologist was able to face it, she was going to ply him with the stuff. And since she'd brought a dozen bars over the past two days and eaten far more of it than she should've, he had damn well better not go and die on her now.
Her desk clock clicked over to two a.m. Time for the next visit. Shoving the chocolate back in her drawer, Janet set off through the quiet corridors.
A few minutes later she arrived outside Teal'c's quarters only to find Jack O'Neill sitting on the floor, his back to the wall. He gave her a sheepish look as she approached.
"Guess I owe you an apology," he said.
"That would be welcome," Janet replied, refusing to be distracted by the brown-eyed charm.
He adopted a suitably contrite expression. "Sorry. I was out of line earlier."
Janet nodded. "Apology accepted." She moved towards the door, one hand resting on the handle.
Jack shot her a hopeful look. "I don't suppose I could come in - just for a minute."
A wave of sympathy shot through Janet. "I'll try and persuade, Teal'c," she offered as she opened the door.
Turning to face the room, Janet's heart lurched. All the candles had been extinguished, and in the near darkness Daniel was lying apparently motionless. Oh God. Had it all been for nothing? She covered the five paces from the door to the bed in a second, her hand reaching to feel for a pulse.
Teal'c appeared silently to one side of her. "Do not be alarmed, Dr Frasier. Daniel Jackson is asleep. I believe you will find the nanocytes have been absorbed by his body."
Janet heaved an enormous sigh of relief. "Thank goodness for that." She reached out and squeezed the Jaffa's arm affectionately. "You did good, Teal'c."
Unexpectedly, a voice from behind them echoed the sentiment. Both Janet and Teal'c looked up to see O'Neill standing in the doorway, a broad grin on his face.
Daniel knew with each passing day he was recovering. He was still sleeping for long periods of time, Janet had jokingly told him he was catching up on twenty years of caffeine addiction, and little by little the nightmares were receding. At first, he regularly screamed himself awake believing he was stretched on the cross-bars in the arena or that Sha're was betraying him with Apophis.
Gradually though, his brain had begun to accept he was once again safe, still a resident in Teal'c quarters but beginning to recover from both the physical abuse, and thanks to Jack's willingness to listen to him ramble and Janet's professional support, some of the mental abuse too. It would take time, but he knew somehow he would find a way to deal with it and move on. With Sha're still a prisoner in her own body, he had to!
In fact, there was only one thing he felt he really wasn't beginning to get a grip on. Teal'c. The Jaffa was courteous to a fault, his eagerness to meet Daniel's smallest of requests almost embarrassing. Daniel glanced around Teal'c's normally pristine room, feeling slightly guilty at the state it was now in - books and artifacts scattered apparently at random on every available surface. But beneath Teal'c's obvious pleasure in Daniel's recovery, there lurked a dark undercurrent Daniel had not been able to draw from the Jaffa.
Every time he raised the subject of the B'kat whipping, Teal'c refused to discuss it, saying merely he accepted his guilt. If Daniel pushed it harder, he would simply leave the room, knowing full well Daniel didn't yet have the strength to track him through the corridors of the SGC.
It wasn't until Sam told him Teal'c had attempted to kill himself by removing his larval Goa'uld, that Daniel finally realised Teal'c had an agenda he was at pains to hide. With reluctance, Daniel had given up trying to get Teal'c to talk, but his observations of the Jaffa's behaviour convinced him more and more his suspicions of Teal'c's intentions were well-grounded.
"As far as I can tell Daniel, there's no physical reason for you to remain here." Janet snapped off her surgical gloves with a satisfied relish. "You've made a remarkable recovery."
"Thanks." Daniel wriggled his shoulders, wincing at the tightness of the newly healed skin as he reached for the fresh, clean T-shirt Teal'c had laid out for him. He held it in his hands for a moment as though it was a sacred relic. "You know, for a while there, I figured I'd never wear one of these again."
Janet smiled sympathetically, aware of just how close they'd called one. It was something they all needed to deal with. Not right now though. Daniel still needed plenty of physical rest, and the other members of SG-1 needed time to fuss over him. She made a mental note to give him a nutrition plan - not that he'd pay much attention to it, but at least it might foil Sam's intention to make him live on cookies for the next month. There wasn't a lot she could do about Jack O'Neill. The colonel kept his feelings close to his chest, but she knew the fact he'd been through the 'gate on three long gruelling missions to find Kasuf spoke as clearly to Daniel as words. Besides, if O'Neill was able to assauge any feelings of guilt at having left Daniel in Apophis' hands in this manner, then who was she too interfere.
She grinned as she realised Daniel was still clutching the T-shirt. "You don't have to wear it of course," she said with a wicked gleam in her eye. "I can think of at least four members of my nursing staff who will be quite happy to see you wandering the corridors of the SGC without it."
Daniel turned a distinct pink - a colour, Janet noted with satisfaction, that prophesised healthiness. As he hastily tugged the shirt over his head, she continued. "Some soreness is to be expected. Well, as far as I can surmise any way. Nanocyte technology hasn't made it to my medical references yet. And much as I would like to write a paper on this..." She smiled at Daniel's sympathetic look. "Anyway, I can prescribe you some mild painkillers if you need them."
Daniel shook his head. "I'll be fine. I can always meditate some more."
"Sleep, Dr Jackson!" Janet said firmly. "That's what your body needs most, right now. So don't let me catch you pulling any all-nighters in that office of yours because if I hear so much as a whisper that you aren't tucked up in bed eight hours a night for the coming week I'll personally roster my most inept student nurse to conduct your next physical."
Daniel grimaced and raised his hands in surrender. "Eight hours, doctor. I won't even read under the covers."
Janet laughed and patted him gently on the shoulder. "Good boy!"
As Janet left, Daniel turned his attention towards Teal'c, all humor draining from him. "So..." he began slowly.
"I am glad you are recovered," Teal'c said, a mantra he had repeated frequently over the past few hours. "I will help you return your things to your room." His gaze drifted towards the untidy pile of books and papers.
"Errr... yes," Daniel breathed the words out. "Or rather... no." He pulled on his bottom lip with his teeth, before blurting out. "Actually, I'm not going."
As Teal'c turned to him in surprise, Daniel eased himself off the bed and slowly moved to the table in the far corner. Picking up the ceremonial knife displayed on the smooth wooden surface, he turned back to Teal'c. "I'm not going until you promise me you won't do anything foolish with this." He held the knife up.
"I do not understand," Teal'c replied.
"Oh please. Don't lie to me, Teal'c. You know exactly what I'm talking about. I've seen it in your face every day - every hour - I've been lying here."
In response, Teal'c turned away, his strong shoulders falling dejectedly. "I must do what is right, Daniel Jackson."
Daniel strode across the room and pulled hard on Teal'c's arm, making the Jaffa turn to face him. He held the knife between them. "This is not right!"
Teal'c merely returned his passion with calmness. "I cannot live with what I did to you."
"Fine!" Daniel virtually spat the word. He held the knife out to Teal'c. "Take it! But before you stick it in yourself, you'd better stick it in me first."
Teal'c frowned. "Why would you ask such a thing?"
"Because, Teal'c, it'll be a whole hell of a lot less painful then living with the loss of a good friend."
"I am not a good friend, Daniel. How can you consider me such knowing what I did..."
"Oh God, Teal'c. Because!" Daniel waved his hands in agitation, virtually bouncing on the spot with his frustration. He looked Teal'c straight in the eye as his mouth launched into top gear. "Because I know why you did it. Because I know it's been tearing you apart ever since. Hell - because I know you tried to kill yourself on P3G-454. Sam told me. She put two and two together, and I know you've just been waiting for me to recover to try it again. But Teal'c, don't you see? I wouldn't have pulled through this without you!"
"Without me you would not have needed to. The one does not balance the other."
"No, they don't." Daniel agreed. "Pulling me through this with Kel Noreem far outweighs any act over which you had no control."
Teal'c shook his head. "There is always an element of control, Daniel Jackson. When I stood in the arena I could have denounced Apophis to the crowd. If I had taken my own life there, publicly and with honor, you would not have suffered so."
Daniel gave a harsh laugh. "Bull! Apophis would've killed me right there and then. And probably slaughtered those boys and half the crowd too. Just admit it, Teal'c. You had no choice."
Teal'c strong jaw visibly quivered as he spoke. "Knowing that does not lessen the pain I feel, Daniel Jackson!"
"I know," Daniel replied vehemently. His eyes returned to the knife. "But this is the easy way out. You're stronger than that, Teal'c. You can learn to live with the pain."
Teal'c gazed at the knife, absorbing Daniel's words. "I understand. It is your right to choose the punishment. And you are correct, Daniel. Living will cause me much greater pain than giving my life in retribution."
"No!" Daniel's frustration was back. "This isn't about punishment. It's about forgiveness. I forgive you!"
Daniel finally saw true comprehension light up Teal'c's eyes. "Yes! But you have to forgive yourself. If you can't do it for your own sake, do it for mine."
"Forgive myself?" That concept was clearly alien to Teal'c. He considered the idea for a long moment.
Daniel studied his face carefully, waiting until it seemed the Jaffa had finished his thought process. "If you don't, Apophis wins," he added. "He'll have succeeded in destroying you, and he'll have destroyed our friendship. Please, Teal'c. Don't let him do that. This is the choice, Teal'c. Your choice!"
He returned Daniel's gaze for a long, intense moment before speaking. "I understand Daniel Jackson. I choose - forgiveness."
"Yes!" Daniel smiled with relief. "Yes!" He suddenly realised he was still holding the knife. "And this?"
Teal'c considered for a moment and then bowed low. "I would be honoured if you would keep it, Daniel Jackson - as a mark of our friendship."
Daniel's smile widened. "I would be honoured too." He turned the knife over in his hand, admiring the craftsmanship. "You know, I have just the right spot in my apartment to display this."
"Indeed," Teal'c responded. "I too think it would be a fine addition to your collection of swords." He smiled at Daniel. "Perhaps I can help you hang it..." he glanced around his quarters and then dryly added, "while returning your many belongings."
Daniel smiled as a warm feeling settled over him at the subtle comment. The knowledge that somehow they'd pulled through against the odds was strangely comforting. Once again the bonds of SG-1 had proven stronger than any guile Apophis might use against them. Nevertheless, he offered up a silent prayer for the future - a wish for the Goa'uld to never succeed in breaking apart any of the friendships he so valued. He shook his head at his own pessimism. After this what could ever come between him and Teal'c?
Putting the thought aside, Daniel Jackson turned his full attention to enjoying the present. The future would take care of itself.
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