An untold tale from the Diary of Doctor 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 is set in Season 4 after The Other Side and Divide and Conquer, and contains spoilers for a large number of episodes from all seasons, and particularly Shades of Grey; Divide and Conquer; and Hathor.
This story is rated PG-15 for language and violence, and falls into the categories of h/c and action/adventure.
The story started off as a challenge response - the challenge posted by AJ on the h/c list was to rewrite a favourite episode from another SF series. I've decided not to state here which series and episode I picked because the story soon took on a life all of its own. If you want to know or think you've figured it out, email me<g>. Thanks for the inspiration, AJ!
An enormous debt of gratitude is owed to my beta reader, jb, without whom this story would be only half the tale. I'm particularly indebted to her for the mention of Jack's tonsils <g> and for not only digging up all the plot holes but many, many insightful comments on how to fill them in. I consider it a great honour to call her a friend.
Another day, another mission. According to General Hammond, this mission should be a breeze. For once, SG-1 isn't first contact. Our job this time is one of follow-up negotiation and we're under strict instructions to come back with a trade agreement. God, diplomacy - I can't seem to get them to understand that being a linguist doesn't mean I automatically cut it as a diplomat. In fact, I don't understand why SG-11 hasn't pulled this one - this is much more their field than ours. Of course, it might have something to do with the fact Hammond thinks SG-1 could benefit from what he describes as a 'routine' mission. I overhead him discussing with Fraiser how strained we all seem. I don't know if she agreed with him or not, but if he'd asked me I sure would've. In fact strained doesn't even start to describe it, what with everything that has happened over the past few weeks... but enough of that. Right now, I've got to prepare for a 'routine' mission. Now why don't I believe that's going to be the right description?
Oh God! His head hurt. No scrub that - actually everything hurt - head, chest, right arm. Ow! Definitely his right arm. What the hell happened? Screwing up his face in pain, Daniel massaged his left temple in a vain attempt to ease the throbbing as he opened his eyes. Oh, not a good idea. Even though the room light was dim, his body rebelled at the visual stimulus and he barely managed to roll onto one side before retching.
Well, the good news was whatever had happened to him he hadn't eaten recently and the mess was minimal. The bad news was that retching on an empty stomach hurt like hell. Pulling in ragged breaths, Daniel somehow managed to get his knees under himself and from there manoeuvred onto all fours. Leaning forward, elbows and forearms taking much of his weight, he rested his forehead against the comforting coolness of the floor while his body worked its way through the slowly receding waves of nausea. Several tortured minutes passed before his body decided he'd been adequately punished for the audacity of opening his eyes.
Very carefully Daniel rocked back onto his heels, noticing as he did so the skin on his right forearm was smooth and pink, like brand new scar tissue. Furrowing his brow in confusion, he pressed the forefinger of his left hand against it. Oh shit! Ow! Ow! That really hurt! Much more cautiously he ran his finger over the skin again, feeling something move, as though floating against the muscle and bone, something with lines and angles too exact to be natural. Unless he was very much mistaken, something had been imbedded into his arm.
He swallowed as a curl of fear swirled through his mind, joining with his throbbing headache to create a duet of misery. With effort he buried the fear beneath fragile bravado, knowing such an emotion was more hindrance than help. He had to think. Figure out where he was and what had happened to him and SG-1. The team! That was right. They'd been together... somewhere. A mission? Damn! The pain in his head was making it hard to concentrate. Okay, try something simpler. Where the hell was he now?
He blinked at his surroundings, missing the sharp clarity of his glasses. Not that they would've provided him with much in the way of additional information. The room was a small rectangle, totally unfurnished. The walls, the nearest of which was less than a metre away, appeared to be made of some sort of metal. Reaching out, his fingertips registered the cool temperature of the surface, as well as its hardness and smoothness, confirming his suspicion. Great! So the walls are metal. That told him zilch.
Climbing unsteadily to his feet, right arm wrapped protectively across his sore abdomen, he studied the rest of the room. The ceiling was low, little more than a foot above his head. Both ceiling and floor appeared to be metallic too, their surfaces roughly painted a dull grey. Dim illumination was provided via a pane of opaque glass set flush with the metal of the ceiling. The only break in the grey monotony was a small black button set into a raised metal shell on the wall to his left, looking like an elevator call button.
Daniel moved towards it, hesitating as he surveyed the room one more time. Nope, definitely nothing else worthy of note. The fear he had so successfully driven into retreat leapt back at him with renewed vigour as his mind unhelpfully suggested he'd somehow managed to wake up in the middle of a B-rated horror movie. He peered suspiciously at the button, his eyes flicking uncertainly towards the featureless walls and back again, unwelcome memories of celluloid characters facing impending death as their prison walls moved in on them. Come on Daniel, that's not helping. It's not like there's spikes on the walls. Be positive. Maybe the button brings room service. His finger hesitated over it for one long moment and then he pressed down on the smooth black surface.
A low hiss, like the sound of escaping gas, whispered from in front of him
and then, with a heavy metallic groan, a panel of the wall jolted backwards
before sliding away to his right. He found himself looking into a much larger
chamber, the size of a small aircraft carrier. It was cluttered with what
looked like crudely constructed metal shelters, their presence bringing forth
childhood memories of a foreign shanty town. Only this wasn't the edge of
some African town, or any other place he might recognise. This was distinctly
alien - he could tell from the smell of the air and his own in-built alarm
bells which even now were causing a prickle of unease to shimmy down the back
of his neck.
Glancing briefly at the empty room behind him he took an unsteady step through the doorway. He had barely cleared the threshold before the panel rolled across his exit and jolted back into place. With no button on this side he was committed to moving forward, not that he could think of any reason to return to the bare accommodation he'd just vacated.
Uncertain about exactly what he should do next, his attention was caught by the sound of footsteps. In the gloom he picked out a shadowy figure, then a second, and a third. Nerves flaring, his tongue flicked over dry lips before he spoke, the familiar action the only comfort available.
"Hello?" He hesitated momentarily as three more figures appeared to his right, much closer than the others, close enough in fact to see dirt-engraved lines on their faces, emphasising unfriendly expressions. The owner of a pair of dark eyes raked him visually from head to foot, scanning him as though he was a particularly unwelcome bug, before turning to one side and letting out a long, low whistle accompanied by a call. Kai. Somebody's name? Perhaps a leader or elder? Daniel swallowed as he tried to simultaneously keep his treacherous body upright and make sense of his surroundings. One thing was sure, he didn't need a degree in anthropology to know this wasn't good.
I glance up from the pathetic excuse for food on the plate in front of me, and acknowledge the man who is approaching. "Migra."
On the O'Neill scale of character assessment Migra definitely scores well down towards the Mayborne level, maybe slightly above total pond scum, but definitely not by much. Sometimes, though, circumstances dictate we can't be too choosy about who we align ourselves with. And since my circumstances have sunk to an all-time low, with the exception of a certain other prison experience, this new sleaze ball is the best on offer - which is why I fix what I hope is a welcoming expression on my face.
Migra is a small man, but his stoutness is misleading. Beneath his ragged clothing is a body of pure muscle, and in the two days I've been a guest of this particular penal establishment I've already been impressed by his training regime. Yet he knows being top dog in a place such as this doesn't require just muscle - a sharp brain is essential too - and from what I can gather Migra doesn't lack in that area either. Even in calling my name from a distance he's displaying intelligence, both advertising the fact I'm at his beck and call and warning me of his approach, forestalling the possibility of a physical attack due to overstrung nerves and automatic reflexes.
His eyes narrow as my gaze meets his. He doesn't trust me yet. If he's as clever as I think, he never will - not entirely. He already knows his second-in-command misjudged me and paid the price. It's a mistake he won't make, shrewdly accepting me in his former second's place without giving me room to challenge for the very top. Oh yes, he's wary. But then so I am. But for now I'm where I need to be - respected enough to be left alone, but not head of the pack and therefore prime target.
I'm sitting in the doorway of the shelter I liberated from his ex-second, and Migra moves close enough for me to smell the strong tang of his sweat, standing in his characteristic stance - hands on hips, chin jutting upwards. He jerks his head to the right. "There's a new prisoner. I'm heading to the hall."
Recognising the unspoken command to follow him, I climb to my feet, my stomach lurching at the news. I've been here two days - long enough to begin to believe I'm the only one of my team to get the 'Go Directly To Jail' card; that I'd actually made it work and the Evesals saw fit to let everyone else go. Yet the nagging doubt remains. Oh God, please don't let it be one of my team. And please, please don't let it be Daniel. Almost immediately I feel guilty at singling him out, but I assuage the emotion by justifying the reasons behind it. Since I've been here I've figured out pretty much how things work. Basically there are two factions - one headed up by my new found friend, Migra, and the other by a particularly unsavoury female going by the name of Kai. Yes, it's a mixed gender prison, although the women are fewer in number than the men. What they lack in numbers they make up for in toughness - being more than capable of both looking after themselves and using sexual favours to get what they want.
It's a dangerous mix but it does mean while I wouldn't be happy if the new prisoner turned out to be Carter, I'd be confident she'd come to no serious harm here - strange though that may sound. Carter can take care of herself, as she proved back in one of our early missions when some hairy barbarian tried to turn her into Miss Domesticity. Teal'c would be okay too - anybody with half a brain would know not to mess with him just by taking a look at the size of his shoulders, never mind that formidable face of his. Those lacking the required number of brain cells, of which I'm in no doubt there are several such prisoners in residence, would learn how strong Teal'c really is the hard way.
Daniel though - he would be sure to attract the wrong sort of attention from both sides of the gender fence, and despite the fact he isn't the naïve soul who first stepped through the gate with me, I'd still much rather prefer he didn't get to share this particular experience, and that's before I even get started on his ability to step into a shitload of trouble of quite another kind. The memory of Vishna choking the life out of him in Hadante springs unwelcome into my mind. Oh please God, I repeat, don't let it be Daniel. Compared to this place, Hadante was a regular holiday camp.
Unfortunately God doesn't seem to be paying attention to this particular backwater of the universe because as I step into the 'hall', a rather grand description for what is essentially just another metal room, there is Daniel, looking like shit and clearly not convinced about his ability to keep upright. I stamp down on the urge to go to his assistance, knowing in the long run it would do more harm than good; nevertheless I can't stop the wave of sympathy that washes over me at the sight of him. I know only too well how he feels. Before dropping us into this hell-hole it seems our jailers see fit to tag us with some kind of implant embedded into the muscles of the forearm. Migra wasn't exactly forthcoming with information about their purpose, but I'm guessing the implantation is accompanied by a nausea-inducing dose of anaesthetic. I'm still trying to convince myself the motive behind the anaesthetic is one of compassion and not the spiteful aim of purposely delivering new prisoners into a nightmare world feeling like a barely warmed-up corpse.
Reaching the hall I take up my position just behind Migra's shoulder, and make a quick assessment. How many of us, how many of them. It's almost like being back in the school playground, except here people have a nasty habit of getting killed. I do another swift count. At least six of Kai's people are already gathered on the opposite side to us, their arrogance tangible as they studiously ignore us, focusing on the latest prey - Daniel.
I turn my attention back to him. Knowing Daniel as well as I do, I figure he's trying to gain some kind of control over the situation and, not knowing what language he is about to encounter, is about to resort to his usual form of greeting. Yep, here he goes, a shy smile, body language presenting no threat and then the expressive hand movements culminating in a finger pointing to his own chest
"I'm Daniel. Daniel Jackson. I..."
He hesitates, a confused look on his face. Oh yes, the other effect of the anaesthetic or whatever the hell it is they dope us with is it takes a while for the brain to start functioning again. Short-term memory loss, which explains why Daniel indicates the now invisible room with a wave of his right arm, wincing in pain as he does so. "I've just come from..."
"We know where you've come from."
Shit. Kai didn't waste any time making her presence felt. Having only met her once so far, when I was in roughly the same state Daniel is in now, I take a few moments to assess her as she steps out of the shadows of one of the shelters. Slender to the point of gaunt, the only visual clues to her gender are the slight curve from waist to hip beneath tight-fitting pants and the merest hint of a bosom beneath her sweater. Her hair is cut ruthlessly short with a ragged unconcern for styling and the sharp angles of her face have ravaged any hope of beauty, although she may have been attractive in her younger days. There's something about her eyes and colouring that remind me of Janet Fraiser, only with one marked difference - whereas Janet's face reflects the compassionate warmth of her personality, Kai's announces a potential for cruelty.
Daniel hesitates and she moves towards him, her stride confident, predatory. Glancing over her shoulder she calls to the small group that has followed her to the hall, ten or so individuals bunching together at the side of a rust-covered shelter like the scum on day-old washing-up water. I scan them quickly looking for Shotak, her second. Migra has warned me about him, but it's impossible to pick out individual features in the gloom and I turn my attention back to Kai who is now in front of Daniel, her stance aggressive.
Her eyes rake him from head to foot. "What do you think? Shall we take him?"
The question, although not directed at him, spurs Daniel out of his open-mouthed stance. "Are you... ow!"
I flinch despite myself as his words are cut off by a sharp slap across his cheek and Kai moves into his personal space, forcing him to step backwards, the metal wall making any further retreat impossible. Manipulating his jaw, Daniel glares at her. Oh no, Danny, you don't want to do that. Not with Kai. She'll kill you as much as look at you.
Kai fixes him with a look of icy displeasure. "Until we have chosen you will only answer questions from myself and Migra."
"Migra?" Daniel asks automatically, flinching as she pulls her hand back. This time though she checks the blow, instead nodding towards us.
Daniel's gaze turns, his brow furrowing as he tries to focus without his glasses. He frowns, pouting his lips subconsciously, and then I see his attention move towards me. For the briefest of moments surprise and then welcome recognition flicker, but almost instantaneously he wipes his face blank. Well done, Daniel! He's been on enough missions now to be cautious in unfamiliar situations. Sometimes revealing your relationships too quickly is not a good thing.
This time though I have a couple of days head start on Daniel and I decide to show a card from my hand. Leaning forward I whisper into Migra's ear.
"I know this one. He could be of value to us."
In response Migra gives me a calculating glance, and I can tell he's assessing Daniel in a different light as he looks back at the confrontation playing out by the doorway.
Kai is making it clear she isn't happy at not being the centre of attention. As Daniel's gaze rests on me for a fraction too long, she grabs his chin and forcibly turns his face back to hers.
"Pay attention to me, Vontar!" She's studying him closely now, the attention falling just short of inspecting his teeth.
"What skills do you have?" she demands, twisting his face to the right and assessing his profile. "Your nose is rather bulbous."
"Bulbous?" Daniel repeats, his tone hurt. "Ow!" His left hand flies up and grabs her wrist as her fingers and thumb dig into the hollows of his cheeks, forcing his jaws apart. "I'm not a horse!"
Okay so I got the teeth thing wrong. A shudder goes through me at the thought of what else she might choose to inspect once she has Daniel out of public sight, however a more immediate danger makes itself known.
At Daniel's action, I see a flash of light from Kai's group - a blade of some sort. A tall man with a fuzz of mouse brown hair steps forward. Shotak, no doubt. I see Daniel's gaze flicker in his direction; he must've seen the blade flash too. Almost instantly he lets go of Kai's wrist, raising his hands in surrender.
He flinches again as she reaches for his face, but this time she merely caresses his cheek as though testing the smoothness of his skin, and then she laughs. "I don't know what a horse is, but you are no Shintac. Perhaps that is enough to make up for the nose. Tell me your skills."
"Skills?" Daniel considers for a moment, apparently oblivious to the sniggering and innuendo that ripples through the onlookers. "I'm an archaeologist. I study the past."
Kai makes a disgusted sound. "What sort of skill is that? Can you wrestle?"
Daniel adopts a puzzled expression. "Err... can't say I spend a lot of time... wrestling."
She snorts. "I didn't think so. But you have good height and there is muscle beneath your clothing." Her eyes move appreciatively across the expanse of his chest, the short-sleeved SGC issue T-shirt doing little to hide the gym-toned body he has developed since being part of SG-1. She glances back at the knot of people behind her before adding sotto voce words that chill me. "And you are handsome enough for my taste despite your nose." She raises her voice again and then turns towards Migra. "We will take him." She glances back at Daniel. "Come!"
Uh-oh! As Daniel takes a hesitant step forward, his gaze swivelling in my direction, I lean into Migra. "You'll regret it if you let her have him."
Migra shakes his head. "He looks... soft, more boy than man."
I bite down on my temper, aware precious seconds are now being wasted. "Looks can be deceptive."
"Indeed they can. But perhaps in this case, it is his looks that are causing you to speak for him." He raises his eyebrows, clearly amused by his assumption.
I shake my head. "No. We've worked together, that's all. That's how I know he has skills you could use."
"I have skills enough," Migra replies, clearly dismissing Daniel from his mind. "He is not worth challenging Kai for."
Shit. By now Daniel is almost at the first shelter, one of Kai's ragged band, impossible to tell if it's a male or female, prompting him with a hand in the small of his back like he's some kind of honoured guest. A few more steps and he'll be gone. I have to do something, yet I don't want to reveal too much. Knowledge is power in a place like this and I can't let Kai know Daniel is important to me - he'd instantly become a hostage in whatever crazy gang war she's playing with Migra. And no way am I going to suggest to Migra that Daniel and I are more than friends in order to get him to attempt a challenge; that would certainly do Daniel no favour in a place like this. Yet somehow, I've got to get him away from her...
A crazy idea leaps into my mind as Daniel takes two more steps. Shit! Crazy or not, it'll have to do.
As an insistent hand in the small of his back directed him away from Jack, Daniel risked a quick look over his shoulder just in time to see Migra shake his head in a clear negative to something Jack was saying. In response Jack stepped past the man, angrily shaking off Migra's hand as he reached out to stop him.
"O'Neill!" Migra shouted at him disapprovingly. The shout caused Kai to turn round. Daniel registered the surprise on her face as he also turned to discover Jack steaming towards him. Jack's face was thunderous, and as far as Daniel could tell he was bang slap in the middle of the storm. What the hell? Maybe moving away from Jack hadn't been such a bad thing. The unwelcome memory of another occasion when he had been on the receiving end of such a look leapt into his mind. The touched virus. Uh-oh... Daniel remembered only too well how the look had been accompanied by flying fists and feet. As Jack covered the distance between them in five swift strides the feeling of deja vue was overwhelming.
With a blood-chilling howl of rage, Jack let rip a particularly impressive array of insults regarding Daniel's parentage and his traitorous nature and, true to form, ended the verbal assault with a flying right fist that drove into Daniel's stomach. It wasn't an overly hard punch, but in his already weakened state it was enough to knock the breath from him. He hit the floor hard folding into a protective curl around his abused abdomen.
"God!" He sucked in a breath, struggling against renewed nausea. "Jack? What the hell?" Dazed and in pain, Daniel was aware of the sound of Jack's enraged voice screaming abuse above a melee of sound. Several pairs of feet came into view and the distinctive sound of fists meeting flesh reached his ear. As it penetrated his pain-fogged thoughts that an all-out brawl had started, a foot - Jack's foot - made contact with his ribs, hard enough to make him cry out but not enough to do real damage. Rolling to his right as he saw O'Neill's boot heading for him again, Daniel struggled to make sense of this nightmare world. Jack had attacked him. God! His mind spun in a whirl of incomprehensible thoughts finally latching on to the only one that made any sense. Jack had gone mad. And if that was the case Daniel couldn't see any way in hell that he'd get out of this alive.
Arms wrapped over his head, providing scant protection against the assault, Daniel risked an upward glance as the violence ceased. Jack was looking away from him, apparently assessing the mayhem around him.
He flinched as Jack turned back towards him, reaching down to grab him by the collar and arm. The colonel's hot breath hissed in his ear. "Get up!" Barely able to form a coherent thought, let alone co-ordinate his body to obey the harsh command, Daniel found himself pulled to his feet.
"That way." Jack shoved him roughly to the right, adding a particularly choice expletive to the command and then whispering, "Trust me Daniel."
"What?" Daniel tried to turn towards Jack, not sure he was hearing right. Trust him? After he'd just laid into him with fists and feet? The room did a crazy loop as he staggered forward, trying to grasp what was real and what was nightmare.
"Do as I say!" Jack's voice was once against loud, the tone rough.
Daniel saw Jack glance at someone approaching them from the right, a tall man with a fuzz of mouse brown hair. Shit! The man with the blade. Some form of unspoken communication took place between Jack and the man, a dialogue Daniel was sure he ought to be able to figure out, yet couldn't; then Jack turned back to Daniel and he found himself once again on the receiving end of the tempest warning. Suddenly Daniel knew what the communication had been about - a question, a challenge even, telegraphed from the stranger to Jack. The uncomfortable knowledge he was not going to like Jack's response rushed over him like a shower of ice water.
For the briefest of seconds Daniel thought he saw apology in O'Neill's eyes, then his head snapped painfully backwards as Jack's fist contacted forcefully with his jaw.
The back of George Hammond's right hand brushed against a sandy coloured eyebrow, rubbing away his tiredness as he waited impatiently for the active Stargate to disgorge its travellers. He'd lost count of the number of times he'd stood at the bottom of this ramp waiting for an overdue team to return. Moreover, this wasn't the first time the errant team had been SG-1. George would never ever admit the team was special to him - to insiders and outsiders alike, he made it abundantly clear all his people were important to him - but privately he couldn't deny the unlikely combination of individuals that made up SG-1 had somehow crossed the line from being his people to being 'his family'. And despite his best intentions, knowing they were lost hurt just that little bit more.
With a sound like a spoonful of jam being pulled from a new jar, the wormhole burped out Samantha Carter and Teal'c.
"Major. Teal'c." Hammond acknowledged them with relief, his gaze already sweeping past their exhausted faces in expectation of Jackson and O'Neill.
"They're not with us, Sir." Carter's voice sounded strained, almost as though she was close to tears.
Hammond's gaze flicked back to her, two medics already moving past him and up the ramp. "Major?"
As Teal'c slid a supporting arm around the young woman's waist, she looked back at him, emotional anguish flaring through the weariness. "They've been..." Her voice cracked and she swallowed visibly. Before she had chance to speak again Teal'c took over.
"General Hammond, Colonel O'Neill and Daniel Jackson have been found guilty of crimes and sentenced to life imprisonment."
"What!" Hammond could barely believe his ears. A routine mission. This was supposed to be a routine mission!
Teal'c ignored the General's outburst as the medics reached his side. "Major Carter is suffering from exhaustion and dehydration," he informed them as they gently escorted her down the ramp.
As Carter reached Hammond she paused, the tears that had threatened earlier now escaping silently down her cheeks. "General, I tried..."
He cut her off with a compassionate squeeze of her shoulder. "Major, I'm sure you did everything you could. Teal'c can brief me while you receive medical attention."
Biting down hard on her lip, Carter nodded, and allowed herself to be led away. Almost immediately Hammond turned his attention back to Teal'c, not liking the grey pallor of the Jaffa's skin or the purple shadows beneath his eyes. "Are you alright?"
"I shall be fine, General. My need for Kel Norem is great but my symbiote will sustain me long enough to tell you what happened on P4X-781 - although I fear we are already too late to help Daniel Jackson and O'Neill."
A soft moan from Daniel warns me he is regaining consciousness. I back away from the pallet on which he's lying, knowing full well I'm probably his least favourite person right now.
His eyes flicker and he mumbles something incoherent, his left hand waving across his face as though brushing away a fly. More incoherent mumbling and then he suddenly yells, "Jack! No!"
His eyes fly open and he shoots into a sitting position, almost immediately groaning and clutching his head. He swears colourfully, starting with English and then moving to what I presume is Abydonian, although with a choice of 23 languages I'm never quite sure which Daniel prefers for cursing.
As he settles down to a quiet repetition of a single swearword, I risk making my presence known by softly calling his name, deliberating using a diminutive to let him know it's me, the harmless version; not the Jack O'Neill with a penchant for knocking his lights out.
His head jerks up and he looks straight at me, blinking with shock and pain. For a moment raw fear shows on his face, then his expression softens as he focuses on me.
"Jack?" I nod and he laughs softly. "God, I had the most horrendous nightmare."
His fingers drift to his jaw and he winces as he touches multi-coloured skin.
He looks at me, the fear back again. "Not a nightmare?"
I shake my head. "I can explain."
I'm not certain from his reply if he's giving me permission to do so, or acknowledging what we both know - this isn't the first time I've had to give him a reason for hitting him. Before I get a chance to explain how my aggression was actually a form of protection, Migra bursts through the doorway of our shelter, his eyes blazing with anger.
"That was stupid!" He covers the distance between us, his fists in my shirt, pulling me to my feet and backing me up against the wall. Several inches shorter than me, he easily outweighs me by thirty pounds, most of it muscle. "You never, never go against me again. Do you understand?!"
Despite his weight advantage, for the briefest of moments I consider taking him out, right here, right now. I have no doubt I could do it. He may be tough but he no match for my black ops skills. Clearly the heat of battle has taken the edge off his intelligence otherwise he wouldn't risk putting himself in such a vulnerable position. Or is this a test? I hear Daniel shift on the pallet and decide to play underdog for a while longer.
Dropping my head and raising my hands in open contrition, I mumble an appropriate apology. Apparently satisfied, he gives me one last shove against the hard metal wall before releasing me. His gaze shifts to Daniel. "You okay, kid?"
Daniel bristles at the tag but follows my submissive lead, replying in clipped tones. "I'm fine."
"I hope so," Migra replies with false compassion. "Your friend here has put a lot on the line to keep you out of Kai's hands. I expect payback. Big payback!"
His gaze swivels back to me and I nod. "We'll be there for you."
He waves a thick finger under my nose. "You'd better be, O'Neill. Because right now I'd be as happy to turn pretty boy here back over to her as keep him." Apparently satisfied he's made his point he steps towards the door. "I suggest you two keep your heads down for a few days. People talk too much and it won't take long for word to reach Kai that your little fight was staged."
Daniel's hand creeps back to his jaw, "Didn't seem very staged to me," he mutters sullenly.
"Perhaps not," Migra admits. "But Kai won't be fooled for long. And when she realises you pulled a fast one, she'll be out for revenge."
"We'll be okay," I reply, forcing a confidence into my voice that I don't really feel.
"Will you now!" Migra sneers. "Personally I don't rate your chances of protecting the kid."
"Hey!" This time Daniel can't keep quiet. "I'm not a kid. And I don't need anyone's protection."
Migra laughs loudly before turning back to me, his voice serious. "I wager my accommodation against..." He considers for a moment, glances down at his feet and then looks at mine, "your boots that he's dead by the end of the week."
I glare at him as I see the blood drain from Daniel's face and repeat as defiantly as I dare, "We'll be fine."
"A week," Migra replies, wiggling one filthy toe through the hole in his shoe.
Daniel rounds on me as Migra steps out of the doorway. "Want to tell me what the hell is going on?"
I smile wanly. "Actually Daniel, I think hell is what we've stepped into. Welcome to prison."
Grabbing the water jug, Teal'c unceremoniously emptied its contents down his throat, quenching his immediate thirst with unusual enthusiasm. The moment of enjoyment was quickly gone, though, and he set the empty jug back in place and took a seat opposite General Hammond, painfully aware of the absence of the other members of SG-1. He gave a quick nod to the two soldiers sitting to the right of Hammond - Colonel Kovacek, the diplomat leader of SG-9, and Major Coburn, the youngest leader of an SG team, but one who had proven his bravery and skills many times over and had without doubt earned his leadership of SG-2.
"Tell us what happened, Teal'c." General Hammond's gentle prompt marked the official start of the briefing, and resulted in both Kovacek and Coburn subconsciously straightening their backs.
Teal'c turned his attention to the general, his face and voice characteristically expressionless. "Colonel O'Neill and Daniel Jackson were convicted of the murders of two Evesal politicians. The proof against them appeared incontrovertible."
"Proof?" Hammond asked.
"The murder weapons were SGC issue handguns. Major Carter was allowed to examine the evidence and came to this conclusion independently of the Evesal defence force. Shots had been fired from the guns of both Daniel Jackson and O'Neill. Since we could provide no proof that the weapons had been used by someone else the convictions were automatic."
Colonel Kovacek leaned forward, the lines on his lean face deepening in concentration. "Jackson and O'Neill had no reason to kill anyone. Did the Evesals not question motive?"
"They did not. When we arrived the political situation was already tense. There is much distrust amongst the people because of..." Teal'c hesitated for a fraction of a second. "O'Neill called it terrorism. Many have been killed in bombings and assassinations. We were unable to convince the authorities we had no connection to the group responsible for these actions."
"That's understandable," Kovacek commented. "Terrorists are invariably faceless until it suits them to be otherwise. What I don't understand is why they let you and Major Carter return. Why not convict all four of you?"
Teal'c nodded "They appeared content with two convictions for two deaths. Their justice system seemed quite primitive compared to your own. Major Carter, for example, was held in most unsatisfactory conditions and questioned at length." Although he considered his own suffering to be irrelevant, he realised from the look the general shot him that his omission was causing puzzlement. He quickly clarified the situation. "As were we all."
An image flashed into his mind... a barely conscious Daniel Jackson being dragged towards a cell by two large uniformed men who were berating him for his lack of co-operation. From the way his own guards did an abrupt about turn, it was a scene he clearly was not meant to have witnessed.
Blinking, his focus returned to the conference room and he belatedly realised his face must have given him away. Hammond and Kovacek exchanged a brief look before Hammond asked softly, "Were you tortured?"
Teal'c's expression darkened, Daniel's ashen face vivid in his mind. What could he say? He had no real evidence, just an unshakeable feeling that his team-mate had met with less favourable treatment than he himself had suffered. He settled for what he knew to be true. "Major Carter and I were denied food and water for many hours. We were not tortured in the sense you mean."
Still Hammond refused to let it drop. "Teal'c?"
Teal'c held the General's gaze. "I believe Daniel Jackson and Colonel O'Neill may have been less fortunate."
A heavy silence filled the room at his words.
Coburn spoke first, his voice edged with restrained anger. "My team is ready to go, sir. All we need is a location."
In response Hammond nodded. "Do you know where are they being held, Teal'c?"
"Unfortunately I do not." A muscle switched along Teal'c's jawline, the only indication of how much he would like to join SG-2 in any rescue mission and his frustration in not being able to provide the vital piece of missing information.
Hammond considered for a moment. "Unfortunately Major Coburn, we are not in a position to launch a search and retrieve mission. Colonel Kovacek, you and I will attempt a diplomatic solution."
Teal'c's voice sliced the air. "You will be unsuccessful."
"Oh?" Kovacek bristled at the judgement, but caught Hammond's warning glance.
Softening his tone Teal'c clarified his statement. "The Evesals made it clear they have no appeal system."
Pacified, Kovacek shook his head in dismay before setting his lips in a determined line. "Then we'll just have to convince them to set a precedent."
"Indeed." Unable to fend off his exhaustion any longer, Teal'c swayed in his seat. The unusual sign of physical discomfort was immediately spotted by Hammond.
"You need rest, Teal'c."
The protest was automatic. "I am fine." Teal'c straightened his back and held Hammond's gaze.
The general, however, seemed unconvinced. "We'll meet back in six hours."
"Four hours will be sufficient for my needs," Teal'c replied firmly, determined not to delay any potential rescue longer than he absolutely had to, yet recognising Hammond wouldn't yield on the need for a break entirely.
The ploy worked. Hammond studied him for a moment and then nodded. "Very well. Four hours."
Oh God! Prison. Memories of the past few days flashed into Daniel's mind as Jack brought him up to speed on their new home. Meeting the Evesals - technically quite advanced compared to a lot of races they'd come across, yet caught up in social upheavals that had turned ugly. Eating, drinking, talking - all the usual precursors to making friends, building the foundations on which treaties and mutual co-operation could stand. Good memories.
Then being dragged virtually naked from his bed by three slabs of walking muscle who had clearly spent years mastering the art of intimidation and deliberate brutality masked behind apparent carelessness. Being forced to stand upright while question after question was hurled at him until he could barely remember his own name; his attempts to turn the tables and gain information from his interrogators fast disappearing in a haze of headache-induced confusion as overly bright lights hurt his sleep-deprived eyes. Being desperate for the water they were holding out to him, only to have it thrown in his face or poured on the floor in front of him. He shuddered and pulled himself back to the here and now.
"You okay?" Jack sounded concerned, but there was an emotional edge to his voice Daniel couldn't quite identify.
Daniel gave a humourless laugh. "Yeah. Just great. You?"
There it was again. A tautness in the word, almost as if... Oh shit! Another memory hit Daniel, biting into him like salt in a wound. 'Your friend has confessed.' No! Not Jack! He wouldn't! 'Confess! Confess and then we'll stop hurting you! Be sensible. Like your friend.'
The sound of Jack calling his name yanked him back to the present. He blinked twice, gulping in air, Jack's face coming into focus in place of the callous features of his tormentor. A sick feeling had formed in the pit of his stomach, a feeling that had nothing to do with his physical condition, but everything to do with the unpleasant suspicion creeping from the shadows of his mind.
Shakily he forced the words past his lips. "Jack, do you remember much of what happened before... this?"
Jack looked away. "Don't waste your energy on it, Daniel. Getting through the here and now is bad enough." He moved to the small stock of unlabelled cans stored under a small table at the back of the shelter. Selecting one, he held it to his ear and shook it as though the sound would give him some clue to its contents. "Hungry?"
"Not really." Daniel gave a slight sigh. Jack might not want to talk about it, but he had to. He needed to clear the air - check Jack was okay, check that he was okay, he had to know... He opted for the blurt-it-out-before-you-think-better-of-it method of confrontation. "They told me you'd... err... confessed." He glanced up, eyebrows dancing, then just as quickly looked away, tongue darting nervously over dry lips. "To the murders that is." One last hesitation. "And that you... implicated me."
Jack's head jerked up but he didn't look round.
Daniel ploughed on. "I figured they probably told you the same. That I'd confessed and named you, I mean."
Still Jack didn't look round.
"I didn't believe them, Jack."
Chewing anxiously on his bottom lip, Daniel shot an encouraging look at Jack's back, waiting for the reciprocal statement. He'd been in enough difficult situations with Jack to know the colonel understood mind games, that Jack would expect a hostile interrogator to try something like that. For a long moment there was no reply, then Jack set down the can and turned. Daniel flinched at the look on his face. What the hell was it? Guilt? Surely not. "Jack?"
"You didn't believe them, huh? Well you should've. You might've saved yourself a lot of unpleasantness."
"What?" Daniel shook his head in disbelief. "Are you saying..." He couldn't bring himself to vocalise it.
"That I confessed?" Jack said the words in a matter-of-fact tone. "Yes, Daniel. That's what I'm saying."
Aware he was staring open-mouthed, Daniel snapped his jaw shut, the shock of Jack's words like a physical blow. "But why?"
"Because..." Jack waved his hands in the air as though he just might be able to clutch hold of a passing reason. "Because it seemed like the best thing to do." He shrugged and adopted the same 'what else could I do' expression he'd used when returning from his staged retirement after uncovering Makepeace's treachery. The look had failed to soothe Daniel's feelings of shock and disbelief back then, and it was equally ineffective here.
"The best thing to do?!" Daniel stared at him wide-eyed, desperately trying to order his thoughts. This couldn't be true. The one thing he'd held on to through the whole nightmare of being interrogated was that Jack would never confess to something they hadn't done.
Words tumbled from Daniel's mouth. "This is crazy. The Evesals made it quite clear they needed a confession in order to convict us. And you..." Daniel's right hand slashed through the air in emphasis. "You gave it to them?!"
Jack shook his head impatiently. "I didn't say anything about us, Daniel! I only confessed to my part."
Daniel blinked in astonishment "Your part?! God, Jack, don't tell me you were actually involved."
"Of course I wasn't involved!" Jack's temper was rising now. "Why the hell would you think that?"
"Oh I don't know," Daniel retorted sarcastically. "Maybe because you have an annoying tendency to go off and do your own thing without explanation. Maybe because you don't even flinch when you sit in your living room and tell me our friendship means crap to you."
Jack glared at him. "You just can't let that drop, can you?"
Daniel returned the glare with one of his own before pressing the heel of his hand to his forehead in frustration. With effort he pulled his thoughts back to the here and now. "Did it not occur to you to ask if they needed one confession or two?"
Dredging up his last reserves of patience, Daniel reworded the question. "Did it occur to you to ask the Evesals if your confession would cover me?"
"They said you'd already confessed."
"And you believed them?" Daniel finally lost it. Spinning round on the spot, his right arm swept across the top of the nearby table, scattering objects across the concrete floor. His face was white with anger as he came round to face O'Neill. "Well fuck you, Jack!"
Jack straightened his back defensively. "For Christ's sake, Daniel. It didn't matter what I believed. They'd already made up their minds. You weren't part of the equation."
"I never am when it comes to you making decisions!"
Jack's eyes darkened dangerously. "Well maybe if you didn't give me so much crap..."
"Oh that's good coming from you, Jack. Really good."
They were almost nose to nose now. Daniel could feel Jack's breath on his face as they glared at one another, the confrontation bordering on physical, and for one horrible moment Daniel believed Jack was going to hit him - again. Only this time without any excuse, other than Jack was simply angry. Daniel's breath caught in his throat at the thought that maybe, just maybe, they were on the verge of stepping over the bounds of their friendship in a way that wouldn't ever be repairable.
As though sensing the knife edge on which they were balanced, Jack abruptly pulled in a long breath and backed away. With obvious effort he took some of the heat out of his voice, "They weren't going to let any of us go, Daniel. Then they started dropping hints that maybe they'd let Carter or Teal'c leave."
"Oh?" Daniel was struggling to concentrate, his mind still reeling from the intensity of their conflict and his overwhelming sense of betrayal. How could Jack think so little of him? To just casually accept the Evesals' word that he'd confessed... Surely Jack knew him better than that. It didn't make any sense. There had to be something else, some other explanation.
Jack was still talking. "So I went for it. God knows I tried to make them include you in the bargaining. Three for one. I thought maybe... just maybe I'd convinced them. When they dumped me here alone I figured maybe I'd been right. That you, Teal'c, Carter..."
Oh God! The memory hit Daniel like a blow to his solar plexus. 'I'd rather die than lose Carter.' He stared at Jack as though seeing him for the first time.
"What?" Jack stopped in mid-explanation.
"Sam." Daniel breathed her name quietly.
Jack shook his head, wariness sneaking into his expression. "What about her?"
Daniel was feeling slightly sick at his own thoughts. He swallowed and breathed deeply before continuing. "My supposed confession was the perfect excuse, wasn't it?"
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"Assuming I'd confessed gave you the perfect reason to do so yourself. Only you confessed to make sure Sam was set free, didn't you?"
Jack stared at him with barely veiled incredulity. "Have you been listening to anything I just said, Daniel?"
"Just answer the question, Jack."
"Fine. Yes, I did it for Carter." Jack's anger was back. "But not for the reason you're thinking. God, Daniel! I can't believe you'd even consider that. Do you really believe I'd let you take a fall to protect her?"
"I don't know. You damn near got your mind wiped by that Tok'ra device because of her. So you tell me, Jack!"
"You're way out of line, Daniel." Jack's mouth narrowed to a tight white line. "I did what I thought was right for team. All the team." He turned away, his expression one of disgust. "Why the hell am I doing this? I don't have to explain myself to you."
Daniel bristled. "Right! I forgot. Jack 'Law Unto Himself' O'Neill doesn't have to explain himself to anyone."
"No! Don't say any more."
Daniel slumped down onto his pallet, burying his head in his hands. He couldn't think any more. Nothing made any sense. Or rather it all made too much sense. Very unpleasant sense.
There was a long silence and then the sound of something metal against metal. Daniel looked up to find Jack opening one of the cans of food. He watched in silence as Jack divided its contents between two bowls before adding a spoon and offering him one. He shook his head and studiously peered at the floor.
Daniel concentrated even harder on the little black scuff mark just in front of his toes. Right. Hand him a plate of food. As if that would make it all better.
Daniel wasn't ready to just brush everything under the carpet. Jack had done that too often, with too many things. Like that whole retirement crap. Damn right that still hurt. It wasn't like Jack had ever apologised properly. Despite himself, though, he couldn't ignore the appeal in Jack's voice. Snatching the bowl from Jack's hand, Daniel stirred the spoon through the pale brown gelatinous mess that passed for food.
When Jack spoke again there was sadness in his voice. "You have to believe me, Daniel, I wish to hell you weren't here. I would've done anything - anything - if I'd thought there was a chance..."
Daniel scooped up a large spoonful of the stew, holding it above the bowl and watching as it dropped with an unappetising splat. "Of course you would."
"Just eat, Jack." He glanced up. "Just... eat."
"General Hammond?" Janet Fraiser knocked on his open door, stepping across the threshold as he beckoned her in. "I think you should take a look at this." Moving to his desk she handed him a sheet of paper.
He peered at it and then looked up. "Major Carter's blood work?"
Janet nodded. "As Teal'c said, she was suffering from dehydration. That in itself would explain some of the results. However, I also found trace elements of various other chemicals that definitely should not have been present. I believe at some time during her stay on P4X-781, she was drugged."
"Drugged! For what purpose?"
"The traces are too small to be sure, but if you were to press me, I'd hazard the effect would be to ensure a very sound, very deep, sleep."
"Sound enough for weaponry to be borrowed?"
"Like I said, I can't be sure. But yes, Sir, I think it's likely."
"Does Major Carter remember anything suspicious?"
"No. Although she did say on the evening the two Evesals were murdered the food served to SG-1 was heavily spiced. The team may well have retired to bed not knowing they'd ingested a slow acting knock-out drug. They were given separate accommodations so even if the drug didn't work on Teal'c, it may well have been relatively easy to borrow and return handguns from Colonel O'Neill and Doctor Jackson without them being aware of it."
Hammond nodded. "Thank you Doctor. You may just have presented Colonel O'Neill and Doctor Jackson with their ticket home."
A low whining sound, gradually increasing in both pitch and volume, jarred Daniel out of an uneasy sleep. "What the hell's that?" he demanded as Jack also jerked awake.
The older man shook his head. "Don't know." He scrubbed a hand over his face, shaking off the remnants of sleep. "Guess we'd better find out."
Daniel shrugged off the thin blanket that served as his bedding and climbed cautiously to his feet, testing the residual soreness of his body. For the first time in far too long he was free from both headache and nausea. The rest of his body felt the way it did after doing the SGC assault course, a hundred and one sore spots - muscles, knees, elbows - aches and pains in places he wasn't usually aware of; fortunately none of it serious, just unpleasant. He sniffed at his armpits - yep, just like after the assault course. He was about to comment on his need for a shower when Migra appeared at the doorway of their shelter, calling imperiously to Jack.
"O'Neill. You're with me."
Jack's expression darkened as he climbed to his feet, reaching for his shirt as he did so. "What's going on?"
"Food delivery." Migra jerked his head towards Daniel. "He'd better stay here."
Annoyance at being treated like some kind of handicap reflected in Daniel's voice. "Why?"
Migra shot him a cold look. "Kai's people will be there. I don't want any trouble."
Jack stepped towards the doorway. His voice was soft but firm. "There won't be any trouble."
"There is always trouble when food is delivered." Migra glowered at Daniel. "If you're foolish enough to come, keep out of her sight." He turned back to Jack. "I expect you to watch my back, not his."
Jack nodded and, raising his eyebrows at Daniel, followed Migra out of the shelter. Daniel hesitated for the briefest of moments, memories of the previous evening's argument still swirling around him, in his opinion creating a far worse smell than his body. He shook his head in frustration, still unable to rationalise his feelings even after lying awake half the night. Later. He'd deal with it later. Right now he needed to find a way to stop Migra treating him like Jack's pet lamb, and since he had no other plans, he had every intention of going to the food delivery whether Migra liked it or not.
Moving swiftly, the three men joined the swarm of inhabitants hurrying through the maze of shelters until they arrived in a small chamber already packed with bodies. At a quick guess Daniel figured the room probably already held more than a hundred prisoners, with more attempting to push in from both the door they had entered and a second one set opposite. The air was thick with barely veiled hostility as both sides of the fractured prison population jostled for space, but all eyes were focused in one direction.
"Stay here," Jack hissed at Daniel before pushing a way through the crowd behind Migra. Trying to ignore the feeling he'd just been deposited like a kindergarten child, Daniel nodded at the small knot of Migra's associates with whom he now stood. He swallowed his annoyance, trying to convince himself Jack had his best interests at heart. Right! Sure! He would definitely be the major factor in all Jack's equations now - the factor labelled capital P for pain-in-the-ass. Damn it if that sarcastic little voice in his head wasn't having a field day now. He shoved the thought aside and concentrated instead on edging towards the front of the group.
He finally managed to squeeze past enough bodies to a location where, if he craned his neck, he could just about see what was holding everyone's attention. At the front of the room the wall held an opening roughly seven feet high by three feet wide. The mouth of a metal chute set about two foot into the recess was visible in the dim light.
As Migra made it to the front of the throng with Jack at his shoulder, Daniel caught a glimpse of Kai and her second. He edged nearer, trying to hear what was obviously a heated debate. A scuffle between two men to his right created an unexpected opening in the press of bodies, allowing Daniel to get close enough to see Shotak poked a dirt-blackened finger at Jack's chest. "We want what is ours."
Jack's gaze focused on the finger for a long moment. "Keep pointing that at me and you'll soon find yourself short another member."
Shotak's reply was drowned out by the sound of metal scraping against metal. Almost instantly the mood in the chamber changed to one of anticipation, but Daniel saw Shotak spit at Jack's feet before turning towards the chute, the contemptuous look Jack favoured him unseen by Shotak.
The scraping sound grew louder, setting Daniel's teeth on edge, then suddenly a coffin-like object was ejected from the chute, flying over the recessed area to land with an ear-splitting thud on the metal floor of the chamber. A cheer from the crowd filled the air and Kai and Migra stepped forward, each holding a crowbar. Positioning themselves one either side of the container, they wrenched it open, revealing boxes of cans that Daniel immediately recognised from the food supplies in Jack's shelter.
Daniel had no idea how long the supplies were intended to last, but according to Jack rationing was the order of the day for most of the inmates.
At first he had assumed the supplies would be divided up by Kai and Migra, but he suddenly realised there was no way they could hold the crowd for long. Instead they quickly made their selections from the cans, handing them out to a favoured few, and then hurried away, Shotak guarding Kai, Jack watching over Migra. So that was what Migra had meant about having Jack watch his back.
As the crowd flashed over from restlessness to mob, Daniel suddenly realised the danger of what was now an out and out free for all. An elbow in his ribs elicited a grunt of pain from him and he ducked his head down, turning with grim determination towards the doorway through which Jack had exited. By the time he reached it he had gained at least three more bruises and was panting with the exertion of forcing his way against the press of frenzied inmates who were quick to assume he must already have obtained food and was now trying to leave.
As he reached the relative calm of the next chamber, he heaved a sigh of relief only to start as a voice snapped in his ear. "I thought I told you to stay put!"
Daniel turned to find Jack's irate face inches from his own. Temper flared. "Stop treating me like a kid!"
"Stop behaving like one!" Jack glared at him and then abruptly turned away, pulling in a deep breath. When he turned back the anger was gone. "Sorry. I'm just..."
"I know what you're trying to do. And I wish you'd stop it!" The belligerent words exploded from Daniel before he could stop them, the index finger of his right hand boring into Jack's chest in emphasis.
For a long moment both men stared at Daniel's hand.
Their gazes moved in unison to Daniel's forearm, a single word uttered in stereo. "Implant?"
They stared at each other again, then Daniel went for it. "So... You think these things could be controlling us in some way?"
"That was a hell of an argument we had yesterday."
Daniel bit back the urge to point out he'd had good reason. This definitely wasn't the time or the place to get into that again. He settled for the inane, "Yes, it was."
Jack rubbed his forehead just above his right eyebrow, and then ran a finger over his own forearm, wincing as he did so. "I've been feeling... edgy ever since I got here. Like I need to hit somebody or something." He saw the look on Daniel's face. "Okay, so maybe that isn't that odd, but..."
"No you're right," Daniel replied. "I've felt it too." He stepped back as two large men pushed past, cursing at him as they scuttled away with their booty. "Great. So it isn't bad enough they lock us up in this hellhole, we've got the odds stacked against us."
"Makes sense. Get the prisoners at each other's throats and you don't have to worry about overcrowding. Must save them a fortune on the food budget."
Daniel peered at his arm. "I guess trying to remove it is a bad idea."
"Somebody would've done it by now if it was possible." Jack said.
"So what do we do?"
Jack pulled a wry face. "I guess we'll just have to... get along with each other."
"Right." Daniel tried to sound convincing. How hard could that be? Just needed to avoid touchy issues, like the Tok'ra. Or Sam. Or confessing to crimes you didn't commit.
Daniel glanced around, trying to think of something suitable to say. Others were leaving the scene now, many of them sporting bruised and bloodied faces. It occurred to him Jack had earlier left the room empty handed. "So did you just come back for me or are we going to get supplies?"
"Getting killed over a few cans of stew isn't my idea of fun."
Daniel folded his arms over his chest as another inmate staggered past him, blood from a deep gash colouring the man's sandy hair with gory red. "So how do we eat? Or does Migra pay you for watching his back?"
Jack ignored Daniel's snideness, simply replying, "There are other ways to get food." As Daniel gave him a sharp look his gaze drifted off to some point to Daniel's right. "Don't ask."
"Will you stop protecting me!" Daniel protested, but before Jack could provide him with any details he raised his hand. "Sorry. That's okay. I don't need to know." He folded his arms again. "So why are we hanging around here?"
Daniel's expression brightened a fraction. "You think it might be a way out?"
"Things come in that way." Jack raised his eyebrows meaningfully.
It was a good twenty minutes before the last knot of inmates hurried through the doorway. Daniel stepped forward and checked the three bodies lying around the container, while Jack made a bee-line for the chute.
"Two dead," Daniel said as he joined him. "The other one's out cold. They didn't leave us any supplies either." His gaze followed Jack's. There was no sign of the chute in the dull metal wall. "Sliding panels?"
In response, Jack tapped his hand against the surface, his action rewarded by a dull echo. Tapping out a line he traced the outline of the now disguised opening, finally identifying a hairline crack in the metal. Pulling a crude knife from his pocket, he forced the blade into the crack and, using his body weight, levered it back and forth. At first there was nothing other than the sound of his own laboured breathing and soft cursing, then abruptly the panel gave way, sliding back to reveal the recessed chute.
"Shall we?" he asked, his hand gesture indicating the way.
Daniel peered at the opening uncertainly. "What if it closes behind us?"
Jack glanced over his shoulder at the bodies. "Given the options..."
"Good point." Daniel took a deep breath and leaned into the opening. The chute angled sharply upwards, its smooth surfaces providing little in the way of footholds. "It's going to be a pretty tough climb."
As Jack leaned in to see, Daniel took a step forward, moving his whole body into the opening.
"Whoa!" Jack leapt back as blue light filled the opening.
"What the..." Daniel felt a sharp pain explode up his right arm from the implant. "Arggghhh!" As he turned towards Jack, the light went from blue to dazzling white and the pain intensified, shooting across his chest and down into his legs. He couldn't move. Couldn't think. Couldn't breathe.
He heard Jack scream his name, but was incapable of responding. Disembodied in a haze of agony, Jack's alarmed face seemed to float towards him in slow motion.
His name again, stretched out until it made no sense. "D...a...a...n... ...yu...uuuu...llllllll." Impossibly the pain worsened - twisting, crushing, destroying, killing...
"General Hammond, in other circumstances your concern for your people would do you credit." Minister Finane folded his long fingers together and rested his hands lightly on the smooth wooden desk in front of him. "However, the men you speak of murdered two of my colleagues. You will excuse me for being unsympathetic to your cause."
Hammond drew in a breath, feeling the stiff material of his dress uniform stretch across his chest. "I am as appalled at the loss of life as you are, Minister Finane. But I would ask you to consider motive. Our intention in visiting your world was to cement diplomatic relations with your government. Why would Colonel O'Neill and Doctor Jackson jeopardise that aim by acting on behalf of a subversive group about whom we know very little?"
"I have no idea, General. However, the evidence against them was clear. Your own Major Carter agreed their weapons were used for the murders."
"Indeed. But there is no proof they were the ones to pull the triggers."
"They could offer no evidence they did not."
Hammond smiled. "That's because they did not have the evidence. I do."
"Oh?" The news was clearly unwelcome.
Hammond handed Finane a slim blue folder. "Our chief medical officer ran some routine blood analyses on both Major Carter and Teal'c on their return. You'll find a list of the tests and the results in there, plus copies of their blood chemistry taken during an earlier routine physical."
Finane opened the folder and laid the pages of neat print-out across the desk, studying the figures with a slightly bemused expression.
"You'll see there are several inconsistencies," Hammond continued. "Inconsistencies which prompted the doctor to run further tests and to conclude a drug was administered to them during their visit here - a drug that most likely has the potential to induce a deep sleep."
Finane carefully gathered up the pages and replaced them in the folder, holding it out to Hammond. "These are nothing but pieces of paper, General. The data on them could easily have been fabricated."
Hammond bristled at the accusation. "I assure you the data are genuine. If you wish I can supply you with the actual samples of blood drawn soon after my people returned..."
"Samples that could also have been tampered with." Finane rose to his feet. "General Hammond, the murderers of two of our finest politicians have been tried and convicted. Despite that, we are willing to continue negotiations with you and your people regarding technology. However, that continuation is on the understanding that you will not raise the issue of O'Neill and Jackson again."
"Now just a minute!"
Finane fixed him with a cold gaze. "I have nothing more to say, General Hammond."
"Well I have plenty..."
"This meeting is over." Finane gestured towards the two uniformed men standing near the door. "Escort General Hammond back to the Stargate."
Daniel's scream jerks me into action. Without thinking I reach for him, cursing as pain flares up my outstretched arm, and across my chest. Instinctive reaction kicks in and I yank my arm back, gasping for breath as the tight band of agony that wrapped itself around my ribs relinquishes its grip.
God, Daniel! That beam has to be lethal. I've got to get him out of there. Teeth gritted, my body tenses as I ready myself to grab hold of him. A deep breath and then...
The beam shuts off and Daniel falls sideways, folding towards the floor so quickly I don't even have chance to think about catching him. He sprawls awkwardly in the corner between floor and wall, his feet towards me, head and one shoulder twisted in a painful-looking contortion. The fingers of my right hand are numb from the beam, and I have to grab his ankle with my left while scooping his other leg in the crook of my right arm in order to drag him clear of the recess.
There's no time for subtlety - I'm terrified the beam may start up again - but I curse as his head bangs the floor as I pull him clear. Still, a minor concussion is likely to be the least of our worries. He's away from the beam - that's what matters.
Falling to my knees by his side, I roll him onto his back as gently as possible. His face is slack, lips parted, his skin a chalky white. He's not breathing. My fingers press urgently beneath his jaw, desperately feeling for a pulse. A blue tinge is already discolouring the skin of his lips. Nothing! Shit! Come on, Danny! This is not how it's going to end.
Training takes over. Tilt the head back. Check the airway is clear. Pinch the nose and blow in air, watching as his chest rises. Pulse? Shit. Chest compressions. One. Two. Three... I'm going through the movements with calm determination, but all the time my mind is screaming denials. God damn it, Daniel! You are not going to die. Not here. Not like this.
I feel for a pulse again, swear loudly and repeat the cycle. My own heart is pounding so wildly I fear I might start hyperventilating as I pull in another breath, ready to push more air into Daniel's lungs. Feel for a pulse. Wait. Was that it? Gotta calm down. Check again. Yes. Thank God! Thank God!
I rock back on my heels, hardly daring to believe my eyes as Daniel's chest rises and falls on its own. I'm suddenly aware my cheeks are wet and I dash the tears away in angry frustration. I have to get him back to the shelter. He may be breathing but this isn't over yet. The blue tinge is fading, being replaced by a noticeable redness that in other circumstances would telegraph Daniel had been out in the sun too long. A quick touch of his cheek confirms my fear - his skin is hot. Burns. First degree? Third degree? Shit! I can never remember which way round those go. Not that it matters. It's the impact that's important not the name. Please God, don't let it be any worse than a bad case of sunburn. I can handle that. Daniel can recover from that.
Focus, O'Neill. Get him back to the shelter.
I climb to my feet and somehow manage to hoist Daniel over my shoulder. Gritting my teeth as my knees protest at the weight, I set off.
It's only a short distance, but sweat is running down my face and I'm gasping for breath as the shelter comes into view. I'm desperate to get Daniel to safety so I curse colourfully as Migra appears, his face radiating pleasure at the sight of Daniel's unconscious body draped across my shoulders.
"Figured he'd last a bit longer than this," he crows. "Who got him? Shotak?"
Barely holding in my temper, my voice is little more than a growl. "Nobody 'got him'."
"Oh?" For a moment he's puzzled but then he works it out. "Let me guess. The chute. Don't you think we've tried that before?"
I step through the doorway of our shelter, the vision of splattering Migra's face against its far wall giving me a final spurt of energy. Migra is apparently unaware of my feelings and he follows me in, steps neatly around me, and holds out his hands, clearly offering to help me lower Daniel to the pallet.
I bite back the urge to tell him where to stick his offer, but Daniel's no lightweight and I don't want to risk further injury to him as I set him down. One whack to his head is more than enough for my conscience. Besides, I'm not sure my back is really up to the job either.
As I nod my consent, Migra slides his hands under Daniel's arms. He gives me a smug smile. "I could've told you what would happen messing with the chute."
The urge to ram my fist into his face is almost overwhelming. In fact, if it wasn't for Daniel being awkwardly supported between us, I would do it. Instead I opt for a savage snarl. "Then why the hell didn't you?" The words lose their impact as Daniel's weight lifts from my shoulders and I suck in a relieved breath.
Migra's smugness deepens even further. "You didn't ask."
We lower Daniel to the pallet and Migra slips a hand beneath Daniel's chin, feeling the shallow pulse. He pulls a disappointed face. "Guess you get to keep the boots a while longer."
Now I really am going to hit him! I straighten up, fists curled, but he's already backing off, knowing damn well he's over-stepped the line. He waves a hand at Daniel and throws information at me with wry amusement, as though Daniel's continued survival might provide further entertainment.
"He'll need water. If the beam doesn't kill, the dehydration that follows often does." He nods towards the large can of water sitting in the far corner of the shelter. "When he comes to, get him to sip, slow and steady. Too much at once and he'll vomit up more than he digests".
With that he ducks out the door, and I'm left with clenched fists and a rainbow of conflicting emotions that I can't even begin to identify.
Sam Carter was pissed, and getting more so by the moment. It had been obvious from General Hammond's face and the way he had stormed down the Stargate ramp that the meeting with the Evesals hadn't gone well. No appeals. Hammond had all but spat the words, his disgust at the Evesal legal system bringing a purplish tinge to his cheeks.
With Kovacek to his left and Coburn to his right, the general had not even waited to call an official briefing before announcing he was open to any and all alternative strategies; which was why Sam had spent the past fifteen minutes sitting in front of a microphone having an extremely unproductive conversation with a member of the Tok'ra who went by the name of Honeth. She ground her teeth as he came back with yet another set of platitudes wrapped up in sweet words. Right! Forget diplomacy. Time to get to the grist.
"Let me explain something to you," she said, biting back the urge to offer Honeth an O'Neill-style description of his so-unhelpful personality. "I am one of the Tau'ri who knocked out Apophis' new ship. That in my book means you owe me a huge favour. All I'm asking is that you get either my father or Anise to speak to me. Now!"
"And I don't want to hear they're in meetings." Sam let her annoyance float across the vast distance between Earth and wherever the Tok'ra happened to be based at the moment, pushing home what little advantage she felt she had gained.
There was another long moment of silence, then Honeth spoke crisply. "I'll see what I can do."
The speaker system went dead.
"I'll see what I can do. What the hell does that mean?" Sam pulled a hand through her hair and turned towards Sergeant Siler who had been hovering in the background, pretending to carry out maintenance on one of the PCs. "So am I just meant to sit here and wait?"
Siler smiled sympathetically. "At least he didn't say no."
Sam sighed. "I suppose that's true."
She leaned back in her chair, letting the adrenaline rush of the past few minutes ebb away; yet even though her body seemed relaxed her mind was worrying away at the problem. This had to work. Enlisting help from the Tok'ra was the only avenue left open to them, the Tollan having already informed them they knew nothing of the Evesals. At least with Narim she had been sure of a straight answer, and his concern for the welfare of Jack and Daniel had been genuine.
She had no doubt her father would be sympathetic too, if she could just speak to him However, from the way Honeth had been hedging around the subject she had the unpleasant feeling Jacob Carter was off risking his life for the Tok'ra on some undercover mission nobody would talk about. Which just left Anise. Sam leant forward and buried her face in her hands as the thought brought Martouf's loss keenly to the fore. God, she missed him. She never had figured out whether she'd felt affection for him because of herself or Jolinar, but after a while it hadn't really mattered. There was so much about him she liked - his openness, his honesty, his gentleness. Given the time and the right circumstances perhaps, just perhaps...
The burn on Daniel's face and arms is even more noticeable now, the redness darkening to an obvious scarlet. Grabbing a piece of cloth, I soak it in water and press it against his face hoping to cool the heat, noticing as I do that the colour has spread down his neck. Shit. Here I am dabbing at his forehead like some impotent Florence Nightingale while he could be burning all over. My left hand re-soaks the cloth while my right tugs his T-shirt up, intent on removing it.
Christ, Danny! I flinch at the sight of his torso. His ribcage is a kaleidoscope of bruises - one or two clearly fresh, but the vast majority matured to dull yellowish purple. Much more carefully than I'd begun, I strip his T-shirt off. What the hell did they do you, Daniel?
Guilt knots into my stomach as my mind supplies the all-too-obvious answer. The Evesals must've systematically worked Daniel over while I escaped with little more than a headache and this damn implant in my arm. It doesn't take too much imagination to figure the purpose behind the beating was to persuade him to corroborate my story - to make it a nice neat ending. Two for two. Shit. That was not supposed to have happened.
Reluctantly I roll Daniel onto his side, not wanting to confirm my suspicions, but unable to resist the urge to see the truth. Oh boy! His back is an even more lurid display of colour than his front. The beating has all the hall-marks of a skilful interrogator - hard enough to cause pain and temporarily disable, but not enough to inflict damage requiring medical treatment - no cracked ribs or internal injuries here. Plus, fully dressed not a mark can be seen on Daniel, essential if a public appearance was needed. And I have no doubt the physical abuse was backed up with psychological torment. It may even have been chemically enhanced - nothing like a few drugs to sensitise the nerve endings first. Like an automaton my hand goes to his left wrist, turning his arm over. Shit! Shit! Shit! There's a neat little bruise right in the crook of his elbow. One on the other arm too just for good measure.
I close my eyes, cursing loudly - anger at the Evesals spiking sharply. Daniel being tortured was definitely not part of the equation. And I like Daniel not mentioning he was tortured even less. God! Is this really where our relationship has come to? The guilt tightens a notch. He didn't mention it because he thought you'd suffered the same.
The anger threatens to turn inward but I stop my mind from going down that route. They said he'd already confessed! Dwelling on it won't help Daniel. I need to think about what I'm going to do next. About how I can keep him alive.
I pull my thoughts back to the present, and to my original reason for stripping him off. That at least is good news. The redness doesn't extend beyond his neck. Trying to be optimistic I convince myself the burn on his face is no worse than too much time in the sun, a couple of days and it'll be a healthy-looking tan. All he'll need is a gold medallion round his neck and a few hairs on his chest and he'll have the complete playboy look. Unfortunately I can't joke away Migra's prediction of dehydration, nor can I do much about it until Daniel wakes up. Which means in the meantime I can sit back and argue with the voices in my head that even now are whispering that I'm to blame.
Sam jerked upright at the sound of her name.
"Yes, Major Carter. I believe you... summoned me."
Sam let the comment pass, not wanting to waste time playing games with the Tok'ra archaeologist. "We need your help, Anise. Colonel O'Neill and Daniel Jackson have been imprisoned by a race of people called the Evesals."
"So we have heard."
"What?" Sam was surprised. "How did... Let me guess. You have an operative on Evesa."
"Not exactly," Anise replied. "We do however obtain information from that region of space."
"I see." Sam quickly gathered her thoughts. "Then perhaps you know too that the Colonel and Daniel were framed for the murder of two Evesal politicians." There was a long pause. "Anise?"
"What exactly is it you want, Major Carter?"
Sam gave a wry smile. "Help getting them released of course. The location of the prison would be nice."
"I'm afraid we do not have that information."
"Oh," Sam was disappointed. "Well in that case, we need help in getting back to the planet. Our diplomatic efforts have been rebuffed."
"I see." Anise sounded like that was no surprise to her. "I'm afraid that will not be possible."
Oh here we go! Sam drew in a breath, keeping her voice calm and level. "Why not?"
"We are fighting the goa'uld, Major. We are not here to police the universe. You know the risks of stepping through the Stargate. You really cannot expect us to use vital resources to assist you every time you get into trouble."
"Anise, this is Colonel O'Neill and Daniel we're talking about here. Two people to whom the Tok'ra owe a great deal. The destruction of..."
"I am aware of who they are and what they have done. And I value their individual talents as much as you, Major."
I bet you do, Sam thought to herself, remembering how Daniel had told her Anise had come on to the colonel. She had thought it amusing at the time, especially when Daniel had later owned up that Freya was interested in him.
Meanwhile Anise was back to her mantra. "But as I just said, we do not have..."
"The resources, yeah, yeah." Sam rubbed her face. A crazy idea crossed her mind. "Look Anise. Can't we just drop the politics for a moment. Two of my very good friends are in trouble. And I'm appealing to you..." She swallowed and forced the words out. "As a friend for help."
"As a friend?" Anise sounded surprised.
"Okay, not exactly my friend - more..." Sam leaned towards the microphone. It was a long shot but it was all she had. "I'm sure Colonel O'Neill would be extremely grateful for any help you might be able to offer. Daniel too." She winced. Okay, that was probably over-egging it. No way was Anise going to bite at that one.
This time the silence stretched even longer. Sam didn't speak, not daring to believe Anise was considering the idea.
When the Tok'ra spoke again Sam almost jumped out of her seat. "In the interests of... friendship... I could get you onto the planet as part of a trade mission. However, once there the Tok'ra cannot offer you any support and we will deny all knowledge of you if caught."
"I understand." Sam couldn't stop a smile of relief from flashing across her face. It wasn't much, but it was something. "Thank you, Anise."
My head jerks up at the sound of my name. I must have dozed off, sitting here on the floor waiting, watching. Relief washes over me and with it comes a slice of raw emotion. Daniel has always called my name when he's been in trouble - it's become something of a trademark in our relationship. And while I have no desire to see him in trouble again, I suddenly realise how important that bond is to me. We've been there for each other so many times; surely we haven't gone too far this time to make it back.
I lean towards him, my neck and back protesting at the movement. "Daniel?" He's mumbling something, the words incomprehensible as he drifts in the shadow world between unconsciousness and lucidity.
"Come on, Daniel, time to wake up." I try to sound casual and encouraging but I know the strain of watching over him has crept into my voice... the thought that this time I just might've been the cause of his death... No, don't go there. No point in wasting energy on what might've been. I glance at my wrist, the action both reflexive and pointless. My watch was taken when I was arrested. It's hard to keep track of time in the perpetual artificial daylight here so I can't be sure how long he's been out, but it's sure a hell of a lot longer than I would've liked.
Dipping the cloth back into the water, I press the moistness to his lips. They've cracked while he's been unconscious, another effect of the beam I suppose, and I carefully dab away a teardrop of fresh blood that has formed on his bottom lip.
I really wish I knew how long he's been out. Surely the longer he's out the worse the dehydration. He feels like he's burning up - at least from the neck upwards. Desperate to do something - anything - I squeeze the cloth, watching carefully as the drops splash against his open lips. I wish Fraiser was here - she'd be able to tell me if it's possible to hydrate an unconscious patient without an IV. As it is I'm too scared to do anything more aggressive than drip water from a cloth in case I just fill his lungs with water.
I'm about to turn away when I see his tongue flicker out, licking away the moisture, and then he moans softly, twisting his face away from the cloth.
"Come on Daniel," I whisper again. "Wake up."
I dampen the cloth once more and press it against his forehead. This time he rewards me with a flutter of this eyelids. More mumbling and then abruptly he's looking at me, confusion and pain mingled in his expression.
I give a sympathetic smile. "We're back in the shelter," I offer, hoping to help him orientate. "You were knocked out."
His gaze drifts to the metal walls and then back to me. "Bad habit." His voice is so raspy I barely catch the words. "Bad habit," he repeats hoarsely, not too out of it to see my puzzled look. "Being knocked out..." He winces, one hand going to his throat. "Sore."
I move to the water container, scoop a small amount, little more than a mouthful or two, into a cup and then return. "Migra said you should sip it slowly."
He gives another nod, and I help him into a sitting position, not asking about his pained grimace until the cup is empty.
"Understatement," he grinds out as I ease him back to scant comfort of the makeshift mattress. He lies still for a few moments, drawing in pained breaths. "What happened?"
"Don't you remember?"
He gazes up at the ceiling and frowns before shaking his head. The action pulls a low groan from him. "Shit! That was a bad idea."
"Screwdriver in my skull?"
I make a show of looking, trying to hide the fact I'm concerned about him, but the humour is lost on him so I settle for the truth. At least what I know of the truth. "You were zapped pretty bad by that beam thingy. Migra said you'd be dehydrated. Probably explains the headache." I fetch him more water.
As I turn back I see his gaze fall on his T-shirt. He glances down at the lurid display of colour on his ribs and then looks straight at me, his expression warning. "I don't want to talk about it."
Everything in me wants to protest that idea, but somehow I can't get the words out as Daniel rolls onto his side and indicates I should put the cup on the floor by the pallet.
I do as he asks, hovering over him as he shakily picks up the cup.
"I can manage!" He doesn't look at me as he snaps, but he waits for me to back off before lifting the cup to his lips.
Not knowing what else to do I busy my hands opening one of the cans of food and dividing it into two bowls as I fill him in about our abortive exploration. I pull a face at the sight of dinner - small white chunks of something that might once have been vegetable floating in a pale orange liquid.
Daniel shakes his head as I offer him a bowl, so I set it next to the cup. I'm tempted to make a joke about eating it while it's hot but I can't find the words. Instead I scoop up one of the lumps, put it into my mouth, chew and swallow automatically. It tastes of nothing other than slight saltiness. I glance at Daniel who is now staring at the ceiling, his face still etched with pain, the lines creasing the redness with white.
I spoon up a second mouthful, change my mind and set the bowl down, feeling slightly nauseous. Probably just as well Daniel turned it down. If the water doesn't make him sick, this certainly will. Godamn it! I can't even offer the guy a cup of coffee or a palatable meal, never mind anything approaching modern pain relief.
Daniel lets out a sigh. "So now we know what the implants do."
I suddenly realise he's been mulling over our exploration of the chute.
I nod, realise he isn't looking at me, and vocalise the affirmative. "Yes, and I'm betting trying to remove them isn't going to be exactly conducive to good health, otherwise somebody here would've done it."
He gives me an odd look. "Haven't we had this conversation before?"
This time my smile is one of relief. Nothing wrong with his memory after all, thank God. "Yeah. Right after we..."
"And before we..."
We look at each other again, the familiar patterns of conversation a relief, yet I can tell from his expression there's still a huge wall between us.
He breaks the eye contact. "So there's no way out."
"There's always a way out," I reply determinedly.
His stare is now fixed on some point on the ceiling, and I watch as fresh pain ripples through him. He looks defeated.
"Daniel!" My voice is harsh. "There's always a way out!"
Blue eyes flicker towards me in open disbelief. "Trust me, Jack. Happy endings are only for fairy tales."
"Come in." General Hammond looked up from Siler's monthly weekly report to find Sam Carter and Teal'c walking through his doorway. Relief was evident on Carter's face and even Teal'c seemed to be walking with a slightly lighter step. "You have something, Major?"
"Yes Sir." Sam sat down as the general indicated the chairs on the far side of his desk. "I've been in touch with the Tok'ra and they've provided us with a way back on to Evesa."
Hammond leaned back in his chair and puffed out a small breath of relief. "Well it's about time they did something for us."
"I wouldn't get too excited, Sir." Carter glanced towards Teal'c, who remained as impassive as ever. "The offer was more of a personal favour from Anise than any move on behalf of the To'kra in general."
Hammond shrugged. "Right now, Major, all I'm interested in is getting Colonel O'Neill and Doctor Jackson home."
Sam nodded. "As usual, Anise was guarded about why the To'kra has a presence in this region, but what she did tell me is that the Evesals receive regular mineral shipments from another world via the gate, and traders come and go on a regular basis. Up to fifty traders travel through for each shipment. If we were to arrive immediately after a shipment nobody would question it. Once on the Evesals' home world all we need do is find the prison and break them out."
Hammond's eyebrows raised at the casual way she said it. He'd seen SG-1 pull off some pretty spectacular stunts over the past couple of years, but he couldn't help wondering if the team wasn't sometimes too confident in their own abilities. "That's a pretty tall assignment, Major."
Sam nodded. "Yes Sir. I'm not suggesting it's going to be easy. But I don't see we have any other options. Sir, Anise didn't want to commit herself to exact numbers but from what she said I think we could get away with sending at least three people through, maybe four"
"That's not many for a search and rescue.".
"I know, sir."
Hammond's eyes narrowed as he weighed his options. "I presume you two are volunteering." Two immediate assents sounded. "Major Coburn has already volunteered SG-2. I'll see which of his team he prefers to take with him. How soon can you leave?"
"Ah." Sam pulled a face. "That's the bad news. The next shipment isn't scheduled for five days."
How many days had it been. Five? Six? It was so hard to keep track of time in a place where artificial lighting burned all day. Daniel lay on his pallet and gazed up at the ceiling, aware his stomach was rumbling. That probably meant it was approaching evening. Then again, it could just mean he was hungry - the canned food forming his diet was definitely lacking in both nutritional value and bulk. He'd already notched his belt in tighter and it worried him to see the hollows forming in Jack's naturally lean cheeks.
Jack had somehow managed to procure more food since the last delivery. Daniel hadn't asked how, respecting Jack's preference not to talk about what went on outside the shelter. Come to think about it, they didn't talk about much of anything. Truth was, Jack was rarely present. Apparently being Migra's second was a full-time occupation. Over the past couple of days, having ascertained Daniel wasn't going to die on him, Jack had only returned to the shelter to eat and sleep, explaining his absence with the briefest of explanations - 'strategy meetings'.
Avoiding me, more like. Daniel pushed that thought away, bone weary of mulling over the implications of Jack's behaviour, both recent and past. Now he had other things to consider, like what he was going to do to fill in his time from morning to night. That of course had not been a problem for the first few days thanks to the beam. Lying on his pallet summing up enough energy to swallow another cup of water, and then resisting the urge to puke it back up again, had kept him more than gainfully employed for quite some time. Gradually, though, his body had recovered - the headache had released its talon-like grip and the waves of muscle spasms that had reduced him to a curled-up quivering wreck had finally rippled away to the occasional hand tremor. Yep, he was definitely feeling better physically. Time to find something to do - something useful. Unlike Jack, he didn't see the point in getting involved in the petty squabblings of the prison inmates if it could be at all avoided.
He stretched slowly, enjoying the absence of pain. What he really wanted was a shower - his skin felt coated with stale sweat and dirt - but he knew the best he would get was a soapless wash with cold water. Running his fingers over his chin he was aware of both the thick stubble that had grown and the fact the tender 'sunburnt' feel of his skin had finally faded. He decided he could risk shaving. Jack had managed it earlier in the day using a home-made blade and a piece of polished metal as a mirror. The end result didn't exactly live up to any TV advertising claims about close shaves, but at least Jack had looked more like Jack.
Daniel felt under his pillow for the knife Jack had presented him with a couple of days earlier. It was Jack's idea for him to keep it there and he'd jokingly asked if he was supposed to defend his virtue with it - the ridiculous image of himself as a Victorian virgin jumping into his still fevered imagination. The humour had fallen flat though; Jack had managed only the briefest of smiles. Somewhat belatedly it occurred to Daniel that the joke was perhaps too close to the truth to be funny.
Pulling out the knife, he tested its sharpness with his thumb, wishing he could trade it for the small Celtic dagger that hung on his apartment wall. Now that was a blade a man could use for a clean shave. Still - needs must.
He rolled off the pallet and spent a few minutes settling the mirror at a usable angle. His face seemed like that of a stranger - dark shadows etched beneath his eyes, the bruise on his jawline still visible beneath the facial hair, skin a strange reddish-brown, as though he'd run amok with a bottle of fake tan and then buffed his face with a rough cloth. He ran his tongue over his teeth and pulled a face at himself. Next on the list - find a way to make a toothbrush. As he picked up the knife, his hand shook. Great! That was all he needed. Daniel could just imagine Jack's sarcasm if he returned to find his patient had accidentally cut his own throat. He pulled in a deep breath, waited the tremor out. Okay Daniel. You can do it.
The knife scraped roughly against his skin. Glancing at the hair-covered blade and then back at his reflection, Daniel allowed himself a small smile. At least something was returning to normal.
Thirty minutes and only a small amount of blood later, Daniel was satisfied with his reflection. He was contemplating whether to head to the washroom, eat alone, or try to track down Jack when he heard the start of the nerve-jangling whining sound that had heralded the previous food delivery. Well, that solved that problem - decision made.
Daniel tucked his knife between his belt and his pants and stepped outside. He was just in time to see Jack hurrying towards the hall, Migra at his side.
"Jack! Wait up!" Daniel set off at a run but almost immediately slowed to a walk as his body reminded him of the physical trauma of the past few days. However, both Jack and Migra had stopped and were waiting for him, although he could guess from Migra's expression his arrival wasn't going to be greeted with enthusiasm.
He was breathless as he caught up with them. "Food?"
Migra shot Jack a sharp look that all too clearly telegraphed his disapproval of Daniel. "Let's go, O'Neill."
"You ought to stay here." Jack gave Daniel an appraising look, keeping his voice low as he set off after Migra.
"I'm fine," Daniel replied stubbornly.
"You don't have to prove anything to me, Daniel," Jack hissed back at him.
"I wasn't trying to," Daniel shot back.
"Right." Jack's tone made it clear he thought otherwise. "Just as long as... Shit!"
As they turned a corner, stepping out of the territory that was recognised as Migra's and into no-man's land, they found themselves face-to-face with Shotak, flanked either side by particularly unpleasant examples of the prison's population. Jack's knife materialised in his hand and he glanced over his shoulder, immediately spinning round and pulling Daniel behind him. "Migra! We're surrounded!"
Daniel's pulse shot up as he saw their retreat had been cut off by two more of Shotak's men. Three against five, or rather two against five since he knew he hadn't got the stamina for a fight. He mentally kicked himself. So much for insisting on tagging along. Now he was going to be exactly the hindrance Jack so obviously considered him to be.
"Surprise," Shotak sang, his eyes glittering with anticipation. He held up his right hand, a jagged blade now firmly in his grasp.
"What do you want?" Migra snarled, producing a knife of his own.
Shotak's smile was feral as his gaze fell on Daniel, who somewhat belatedly reached for his own weapon. "I think you can guess. Kai was looking forward to some... fresh diversions. I hate for her to be disappointed."
Half-turned to keep an eye on the men behind them, Jack tossed an insult over his shoulder. "With you as a bed partner I would've thought she'd have been used to disappointment."
Shotak's gaze never moved from Daniel. "We want what's ours, Migra."
"He's not a piece of property to be bickered over," Jack snarled.
The statement jerked Daniel out of his stunned silence. "I can speak for myself, Jack."
Migra shot them both a black look. "I do the talking here!" He squared up to Shotak. "Back off!"
"I don't think so," Shotak replied calmly.
Jack nodded in the direction of Shotak's back. "Better think again."
Glancing round, Daniel saw with relief that four of Migra's men had crept up behind Shotak. That evened the odds somewhat. Then, abruptly, the whining noise stopped, the sudden silence adding to the tension.
Migra shifted his knife from one hand to the other. "Food is about to arrive. Shouldn't you be watching over Kai?"
Shotak's smile turned smug. "Kai can look after herself. In fact in this case, I think you'll find she's not only looking after herself, she's making sure our people have plenty to eat over the couple of weeks."
"Bastards!" Migra ground out the word. "This isn't really about Kai's need for diversions, is it? What about the agreement? No one attacks during a delivery."
Shotak didn't even blink. "Consider this notice the agreement is terminated."
As Shotak lurched forward, Jack was already moving. "Migra. Look out!"
Almost dropping his knife as a treacherous hand tremor hit, Daniel whirled as the two men behind him moved in. Shit! He'd practiced enough self-defence with Jack to know getting into a knife fight was seriously bad news. As he took a step backwards, all hell seemed to break lose. Migra's men rushed forward. Shotak and Migra were screaming abuse. A knife flashed a mere hair's-breadth from his face, then fire burnt across his upper left arm. Daniel was only distantly aware of his own right hand jerking up, contacting with something warm and wet, before a heavy weight shoved into his back, driving him to his knees, the side of his head colliding hard with a shelter wall.
Bile rose in his throat but he forced it down again, desperately summoning up what energy he had left, and turning just in time to throw up an arm and stop the downward slash of a knife into his back. The action spun his assailant round, straight onto Migra's knife. With a gurgling groan, the man fell to the floor.
Struggling back to his feet, his head still ringing from the impact with the shelter, Daniel found the fight was over. Shotak was gone. Three men were sprawled lifeless on the ground - one of Migra's, two of Shotak's. Feeling sick and dizzy, he turned to see Jack leaning against one of the shelters, breathing heavily.
Migra wiped his bloody knife on the coat of one of their assailants as his men frisked the dead for any potential valuables. There was nothing except for their weapons, which were quickly divided between them. Migra spat on the floor in disgust, giving his own fallen man the briefest of looks. "Let's get out of here."
Putting his knife away, Daniel stared in disgust at the sticky blood covering his hand. He swallowed hard, determined he wasn't going to throw up in front of Migra, and conscious of one of Migra's men moving towards him. He glanced up and found himself looking at a pair of concerned eyes. Almost immediately, though, Migra barked out a name, the order to follow him clear. With a flicker of apology the man turned and hurried after his leader. Taking a deep breath Daniel pulled his ragged nerves together and took a step in the same direction.
"Jack?" Daniel spun round, cold fear gripping him at the sound of pain in Jack's voice.
Jack was still leaning against the wall, looking very much like the metal shelter was the only thing keeping him upright. One hand was clutched to his side and his face was ashen, making the shadows under his eyes and in his cheeks even darker. He gave Daniel a weak smile. "Think he got me."
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