When All Debts Are Paid
Summary: tags for S2 "Prisoners;" S3, "Past and Present" & "Dead Man Switch;" S4, "The Curse." Ke'ra remembers she's Linea, meets up with Aris Boch and discovers how to get sweet revenge on Daniel Jackson. Add some Osiris into the mix & SG1's problems increase tenfold.
Original ePosting Date: September 24, 2001
Colonel O'Neill subconsciously squeezed the teddy bear in his arms while he waited for the last chevron to lock into place. He noticed odd glances and suppressed grins coming from nearly everyone in the gate room, and knew the giant, stuffed toy seemed odd in conjunction with his dress blues.
"What?" He asked pointedly to his second-in-command. "Every kid needs a teddy bear, right?"
"Yes, sir. Of course." Major Carter shook her head. "It's a great gift."
"And I suppose you did better?"
SG-1 had been invited to share in the celebration of the birth of Nodaal's and Layale's first child. No one was really sure what that meant. After all, there was far more than just the birth of a single child to be celebrated. This event represented Vyus's own rebirth, the civilization's continuation finally assured now that their fertility problems had been reversed. Ironically, it was Linea, the 'Destroyer of Worlds', who had accidentally given them the chance to turn back time itself, restoring the inhabitants to their former youth and halting the negative effects of a pesticide known as Dargol.
Now the people of Vyus wanted to honor SG-1 by including them in this momentous occasion. Without any real idea what to expect in terms of festivities, the team members each put on their best clothes and prepared in their own ways to greet a newborn.
Carter fidgeted with the tiny, wrapped box in her hands, but didn't answer her CO's question.
"So?" He prodded. "You going to tell us what it is?"
She cleared her throat. "It's a ... spoon... sir."
"A silver spoon. Whenever babies were born, I remember my mom giving them silver spoons. So, I ..." She shrugged. "It's all I could think of."
"A spoon. Huh." He nodded as Carter started towards the Stargate. "So Teal'c, what'd you get Nodaal's kid?"
The Jaffa looked uncomfortable in the brown suit and thin tie Daniel had helped him pick out. "I was not aware that I should have a gift for this infant. On Chu'lak, it was our custom to celebrate birth by giving blessings or prayers for an honorable life."
O'Neill raised his eyebrows. "Blessings." He nodded again. "Good gift."
Teal'c gave him a quick glance before following Carter through the 'gate.
"Okay, Danny, you're up." The colonel turned to his last remaining team member, still wondering about the brand new, dark suit that made Daniel look almost like he'd stepped off the pages of GQ. He hoped his friend would be able to contain himself around Ke'ra. Jack was still not particularly thrilled by any prospect of a relationship between the two.
Daniel looked back, smiling in that irritating way of his that always left Jack wondering if the joke was on him -- or what the joke even was, for that matter. Then the archeologist took a step towards the 'gate.
"Aaaa-aaaa," Jack stopped him. "Not until you fess up. What'd you get the kid?"
Daniel looked down at the package in his hand, and then returned his attention to Jack. "It's a ... a book."
"A book? Uh, Danny, I hate to tell you this, but most infants can't really, actually ... read."
There it was again. That knowing smile, but there was a certain shyness to it this time. Daniel lowered his head, seeming somewhat embarrassed. "It's for his future. Essays written by the great thinkers of Earth. Socrates, Einstein, Sagan, Hawkings...."
"Ahh." Jack looked at his bear. "His future. Huh."
Daniel took another look at the fuzzy creature in Jack's arms. "Jack, it's a great bear. He'll love it."
The colonel grinned. "Yeah, he will. Won't he?"
* * *
Daniel Jackson's knees buckled beneath him the moment he exited the Stargate. His arms fell to his sides, heavy and useless, like a puppet whose strings had been severed. Though he was sure his teammates shared his predicament, he could not turn his head to confirm it.
He heard Jack utter a stunned "Carter?"
There was no reply.
Daniel tried to respond himself, but that simple task proved to be too much. He felt his head hit the ground hard and dimly wished he'd worn his helmet. Yet for this mission, there should have been no need for helmets.
"Well, well, well. Daniel Jackson."
The voice was familiar. Ke'ra? The name remained unspoken, tucked into the cotton of his mouth around his leaden tongue. Nor could he open his eyes to look upon the beauty Linea had become when she herself had been caught by the effects of the Vorlix, Vyus' age-reversing catastrophic yet rejuvenating accident.
Soft fingers brushed his temple, and then traced a delicate pattern to his lips. She whispered his name as a lover might. "Daniel Jackson."
Those same soft fingers grabbed his chin. There was nothing delicate about her touch now as she pulled his face towards her, digging her nails into his flesh.
"You - should - have - let - me - die!" The words came out as a pulsing hiss, acid burning its way through the gentle heart of Ke'ra and reviving the evil one of Linea.
She threw his head down hard as though he repulsed her. He felt the back of his skull bounce against the broken brick of the warehouse floor. His ears ringing from the impact, he sensed her rising beside him, heard her voice grow distant as she moved away.
"It would have been quick, you know. All I needed to do was smash those two vials together. My death would have been instantaneous once I inhaled the resulting gas. But no. You and your naive, simplistic view of life, you just would not allow it. You just could not accept that sometimes death is better than life."
Daniel heard the swish of her long skirt when she turned abruptly. Her next words came louder, carefully aimed in his direction.
"Did you honestly believe I would not eventually find a way to regain my own memories? That I would not eventually insist upon it? I am a scientist, Daniel Jackson. I cannot sit by and accept that some questions should go unanswered. I demand answers. As would you, surely. After all, you are a scientist as well, are you not?"
She moved closer to him again, her voice growing louder, yet tinged with regret and pain.
"Do you know how many people had to die while I looked for those answers? How many other lives I ruined, Daniel Jackson?"
Though seemingly on the verge of tears, she instead began to laugh cynically as she paced between him and his teammates. Close to him again, the laughter stopped with the abruptness of a light switch flicking off.
"When the council learned about my experiments, they would have cast me out, exiled me through this very Stargate. But by then I had already succeeded, and our neighbors across the sea were threatening war."
Her next words were spoken with childlike innocence. "You didn't know that, did you? The Tyrean's found out the Vorlix began here, and they wanted retribution. I gave the council an option. As Linea, "Destroyer of Worlds', it shouldn't surprise you to think I was eager for the challenge to destroy our enemies. But as Ke'ra, you might also understand how very much I wanted to remain in the place I had come to consider home."
She paused, and for a long while Daniel heard nothing. So much of nothing, he couldn't help but wonder if his ears had stopped working like the rest of his body.
"So," She continued loudly, "we came to an agreement, the council and I."
Daniel would have jumped at the sudden way she broke her silence, if any of his muscles would have cooperated.
"I told them I would help them defeat the Tyrean's," She continued in a matter-of-fact tone that might have been used to describe a grocery list. "And I did. I upheld my part of the bargain. I destroyed them. There are none left, so there can be no war."
She laughed for a long while. Yet when she was through, her words regained her earlier venom.
"When my people learned of my feat, they had the audacity to be appalled. What right did they have to judge me, when they never even asked what I intended to do? Yet they called it a massacre. They called me a murderer. They wanted to put me in prison. There was even talk of execution."
She knelt beside him, once again brushing her finger against his face. "But by then it was too late. Don't you see? Entirely too late. I had already become what I was destined to be. I was no longer willing to let go of my hold on the universe."
She rose and moved away. "Your friends, here. They would have let me die at your SGC. They would have accepted my suicide, perhaps even considered it a necessary evil. But not you. No, not you."
She sniffed and said nothing for a long while. Daniel heard her entering symbols into the DHD. He also thought he heard her crying. But even that emotion could not last.
"I had to leave here. I had to escape through the Stargate, searching out more of those worlds I took from your computers so long ago. I made new allies. I have made bargains. And your name, Daniel Jackson, has entered into one of them. All debts must be paid, after all."
The Stargate flared to life, painting a blue wave across Daniel's closed eyelids. Before he could even begin to imagine what she had done or why, before he could consider what she might yet have planned, hands grabbed him. Hands too large and too strong to be Ke'ra's. They lifted him, slinging him over an armored shoulder where he dangled like a useless sack as this new stranger carried him through the Stargate.
Hours after he heard the Stargate's activation which had seemed to signal Ke'ra-Linea's departure, Jack O'Neill finally found himself able to move. He was weak. His muscles twitched erratically. It took all the strength he had to drag himself over to where Teal'c lay near him. Whatever Linea had used on them, it was powerful stuff. At least it appeared its effects weren't permanent.
"Hey, Teal'c." O'Neill's voice was as strained as the rest of his body. He slapped the Jaffa gently to compensate for the failure of his vocal chords.
A strong hand clamped the colonel's wrist as Teal'c's eyes flew open.
Teal'c released his grip and sat upright in an instant. O'Neill watched his friend quickly scan the warehouse's dark basement.
"Linea has taken Daniel Jackson."
The colonel struggled simply to remain propped up on his elbows and watched in envy as Teal'c rose effortlessly to his feet.
"Yeah." It was all O'Neill could manage to say. He nodded weakly in the direction of Major Carter. "Carter." The word was barely above a whisper.
The colonel let himself fall back to the ground and listened as Teal'c helped revive his second-in-command. He heard Carter voice a nearly indecipherable "Oh, God." Whatever else she tried to say was lost, but O'Neill did hear Daniel's name mentioned as she came to the same conclusion he and Teal'c had already reached.
They needed to go outside to see what damage Linea had done to the city above. They needed to find Nodaal and Layale, to get whatever information they could about what the woman had been up to since SG-7 had left six weeks earlier. They needed to find any information at all that might help them determine where Linea had taken Daniel.
In the shape they were in, they could do nothing but return to the SGC.
When Teal'c announced his intent to dial home, O'Neill managed to give the Jaffa a shaky thumb's up before letting his hand drop listlessly, uselessly back to the ground.
* * *
Daniel was dropped onto a hard surface, his hands brushing a fabric that had been placed there before him. From the movements of the stranger, the archeologist could only assume he was on a raised platform of some kind, high enough that the stranger did not need to bend too low as he stretched out Daniel's legs and arms.
Despite the unpleasant landing, the stranger's ministrations were cautious, almost gentle. Even when something was pulled tightly across Daniel's chest -- straps from the feel of them, leather from the smell -- the archeologist sensed a measure of care in the process. Though he was clearly a captive, he sensed no animosity from his captor.
After more straps were pulled across his legs, Daniel's wrists were clamped into some sort of metal bracing, as were his ankles. Amazed by the overkill, he would have laughed if he could have. Linea and her companion, this strong and gentle stranger, were taking no chances. Maybe that was a good sign, suggesting Daniel might have some opportunities for escape. Maybe. At least it gave him a sense of hope.
When the stranger left him, Daniel listened for some indication of where he was. He heard nothing. A low, constant hum echoed from somewhere beneath him, but that was all. There were no voices. No footfalls. Only silence.
Locked into such isolation, trapped both by his body's own unresponsiveness and his new restraints, eventually he drifted off to sleep, though he did not remember doing so. He only knew he awoke some uncountable amount of time later, when his eyelids fluttered open to reveal a gilded ceiling.
Panic jolted him fully awake, stealing his breath and sending his heart into hard, thumping spasms before he began to remember the strange events preceding this moment. He remembered falling. He remembered Ke'ra's voice. Yet the memories were image-less, lost in a surreal darkness and limited to sounds and feelings that seemed to lack logic. It was all so strange, so distant. He could scarcely convince himself he had not dreamt the entire episode. But his restraints were very real. Painfully and frighteningly real.
He tried to twist, tried to push against the straps. Though they gave no leeway, no reprieve for his stiffening muscles, he found an odd sense of satisfaction as he came to accept that whatever Ke'ra -- or Linea -- had done to paralyze him, the effects were not permanent. Still, he found little comfort in the realization. He was trapped, imprisoned in a Goa'uld environment, and locked so firmly into position his earlier paralysis seemed little different.
Daniel drew a deep breath to control his failing nerves, and then chanced a better look at his surroundings. His head was not constrained; he could twist it left and right, enough to see his prison resembled the cargo hold of a Goa'uld ship.
There was no sign of his teammates.
He allowed himself to remain hopeful that the rest of SG-1 had been left on Vyus.
"Good. You're awake. We're almost there."
A man's voice. Familiar. Daniel hoped he was wrong, knew he must be wrong.
He let go of those thoughts, choosing instead to pursue another. "And where might that be?"
"It's not really the where that should matter to you. It's the who."
"Okay. Then who?"
"A new player. Someone who has an awful lot of interest in you. You don't seem to have a lot of luck with the ladies, now do you?"
The man took a seat beside him. As Daniel turned to look, Aris Boch smiled back at him. Frustrated to have been proven right in his assumptions about the stranger's identity, the archeologist rolled his head back and closed his eyes.
"Where's the rest of my team?"
"Oh, I don't know. Probably back at your Stargate command center by now. Maybe even searching the streets of Vyus for you."
"You left them behind?" Though he was glad to hear this news, it made no sense.
"Yep. The deal was just you. Oh, I could've made a lot more off of all of you, but I kind of got to like you guys. Must be getting soft. I didn't want to be greedy with folks I like."
"I thought the others were more valuable to you. The price on my head wasn't as high."
"Markets change. You should know that."
"So what changed, exactly?"
"Don't know. Don't ask. Just deliver what I promise."
"Then, what changed with you? You let us go before. Why come after us ... after me ... now?"
"Hey, look, you know there's nothing personal in what I do. If I had a better choice, I'd never have gone after you. But sometimes you gotta do things you don't like."
The bounty hunter hesitated, seeming uncomfortable. "It's kind of complicated."
Boch let out a long breath. "That lady-friend of yours..." He looked behind him and then leaned in close to Daniel's face to whisper, "You know she's pretty psycho."
A moment later he sat back in his chair, casually continuing the conversation. "She got me another source for my Roshna. I don't have to rely so much on my bounties anymore. You're a smart guy. You can understand that."
"So what does she get out of this deal?"
Daniel heard a woman's soft laughter somewhere behind him. He looked at Boch, saw the man shake his head and rise from his seat.
"Like I said. For me, this is just business. Nothing personal."
The words were very much Aris Boch. And the way he hesitated before walking away, the disturbed look Daniel saw in his eyes making the statement seem almost like an apology, confirmed the bounty hunter was resolute in his actions.
This observation gave Daniel little comfort -- and even less hope.
General Hammond scanned the faces in his briefing room. Major Carter and Teal'c each looked at Dr. Frasier expectantly, but Colonel O'Neill instead glared at Major Simmons of SG-7, whose team was also present. Hammond knew the colonel needed someone to blame for what had happened on Vyus. SG-7 fit the bill, having failed to see Ke'ra-Linea's digression before it was too late. But Hammond would never allow the blame-game to be played out under his command. He was going to have to handle this situation quickly and carefully.
He nodded at Frasier. "Doctor?"
"Well, sir, the blood samples taken when SG-1 first returned showed traces of a substance we've been unable to identify. But the samples we drew an hour ago were completely normal. Other tests indicate there have been no residual effects of the paralyzing nature of the drug, or whatever it is this substance represents. SG-1 has, in my opinion, made a full recovery, although I have yet to determine exactly what it was they've recovered from."
"Thank you for the good news, Doctor." The general nodded at her appreciatively. "I expect you will continue your analysis and report any results on a priority basis."
"Of course, sir." She shook her head. "But I have to say, it may take some time, given Linea's advancements."
"Understood, Doctor. Do what you can."
He quickly turned his attention to the woman sitting across from Frasier. "Major Carter, have you arrived at any theories as to what method might have been used to administer this substance in the first place?"
"Well, sir, since we were all affected simultaneously at the very moment we exited the Stargate, I believe we're looking at something air-born, probably in gaseous form and capable of penetrating the skin...."
"Nerve gas?" Colonel O'Neill asked with raised eyebrows.
"Essentially, yes, sir."
The general was puzzled. "Why wouldn't Linea also have been affected?"
"She might have taken some sort of antidote in advance," Dr. Frasier suggested.
Carter nodded, and then added another alternative. "Or it might be a gas that acts quickly and just as quickly dissipates. It's possible she was far enough away to avoid contact, then approached Daniel as soon as she knew it was safe."
"Major Simmons. Dr. Frasier." The general looked to each in turn. "I want SG-7 and a medical team geared up to return to Vyus immediately, under strict quarantine protocols...."
"General," Colonel O'Neill interrupted, "that should be my team's assignment."
"Negative, Colonel. This mission is to determine any remaining threat to the local population, as well as to investigate Linea's activities...."
"General! SG-7 couldn't even...."
"Colonel!" General Hammond glared at SG-1's senior officer, well aware of the colonel's need for action, but also well aware that whatever team was sent to Vyus would need to remain level-headed and diplomatic. Jack O'Neill was far too close to the situation.
Still meeting Colonel O'Neill's eyes glare for glare, Hammond softened his tone. "SG-1 will be needed here."
Jack clenched his jaw but did not object, and Hammond returned his attention to Simmons and Frasier.
"SG-7 is to investigate Linea's activities up to and including the moments before she attacked SG-1. Any information that might suggest where she has taken Dr. Jackson is to be reported back here forthwith. Is that understood?"
"Yes, sir," Simmons responded, as Frasier offered her own, "Of course, sir."
"General Hammond," Teal'c broke in, "Linea spoke of allies and bargains she had made, including one involving Daniel Jackson. It could prove invaluable to learn if there have been any strangers to Vyus with whom she may have recently come into contact. Such information might help to identify the other who was with her in the warehouse."
"Agreed. Very well. Dr. Frasier, SG-7, you are dismissed. Colonel," Hammond once again locked eyes with O'Neill, "I would like you and your team to remain for a moment."
He waited for the others to leave, and then gave Jack O'Neill his full attention. "Colonel, we have already been in contact with the Tok'ra and are expecting one of their operatives to arrive here at 0900 this morning. I want SG-1 present for that meeting."
"The Tok'ra, sir?" O'Neill made no attempt to hide his suspicions.
Major Carter seemed to share her CO's concerns. "General, you don't think Linea has some involvement with the Goa'uld. Do you, sir?"
"That can't be ruled out as a possibility, Major. However, even if that is not the case, the Tok'ra have far more eyes and ears out there than we do. They might have come across some information which might mean nothing to them, but everything to our search for Dr. Jackson."
"Yes, sir. Of course."
"In the meantime, I suggest we all get some shut eye."
"Begging your pardon, sir, but I think we had plenty of that while we were on Vyus."
The general smiled wearily. "Well, then, Major, perhaps a work out might be more in order for SG-1. I, on the other hand, could stand to use a couple of hours before the Tok'ra arrive."
Hammond could empathize with the obvious discomfort his reply caused the major, remembering similar political errors he'd made earlier in his own career. The urgent nature of SG-1's late-night return had cost Hammond nearly a full night of sleep, a fact the major had innocently forgotten. His smile at her and Teal'c's departure was offered as a subtle assurance he would not hold such a minor oversight against her.
Turning back, he was not surprised Jack O'Neill had remained seated.
"Pardon me for being blunt, sir," The colonel said once the rest of his team had gone, "but you know something, don't you?"
"Colonel, I am merely trying every option I have to determine what has become of Dr. Jackson. Trust me; I want him back as much as you do."
"And Linea, sir?"
"I won't lie to you, Jack. Linea has become a particularly nasty thorn in our side. And since I agreed to let her out of here in the first place, I take full responsibility for what she has done, both to Vyus, and to Dr. Jackson."
Jack O'Neill nodded slowly. "I have to admit, General, I think we all wanted to believe Daniel was right ... about her forgetting, and all that."
"Right or not, I like to think Dr. Jackson keeps us human. He's a good influence to have around here. I remain hopeful that it is precisely our humanity which will eventually lead us to defeat the Goa'uld. But even Dr. Jackson has to realize the greater good of humanity itself can sometimes negate our hopes for any one individual."
He glanced down at his hands, folded together on the table before him. When he raised his eyes again, he focused a career's worth of determination in the look he gave Colonel O'Neill.
"If I had thought there would have been any chance at all for Ke'ra to become Linea again," He continued, "I would never have agreed to releasing her to Vyus in the first place. That being said, I will do everything in my power to ensure it never happens again."
* * *
She stood above him, looking down with playful innocence and giggling like a child.
As Daniel watched, Ke'ra's look changed. Her eyes, her entire countenance shifted as though she became a different person. The smile vanished, playfulness giving way to ... to what? At first Daniel was sure he saw anger. But even that melted away. His words forgotten, he waited to see what else might be revealed.
She sat on the edge of his makeshift bed and began toying with the leather straps across his chest. He steeled himself, thinking she was about to draw them tighter. Instead she turned her attention to him, her eyes now reminding him of a kiss they'd shared in another place, in another life, when naiveté and innocence had allowed them that indiscretion.
There was longing in those eyes, as deep and intense as he'd ever seen.
She traced the line of his jaw, her soft touch too like it had been earlier, on Vyus. He tensed reflexively. She drew her hand away.
"Do you not wish to be my lover, Daniel?" She did not appear surprised, nor disturbed, nor even curious. She was without emotion, void of feeling.
"Why are you doing this, Ke'ra?"
"Ke'ra? Ke'ra's dead, Daniel Jackson." It was a casual reply, spoken in a tone that suggested the woman named "Ke'ra" was a stranger, a person of little consequence. "Surely you knew that by now."
Daniel closed his eyes, trying to force the image of Linea into his mind. The effort was wasted the moment he opened them again. All he could see was Ke'ra.
"Linea, then." He felt uncomfortable addressing her by that name. "Whoever you are. Why?"
"Linea is also dead. I am no one, Daniel Jackson. No one at all. I am many people. Many, many people. But in the end, no one at all. That is what you have done to me, my Daniel."
Still there was no anger in her. Oddly, a smile formed on her lips. It was not the childish grin of before, but rather a smile of supreme satisfaction, serving to intensify the desire in her eyes.
"But I will become someone again. Because of you, I will become someone strong and powerful. There will be no more prisons, no more hateful glares. I will be worshipped and adored. I will be wanted, my Daniel. As you once wanted me."
She laughed seductively at his confusion. A moment later she leaned forward to kiss him. Giggling when he did not respond, she kissed him again, prying his lips open with her tongue. She pushed aside his tie, and fumbled to undo the buttons on his shirt, her mouth firmly pressed to his all the while. Her hand slithered across his chest, reached lower to kindle the need she could sense growing within him. Her tongue crossed his lips, his chin, his throat, as her fingers danced delicately beneath his waistband.
Daniel's chest heaved in and out with growing rapidity. His heart pounded with an excitement his clenched teeth tried to deny.
Smiling, she kissed him again.
Whether against his will or in reaction to it, his jaw slackened in response, and his mouth opened to hers.
He was ready to accept her, ready to give in to the yearnings of his body, ready to dismiss the cruel rejection in his heart. And she was ready as well -- ready to abandon him to his needs as she believed he had once abandoned her. Laughing softly, she pulled away.
"All debts do get paid, my Daniel."
Her low laughter only intensified the throbbing she'd left behind.
When an incoming wormhole set the alarms blaring at precisely 0859, Jack O'Neill knew it was the Tok'ra representative arriving on schedule. Yet when he saw the familiarly garbed man step through the blue ring, he could not force back intense disappointment, having hoped, somehow, to see Daniel. His shoulders sagging, he closed his eyes and dropped his head until the alarms went quiet, the sudden silence rousing him back to reality.
It would take a major miracle for Daniel to walk through that 'gate on his own. Jack had been through enough in his life to know miracles simply didn't happen -- especially when you needed them the most.
At least the man who came through was the only Tok'ra Jack would have wanted to see just then, the only one he'd ever allowed himself to trust.
"It's good to see you, Jacob." He held out his hand after Carter led her father up the stairs to the general's briefing room, followed by a solemn and silent Teal'c.
"Jack." The man shook his hand. "I only wish it was under better circumstances. Or at least that I had some better information to provide."
"Jacob," General Hammond greeted his old friend with a small smile. "We'll be thankful for whatever you can give us."
As they arranged themselves around the conference table, Jacob held up his hand to refuse the coffee his daughter offered to him. Sam Carter took the seat between him and Teal'c, and sipped from her own cup, focusing her attention on her father.
"I can say it's my guess Osiris might be behind this," He said without preamble.
Jack closed his eyes and let out a rush of air. All he'd wanted was a simple fishing trip. Had that been so much to ask for? Yes, if this was the result. No. Don't go there. Even if he had been around when Daniel had stumbled upon that ancient Goa'uld in Chicago, Osiris might still have escaped. He took a deep breath and gave his attention back to Jacob.
"He has not entered onto the scene quietly since escaping his imprisonment here on Earth," The elder Carter continued. "We know he's been gathering forces, mostly from rag-tag operations the other system lords have abandoned for one reason or another."
"Any idea what he intends to do with these forces?" General Hammond asked.
"Well, for one thing, he seems to be trying to get Apophis' attention. And I can tell you, he's succeeding."
Carter looked at her father questioningly. "Hoping for an alliance?"
"Probably." Jacob nodded. "What better way to regain power than to ally himself with the strongest of the system lords?"
Jack settled back in his chair. "And Daniel's just another bargaining chip."
"So it would seem." Jacob shook his head, puzzled. "But I still don't understand why Osiris would only have taken Dr. Jackson when he could have had all four of you. If he really wanted to get on Apophis' good side, that would have given him a pretty good guarantee."
Teal'c had his own theory for this apparent oversight. "He might not have been made aware that all of SG-1 were within his grasp."
Jack nodded. "Okay. I'll buy that. Linea's smart enough not to lay all her cards on the table at once. But you'd think she'd at least hold onto the cards she had, right?"
Carter shook her head. "Not necessarily, sir. She sounded pretty unbalanced. It might have been all she could do just to stay focused on her plans for Daniel."
Jack leaned forward, clasping his hands in front of him on the table. "Okay. The bottom line here is Linea took Daniel, and we're assuming that's because she made a deal with Osiris. So how did Linea find Osiris in the first place, and where do we find him now?"
Jacob met his eyes. "That's the problem."
* * *
Aris Boch returned wearing the same pained look as before. This time, Daniel saw more pity than apology in it. Daniel Jackson was in no mood for pity. He was angry. His muscles tensed against his restraints, making the straps feel tighter, heavier, making his situation seem bleaker. His mood grew darker still.
"They'll be here for you in just a few minutes," Boch offered. "Thought you should know."
"Well, thank you, I appreciate that," Daniel answered sarcastically. "I'd appreciate it even more if you'd get me out of these ..." Clenching his teeth he hissed, "Straps," and heaved against them angrily, uselessly.
"Sorry, buddy. No can do."
"What -- do you think -- I'm going to do?" Daniel spat. "Keep the shackles! Just get me out of these straps!"
"Hey, I'm with you. I wish I could, really. If it were up to me, we'd never have put them on. But it wasn't my call. Still isn't."
Daniel rolled his head back, closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
"Ke'ra." The name came to him in a quick flash of despair. His muscles relaxed as his anger faded, but he was left stiff and sore.
God! What had she become? Should he have let her die? No! How could he? Yet his efforts to save her had turned her into something none of them could have expected, a soul so tortured and twisted that even as Linea she would have been better off.
Daniel didn't quite catch Aris Boch's next words.
"What?" He asked with no real interest.
"You should be careful what you call her. Sometimes Ke'ra's the right answer. Other times she'll claw you to pieces if you call her that. You're better off just calling her "Hey, you. But," Boch shook his head, "the straps weren't her idea either, although she doesn't seem too bothered by them."
Daniel's silent glare and raised eyebrows were all that was needed to prompt more of an answer.
"It's the buyer's idea. Seems you've earned a reputation for slipping through Apophis' fingers. This time, it's our behinds if that happens."
"Apophis?" Daniel felt little surprise at that revelation.
"Well,... Probably. Eventually."
Daniel sighed in frustration. "Why do you have to be so cryptic? No. Wait. Don't tell me. It's the buyer's idea."
Boch smiled. "See. There you go. I knew you were smart."
Apparently this order of secrecy extended further still. Before Daniel could ask another question or utter another complaint, the bounty hunter slapped a wide strip of some kind of clear tape across his mouth, effectively sealing it shut -- so effectively, in fact, Daniel's immediate concern had nothing to do with his inability to shout, should that need arise. Rather, his first thoughts were of suffocation. If his allergies kicked in and clogged his sinuses while the tape was still in place, breathing could quickly become impossible. He received regular allergy shots at the SGC, but he hadn't taken his daily antihistamine since the evening before SG-1 left for Vyus.
Daniel had no idea how long ago that was.
As though in preparation for that possibility, he inhaled deeply through his nose, finding himself grateful that he could, and then turned an angry, puzzled look on his captor.
Boch shrugged. "Sorry, guy. Buyer's orders."
It was obvious Boch was not pleased to be fulfilling these unusual requirements. But Daniel could find no sympathy for the bounty hunter's discomfort -- especially when Boch's next move was to wrap a mask around Daniel's eyes. Made of an odd, black material that quickly molded itself to the shape of Daniel's skull, the mask sealed his eyes as completely as the tape sealed his mouth.
Blind, mute and essentially paralyzed, Daniel Jackson was now as helpless as he'd ever been. Part of him sent out an immediate mental plea for help to his teammates. Yet another part, somewhere closer to his heart, prayed he would not be found, that his friends would remain safely oblivious to his plight, and so not fall victim to it as well. He was alone and admittedly afraid. But the fact that he was alone also gave him comfort. With that thought, he calmed his racing heart, and listened for what might come next, surprised to find himself able to do so. For whatever reason, Boch left his ears free.
Unable to flee, unable to scream against whatever torture was sure to come, and utterly unable to resist, Daniel Jackson could clearly hear his future approaching with the steady cadence of marching Jaffa.
Jacob pointed to several spots on the star chart before him. "Osiris is known to have taken over ancient Jaffa encampments here, here and here. We've also found that he's converted the local, primitive populations of several planets in this area."
"Converted?" Jack was skeptical about Jacob's use of the term.
"They've been without Goa'uld rule for generations. Apparently Osiris decided it was time they found a new god."
"Ah," Jack nodded. "Of course. What was I thinking?"
Carter studied the location of the planets her father identified. "That's still a pretty small area to cover. It shouldn't be too hard to track him down."
"Except that he's moved on. He didn't find enough Jaffa to recruit, and only has a small number of the primitives with him. His control over them is limited to their belief in him as a deity. After learning about the rebellion on Earth, he's probably thinking such a hold can be tenuous at best. I guess he figures the larger the number, the bigger the potential for an uprising."
Jack felt suddenly hopeful. "So he doesn't have an army yet. That's good."
Jacob nodded and shrugged. "If we can find him. He's managed to get his hands on a Ha'tak vessel...."
Jack squinted in confusion and turned to Teal'c for the translation.
"A mother ship," The Jaffa offered, recognizing the unspoken request.
Impressed that the new Goa'uld in town could trade in a simple transport vessel and come away with the biggest ship on the lot, Jack whistled. "Okay, so Osiris has a big ship. That should make him easier to find, not harder, right?"
Jacob gave him the look, the one Jack remembered getting from disappointed teachers. Jack sighed, already knowing he was not going to like the answer, as Jacob directed them once again to the chart.
"We've speculated he might be heading to any one of these areas, the control over which is still up for grabs since Heru'ur's death."
Jack closed his eyes and whispered a soft "Oy".
"You can't narrow it down any further than that?" Carter's voice got higher and louder with each word. "It could take weeks to cover so much territory. Months, maybe."
Behind her, General Hammond's words cut in like a beacon through heavy fog. "Then we'd better get started."
It was not only the voice of command; it was the voice of determination. Jack nodded in appreciation, and then drew in a deep breath, steeling himself for what lay ahead.
* * *
The platform Daniel had been strapped to was a mobile one. Surrounded by Jaffa, he felt his body rise as the platform was lifted, and could sense himself being propelled feet first toward his next destination. But they had not gone far when this forward motion came to an abrupt halt. Seconds later, a deep, resonating hum and the familiar prickly feel of an energy field told him he had been taken through transport rings.
He was no longer on Boch's ship.
Where then? A planet? A mother ship?
Once again flanked by the metallic echoes of marching Jaffa, it was clear he was still inside something. The sound of each footfall was far too tinny to indicate dirt or rocks.
Given the straps, the shackles and the Jaffa, escape was highly unlikely. Still, Daniel could not prevent himself from hoping a Stargate waited nearby. He needed to believe he was in a building ... on a planet ... with a Stargate. He needed that link to home. He needed to believe there was a chance, however small, to make it back to the SGC.
The marching continued in a pulsing beat that pounded its way into Daniel's brain, hammering out thoughts of what might lie in wait when this journey came to an end. As he was moved through countless twists and turns, down countless endless corridors, a thousand nightmare images grew out of those thoughts. He cringed from the remembered pain of a ribbon device, even knowing there could be worse in store for him. Much worse.
Daniel tried to fight back with pleasant memories of Sha're. Yet Ke'ra came through instead. He saw the young woman in her VIP room at the SGC, her visage one of impassioned innocence, her lips so close, so delicate, so inviting. Then he saw her as she had appeared to him just hours before.
Ke'ra was no more.
She had become another loss, another casualty of Daniel's cursed existence.
First, Sha're was taken by the Goa'uld, her soul trapped as her body became the vessel of a hated usurper. Then Ke'ra -- innocent, caring Ke'ra -- possessed of the lust for knowledge that once led her to become Linea, Destroyer of Worlds, had finally and irreversibly stumbled upon the path of madness. Even Sarah, who should have been safely tucked within the walls of Daniel's academic past, had fallen victim to the Goa'uld, a creature that had long ago evicted Daniel from those same walls by enticing him with its altered version of history -- a version shunned by his colleagues yet known to be true by the select few who operated and monitored the SGC.
He was responsible for each of those women. Without him, surely their lives would have been different. Wouldn't they?
He took a deep breath and tried to push these new thoughts from his mind. If it hadn't been for Daniel, Sha're might still be a slave of Ra. Ke'ra might never have existed; the transformation which had changed her from Linea would never have occurred if SG-1 had not inadvertently freed her from Hadante prison. And Sarah.... Sarah would, very probably, still have fallen victim to Osiris.
Somewhere during his musings, the marching stopped.
A sudden jolt heralded the Jaffas' careless release of the platform, and Daniel swallowed the grunt that would not escape his trapped lips.
Silence ensued. A stillness which gave him perhaps a greater sense of unease than the crashing footfalls of the Jaffa threatened from outside his tight cocoon. Daniel listened, waiting for something to announce where he had been taken, into whose hands Aris Boch had delivered him. Only then might he begin to understand why.
As he listened, as he waited for the first of his answers, Daniel's mind, unable to remain as still as his surroundings, took him on a roller-coaster ride into an impossible, improbable and dreaded world only a nightmare might produce. His heart danced in startled reaction. His breaths began to come in abbreviated sniffs, causing him to remember his earlier fear of suffocation.
Finally, into that dark silence, into that whirlwind stillness, a voice beckoned him, a soft, lilting voice offering the warm and comforting sound of home -- of another home, of another time.
Sarah? No. It must be a trick of his over-active mind.
"You don't believe what you're hearing, do you?"
He could imagine Sarah smiling at his surprise, could hear that familiar smile in her welcome voice.
"It's alright to believe, Daniel. I seem to recall saying that to you long ago. Do you remember? Can you remember when I told you it's alright to believe, but sometimes you have to keep your dreams inside? I told you to keep silent about your theories, didn't I? I knew you would be laughed at, ridiculed. You needed more evidence, whether you were right or not. You do remember that, don't you?"
Sarah! Oh, God! It was Vyus all over again, Daniel trapped, his body useless. This was no different. Except now Sarah took Ke'ra's place.
"Well, that's what I have to do now. I have to keep my dreams inside. I have to lock away any hope, any belief that maybe someday someone will come to free me from the prison Osiris has trapped me in; a prison inside my own body."
No. This was different. Sarah sounded very calm, very sane. Her voice quivered slightly, yet she was in control. Yes. She was in control. Not Osiris.
"You're still questioning, aren't you? That's our Daniel, alright. Never satisfied with the simplest truth. You always did have to go deeper, to find the most impossible, the most extreme answers. But you don't have to question this. This is real. I'm real."
As though to prove her words, she touched him, her soft fingers tenderly brushing his cheek. The warmth of that touch was a welcome relief from the chill of fear that had overtaken the rest of his body. Yet in an instant it was gone. That small, brief connection to her was lost when she pulled away and continued her discourse.
"Osiris has chosen to give me this moment. He wants to feel my anguish over watching you suffer. My emotions are his entertainment. But I will only give him so much, Daniel. Only so much. That's why I lock my dreams away. When I don't, I become the one to attract ridicule. His ridicule."
"The demon sleeps." Sha're's voice beckoned from the depths of Daniel's memories, her words giving him hope for Sarah. He could help her. He could take her to the Tollans. They could free her from the Goa'uld.
Yet how could he tell her these things? How could he let her know there was room for hope?
Daniel's hands curled into fists as the words died unspoken.
"Can you imagine it, Daniel?" Sarah's voice now seemed to mock what Sha're would offer. "Having no control over what you do? That's what he's trying to do to you, to show you what you've done to me. He wants you to know what it's like to have no control over your own body. To see only what he chooses to let you see. To speak only when he chooses to let you. To do only what he would have you do."
God, Sarah! Don't let him do this!
"But can you imagine it, really? Can you imagine killing someone, slowly, horribly; reaching out your own hand, completely against your will, to snap a child's neck? This is what Osiris does to me, Daniel. This, and more."
Daniel shook his head forcibly from side to side. It was the only way he could even try to communicate with her. It wasn't enough.
"He wants me to hate you. He wants me to blame you for letting this happen to me. I must admit, sometimes I do want to blame you. It would be easy to do. It feels good to have someone to blame, and I'm sorry to say you would be quite the easy target. If you had shared your little secret about the Stargate, I might have known to use more caution; I might have known there was a reason for caution beyond protecting the artifacts."
The tension of Daniel's own desperation melted from the heat of these words. I'm sorry, Sarah. I had no choice.
"For a while, I did blame you. You knew, Daniel. You knew. And yet you told me nothing."
I had no choice.
"Of course, I do know why you held your secret. I know how governments work. I would never have expected you to fall into those politics, but I suppose if it would satisfy your own need to know, then perhaps it does make sense.
"No. I can't blame you. You did what you had to do. Just, please understand, Daniel, that I do what Osiris must. I have even less choice than you. Just ... remember that."
Fingers reached under Daniel's mask, ripping it from his face. He blinked against the sudden onslaught of light, but his eyes were quick to adjust as he focused on the figure forming before him.
But the smile was not hers. It was too arrogant, too hateful.
When that all-too-familiar glow flashed in her eyes, Daniel's stomach lurched in silent protest.
"You are a pathetic, little man, Daniel Jackson." Osiris glared at Daniel. "You, who dared to attack Osiris. You, who allowed the Tau'ri's rebellion to continue into the stars."
It laughed softly, cruelly. "I cannot see how you have been such a bane to Apophis. Yet, that you have will be useful to me. Apophis will come to appreciate my value when I reveal you to him. He will owe me much. And he will pay."
Sarah's head tilted sideways as her brows furrowed curiously. "How is it that I see more anger than fear in your eyes?" She shrugged. "It is of no matter. That will change."
Her hand rose before him, her fingers opening to reveal the ribbon device in her palm.
Daniel winced instinctively.
"Ah, so this you do fear. Very wise, Daniel Jackson. Remember that fear. Remember it well."
Withdrawing Sarah's hand without activating the device, Osiris turned toward the Jaffa by the door. "Jaffa, Kree!"
At that command, both Ke'ra and Aris Boch were ushered into the room. Neither appeared to be captive. Ke'ra even smiled. Yet there was no mistaking the distrust in the cautious stance of the Jaffa surrounding them.
Sarah's eyes met Ke'ra's, and both women smiled broadly. Once more, Daniel heard Ke'ra giggle playfully. As Sarah's hand reached out in invitation, Ke'ra hurried forward, eager to take it.
"You are the woman I have been told of?" Osiris reached a delicate hand to gently stroke Ke'ra's golden curls. "The woman who seeks rebirth?"
Ke'ra moved into Osiris' touch, pressing her cheek towards the other's open palm.
"Oh, yes." Her answer was spoken with the ecstatic anticipation of a young lover during fore-play. "I will do as you say. I will be yours forever, only for this gift you alone can bestow upon me."
"Then come." Osiris led Ke'ra to a platform parallel to Daniel's, not quite four feet away.
He tried to meet her eyes, but she would see nothing and no one except Osiris. Daniel wasn't even sure what Ke'ra perceived Osiris' body to be. Oddly, she seemed to focus on the Goa'uld within, rather than the woman without. And somehow, despite what thieves and butchers the Goa'uld by nature were, she was in awe, enraptured with the ideal of this one who stood before her.
Beside the platform, Ke'ra allowed a Jaffa to touch her, and even assisted him in removing her dress. She giggled again, and then lay down, naked, upon the smooth, golden surface.
Daniel watched in wide-eyed horror, seeing this woman, this young woman he could so easily have come to love, place herself before Osiris as a willing sacrifice.
My God! This couldn't possibly be the bargain she'd made. Could it? But why?
Daniel heard Ke'ra's voice in his thoughts. I will become someone strong and powerful. She'd been so certain. I will be worshipped and adored.
He finally came to see the truth he wouldn't allow himself to consider before, a truth he couldn't have imagined as possible. Angry and desperate to be freed, to at least be allowed to voice the shout stuck uselessly in his throat, Daniel threw his head back against his own platform and squirmed against his bindings. But there was no point to his struggle, no hope to be gained from it.
Finally surrendering, he gave his attention back to Ke'ra
Her chest heaved in excitement. Her face beamed with a smile greater than she had ever given Daniel.
When a priestess was brought to stand at Ke'ra's side, Daniel closed his eyes tightly. But he was not a child who could run and hide to make the monsters go away. He could not simply make a wish to have this nightmare end. Nor could he ignore the desperate mistake this confused, young woman was about to make.
He opened his eyes in time to see the newly matured Goa'uld stretch out from the priestess' pouch to investigate the young woman being offered to it. As its reptilian, crowned head came close to her face, still Ke'ra's smile did not waver. So certain was she of her decision, she looked to it in fascination, her excitement nearing orgasmic intensity.
But it did not accept the offering.
Uninterested, it slithered back into the pouch. The priestess rearranged her garments and walked away, unconcerned, taking with her Ke'ra's dreams of glory.
Too confused yet to be angry, Ke'ra sat up on the platform, her face contorting in a shift between smiles and puzzlement. She met Osiris' glowing eyes, begging for an answer. Sarah's lips smiled back -- even as her hand raised the ribbon device before her.
Still smiling, Osiris caught Ke'ra in the device's energy beam. He held her in its grip until her eyes glazed in familiar emptiness. When he released the beam, Ke'ra fell back. Her body hit the platform, the momentum turning her head until she faced Daniel.
Daniel looked at her eyes, at the lifelessness reflecting back at him. He refused to turn away, refused to ignore the end result of his own desperate belief in fairy tales. You can forget, he'd told her so long ago. But could he?
* * *
Jack stepped back through the Stargate at the SGC prepared to voice a string of complaints about the miserably damp conditions on P38-211 and the Tok'ras' continuing failure to zero in on Osiris. But suddenly none of that mattered. He forgot everything else the instant he saw the figure waiting with General Hammond at the bottom of the ramp.
"Colonel O'Neill," Aris Boch greeted him with a wide smile. "Bet you never expected to see me here, now did you?"
Jack looked to Hammond.
"General?" The rest of his question was expressed through his raised eyebrows and critical glare. "Sir?"
"Colonel, this gentleman sought out SG-7 on Vyus...."
Jack would have commented on Hammond's use of the word gentleman, but another caught his full attention. "Vyus, sir?" His glare moved to Boch, as his hand went instinctively to his side-arm. He stopped just short of drawing the weapon.
"Yep," Boch answered instead. "Seems we've made a mutual acquaintance. A certain psycho-broad with a love-hate thing going on with your Dr. Jackson."
Jack tensed as he fingered his weapon. "Oh, is that right? Well, then let me guess. You made a little deal with her, didn't you?" His eyes went cold.
Without giving himself even a moment to consider his actions, Jack drew his gun and held it mere inches from the bounty hunter's face. "Where is he? What did you do to him?"
"Stand down, Colonel!" General Hammond commanded harshly.
"General," Jack kept his focus on Boch, "I don't know what he told you, but this man is...."
"Colonel!" Hammond shouted once more.
The bounty hunter never flinched.
Jack forced his gaze away, noticed the number of weapons leveled at him in the gateroom. He let his arm fall and looked to the general.
"Colonel," Hammond lightened his tone but remained stern, "Mr. Boch here insists he knows Osiris' whereabouts. He claims to have an interest in helping us to recover Dr. Jackson."
"Is that right? An interest?" He looked hard at Boch. "And what's that? You working both sides, now? You want us to pay you double whatever Osiris paid?"
Boch squinted and hissed in a poor attempt to put up a wounded front. "Oh, now that's cold, Colonel! You should know me better than that."
"I should, huh? Well, just tell me then. Did you or did you not help Linea kidnap Daniel?"
"That's enough, Colonel," Hammond interrupted. "Report with your team to the briefing room immediately."
He refused to look away from Boch.
"I said now, Colonel!"
Jack held his position for a moment longer. "Yes, sir," He answered, finally pulling away. "But if Daniel isn't … if we don't get him back in the condition we last saw him, I suggest you hold this man fully responsible."
One last, hateful glare made it clear that Jack O'Neill already considered Boch tried and convicted -- and more. He was just waiting to answer the call for an executioner.
Daniel felt as though he had been locked into a dark, empty tomb.
The room was as black as the place within him where Ke'ra's death held sway, and where Sarah's captivity reminded him of the many mistakes he'd made in his life.
Sarah had been right.
I'd never have expected you to fall into those politics.
Neither had he. Yet he had mired himself so deeply into a confidential program that he had forgotten the people who had unknowingly helped him to achieve his dream, the friends who had learned with him, who had studied with him, and who, with their constant debates, had fed his need to find the answers no one else dared to explore.
Lost to this darkness, Daniel welcomed the pain in his wrists as he fought to pull them free of their shackles. The blood he drew reminded him of the black marks embedded on his soul, even as it helped to lubricate the metal bindings. His thumbs folded tight against his palms, he could feel the metal slipping over the fleshy part of his hand, reaching his knuckles. He would soon be free. But Daniel wasn't thinking about freedom. He was thinking about pain, a far different, far more intense pain than that caused by the abuse he was doing to his hands.
A sound made him pause. He listened closely, soon identifying the rhythmic crash of an approaching Jaffa. Daniel had no doubt the man came for him.
If he was already free, he might be able to surprise one Jaffa enough to over-power him. But he was not free. Nor would he be for a long time to come. If that man saw Daniel's hands, his wrists, if he recognized Daniel's attempts at reaching freedom, what then? What more could Osiris do to him? Take him as a host? Kill him, only to revive him again? Yet what did it matter? No torment could be worse than that which he was already putting himself through.
The footfalls stopped abruptly.
An overwhelming brightness forced Daniel's eyes closed and muddied his concentration as he struggled to readjust his vision.
The Jaffa drew nearer, the armored steps finally coming to rest directly beside him. The weight of that man's presence was palpable, dominating Daniel's thoughts. Something dire was about to happen, and Daniel could not even see it coming.
No. He would see it coming. He squinted into the sudden daylight until he could make out the image of the Jaffa above him, and someone else as well. Daniel was surprised to find that a woman, soft-footed and perfectly quiet, stood at the man's side.
Before Daniel could fully focus, the tape was torn from his mouth. He yelled out in surprise at the sting, and then almost laughed, realizing how trivial that feeling was compared to the fire in his hands. His hands....
He studied the Jaffa, looking for any indication that his own desperate efforts had been discovered. But the warrior appeared uninterested, unwilling even to look at the captive. The wall ahead seemed to hold far more importance than a lone, shackled and bound Tau'ri.
Daniel was still watching the unmoving Jaffa when he felt something touch his lips. Startled, he gulped a lung full of air with the water that was poured into his mouth, and began to cough in great, choking spasms. Long seconds later, as the fit subsided and his eyes regained their focus through the watery film that had formed, he was surprised to see the Jaffa remained unfazed, a figure of stone.
Daniel turned his attention to the woman.
His eyes met hers and locked with them, held there by something he sensed deep within. He saw concern -- and something more. Fear? Sorrow?
She glanced quickly at his hands, and then returned to his gaze, her eyes wider than before. She drew a deep breath, glancing quickly to the Jaffa beside her before returning to Daniel.
Excitement? Is that what he saw now? Hope?
Daniel's own eyes widened in realization. What he had sensed about her was not something buried so deep he couldn't read it. Rather, it was something that wasn't there, something that was missing entirely. This woman lacked the conditioned subservience of a long-time slave.
He sensed that somehow his own efforts to escape had kindled or perhaps renewed a sense of hope within her. Recognizing that she could still believe in the possibility of escape gave Daniel a sense of hope as well. Osiris had been trapped on Earth for thousands of years. He was still gathering forces, still building his empire. Loyalties could be in question. Numbers may yet be low.
Perhaps this was the reason for Daniel's shackles and bindings. Perhaps this ship -- or whatever kind of structure it was -- remained poorly staffed.
The woman raised her eyebrows in an unspoken question, and lifted her wooden bowl slightly. Daniel did his best to nod in response. This time when she poured the water into his mouth, he was ready.
He gulped down several welcome swallows, ignoring the additional torrents that cascaded down his chin. But before he was fully satiated, she pulled the bowl away. He watched her carelessly tilt it toward his hands, spilling the rest of its contents. Then she turned abruptly, catching the Jaffa's attention and leading him back in the direction from which they had arrived.
A moment later, Daniel was once again abandoned to the darkness. But this time it was hardly as absolute. The fire in his hands had cooled somewhat. So too had the intensity of his thoughts. He returned to his efforts with renewed purpose and urgency; and for the first time since he had awakened on Aris Boch's ship, Daniel began to believe he might actually find his way home.
* * *
"She was good; I have to give her that," Aris Boch said of Ke'ra-Linea. "Wacko, but good. Some of the toughest negotiations I've ever had to do."
Jack eyed him coldly from across the briefing room table. "Negotiation? You call handing Daniel over on a silver platter 'negotiating'?"
"Hell, yes. We had to go round and round before I managed to come up with an acceptable trade for her Roshna."
"Oh? And Daniel was what you came up with."
"Colonel," General Hammond warned.
Jack glanced at the general, his irritation at Boch's carefree attitude clearly evident.
"I already told you," The bounty hunter responded. "I had no choice. I could've let her know you were all valuable," He let his eyes move to Carter and Teal'c, as though he was trying to make sure they were aware of his benevolence, before coolly returning to meet Jack's stare. "But I didn't, did I? I didn't offer her Daniel. She asked about him. I wouldn't even have told her about his value if I thought I had any other choice."
"There's always another choice." Strange. The words came out of Jack's mouth, but they sounded too much like something Daniel would say. He suppressed a shiver and reminded himself he never had and never would believe in ghosts. Especially now, since Daniel wasn't dead.
"Mr. Boch." There was that beacon again. Hammond always knew when to bring out the cavalry. "You've already admitted to having a part in Dr. Jackson's kidnapping. We could spend all day arguing the reasons for you're doing so originally, as well as for your sudden change of heart. But what I'd like to know right now is just what it is you think you can do to help us get him back, and why we should trust your information."
Boch smiled smugly. "Well, General Hammond, that's why I'm here. I can tell you where Osiris is, where she's going...."
"He," Teal'c corrected.
When Boch gave him an odd look, Teal'c explained further. "The Goa'uld Osiris is a male. It is only the host that is female."
Boch studied him a moment longer. "At any rate, I can give you numbers. How many Jaffa. How many slaves. You get the picture."
"And Daniel?" Jack had gone way past his tolerance level for Boch and his arrogance.
"Colonel...." Even Hammond seemed to be losing his patience; there was not much fire in his voice this time around.
"Sir, have you noticed that he hasn't even mentioned Daniel?"
Boch shook his head and chuckled. "You know, Colonel O'Neill, you really are living up to your reputation."
Jack's eyebrows shot up. "Reputation?"
"Mr. Boch," Hammond interceded. "Do you or do you not know the precise location of Dr. Jackson?"
"Of course I do. Wouldn't be here if I didn't. I mean, what would be the point?"
It took every ounce of control Jack could muster to prevent himself from flying across the table and wringing the man's neck.
Straining with every last bit of his strength, his breath hissing through teeth clenched tightly against the agony of his efforts, Daniel used his newly freed right hand to press down on the metal ring still imprisoning his left. His hiss grew to a low groan as the metal flayed the flesh beneath. Bones moved and popped, perhaps dislocated, perhaps broken, but he knew it was almost done. He was almost past this first obstacle.
Daniel forced himself to see beyond the pain. He focused on Ke'ra's staring, unseeing eyes, finding himself unable to blame her for what she had done to him. She had become as much a victim as he. Her only true fault had been a madness she could not control. Daniel had known madness himself, once. He knew she was a slave to it, her own heart imprisoned by the whims of her wayward mind; in that, her fate had become little different than Sarah's. Ke'ra's madness had imprisoned her true nature, much as the Goa'uld had imprisoned Sarah's. And in the end, both women's lives were in Osiris' hands.
Just a little more. Almost there. But Daniel's pain was intense. How could he go on? How could he keep torturing himself this way? He still had a dozen straps to deal with, and there were more shackles on his ankles besides. He was a fool if he thought he might be able to wriggle his feet out of those. He was an idiot to think he might escape at all. Even if he did free himself from these bindings, what then? How could he hope to find his way out of Osiris' grip?
The hopeful gaze of the water-woman came into his thoughts. She had tried to help him, spilling the water onto his hands. If she had found hope in him, surely he could find it in her. His efforts had seemed to remind her that nothing is impossible.
Ironically -- perhaps insanely -- Daniel started to giggle in this resurgence of his own madness. Nothing is impossible. And Dr. Daniel Jackson, linguist and archeologist, was about to become the new Houdini. Come watch his stunts of daring-do as he yanks off his hands.... Wait, no. That was supposed to be, as he yanks his hands out of....
"God!" He shouted out against the agony of his final pull, startled and strangely confused to find his left hand was finally free. While his head swam full of little lights, the phosphorescence from a myriad of newly excavated caverns in his central nervous system, he dimly thought he'd been right the first time. It felt as though he had pulled his hand clean off his wrist. Or perhaps he only wished that were so. If the hand were gone, the pain would be....
Daniel shook his head. He was either falling into delirium, or simply losing his mind. He could not afford to let either overtake him now. The pain would have been for nothing. And the water-woman....
Stop! She was nothing, as well. She expected more from him than she could give herself. There would be no help from her. He was alone. Entirely and completely alone.
Someone touched him.
Daniel started, drew a sharp intake of breath.
A finger to his lips....
No. It couldn't be -- despite the soft touch, despite the feel of his own hot breath reflecting against the warm flesh.
He closed his eyes. It was just the delirium, just another sign he'd lost it. He'd gone over the edge. Well, so be it. Perhaps madness would help him get past the next obstacles without fear, without pain, without that gnawing sense of defeat.
Accepting his madness, even welcoming it, he opened his eyes -- and saw a vision.
The face of a woman, aglow in a soft light, hovered above him.
Daniel blinked. When he looked again, he recognized her dark eyes, her square jaw, her silken, black hair. It was the water-woman.
He blinked again, and then saw her with even greater clarity. A thin cloth extended from her face to his, protecting the light she held cradled in her hand, keeping it close, preventing it from seeping out into the rest of the dark, silent room. Shaking her head, she took her finger away from his mouth and held it to her own lips. Stay silent. Say nothing.
The light died. The vision disappeared. But Daniel's sense of her did not. He felt a tugging at the straps. One by one, they loosened and fell away. Only an eerie tingling remained, a feeling almost as though some part of him was missing. He had grown so accustomed to their confining embrace, he felt somehow naked without them.
Okay, now that's just plain nuts! Eager for his freedom, and suddenly terrified that his own mind could conjure a sense of security associated with a Goa'uld's leather restraints, Daniel sat upright as quickly as he could. Too quickly. He had been lying still for so long, his head spun from the sudden movement. He lay back down and squeezed his eyes shut, waiting desperately for the sensation to pass.
The water-woman lifted the last of the bindings from across his shins and slid his feet to the side. He was finally free. Though the metal shackles at his ankles remained, they did not lock him to the platform.
And he was no longer alone. This was a realization that both comforted and disturbed him. With only himself to be concerned about, Daniel could take chances where none seemed reasonable. But how could he take such risks with this vision? He could not leave her behind. He would not leave her behind. Nor could he promise her the escape she deserved.
She gently pulled at his shoulder. He rose to her prompting, more slowly this time, and let his feet fall to the floor. He wondered how he could possibly continue the silence the woman was so concerned about, how he could possibly be made to move across the floor with the metal clamps still binding his ankles. Yet there was no chain to clank upon the floor, only a solid bar that bound one foot to the other.
It was hard, exhausting work to cross the distance to the door, and he had already spent most of what energy he had. But the woman was persistent, and he was determined not to let her down. He carefully slid one foot forward, cringing as metal twisted into skin, and then repeated the process with his other foot. It seemed to take hours. Days. Yet somehow, finally, they were through the door.
Now all that remained was an infinitely long corridor.
* * *
Jack O'Neill tried to make himself as comfortable as he could. He knew they had a long trip ahead of them. Jacob had estimated twenty hours.
Twenty hours. All the technology of the Goa'uld and the Tok'ra, and they still couldn't get there any faster.
He leaned into the hard surface of the ship's gilded walls and stretched his legs in front of him. That was about as comfortable as he was going to get. He was on a Tok'ra ship, loaded to capacity with twenty SGC personnel and three Tok'ra operatives. The only chairs to be found were those occupied by the ship's two pilots. Add the fact that the traitorous bounty hunter, Aris Boch, had given them their destination -- of course, one not accessible by Stargate -- and it quickly became obvious that getting comfortable was simply not going to happen.
Jack studied the man seated directly across from him. Boch looked odd in standard issue, SGC gear. Although it had been Jack who had insisted on the change of uniform -- to ensure Boch didn't have anything unusual "up his sleeve" -- it wasn't right to see the bounty hunter dressed like a member of his team. It seemed to force the issue of trust, and Jack just wasn't ready to go there.
"Carter," He said to the major sitting next to him, his eyes never straying from Boch. "Explain to me again why we're doing this?"
"It's all we had to go on, sir."
She sounded about as thrilled as Jack felt.
Well aware of Jack's scrutiny, Boch could not help but overhear the conversation. Nor was Jack's underlying message lost on him.
"Come on, Colonel. How many times do I have to tell you I've got no reason to lie to you?"
"Oh, I don't know. As many times as it takes to convince me, I guess."
The bounty hunter sneered. "Look, Osiris backed out on her end of the deal...."
"His," Teal'c corrected.
Boch looked at the Jaffa in irritation. "Anyway, when she -- he -- it -- whatever killed Miss Psycho, that voided the contract in my book. I would've gotten your guy out then and there if I could have. But since Osiris chose to ignore the finer points of business, it was all I could do to get myself out. That's when I went back to Vyus. Figured your folks would be there, or at least have some sort of contact set up."
"You see, that's the part I don't follow. You got your Russian stuff...."
"Roshna, sir," Carter offered.
"Right. Whatever." Still the colonel glared at Boch. "You were out free and clear. Your own deal was done. It was only Ke'ra who got screwed. Why go back, except maybe to get the rest of SG-1 and give Osiris the full package deal?"
"Colonel, you really don't get my business, now do you?"
"Yeah, actually, I do. You're a scum-bag in business for yourself. If you see a way to come out ahead, then whatever it takes, whoever it hurts, you go for it."
"How can I convince you I'm just an honest business man?"
"Oh, I don't know. Maybe by getting Daniel out of the mess you got him into in the first place, and then leaving me and my people the hell alone. Then -- maybe -- you just might start to convince me."
Osiris caught Ke'ra in the device's energy beam. He held her in its grip until her eyes glazed in familiar emptiness. When he released the beam, Ke'ra fell back. Her body hit the platform, the momentum turning her head until she faced Daniel. Her eyes caught his, taunting him with their emptiness....
Daniel woke out of breath. He inhaled sharply, nearly choking as he swallowed more oxygen than what he managed to get into his lungs. He coughed, and then gasped, fighting all the while to control his breathing. Such control seemed impossible. His mind so reeled with nightmares he wasn't sure which to believe. Through it all, Ke'ra's dead eyes stared back at him, calling out to him,
'Why Daniel? Why did you let this happen?'
"No." He said it aloud, yet couldn't be sure just what he was denying. The reality of Ke'ra's death? Or his own part in it?
He shook his head, an action he immediately regretted. He closed his eyes tight against the throbbing he'd awakened in his skull. He remembered hitting the ground, and ... Ke'ra? ... trying to use his head as a basketball.
God! Why couldn't he think? His mind was cluttered with misplaced images, a kaleidoscope of half-remembered events.
He needed to focus. He needed to concentrate. He needed to remember.
Finally, he managed to fill his lungs. He took a deep breath. Then another.
Okay. Think. His muscles were stiff and sore, but he was mobile. The restraints were gone.
Had they been real?
He lifted his right hand, held it before him. It was bound in gauze, stained red where his blood had seeped through. As though cued by the visual stimulus, his mind began to register pain. Pulsating, burning pain. He sucked air in through his teeth, biting back the urge to scream out against the renewed agony, and gently lowered his hand to rest it beside him.
Ke'ra. Osiris. The shackles. It had been real. It had all been real.
"Your body remembers."
Daniel turned to find the vision had returned. The image of the water-woman kindled more memories. He remembered her coming out of the blackness ... guiding him out ... leading him down a long corridor ... finally taking him ... here. She had brought him here, to a room near the tomb Osiris had locked him within, yet somehow safe. He had felt safe. He remembered feeling warm and secure. He remembered restfully closing his eyes.
It was happening again. Daniel forced his eyes open. The time for sleep had passed. It was time to find answers.
He looked to the woman, now kneeling beside him. She smiled and offered him a cup of steaming liquid. Daniel struggled to sit up, using his elbows for leverage. He took a sip of the bitter drink as she held the cup to his lips. Whatever it was, he could already feel it working its way through his system, easing the pain in his hands and his head.
Surprised, he met her eyes, and she smiled again.
"The Lord Osiris sought to make you..." She seemed to search for the correct word, and then finally arrived at "...empty."
She carefully arranged several pillows at Daniel's back, allowing him to stay more upright than he had been in ... what? Days?
"This ... emptiness ... will make your body to sleep, to forget," She continued. "It is to make you even more feeling when it is done. Osiris wishes to make you feel great pain when the empty time is finished."
How much time had passed? Curiosity brought Daniel's attention to his left wrist. His watch was gone, probably on Boch's wrist by now. Of course, he'd worn his own gold watch to Vyus, rather than the sturdy one issued to him by the SGC. He had to go with the gold one. The other would have looked ridiculous with his new suit. His new suit.... A waste of money that had turned out to be.
Thinking past the current shape of his new clothes, Daniel focused instead on his left hand, noticing its odd shape. The position of the thumb seemed ... wrong.
"Now I am awakening you. Your body remembers to feel more strongly now."
And there it was, right on cue. Daniel groaned at the building agony borne out of his own stupid contemplation of his broken thumb. Okay, he wasn't too concerned about his new suit anymore.
The woman's soft fingers gently brushed his temple as she tried to soothe away his hurt.
"The pain will ease," She promised. "And soon Gawen will come. He will adjust the bones."
Daniel tried to focus on her, tried to ignore his own body's 'awakening'. "Who are you? Who's Gawen?"
"I am Alandra, in service to Osiris. Gawen is my brother. He is a hunter, and knows the ways of bones, better even than ... Shaoun." She looked down in sadness.
She nodded. "Shaoun was our healer. He was very old, very wise."
When she said nothing more, Daniel decided to seek other answers. "How do you serve Osiris?"
She lowered her eyes once more. "I serve in many ways. What is asked of me, this I do."
"I don't suppose Osiris asked you to help me escape?" Daniel smiled, hoping the poor attempt at humor might help to lighten her spirit.
Instead, she seemed more afraid. She looked nervously about, as though the room itself might brand her as a traitor. "I was not asked to prevent it. This was my choice."
Daniel waited until her eyes locked once more with his, hoping she might recognize his sincerity, and then offered a soft "Thank you."
The corners of her mouth turned up slightly. It was small and fragile, but a smile just the same.
"You're not used to making choices, are you?"
"I serve the Lord Osiris because I must. There is no choice."
Alandra seemed confused. "You understand my choice?"
"I understand you have no choice. The Goa'uld enslave entire civilizations."
"But not you."
"No, not me."
"Because of your choice."
"Well, yes, in a way. My people chose to rise up against the Goa'uld many generations ago. Now we continue to fight them."
There it was again. That look of excitement and hope she'd given him on their first silent meeting. She drew in a sharp breath. "You would fight against gods?"
"They are not gods." Daniel's words came out harsher than he'd expected them too. Startled, Alandra rocked back onto her feet.
"I'm sorry," He said more softly. "They just.... They are not gods. They're strong, yes. But they are as mortal as you and I."
Alandra rose and stepped away, keeping her head lowered, her eyes hidden. "My people ... tried to fight the Lord Osiris. But we were not warriors. There has been no war since the time of the old grandfathers. When the lord attacked ... we knew nothing of fighting. She ... killed so many." Her chest heaved under the pressure of sobs she fought to control. "It was wrong to see so many die. The children...."
Daniel left her to her silent tears, settling back on the pillows. Why was he prodding her? It wasn't right. She owed him nothing.
"I'm sorry," He offered belatedly.
He was surprised when she hurried back to him and uttered a desperate "No!"
She knelt beside him again. "I must hear your words. I know the Lord Osiris is not a god. I know this. I have always known this." She shook her head. "She is not a god. She is a demon, like those from the words of the old grandfathers! I have served a demon who breaks the necks of babies because they are too young to work and too costly to care for. I have served a demon because my baby.... My ... baby...." She closed her eyes tightly and turned away, as though trying to dispel the memory.
A moment later her eyes flashed open. "I must avenge the babies."
Daniel was stunned by Alandra's vehement outburst. Apparently, so was she. He watched her regain control, saw her angry visage soften.
Once again, she cast her eyes downward. "I am sorry."
Daniel's quick reply caught her attention. She looked curiously at him.
"You have no reason to be sorry. I understand. Believe me, I do."
Alandra considered his words. "Then you will help me?"
Her request should not have surprised him. He had anticipated it earlier, when he had first seen the hope in her eyes. Yet here, at this moment, she caught him off guard. He hesitated, unsure how to respond.
"So it is." Her words were barely audible. Her head hung low in defeat.
"No. Please. I want to help. I will help. But first I need your help. I need to get home, back to my friends."
"Home?" She seemed puzzled.
"Yes. My friends can help me. They can help you."
She shook her head slowly, her expression disbelieving. "We cannot leave the netherworld."
"The neth...?" Daniel's stomach began to churn. "Where are we? Are we not on your home-world?"
Her eyes grew wide and she shook her head more furiously. "The Lord Osiris sent her great bird to swallow us. The bird has taken us into the night sky. It is always night. There is always darkness." She met his eyes. "There is no home from here."
There is no home from here. The words echoed through Daniel's thoughts and tightened a noose around his heart. There is no home from here.
He was still on a ship. A ship! His only hope now depended on whether or not the ship was equipped with a Stargate.
If by some stroke of miraculous luck the ship happened to have a Stargate tucked away in its cargo hold, and also magically managed to be in orbit around a world with an address he just happened to be familiar with....
Daniel closed his eyes and lay back on the pillows, realizing he had no hope left at all.
The small room Alandra had led Daniel to after helping him escape his dark tomb seemed much smaller now. First Alandra's brother, Gawen, had come as promised to set his broken thumb. Before the task was completed, two other men had arrived, and shortly after that several women came in, one at a time, scattering their entries to avoid detection. Eventually, a crowd had formed, brought here by what must be the most effective rumor mill Daniel had ever come across.
Somehow within a matter of hours word had spread throughout the ship of the man who would escape Osiris. Luckily -- hopefully -- such word had not already reached any of Osiris' Jaffa. Instead, it was passed only to the men and women from Alandra's lost village, people who shared her need for vengeance, who had lost everything, including any fear of death, who, in fact, would welcome death over the life Osiris had conscripted them into.
They surrounded Daniel, some kneeling, others standing wherever room could be found near the ornate, gilded chair he had been compelled to occupy, a chair that looked and felt like a throne. He was miserably uncomfortable in it, and could not understand the exalted status which had somehow been thrust upon him. Despite the shackles still binding his feet and the bandages covering his disfigured hands, these men and women seemed to look at him as though he was some sort of savior, some great and powerful being who could deliver them from the evil of Osiris -- yet he didn't even know how he was supposed to help himself.
"These Jaffa have great and mighty weapons." Gawen was the most vocal and suicidal of Daniel's new supporters. "It would be worth my life if we can bring even one of these weapons into our possession."
"No, Gawen," Daniel argued. "Your life has more value than that. I'm sure we can find a safe way to get our hands on some weapons without you charging in like...."
He stopped himself and shook his head. Where had that "we" come from? Suddenly he was recognizing himself as a leader of a group of revolutionaries. It was crazy. Absurd. He was no leader. And certainly not a soldier. How on Earth had it come to this? Of course, he wasn't on Earth. That was a situation he really wanted to correct as soon as possible. All Daniel wanted to do was get himself home. Himself and Alandra. And Gawen, for the help he had provided.
'All debts do get paid,' Ke'ra had said.
Daniel's debts were mounting.
"Look," He said as he tried to sort through his own confusion. "I'm not completely sure what's going on here. It's good that you're ready to rise up against Osiris, but you don't have to sacrifice your lives. You don't have to die."
Daniel turned to Alandra, his own rescuer and the woman who had brought all of this madness about. He owed her something. But certainly not this.
"Alandra, you told me 'there is no home from here'. But that's not true. This is not the netherworld. We are on a ship, a vessel that travels through space, through the stars. That's all. You saw this ship land on your world once before. It can again."
There was no reaction from Alandra, nor from the rest of the crowd. No apparent surprise. No curious glances. No hushed discussions.
"Do you understand what I'm saying?"
"Yes, Daniel. We know we will return home, as all souls do, when it is time."
He closed his eyes and dropped his head while Alandra continued describing her people's version of heaven.
"We will return to our village, and live among those who were taken from us. I will find my baby there, and my father, and even Shaoun."
They couldn't understand him. Or they wouldn't. Then why were they so eager to listen to him?
"Daniel," Gawen called out. "Speak to us of how you would come to possess the weapons of the Jaffa."
He gave his attention back to Alandra's brother, the man most to blame for insisting Daniel occupy this chair, who had, in fact, physically carried him to it when he could no longer manage to walk without tripping, his ability to maneuver despite the shackles lost after the initial journey from the 'tomb'. Swollen and raw from that journey and an increasing lack of circulation, his feet could now barely support him.
Gawen seemed to place great faith in him, for reasons Daniel had yet to understand. It was a misplaced faith, certainly. Gawen looked to him for answers on how to fight the Goa'uld. When had Daniel become an expert on that elusive topic? Yet that was all any of these people wanted from him. They weren't looking for a prophet or a philosopher. They weren't looking for some great universal truth. All they wanted was someone to help them get their revenge.
Daniel remembered Alandra saying her people had not known war since the time of the old grandfathers. Then why did they remind him now of the old Vikings -- not the Cimmerians, who had assumed the peaceful ways of post-Christianity Scandinavia, but the original Vikings, those to whom death in battle was the only honorable end?
He needed to learn more about the culture of these people. They were so set on rebellion, he was sure they had been primed for it long ago. They only needed the final catalyst. Somehow, his own attempt to escape had provided that. He felt as though he was caught in a row of cascading dominoes, and there was nothing he could do to prevent the next row from falling. Daniel knew he had to get these people to accept that their little rebellion need not result in mass suicide. At the very least, he could try to direct them toward the safest and surest course.
"Okay, Gawen. First, tell me what you know about the Jaffa on this ship."
It was pretty ironic, actually. The one member of SG-1 who had the most difficulty following orders was about to be the one giving orders. He could only hope he'd listened enough, that he'd learned enough under Jack's leadership to keep some of these people alive.
Daniel smiled sadly to himself as he contemplated this last thought. His 'never say die' attitude could be awfully foolish sometimes. What good would it be to keep them alive just to be trapped on a ship no one could control? Nonetheless, he knew that was exactly what he had to try to do.
* * *
"There she is, Jack." Jacob indicated the Ha'tak vessel in the distance.
"You're sure they can't see us?"
The elder Carter shook his head. "Not with our cloaking device activated."
Jack contemplated the size of Osiris' ship. It was big. Very big. Too big. "And you're sure you can't leave that thing on while we transport down?"
Jacob looked frustrated. "Jack...."
"Yeah, I know." He held up his hand and waved away his question. "Can't do both at once." He glanced at the ship again. "At least we'll have the element of surprise on our side. We'll just have to move fast, strike quick, and..." He looked to the bounty hunter sitting casually in the back of the ship, "... hope that Mr. Boch over there is being straight with us."
Boch smiled and waved. Jack kept his eyes on the man a moment longer. He gave no reply to the greeting.
"It makes sense Jack." Jacob pulled his attention back. "The numbers do, anyway. There's no way Osiris could've recruited a full army this quickly."
"Yeah," Jack answered softly. "It's just a little hard to trust the guy who caused this whole mess in the first place."
* * *
His knife carefully gripped in his right hand, his feet bare to silence his footfalls, Gawen followed the Jaffa down the corridor. The man's movement was easy to anticipate. It was the same each day. The Jaffa went from room to room, in a regular pattern. He seemed to search for something, though Gawen could never guess what. This day was no different.
Soon would come the room of the stars. Seldom occupied, it was a place where the netherworld beyond could be seen clearly, where each star seemed almost within reach.
It was a good place to end the hunt. Gawen would present his kill to the netherworld, and so would prove his strength against the demons. The true gods would surely take notice.
The door opened.
Gawen stealthily entered behind the Jaffa. He kept to the shadows as he watched the Jaffa pace, looking for whatever was sought so regularly.
Gawen waited with practiced patience. The hunt was often as much waiting as anything else. He knew the thing the Jaffa sought would remain unfound, and the Jaffa would leave again through this same door.
There. It was done. The searching ended. The Jaffa moved back toward the door, oblivious to the hunter. Gawen was invisible, blended with the shadows. Unseen, unheard, and unexpected, his task was simple. He slid his knife under the man's armor, easing it beneath the back of the man's helmet, then pushing up and deep. Moving in the ways of the hunter, he let the knife absorb his strength, allowing it to penetrate the vertebrae at the back of the man's neck.
It was a good kill. A quick kill. And a silent one. Daniel had been right. 'Use your hunting skills', The sun-haired one had told him. Gawen would never have thought a simple knife might be enough to defeat the superior Jaffa. Nor had he been alone in that assumption. Otherwise, such things would have been kept closely guarded, as were the fire weapons.
Daniel was wise.
Gawen withdrew the knife and sheathed it deftly at his waist while he let the man's weight fall into his hands. It was time to present his kill. He carefully dragged the corpse to the front of the room, where the stars shown so clearly, then set his load down before the netherworld and looked out with wonder. A bright light greeted him. It was a brilliant flash that streaked across the stars and moved directly toward him.
The gods were pleased.
Another light flashed behind him. Startled, he turned in time to see a group of people emerge from a disappearing tower of rings.
He hesitated. Perhaps these were representatives of the gods, come from the netherworld to congratulate him. Yet they might also have been sent by the demons.
His hand hovered above his still bloody knife.
"O'Neill." The large, dark one spoke a familiar name, and pointed a fire weapon in his direction.
"O'Neill?" Gawen repeated.
Three members of the group approached him, the dark one, a smaller, gray-haired man, and a sun-haired woman. The others moved to investigate the rest of the room, perhaps looking for this unfound thing the Jaffa always sought.
"You are the ones Daniel told us of?"
The gray-haired man cautiously drew nearer. His eyes moved to the dead Jaffa, and followed the trail of blood to where it began near the room's entrance. When he returned his attention to Gawen, he gave a slight nod of his head, and reached out to point first to the bloody knife still sheathed at Gawen's waist, then to the dead Jaffa. "You did this?"
Gawen straightened to show his pride. "I have slain the demon. Yes."
The gray-haired man seemed surprised. "And Daniel told you about us?"
"You are O'Neill?"
Gawen grinned. "Then the true gods smile upon us!"
So much waiting.
He felt as helpless now as he had when he had been bound to the platform.
How many people had he finally come to accept responsibility for? There were too many to count. Some faces came clearly into his thoughts. Others were shadows, indistinct. Those were the ones who disturbed him the most. If any failed to return with the weapons or devices they had taken it upon themselves to retrieve, their absence would not truly touch Daniel. Their capture or death would come to him as nothing more than an empty statistic.
Poor so-and-so. He died because Daniel said gather weapons. He did it for Daniel; and Daniel didn't even know who he was.
No. Daniel had never told them to do these things. Gawen was their leader. Gawen was determined to do battle with Osiris, and his people eagerly shared that determination. There was nothing Daniel could say to stop them. All he could do was offer advice where Gawen and the others would take it.
Gawen had been the one to suggest gathering the fire sticks of the Jaffa. Daniel could only offer his own limited agreement that such a task made sense. After all, they could accomplish nothing without staff weapons, or zats, or whatever else they could get their hands on.
Meanwhile, he could do nothing to help them. With his ankles still bound -- seemingly forever bound -- and so swollen the shackles now bit deep into his skin, he could hardly move.
Helpless. There was no better term to describe how he felt.
Here he sat upon a gilded throne while a group of people who knew nothing about war, nothing about fighting, disbursed themselves throughout Osiris' ship, stealing -- or trying to steal -- weapons. Some even sought a device to remove his shackles. He wasn't particularly thrilled about the idea of experimenting with unknown Goa'uld technology, but with Gawen around he probably would have no choice.
He knew he should lie back on the ground and prop his feet up to help ease the agonizing swelling. But he couldn't bear to feel even more helpless than he already did.
The door opened, providing a welcome reprieve from his thoughts. Daniel watched as Alandra soundlessly entered, her chest heaving as she sought to regain her breath.
"Daniel," She called softly, hurrying to his side. "They come. Osiris and her Jaffa. They come to finish your emptying. We must flee." She tugged at his arm.
"I don't think that's going to happen." He looked to his ankles, and then returned his attention to Alandra, one eyebrow raised in a gesture of futility.
"We must. I will help you, as before."
She pulled at him once more. He made no effort to assist her.
"Alandra, you said the Jaffa would ignore these rooms. They wouldn't even think to search them. You told me the Jaffa found them unclean, distasteful. That even a Tau'ri wouldn't go near them."
She cast her eyes down in shame.
Puzzled, he studied her. "Why would that change now?"
"Osiris has learned of the rebellion."
Daniel closed his eyes and drew a deep breath.
"The others have joined us," She continued, her head still lowered, but her eyes watching for his response. "We could no longer hold our silence."
She nodded. "The others swallowed by Osiris' great bird. From far away villages. Other home-worlds. They have joined us. Already the fighting has begun. These things, Osiris now knows."
A distant crashing sound offered proof of her warning. Instinctively, she turned toward the noise, and then tugged again at his sleeve.
"Please. We must flee."
He had no choice. He had to try.
He drew another deep breath and pushed himself to his feet. He managed two slight steps before his ankles began to burn. He paused to catch his breath and tried to focus beyond the pain. One more step.
It was useless. The pain was too intense. He fell back, somehow managing to catch himself on the corner of the chair. Leaning heavily on one ornately carved arm, he made no effort to move further. If he did, he was afraid his darkening vision would finally go black.
"Go." His voice was caught in his throat. "Go!" He said again, this time with as much strength as he could gather.
Alandra shook her head.
Daniel looked up at her, his gaze harsh and commanding. "Go! Don't wait for me. It won't do anyone any good if you're captured too!"
She gasped and stepped backwards, startled by his tone. The move seemed to remind her what was in that direction. Once again she turned her head toward the sound of the marching Jaffa. They were growing nearer. After one last, sorrowful glance at Daniel, Alandra finally propelled herself forward. He watched as she disappeared through a hidden doorway at the back of the room.
It was not far, that doorway. There was still a chance he might reach it. Daniel gritted his teeth and eased himself to the floor, reawakening the agony in his ankles. He bit back the shout he refused to release; then, using his elbows and forearms, he began to pull himself toward that door, shimmying the rest of his body like a snake.
Like a snake. Maybe that's what he should have done all along. Maybe it takes a snake to escape a snake.
God, it hurt! Every pull pushed back on the shackles, driving them deeper into his flesh.
Crash, crash, crash, crash....
The Jaffa came ever closer. The door did not. It loomed far ahead of him, taunting him with the impossible freedom it offered.
When the marching stopped, Daniel did as well. Even the pounding of his heart seemed unwilling to break the sudden, deathly silence that ensued.
The Goa'uld had no such inhibitions.
"You! Insolent dog!" Osiris' voice burst through the emptiness.
The emptiness.... Alandra had told Daniel that Osiris sought to make him empty. He realized now he would almost welcome such emptiness, if it meant no longer having to hear that cold, hateful voice. He closed his eyes and dropped his head to the floor, refusing to look at the woman who could no longer be named Sarah.
"You will suffer for this!"
A heavy force pounded into his spine, spinning him around. He lay back, winded, and then slowly pushed himself onto one elbow. He had only a brief moment to send Osiris a hateful glare before the ribbon device once again struck out, throwing him into the wall.
The voice was muffled by the cotton inside Daniel's leaden head. Someone grabbed him. No. Two someones. Each took an arm.
Wait, he tried to say. You can't....
But the words wouldn't come. Or if they had, these two someones didn't listen. They dragged him forward, carelessly allowing the shackles to bite deep into his ankles. Oddly, he found himself numb to the pain he knew he should be feeling. He was still wondering at this marvel when the black void finally swallowed him.
Jack approached the intersecting corridor cautiously. Signaling to Sam and Teal'c, he secured his grip on his weapon and eased back against the wall. After a quick scan of his 'team', he nodded approvingly to Jacob and Boch, who had taken up similar positions further down. Even Gawen had reacted appropriately, leaning into the wall beside him with a practiced air Jack found both impressive and puzzling. Though the man had claimed no experience in battle, he was good at it. The Jaffa he'd killed bare-handed -- or at least nearly so -- offered enough proof for Jack.
The sound of soft laughter brought him back to the moment. He took a deep breath, blew it out silently, and peered around the corner. A moment later his weapon came down.
"Well, Gawen. Looks like you're up again."
Gawen grinned. "The gods...."
"Yeah. I know. They smile on us."
Jack caught Carter's eye and shook his head. "Why do I feel like we're on clean-up detail?"
Carter had no answer, apparently as confused as he was. Jack watched as she followed her father into the corridor where Gawen greeted the two men who had just finished stripping yet another dead Jaffa of his weapons.
"Well, I'd say the intel was pretty accurate," The elder Carter offered. "Or almost accurate, anyway. Looks like Osiris still had a few too many slaves to stave off the rebellion he was worried about."
"Oh, I don't know." Jack came up beside the Carters. "I'm not sure Osiris ever really had these particular slaves."
While SG-2 and SG-3 scouted other parts of the ship, Jack and his team were counting on Gawen to lead them to the'safe room' where Daniel was supposedly waiting. For the past two hours they'd followed the former slave from corridor to corridor and deck to deck. Everywhere they went they either found dead Jaffa, or no Jaffa at all. The only other living souls they'd seen were slaves like Gawen.
That man was about as much a slave as Jack was a ballerina. He walked around like he owned this ship. He was a captain, not a crewman. Even the other so-called slaves could see that in him.
These latest two saluted Gawen with upraised fists, just like all the others had. Gawen returned the gesture, and they hurried off with their new weapons. No doubt they'd be looking for more Jaffa butts to beat.
Part of Jack wanted to follow them. That was the kind of sport he wouldn't mind playing himself. The rest of him was more concerned about making sure Daniel really was as safe as Gawen seemed to insist, and then getting his people off this Twilight Zone episode they'd stumbled into. He hoped they were close to this so-called safe room. They had to be by now if Gawen was to be trusted.
Jack wanted to like the guy. Gawen was easy-going and friendly. Compared with Aris Boch.... Well, there was no comparison. Gawen had a frankness about him. Jack got the sense that not only did the man have no hidden agendas, he wouldn't even know what the term meant. Judging by appearances, Boch would eat Gawen for breakfast. Jack knew better than to rely on appearances, but even his gut told him Gawen was one of the good guys. Still... This rebellion, as Gawen had named it -- or as he'd said Daniel had named it -- was going far too well for Jack's liking. Nothing good ever happened this easily.
"Help me out here, Gawen," He asked when they started on their way again. "How'd this little rebellion start, anyway?"
"The gods sent Daniel to show us it was time to avenge our fathers and sons."
"They sent Daniel...." Jack repeated softly, lowering his head in doubt. Fairy-tales and prophecies had always been the same animal in his book. They each had an equal chance of coming true.
"The stories of the old grandfathers warned that the demons would come and destroy our villages. These stories also told of a great warrior who would rise up out of the netherworld...."
"Daniel?" Jack turned to Teal'c, who regarded him with his own look of surprise. Or was that admiration? Jack could never be too sure with Teal'c.
"His hair was said to shine like the sun," Gawen continued, "to cast light on our darkness. His eyes would hold the secrets of the heavens...."
"Uh, yeah, well, about that. I hate to tell you this, but I really don't think Daniel has any inside information about heaven, or the," He waved his arm awkwardly towards the ceiling, "heavens."
Gawen shrugged, still wearing that ever-present smile. "His eyes are the color of the sky."
Jack couldn't argue that one. He shook his head. "Daniel...."
"When Alandra saw Daniel draw his own blood to escape Osiris, we knew the one the old grandfathers had spoken of had come. As the stories were true of the demons, they also were true of Daniel."
Jack didn't like what he'd just heard. He stopped walking, and pulled Gawen back beside him. "Whoa, hold up a minute. What do you mean he drew his own blood?"
Gawen wrapped his left hand around his right wrist. "His hands were bound. Like this. The thing that held them was tight." Gawen pushed upwards, catching the circle of his left hand on the wide part of his right. "It was too tight to pull his hands through without causing much damage."
Jack cringed. "How much damage, exactly?"
Gawen shrugged. "I have tended to the bones. If the gods continue to favor us, Daniel's hands should function well enough once they are healed."
They should function.... Jack definitely didn't like the sound of that. "How much farther?"
"A few more turns."
"Let's pick up the pace."
They had only gone a few steps when a woman bolted from the corridor ahead.
"Gawen!" She shouted breathlessly as she ran into their host's arms. "Gawen! Osiris has taken Daniel. The demon learned of the rebellion, and...."
"Daniel?" Jack cut in. "As in 'Daniel Jackson'?"
She looked at him curiously. After a quick glance at her brother, she offered Jack a hesitant nod.
"Alandra," Gawen explained. "These are friends of Daniel, sent by the gods when I slew the first Jaffa."
Jack recognized her name. "Alandra? You're the one who helped Daniel?"
"Thank you," He said earnestly. "Can you show us where Osiris took him?"
"You are friends?" Alandra's eyes went suspiciously to Aris Boch.
"Yes," Jack answered more harshly than he should have. He forced himself to soften his tone. "It's alright. We don't trust him either. But the rest of us are Daniel's friends."
"It is true, Alandra," Gawen assured her. "These are the ones Daniel spoke of. Jack O'Neill, Sam Carter, and the one named Teal'c." He pointed to each in turn.
Alandra remained wary. "If that is so, then why do you bring the man who betrayed him?"
Jack sighed. "It's a long story, and we really don't have time to tell it right now -- and frankly, I'm not too sure how it ends. But we need you to help us find Daniel. Please."
She looked to her brother.
"He speaks truly."
Still eyeing both Jack and Boch, Alandra decided to provide the requested details. "He is in the sacred room. Both demons are with him, as are the leaders of the Jaffa."
Jack's eyebrows shot up in surprise. He raised a hand. "Ah, excuse me, but what's this about both demons? I thought we were only dealing with one Goa'uld."
"There is another with Osiris," Gawen answered. "A priestess birthed the demon named Raiulet...."
"Birthed?" Jack turned to Teal'c for an explanation.
"It is likely he refers to the implantation of a newly matured Goa'uld."
"Ahh." Jack nodded. "Of course."
The uncomfortably simple nature of this rescue effort was finally starting to give way, as he knew it would. Damn. Why couldn't he have been wrong this time?
Daniel floated out of the oblivion of a black void, emerging into a blinding and bitter awareness. He found himself standing, or nearly so, in a room of brightly polished gold. His arms were fastened somewhere high above him, the ruined hands Alandra and Gawen had so carefully tended now forced to support all of his weight.
Alandra and Gawen. They were real, right? They had to be. They were real ... and they were on this ship ... and Daniel could believe in them to help him. He had to.
He tried to get his feet more firmly beneath him, hoping to alleviate some of the new trauma to his wrists, but the condition of his ankles was little better.
Fire. Fire and steel blades. They burned and pierced his skin. They threatened to tear him apart, cutting him into tiny pieces, first severing his hands and feet. Fire and steel blades consumed him in this new awareness.
He closed his eyes tightly and fought to regain that black void.
"Welcome, Daniel Jackson."
No. He would not let Osiris keep him from the void.
"Welcome to your future."
"Do you enjoy pain, Daniel Jackson?"
He flinched away as Osiris softly touched his cheek. The void remained agonizingly out of reach.
"Because that is where your future lies, if you continue to resist me."
Osiris bent close to Daniel's right ear, "Imagine it, Daniel Jackson." Sarah's hot breath sharpened the soft and deadly touch of Osiris' words. "I can give you such pain that your heart will burst, and still I can give you more."
He circled around, slender fingers drawing a delicate path across the back of Daniel's neck.
The dragon breathed its fire into Daniel's other ear. "There is no escape from the pain I will deliver. Not even death can free you. There is no death, in the hands of Osiris."
Those fingers drew their path upward from his ear, climbed to where his head rested against his outstretched arm.
Osiris wrapped Sarah's hand around Daniel's left forearm and gave a fierce tug.
"Aaaahhhh!" Daniel could not prevent himself from screaming. The fire and steel blades had suddenly been surpassed by instruments of torture Daniel could not even name. He felt this new enemy pry its way under the raw skin of his wrists. He could feel it coursing through his veins, searing them with its acid as it moved along his arms, his chest, his eyes....
No. It wasn't real. Just a trick. A trick of his pain-fogged brain. It wasn't real.
He opened his eyes, forced himself to see beyond the dazzling flashes of agony.... He saw a ghost.
No. Ke'ra was dead. He closed his eyes tightly to dispel the bizarre mirage. But when he looked again, Ke'ra smiled back at him -- or rather the Goa'uld who had taken Ke'ra. There was no mistaking the bright glow of its eyes.
No. This was an hallucination, a figment of his scattered mind -- though it was an incredibly distinct, and solid hallucination. Osiris stepped beside her and reached out to gently smooth a wayward strand of Ke'ra's hair.
"If you thought to disbelieve me, Daniel Jackson, perhaps this will offer proof. As I have said, there is no death in the hands of Osiris."
The woman who had betrayed him moved into Osiris touch, much as she had before the priestess' Goa'uld had rejected her. Yes, the Goa'uld had rejected her. How then was she here?
"Ke'ra?" She was dead, but she was not. Perhaps a sarcophagus.... But why? She had been rejected....
Daniel's thoughts grew foggier. The world started to spin around him. This was wrong. It was all ... wrong.
"Ke'ra is no more."
The ghost replied with that smile he had fallen in love with.... No, not quite. Not love. Something else, something less. But it might have become love. Given time, they might have....
Images of Ke'ra and Vyus swirled dizzily before him, even as the ghost acknowledged a new name.
"I am Raiulet."
"No." Daniel shook his head. None of this could be real. "I saw you ... I saw the Goa'uld reject her ... reject ... you."
Osiris laughed. "You are a fool, Daniel Jackson."
"The potion is working, my lord."
Daniel heard the voice of Raiulet as though from a great distance. Something was happening. Things were ... shifting.
"You do remember the gifting, Daniel Jackson?" Raiulet spoke into his ear as Osiris had before. "You watched someone die, did you not? A human, found unworthy to become my host."
"Ke'ra." His own voice was a whisper.
"No. Not Ke'ra. It was the other."
"Ke'ra...." Daniel saw it clearly. The platform. Osiris. The priestess. And Ke'ra....
"No, Daniel Jackson. It was the other. You remember. The one who aided your escape."
Daniel shook his head. His escape.... But he hadn't escaped. He still wore the shackles. His escape must have been a dream. Alandra was a dream as well, then.
"You remember. You saw someone die, Daniel Jackson. The one who aided your escape. That other was rejected ...."
In his mind somehow Ke'ra became Alandra.
"No." It wasn't right. "Ke'ra." She had been the one on the platform.
"Ke'ra did not die, Daniel Jackson. Ke'ra is here. She is my host. It was the other you saw die...."
"Alandra? No...." But he saw it now, Alandra lying on the platform, her dead eyes turning their accusatory glance his way.
Osiris laughed. "Yes, Daniel Jackson. Alandra. Alandra is the one who will die."
No. Alandra was already dead. Rejected by Raiulet....
"Your potion works well, my love." Osiris' voice grew more distant. "If he can so easily betray his accomplice, he will indeed share many secrets. Apophis will have no choice but to grant us the esteem that is our right."
What was Osiris speaking of? What secrets? Daniel had secrets. Didn't he? God, he was tired. So tired....
"How many Jaffa?" Jack asked softly when they arrived at the entrance to the 'sacred' room.
"Three tens." Alandra was confident in her answer.
Her apparent bravery impressed Jack. Facing the door, her shoulders squared, her eyes alight with determination, she seemed prepared to walk right in, as though she would face down thirty Jaffa by herself if need be. Jack thought she might well have done it if she'd only had her own life to consider, but her concern for Daniel had led her to seek out Gawen instead.
Thirty Jaffa. Jack scanned the entrance. "You're sure this is the only way in?"
She looked at him, cocking her head in consideration. "This is the only door."
"But?" Jack could tell there was something else on her mind.
"There is a passageway."
Jack waited, but no further explanation was forthcoming. "Could you maybe elaborate on that a little?"
She turned to her brother questioningly.
Gawen's expression was stolid, unreadable. "Such passageways are said to be cursed."
Jack studied him. He couldn't be sure Gawen actually believed the tale. Or maybe the hunter simply didn't care whether or not it was true. "So, what's with the curse?"
"It is said no man who enters there can survive the journey."
"The sayings are true." Selmak spoke from behind Jack.
The Tok'ra's sudden appearance was unnerving. Jack would never get used to it. God, I hate when he does that. He rolled his eyes but swallowed his complaint. "How?"
"All Ha'tak vessels have such passages. Every ship has its own secrets."
"The Goa'uld use these passageways for espionage, or even escape. Whatever suits their needs at the time."
"Okay, I can buy that." Jack nodded. "But I still don't see the connection to a death curse."
"Rather than risk the possibility that the passages could be used against them, the Goa'uld have ensured they are lethal to humans and other host species, except those already blended. Only a Goa'uld can safely pass. Not even a Jaffa is immune."
"Immune to what?"
"Poisons," Jack repeated softly, nodding. "Nice."
The Tok'ra turned to Alandra. "Where is this passage?"
Finally Jack saw fear in her eyes. Damn. She'd never seen a Goa'uld she could trust. Well, neither had he, but at least he could trust Jacob -- for the most part, anyway.
"He's okay." He tried to assure her. "He's not like Osiris. Really."
Alandra looked to Gawen. At his nod, she gave her attention back to Selmak, though she avoided his eyes. "If you will follow me, I will show you."
Jack watched them round the corner and then turned to Teal'c, who was still studying the spot Selmak and Alandra had last been. The colonel noted a sharp twitching in his friend's jaw.
A moment passed before he responded. When he severed his link to that empty place and faced O'Neill, contempt spilled out of his dark gaze. "Many stories among Jaffa suggest the existence of such passages. It was forbidden to speak of them." He took a deep breath. "Very few would believe they were designed for escape."
Did Teal'c's nostrils actually flare? He was definitely angry about this revelation, though it hadn't come as a surprise to Jack. O'Neill had never considered Goa'ulds to be anything other than selfish bastards anyway.
"Who would have thought gods needed an escape plan?"
Jack noticed his sarcasm was lost on Teal'c.
"If the vessel were attacked by a stronger system lord," Teal'c replied gravely, "the Goa'uld could abandon it -- and their Jaffa."
"You think that's why Osiris chose this particular room? He's maybe planning the coward's way out of this little coup?"
"I do indeed."
"What's that mean for Daniel?"
Teal'c's glare was chilling. "Osiris would not abandon Daniel Jackson as he would his Jaffa. If there is another mature Goa'uld on this vessel, Daniel Jackson will be taken as a host. If there is not, he will be killed."
Jack's eyes went back to the corner Selmak and Alandra had disappeared around, his own tension mounting. "Of course." He sighed.
Damn. He hated the waiting game. The other SG teams were already on their way to this location, but it would take time for them to maneuver through the vast corridors and multiple levels of the ship. And if waiting for them wasn't already bad enough, now he had to wait for Selmak's report as well.
He looked to the door at his back and sighed again. Just a few more minutes, Danny. We'll have you home in no time. But a muffled scream from inside the room made him doubt his own assurances.
Gawen acknowledged aloud what no one else would, drawing everyone's attention for a brief moment. It was long enough for Jack to see the cold anger burning in the hunter's eyes, an anger that mirrored what he felt in his own heart.
A second scream.
Jack clenched his teeth against the urge to run into that room right then, guns blazing. He looked to Teal'c and Gawen, seeing in each of them that same desire. Hands clenched and unclenched around weapons. Jaws twitched anxiously. It was not unexpected. But Boch....
Boch surprised him. The bounty hunter appeared to be as anxious as the others, perhaps more so. When a third scream erupted, louder and longer than before, Boch tensed like a man with a conscience, like someone who actually cared.
Jack was discomforted by a fleeting sense of trust in the man. Boch didn't deserve his trust, not after what he'd already done to Daniel.
Contented to have regained his perspective of the man, Jack once again scanned the empty corner and down the corridor ahead of him, looking for some sign of Selmak or the other teams. Seeing none, he looked at his watch.
Each tick of the second-hand seemed like a countdown -- from the sound of that last scream, Daniel's seconds were running out.
"Do you mock us, Daniel Jackson?"
Osiris was in his ear again. Why did the Goa'uld keep doing that? It was like an annoying mosquito, buzzing beside Daniel while he was trying to sleep.
"You will tell us everything, Daniel Jackson. You will tell us of the Tau'ri Stargate. You will tell us of your alliance with the Tok'ra. You have no choice."
A sharp pull rekindled the fire in Daniel's hands. He screamed, suddenly aware and awake, and more alive than he cared to be just then. When the feel of acid in his veins gave a repeat performance of his earlier agony, he bit back the urge to scream a second time. Or at least he thought he did. Someone cried out. Daniel could only imagine it must have been him -- unless there was someone else in the room sharing his fate.
"Now, however, we ask only one thing. What game does this Aris Boch play?"
Game? Images of the bounty hunter flashed through Daniel's mind. Aris Boch. Yes, he remembered Aris Boch. Wasn't he once a friend? No. Never a friend. And it was because of Aris Boch that Daniel was here. But a game?
He shook his head slowly, confused.
"Why do you protect him? He betrayed you, Daniel Jackson, did he not?"
Yes. "I'm not prot.... I don't know. Don't ... know." Was that his voice? It sounded so odd, so distant.
"Fool!" Osiris shouted angrily and pulled down hard, this time not letting go.
Daniel screamed until he had nothing left. His lungs were spent, his throat raw.
"You waste my time and my patience!"
Osiris' voice faded. Good. The Goa'uld was moving away. Away meant.... What? Less pain? Daniel already had more pain than he could stand. …Than he could stand? He wasn't even standing. He'd long ago given up trying.
"I do not bargain, Daniel Jackson."
I know. You're a Goa'uld. You take everything. Like you took Sarah. And like Ammonet took.... Sha're? Help me, Sha're! Why did he suddenly think she could? No ... not possible.... Sha're was dead. Like ... who? Someone else.... Alandra? Ke'ra?
"I was pleased when Raiulet refused Boch's woman as host."
Boch's woman? Daniel knew this was not the time to laugh, yet his thoughts meandered around such a twisted path he found himself wishing he could. Ke'ra as "Boch's woman" seemed nonsensical, surreal.... He would love to be able to laugh at that. He needed to laugh. Why couldn't he?
"Her mind was broken."
Osiris continued to talk, but Daniel found it difficult to follow the Goa'uld's odd trail of words. Who's mind? Ke'ra.... Ke'ra had lost her mind.
"And yet," The Goa'uld's voice was a constant droning, tickling Daniel's fragile nerves. "I found such enjoyment in her passion, I took pity upon her."
Did Daniel laugh? How could he? And yet he'd somehow drawn Osiris' attention. The Goa'uld came close again.
"Do you find it so hard to believe I can have such compassion, Daniel Jackson?"
Osiris was in his face. Too close. The Goa'uld's hot breath burned Daniel's eyes.
"My lord, the rebels have begun to gather together. They approach the chamber."
Someone new had joined them. Not Goa'uld.... Jaffa?
"Kill them." Osiris commanded coldly.
Kill who? Apparently, the Jaffa was as confused as Daniel. The man hesitated before daring to question the order.
"Release the poison. Kill them. Kill them all."
"My lord." Raiulet interjected. "We must try first to remind them to fear us. Their lives here have been too soft. Forgive me, my lord, but you have been too kind. We can reawaken their fears, my lord, I assure you."
"You dare question me?"
Osiris was definitely not a happy camper. Jack would say that, wouldn't he? Daniel smiled sadly. He was glad to have known a friend like Jack. He hoped Jack wouldn't be too upset about all this. It wasn't his fault. It wasn't anyone's fault. Well, except maybe for Boch ... and Ke'ra.
"Those rebels -- as you have too kindly named them -- are worse than dogs. I will not rule such worthless creatures. And the Tau'ri...."
The Tau'ri? What did they have to do with any of this? Earth....
"My lord...." Raiulet again.
She said something more, but it became lost in a blooming fog of kaleidoscopic thoughts. The universe had begun spinning. It was whirling all around him. He was on a carousel with words flying past him as he went round each dizzying turn -- words, dozens of them, thrown together in meaningless sentences. Yet soon among those words he began to hear names. People. Places.... They sparked images in his mind, tangled ideas that came together somehow.... It was all a great puzzle he might never hope to solve.
Alandra. Ke'ra. Aris Boch. O'Neill....
O'Neill? Why that name? Why now? Perhaps Daniel had spoken it himself. Perhaps he'd only imagined hearing it....
He would like to see Jack O'Neill now.
No. No he wouldn't. Not here. Jack was back home, where he belonged. Safe.
Home.... The SGC. But that wasn't truly his home. Home was somewhere else. An apartment ... lonely, quiet, peaceful....
Another name. Hammond. The leader of the Tau'ri.... Wait... that wasn't Hammond. Or, maybe it was. After all, Hammond ruled the SGC....
Ruled? Hammond didn't rule.... Or did he?
General George Hammond, Ruler of the SGC, Lord of the Cheyenne Mountain, Keeper of Colorado Springs, Protector of the Tau'ri.... Daniel laughed. Or maybe he just thought he did.
Osiris shouted, prompting Daniel's eyes to open of their own accord. When had he closed them? Curious, he studied the strange scene in front of him, the two women.... No, Daniel corrected himself, not women. Goa'uld. And a room full of Jaffa. Why so many?
"My lord, the time has come." Ke'ra said. Daniel liked Ke'ra. "The rebels may yet be controlled by your Jaffa, but the risk for us to remain here is great."
Ke'ra sounded odd. Poor Ke'ra. The Goa'uld killed her.
"I will not flee!"
Flee? What would make Osiris ... what would make any Goa'uld want to flee?
Osiris' eyes flashed at Daniel. "You have brought this upon us! I will have you watch your Tau'ri friends die."
Friends? O'Neill.... All those words from before started to come together. Jack was here somewhere, wasn't he? Jack had found him. How? Daniel didn't think.... Wait. Osiris was going to kill Jack!
"No." The word came out as a low groan, barely decipherable. How could that be his voice?
But Osiris heard him. The Goa'uld turned toward Daniel, fury burning through Sarah's glowing eyes.
Daniel watched Osiris raise Sarah's hand to reveal the hated ribbon device. With a sudden flash of intense awareness Daniel could only wish had remained hidden, he tried to brace himself for the impact he knew was coming. But there was nothing he could do. The pulse of energy struck him hard in the gut. He flew backward until the chains holding him upright drew taut, their hard metal slicing yet deeper into his wrists. He could feel hot moisture dripping down the length of his upraised arms as he screamed beyond the capacity of his already overtaxed lungs. God! Where was that void from before? Please, if he could just find that void....
Jack was seconds from throwing away years of military training and even ignoring simple common sense. Maybe nano-seconds, whatever those were. He could see himself barging through that door without a plan, without any hope of successfully rescuing Daniel, just because he could no longer stand to listen to his friend's agonized screams.
Thankfully, Major Griff chose that moment to appear in the corridor with the rest of SG-2. Selmak -- or Jacob, or whoever the man happened to be just then -- also managed a timely return from his little recon of the secret passageway, appearing practically on Griff's heels. By the time SG-3 joined them, Jacob had already laid out his plans.
"It's our best shot, Jack." He sounded more confident than he looked. "I can use the back door to create a diversion while you and the rest of the teams come in the front. We've got enough zats to take out most of the Jaffa before they even know what hit 'em."
Griff voiced the glitch Jack was already trying to work his own thoughts around. "That's fine for the Jaffa, but it's those two Goa'ulds we should be more concerned about. If they stay as close to Dr. Jackson as they were when you saw them, he could be toast by the time we're done firing the first rounds."
"No problem," Boch chimed in. "I'll create a second diversion."
Jack was skeptical. "That's going to be a little difficult, don't you think? Seeing as how you'll be waiting for Jacob with the rest of us."
"I won't be with the rest of you. I'll go with Jacob."
"Aren't you forgetting something?" Jack sneered in annoyance. "Like, oh I don't know, maybe a little thing like poison?"
Boch smiled. "As much as you seem to be forgetting I'm not a host species. I'll probably be as immune as Jacob."
"Probably? Oh, now that's encouraging."
"He has a point, sir." Carter looked to her father for his opinion.
Jacob cocked his head optimistically. "The odds just might be in his favor. The toxins in the passageway were developed specifically for host species. Boch is an anomaly."
Jack shook his head. "Not good enough."
Boch turned to him, surprised. "Worried about me, O'Neill?"
"Don't go getting your hopes up. We need every gun we have."
"I'm touched, I really am. But you need the diversion. And I can live with the odds."
"Odds are you won't live at all. You'd be taking a big risk for the small chance that you might actually be able to draw those two snake-heads away from Daniel. And that's not to mention the fact that having two Goa'ulds come after you is about as suicidal as you can get."
"Works for me." Boch rose and wiped his hands together as though to rid them of any dirt they might have acquired from the floor of the ship. "Look, let's just say I owe it to Dr. Jackson. I pay my debts. After all, I am an...."
"Yeah, I know, an honest business man."
Jack studied Boch for a long moment until he couldn't help but accept the man's decision. Still, in the back of his mind he also couldn't help but wonder why he would put so much trust in a traitor and a Tok'ra, two of the last creatures on Earth he would ever want to ally himself with. Okay, this wasn't Earth -- so why didn't that make him feel any better?
He gave his attention back to Jacob, who had drawn a quick map of the room on a notepad.
"How about a shock grenade?" A young airman suggested for the first diversion. "Take care of all those Jaffa, maybe even the Goa'uld, in one clean sweep."
Jack gave him a cold glare.
Griff just shook his head. "Not with Dr. Jackson in there."
"Agreed," Jacob added. "I can't say for sure exactly what shape he's in, but we have to assume it's bad. Whatever we do, it cannot impact him."
Jack studied the map. "What about the old fashioned kind? Toss it into that corner, there. Far enough away from Daniel to keep him safe from shrapnel, and cause just enough damage to get their attention. That should get us through the front door, and give you and Boch a chance to go after the Goa'ulds."
Jacob considered the idea. "I'd prefer a few well placed, timed explosions, but that's not an option. A grenade or two will probably be our best bet."
Once plans were finalized, the teams began to arrange themselves for the assault. Jacob headed for the passageway, disappearing around the corner again without giving his daughter a second glance despite the risks both would be facing. Boch started after him, but hesitated.
Jack saw the bounty hunter turn to face him. "Change your mind already?"
"Look, O'Neill," He answered, ignoring the sarcasm, "if I don't beat the odds, you'll find some things of Dr. Jackson's in my pack at your SGC."
"Glasses. A book. His wrist clock...."
"Watch. It's a wrist watch."
"Okay, whatever. Anyway, I was taking care of them for him."
"Why?" Jack looked hard at the man, at once curious and suspicious. "It's not like you could've thought he'd ever need them again."
Boch turned away, seeming uncomfortable. "Just see that he gets them back."
A moment later he was gone, leaving Jack to contemplate the paradox.
* * *
Poor Osiris! Nothing was going the way it was supposed to for him. Gawen and his rebels were on the move....
Daniel smiled as he envisioned a mob of angry villagers storming Frankenstein's castle.
"Do you find this amusing, Daniel Jackson?"
Yes, actually I do. Yet he couldn't say the words. He couldn't wrap his tongue around them. He didn't have the strength.
It didn't matter, anyway. Whatever amusement he'd found in the multiplex his thoughts had taken him to was fleeting. The villain always got it in the end in Hollywood, but this wasn't Hollywood. Despite all the costumes and special effects, this was as real as....
A new image formed. Fay Wray and King Kong.... Fay Wray in chains, much as Daniel was now. But when he looked at Osiris, saw those cruel eyes staring back at him, eyes that had once been so warm and familiar, he saw Fay Wray there as well. The King Kong in this movie....
No. Not King Kong. That giant ape had been a misunderstood teddy bear. Even Frankenstein sometimes had a heart. No. The monster in this movie was more like Dracula, evil pure and simple.
Whatever its name, this monster was small and cunning, and buried deep inside a woman with all the beauty and grace of Hollywood's finest.
Sarah was as much a victim as Daniel himself.
No. This movie would have no happy ending. Even if the villagers somehow managed to come to his rescue -- he might as well add Jack to the cast as their leader, while he was at it -- they couldn't possibly do the same for Sarah.
Daniel's thoughts scattered under another onslaught of pain, deep inside his head ... agonizing ... excruciating. Some part of him knew Osiris was using the ribbon device. Surely this would be the last time. The final assault.
Fine. Let it be. He was too tired to go on anyway.
Yet just as he came to appreciate the pain for the peace it would finally lead him to, the pulsing ... twisting ... tearing apart of all the tangled ganglia inside his skull ... came to an abrupt end. Something new was happening.
He should open his eyes.... But no, that was not going to happen. He needed time to adjust to Osiris' new gift of a migraine before he dared let any light penetrate his bruised brain.
He could at least listen. Through the rushing sound of some distant ocean's surf flooding his ears in the wake of Osiris' attack he heard the sounds of battle.
There was screaming ... shouting ... the repeated cry of "Kree!"
The clatter of armor....
The staccato beat of automatics....
The whine of zats powering up, and the almost musical sound they produced as they fired....
Jack? Had the cavalry come after all? Rushing in to save the day at the last possible moment?
His answer came with the unmistakable scorching fire of a staff weapon blast... red, hot, burning fire.... His throat burned nearly as much as he cried out against this new agony....
Eclipsed by the hellish rattle of his own chains as he fell back against them, the other sounds began to fade into the distance....
It all seemed far away. Perhaps on television. The volume must be turned down low. Shh! Don't wake Danny!
Mom? No. She was dead. Long ago in a galaxy far, far away....
Daniel finally pried one eyelid open just enough to catch a glimpse of Osiris ... and Aris Boch.
The bounty hunter was holding the staff weapon that must surely have been the cause of the red, hot fire now burning in Daniel's side.
Aris Boch in SGC camouflage....
The bliss of the void returned to reclaim him, but this time Daniel tried to fight it.
He needed to warn Jack.
Aris Boch was a traitor.
Jack saw Boch level his weapon towards Daniel.
Son of a....
He raised his zat, but too late. Boch fired. Rage put Jack's finger on the trigger... amazement pulled it away.
Boch's blast did not hit Daniel. Instead, Jack watched a Jaffa fall, the warrior's own weapon knocked out of position and releasing only a scathing blow to Daniel's side rather than the deadly shot intended.
Boch had saved Daniel's life.
"Son of a gun," Jack said aloud before he realized Boch's action had put the bounty hunter's own life in jeopardy.
When they started this offensive, Boch's diversion had been to simply walk right up to Osiris and start talking. Jack would never have agreed to the plan if he'd known about it -- which was undoubtedly why Boch had kept it to himself. Still, Jack had to admit it worked. Boch had managed to draw Osiris and the other woman, the other snake-head, far enough away from Daniel to keep Jack breathing easier.
Of course, away also happened to be way too close to the escape tunnel for Jack's comfort....
And that other Goa'uld looked an awful lot like Ke'ra, though Boch had insisted she'd been rejected and killed....
Yet Jack realized he would have to keep his suspicions of the bounty hunter simmering on the back burner for a while when a single, focused blast from Osiris' ribbon device sent Boch slamming against a wall a good three meters behind him.
Jack cringed and breathed a silent "Ouch!" Suspicious or not, he had to do something. The man had just saved Daniel, after all.
There wasn't much Jack could do just then, however. By the time he gave his attention back to Osiris, he'd become the Goa'uld's next target. The ribbon device was clearly aimed in his direction.
"Who? ... Me?" Jack turned to scan the room.
The fighting had come to an end. Thirty Jaffa were no match for twenty well-armed military personnel with the element of surprise on their side. After Osiris' shout echoed through the room, the few Jaffa who remained standing turned away from their struggles. They looked to their lord with hope and desperation.
"Don't hold your breath," Jack said under his own. If the snake-heads managed to get out of there -- which he would do everything in his power to prevent -- he knew damned well those Jaffa wouldn't.
"You are O'Neill?"
Jack looked back at Osiris. "Yeah."
Osiris' jaw tightened, and the flash of anger ignited the Goa'uld-ish light in his host's eyes. "You are responsible for these events."
Raising his eyebrows in surprise, Jack cleared his throat. "No, I don't think so. Actually, I'd say you pretty much did it to yourself."
There was that flash again. Osiris was not happy.
Was that a snarl Jack saw? The nose curled just so, the upper lip pulled up slightly in the corner....
The other Goa'uld -- Rain-mat? Was that what Gawen had called it? -- moved to stand beside Osiris. She placed her hand gently on Osiris' arm.
Okay, Jack thought, dead or not, that was definitely Ke'ra.
Osiris snarled again, but lowered the device nonetheless.
"Do not deny it, Colonel O'Neill." When the other Goa'uld finally spoke, Jack corrected his earlier observation. The face was Ke'ra all right, but the voice and the glowing eyes, those definitely were not.
"Your SGC was in league with the bounty hunter all along. But your plan was flawed. It did not consider the restraints my lord Osiris would order placed upon your Daniel Jackson, preventing him from infiltrating my lord's ship as you had hoped."
Infiltrating the ship? Sure. Why not? Let's just send an archeologist to work black ops.... Jack listened to the Ke'ra-Goa'uld in amazement. Did she actually believe what she was saying?
"Nor did it consider the secrets he would have no choice but to reveal, secrets which will one day help to restore my lord to his rightful place of worship among the Tau'ri."
Secrets.... Jack glanced at Daniel, hanging limp from his chains. Damn. What did they do to him?
"And surely your plan did not consider Daniel Jackson's agonizing death, made even more excruciating with the potions my new host is most expert at developing."
Daniel wasn't dead. Jack refused to believe that. Not when they'd been so close, waiting uselessly in the corridor, listening to Daniel's last, desperate cries.
As he returned his attention to the Goa'ulds, Jack noticed a movement where Boch lay behind them. Yes, Boch was moving. He was reaching for the staff weapon he'd dropped when Osiris struck him.
"We arranged all this?" Jack replied, looking directly at Rail-head, or whatever her name was. "Yeah, well, I guess you got us. You're right. You're absolutely right. We arranged for Boch to kidnap Daniel and trick Ke'ra into becoming your host.... About that, by the way, isn't she supposed to be dead?"
The Goa'uld smiled. "This host is strong. She was able to project her thoughts of treachery to my lord Osiris before her death...."
"Ah. Well that explains a lot." Jack muttered, too softly for the Goa'uld to hear him.
"My lord was made curious by those thoughts," Raiulet continued, oblivious to Jack's sarcasm, "and had the foresight to make this host whole again, better even than before. Though her mind was damaged, my lord Osiris ensured a thorough healing."
"Was damaged?" Jack paused to let the implication sink in.
Boch was closer to the weapon, but it was a long reach from where he lay -- easily a full body length away. He slid cautiously sideways, almost too cautiously. Either he was in pain or overly nervous about attracting the Goa'ulds' attention. Somehow Jack couldn't imagine Boch to be the nervous type.
"Sounds to me like that thorough healing wasn't so thorough after all." Jack hoped to keep both snake-heads irritated enough to let Boch's movements go unnoticed. "Doesn't that story sound a bit ridiculous to you? Think about it. Boch kidnapped Daniel, tricked Ke'ra, and, oh yeah, let's not forget he figured they could start up a rebellion along the way. What possible reason could we have to pull off something as hokey as all that? Come on, now! You wouldn't even buy it in a cheesy novel!"
"Enough!" Osiris commanded. "Daniel Jackson knew we would return. He would risk everything to prevent such a thing."
"Because he knew we would regain our sovereignty over the Tau'ri."
"Oh. Of course. You like cheesy novels too."
Boch was almost there. Just a little longer....
"Do not play games, Colonel O'Neill," The Ke'ra-Goa'uld demanded. "This host knows your games, your sarcasm. My lord Osiris will not tolerate such things."
Jack once again looked around the room. Five Jaffa remained uninjured, compared with all twenty SG personnel, each of whom held a weapon aimed at Osiris and whoever Ke'ra was now.
"Your lord Osiris might not have a choice," He replied smugly. Come on, Boch! "Looks to me like you've lost your army -- or what you tried to pass as an army, anyway."
Osiris' eyes gleamed in rage. He raised his hand once more, sending an energy pulse into first one airman, then another, and another still. Several tried to return fire, but their weapons failed to penetrate Osiris' protective shield.
"We rule here yet, Tau'ri!"
Jack clenched his jaw in concern for the fallen men, but he held his ground. "Not for long. Don't forget you've got a ship full of angry slaves on your hands. When they get here," He glanced at his watch, "in, oh, about two minutes, you won't stand a chance."
The rapid beat of an automatic to Jack's right indicated one of the airmen wasn't willing to wait. It was a stupid move, but Jack would take advantage of it. While Osiris turned his attention toward the attacker, Jack used the cover of the resulting chaos to make a run for the weapon Boch was taking too long to retrieve.
He wasn't fast enough. Osiris' hand swiveled towards him. Jack stopped cold, meeting Osiris' glare. Time stilled. He waited for the device's energy beam to strike him.
A raspy cry ahead caught his attention. He followed the sound. Boch. With one final reckless and apparently agonizing leap, the bounty hunter grabbed the weapon.
Osiris began to turn. Boch was quicker. He fired before the Goa'uld could protect himself.
Osiris eyes widened and flamed. Wounded, perhaps mortally, he staggered forward lifting his hand again, this time aiming for something beside Jack. Jack followed the line of fire with his eyes.
If he was still alive, Jack knew Daniel couldn't take more abuse. His face was hidden at this angle, but his side looked raw from the blast Boch had not been able to fully divert -- and the tattered sleeves of his shirt were wet with blood.
No. Osiris had done enough damage for one day.
Jack started to move, then saw Boch bring the weapon up again. He rolled out of Boch's way.
Ke'ra intervened. She tossed a handful of something powdery into the air. It quickly misted into a heavy fog.
Damn. Goa'uld or not, Linea was up to her old tricks.
Jack backed further away, putting distance between himself and that fog. It could be poison. There was no telling what the Ke'ra-Linea-Goa'uld might have up her sleeve. He squinted and peered into the dense gray cloud. He could see nothing at all within.
With Boch, Osiris and the Ke'ra-Goa'uld swallowed by the fog, there wasn't much Jack could do. Helpless, he took a deep breath of the cleaner air beyond and reassessed the situation. Griff and his men had already taken care of the remaining Jaffa, and were now tending to their own wounded. Teal'c was rifling through the possessions of Osiris' defeated army, scavenging for something though Jack didn't bother to try to figure out what. Only Sam and Jacob kept their eyes fixed on the cloud, weapons held ready for whatever, whoever might emerge from it.
Jack knew the futility of their vigil. No one would emerge. The Goa'uld would escape through the passageway. And Boch....
He realized he had no idea what to expect of the bounty hunter.
A thud followed quickly by a heavy grunt that could only have come from Boch drew Jack's attention back to the fog. The Goa'uld had made their move.
Jacob obviously heard it too. In an instant he was on his feet, running headlong into Linea's strange mist and leaving his daughter to watch nervously after him while he alone gave chase to the fleeing Goa'ulds.
Jack could almost hear the thoughts playing out in the major's head. She had once been blended. Would that make her immune to the poison in the passageways?
He was not going to give her the opportunity to find an answer.
"Carter!" He called out as he hurried to Daniel's side.
It worked. A strong sense of duty and her concern for her teammate won out, overruling the worry she had for a father who had taken on an entirely new life since his blending with the Tok'ra, Selmak. Only a part of him belonged to her now. The rest remained a stranger.
Sam Carter did not hesitate.
When it was clear she ran toward Jack instead of the cloud, the colonel finally gave his full attention to Daniel.
His stomach knotted at the sight of his battered friend.
The word, barely more than a whisper, scarcely left his mouth before Carter reached him. Teal'c arrived a moment later.
Neither spoke. Yet their presence beside him gave Jack a renewed sense of hope.
All for one and one for all. SG-1 was together again.
He took a deep breath, and then shook his head as he slowly let it out. This was not the way it was supposed to be. Still, as a team they could make things right again. Jack was grateful he didn't have to give any thought to how they would remove Daniel's shackles. Instead, Teal'c quickly produced the key, apparently the prize he'd searched for among the conquered Jaffa. Jack was doubly grateful his own Jaffa friend wasted no time in applying it; and he felt an immediate, intense wash of relief as the metal rings clicked open one by one.
With Daniel's wrists freed, Jack caught him and eased him gently to the ground. As he did so, he remembered Gawen's words.
"Alandra saw Daniel draw his own blood to escape Osiris'. The shackles were too tight to pull his hands through without causing much damage."
Much damage. That had been an understatement. The reality was worse than what Gawen had led him to consider. Jack found he could not share Gawen's hope that Daniel's hands should function well enough once they heal. He couldn't be sure they would function at all.
Daniel had obviously been damned determined to escape.
"You almost made it, Danny boy," He said softly.
Unfortunately, almost just wasn't good enough.
* * *
The rebels made a boisterous entrance. Shouts of challenge quickly gave way to cries of victory when they found the Jaffa army already beaten and the hated demons fled. Yet as word spread about the dire condition of Daniel Jackson, the clamor died to a hushed and anxious silence. Soon a crowd formed around the man the old grandfathers had spoken of, the great warrior who had given them the courage to rise up against a demon who had claimed to be their god.
Jack watched them cautiously. Aware of their concern, yet equally well aware of the insanity that can be triggered from a mob mentality, he and Teal'c maintained positions as Daniel's protectors. Neither would let the crowd get too close, or even allow them to form a complete circle. Yet nor would they turn these people away.
Still, Jack was comfortable enough with their current somber mood to let his attention move to Gawen, who assisted Carter in tending Daniel's wounds.
The hunter seemed aware of his gaze. He looked up and slowly shook his head. After lowering Daniel's left hand gently to the ground, Gawen rose to speak with Jack directly.
"The bones are damaged beyond my ability to repair them. I can no longer bring them to knit back together as they should."
Jack drew in a long breath and let it out slowly, nodding in understanding. He had already made the same assessment. But hearing it from someone else gave it an edge he didn't like at all. Of course, neither of them were doctors, so there was still hope. There was always hope. Unfortunately, he knew only too well how often hope could be misplaced.
"There is another way."
He gave his attention back to Gawen, squinting questioningly.
"The demons have a magic box...."
"No!" The word was out of Jack's mouth before he even realized it. He was further surprised to hear it echoed as Teal'c vehemently voiced the same response beside him.
Gawen's eyes widened, startled by the shared outburst.
"Look, Gawen, we know all about that box. Let's just say it comes with a hefty price tag. It's not worth paying unless we absolutely have to."
Yet Jack began to wonder if that was really true. Maybe this time the healing effects of the sarcophagus could be worth the risks born out of Daniel's previous, repeated use.
He didn't like this turn of his thoughts. Letting his attention wander before he could change his mind, he looked toward the secret passageway and noticed the fog had finally lifted. What was left in its wake made him tense.
He would have been happier to find the bounty hunter had disappeared with the Goa'ulds. At least his distrust of the man would have been vindicated. But that was not the case. Instead, Boch lay still, unmoving, his back twisted at an unnatural angle.
Confident Daniel was safe, Jack ran off to check on Boch. He'd barely gone three steps when he saw movement near the spot where the secret passageway was supposed to be. The wall buckled and split, slowly opening to reveal the blackness beyond.
Adrenaline coursing through his veins, Jack took aim. His trigger finger twitched, eager for the revenge that was imminent. He could already taste it. It was sweet on his tongue.
It turned sour too quickly. Jacob emerged alone.
"They're gone," The elder Carter announced as he approached. "But they're in a small escape pod. They won't get very far without assistance. I've already got the cargo ship tracking them."
Great. More good news. "Our cargo ship? The one that got us here?"
"Don't worry about it, Jack. This vessel will get you home faster and more comfortably anyway."
Jack scanned the faces and clothing of the rebels. He was sure several cultures were represented, though Daniel was the expert on that front. "Uh, Jacob, this vessel has a few stops to make before we go soaring off to the other side of the galaxy." He locked his eyes on Daniel. "I don't want to sound like a poor host, but I'm not willing to delay getting back."
"Somehow I don't think you would've preferred the alternative."
Jack raised his eyebrows to show his confusion and silently prompt an explanation.
"Letting the Goa'ulds escape?" Jacob's response was condescending, as though he was dealing with an inattentive student.
Such a show of superiority, so prevalent among the Tok'ra, grated on Jack's nerves. Yet when he opened his mouth to reply, he realized he didn't have an argument. In fact, he found he had nothing to say at all.
His frustration compounded when Alandra approached, uttering a timid, "Excuse me." Ignoring him completely, she focused her attention on the Tok'ra.
"You are Goa'uld." Making it a statement rather than a question, the woman presented Jacob with a hand-held healing device. "You can use this device to heal Daniel, to make his hands able to function, as Gawen cannot."
Jack whistled silently. This was a brave move for a woman who had been terrified of Selmak just a short while ago. Catching the other man's eye, he lifted an eyebrow and cocked his head, silently acknowledging it as a reasonable request.
A sideways glare and a heavy sigh suggested Jacob only begrudgingly took the device.
"Yeah, I know. It's a helluva sacrifice." Jack whispered to no one but himself. He would never understand the Tok'ra.
Finally, belatedly, he went to Boch. He paused, looking down at the crooked form. That the bounty hunter's back was broken was beyond question.
Jack knelt down to check for a pulse. He couldn't find one. But did that mean anything? Maybe he wasn't looking in the right place. Boch wasn't human, after all.
"What the hell are you doing?"
Jumping at the unexpected sound of Boch's small, raspy voice, Jack complained, "Don't do that!"
"My sentiments exactly." Boch was weak, but at least his sarcasm was intact.
With the greetings out of the way, Jack studied him seriously. "Can you move at all?"
"Okay," Jack took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Hang in there. Jacob's got a healing device. I'll...."
"It won't work. Goa'uld technology doesn't work on my kind."
"Oh, I don't know." Jack looked up as Teal'c approached. A quick glance toward Daniel revealed the crowd had backed away, no doubt in reaction to Selmak's presence among them. At least the Tok'ra were good for a few things.
He turned his attention back to the bounty hunter. "The ribbon device seems to have worked well enough."
"The ribbon device is a different technology," Teal'c answered. "Osiris was able to use it on the air around him, rather than on Aris Boch directly."
Jack sighed. "Yeah. Well, nothing to worry about. We'll get you fixed up in no time."
And there it was again, that nagging sense of misplaced hope.
"Wakey, wakey." Jack waved a feather across Daniel's cheek. He'd found it in a floral arrangement in Osiris' bedroom -- a room he knew intimately by now, having spent the past ten hours pacing it while Daniel slept like a king in silk, or satin, or whatever those fancy sheets were made out of.
Jack could've used some sleep himself, but he'd been far too frustrated to even try. With Boch's broken back and Daniel's wounds, which were too extensive to be fully healed by the hand device, Jack had been anxious to get back to the nearest 'gate as soon as possible -- back to the expert medical care waiting on the other side. Yet he had let both Carters talk him into dropping off their 'guests', Osiris' former slaves, first. Boch and Daniel were stable, and it just didn't make sense to hurry past these peoples' home-worlds only to turn around and drop them off on a return trip. Wasted time. Wasted energy.
He sighed and shook his head. It was more than that. While he was sure Selmak had found Alandra and company to be a nuisance and just wanted to be rid of them, Jacob had given the winning argument. This ship had been full of refugees. Jack, as the highest ranking representative of the SGC, was directly responsible for them. He couldn't turn his back on that responsibility any more than he could stop worrying about Daniel -- and, he had to admit, Boch.
At least the refugees were gone now. Finally. The last having left over an hour earlier. And the ship was finally coming into orbit around a planet with a Stargate. It was time to turn at least some of his responsibility over to Doc Frasier.
Realizing his first gentle attempt to wake Daniel had failed, Jack cleared his throat and raised his voice. "Okay, Danny-boy, rise and shine."
Nothing. When he tried the feather again, Daniel stirred, swatting at the irritation. But his hand dropped back to the bed. His breathing remained slow and steady.
"Up and at 'em." His own weariness coming into play, Jack's hand jerked unexpectedly, driving the feather directly under Daniel's nose.
This time Daniel sat bolt upright, sneezing several times in quick succession.
Surprised and disturbed by the intensity of his friend's reaction, Jack grimaced, knowing the amount of pain such a sudden movement had to have caused. Jacob had used the healing device to ensure Daniel's hands would eventually get back to normal, bringing the fragile bones together as no surgeon could. That process alone had driven the elder Carter to exhaustion. Any attempt to heal the surface wound in Daniel's side had been out of the question.
When the sneezing fit ended, Jack's expectations were proved true. Daniel hissed, bringing his left hand to the wound and leaning as far in the other direction as he dared. Instinctively, he dropped his right hand down onto the soft mattress for support. But the still bruised bones could not handle the pressure.
Jack's feather fell forgotten to the ground.
"Easy there, Danny." Sitting beside him, Jack gently wrapped his arm around the younger man's shoulders and pulled him against his chest, providing the support Daniel could not give himself.
"I ah,..." Jack hesitated, abashed by his carelessness but not quite sure this was the time for an apology. "It's time to go home, Danny."
As the hisses slowed to a more rhythmic breathing pattern, Jack looked at the sweat-matted hair nestled against him. He could only imagine the hell his friend had been through.
Daniel's chest swelled with a cautious, deep breath as he raised his head toward the man holding him. Jack watched him blink away his weariness, saw awareness begin to dawn. Recognition evolved quickly into fear when the younger man's eyes fell on the golden walls and Egyptian decor.
"Nice digs, huh?" Jack hurriedly offered, a subtle assurance that they were safe. "Alandra and Gawen both insisted we bring you here. Now if it were up to me...." He let the rest of his thought trail off, sending the kind of message he knew Daniel would expect. "They wanted me to tell you 'good-bye', by the way. Actually, they had a whole speech for you, but I, ah.... Carter probably recorded it. They seem to think you're special for some reason. Didn't even want to leave when we dropped 'em off on their planet."
It worked. He felt Daniel relax against him, the other's weight falling more heavily, more confidently against his chest.
That was not Daniel's voice. Rough, ragged, it was a voice worn to its limits.
Jack could feel his pulse quickening as the rage he'd been fighting to contain began to roil closer to the surface. What had Daniel been forced to endure? But this wasn't the time for him to unleash his own thirst for vengeance. Instead, he smiled, going for his usual cavalier attitude and hoping Daniel didn't notice exactly what it was he was trying to mask.
"Tucked tail and ran away," He said glibly. "After we kicked some serious Jaffa butt."
But when Daniel looked at him he could no longer pull off the charade. Those bright blue eyes seemed so lost and confused Jack's smile could not survive their scrutiny. There were obviously holes in his friend's memories. Lots of them.
"We won, Daniel." He made a show of scanning the room. "Even got our very own Ha'tak ship out of it."
He couldn't tell whether his news was met with relief or sorrow. The way Daniel closed his eyes and sighed could have indicated either. But when the younger man turned his head, as though to hide, Jack sensed something new entering the equation. A long moment of silence ensued. Too long. Jack began to wonder if his friend had passed out.
He cleared his throat. "Ah, Daniel?"
"It was real." The answer came as a tormented whisper that tore into Jack's heart. "It was all real."
He didn't know how to reply. He couldn't be sure what Daniel referred to, what might have come through the delirium of his final moments alone with the Goa'ulds.
"I think I said things, Jack."
"About the SGC. About Hammond." Those blue eyes gazed back at him now. They were darker than before, haunted. "About you."
"Me?" Jack tried to act surprised. "Like what a great guy I am? How fun I am at parties?"
"I'm serious, Jack."
They locked eyes, silently sharing each other's truths for a long, uncomfortable moment.
"It doesn't matter," Still refusing to look away, Jack said aloud what he hoped his silence had already communicated.
Daniel wasn't buying it. Guilt turned to anger. "How can you say that? Of course it...."
"No!" Jack interrupted. "It doesn't matter. You're human, Daniel."
"You wouldn't have...."
"Oh? You think so, huh? What? You don't think I'm human, too?"
"That's not what I...."
"Let it go, Daniel." Jack softened his tone. "We can deal with it, whatever you told 'em. You already know our iris codes were changed the minute you disappeared, like they are anytime someone ends up missing. It's that way for a reason. We're all human, Daniel. Let it go."
Daniel absently rubbed at his eyes with stiff fingers, and then abruptly pulled his hand away, staring at the swollen but unbroken skin.
Here was a hole Jack was willing to help fill. "Jacob used a healing device."
Daniel looked at his other hand, and then sighed again. This time Jack was sure he sensed relief, until he heard sorrow spilling into his friend's next words.
"I'm sorry, Jack."
A confused stare came back at him. But an instant later Jack watched a cloud of understanding storm into those sky-blue eyes.
If ideas were associated with light bulbs, it seemed to Jack Daniel's light bulb must've exploded, making the resulting darkness that much more intense.
Jack cleared his throat again. "Yeah. About that...."
Numbed by whatever was in the shot Sam had given him, the sight before Daniel now took on an even more surreal appearance. Boch was strapped to a platform just as Daniel had been for....
He shuddered. Thankfully, the feel of Jack's grip tightening around his shoulders quickly soothed his faltering nerves.
How much time had actually passed since that moment on Vyus? All those days, all those hours seemed strung together into one, unending nightmare. Well, unending until now.
It was fitting, actually. This time he was looking down at Boch. This time the bounty hunter was trapped and helpless while Daniel moved about freely. Somehow, things had come full circle.
What comes around goes around....
Do unto others....
Daniel closed his eyes and slowly shook his head. He shouldn't have accepted the drugs. Yet if he hadn't he'd never have made it all the way down here on his own -- okay, somewhat on his own, anyway. Even with the drugs, he wouldn't have made it here without Jack's support. Without the drugs, he'd have to have been carried. That was a concession he was not willing to make.
"Hey buddy, no hard feelings, huh?"
The worn sound of Boch's voice pulled Daniel out of his hazy thoughts. He looked at the bounty hunter, puzzled as much by the words as the image. Had he heard correctly?
"No hard feelings?" Disappointed to find his own voice sounding no stronger than the bed-ridden bounty hunter's, he tried again. "No hard...." It didn't matter. Boch's words were more disturbing than Daniel's weak voice. He closed his eyes for a brief moment and turned his head, seeming to search for a better angle to deal with the bizarre statement. "How can I not have...."
"Yeah, I know," Boch rasped passed Daniel's frustration. "I understand."
Daniel studied him. Exactly what did he feel about the man? He had been so certain Boch had fired the weapon responsible for the burn on his side. But Jack said the bounty hunter had saved his life.
Did it even matter? If Boch hadn't put Daniel's life in jeopardy in the first place, there would have been no need for him to save it.
"Come on, Daniel. Let's go." Jack started to pull him toward the door, apparently aware of the conflicts raging inside him.
The action seemed to renew Daniel. He drew something from Jack then, a fleeting yet invigorating sense of energy.
"No. Not yet." Daniel resisted, turning back to the bounty hunter. "Look, I'm sorry about your back. And I hope it goes well for you on Tollan. And I'm...."
I'm what? Grateful? That was far too strong a word. Daniel took a deep breath, careful to limit its impact on his wound as he searched for a way to express his level of appreciation to a man he held in the deepest contempt.
"Thank you for saving my life." That was it. There was no deeper level than that. "That's all I can give you right now."
"Fair enough." Boch closed his eyes, signaling an end to the conversation.
Made more furious than ever by Boch's indifference, Daniel tensed, shouting a quick "No!" so emphatically his side began to burn. It was a fire that only served to fuel his anger. "It's not fair enough. You put.... You caused...."
Fighting to steady his breathing and regain his focus, he finally managed a soft "Why? Why did you do it? You had to know Ke'ra was out of her mind. Why did you work with her in the first place?"
Boch met his cold glare without hesitation. "Simple. I was out of options. I'd lost Apophis' trust, and he's the most powerful Goa'uld out there. I needed Roshna."
"Right." Daniel nodded. "Roshna. It always comes down to you, doesn't it?"
He stared at the bounty hunter. Boch's injury told a somewhat different story, one of repentance. The man had risked his own life to correct a wrong, to take back something that was never his to give in the first place.
Forgiveness did not seem unreasonable.
Ethically, it was probably the right thing to do. Daniel could even imagine encouraging Jack to forgive the bounty hunter, if their situations had been reversed. But they weren't reversed. And no matter how deeply he searched inside himself he could not find the strength, or the courage, or whatever it was he needed to accomplish that simple task.
Come on, Daniel! Boch's back was broken. Though Jacob had suggested the Tollans might be able to help, there were no guarantees. Boch could very well be permanently paralyzed. He wouldn't have much of a life that way. Certainly not the kind of life the bounty hunter was used to.
Yet none of that mattered.
Daniel had no room in his heart for forgiveness. Not now. Not after everything that had happened. Boch's life wasn't the only one that had been changed. If Ke'ra hadn't already been cursed enough, now she was doubly so, eternally so. And Sarah ... how would she feel, knowing the agony Osiris had forced her to put him through?
Boch owed them as much as he owed Daniel. Saving one, single life -- turning aside one, single staff weapon blast -- simply wasn't enough.
"Let's go home, Daniel." Jack's voice was almost a whisper as he gave Daniel's shoulder a compassionate squeeze.
This time he accepted, letting his friend lead him from the room. He had nothing left within him to resist. He had nothing left at all. He was numb. Completely, inhumanly, numb.
When Jack groggily looked at his watch, he was shocked to find he'd slept for thirteen hours. Thirteen hours? What had Frasier dosed him with? Elephant tranquilizers?
He hadn't needed anything in the first place. It wasn't like he hadn't gone for days on end without sleep before. The tranqs were just the doc's way to keep him out of her hair while she took care of Daniel. But somehow she'd convinced Hammond. Jack's only choice in the matter had come down to whether or not to take a bed in the infirmary. Of course, he chose the 'not'.
He sat up and dropped his feet over the side. Damn. He could probably sleep for another thirteen. But his mouth tasted like feet. And his clothes.... He was still wearing his clothes? Whatever Frasier gave him must've been awfully fast acting.
He changed his mind about what his mouth tasted like. Not feet. Nope. More like his clothes.
He needed a toothbrush, a shower, and.... He rubbed his hand across his chin. Yep. A shave. But first things first.
Hurrying out into the corridor, he ignored the startled looks and turned noses of the base personnel brushing past him, and went straight to the commissary. Though his unkempt appearance was not particularly appreciated by the other patrons, the quick detour for a cup of coffee before heading for the showers turned out to be a wise move. Not only did it help wipe out what was left of Frasier's cocktail and rinse the fur off his tongue, it also served to elevate his mood considerably. He might not have bumped into Carter, otherwise.
Carter's cautious yet clearly repulsed reaction to his pungency gave him something to smile about. It was just what he needed. He didn't want to be moody when it came time to spring Boch's box on Daniel. Daniel would surely be moody enough for both of them.
* * *
"So, is everything there?" Jack leaned forward in his chair, practically hovering over Daniel's infirmary bed and the package he'd just placed there.
Daniel was more curious about Jack. This was their first meeting since returning to the SGC. He'd hoped they'd have more to talk about than the thing he wanted most to forget. But maybe this was just Jack's way of breaking the ice.
Hesitantly reaching inside the small, hard-shelled case, the first object Daniel removed was wrapped in cloth. Within the folds he found his new, gold watch, still working, still polished as though he'd just brought it home from the store. Next came his glasses. He slipped them on to find them perhaps even cleaner than he remembered. Beneath those he found his wallet, his silk tie, even a small roll of mints.
"Hey," The mints perked Jack's interest. "Mind if I have one of those?"
It took a moment for Daniel to acknowledge he'd heard Jack's request. When he did, he was puzzled by it.
"All that coffee, you know?"
Daniel was still confused.
His thoughts still elsewhere, he handed the roll to Jack. "Boch did this?"
"Yep." Jack settled back in his chair as he popped a mint into his mouth.
"That's what I asked him. Just said he was taking care of 'em for you."
Daniel could feel Jack's eyes on him when he turned back to the box. He wasn't ready to face that kind of scrutiny just yet. There was more to this visit than idle curiosity.
"This doesn't exactly make up for what he did." Absently rubbing the crystal of his watch, he ignored the ache the action caused in his bruised thumb.
"No it doesn't."
Daniel finally looked at the other man, accepting that dark stare and meeting it with an equally strong gaze of his own. "Did you forgive him?"
There was no reaction. He hadn't expected one. Jack had perfected his poker face long ago. "This isn't about me."
"No?" Daniel hadn't expected the word to come out as an accusation, yet he found himself raising his voice. "Then why did you bring me these?"
Shaking in an anger that seemed to come out of nowhere, Daniel threw the watch back into the case and slammed it shut. "You think this is enough to get me to forget what he did?"
Despite the harshness of the younger man's reaction, Jack never flinched. "No," He said calmly. "I don't."
"Then why? Why did you bring it here?"
A raised eyebrow, a quick nod. "I figured you could use the glasses. And...." There was that stare again. "I made a promise."
"He asked me to give this to you. I did."
Feeling suddenly exposed, Daniel looked away. "I can't, Jack."
"No one's asking you to."
"I don't know. But I'll do what I can to help you figure it out."
Daniel met his eyes once more. Their darkness seemed a little warmer, a little less intimidating. Still, he wasn't sure what it meant -- what it meant to him.
"Look, Daniel, I won't pretend to know exactly what you went through, but I do have a pretty good idea. And I know it's not going to be an easy thing to get over. You won't, actually."
"Get over it."
"Well, thanks. That's ... encouraging."
"The only way to get over it is to put it out of your mind entirely. And all that'll end up doing is tear you apart from the inside out. You can't let that happen. I won't let you let that happen."
"Am I supposed to thank you?"
"No. But that's alright. I can handle it."
"I'm tired, Jack. I don't want to think about Boch or Ke'ra ... or anything else for a while."
"Fair enough. I think Frasier would agree with you on that point. But there will be a time when you're going to have to face it again. I hope you know I'll be there when that time comes."
Fair enough. Boch's voice interposed itself over Jack's. Daniel barely heard the rest of his words. His glare hardened. "You did forgive him, didn't you?"
"As a matter of fact ... no, I didn't. But I did accept a truce."
"Without his help we wouldn't have found you."
"Without his interference, you wouldn't have had to look for me."
Jack nodded once. "Yep. Like I said. A truce."
Daniel sat in silence, at once relishing and despising the solitude of his living room. He focused on the ticking of a clock as he stared into the gray dawn, a cup of herbal tea warming his hands. He never bothered to take a sip. Part of him would have preferred coffee -- the part that wanted to stay awake, to never fall asleep again and thus avoid the nightmares that would forever plague him.
Once, he'd found a brief and blessed reprieve building a new life with Sha're. Yet when Apophis destroyed that, the old nightmares came back, vengefully adding Sha're's death to the evolving visions of his parents' tragic end. Now he'd found even more ghosts to haunt him, new faces to taunt him with his guilt and his grief.
Sleep had long been his enemy. Yet staying awake had lost its appeal as well. Staying awake also meant facing things he would rather ignore.
Six weeks had passed since his rescue from Osiris. In that time Daniel had learned there might be worse things he would never escape, neither in sleep, nor in wakefulness, nor even in death. As Shakespeare so poignantly pointed out, "The dread of something after death, that undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns, puzzles the will, and makes us rather bear those ills we have than fly to others that we know not of."
But Shakespeare wasn't right about everything. Conscience does more than "Make cowards of us all." It also manufactures reluctant heroes who actually believe they can make a difference. Daniel was just such an idiot. He was not ready to abandon his fight. Not by a long shot. In fact, the events on Osiris' ship just made him more motivated.
Motivated to carry on the fight against the Goa'uld, not to play politics on Vyus and pretend nothing happened.
The doorbell buzzed. Daniel was not startled, reacting only by closing his eyes. The visit was expected. It was just another one of those events he wanted to avoid.
He remembered Jack's words in the infirmary, "The only way to get over it is to put it out of your mind entirely. And all that'll end up doing is tear you apart from the inside out. You can't let that happen. I won't let you let that happen."
Jack was definitely keeping his promise. No matter how much Daniel complained or argued, Jack had refused to let him decline Nodaal's and Layale's invitation.
The buzzing gave way to pounding. Frustrated, Daniel set his cup on an end table. Propping his elbows on his knees and resting his head in his hands, he made a silent plea for the pounding to stop, for the world to leave him alone.
He was surprised to hear Teal'c's stern voice instead of Jack's. Jack would have been much easier to ignore.
More pounding. "Daniel Jackson, will you not open your door?"
Choiceless, the specter of Aris Boch said in the depths of Daniel's weary mind.
He'd barely gotten the door unlocked before Teal'c pushed his way inside, followed immediately by Sam and Jack, both in their dress blues. Teal'c wore the brown suit Daniel had helped him pick out two months earlier.
"You're not dressed," Jack complained, eyeing Daniel's gray sweats.
"I'm dressed. I'm just not dressed for Vyus. I'm not going."
"Now, Daniel. We've been through this. Nodaal postponed his son's naming-celebration-thingie for you."
"Whatever. The point is, his son doesn't have a name yet! If they postpone it any longer, the kid's gonna get a complex. You want him to go through life as 'hey, you'?"
"They don't need me there to have this celebration. I'm sure they'll be happy with the three of you."
"They want you there." Jack glared at him.
"They'll get by without me." Daniel did not look away.
"Here, Daniel." Sam moved between them and pressed a garment bag into his hands. "We brought you this."
"What is it?"
Teal'c answered from behind him. "It is a suit identical to the one you purchased before."
Daniel turned, surprised as much by Teal'c's pleased expression as by the Jaffa's words. "How?"
"The establishment retained sufficient information about your previous purchase to provide us with another."
Sam grinned. "Let's just say they were thrilled to make another sale."
"You bought this for me?" After unzipping the bag to examine the fabric, Daniel gave his attention back to his teammates. "The same suit?"
A quick glance at the label confirmed it. "I can't accept this." Shaking his head, he held the garment bag out toward Sam. "It's too expensive. It was a nice gesture, and I appreciate it. But it's too expensive."
"Tell me about it!" Jack complained. "But it's too late."
Teal'c added, "It has already been altered to fit your measurements."
"Indeed. That information also was retained."
Daniel sighed and draped the garment bag over his arm. "I'm sorry. I'll pay you back."
"You'll pay us back by putting it on right now and going with us to Vyus." Jack used his best command voice for that one.
Choiceless. The word didn't have to be spoken. Daniel saw it in Jack's eyes.
* * *
For the first time since joining the program, the whoosh of a forming wormhole made Daniel jump. And for the first time since learning about the Stargate's existence, he wanted no part of it. He stared at the shimmering, blue waves feeling infinitely small in his too large suit. Either the measurements had been wrong, or he'd lost more weight than he'd thought.
"Piece 'a cake." Jack came up beside him and planted a hand on his shoulder.
Great. His nervousness was that obvious. He'd hoped he might be the only one aware of his sweaty palms and quickened breaths.
Piece 'a cake. That line was for new travelers, people who'd never encountered a Stargate before. Humiliated, he clenched his jaw and felt his fingernails digging into the soft flesh of his palms. If Jack tried to explain the experience....
Daniel relaxed, closing his eyes and sighing. Jack wouldn't do that.
Piece 'a cake. Maybe that's how it used to be. Would it ever be that way again?
"What's a party without cake?" Jack added, apparently noticing his attempt to ease Daniel's discomfort was having the opposite effect.
Daniel looked at him, feeling curious, angry, thankful and embarrassed all at once. Behind it all lurked that ever present terror. Could Jack's attempts to help him actually work? Could anyone help Daniel climb out of this river of emotions he found himself drowning in?
No. No one could chase away his ghosts but him. He lowered his head and let his shoulders sag under the weight of that realization. This was a battle he would have to fight alone.
The hand on his shoulder squeezed gently, reviving his worn muscles. Daniel straightened as the squeeze became a nudge, pressing him forward while the older man kept talking. "Think they'll have chocolate?"
His attention returning to the Stargate, Daniel watched it loom closer and closer under Jack's guidance. In some ways he felt like an animal being led to slaughter. In others, it seemed more fitting to imagine himself as a kitten being dragged to safety by the scruff of its neck. There was something comforting about Jack's touch, despite Daniel's misgivings. It made the colonel's forcefulness oddly acceptable.
"And ice cream," Jack continued. "They've got to have ice cream."
Just a few more steps up the ramp and they'd be through. Just a few more. Yet Daniel felt the anxiety lift away from his chest rather than settling more heavily upon him, even as Jack's hand slid off his shoulder, moving down his spine to the center of his back.
"Maybe some whipped cream. A little cherry on top...."
With one, gentle shove, Jack pushed Daniel through the 'gate.
* * *
Daniel's terror faded the moment he arrived on Vyus. Everything was different. The "gate had been moved outdoors, and they arrived in a park rather than the dark warehouse he'd expected. It was tranquil there. Peaceful.
A white, wooden gazebo stood to his left, looking like something out of Currier and Ives. He could imagine it serving as the pulpit for walrus-mustachioed politicians giving speeches, or as the stage for an old-time barber-shop quartet serenading families at a county fair. The Air Force sergeant occupying it now seemed out of place, though his presence was not entirely unexpected. Daniel found the two airmen moving toward the 'gate from behind the gazebo slightly more unnerving. Still, it wasn't until the archeologist turned around to find a courtyard opening out to a long, wide cobblestone street that his anxiety fully returned.
There was not a Vyan in sight.
"Jack," He prodded softly. "You told me Linea's weapon didn't harm the people here."
Shortly after Ke'ra had regained her memories of Linea, she greeted the threat of war from Tyrea, a country across the sea, with the zealousness typical of her former life as the 'Destroyer of Worlds'.
You - should - have - let - me - die! Daniel could still hear Ke'ra's voice taunting him. If he had let her kill herself that day long ago back at the SGC, none of this would have happened. She wouldn't be a Goa'uld now, he wouldn't have gone through what he had and, most importantly, half of the population of Vyus wouldn't have been virtually erased.
"It didn't." Jack's answer brought him back to the moment.
"Then where is everyone?" He noticed Teal'c gazing deep into the city streets.
"I believe they have all congregated further up this road," The Jaffa announced.
"What do you say we go have a look-see?" Jack gave Daniel a gentle pat and started walking. "Grandma always said there's nothing like a Sunday morning stroll downtown."
They were soon flanked by the two airmen, the escort suggesting Teal'c had been correct in his assumptions.
As they neared the first intersection, any doubts Daniel might have had disappeared when he noticed a distant hum. It grew louder with nearly every step thereafter, slowly evolving into a melody produced by the clearly distinguishable sounds of a pipe organ and people singing.
Several blocks later they rounded a corner. They might as well have stepped through another Stargate.
This street was crowded with people moving between tents and carts that were loaded with sweets and colorful things for sale. There was almost a carnival feel to the setting, though some key elements were clearly lacking. There were no clowns, no acrobats -- and most important, no children. There had not been a child born on Vyus in a generation. Until now.
When the organ struck up a new song Daniel was awed to see everyone join in. Not a single Vyan ignored it. But it wasn't just the singing that moved him.
These people sang together with such intensity, such an outpouring of passion that it reached directly into his soul. He could feel every note. Because they were his notes as well.
Daniel finally came to realize how useless his rampant emotions had been. The actions of Aris Boch, Ke'ra and Osiris could not be undone any more than the Vyans could replace the lives of their enemies, lives they'd allowed Linea to erase -- a fact that had to weigh heavily on their collective conscience. Yet the Vyans were moving forward. They were eager to take this chance to build a new world with a brighter vision, while Daniel skulked around bearing a hatred more suited to destruction.
The Vyans were survivors. It was time for him to become one as well.
The music accompanied the team all the way to an enormous, red brick building festooned with ribbons, banners and flags. Since several other SGC personnel had already arrived, Daniel was not surprised to find Janet Frasier waiting at the top of the stairs.
"Where have you been?" She scolded when they came near enough to hear her small voice over the roar of the song. "They waited as long as they could. I swear Layale was near to tears when she realized they had to start without you." Her eyes singled out Daniel with that last remark.
Properly chagrined, he opened his mouth to utter an apology but didn't get the chance to say the words. People began shoving from behind, forcing him, Janet and the rest of SG-1 into the packed auditorium. Once inside, more chaos moved them down a long, narrow aisle toward a small stage at the center of the building.
Daniel felt like he'd been caught in a massive whirlpool as he followed the eddies and flows in a sea of strange faces, each smiling and laughing and looking at him as though he was important. He felt his chest growing tighter, found himself gasping for breath. Dizzy and lightheaded, he was distantly aware of finally being plunged into a plush, velvet seat.
A gentle squeeze at his shoulder helped revive him. His head began to clear.
This time it was not Jack comforting him. Surprised, he turned to meet Janet's concerned stare.
"Are you all right? You look pale."
"I'm ... fine."
She cocked her head, disbelieving.
As her hand wrapped discretely around his wrist checking his pulse, he closed his eyes and sighed. This had to stop. He couldn't let it go on any longer. It was time ... it was past time for him to get a grip and move on with his life, for him to let everyone else stop worrying over him like he was some poor, trembling puppy afraid of a little thunder. He'd been through enough storms in his life to know there was at least some truth to the adage 'what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.' And since he wasn't dead yet, surely it was time for him to accept the fact that he was alive.
A familiar voice drew his attention to the stage. The music had stopped.
"Friends," Nodaal repeated to the hushed crowd.
Beside him Layale cradled the infant whose birth had prompted this celebration. When her eyes met Daniel's, she flashed him a smile that seemed bright enough to chase away even his dark demons. It must have at least sent them into hiding, because he found himself grinning back.
"One year ago," Nodaal continued, "we were a dying civilization. If not for the people of Earth, most especially those of the SGC, our end would have been inevitable. Now, we are reborn."
Despite the new storm brewing in the thunder of an exuberantly cheering crowd, Daniel found his smile growing wider. He even raised his own voice after Nodaal gave a special thank you to Janet for the help she'd provided throughout Layale's pregnancy and especially during the infant's birth.
Seeing the good doctor's discomfort at the unexpected acknowledgement, Daniel reached for her hand and gave a gentle squeeze of his own.
I really am fine. His smile told her when she turned to him. Or at least I know I will be.
This time he could see she was starting to believe him.
As the cheers faded, they returned their attention to the stage.
"In the days of our fathers," Nodaal said then, "it was long a custom to name our children for their ancestors. Today, my wife and I wish to change that custom."
Startled murmurs did not concern the new parents. Instead, Layale grinned so broadly it seemed she might be ready to start laughing. Nor did Nodaal let the disruption stop him.
"Our son owes his life more to the people of the SGC than to his own ancestors. In honor of that debt, we have chosen to name him for them."
More startled murmurs built to a guarded round of applause as Daniel shared puzzled glances with the rest of his teammates.
"To our friends, and to our honored guests, we present our son, Daniel."
* * *
When Layale rescued a hungry baby Daniel from his crib, his older namesake took the opportunity to escape to the solace of the infant's bedroom. The rest of the house was still crowded with revelers, even at this late hour.
The elder Daniel was managing to come to terms with his constant bouts of anxiety, but the peace of this quiet room provided a much needed reprieve from the endless questions and good wishes from the rest of Nodaal's and Layale's guests. Deserving of it or not, he'd become an instant celebrity.
Why couldn't they have just named the baby Jack?
Settling into a rocking chair beside the crib, Daniel let his eyes wander. The orange glow given off from a small, globed oil lamp on the dresser added to the room's tranquility. It was a good room in a good home. This would be a wonderful place for a child to grow up.
Daniel found himself hoping the newborn received that chance. To truly grow from infancy to manhood right here, in this house, with both his parents beside him every step of the way -- that was what he wished for this child.
The baby shared his name but Daniel certainly did not want him to share his life, one filled with loneliness and tragedy.
A giant, stuffed teddy bear on a chest across the room contradicted him. He could almost hear Jack's voice saying "Hey, that's not fair! What am I, chopped liver?"
Daniel couldn't help but smile. Jack was right. Well, the teddy bear, make-believe Jack was right anyway. Jack, Sam, Teal'c, Janet ... even General Hammond had filled the lonely places in Daniel's life. They'd become family.
He rose, drawn to the bear, and had begun absently playing with one of its arms when Janet entered.
"Are you all right, Daniel?"
Greeting her with a weary smile, he said a small, "Yeah."
After thinking about it a little longer, he realized it was finally true. He nodded more confidently, his smile growing wider. "Actually I am."
Janet took a deep breath and shook her head. "If I'd known everything they had planned for you, I'm not sure I would have encouraged you to come."
"If I'd known what they had planned, I would've headed for the hills so I wouldn't have to come." He leaned against the wall, the glow from the lamp dancing in his eyes. "But it's ... okay. I'm glad I came."
"You look okay." She studied him, and then grinned, "You look surprisingly okay."
"Janet!" Sam intruded on their quiet moment, bounding through the door, out of breath. She threw a quick glance at Daniel and the bear before giving her full attention to the doctor. "Maira's in labor."
Janet sighed. "Well, all right. You had me scared there for a minute. It's labor, Sam. The house isn't burning down. Besides, there are at least a dozen newly trained midwives downstairs."
"Right. Of course."
The doctor brushed past Sam in the open doorway. Turning back when the major made no move to follow, she asked, "Are you coming?"
"Ah, well ... I," Sam stammered, unable to deliver a decent excuse.
"Uh huh. Then why don't you just stay up here and keep Daniel company for a while."
Janet didn't wait for a reply. She was already halfway down the stairs when the major's eyes moved to the empty crib.
"Sam?" Daniel called her attention over to him and pointed a finger at his chest. "I think she means me."
"Right." Spying the vacant rocking chair, she plopped gratefully into it.
"Holy Hannah." Sam leaned back, drawing on the soothing, swaying motion. "You wouldn't believe it down there. All those women, all that talk of babies." She threw Daniel a teasing glare. "Looks like you found a pretty good sanctuary up here. I wish you'd told me about it."
"It's only a sanctuary until...."
"Oh, so this is where everyone disappeared to," Jack interrupted, walking into the room with the infant in his arms. "This little guy was starting to feel abandoned without his namesake and all." He gave Daniel an exaggerated look of disgust. "Namesake," He repeated softly, shaking his head.
Looking back at the child, Jack softened his voice, "Ya think they could've found a better name, wouldn't you? Something like, oh, I don't know, Jack's got a nice ring to it. Yeah. You like that, don't you? Jack. Yeah." Realizing his voice was reverting closer to baby-talk with each word, Colonel Jack O'Neill stopped himself and cleared his throat.
"What?" He said to Daniel's raised eyebrows. "It's a baby. That's how you talk to babies."
"Where's Layale?" Daniel thought he'd help out by changing the subject.
If Jack was grateful for the line, he didn't show it. Instead he merely nodded toward the door. "She's downstairs helping Maira. I volunteered to put the kid to bed."
It was obvious Jack was enjoying this time with the baby. His comfortable approach made it clear fatherhood suited him.
Daniel felt a pang of despair realizing how much of a survivor Jack had to be. He'd survived the loss of his only son, a loss so tragic, so intense it shattered what was left of his marriage and nearly destroyed what was left of his life. Yet Jack survived. Daniel truly could find no excuse great enough to prevent him from moving forward with his own life when Jack could come so far with his.
A shadow filled the doorway, pulling Daniel's eyes away from Jack and the baby.
"Teal'c." Seeing the Jaffa wore one of his deepest scowls, Sam's greeting was cautious. "Is everything okay?"
"It is not. This house is filled with the screeching of women unfamiliar with the natural order of birth, while the porch outside is filled with men inhaling the smoke of medicinal herbs though none are in need of healing."
Jack looked up from the crib as he set the blankets in place around the baby. "Sounds like the natural order to me."
"I no longer wish to remain in these surroundings."
Sam chuckled. "Yeah? Well, join the club."
"Kids, kids, kids," Jack scolded. "Maybe it's time we called it a night, huh? Do what little Daniel, here, is...." He grimaced. "Daniel. I just can't call him that." He focused on the older version. "If I call him Daniel, pretty soon I'm gonna be telling him to shut up and telling you bed-time stories."
Returning his attention to the baby, he began to experiment with nicknames. "How 'bout we try Danny? Dan? Dan-boy? Dan-ster? Dan-o? Dan-erino? Little D? Dan-Jack? Jack-Dan? Jack-Daniels? Hey, there's one." He shot a questioning look at his teammates.
The elder Daniel was the only one who responded. "You're not serious."
"What? I'm thirsty."
Daniel smiled and shook his head. He couldn't remember ever feeling so much at home, so much a part of a family.
"All debts are now paid," Linea had once said.
Maybe it was finally true.
- The End -