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A Spirit Bird of Hope by babs

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He stank of sweat and his growth of beard itched. He was dirty and wanted a drink of water even though he knew he wouldn't be getting one soon. He wanted to live and not die.

He remembered the battle--SG1 finding themselves in the midst of a power struggle between two factions on a planet that wasn't even supposed to be inhabited. He remembered the unknown weapons, remembered running for the Stargate, remembered seeing Jack waiting for him, and then nothing. Nothing until he woke up on this ship days, or was it months, ago. Time had lost all meaning. There was only the light, the dark, and the food.

Daniel Jackson. My name is Daniel Jackson. He repeated this hundreds of times when he was awake. He thought of other names: Sam and Teal'c and Janet, General Hammond and Sergeants Siler and Harriman, Cassie and Lou Ferretti, and finally Jack. He held the names to his heart--vowed he wouldn't forget them. He imagined his office and reconstructed it in his mind, his body moving freely from his desk to his bookshelves and then to the hallway and anywhere he chose to walk in the SGC, while onboard this ship he lay in the third cage in a stack of five. In his mind, he could imagine the smell of Sam's light perfume, the heady aroma of the first pot of coffee in the morning, the after-shave Jack wore, while human waste filtered its way down towards the bottom cage where all was silent. The bottom cage was bad. It was where they put those not expected to survive the journey.

He didn't know where the ship was going--if it had a final destination or if it spent its' time traveling between planets only stopping to get slaves or sell them. There were times he believed the slavers were gathering people on other worlds. He didn't know whether they bought their cargo or stole them. Maybe it didn't matter how they got their human (and non-human) cargo, it only mattered that a few of the cages were emptied some days and other days they were filled.

There was a girl--a young woman--who came sobbing and fighting down the long row of cages. The men handling here were rough and one ripped off her shirt while another pulled down her embroidered pants. She sobbed and screamed in a tongue Daniel didn't know but he recognized the language of despair, of fear, of pleading.

"Stop it!" he yelled at them. Taking some of the waste in his hand, he threw it at the guards hitting one of the side of his cheek. The guard came to Daniel's cage with one of the sticks Daniel knew meant pain and shock. He stuck it through the bars and Daniel fell forward against the bars of his cage, limp and hurting. They all came for him and the first guard unlocked the cage. They pulled him out and put him face down on the floor of the ship. It was cold and wet with things he didn't want to think about and when they stripped him naked and each took him in turn, he looked at the girl who sat huddled on the floor and knew if it had been Cassie he would have wanted someone else to be willing to do the same for her.

He'd been wrong about the cages. The bottom cages weren't only for those not expected to survive the journey--they were also for the trouble-makers, the ones who fought each moment.

He lost track of time for a while. He was there because he'd made trouble--he did his best to live up to their expectations. The self-loathing he felt, the anger, came out each time the guards passed down the long row of cages. He yelled--cursed them eloquently in languages they could not or did not choose to understand. He did his best to keep their attentions on him and away from any others they would abuse. When the dark time came, he lay on the floor and pulled his knees to his chest, wrapped his arms around them and tried to keep himself whole, silently repeating his mantra of out and what he was. He would make himself forget; in the dark he could almost pretend that he was somewhere else. But the dark time never lasted long enough for him to succeed. The lights came on and he saw the dried blood on his thighs, watched the guards laugh and prod at all the poor unfortunates in their grasp. In the light, he had no choice but to remember.

He had thought himself incapable of hatred so strong he would kill with his bare hands. He picked at the wires of the cage until his fingers bled. He pushed at them with his feet but they didn't give way. There would be no escape except one. In the dark time, he dreamed of death and peace, and when the light time came again, he didn't move from his curled position on the floor. He no longer cared.

The girl had been placed above him. How long ago, he didn't know. It didn't matter. There was just the light time and the dark time and no more. It was in the light time that she stuck her fingers through the wire and touched his hair. She said something that might have been 'thank you' or maybe 'sorry' and he couldn't ignore her voice when she said it over and over. He looked up at her--into dark brown eyes that were filled with tears. She said the word again and patted his hair. He wondered that she wanted to touch him, dirty and unclean as he was, but touch she did. He didn't know what she wanted, but he had always been the one to reach out, to make the attempt to establish some sort of communication with the others they'd met through the Stargate.

"Daniel," he finally said and pointed to himself. His voice was hoarse, from screaming, from disuse, he didn't know which. "Daniel," he repeated because in this hold of cages filled with hunger and unbearable suffering, the need to connect, to remind himself of what being human meant, became overwhelming.

She looked at him and touched her own chest. "L'ting."

"L'ting," he repeated and pointed to her. She nodded but didn't smile. He didn't either. "L'ting," and then pointing to himself. "Daniel."

"Dahnul," she said, slowly. She pointed to him. "Dahnul?"

"Yes. Yes." He nodded. She put her fingers through the wire again, and he reached up to touch them with his own--a small bit of humanity in the horror.

* * * *

One light time was different. There was a lot of noise from the far end of the hold--the end Daniel couldn't see, and then a line of captives shuffled past his cage. Some walked hunched over, barely able to move after their long confinement. One man with a wild beard was pushed along by the guards all the while screaming at the top his lungs. Daniel didn't know if the man had gone mad or if it was rage at the situation.

And then they opened his cage and pulled him out. He became one of the shuffling group. He risked looking back to see if they'd pulled out L'ting. They did, but she was lying on the floor instead of getting up and moving with the rest of them.

"L'ting," he called. "Wake up." But she didn't move. He stopped and pushed the person behind him past, moving his position back to be closer to her.

"L'ting," he said again, because now he was closer and she'd be able to hear him better.

One of the guards hit him on the side of the head. "Bound for dumping."

Daniel thought the guard meant him, but then he looked and he saw her open eyes and the way her fingers looked like they were frozen into claws. When the guard kicked her body, Daniel grabbed the man by the throat and pushed him into the row of cages. There were people on top of him, pushing his face into the floor and he could smell it, feel it, remember what had happened before. He fought as hard as he could but they were stronger. Red spots were in his vision and then grey and finally black. Maybe this was the end.

* * * *

Daniel woke up lying on his side. He was in a different part of the ship, a place of no cages but still crowded with the same unfortunates he'd seen shuffling past his cage before...he shut down that line of thought. Jack would tell him to assess the situation. He should have been doing that all along, he thought. He, along with his fellow captives, had been stripped naked and he didn't see any women among them.

He pushed himself to a sitting position and the man next to him grunted as Daniel bumped against him.

"What...where...?" Daniel asked him. The man looked at him, shrugged and pointed upwards. Daniel let his gaze follow the finger and saw his small cage had been exchanged for a larger one. Wire covered the whole of the ceiling and he could see the guards' boots. He pulled his knees close to his chest and put his head down on them. What do we have? What do we need? Except there was no we, he reminded himself. If he was going to get out of this, it was going to be up to him and him alone. As for what he had--nothing except his body. What he needed? Freedom. His team. Jack. This nightmare to be over. And freedom.

There was a strange noise that made Daniel look up as it did everyone else in the pit. Above them, there was more activity and as he watched the wires began to retract. Some of the men closer to the walls began to climb, stepping on one another. The guards used their pain sticks on the first men who made it to the top and they fell back on others, screaming.

Another man, a man who was well-fed and well-dressed came and peered down in the pit. He spoke to a younger one who had some sort of computer. The younger one nodded at times and then the older man passed a bag to the younger one. Even from his point below them, Daniel could see the smile appear on the younger man's face, a smile that twisted Daniel's stomach.

"This is Kogan," the younger man called down into the cage, the first time Daniel could remember that one of their captors had spoken to them other than abuse. "He is your new master. The shuttle bay will open and you will all leave by that manner."

Daniel felt a small tendril of hope curl into his stomach as the doors at the end of the hold opened but it was quickly suppressed when he saw the wagons waiting for them. More guards, dressed differently than those of the ship, stood along the wagons. Not that it mattered, Daniel realized as he moved forward with the others. He didn't have the strength to run.

* * * *

Daniel found himself in a small group kept apart from the others. A few of the men collapsed on the floor of the wagon, breathing hard and gasping, as if the trip on the shuttle had taken the last of their strength. He suspected his wagon was the one for those from the bottom cages, the trouble makers.

The wagons began to move silently. Daniel looked over the side at an arid landscape that was more brown than green. The air was warm but not hot--a welcome change from the cold air of the ship. One of the men yelled hoarsely and stood up, as if about to jump over the side. There was a sound like the backfire of a car--gunshot, Daniel registered, and the man fell back with a hole neatly in the middle of his forehead and a look of surprise on his face. The sun rose higher and still the wagons moved while the man with the hole in his forehead lay still and dead, flying insects beginning to visit his body.

Daniel crawled to his side, shooing the insects away, a small act of kindness. He was aware of the others in the wagon looking at him, studying him. Maybe they viewed it as a sign of weakness. He looked back, meeting their gazes with his own. He would not bow his head to them.

"Name?" one of them asked.

"Daniel." He looked at the others and raised his eyebrows.

"Mewari," replied the one who'd asked. He was a big man with scars across his face that Daniel suspected came from some sort of ritual rather than battle.

"Do you know this place?" Daniel asked, gesturing at the expanse of blue sky and brown hills.

Mewari looked at the others in the wagon before looking back at Daniel and nodding. "Sabak."

"Sabak," Daniel repeated and before he could form another question, Mewari went on.

"We're being sent to the market. Cheap lot, those of us in this wagon." Mewari looked at the dead man. "The luck was with him."

Daniel wanted to ask more, but Mewari crossed his arms over his chest and turned away.

The wagon stopped twice and each time they were given a small bar of something that tasted like oatmeal and a small bag of water to drink. The sun was near the horizon and the land greener and less arid when they finally stopped.

They were led off the wagons and into smaller pens, once again herded as though they were animals and not human beings. Daniel was taken from the others and led to a small building. Kogan was there as he was pushed into a white room.

"Bottom cage," Kogan said to a man sitting at a table. The man nodded and wrote something.

"I am a doctor," the man explained. Daniel said nothing and stared at him as he stepped from behind the table. He tried hard not to shiver in the cool air of the room.

"You will come with me." He pointed to a door and a guard Daniel hadn't noticed gave him a push in that direction.

When the door closed behind them, Daniel and the doctor were alone. Daniel looked around the room. Perhaps there was weapon, another door.

"There is no escape," the doctor said. He pointed again. "Lie down on the table."

Daniel shook his head. "No. I'm not ill. I don't need an exam."

The doctor held up a hypodermic needle. "I prefer not to drug you before the auction. There is more risk of addiction and most masters do not indulge a slave's need for a drug."

Daniel swallowed hard. He could do this. He needed to. Anything to stay alive until he could come up with a plan to get home.

The doctor was coolly efficient and said nothing while performing his exam. Daniel closed his eyes and thought of a clear blue Colorado sky. The sound of the doctor snapping off his gloves pulled Daniel back to the room and reality. He sat up and followed the doctor from the room.

"Healthy," the doctor reported to Kogan. "Few scars, good teeth. Vision somewhat impaired. Recent signs of sexual activity. Capable of physical work."

"Lot 23," Kogan pronounced. "Mark him."

Daniel was pushed back outside. The smell of burning coal, iron, and flesh hit his nose.

"Hold him." The smith pulled an iron from the fire. "It goes easy if you don't fight it," he said to Daniel and put the brand to Daniel's shoulder.

Daniel thought he must have passed out for a minute or two or three several minutes because the next thing he knew he was lying on a table and being shaved and oiled. There was no pain, and he knew that there should be. He just couldn't remember why he knew that. There was a pinch in his thigh and then nothing.

* * * *

Standing on a wooden block, Daniel watched people dressed in brightly colored clothes file past. One woman reached out to touch his leg.

"No touching unless you own," a man next to him snapped. "You like, you bid."

Huh, Daniel thought. Own him? He didn't think that was right. He didn't think people were supposed to own other people. No, he was pretty sure that wasn't right. But his mind seemed fuzzy and he felt warm inside. Besides it would take more effort than he was willing to expend and when he opened his mouth to speak, he couldn't quite get the words from his brain to his lips and tongue.

He was led to another block after what seemed like forever and all the brightly dressed people were sitting and standing around him. Other men, those who'd been captive with him were being led away on a chain while still others waited off to one side.

"Lot twenty three," Kogan called out. He was dressed in the same finery Daniel remembered from the shuttle. "Planet of origin unknown. Health good. Teeth and hearing excellent. A fine specimen. Able to do physical work with no restrictions. What am I bid?"

He heard people shouting but he couldn't see any of the bidders' faces. They were bidding on him. The realization was a shock, cutting through the pleasurable feeling the drug induced. His mind told him to run,, to take the chains binding his hands and ankles and wrap them around Kogan's throat, but he couldn't. He was caught in the drug's thrall and couldn't bring his body to move, to do anything but stand there and look at the crowd.

Kogan rang a bell, yelled, "Sold!" and an assistant yanked on the chain that ran between his ankles and wrists. Daniel stumbled slightly as he was led off the block. He was taken to a small tent where his ankle chain was connected to a pole along a line of other poles. There was a short queue of people at a table where two men sat operating what Daniel supposed was the Sabak version of a laptop. A bar was pressed against the back of his knees and he knelt, as the other men were kneeling, awaiting his fate.

He could hear the auction continuing in the other tent. He wanted water--he was so thirsty. A few of the men chained to the other poles were claimed by their new masters and taken away, but there were always others to replace them.

"This is your new master, Twenty Three."

Daniel looked up from his study of the grass and saw a tall man who stood with his arms across his chest.

"He's had two doses. One last night, one this morning. You want him dosed before you take him?" one of the men from the table asked. Daniel clenched his hands into fists and looked back down at the ground.

"I have my sources of yakuza if necessary, but I have always preferred my slaves to not be drugged," his new owner paused and then gave a laugh, "for any activity."

Daniel forced his body to remain still although he could feel his skin crawl at the tone of the man's voice.

"Very well, Hatan," the other man replied. He clapped Hatan on the back. "He's had experience, according to the doctor. I hope you enjoy your purchase. It's always a pleasure to do business with you. You want to take him for the collar as usual?"

"Of course," Hatan answered. "I like to watch the process. You know that."

"Good luck," the first man said. "And perhaps we'll see you next spring?"


There was a click as the chain was undone and then handed to Hatan.

"Come along," Hatan said as if he was speaking to a child.

Daniel hated himself for walking along as though he was a child being led by a parent. He was led back to the smith who'd branded him.

"Ah, Hatan," the smith said. "I see you're visiting us again. How does your last purchase?"

Hatan shook his head. "Unfortunately, he is no longer with me, although he lasted longer than his predecessor."

Daniel swallowed hard. He wondered what would happen if he threw up on Hatan's red-cloth shoes. He decided it would be better to never find out.

"The usual collar?" the smith asked over his shoulder.

Hatan put his hand on Daniel's neck, and Daniel forced himself to remain still. "I think the silver this time. It would go so nicely with his blue eyes. Silver with all the usual attachments. And I'd like the wrist cuffs and ankle cuffs too. I have some plans for this one."

The smith nodded and began gathering his supplies.

"What is your name, little one?" Hatan asked as he leaned down. His breath tickled Daniel's ear.

Daniel said nothing but continued to stare straight ahead.

"I asked your name," Hatan said, in a voice that was suddenly cold. He dug his fingers into the brand on Daniel's shoulder.

"Daniel," Daniel gasped out. "Daniel, sir."

The fingers were withdrawn and Daniel put down his head and tried to catch his breath.

"Master," Hatan whispered in his ear. "You will always call me Master, Twenty Three. That is your name. Twenty Three. I do not care to hear any other. Do you understand?"

"Yes," Daniel said, making sure to not look Hatan in the eyes. "Yes, Master," he corrected without being reminded. He would need to tread softly if he had any hope at all of escape.

Hatan stood close, so close Daniel could smell the cloying scent of the man's perfumed hair. Hatan was tall, an inch or two taller than Teal'c, but far more slender. Daniel kept his eyes downcast but was able to see Hatan's long, pale fingers, rings on all but the index finger.

"Kneel, Twenty Three," Hatan ordered and Daniel looked up in surprise.

"What?" he asked, momentarily confused.

"Kneel. Do not question me." Hatan raised one hand.

Daniel knelt in the dirt and bowed his head.

"I don't know why they always feel need to question, question, question," Hatan commented as the smith's booted feet came into Daniel's view. He sighed dramatically and the smith laughed.

Daniel twisted away when the collar was placed on his neck. "No."

"Twenty Three," Hatan said, the tone one of warning.

Daniel bit his tongue. "Yes Master." He bowed his head again and ignored the heaviness of the collar as the smith hammered it together.

"Stand up and hold out your hands." Hatan ordered and Daniel rose.

He held out his hands and watched as the smith attached two silver cuffs on his wrists. The smith knelt and added matching ankle cuffs.

"Very good," Hatan noted. "Thank him for preparing you for service, Twenty Three."

Daniel raised his head and looked at the smith. For an instant, he believed he caught a glimpse of pity in the other man's eyes. "I thank you, sir, for giving me these gifts for my master." Daniel thought he'd choke on the words, but he spoke smoothly.

The smith said nothing but bowed his head and then turned away.

Hatan reached into a large pouch he carried and pulled out a chain that he attached to a ring on Daniel's collar. "Come along, little one," he ordered and Daniel followed him as if he was a dog on a leash. At the moment he had no other choice.

* * * *

Sam would love this, Daniel thought as Hatan's vehicle sped quietly along the road. He wondered what type of fuel the vehicles used--all of them moved without sound.

Hatan sat across from him, facing forward. His knees touched Daniel's and Daniel had to force himself not to flinch from the touch. He kept his hands folded on his thighs and stared at the cuffs on his wrists. He wished for some sort of covering but Hatan had made no comment about giving Daniel clothes or even a robe.

"It will not be long," Hatan said and then pressed a button on the seat. "Mikko, ask Nera to have a bath prepared for my acquisition when we arrive."

"Yes, sir," the driver replied.

Daniel's mouth was dry and he hoped that Hatan would allow him a drink of water before the bath--and then he hoped for some clothes afterwards. Until then, he would remain silent and still, but watchful.

* * * *

The first view Daniel had of Hatan's estate was of fields of a tall brownish green plant with purple flowers that men, women, and children were picking. They were all dressed in dark brown clothes and didn't look up from their work as the vehicle passed them. There were a few people standing on high platforms, surveying the workers. No, not workers, Daniel corrected himself, slaves.

"I see you are admiring the tiztia fields. It grows well on my soil. I make the finest wine in all of Sadak. Everyone craves wine from the Beruga estate. It is the most expensive on Sadak ."

"And made by slaves," Daniel said, no longer able to stay silent.

Hatan narrowed his eyes and compressed his mouth in a tight line. "I can see you have much to learn, Twenty Three."

"My name is Daniel."

"You have no name, remember? I told you this earlier. That is the first lesson we will have to teach you. You are mine and mine alone. All you have comes from me." Hatan leaned forward and placed his hand on Daniel's belly. "Yes, we will have great pleasure teaching you that lesson."

Daniel felt his stomach turn as Hatan moved his hand lower. Hatan laughed as Daniel gave an involuntary shudder, but he removed his hand and sat back in the cushioned seats.

Daniel could still feel the heat of Hatan's hand on his skin and the urge to scrub away the lingering sense of the other man touching him was strong. He turned his attention back to the passing scenery. The fields gave way to a manicured lawn. Sculptures dotted the large expanse of green grass, and the archaeologist in Daniel wanted to get out and explore those intriguing figures. There was a grove of large trees with a lake in the foreground and he could see a few people walking a path beside the lake. A small waterfall served as a drain at one end of the lake and he could see a stream winding along. They traveled over a bridge and he saw the stream continued so that he couldn't see its end.

The road curved and Daniel noticed some white buildings in the distance. Some of the wagons he'd noticed in the fields were pulled up beside them.

"The Beruga winery," Hatan said stated proudly, his unctuous tone of earlier gone. "I shall have to take you on a tour some day."

"To see more of your slaves?" Daniel asked. "I think I'll pass."

"We shall see," Hatan replied.

The vehicle slowed and Daniel looked out at Hatan's house. House was an understatement. The house was only two stories high but stretched a long distance. It curved in a graceful line, echoing perhaps the curve of the mountains in backdrop behind it. Their vehicle pulled under a roofed area and two men dressed in light blue gauzy pants and equally as gauzy shirts came to open the door.

"Welcome home, Master," one of the men said. He smiled. "We are pleased you have returned to us."

"I have brought you a new companion," Hatan said as he stepped out of the vehicle. He held his hand out to Daniel, who ignored it. "This is Twenty Three."

Daniel got out of the vehicle when it was apparent he had no choice. He could feel his face turning red as the two other slaves surveyed his naked body.

"He is a fine specimen, Master," the other man said. He bowed low. "I ask your permission to accompany him to Nera."

"I grant it," Hatan said. "Tell Nera I want to see him in green tonight. We will have dinner in the courtyard."

"Yes, Master," the men echoed.

"Here. You will need this." Hatan clipped the chain to the collar and handed it to the first slave. "He is most intractable."

"That is only because he has not known what a kind master you are," the man said. "He will learn."

"Yes, he will." Hatan put a hand to Daniel's face and then bent his head to kiss Daniel on the lips.

Daniel turned his head. "No."

Hatan laughed and stepped away before disappearing into the house.

"Come with us," the second slave said as if Daniel had a choice.

Daniel followed them into the house--the tiled floor cold under his bare feet. He caught glimpses of other slaves, servants, he wasn't sure which. He didn't see any other people with a brand on their skin but maybe that was because they had been bought somewhere else. Or maybe the people in the house weren't slaves. A few of the people they passed stopped their work and watched the small procession. Daniel kept his head held high and his body straight. He had nothing to be ashamed of, he told himself. Nothing. He heard a few whispers and ignored them.

They came to a door with a set of wind-chimes beside it. The man holding Daniel's leash nodded to the other who took a small mallet and ran it along the length of the chimes. At the sound, the door opened and the three of them entered.

The room, actually the set of rooms since Daniel could see other doorways leading into what looked like a swimming pool and another leading into a room filled with pillows, was filled with light from a large skylight. Plants sat in a stands around the room.

"These are your living quarters," the first slave said as he unclipped the chain from the collar.

Daniel stepped away from him and went to rub his neck only to have his fingers encounter cold metal. "I don't understand."

"Hatan has chosen you as his consort," the second explained. "It is an honor to be his chosen one."

"I'm not so sure about that," Daniel replied. He put his fingers in the small fountain that was set in an alcove. "Hatan bought me at the slave market."

"Yes. Of course."

"He refers to me by a number not by my name," Daniel continued. "And I'm not anyone's consort. He doesn't own me."

The two slaves exchanged a glance before the second dark-haired one spoke. "He does own you. He paid for you, did he not? It is the way of Sabak. Perhaps you had a wife, a husband, on your world? It is best you forget the life you had before. Beruga is your home now."

Daniel crossed his arms over his chest. " This will never be my home." He chose not to respond to the other questions. He would not tell of them of Jack, not risk showing them any weakness. "My name is Daniel. I am not a number."

The blonde-haired man stepped forward and took Daniel's hands between his own. Daniel wanted to pull away from the touch but he didn't. The man bowed his head and pulled their connected hands up to touch them to his forehead. "My name is Yasur, and I thank you for the gift of yours." He motioned for the dark-haired man to step forward.

The other man repeated the same motions. "I am Sansha. You are Daniel. In here, you are allowed the gift of your name."

Daniel bowed his head, strangely touched by the quiet gesture. "Thank you." He shivered as a cloud passed over the skylight, making the room a bit cooler.

"Nera has prepared a bath for you," Sansha said. He took Daniel's hand and led him towards the bathing room. "She will bring you clothes when you are done. We will only have to ask."

The room that he thought contained a swimming pool actually contained a series of small pools. Sansha pointed to the first one and Daniel dipped a foot in. The water was comfortably warm and he stepped into the pool and sat down in it when Sansha told him to.

"Here." Sansha pointed to a small decorative pot. He scooped up something gooey and smeared it onto Daniel's hair. "Scrub."

Daniel did--the soap smelled of spice and something citrus-y. He washed off the oil that had been put on him before the sale and the feel of Hatan's hands on him. He scrubbed until his skin was reddened and Sansha put out a hand to stop him.

"Move to the next pool," Sansha directed him softly. "You are clean."

No, no I'm not, Daniel wanted to tell him. He closed his eyes as he sank down in the next pool's clear water. The guards on the ship had made sure of that even if there was no outer sign of what had happened.

There were three more pools--one where Sansha made him wash his body with a lighter fragranced soap and then two with increasingly cooler water. By the time, Daniel stepped out of the last pool he was at least feeling a bit more human.

A woman, Nera, Daniel guessed, had entered the bathing room sometime while he was in the last pool. She had handed Sansha a package of what Daniel thought were his new clothes before leaving as quietly as she'd come.

Sansha wrapped him in a towel and then took up another towel and began to dry Daniel off.

"I can do it," Daniel said. When he saw Sansha's down-turned mouth, he amended. "I mean thank you, but I'd prefer..."

"Yes," Sansha replied and turned away. "You will allow me to help you dress? Master will be most unpleased if you are not properly outfitted."

"I don't really give a d..." Daniel began but stopped as he noticed the very real fear in Sansha's eyes. He finished drying and dropped the towel. "Yes. You may assist me."

Sansha handed him a pair of pants that were of the same gauzy material as his own although in green. He fought the urge to pull them higher when they kept settling on his hips. Sansha then had him put on a long tunic over the pants. The tunic had long flowing sleeves with slits from wrist to mid-biceps. He was instructed to step into a pair of green slippers and finally Sansha held out a simple white robe.

"Oh, Master will be most pleased," Sansha whispered. "Yasur will put on the make-up for you until you learn what pleases our master."

"Make-up?" Daniel asked as Sansha took his hand and led him from the room. "I'm not wearing make-up."

"You must," Yasur said as they entered a small alcove with a table, chair and mirror. "We must let Master see your beauty."

Sansha pushed Daniel into the seat. "Please. Allow Yasur to show you."

Daniel looked at both of them before turning to face the mirror. He didn't want Yasur or Sansha to experience any punishment because of his willfulness. "Go ahead," he told Yasur.

He watched as Yasur began to apply a light white paste to his face and neck. His ears and the column of his throat were left untouched. Yasur applied what Daniel recognized as kohl as liner around his eyes and then a golden tint was applied across his cheekbones and down his throat. Finally Yasur took a small brush and mixed some of the pink and gold and brushed it across Daniel's lips.

"Most attractive," Yasur proclaimed when he was finished. "Master will be proud of you as his consort."

Daniel stared at his reflection. He didn't think it attractive at all and wanted to go back in the bathing room and scrub every last bit of the make-up off. "What happened to Hatan's last consort?" Daniel asked. He vaguely remembered some sort of comment to the smith at the slave auction.

Yasur and Sansha exchanged a glance before Sansha spoke. "He was not happy here. Master saw that he would be happier elsewhere." The downward glance after the comment made Daniel sure that there was more to the story--and he didn't think it had a happy ending.

"Come, Daniel," Yasur said and helped him from the chair. "Sansha and I will take you to Master."

* * * *

His passage through the house was once again noticed by others and despite the fact that this time he was dressed, Daniel still felt naked. No one else was dressed as he was, nor were the others wearing any sort of make-up.

They came to a door similar to the one at Daniel's quarters. Sansha once again used a mallet to hit the chimes. The door was opened by a young woman who bowed low and stepped to the side.

"We will wait here," Yasur told Daniel. "If Master wishes we will take you back to your quarters tonight. If not, we shall be here for you in the morning."

Daniel folded his hands over Yasur's and brought their clasped hands to his forehead. "Thank you."

Yasur nodded, pulled his hands away and clipped the leash to Daniel's collar. He handed it to the woman.

"This way," the woman said and Daniel followed her. The rooms here were more elaborate--the fabrics richer, the furnishings appearing more ornate, and the decorations more numerous.

"Kneel," the woman whispered as they entered a room with a low table surrounded by pillows. "Master does not wish you to stand when he approaches."

Daniel followed her lead although he refused to bow his head. Hatan entered, dressed in far simpler clothes than he'd worn on their journey. His pants and tunic were the same green as Daniel's although not of the same gauzy material, and his robe was white with gold embroidery.

"You will leave us," Hatan ordered the woman. He didn't speak again until the door slid closed behind her.

Hatan approached and Daniel kept his gaze straight ahead, refusing to look up at the other man. Hatan walked around him making small humming noises.

"Do I meet with your approval?" Daniel finally asked.

"We really shall have to work on proper etiquette with you, Twenty Three," Hatan said. "But yes, you meet with my approval. Now come-it is time to eat."

Hatan pulled on the leash and Daniel got up to walk to the table, only to be made to sit on a large pillow by Hatan's side. He kept his body stiff, making sure he didn't touch the other man.

"Tiztia berries--very good." Hatan pushed a bowl towards Daniel. "You will feed me."

"I'm sure you can manage on your own." Daniel looked away from him. A sharp tug on the leash made him turn back. He took one of the grape-like berries between his fingers and held it out to Hatan. He resisted the urge to wipe his fingers on his pants when Hatan's lips touched them.

"Sansha and Yasur explained your position here, I believe," Hatan stated sometime later. Daniel looked at the table and the remains of the meal he'd fed to Hatan.

"They said I am to be your consort," Daniel finally answered. When there was a tug on the leash he added, "Master."

"As my consort, you will be highly regarded in this house, Twenty Three."

"And yet, you refuse to call me by my name," Daniel replied. "You bought me, you keep me leashed like an animal. I don't consider this high regard." He looked at Hatan. "I answer to no master."

He didn't like the way Hatan's eyes narrowed. "You will answer to this one," Hatan said. "You amuse me, Twenty Three. Your spirit is most exciting. Now, you shall accompany me to my bed."

Daniel pulled back, not caring he nearly choked. "I will not."

"You will." Hatan got up and pulled the chain.

Daniel shook his head and stayed put. Hatan closed his hand over Daniel's shoulder and pressed on the brand. Daniel ground his teeth and refused to let out a sound. He was not going to do this.

"This," Hatan said as he opened a small box and withdrew a syringe, "is yakuza. It is a more potent form of the drug you were given before I purchased you. I am able to obtain an unlimited supply of it. The effects make one pliant and biddable. They also make the recipient crave more and more of the drug. I, of course, will be the one who supplies it for you, and I must warn you that once one is addicted, the withdrawal is most unpleasant. Survivable but most unpleasant. I will not hesitate to give you a dose if you refuse."

Daniel swallowed hard as he looked at the needle. Memories of his addiction to the sarcophagus surfaced along with the memory of the light show in the Goa'uld pleasure palace. If he became addicted, he would stand very little chance of escape. He shook his head and stood. "I will go with you, Master."

"Willingly?" Hatan asked.

"Willingly, Master," Daniel answered.

Hatan smiled as he closed the box and tucked it into a pocket on his robe.

* * * *

Hatan's bedroom faced the mountains--one wall nothing but glass. The room was dominated by a bed sitting three inches off the floor. Hatan led him towards the bed and Daniel had to force himself to take each step.

"Remove your clothes," Hatan ordered.

Daniel did so and stood shivering in the cool air. Hatan looked at him and nodded. He attached the leash to a post at the head of the bed and then closed a lock over the clip. "You will sleep here," Hatan said, and pointed to a pillow on the floor.

Daniel nodded and knelt when Hatan motioned for him to do so. The young woman came into the room when Hatan rang a bell. This time she was accompanied by a gray haired man and together they prepared Hatan for bed.

Daniel remained kneeling as the lights were turned off and Hatan settled on the bed. He shivered as Hatan reached out a hand in the dark and patted his hair.

"Go to sleep, Twenty-Three."

Daniel put his forehead to the floor and willed himself not to throw up.

* * * *

Daniel stared out the barred windows in his quarters. He could hear Sansha and Yasur moving around in the outer room and speaking quietly while he remained lounging on pillows strewn on the floor. Hatan had not yet requested his presence this day and Daniel was considering it a blessing. By his reckoning he'd been here seven days and each day had passed in similar fashion. He was allowed to return to his quarters after Hatan awoke each morning, he spent some time removing the make-up and bathing, then he waited in his quarters for Hatan's summons, spending the night in Hatan's bedroom, chained to a post and forced to assume an awkward position on the floor. No wonder his back ached almost constantly.

The slant of sunlight through the windows had become thinner and Daniel knew what that meant. He went to the outer room with dread. It wouldn't be long until Hatan summoned him and he would be forced to feed the other man his dinner and then accompany him to his bedroom.

He scratched at one of his ankle bands--the skin had become irritated from the constant rubbing. Daniel forced himself to get to his feet and went into the outer room.

Sansha looked up from his embroidery and smiled at Daniel. "Is there anything I can get for you, Daniel?"

A way home, Daniel wished he could say. An escape route. But Sansha and Yasur, for all their eagerness and willingness to serve, were also prisoners in this household. There were times Daniel had to grit his teeth and do as Hatan asked because he feared the reprisals for the other two.

"Would it be possible for me to have some sort of writing implement--a pen, and some paper? Maybe a few books to read?" He knew this world had paper--he'd seen books in Hatan's quarters, and certainly they had technology which he thought might be more advanced than that on Earth.

Yasur looked at him and shook his head. "You read? Write?" The tone suggested Daniel might be insane.

"Yes. Of course," Daniel replied. "It's part of my job, my work."

"Slaves do not read or write," Sansha said and put down the robe he was embroidering. "It is forbidden."

"Well I do both," Daniel answered.

"Master will not be pleased," Yasur added. "You must forget such things."

"Then it will be just one more thing he isn't pleased about. Hatan is not my master. I will not submit to him. Don't you understand? By not allowing his slaves to read and write, Hatan makes you even more dependent on him." Daniel looked at Yasur and then Sansha. "I'll teach you. If you bring me the supplies, I *will* teach you."

Sansha ducked his head. "It is forbidden," he whispered. "Daniel, please. Do not continue to fight Master. Please." His gaze flicked to the robe and then back at Daniel. Daniel saw fear there.

Yasur cleared his throat. "We are concerned for you," he said quickly, not taking his gaze from Daniel's face. "We do not wish you to be hurt."

"It's not right," Daniel stated and realized he wasn't only speaking about his own situation. It wasn't right that Sansha and Yasur and all those people he'd glimpsed that first day as they drove towards the house were kept in ignorance. But Yasur and Sansha were frightened, not only for themselves, but for him. In fact, he thought they were probably more in fear for him than they ever thought to be for themselves. Daniel nodded to both of them. "Forgive me," he said in a quiet voice, one he thought sounded properly deferential. "I did not mean to cause you distress." He bowed his head and then walked toward the alcove to apply the make-up Hatan required for each of his appearances. When he noticed his hand shaking as he began to apply the powder, he took a deep breath and counted slowly to ten in Arabic. One step at a time to gain his freedom and that of the others, he reminded himself. One step at a time.

* * * *

"I think tonight, the bed," Hatan pronounced after the evening meal was finished. Daniel froze. No, no. Hatan couldn't mean what he thought. The tea he was pouring over-flowed the cup and spread across the table.

"Clumsy," Hatan said and hit the side of Daniel's head, although he sounded more amused than angry.

"Forgive me." Daniel put a cloth over the liquid. His fingers shook as he began to swipe up the mess.

"Leave it."

"I can clean it." Daniel continued to wipe the table, even though he knew he was only delaying the inevitable.

"I told you to stop." Hatan raised his voice and clamped a strong hand on Daniel's wrist. "Another can clean. You will come with me." He clipped the chain on Daniel's collar.

"I...Master...I don't feel well," Daniel lied. It was a gamble and from the way Hatan's eyes darkened, one that he'd just lost.

"I do not understand your recalcitrance, Twenty Three," Hatan said in a calm voice as he led Daniel towards the bedroom. "I have provided you with living quarters. I have given you food and shelter and nice clothes. I did not buy you to work in my fields or my winery. You have been treated with respect. Surely you can repay my kindness to you."

Daniel stopped when they entered Hatan's bedroom. "You've made me a slave. You treat me as property not as human. I live in a room with barred windows ready to answer your beck and call. That is not kindness." He crossed his arms over his chest.

"I think tonight the lesson will be gratitude." Hatan jerked the chain so hard, Daniel fell to his knees. "Or perhaps humility." He came closer and withdrew a syringe from his pocket.

"No." Daniel scrambled backwards on his hands and knees. "No drugs."

"Yes. I think the yakuza is exactly what is needed tonight." Hatan jammed the needle in Daniel's shoulder.

Daniel twisted, bringing up a hand to pull it out but Hatan had already withdrawn the needle. There was a burning in his shoulder that quickly spread down his arm, making it feel as if it was asleep.

"Now, get on the bed," Hatan ordered.

Daniel got to his feet, breathing heavily as the drug's effects spread. His whole body was tingling with pins and needles. By the time he reached the bed, his mouth had gone numb and despite the thoughts swirling in his mind, he wasn't able to make his mouth move to protest.

"Turn over."

He managed to turn his head from side to side. When he didn't move any further, Hatan pushed him over and he lay on his stomach. The pillow was soft on his cheek and he could smell the scent he associated with Hatan--something like orange and lemon combined. There--he could move his left leg. He pushed awkwardly to the side, only to feel Hatan grab his ankle and then he couldn't move the leg anymore.

"You do like to fight, don't you?" Hatan spoke into his ear, his breath warm and wet. Daniel shivered when Hatan put his tongue into his ear. He heard someone groan and realized the sound had come from his own lips.

"No matter," Hatan continued. Daniel felt his right leg being pulled and stretched and heard the sound of metal hitting metal. He watched as Hatan pulled his left arm up and attached a chain to a link. The chain was attached to a post on the bed.

"I do like your spirit, Twenty Three." Hatan did the same to the right arm.

No, Daniel wanted to scream as he felt Hatan's weight on the bed and then on his back. No. This wasn't happening. He could feel Hatan touching his ass, caressing it, and then Hatan withdrew his hand and pressed even closer.

"You are not a virgin. That is good. I prefer my consorts to have experience. You will enjoy this, Twenty Three." He pushed a finger inside Daniel.

Daniel bucked under his hand--trying to dislodge Hatan. The man laughed and continued to press deeper.

"You fight the yakuza in addition to me. I must say this is most enjoyable." Hatan's tone was matter of fact.

"Nnn..." Daniel managed to make his mouth utter the sound.

"Be still, my lovely one," Hatan whispered against Daniel's spine. "Do not move." He withdrew his finger and Daniel felt Hatan's cock touch his body and then Hatan was inside him and pushing, pushing. Daniel tried to push him off, but the movement only seemed to excite Hatan even more. He stopped fighting when the drug seemed to sap the little strength he had. He could only lie there and let Hatan do what he wished. This wasn't happening--he would wake up and find it was all a dream. Or maybe he was in the infirmary and had a fever and all of this was a hallucination.

"Most pleasing," Hatan said in his ear and pulled him back to reality. "I grow tired. We will sleep now." Hatan ran a hand along Daniel's shoulder, up his neck, and then rested it a moment on Daniel's cheek. "Yes, I think we shall sleep."

Hatan moved off of him and the air felt chilled on his over-heated skin. Daniel tugged his arm when he heard Hatan snore on the bed next to him, but the chain rattled and he abandoned the effort. Bile rose in his throat and he couldn't stop it. Daniel threw up the small amount of supper he'd eaten and had to lay in the mess, wishing he'd died in the bottom cage.

* * * *

Daniel followed the woman who always opened the door to Hatan's quarters. Each step jarred his body and set his teeth on edge. His stomach ached, his muscles hurt, and his head pounded. Sansha and Yasur were waiting as they did every morning when he left Hatan's quarters. The usual smiles they gave disappeared as they looked at him.

"That bad?" he asked.

"Come," Yasur said. He kept his hands at his sides for which Daniel was grateful. He didn't want anyone to touch him. He wanted nothing but to go back to his quarters and scrub Hatan's filth from his skin.

The chain attached to his collar dragged on the floor and Sansha made no effort to pick it up. Daniel gritted his teeth and took one step after the other.

He grabbed the mallet before Yasur could reach it and struck the door chimes hard--a discordant sound that echoed his own mood.

Daniel walked into his quarters and took one, two, deep breaths. It didn't help.

"Daniel." Sansha came up behind him. Daniel turned so quickly he nearly lost his balance.

"Don't," Daniel said, softly. "Just don't. Not behind me."

"Yes." Sansha moved towards the bathing area. "I will prepare a bath for you."

Daniel nodded. He could smell himself--vomit, sweat, blood. He put a hand to his face, rubbed his fingers across burning eyes and looked at the smudges of make-up on them when he pulled it away. He went to the mirror and stared at the man reflected there. His hair had grown since his capture--it was longer now than it had been when he came back from Abydos. The white paste he used for each audience with Hatan had smeared--he could see his own pale skin beneath it. The kohl had smudged and his eyes looked as if he'd been in a fight. He grabbed a cloth and rubbed at his skin.

"Do not, Daniel," Yasur warned from his side. He placed a hand on Daniel's forearm.

"I said, stop!" Daniel yelled. Yasur stepped back and bowed his head.

"Let us care for you," Yasur requested. "Master gave you yakuza, did he not?"

"He...I didn't want...yes." Daniel replied. He threw the cloth down in disgust. "I have to..."

"Yes. I know." Yasur motioned towards the bathing area. "Sansha and I will wait with you, but will not interfere. It would not be wise for you to be alone after your first dose."

Daniel swallowed hard. He didn't want them to see his body, but Yasur and Sansha had never treated him with anything less than respect before. He would have to trust them now.

True to Yasur's word, neither he nor Sansha even glanced Daniel's way as he removed his clothes and stepped into the warm water of the first pool. Once he was submerged, Sansha moved closer, still with eyes focused on a far wall and pushed the soft soap to the edge of the pool. Daniel ignored him and stretched out his cramping legs. He let the water lap over him and closed his eyes. The heat soaked into his muscles, but each time he thought he could drift away, the memory of Hatan's hands on his body, the weight and smell of his captor would resurface. His body would relax and then tense with the pain. He'd, he didn't want to say it, didn't want to think it. Sexual assault, maybe that was the word to use. An euphemism that he could use instead of...God. It didn't help. Those words didn't make the shame any less, the feeling of filth and violation. Call a spade a spade, Daniel, he thought. Call it rape because that's what it was. He leaned forward, cramps in his belly, and began to shake. He reached for the soap blindly and took handfuls of it, scrubbed his hair, his face, every inch of his skin.

He moved through the pools more by rote, no pleasure, no peace to be found. There was a pile of towels by the last pool and Daniel got out, wrapped himself in one and then grabbed the heavier robe that had been put there for him.

"Come, Daniel," Sansha said softly. "You will feel better after you rest."

"I doubt that," Daniel answered, although he followed Sansha to his quarters.

Dropping to the bed, he pulled a blanket close. His stomach continued to cramp and he worried that Hatan had injured him somehow.

"Tea," Yasur said and Daniel opened his eyes to find the other man kneeling by his bed. "It will help the pain."

When Daniel didn't reach out to take it, Yasur placed it on the floor and moved a short distance away. Daniel waited and then took it. He sipped at the sweet brew. It did ease some of the pain and took away the cold feeling inside of him. He nodded his thanks and then lay back again.

Sansha was by his bed when he awoke, a needle going in and out of fabric. Daniel looked at the robe, a small green bird outlined in a darker thread in his line of sight. A bird--that could fly free, escape the confines of this house. Sansha said nothing as Daniel touched the bird with one finger. He looked at the intricate pattern Sansha worked on. It looked familiar and he couldn't figure out why. He closed his eyes and opened them again when the pattern shifted in his mind.

"You..." He pointed to the robe and then coughed because his throat felt dry. "You do know how to..."

Sansha smiled in understanding. He caught Daniel's hand in his and moved it over a word hidden among the pattern. "Peace," he whispered and let Daniel trace the word with a finger.

Daniel closed his eyes again and didn't remove his hand from Sansha's. "I will teach you if you wish, Daniel," Sansha said.

He couldn't sleep. He needed to get up, to move. Daniel stood and put out a hand against the wall to steady himself.

"It is to be expected," Yasur explained. He pointed to a teapot and cup on the table. "Drink as much as possible."

Daniel did as instructed and ignored the way his hands shook.

"It is time for you to attend Master," Sansha said.

The teacup slipped from Daniel's suddenly numb fingers and shattered on the blue tile. " I can't."

"You must." Yasur picked up the pot that held the white paste. "Do you wish me to do this for you?"

Daniel shook his head. If he refused to attend Hatan, the man was sure to punish Sansha and Yasur for his disobedience. He stepped before the mirror and began to apply the paste to his face.

* * * *

Hatan chained him to the bed before he injected the yakuza. This time Daniel was face-up.

"No fighting tonight?" Hatan asked as he kneeled beside Daniel. Hatan almost seemed disappointed at this.

Daniel turned his face away. He would not look at the man.

"Tonight you can service me, my lovely." Hatan stroked his own cock. "In your mouth."

Daniel shook his head. "No," he managed to say. "No."

Hatan ignored him and pried Daniel's mouth open. He began to put his cock in Daniel's mouth. Daniel gagged at the touch and then bit down hard on the tip. Hatan let out a yell and withdrew. He cuffed Daniel on the side of the head. Daniel's ears rang and he watched as Hatan limped away. He came back with what reminded Daniel of a riding crop.

"You," Hatan ordered as he swung the crop across Daniel's chest, "will not disobey me. You are mine."

Daniel arched in pain as the crop hit him once, twice, three times. Hatan moved to Daniel's legs and hit again.

Someone screamed in pain and then it was over. There was another pinch in Daniel's shoulder where Hatan had injected the yakuza earlier and then a heavy weight by his side.

"You must learn, Twenty Three. You must learn to serve me and make me happy. Do you understand?"

Daniel, lost in the grip of the yakuza and a haze of pain, didn't answer.

* * * *

He let Sansha and Yasur help him back to his quarters in the morning. His legs didn't want to work right, whether it was from the yakuza or the bruises from the crop he wasn't sure.

Daniel lay on the bed while Yasur placed tea-soaked cloths on his legs and chest. He couldn't stop shaking and when they tried to get him to drink tea, he needed Sansha to hold the cup.

"You must eat," Yasur told him and gave him a small bowl filled with hot rice drizzled with honey.

Shaking his head, Daniel put the bowl aside. He pushed Yasur out of the way and went into the bathing room and got in the first pool. He heard Sansha and Yasur enter but he didn't open his eyes to look at them. He clenched his jaw as the shivering continued despite the warm water.

Scrubbing until his skin hurt, he moved to the second pool. Bile rose in his throat and he swallowed convulsively. Anger, fear, embarrassment--the emotions pulled at him and he sat in the tub and listened to Yasur and Sansha as they talked about the weather. Weather--he didn't even know what fresh air felt like anymore. He tilted his head back and looked up at the skylight. The sky was already hues of rose and purple--signs of twilight. How had the time passed so quickly this day? It certainly didn't seem like it had.

The shaking grew worse as he realized it wouldn't be long until Hatan would request his presence. He would survive it, he reminded himself. Jack had gone through far worse--and he'd survived. Hatan was only human, a depraved human, but not a Goa'uld.

Yasur left the bathing room at the sound of the chimes and Daniel pulled himself out of the last pool where Sansha waited with the green outfit.

"We will always be here for you, Daniel," Sansha whispered as he tied Daniel's robe.

Daniel nodded his head and found he couldn't speak. He took a deep breath and went out to the area he used to apply the make-up.

Yasur waited there, his hands twisting in a manner that Daniel read as nervousness. When he reached for the pot containing the white paste, Yasur touched his sleeve.

"No need," Yasur said. "Master has sent word he does not require your presence this evening."

Daniel looked at him and frowned. "He doesn't want me." Statement, not question.

Yasur shook his head. Daniel heard Sansha's quick intake of breath behind him.

Good, this was good. A night of freedom. A night without fear or being forced to feed and pleasure Hatan. He didn't understand why Yasur and Sansha didn't seem to think it was good news.

* * * *

He lost count of the days. Hatan requested his presence at earlier times and he would kneel by the desk in Hatan's office while the other man completed work. Sometimes Hatan would talk on Sabak's version of a telephone. He would pet Daniel's head while he spoke as if Daniel was nothing more than a dog or cat. It was the nights he dreaded--the times he would have to go back to his quarters, apply the make-up and dress however Hatan requested. Then he would return to Hatan's quarters and feed his master while Hatan laughed at his discomfort. The injections no longer burned, his body no longer felt as numb as it had at first. The yakuza took away the pain when he disobeyed Hatan's orders, made him not care about the beatings or worse than the beatings. He did his best to obey Hatan without question, to perform the acts Hatan requested although it made him physically ill. He returned to his quarters each morning, feeling filthy and less and less human. He didn't want to look forward to the injections Hatan gave him. A part of him knew he was far more dependent on the yakuza than he wanted to admit. But it offered escape when he could see no other way out. When the drug was in his system, he didn't dream of Jack and home. He did his best to fight, but more and more it seemed it would be better to submit to his fate. More and more he believed that life here on Sabak would be the only life he'd ever know again.

* * * *

"I told you, I can't sleep." Daniel paced the floor of his quarters and rubbed at his arms. He felt cold and hot at the same time. His skin itched and he wanted to scratch it until he bled. "Damn it," he yelled and hit his fist on the wall.

"Here." Yasur was at his side and Daniel had no idea how the other man had gotten there without him noticing. He held out a teacup.

"I don't want it." Daniel backed away from him. "Just let me..." he trailed off, his thoughts scattering like so much dandelion fluff. He glanced up at the skylight, needed to see the passage of time. It was still dark--stars visible in the sky.

"It's the yakuza, isn't it?" Daniel asked Yasur. When Yasur didn't answer immediately, he grabbed the man's upper arms. "Isn't it?" he demanded.

Yasur glanced down at the floor. "Yes, Daniel. It is the cause of this."

"Get me some," Daniel told him. "Enough to take off the edge."

"I can not." Yasur shook off Daniel's hold. "Only Master has the yakuza."

Daniel swallowed hard and then nodded. "Get me my robe. The white one."

Sansha brought it to him and held it out.

"You do not need to go with me," he told both of them. "I will be back."

Yasur took Daniel's hands between his. "You do not need to do this. We will get you through this."

Daniel pulled his hands away. "Just a little. I only need a small amount. I'll be back."

* * * *

"Twenty three," Hatan acknowledged as Daniel entered his chambers. He was seated at a small table with a large book opened before him. Daniel hated the smile that appeared on the other man's face. "You have come to me on your own. Most independent of you."

Daniel rubbed his hands up and down his arms before crossing them over his chest. "You know why I'm here."

"I do?" Hatan raised his eyebrows. He stood up and came to Daniel. He placed one hand on Daniel's cheek and it was all Daniel could do not to pull away. "I thought perhaps you would appreciate an evening away from me."

Daniel looked at the floor. This was no time for pride. He needed the drug. "The yakuza, Master. Yasur told me you are the only one who can supply it."

"Ah." Hatan stroked Daniel's face and then moved his hand to Daniel's neck. "Ah, the yakuza. I thought you were coming to see me. You wish only to use me?"

"No." Daniel shook his head. He couldn't risk Hatan thinking that. "I wish to please you, Master. Only to please you."

Hatan smiled. "You are beautiful, Twenty Three. Have I told you that?" He slid his hand down Daniel's arm, took Daniel's hand. "I do demand payment for the yakuza. You realize that?"

Daniel's stomach twisted--and he wasn't sure if it was the drug or the knowledge of what he would be required to do. But he raised his head and looked at his master. "Yes, Master. I do. I thank you for your generosity."

"Come then," Hatan told him and led him towards the bed chamber. "We shall see how much yakuza tonight's service is worth."

* * * *

Daniel walked back to his quarters alone--the house silent in these very early morning hours. He'd paid the price for the dose of the drug--his legs stung where Hatan had applied the crop and he was sure that his arms bore the imprint of Hatan's fingers. Hatan liked to do it rough. Daniel no longer fought him, just let him do what he wished. What had Master told him all those weeks, months ago? Yakuza makes the user pliant and biddable. Which, Daniel supposed was true. When he received the injection, nothing else mattered. It was only when the drug began to leave his system that the self-loathing occurred. But yet, he needed the yakuza. His limbs trembled without it, he couldn't think, he wanted to scratch his skin until it bled. His world had shrunk to the time he received his next dose. Dose? Who was he kidding? His next fix.

He entered his quarters and passed Sansha sitting on one of the pillows working on yet another robe.

"Oh, Daniel," the man said as he got to his feet. "Master hurt you."

Daniel shook his head. "I'm okay. Fine. No matter." He looked at his bed and couldn't seem to bring himself to lie down.

"Yasur will bring you tea," Sansha whispered. He touched Daniel's forearm. "You will sleep. All will be well."

Daniel laughed. He couldn't help it. He started to laugh and the laughter grew louder until he found he couldn't stop. He felt Sansha's hands on his shoulders, and let the other man guide him downward.

"What am I?" he asked Sansha. "What am I?" he asked as Sansha tugged at his robe. "Who am I?"

"You are Daniel. No matter what Master says, you are Daniel," Sansha said and pulled a blanket embroidered with birds and gold thread in an intricate pattern up to Daniel's shoulders. "Sleep." Sansha commanded and Daniel did.

* * * *

There was a beautiful green bird with long white tail-feathers and it soared higher and higher in the sky until it was only a small dot. He tried to follow it but his legs wouldn't move. He remembered a time when he could fly but now he was stuck on earth. He bent under the weight of a pack loaded with stones and with every step he took, another stone was added. Hatan laughed and pointed to the bathing pool. Daniel walked into the warm water, letting it lap over his thighs and then up to his chest. He tilted his head back and continued to sink lower in the water. The stones weren't heavy here--he kept his eye on the sky and hoped for one last glimpse of the bird and freedom as he slipped under the water.

* * * *

He woke with a gasp.

"Daniel?" Yasur asked.

Daniel shook his head and wiped his face with trembling fingers. The dream was still too fresh for him to speak. Was that to be the only way out? He lowered his hands to his lap and took a few deep breaths. His legs cramped as he twisted to get off the bed but he waved off Yasur's help.

"Just need to walk it out," Daniel told him. He'd been hurt worse on missions with SG-1. It was only bruises he told himself. Nothing that wouldn't heal.

He remained aware of Yasur's and then Sansha's scrutiny as he walked throughout his quarters. He found himself looking up to the sky more and more--hoping for a glimpse of a green bird. The sky remained empty of all but white fluffy clouds and brilliant blue.

"I must see Hatan," Daniel said sometime later when the quiet of his quarters got to him.

"Master has not requested your presence," Yasur pointed out.

"It is too soon," Sansha added. "You do not need the yakuza."

Daniel nodded. " I know. But I do need to be out of this place. Outside, in fresh air."

Yasur looked down and chewed his lower lip. "I do not think Master will allow it." He looked up at Daniel and then gave a quick nod. "But I will accompany you to his quarters."

"Sansha, please get me the green tunic and pants, and perhaps the gold robe." Daniel began to apply his make-up. If he had to play this game to gain a few moments of freedom, he was willing to take the risk.

* * * *

Daniel went to his knees as soon as he was allowed in Hatan's office.

"Twenty three? Back again, I see," Hatan said. He didn't look at Daniel but kept his attention on his books--a ploy Daniel was sure to make him feel less than human.

"Master," Daniel bent forward and touched his forehead to the floor. "I'm not worthy, I know. I long for a walk on the grass."

Hatan laughed. "Such audacity, my lovely."

Daniel remained still as Hatan reached down and touched his hair.

"You will remain here with me until the sun goes behind the mountains and then yes, we will go for your walk." Hatan patted Daniel's head. "You realize of course I expect your companionship for the rest of the evening."

"Yes, Master."

"What is your name?" Hatan asked as his hand stilled its movement.

*"Twenty Three, Master," Daniel answered as his voice broke.

"There is no 'I' for you any longer. Am I understood?"

"Yes Master."

"You will not be referred to by name even in your quarters. The order will be given."

Daniel looked up at him, careful to keep his expression neutral. "Have I..." At Hatan's frown, Daniel corrected himself. "Has Twenty Three offended, Master?"

Hatan shook his head. "You are learning your place. It will not be long until the harves. There will be visitors. Important visitors. I want to show you off. You will be well-prepared. I only do this because I care about you, Twenty Three."

Daniel bowed again. "Yes Master. Twenty Three understands. Twenty Three appreciates all Master has done."

"Good," Hatan murmured and resumed his petting. "Good."

* * * *

He hated himself with a loathing that grew every day. The days grew hotter, although his walks outside with Hatan were few. But he could see the way the grass yellowed and dried in the heat of this world's summer.

Hatan gave him a kit--a syringe and doses of yakuza, carefully measured. He told himself he would not use it, but when the time came to visit Hatan, he couldn't resist. It was only to take away the pain, to allow himself to forget, to be outside of himself while Hatan did what he would with his body. And he hated himself for it.

* * * *

"A treat today, Twenty Three," Hatan told him one morning when Daniel had washed off the stink of the night before and caught a few moments peace in Sansha's and Yasur's presence. "You will accompany me to the tiztia fields to watch the first of the harvest."

Daniel said nothing as he poured Hatan's tea and knelt by the table with his hands folded in his lap, waiting. When Hatan finished, Daniel stood on legs that felt numb and didn't move while Hatan attached his leash. Yasur waited outside the dining room and at Hatan's direction moved forward with other, heavier chains. He knelt before Daniel and attached a chain between the ankle fetters and then threaded it up to the fetters encircling Daniel's wrists. Yet another chain was attached to his neck collar and then also to his wrists. Hatan, it seemed, would take no chances with Daniel being outside.

"You look dismayed, Twenty Three," Hatan commented as he led Daniel to the doors and outside.

"I thought you trusted me, Master," Daniel replied and kept his eyes lowered.

There was a hard yank on the neck chain and Daniel's head was pulled forward and down.

"Do not forget your place," Hatan ordered. "Never forget."

"Yes, Master," Daniel murmured. He didn't look at the sky as they went outside, but kept his eyes downcast and focused on each step. When they sat in the open-air vehicle that would take them to the tiztia fields, he looked at the floor. He was a dismal failure. Jack would have figured a way out of this situation. Sam or Teal'c would have, but he'd given in to the demands of his master rather than die.

A tug on his chains was what alerted him to their stopping.

"Come," Hatan ordered and Daniel stumbled from the vehicle after him, the dry earth burning his bare feet.

He was aware of the glances sent his way by the other slaves, aware that they knew he lived better than they.

Hatan stopped before another man--a large man wearing a yellow cloak that billowed out behind him in the breeze. Daniel kept his eyes downcast, afraid although he didn't know why. He could see some sort of whip hanging from the man's belt, along with a large wicked blade. He listened to Hatan and the man speak without registering what they were saying. The words washed over him as the hot sun burned down on his head.

The man laughed at something Hatan said and then spat on the ground. It landed on Daniel's toes and he stepped back involuntarily.

A sharp jerk on his chain reminded him he was not in control of even that small movement.

"Behave, Twenty Three," Hatan ordered, his voice even sharper than usual.

"Yes, Master." Daniel felt the touch of the crop on his shoulder and knelt in the dust. A small stone was lodged under his right knee but he didn't move. He didn't dare.

"Four three three is not meeting quota," the man said. "He has not yet recovered from his illness."

Hatan moved on Daniel's left, a step back then forward two. "Dispose of him."

Daniel felt his heart pound as he realized they were speaking of one of the slaves.

"Master." Daniel looked up, dared Hatan's wrath. "Do not. Please."

"This one amuses me," Hatan said to the other man. "He begs so prettily." Hatan brought his hand down on Daniel's head. "Do it," he ordered. "Twenty Three will watch."

Hatan dug his fingers cruelly into Daniel's upper arm, pulled him to his feet while two other slaves brought forward a man hunched over by illness or hard work, Daniel wasn't sure which. The man's hair was silver gray and for a moment, Daniel saw Jack.

The overseer drew his knife and slashed the man's throat before Daniel could make another protest.

"No," Daniel whispered even as Hatan placed his hand on the back of Daniel's neck.

"Remember." Hatan's breath was hot and moist in his ear. "This is my power over you."

His fingers tightened on Daniel's neck, but Daniel didn't make a sound. He felt frozen as he stared at the dead slave. He lifted his gaze and looked at the face of the other man who was wiping his knife on his robe. The man looked back at him and smiled. Daniel felt his stomach twist when he realized the man didn't look like a villian or monster, but simply another human such as himself.

* * * *

He couldn't get clean. There was blood on his feet, mixed with the dirt and he no matter how he scrubbed it didn't come off.

"Come," Yasur told him and tugged on his arm. "You are clean."

No, Daniel wanted to say. Can't you see the blood? He stood still and let Yasur dry him with a towel and watched as Yasur dried his toes oblivious of the blood.

"What did he do?" Yasur asked and then shook his head. "No, do not tell me. We will not speak of it in here. In this place, nothing exists but peace."

Daniel let Yasur lead him from the bathing chamber and seat him on pillows in the living area. Sansha looked up from his embroidery, his dark eyes filled with concern.

His needle flashed in and out of the silk, weaving words and symbols into the robe.

"Teach me," Daniel said. His hands shook and he clasped them together so Sansha wouldn't see. He looked at the floor, didn't want to see Sansha's derision at so audacious a request.

But then Sansha was pressing a piece of cloth into his hands. He handed Daniel a needle and some thread the color of tiztia blossoms. "We begin by threading the needle," Sansha said and sat back on his heels while Daniel endeavored to still his tremors enough to manage the simple task.

Sansha showed him how to make the stitches and then returned to his own task while Daniel spent the rest of his day and long into the evening pricking his finger and making clumsy patterns in the scrap of cloth.

"You did well," Sansha told him when Daniel crawled onto his bed later that night, when it was apparent that Hatan would not require his presence.

Daniel curled his hand up to his chin, felt the faint soreness of his fingers and closed his eyes.

"Do not worry," Sansha said as he settled next to Daniel's bed. "I will be here."

Daniel reached out a hand and felt Sansha's fingers close around his. He held on tight even as he allowed himself to relax enough to sleep.

* * * *

Day followed day and Daniel was kept busy. Hatan instructed Sansha and Yasur to instruct Daniel on the protocols necessary to serve the honored guests who would be attending the harvest festival at the estate. They, as always, remained patient and steadfast even when Daniel served them the tea from the wrong side for the tenth time in a row.

"We will stop now," Yasur would say when Daniel's hands shook and he spilled the tea on the carpet. Then Sansha would hand him his scrap of fabric and Daniel would practice even though he was unable to master the skill of weaving the words into the other patterns.

When he begged Hatan for a dose of yakuza, he told himself it would be the last time. It never was and Daniel rarely cared.

* * * *

Daniel trailed behind Hatan as his master mingled among his guests. He kept his hands folded in front of him and his eyes lowered. He had taken a dose of the yakuza beforehand--an injection he gave himself a few hours prior to the evening reception, enough to keep his mind calm and the shakes away but not so much that the numbness was present. He chose not to think about the fact that Hatan now supplied it to him freely. He could stop, he knew. He could stop any time he chose.

"Twenty Three will entertain us," Hatan said and Daniel glanced upwards. His master laughed and jerked on the leash. Daniel cast his gaze down before Hatan noticed his disobedience.

"He is lovely," a woman dressed in an elaborate red brocade commented. She stepped close, so close Daniel could feel his nose clog up from the smell of her flowery perfume. "Look up," she commanded. Daniel hesitated and Hatan pulled the leash so hard, Daniel thought he'd choke.

"Come, Twenty Three. Leata wants to see your face."

Daniel raised his head. Leata was an older woman, her silver hair piled up in an elaborate hair-do and the expression on her face one of haughtiness and disapproval. She studied him and Daniel was reminded of the intense scrutiny he used to give the artifacts he found off-world. Daniel turned his head away when she put out a hand to touch his face. "Such beautiful eyes," she said and grabbed his chin to turn his face back to hers. Her fingers dug in cruelly. "He is a high-spirited one," Leata observed to Hatan. "I can see it in his eyes."

"You know me," Hatan said as if Daniel wasn't there. "I always do like my consorts to be fighters."

"So sad then that you can find none to last," Leata said. She touched Hatan on the arm. "Come. We have business to discuss. Leave your pet here and we shall retire to make our trade."

Hatan sighed. "As you insist, Leata." He led Daniel over to a corner of the room while Leata remained where she stood.

"You will wait for me here," Hatan ordered as he attached the leash to a post.

"Kneel, Twenty Three."

Daniel swallowed hard and knelt. He waited while Hatan also locked the wrist and ankle bands in place. "Thank you, Master," he whispered, knowing it would be what Hatan expected.

"Be good." Hatan patted him on the head and then walked away.

Daniel knelt with his head down, hands folded in his lap. Footwear came into his line of vision--embroidered slippers, shoes in bright leathers. He didn't dare lift his eyes to see the people the shoes belonged to. He concentrated on trying to hear the conversations of the people in the room. He caught brief snatches: trade treaties, the last harvest of tiztia and the next shipment of Beruga wine to their neighbors. Oh. Oh. Daniel felt his heart begin to beat a little faster as he realized what was being said. Neighbors not on this planet but a trading trip through a Stargate. His hands began to shake--he wasn't sure whether it was from the yakuza or the knowledge that there was a way off this world.

"Three weeks. I'm looking forward to visiting the Kupolis courtesan district again." The voice came from directly in front of Daniel. He stared at their shoes. The slippers were purple leather inlaid with gold and crimson, elegantly embroidered with white and ivory flowers.

"Patience, my friend," an older voice said. "Surely you can wait three weeks for the shipment."

The younger man laughed. "Of course I can wait. It's the anticipation that gives the greatest pleasure." He laughed again and they moved off.

Three weeks. In three weeks wine would leave Beruga estate and would be shipped through a Stargate. Maybe, just maybe, he could find a way to the Gate in that shipment. It was possible--surely it was possible, even for a slave in Hatan's house. His mouth went dry and his heart pounded.

Daniel closed his eyes and for the first time in months, allowed himself to imagine home.

* * * *

"I am concerned," Yasur said as he brought Daniel a cup of morning tea.

"Concerned?" Daniel held the cup tighter than usual--his hands seemed to have developed a nearly a constant tremor.

"You do not use the yakuza as freely as...forgive me, my friend, but I worry for you."

Daniel looked into the translucent green liquid instead of meeting Yasur's eyes. "If I am to have any hope of leaving here, I must be free of the yakuza. You do understand that?"

Yasur knelt behind Daniel and began to brush Daniel's hair. "I do. It affects you. Your hands tremble, you no longer smile in my presence. You are growing thinner." The brush stilled and Daniel felt Yasur's hand on his nape. "The yakuza will not let you go. It holds you still."

Swallowing hard, Daniel glanced at the syringe on the table. He could feel the need building, calling to him. The tea cup fell from suddenly numb fingers and he watched the liquid spread across his pants and seep into the pillow.

Yasur bent his head to Daniel's exposed neck and whispered, "Sansha and I wish you no harm. If you try to leave, Master will kill you. He...the last consort..." Daniel felt hot tears against his skin. "We do not wish the same to happen to you. Please, do not attempt this."

"I must, Yasur," Daniel whispered back, his voice cracking. "I want to go home."

* * * *

He was tired. Oh so very tired. Perhaps Hatan had seen the brief glimmer of hope in his eyes, perhaps suspected Daniel's plotting, whatever the reason, his master had grown stricter, harsher. Daniel spent his time in Hatan's presence, leashed to a post, manacled. Hatan's guests ignored him as if he was a piece of statuary or furniture. The least violation of Hatan's ever-changing rules brought pain, until he desired nothing more than to go to his quarters and sleep. Hope slowly gave way to resignation. His movements were too well-guarded, his time not his own. His one attempt to leave the house on the way back from Hatan's quarters had resulted in a day of standing naked and chained in the middle of the entrance hall. He looked through the window, his dream of home disappearing into the mist that he could see rising from the lake.

* * * *

"You have trained him well," one of Hatan's guests said. Daniel walked carefully with the tray holding the teapot and the cups.

"Fighting all the way." Hatan made a dismissive gesture with one hand. "They always come to see my way."

Daniel let the words wash over him, concentrating instead on serving the tea correctly. Master was right. He'd been wrong to fight so hard and so long. Things were much better when he didn't resist. He knew that. He was lucky, he knew. So much luckier than the poor souls who worked in the tiztia fields. He turned his attention from his wandering thoughts and back to the task at hand.

Kneeling by Leata, Daniel placed a small cup to her left. He bowed forward, touched his forehead to the floor all the while maintaining balance of the tray. He then poured the tea into the cup three separate times--ritual that Sansha and Yasur had drilled him on for the previous two weeks.

He rose to his feet and moved to the next guest. The ritual was repeated five more times before he needed to get another teapot and cups and continue around the table.

The guests continued to speak, ignoring his presence. Daniel retrieved the final teapot and cups. It was when he began serving the fourteenth guest that his arm cramped. The teapot slid forward and before Daniel could grab it, spilled its contents all over the guest. Daniel heard the gasp of the woman next to him and reached out to help.

"Stupid!" The man cuffed Daniel on the side of the head.

Daniel lost his balance, the delicate teacups tumbling from the tray and shattering on the floor and table.

"This one apologizes, Honored Sir," Daniel mumbled from his position on the floor. "Allow me, allow Twenty Three to assist." He took the cloth from the tray and began to dab at the man's pants.

"How dare you touch..." the man pushed Daniel away. "Hatan, is this how your consort is trained?" The man's voice rose with indignation.

Daniel looked at Master. He was angry--furious, Daniel revised.

"Twenty Three! Go to your quarters," Hatan ordered. "Immediately."

Daniel backed away on hands and knees. He knew that tone. It did not bode well. He went through the doorway, still watching his master, and then got to his feet and fled to the safety of his quarters.

* * * *

The chimes didn't sound when Hatan burst into Daniel's quarters.

"Leave us," he ordered Yasur and Sansha. They gave startled and frightened looks to Daniel and then left after quick bows.

Daniel stood near a small table. He got to his knees. "Twenty Three offers all apologies, Master, for his clumsiness." He gasped as Hatan pulled his hair and forced his head back.

"Do you know what you have done? Who you insulted?" Hatan didn't wait for an answer, not that Daniel could have given him one. He slapped Daniel on the face once, twice, three times and Daniel tasted blood.

Hatan was in a rage, and Daniel's only thought as the blows rained on him from the crop and fists was to protect himself. His head hit the wall with a thwack so hard he literally saw stars. Hatan dragged him towards his sleeping chamber, pulling his hair.

"No, Master," Daniel heard someone pleading. "Please no. Stop, please."

Hatan pushed him on the bed, face down. Daniel felt cool air hit his back and buttocks as his tunic and pants were ripped from him. There were more blows, stinging blows that hurt more than any Daniel could remember. Daniel heard someone sobbing breathlessly and his head was hit again, hard.

"Do not embarrass me again," Hatan warned as he gave a blow so hard Daniel fell from the bed.

Daniel huddled in a ball on the floor. He didn't answer. He couldn't.

"I will not require your services this night, Twenty Three," Hatan said in a tone as normal as the one Daniel heard each night after evening meal.

He turned his head slightly as he heard Hatan's footsteps recede and then the sound of the door.

"Daniel, Daniel." Yasur and Sansha were there and Daniel shook his head.

"No, not Dan...not...Twenty three. I am Twenty Three," he said, surprised at how broken his voice sounded. "Leave me."

Yasur knelt beside him. "We will not."

* * * *

Daniel didn't know how much time passed, only that the light in the chamber seemed brighter. He lifted his head and saw Sansha kneeling in front of him, his eyes intent.

"Help me up?" Daniel asked him and Sansha nodded.

Getting to his feet was harder than he thought, but when he was as upright as he was going to get, he looked at the ruined bed-sheets and coverings, stained with blood, his blood. He pulled away from Sansha and began to tug at the sheets.

"Get them off. Get them off," he told Sansha and Yasur. "Get them off."

His face felt wet and his eyes burned.

"Yes, yes, my friend," Sansha said.

His quarters had always been safe--a place untouched by Hatan's hands--and now…now it was all ruined. All gone to ashes.

"Come with me." Yasur touched his arm. Daniel turned to look at him, not liking the expression on Yasur's face. "We have to get these wounds attended to," Yasur explained matter-of-factly.

Daniel nodded and let himself be led away from the bedchamber. He watched where he put each step as they walked into the living chamber. It wouldn't do to stumble and fall, ruin something else.

A vase lay broken on the floor, flowers and water lay scattered in the ruins of the once beautiful glass. Master had ruined even the small bit of beauty in here.

Daniel paused and then stepped away from Yasur's grasp. He got to his knees and picked up a glittering piece of the gold and green glass and tucked it into the cuff of his robe.

"You will hurt yourself," Yasur said and urged him to his feet. "Sansha and I will clean it up. Do not bother yourself with it."

He wanted to tell Yasur that he was wrong--that he couldn't hurt anymore, that it did matter, but words wouldn't come out. They remained locked inside, along with the shame and anger.

Yasur guided him to some pillows and Daniel let himself be seated. He moved slightly so he could see the door.

"The table," he whispered as he noticed the broken wood. "He can't...the table." He pointed, unable to say more.

"Ah," Yasur replied and moved towards the door. He pushed the pieces of the broken table into position in front of the door, a flimsy barricade at best, but a barricade to buy some time.

Sansha settled beside him with a bowl of water. "I will tend to your wounds. You will allow this?"

Daniel heard the words but he didn't reply. He looked at his hands which he kept folded on his lap. His right hand was bruised across the back. He flexed his fingers. Huh, didn't appear to be broken then. There was blood speckled on his forearms and as he watched, Sansha began to wipe it away with a soft cloth.

He let himself drift for a time, rousing only when Sansha brought the cloth towards his face. Daniel pulled back.

"I do not mean to cause more pain," Sansha said and paused in his ministrations.

"No. It's...just..." He closed his eyes. "You can..."

He heard Sansha swallow hard and then the cloth was against his skin.

"How is he?" he heard Yasur ask.

There was no corresponding answer from Sansha only a minute pause and then a sigh from Yasur.

He wanted to tell them he was okay even though it was a lie. He kept his eyes closed and let them do what they would.

He woke sometime later, stretched out on pillows. His right wrist ached fiercely and his back and legs hurt. He couldn't see out of his right eye and he reached up to touch it, frightened. The skin there was hot and swollen.


He didn't bother to answer Yasur.

"I know you are awake. You must drink something." Yasur said from behind him. "I am going to touch you, help you sit up."

"No." His voice sounded slurred, thick. "Do it myself." Daniel forced himself to sit up, the thought of Yasur touching him more repellant than continuing to lie there. He swallowed bile and then someone, he wasn't sure if it was Yasur or Sansha pushed a bowl beneath his chin as he began to gag.

Someone wiped his mouth when he was done and held a cup of tea to his lips. "Thank you," he said because politeness dictated he must.

He tilted sideways and they caught him, laid him back on the pillows. He wondered if he was dying. He hoped he was.

* * * *

He woke again and it was dark, only a small lamp lighting the room. Sansha was there, bent over his embroidery, needle catching the light, the silk thread red like blood.

"You are awake, Daniel?" Sansha asked although Daniel was sure he had not made a sound. Sansha put the robe down and came to Daniel's side. His fingers were cool when he put them on Daniel's forehead.

"The yakuza leaves your body." Sansha took a damp rag and wiped Daniel's face.

Daniel closed his eyes and swallowed against the lump in his throat at the simple kindness.

"You are ill, my friend. But do not worry--Yasur and I shall care for you." Sansha continued speaking while Daniel concentrated only on breathing. "You shall grow strong again. You eat far too little."

"I have to leave," Daniel finally managed to say when he'd worked enough saliva into his mouth. "Please help me." He moved his left hand, managed to catch Sansha's wrist. "Please."

Sansha twisted his wrist under Daniel's loose grasp and closed his fingers over Daniel's. "Go to sleep. I will make sure you are safe."

Daniel held on to the lie even though no one was safe here. He would never be safe again unless he could return home.

* * * *

Angry voices roused Daniel from a half-doze. He opened his eyes and watched Yasur gesture vehemently to someone right inside the door.

"He cannot attend Master," he heard Yasur say. "He is injured, sick."

Daniel couldn't hear the other person's reply but whatever it was it was enough to make Yasur cross his arms over his chest and walk away.

"What's going on?" Daniel managed to ask, his voice hoarse and cracked.

Sansha knelt by his side while Yasur continued to pace and mutter to himself. "Master has requested your presence this day."

Daniel pushed himself up and closed his eyes against a brief bout of dizziness. "Help me up," he ordered Sansha. He held out his left hand and hoped the tremor wasn't apparent.

"Yasur," Daniel said when he was upright. He leaned against Sansha's smaller frame, fully aware he was putting most of his weight on the other man.

"You cannot go to him," Yasur stated in a tight, clipped voice. His eyes were dark with anger and his face was pinched.

"If I don't?" Daniel asked the woman standing by the door.

"Master would be displeased," the woman answered. "I do not know what he would do. Come here perhaps or take another." She looked frightened.

Daniel's stomach twisted. Master could not come here again. He tightened his grip on Sansha. "I will go to him. Can you tell him it will take some time for me to prepare?"

She bowed her head and backed out of the room. Yasur closed the door behind her and came back towards Daniel.

"Are know what he did to his last consort?"

Daniel looked at him out of his one good eye. "I can guess." Was that his voice that sounded so defeated, so flat?

"We held him while he died," Yasur said, the anger gone from his voice. "He was broken inside and we held him while he died." Yasur turned away a moment and when he faced Daniel again, his face was wet. "We do not wish you to die, Daniel."

"I'm sorry," Daniel told him. He took a step towards the table where he applied his make-up. "I have no choice."

"Allow us to prepare you," Sansha whispered. "Please. Allow us this."

Daniel nodded and sat down on the stool. He didn't look in the mirror. Ironic he thought for a man who had studied ancient sacrificial practices to be prepared as a sacrifice himself.

* * * *

He kept his gaze cast downward as he walked through house to Hatan's quarters. He was aware that the other house slaves were watching. He realized he didn't know any of their names. No matter--nothing would matter after this night. Daniel was quite sure he was going to die--that Master would beat him harder or longer or perhaps just murder him outright. The thought no longer filled him with dread. He wanted it to be over. His dream of going home had been just that--a dream. Yes, he'd heard of the Stargate here, but no one would take a slave from this house with them. His only regret was that his team would never know what had happened to him, although maybe it was better this way. He didn't want them to ever know this--to ever know what had happened here on Sabak.

He stopped by a large statue and looked at Sansha and Yasur. "What will...what will Master do with me, with my body?" Suddenly the answer was very important.

Sansha looked down and shifted uncomfortably.

"He had the body removed," Yasur finally answered, his voice thick with tears, "and sent to the waste center."

"Promise me you won't forget," his voice caught. "Remember me."

"I will remember you, Daniel Jackson," Sansha whispered. He touched the fine silk Daniel wore. "When my silks are sent to the city for trade, your name will be in them."

"Do not die," Yasur said in a stern tone. "Then we will not have need to worry."

They spoke no more but continued their walk to Master's quarters. When the doors opened and Daniel stepped inside, he risked a glance backwards and saw Sansha and Yasur kneeling by the archway--his guardians, no more than that--his friends, to the end.

* * * *

"Twenty-three." Master motioned for Daniel to kneel by him at the table.

Daniel wondered if all the guests had departed or if they had been left to their own devices for the night. He knelt by Master's side, doing his best to not let any pain show. His lower back burned, and his wrist throbbed. He kept his head lowered.

"You understand why I had to punish you, Twenty-three?" Master asked even though Daniel knew better than to attempt an honest answer.

"Yes, Master, Twenty-Three understands."

"Look at me," Master ordered.

Daniel looked up. He had to turn his head slightly so he could see out of his left eye. And then he realized, as if blinders had been taken from his eyes--Master was just a man like he was. He had no power over Daniel except what Daniel gave him. His heart began to pound in his chest and he felt his mouth go dry. He had fought long and hard to maintain his humanity--and he would not go to his death as anything less than human. There was still hope, and even if there wasn't, he would not submit to Hatan any longer.

"Such a shame," Hatan whispered. "I had such hopes for you, Twenty-Three."

"My name is Daniel Jackson. I am not a number," Daniel spoke in a low voice.

"You are nothing." Hatan grabbed Daniel's hair and yanked his head back. "Nothing better than the dung put on the tiztia fields."

"And what does that make you?" Daniel brought up his hands, pulled at Hatan's but he couldn't get a strong grip.

"I thought you would have learned your lessons by now." Hatan pushed Daniel forward and his head caught on the edge of the table.

Daniel lay on his side and saw Hatan's boots go out of view. He pushed himself up and tasted blood in his mouth. He managed to get to his hands and knees, his body wobbling from weakness--whether from the yakuza leaving his system or the injuries he'd received earlier. He grabbed blindly at one of the sideboards and pulled himself upright. He stood, breathing hard and shaking. He didn't hear Hatan come up from behind until the man yelled.

"On your knees!" Hatan roared.

"No." Daniel would not back down. He would not give in any longer. He turned and felt his stomach twist as he saw what Hatan held in his hand--a syringe filled with yakuza.

There was nowhere to move as Hatan came closer. He brought the syringe towards Daniel's shoulder. Daniel reached out, put all his strength against Hatan's and twisted to the side. The needle drew closer and Daniel swore he could smell the drug. "I said no." He gave a last push and then the syringe was in his own hand. He didn't know how he'd managed to get it. That didn't matter now.

"You want to see what it's like?" he asked, not caring that Hatan's eyes had gone wide with panic. He plunged the needle into the juncture of Hatan's neck and shoulder and pressed the plunger, releasing the drug.

"No!" Hatan whispered.

Hatan was scared--Daniel could tell. The other man clawed at the syringe hanging from his neck but the drug was already taking its' effect.

"Enjoy," Daniel whispered as he pushed Hatan against the wall. "Now you'll get a taste of your own medicine, see what it's like."

"You will be sor..." the words went unfinished as Hatan's eyes rolled back in his head. Daniel stepped away and let him drop to the floor.

"I don't think I will." Daniel backed up and bent over. He rested his arms against his knees and took a few deep breaths. He was shaking--he didn't touch Hatan. He didn't think he wanted to know if he'd killed the man. He didn't know if it was good that he hoped the other man was dead. He sank to the floor and began to laugh as the hysteria set in.

* * * *

Someone tugged on his arm and he looked up to see the woman who showed him into Hatan's quarters each night.

"Come with me," she ordered. "Hurry."

Daniel shook his head. There was something he had to do--something, but he couldn't remember what it was.

"Listen to me." Her voice turned steely and she pinched his arm hard. "You must come. We must get you out of here."

"Hatan," Daniel said. He thought it might have something to do with Hatan. He looked across at the other man who lay still and silent on the floor.

"Do not worry about him. You must leave now if you wish to regain your freedom." She tugged on his arm again and her brown eyes filled with tears. "I cannot lift you myself. Please."

She looked like Sha're, he thought. Had the same stubborn set to her chin--and he realized he didn't even know her name. He got to his feet, wobbly but standing.

"Yes, yes," the woman whispered to someone else.

"Come with us." That was Yasur.

Sansha ducked under Daniel's arm and pulled it across his shoulders. "We will get you to Leata's transport. Her driver will see you make it safely to the city. You will be able to go to Kupolis with the wine shipment."

Daniel nodded and walked with them through a house gone very still. He thought he was going to throw up but he swallowed down the bile and tried to still the shakes that were affecting him.

They led him through an area he had never seen--a kitchen where all was silent and outside to a large area where vehicles were parked.

A man stood by one of the vehicles. He nodded as they approached and motioned towards the back of the vehicle. Daniel stared at the small space that opened when the man pushed a button.

"You must be silent," Yasur told him as he patted the inside of the trunk. "The journey will not be long, my friend. This is the safest way we know for you to go."

"My mistress has taken a liking to you," the man said. "But she will not want to risk being called a thief."

Daniel's heart began to pound as he looked in the trunk. He could do it. He'd survived this long and now he was on the last bit of his journey home. He could do it. He climbed in the trunk, pulled his knees to his chest, and forced himself to breathe slowly as they covered him with a blanket.

Yasur leaned into the trunk, placed his lips against Daniel's cheek. "Journey safely, my friend," he whispered.

Sansha did the same and then pressed something into Daniel's hands. "A robe for trade. If you need credit." He kissed Daniel's cheek once again. "I wish you well."

Daniel looked at them and found he had no words. He could only nod and give them a brief smile before the lid of the trunk was closed and he was left in the cold and darkness.

* * * *

Why was it so dark? He couldn't remember. Had he gone blind? And cold--he couldn't remember why it was so cold.

"Jack?" Daniel whispered into the dark. Surely Jack would be able to tell him what to do. But there was no answer except a low humming noise. He felt sick to his stomach as the humming continued. "Jack?" He hoped someone would answer. Unless--what if something had happened to his team?

"Sam? Teal'c?" Silence.

He forced himself to breathe deeply and he put up his hand when he felt the weight of what? A rug? Blanket? Memory rushed back as he pushed the fabric away.

Leata's vehicle. He was in the trunk of Leata's vehicle and he was going home. A burning sensation settled low in his back and he bit his lip as the pain intensified. His right wrist throbbed and he touched the skin there. The wrist was swollen and he thought it might be broken. He began to shake and he felt around in the dark, searching for...damn it. There was no yakuza. He bit his lip hard--he couldn't cry out, couldn't risk discovery, but oh God, he hurt.

He hugged his knees tighter to his chest and rocked slightly, trying to take away the pain.

* * * *

Daniel woke with a start and realized the humming noise had stopped. There were voices outside the trunk--a man's and a woman's. The woman sounded angry and Daniel held his breath. He didn't know what happened to escaped slaves on this world but he vowed that if they tried to send him back to Beruga Estate or sell him again, he would die first and take as many of the Sabak with him as possible.

The trunk popped open and Daniel blinked away tears as light hit his eyes.

"Get out," Leata ordered. "Come, come, young man. I do not have time for foolishness."

Daniel tried to obey but his limbs didn't want to cooperate. The driver reached in and pulled on his arm.

"Mistress doesn't like delay," he explained as he helped Daniel sit up.

Daniel closed his eyes against the light which seemed much brighter than it should. The nausea he'd been fighting finally won and he began to dry heave.

"Don't get sick there," the driver said and pulled more urgently.

Half falling out the vehicle and despite the driver's helpful arm about his shoulders, Daniel wound up on his knees on the ground. He knelt, unable to control the shaking.

A hand was placed on his head and Daniel risked opening his eyes. Leata was kneeling in front of him. "Yakuza. Am I correct?"

Daniel looked at her, unsure of her reaction, but he nodded nonetheless.

"You will not die from it. Coming free from the yakuza will make you stronger in the end," she told him. "I can not keep you here with me. You understand this?"

"I understand, my lady," Daniel whispered, his throat dry. "Home. I want to go home."

She gave a curt nod and then motioned for the driver to help her stand. "I only regret that I can not save more from Hatan's grasp."

The driver moved to Daniel's side and Daniel let himself be pulled to his feet.

"Why me?" he asked.

"I save who I can, when I can," Leata explained. "Now, we have no time for idle chatter." She pointed and Daniel attempted to make his legs work as he and the driver walked behind her.

They walked a short distance although to Daniel it seemed almost a marathon. They entered a large building that was cool and quiet. No one seemed to give them a second glance. People bowed before Leata and scurried out of their way.

"You will leave us," Leata told someone in a uniform.

Daniel blinked and felt his heart began to pound. A Stargate. It was a Stargate.

"Help him to the Great Ring, Davoa," Leata ordered.

Straightening as much as possible, Daniel leaned against the DHD when Davoa took him there.

He looked at the symbols and traced one with a shaking hand. Home. He could go home.

"What is your name?" Leata asked, startling him.


She shook her head and put her fingers over his lips. "No. Your name." The haughtiness of earlier was gone and for a moment she reminded him of Catherine.

"Daniel," he told her. "Daniel Jackson."

"Go in peace, Daniel Jackson," Leata said and stepped away from him.

He began to push the symbols and then realized he couldn't dial the SGC. Not with the iris and no GDO, not when Daniel didn't know if anyone would follow him.

P3R-790---the memory of the heat and solitude was strong. Uninhabited and safe. He could dial there and then figure out what to do.

Decision made, he dialed the tropical world. The puddle of blue that formed was the most beautiful thing he'd seen in ages.

"Go," Leata urged him. "Go."

Daniel nodded and pushed away from the DHD. He was unsteady on his feet but he was going home. It was enough to give him strength to walk through the wormhole.

The heat of P3R-790 hit him like a wall and he stumbled a short distance from the Gate. He lay on his side, panting like a dog and trying to get his mind to cooperate. He didn't know where he could go. The Alpha site was a possibility, the Land of Light. He pulled his left arm over his eyes and closed them. He was so close. He had to go somewhere.

Oquia. Site of a long-term archaeological mission. He could go there. He had to get back to the DHD. The DHD that suddenly looked a million miles away.

"I can," he whispered. "Can." But he couldn't gain his feet. He crawled to the DHD and pulled himself up by hanging onto the pillar.

The symbols blurred before his eyes and his hands shook even more violently. When the wormhole opened, he prayed he had remembered the sequence correctly.

* * * *

"Doctor Tarag, we need your signature on this."

Nyan looked up from the table spread with the pieces of a clay tablet at two of the newest recruits assigned to Oquia. He smiled at them and then scrawled his signature on the requisition form after glancing at it briefly. He turned his attention back to the tablet. He most likely wouldn't be able to read it, but he could put it together for the linguists back at the SGC to decipher. Daniel would love this, he thought, and then tamped down any thoughts going down that path.

There had been no sign of Daniel Jackson since he'd disappeared nearly two years ago. None. MIA, presumed dead. Nyan's stomach twisted at the memory of hearing that pronouncement. He didn't want to believe it--he didn't think anyone did. But hope had gradually died over the long months. SG-1 came through the Gate minus one member, and despite a return to the planet, there was nothing. No leads. Even the SGC's allies hadn't been able to find him, which Nyan, despite his wanting to believe Daniel was alive, had to admit was compelling evidence that presumed dead was a likely outcome.

In some small way, his work here was to honor Daniel's memory. At least, he liked to think of it as such. He had been put in charge of the mission three months ago and did his best to treat those under him with the same respect Daniel had treated him. He resolutely turned his attention back to the tablet pieces and ignored the pang of sadness that seemed a part of his heart.

"Doctor Tarag."

The radio call pulled him out of his absorption in his task. He finished sliding a piece into place. "Yes, Sergeant Lopez?"

"We need you at the Gate, sir."

"Is this an emergency?" Nyan could feel his heart beat faster as he realized how close he was to solving the puzzle in front of him.

"It's very important, sir." That was Airman Miller.

It wasn't likely that the guards were fooling around. Nyan took one last glance at the tablet taking shape and keyed his radio again. "On my way."

It would soon be time for the afternoon break, Nyan realized as he walked up the path towards the Gate. The heat was growing and a trickle of sweat began to itch as he crested the hill and began his way down into the valley.

Miller and Lopez stood a short distance from the Gate, their weapons trained on someone who was lying flat on the ground. The man appeared to be shivering despite the heat and from the clothing that Nyan could see wasn't someone sent from the SGC.

"Sergeant, Airman," Nyan acknowledged as he came within speaking distance.

They both nodded.

"Sir," Lopez began, "I think..."

Nyan waved a hand at him and knelt by the man.

The man stank--of sweat, fear, and something else Nyan couldn't name. His clothing was stained and seemed to be more for decoration than for actual protection from the elements. Silver bands encircled his wrists, ankles and neck. His hair was brownish and long, was plastered against his head. Nyan laid a hand on the man's back, hoping to still the shivering.

The reaction was not one he expected. The man made an attempt to pull his knees under him. He began to mutter something and Nyan rocked back on his heels.

"Lady and Lord," he whispered. He motioned for Lopez and Miller to step back.

The man made it to his knees and looked at Nyan out of wide blue eyes in a face smeared with some sort of white paste. Nyan doubted there was any recognition. No matter, Nyan thought as he reached out a trembling hand.

"Daniel," Nyan whispered. "It is Nyan. Welcome home." He knew tears were falling from his eyes but he didn't care.

Daniel bowed his head forward until it touched the ground. "Twenty Three will serve you well, Master. Twenty Three is sor..." The words faded as Daniel toppled sideways.

Nyan caught him, alarmed when he realized how much thinner Daniel was. "Dial the SGC," he ordered Miller. When the woman stared at him in shock, he continued. "This is Doctor Jackson. Daniel Jackson. Now dial the SGC so we can get him back where he belongs."

* * * *

Sam's heart pounded as she ran towards the Gateroom. How could it possibly be true? Daniel alive and back in the SGC? She didn't know whether this was all some sort of cruel trick. Oh God, please don't let it be a hoax. She didn't know if she would be able to handle it if it were.

"Sir," she called out as she entered the Gateroom and saw General Hammond with two men kneeling on the floor at the base of the ramp.

General Hammond turned to face her. "Major Carter," he said and his voice quavered just the slightest bit.

She walked closer. Holy Hannah, it was true. It was Daniel! She knelt next to him, looking over his bowed head at Nyan, who looked back seemingly unaware of the tears that streamed down his face.

"Daniel," she whispered and reached out to touch him with a trembling hand. He was shaking violently and she looked up in alarm at General Hammond.

"A medical team is on the way, Major," he assured her.

"Daniel," Sam whispered again.

He lifted his head then and turned to face her. He held out a piece of cloth. "Payment for safe passage," he said in a voice that cracked.

Sam shook her head and put an arm over his shoulders. "No, no. You're home, Daniel. It's okay. It's going to be okay." She didn't know if it was true, but she gathered him close and wound up sinking to sit on the ramp as he curled further downward. His head rested in her lap and she stroked his hair, grown longer than she'd ever seen it. "It's okay," she whispered again and again while he shook and shivered.

He opened his eyes and looked at her once. "Sam?" he asked. He reached up with a hand and touched her face. "Is it you? Really you?"

"Yes, yes." She nodded and caught his hand in hers, held it against her cheek. "It's me."

"Yes," he whispered back and closed his eyes. He gave a massive shudder and then went limp.

"Daniel!" Sam called him and pressed fingers to his throat, only then noticing the silver collar there. "Daniel." But she couldn't feel a pulse over the roaring in her own ears and then white coated medics were pushing her aside and Daniel was put on a gurney.

"Sir?" She looked at the general whose own attention was on the leaving medical team. "What…?" She wasn't sure she knew what had just happened.

"He came through the gate on Oquia," Nyan told her. "I brought him back here. I think...I don't know, but he looks like he's been through a lot."

"Major Carter, go with Daniel," General Hammond said. "I'll take care of calling Colonel O'Neill and getting him back to the SGC."

"Yes, sir," Sam replied. She stood up, not surprised in the least at the shakiness in her legs.

Daniel was alive. Daniel was home.

* * * *

Teal'c was already standing by the doors of the infirmary when Sam got there.

"Daniel Jackson..." he said and then stopped and stared at the far wall.

"Yes." Sam nodded and swiped at her own eyes. "He's alive, Teal'c." She wanted to yell that at the top of her lungs, let the whole SGC hear her joy but she settled for placing a hand on Teal'c's forearm.

He opened his arms and enveloped her in a gentle hug--something she couldn't remember him ever doing. But it felt right--oh so very right.

She stepped back and turned her attention to the doors. "General Hammond is calling Colonel O'Neill. I don't know how long it will take him to get here." She began to pace. It had been so long. She wanted to see Daniel now, touch him, reassure herself she wasn't part of some mass hallucination.

"Doctor Fraiser will allow us access when she completes her examination," Teal'c told her.

"I know," Sam said. She twisted her hands. "He was wearing a silver collar and bands on his wrists and ankles."

"We will know the truth in time, Major Carter," Teal'c answered and Sam felt her anxiety quell slightly. Teal'c was right and his certainty was calming.

* * * *

"Colonel O'Neill." Carter stood as Jack entered the observation room.

Jack acknowledged her greeting with a nod and then moved to the window. It was true. Sweet merciful heavens, it was true. Daniel was alive and home and...he didn't know his condition but alive most definitely. His hand shook as he placed it on the glass. A chair hit the back of his knees and he sat gratefully.

"When the general called, I didn't believe...God." Jack shook his head. He leaned forward and stared at Daniel through the window.

Daniel's wrists were bandaged as was his neck. His arms and legs were held in place with soft restraints. He was hooked up to a couple of IV's but was breathing on his own. He could see Daniel had lost weight even from this distance and as he watched as Daniel tossed in the bed as if he was uncomfortable.

"Doctor Fraiser believes Daniel Jackson is experiencing withdrawal," Teal'c said from Jack's left. "She does not know what substance he was given."


"No, sir," Carter assured. She stood with her hands clasped tightly together. "There were too many injuries both recent and older to show any signs of sarcophagus use."

"Where is Fraiser?" Jack asked. He had way too many questions and Teal'c and Carter weren't the people who could give him answers.

"She will be here shortly," Teal'c informed him. "I am sure she was notified the moment you arrived, O'Neill."

"Do we know anything about where he was? What he was doing?"

Carter shook her head. "Daniel hasn't been coherent long enough to answer questions."

The way she looked away was enough to tell Jack there was more she wasn't saying. "And?"

"We don't think he realizes he's home, sir. He thinks he's dreaming."

* * * *

Jack looked across the briefing room table at Fraiser who pushed two folders together so they lined up exactly. She looked back; her expression carefully neutral which Jack didn't think boded well.

Twenty four hours, it had been twenty four hours since the once thought lost Daniel had come through the Gate and Jack hated that none of Daniel's team had been allowed to be with him. They'd waited for him and Jack cursed the fact that he had been at the cabin. If he'd stayed in Colorado, been closer, use going down that road.

"Doctor Fraiser, would you begin?" General Hammond requested.

"Daniel is doing as well as can be expected considering the symptoms of withdrawal he is exhibiting. We are monitoring that situation closely. He shows signs of numerous beatings, including a recent one. He has a concussion from that and also a sprained wrist. There are lacerations across his back and legs, some of which have healed, and numerous bruises. His mental state is precarious at this point. Daniel continues to fight my staff and has attempted to escape, hence the restraints. He isn't sure that he is truly at the SGC, although all staff has been instructed to repeatedly reassure him of this fact."

"Twenty Three. Nyan said Daniel called himself Twenty Three," Carter said.

Fraiser nodded as if the knowledge was known to her. "Daniel has a brand, a mark here." She pointed to her shoulder. "Although he hasn't told us, it is likely he was a prisoner or some sort of slave labor during his capture."

"Will we be permitted to see Daniel Jackson?" Teal'c asked before Jack could.

"I think the presence of SG-1 may help Daniel through the withdrawal," Fraiser said and Jack half-rose from his chair before she finished.

General Hammond motioned for him to sit again. "Major Carter. Teal'c. You are dismissed."

"General?" Jack asked when his team left and he was alone with Fraiser and Hammond. He could feel his stomach clenching into a knot. There was definitely something up--something that was so not good. "What's going on?"

"Doctor Fraiser has some additional information," Hammond stated and then cleared his throat. "Please proceed, doctor."

"I didn't think it was necessary for the others on the team to know this," Fraiser said. "Daniel shows signs of having been sexually assaulted."

Jack placed his hands flat on the table and pressed down hard. "Assaulted? Raped?"

"Daniel hasn't been able to tell us, but from the examination, yes, it is likely."

Jack swallowed hard. It wasn't supposed to be this way. Daniel was supposed to come back through the Stargate whole and healthy and not having been abused. He glanced down at the table, at his hands and then slowly, carefully relaxed them and nodded. "When can I see him? I, SG-1, needs to be with him now. He needs us." He didn't say the rest of the sentence. They…he, needed Daniel just as much.

* * * *

"Colonel O'Neill."

The whispered voice pulled Jack out of a light doze. He was getting too old for this falling asleep while keeping vigil business. "Sorry," he murmured to the nurse as he got to his feet.

She smiled at him and then busied herself checking the monitors attached to Daniel.

"No." Daniel pulled his arm towards his body only to be stopped by the restraints. "No, no." He became more agitated and Jack stepped around the nurse to place his hand on Daniel's.

"Calm down," Jack ordered. "People are just trying to help."

Daniel opened his eyes half-way but Jack didn't know if he recognized much of anything or anyone. It had been the same routine over the last day--Daniel slept a bit, roused somewhat and pulled at his restraints until he or Carter or Teal'c ordered him not to.

"Hurts." Daniel arched his neck and banged his head on the pillow.

"Yeah, it's gonna if you keep doing that." Jack moved a hand to Daniel's forehead. "Now stop it."

"Yasur, don't let him take me back. No yakuza, no more. Please." Daniel pleaded with Jack. "Don't."

"I won't. No more," Jack said and stroked his thumb over Daniel's forehead. "He won't come for you. I promise."

Daniel opened his eyes further. "I can't...can't do it anymore."

"I know," Jack repeated. "It's okay, Daniel. It's time to rest. You're home. You're safe." He continued to repeat his words until Daniel closed his eyes.

He nearly missed the next words Daniel spoke. "Sorry Jack."

Jack leaned closer. "No need to be," he said quietly and then realized Daniel hadn't even registered his presence, that the words were an apology meant for others to hear, words given to carry to Jack across the galaxy. He sat back down, but kept his fingers wrapped around Daniel's.

* * * *

"Take them off! Take them off!"

The shouts reached Jack even through the doors. He walked into the iso room to find Daniel screaming at Teal'c, Carter, and Fraiser.

"What's going on?" Jack asked, as he took in Daniel's angry expression.

"Fuck you!" Daniel screamed and tried to bite Carter when she moved her hand to his shoulder. She stepped back in shock.

"I'm sorry," she said whether to Daniel or the rest of them, Jack wasn't sure.

"Need them off," Daniel's voice went low--either he was calming down or he was wearing himself out. Jack would have put money on the latter. He pulled at the restraints harder and then squirmed to try to chew on them.

"I don't trust taking them off," Fraiser said. "Not when he's so agitated."

"Off. Off." The words became almost a chant. "Twenty Three is sorry. Twenty Three will not disobey. Please. Please."

"Daniel Jackson, you will cease this behavior immediately." Teal'c spoke and for a moment Daniel stopped his incessant pleas.

"Teal'c?" He blinked a few times and then looked at each of them in turn. "Sam? Jack? Home? It's real?"

"It is real," Teal'c stated firmly before Jack could speak.

"We're real." Jack touched Daniel's blanket-covered foot and squeezed.

"Home?" Daniel asked again as if he couldn't believe what he was hearing. He lowered his head and began to shake. The sounds he made were awful and Jack moved up and put an arm around Daniel's shoulders.

"You're home," he repeated and then with horror realized the sounds Daniel was making wasn't one of crying but of laughter. Not joy, but a sound that made him think of someone who had lost contact with reality.

"Stop it," Jack said and shook Daniel slightly. "Stop it." But the hysterical laughter continued.

Teal'c reached forward and tilted Daniel's head up. "Daniel Jackson, this behavior is unacceptable and you will not continue. Calm yourself now. We are your friends and wish to assist you."

"See?" Jack pointed out into Daniel's ear. "Everyone here wants to help. You just gotta give us all a chance."

"Okay, okay, okay. Twenty Thr...I'll...yes." He let his head drop onto Jack's arm and rested there. Sweat soaked through Jack's shirt and Daniel's breath made hot puffs onto the fabric. "Tired. I'm tired."

"Yeah," Jack replied. He steadied Daniel while Fraiser took his vitals. He didn't think Daniel was even aware of anyone's presence. "Rest. Just rest," he told Daniel.

Jack looked up at all of them as Daniel's breathing slowed and he slipped into sleep. "Well that was fun."

* * * *

The walls were gray--industrial gray. Daniel tried to pull one leg up to relieve a cramp but he couldn't move it more than a few inches. He tried to remember where he was, but it was all a blank. He turned his head to one side and blinked a few times. A silver-haired man was sleeping on the next bed. Daniel frowned. He must be hallucinating.

"Jack?" he whispered. It couldn't be--not after all this time. It just couldn't be true. "Jack?" He tried again and his voice was a little louder.

The hallucination stirred and sat up. "Daniel? You awake this time?"

Daniel smiled as the hallucination came closer--he even smelled like Jack, soap and spice. He smiled as the hallucination placed warm fingers against his cheek. This was nice. Very nice. If he was going to die at Hatan's hands, he was glad the yakuza was giving him this last vision and memory.

The touch was withdrawn and Daniel bit his lip as pain shot through his legs. He'd known it was too good to last.

"Hey, buddy. Doc's coming." He sounded so real--even the concern that Daniel was certain would be laced in Jack's voice was there. Daniel wished the hallucination would touch him again. His wish was granted mere seconds later as warm fingers closed over his.

"Hi, Daniel." Someone said on his other side, a feminine voice. Daniel turned his head and saw another vision.

"Janet?" he asked. She brandished a pen-light and smiled.

"It looks like you're back with us," she said and moved a little closer. Pain shot through his head when she flashed the light.

"Ow." And then..."You're real. I'm home." And this time there was no question in his mind. His pulse began to race. He frowned as he realized he was in restraints. A vague memory of panic came back and he licked his lips before asking hoarsely, "Can you take these off?"

"Colonel," Janet said. Daniel didn't know how to interpret her look at Jack. Whatever it meant, Daniel was relieved when she loosened the restraint at his wrist. He reached up towards his face--another memory coming back.

"Janet," he asked as he touched his right cheek and then moved his fingers in front of his right eye. He felt sick. "I can't see."

"What?" Jack's voice rose.

"I can't see. Out of..." he gestured helplessly at his right eye.

Janet caught his hand before he could gesture again and then spoke in a quiet voice. "Doctor Warner is here and we'll call in whoever we need." She moved away and fiddled with a machine before she spoke across the bed to Jack. "We'll be running some tests, sir."

Jack nodded and squeezed Daniel's fingers once again. "I'll be back as soon as I can, Daniel."

Daniel nodded as Jack left. He felt suddenly cold and gave a shiver. "Janet, what if..."

She smiled at him and placed her hand on his shoulder. "Let's wait until we can do all the tests we couldn't do before, okay?"

He nodded and looked up at her smile. She was beautiful. He had to trust her. Had to believe that everything would be alright in the end.

"Now, I need to you to tell me what you can about the drug you were given--yasuka?"

"Yakuza," Daniel corrected. He pulled his knees up and swallowed hard before he began to tell her what he could.

* * * *


Jack and the others stood as she entered the briefing room. Janet placed Daniel's folder on the table and sat down when General Hammond motioned for all of them to do so.

"Doctor Reingold believes the vision in Daniel's right eye should correct itself as the concussion resolves," she started, knowing that was one of the group's foremost worries. "Daniel is resting comfortably at the moment. There appears to be no permanent neurological damage or physical damage from the yakuza, although Daniel is still experiencing severe cramps in his legs." She took a deep breath. The next part of her report would be the most difficult. "I think it's important for everyone here to understand that Daniel has been a slave for months. His physical wounds will be the first to heal--the emotional, the psychological issues will be far more difficult to deal with. I realize that a debriefing is necessary, General Hammond, however I highly recommend that a psychiatrist be present."

"He needs SG-1 with him," Colonel O'Neill interjected. "We'll be there for him."

"You're forgetting one thing, sir," Janet said and didn't flinch from the colonel's gaze when he looked at her. "Daniel might not want all of you, any of you to know what happened."

And hadn't that just been a pleasant thing to tell the people who'd grieved and mourned for him and now had him back? Janet laced her fingers on top of the folder.

"We need to let Daniel have control over this, sirs. He hasn't had any for so long."

Janet looked around the table at her friends' faces. Sam, whose smile had faded just a bit, Teal'c who was nodding gravely, Colonel O'Neill who looked as though he'd been hit by a truck, and even General Hammond, who she realized knew the truth that SG-1 wasn't ready to admit. They'd gotten Daniel back, but just how much of the man they'd once known would ever return to them was still an unknown quality. She knew SG-1's expectations--Daniel would recover from his injuries and resume his place on SG-1 and step through the gate and life would go on as normal. Janet's own expectations were less grandiose--only that Daniel would, with time, be able to live independently again, that he would be able to resume at least some of his duties at the SGC. She prayed she was wrong and they were right. If any group of people could work a miracle, she believed it just might be SG-1 and Daniel Jackson who loved proving the impossible was possible.

* * * *


Daniel crossed his arms over his chest and glared at Janet. Jack had the feeling this stand-off wasn't going to be easily resolved.

"Maybe if we have another psych..." Jack began. He had to try his hand at diplomacy.

"Stay out of it," Daniel said in a low voice without even glancing Jack's way. "No Mackenzie, no psychiatrists, no psychologists." He shivered and Jack saw Fraiser's fingers twitch as if she wanted to pull the blanket Daniel had pushed off the chair up over Daniel's legs again.

"General Hammond is requiring a debriefing, Daniel," Fraiser said in her reasonable doctor voice. It had never worked on Daniel before, Jack didn't know why she thought it would work now. "It will be best if..."

Daniel stood up and grabbed the back of the chair when he shook slightly from the effort. He raised his other hand and pointed a shaking finger at Fraiser. "You don't know what's best for me. Understand that. Or am I prisoner here too and not allowed to make my own decisions?"

The effort the speech took showed on Daniel's face. There was no way Daniel was ready for a debriefing. It's only been five days, Jack wanted to yell at both Fraiser and Daniel. Daniel had only been coherent for most of yesterday and today and even then, Jack had been privy to hearing Daniel begging for release last night during a nightmare. Jack didn't give a damn about Daniel's anger at this point--not when he stood grasping the back of the chair so tightly his knuckles were white and his face was paler than the sheets on the infirmary bed. He ignored both Fraiser's and Daniel's glares and put an arm over Daniel's shoulders.

"Sit down before you fall down," he told Daniel. "You're gonna fall flat on your face and break your nose or something."

Jack could feel the muscles under his arm jumping and twitching--one of the effects of withdrawal from the yakuza at a guess. "C'mon," he urged when Daniel made no movement either way. To his great relief, Daniel sat.

Daniel folded his hands on his lap and bowed his head. "I apologize for my disobedience."

Fraiser opened her mouth and Jack cut her off with a sharp gesture. He knelt before Daniel and placed his hands on Daniel's knees. "You don't want Mackenzie here when you debrief for the General?" He waited what seemed a long time before Daniel shook his head.

"Good. Then no Mac the Quack." He ignored Fraiser's sound of disapproval--the nickname had been enough to turn up the corners of Daniel's mouth. "You are not a prisoner here." He turned to Fraiser and motioned for her to step closer. "Doc here isn't going to do anything without your consent. Isn't that right, Doc?"

Daniel looked up at her with such naked hope, Jack felt his heart clench.

"Colonel O'Neill is correct, Daniel," Fraiser agreed. "And I apologize. I'll explain my reasons for suggesting a psychiatrist be present, but if you don't want one to be there, I won't force the issue."

Daniel looked from Fraiser back to Jack and then nodded slowly. "Thank you," he whispered before bowing his head again.

Jack stayed where he was, ignoring the ache in his knees. Daniel needed him--Daniel needed all of them, and Jack was going to make certain that this time they damn well were with him throughout it all.

* * * *

General Hammond felt sick. He'd been in the Air Force a long time, had seen the results of man's inhumanity to their fellows. He'd been in Vietnam--had held a child dying from wounds inflicted by a land mine in his arms. He'd driven through a town with people running after the Jeep begging for food. He'd always prided himself on being a man who did what he could to make the world a better place and now, by dint of being the leader of the SGC, the universe a better place. He liked to think that in some small way he was making a difference. So why did he want to go through the Gate to Sabak and find a man named Hatan and strangle him with his bare hands for what he'd done to Daniel Jackson? George had never told Daniel what he meant to him. How he considered him a son--more so than the soldiers under his command. And like the parent he considered himself to be, he wanted to hurt the man who had hurt his child--no matter that the child was nearly forty and had gotten himself back to Earth with next to no help from the SGC.

Daniel's account was, like everything Daniel Jackson did for the SGC, thorough and detailed. He spared his listeners little quarter. The sexual assault Doctor Fraiser, Colonel O'Neill, and he had sought to hide had been shared with the rest of SG-1 during the briefing. George had listened to the account of the slave ship--of the time in cages, of the auction, the branding, the months in Hatan's house. He'd listened and kept his face impassive because it was what Daniel needed from him. Not pity, not sympathy, but someone to listen to the story. He recognized, even if the others hadn't noticed, the way Daniel's voice went emotionless, the way his words poured forth not with anger or sorrow or fear but with passionless recitation. It was as if Daniel was reading an account of one man's slavery that he'd translated from some ancient text. Even worse than that, because George couldn't imagine Daniel Jackson without passion--without some sort of emotion. He sat in the briefing room at the empty table and folded his hands together in prayer. Dear Lord, help him. Help us all.

* * * *

He had to keep walking--walking was the only thing that kept the restlessness at bay. Few people gave him a second glance as he made his way through the halls of the SGC. At least he was dressed--he was sure that if he had been wearing a robe from the infirmary someone would see fit to call Janet or someone else and he'd be taken back there. At least he'd been allowed to stay in a VIP room for the past two days. He thought coming home would mean his freedom. He'd been wrong. He felt as much a prisoner here as he'd been during the long months of his captivity. A gilded cage was still a cage after all even if he was surrounded by friends. Friends and...Jack. Damn it all.

Jack was caring, supportive in only the way Jack could be. Daniel should be glad for that. It was Jack who had connected him to reality in the infirmary, Jack who stuck up for him when he'd declared his brief bit of independence. He was glad for that. But what had happened to the relationship he and Jack had shared before Sabak? Daniel was uncertain. Not that he wanted, not that he could resume the relationship as if nothing had happened. Because it had. Daniel put a hand out to touch the wall and stopped to catch his breath. It wasn't Jack--it was him. Jack knew. Hell, they all knew. Damaged goods. He wasn't sure if Jack viewed him that way, but all that mattered was it was the way Daniel now viewed himself. In his fantasies on Sabak, on those long nights spent chained by Hatan's bedside, he had imagined himself coming home and resuming his life with no problem at all. He hadn't expected to feel quite so...disconnected. Some days the past week had seemed like a dream. It was like learning to ride a bicycle again after years of adulthood or being thrown into a new culture where he didn't know the language or customs and had to learn them all from scratch.

Huh. Daniel looked at the door in surprise. It was his office. Well his former office. He wondered if the keycard still worked. He took out the identification card Jack had handed him earlier in the day with a wave of the hand. "Had it in my desk," Jack had said. "Thought you might want it back."

Daniel slid the card and nodded when he heard the click. He opened the door and went in. Nothing much had been disturbed--certainly no one else had made the office their own. He guessed it was sort of reference library. He could see a signout sheet on a table and his bookshelves were missing quite a few volumes.

He walked around the room, touching artifacts he half-remembered studying, pulling a book or two off the shelves. He opened one of the file cabinets and pulled out a folder at random. He sat down at his computer and opened the folder, wondering if there was any translating left to do. He smiled when he saw there was. Good. He'd show them he was up for this. Best to put the past behind him--just like he'd done every other time in his life.

* * * *

Sam knocked on Daniel's office door, her heart pounding. Daniel hadn't gone off-base, hadn't even made it out of the SGC at least according to the records, but he wasn't where he was expected which was the VIP room. Sam hoped she found Daniel before Colonel O'Neill discovered Daniel was missing. Although, to be fair, Daniel wasn't technically missing. He was just...misplaced. Even so, Sam hoped he'd be in his office.

When there was no answer, Sam slid her card through the scanner. She opened the door and went in, smiling when she saw Daniel sitting at his desk.

He made no movement as she went to his side, and Sam thought he might have fallen asleep--it wouldn't be the first time she'd discovered a sleeping Daniel in his office. He had a book open and to her surprise, a look of fear on his face.

"Daniel?" she whispered, still not sure if he was truly awake.

He shivered when she spoke and blinked before turning to face her. He shook his head slightly before bowing it. "Slaves aren't allowed to read. It is forbidden."

"Daniel," Sam swallowed hard. She wasn't good at this--people weren't her forte. She longed to be able to save this by calculating some equation, by crunching numbers, by coming up with a computer program that would fix everything. She reached out, unsure if Daniel would tolerate her touch and covered his hand with hers. "You are not a slave. Reading is permitted. love to read."

His brows scrunched together and Daniel frowned. His fingers twitched under hers and she withdrew her hand. He opened his eyes wide and looked at her as if he was seeing her for the first time. "Sam? You're here?" He pushed the book away and glanced at the computer before back to her. His stomach rumbled loud enough for her to hear. "Sorry. I must have gotten caught up in work."

Sam forced a smile to her lips and tried to keep her voice steady. "Yeah." She took his arm as he stood. "I can hear you're hungry. Let's get Colonel O'Neill and Teal'c and have supper together.

"So," she asked as they left his office, "what were you working on?" She listened as Daniel told her about a lost translation from P4G-789 and the small progress he'd made. For a few moments she could convince herself Daniel was okay.

* * * *

"Am I allowed to go home?" Daniel asked into the quiet of the infirmary.

Jack put a foot down to stop his spin on the stool. "Doc?" He should have thought of requesting Daniel be released himself.

Chicken, he thought. That was his excuse, he was chicken. He wanted things back to normal and had quickly come to realize that was a pipe dream. He and Daniel, hell, all of them were off-balance. It wasn't supposed to be this way--in all the ways he'd hoped for Daniel's return, it hadn't been this confused, unsure of himself Daniel he'd thought would come home. He wondered if this was how Sara had felt when he'd come home from Iraq. And yeah, look at how good that had turned out.

Fraiser undid the blood pressure cuff from Daniel's arm and stepped back. She nodded and then put up her hand when Daniel made to get off the exam table. "I have no medical reason to keep you on base. However, I am concerned about your mental health."

Daniel crossed his arms over his chest and gave a mutinous glare.

"If I didn't mention my concern, I wouldn't be doing my job as your physician. I want you to see a psychiatrist, Daniel." Fraiser crossed her own arms over her chest.

Jack wondered what would happen if he copied the gesture. He kept his hands on his knees and watched. Daniel looked at the floor, at the wall, anywhere but at Fraiser. He licked his lips a few times and then gave a quick short jerk of his chin.

"Not Mackenzie," he said in a voice so quiet Jack barely heard him.

"Not Mackenzie," Fraiser echoed. She tapped one foot on the floor. "I'll arrange your first session for Tuesday."

Daniel shrugged and hopped down from the table. "I guess my car isn't working--I mean, if it sat all the time I"

"I'll take care of getting you home," Jack volunteered. He could feel his hands start to sweat. Was this what Sara had felt on that long plane ride home from Germany with him? Had her stomach twisted not knowing how to deal with the husband she used to know? Had she not known what to say, what to do? Jack looked at Fraiser. "I'm sure you have a whole list of do's and don't's, Doc," he said, hoping she understood. "I have to talk to General Hammond before we..." He made a flying gesture with one hand.

Daniel cocked his head as if he was uncertain of what was happening. The glances he sent between Jack and Fraiser were quick, nervous. And nervous wasn't an expression Jack associated with Daniel, ever.

He smiled in what he hoped would be seen as a reassuring manner. "I'll be back within an hour."

"Why don't you come with me, Daniel?" Fraiser asked, her tone expressing need for Daniel's presence. "I'll be able to explain the diet I want you to follow and we can discuss who you'd feel most comfortable talking to."

"You'll be back?"

Jack nodded. "I'll be back. Probably way before Fraiser gets done talking."

Fraiser smiled sweetly. "Don't you have a physical coming up next week, sir?"

It had been the right thing to say--Daniel gave a small smile at the teasing.

Jack left the infirmary and headed towards Hammond's office. He was sure that he could take a few days off until Daniel started settling back into the life he'd left behind.

* * * *

Daniel faced straight ahead, his hands clasped together and his back rigid.

"You hungry?" Jack asked as he slowed for a red light. Daniel hadn't said a word since they'd left the infirmary. Jack didn't know what he expected--some sort of reaction to being outside again, a smile at familiar landmarks, a request to change the CD from opera to rock. Something, anything.

"I'm fine."

So not true. So very not true, Jack wanted to say. He made his decision as the light turned green and made a left turn. Gilshar's--Daniel's favorite Greek restaurant--was just down two blocks. He gestured at the glove box.

"There's a menu for Gilshar's in there. Take a look and we can stop in and get some platters to go."

Daniel leaned forward and pulled out a bunch of folded up menus. He began to unfold them, smoothing out the creases of each and placing them in a pile on his lap.

"You know what you want?" Jack pulled into the small parking lot.

Daniel stared through the windshield, the menus apparently forgotten on his lap. "Whatever you wish, Mas...I mean, um, no." He began to sort through the menus frantically.

Jack felt his heart break just a little at this new Daniel. "Hey," he said. He pulled the menu from Gilshar's from the top of the stack. "You want to take a look?" he asked again.

Daniel took the menu from him with a hand that barely shook and started to read. Jack waited, glad of the victory no matter how very small.

* * * *

The smell of garlic, mint, and lemon permeated the Avalanche and the white bags were warm where they rested on Daniel's legs. He looked out at the darkened streets as Jack drove.

They made another turn and Daniel felt a growing panic. "Where are we going?" This wasn't the street where Jack should have turned.

"Home," Jack said without even looking Daniel's way.

"I don't live here. You shouldn't have turned back there." Daniel shifted and slid one hand to the door handle.

"We're almost there." Jack swerved as a kid rode past on a bicycle.

"No." Daniel shook his head. "No. This isn't the right way." His mouth was going dry and his heart pounded. "I live on Kensington."

Jack stopped at the stop sign and looked over at Daniel. Daniel wasn't sure how to interpret that expression. Sorrow? Pity? Whatever it was, he didn't like it.

"We're going to my house, Danny," Jack finally answered. He made no effort to drive away from the stop sign.

"I want to go to my house." Daniel was well aware he'd taken on the tone of a petulant child.

"Yeah, well, about that." Jack tapped his fingers on the steering wheel and ignored the person who beeped a horn behind them. "You were MIA."

"My house?" Daniel swallowed hard. Of course the house would have been sold. Keeping a house for someone who might never come home would have been ridiculous. He turned to face out the window, unable to look at Jack.

"I'm sorry," Jack said. He was silent for a long moment. "You, uh, you remember what we...oh shit. This isn't..."

"I remember," Daniel replied, his throat tight. He remembered and he knew that what Jack would want there was no way he'd be able to give. There was no way Jack would want it anyway. "I don't want to be a bother."

"You're never a..." Jack coughed. "We'd better get home," he said and pulled away from the stop sign. "The food'll be cold."

Daniel kept his eyes downcast. Maybe it would have been better if he'd never made it home after all.

* * * *

He didn't know what he expected when he followed Jack into the house. An overwhelming sense of relief? A sense of rightness--of home, of belonging? He felt he should feel something...good. He had no reason to feel a sense of apprehension, no reason to feel as though he wanted to run back out the door and keep running until he collapsed from exhaustion. Jack's house, no, Daniel corrected, his home, was nothing like Beruga Estate. So then why did he feel like he was trapped here as much as he'd been on Sabak?

Daniel stood off to the side in Jack's kitchen while Jack busied himself with pulling plates from a cabinet. He had to do *something*. It didn't feel right for Jack to be taking care of him.

"I can..." Daniel stopped talking when Jack shook his head.

"Sit down, relax," Jack told him.

Daniel sat--on the edge of a nearby chair. He held his body rigid, not allowing himself to touch the back of the chair. He didn't know when Jack would need him. No, no, he reminded himself. He was home. He was no one's slave. It hadn't been an order to sit, it had been his choice. He watched as Jack pulled out the salads and the gyros and a small box with baklava. His mouth began to water as the aroma filled the room.

"Here," Jack pushed a foil bowl towards him. "Help yourself."

Daniel undid the cardboard top and dished some of the salad on to Jack's plate. Jack looked up at him in surprise, his mouth open as if he was going to speak, but he closed it again. Daniel unwrapped a gyro and placed it on Jack's plate also.

"Thank you," Jack said. He frowned then which set Daniel's heart pounding.

"Did I do something wrong?" Daniel asked.

"You didn't need to." Jack gestured at his plate. "There's plenty of food. Fill your plate."

"Yeah, yeah, sorry." Daniel filled his own plate while he inwardly cursed at displeasing Jack. He looked at Jack when he was done and waited.

"Eat." Jack pointed to Daniel's plate with a forkful of salad.

Daniel bowed his head in submission and picked up his fork. He looked at Jack, waiting until Jack finally took his first bite. Satisfied that he hadn't broken any rules, Daniel began to eat his own meal.

He managed a few bites of the gyro before he felt his stomach rebelling.

"You okay?" Jack dropped his fork onto the table.

Daniel shook his head. He needed to leave the table before he got sick but he belonged here with Jack. Bile rose in his throat and he bolted to the trash can and fell to his knees. He rocked back on his heels when the vomiting ended.

He felt Jack's hand on his hair, stroking it back much as Sansha and Yasur used to do. A cool washcloth was put in his hand and Daniel buried his face in it.

"No fever," Jack announced after he placed his hand on Daniel's forehead.

Daniel shook his head. He got to his feet, a little shaky but the nausea was gone at least. "Maybe the food," he finally said.

"It's been a busy day." Jack tied the garbage bag and opened the door. "I think maybe bed would be a good idea," he said right before he stepped out into the night.

Daniel wrapped his arms around his middle. It always came down to that. This is Jack, he repeated silently. Jack won't hurt me. Jack never hurt me before. But somehow he couldn't make himself believe the words.

* * * *

Daniel brushed his teeth and looked at himself in the mirror. He didn't know the man looking back at him. His skin was paler than he could ever remember it being, and the weight he'd lost during his time on Sabak was apparent in his features. He reached out and touched his reflection, traced his fingers over the eye-patch the man in the mirror wore. Doctor Molinari, and the neurologist whose name he couldn't remember, had assured him his vision would return. It already showed signs of improvement although the extreme sensitivity to light made the patch necessary. A smudge of yellow and green showed across one cheek--also the legacy of Hatan's last beating. Daniel let his hand drop and rinsed and spat into the sink.

He undressed as quickly as he could move and grabbed the sweats Jack had tossed in the door earlier. He tried not to look at his body--not wanting to see the scars left by beatings. He stopped before pulling the shirt over his head and glanced in the mirror again. Hatan's brand stood out in the harsh light---blackened skin against pale. It no longer hurt, although Daniel never forgot it was there He could feel the rough texture catch every time he put on a shirt or stretched his arm above his head. He put on the t-shirt and tugged at the collar, hoping it covered all of the brand.

Stepping back, Daniel gathered up his discarded clothes and then had to put a hand on the wall to catch himself when he grew dizzy. Tired. God, he was so tired. But he was home. That was all that mattered. He let the clothes drop and left the bathroom wanting nothing more at the moment to sleep and forget.

* * * *

Jack came back from making up the bed in the guest room to find Daniel sprawled across the bed, his head on the left pillow, the same side he'd always used before. He moved to the bed quietly and crouched down a bit to see if Daniel was truly asleep. Sure enough the man was out like a light. And wasn't that a fine dilemma? He wanted to hop in the bed, pull Daniel close, and never let go. And circumstances dictated he shouldn't. Jack pulled the comforter up from the bottom of the bed and spread it over Daniel who promptly grabbed hold of the edge of the blanket and pulled it closer.

"Still the blanket hog, I see," Jack whispered with a shake of his head and a rueful smile. He risked patting Daniel's shoulder and froze when Daniel murmured something he couldn't understand before settling into a deeper sleep.

Jack felt a lump rise in his throat as he stood watching Daniel sleep. God, he was real. He was real and alive and home. Jack forced himself away from the sight and went to the bathroom.

Daniel evidently hadn't lost any of his usual habits. His clothes were in a heap in the middle of the floor. Jack picked them up and held them tight. He lowered his head and sniffed them. God. God. And the burning in his eyes was not tears. Not at all. He stood there a moment and then took the few steps to dump the clothes in the hamper.

He took his time brushing his teeth and taking care of everything else. By the time, he walked back into the bedroom, Daniel was curled up on the left side, small as if he was cold.

Jack hesitated only a moment and then slid in behind him. He tugged on the comforter.


It must have registered in some part of Daniel's brain because the tight grip relaxed just enough for Jack to gain a few millimeters more of cotton and down.

"Jack," Daniel murmured and rolled over and into Jack's space. He snuggled against Jack as if he was cold and Jack didn't hesitate any longer. He wrapped his arms around Daniel and rested his cheek on Daniel's hair. God.

* * * *

A heavy weight rested across Daniel's chest--a weight that didn't alarm him even though in the dark room, he couldn't see what it was. A snore sounded in his ear and he knew he'd fallen asleep in Jack's bed. It had once been their bed. He didn't know if it still was. He was damaged in ways Jack didn't know. Maybe he should get out of the bed and go to the guest room. What if Jack wanted to have a reunion of the kind they used to after rough missions? What if Jack wanted more than Daniel could give him? Daniel tensed as Jack moved his arm.

"Danny?" Jack asked. "You awake?"

Daniel didn't move, didn't say a word. Maybe Jack would think he was still asleep. Jack shifted, the mattress dipped, and then Jack pushed himself up. Daniel shivered as cool air crept in under the comforter. "Yeah," he finally answered.

"Go back to sleep." The mattress made a creaking noise as Jack lay back down.

Daniel gave a little laugh that held no amusement. "I thought you wanted me to be awake."

Jack touched his shoulder in the darkness, unerring aim. "I want you to feel safe."

Daniel couldn't speak. He swallowed once, twice, three times before he found his voice. "I do."

"Good." Jack squeezed his shoulder. "You okay with this? With me touching you?"

"Yeah." Much to his surprise the gentle touch in the dark was tolerable.

"Go back to sleep," Jack whispered. He didn't remove his hand from Daniel's shoulder, rubbed a small circle with his fingers.

Daniel closed his eyes and relaxed fraction by fraction. Safe, home, Jack. The words became a quiet mantra.

* * * *

What was she going to do with Daniel? Janet wondered as she looked over the latest reports. She dreaded her weekly meeting with General Hammond to report on his progress. Oh, on paper, everything looked nearly fine. His vision was back to normal--back to normal for Daniel, that was. Bruises and the sprained wrist had healed and the headaches from his concussion were not nearly as frequent as they had been. He was even working a full day. He still hadn't gained back the weight he'd lost, which set alarms bells ringing in her head although she'd yet to find a physical cause, and his blood pressure was borderline hypertensive, unusual for Daniel. But still, on paper, Daniel looked to be making a miraculous recovery from his ordeal.

And the worst part? Janet knew it was a lie, a falsehood, a silk thin line of tension Daniel walked. And when Daniel fell back to Earth, Janet didn't know who or how they were going to put the pieces back together. She steepled her hands together and stared at the papers in front of her as if she could find some answer there. The crash was inevitable but she still hadn't found the crystal ball that would let her predict when.

Loud knocks on her office door caught her attention. She didn't have a chance to speak before Daniel stormed in. He slammed a hand on the wall and then pulled his arms tight across his chest. He glared at her.

"Laucklin is a joke. I can not work with him. He wanted to..." Daniel uncurled his arms and jabbed at the air with a finger. "I am not going to see him anymore. You'd think the SGC would have one competent psychiatrist."

"Daniel." Janet began but knew Daniel didn't hear her as he started pacing the small space in her office.

"He wanted to put me on anti-depressants, anti-anxiety drugs. I told him I was doing just fine. I'm working aren't I? I'm pulling my weight around here." He looked at Janet, his eyes wild and his skin reddened with his heightened emotion.

"Daniel." Janet rose and stepped in front of her desk. "Sit down."

He ignored her and continued his pacing, talking to himself in a langauge Janet didn't understand.

"Sit down." She touched his arm on the third pass. He paused and she saw the confusion flit across his face. But he listened. Thank heavens, he listened.

"Now." Janet placed the blood pressure cuff around his bicep and began to pump. "Calm down and then we can discuss what is wrong with Doctor Laucklin."

"He's an idiot," Daniel said. Janet directed a glare at him and pursed her lips--it was enough to quiet him down while she took his blood pressure. She removed her stethoscope and let the cuff deflate before she looked at Daniel.

"High. Your blood pressure is far above the acceptable range." She leaned against a corner of her desk.

"And this is surprising why?" Daniel asked. He stood up and gestured toward her closed door. "If it wasn't for Laucklin, my blood pressure wouldn't be high."

"You've been borderline since your return, Daniel." Janet deliberately kept her voice calm, quiet, although at the moment she wanted to shake some sense into him as her nana would have said. "You're now in the hypertensive range and although I suspect if I took your pressure after you calm down it would be a bit lower, I'm still not happy with the numbers."

"What more you do want from me? I'm going to counseling--that's supposed to help. You want to know something? It's not doing a damn bit of good. Not one damn bit."

"Maybe you haven't..."

"What? Maybe I haven't what? Spilled my guts to someone who's never been through the Gate?" Daniel turned away from her, his back stiff and fairly vibrating with tension.

"There's one other psychiatrist available," Janet replied. Daniel's shoulders sagged just a bit. "Doctor Mackenzie."

Daniel's breath came out in a whoosh. "Yeah."

"Are you willing..." Janet began but Daniel interrupted her.

"I don't really have a choice do I?" He pivoted on his heel and she was struck by the look of defeat on his face. "I've just traded one prison for another."

It would be nice, Janet thought, that if on all their travels through the Stargate, someone would find a magic wand. She was a physician--she believed she might have been hard-wired to heal, and now when she needed that ability the most, there was nothing she could do. She stepped back, to give him space when he pulled his arms tight around his middle once again.

"Do you want me to make an appointment for you?" She pointed to her phone.

Daniel took in a shuddering breath and then gave a sharp nod.

Janet prayed for her voice to be steady as the dial tone sounded. If she showed her doubts, Daniel would be lost to them forever she feared.

* * * *

Daniel kept his head down as he walked through the halls of the Academy Hospital. He wondered why Mackenzie had his office here instead of at Mental Health and then realized that if it had been at Mental Health there would have been no way he ever would have walked in the door. He'd give the man one chance. That was it. Janet insisted he see a psychiatrist, well, he'd see him but if he was half as stupid as the others had been, he'd insist on no more appointments. Yeah, that's what he'd do. He'd show Janet he was capable of handling this on his own.

He patted his pocket, glad to feel the familiar weight of his wallet and his keys. Not that he'd be driving home he thought bitterly. Not after he'd agreed to Janet's suggestion of a low dose of an anti-anxiety med to calm him down enough to actually make it to the hospital. The airman assigned to drive him had thankfully been silent for the trip except to announce they'd arrived at their destination. He'd told the young woman to drive back to the mountain, shaking off her doubt, and walked into the hospital alone.

He'd been in this hospital more times than he cared to count--for friends and colleagues injured in their battles against the Goa'uld, for himself when he'd needed some PT after certain injuries, but he'd never been here to visit Mackenzie. No, his interactions with the doctor had been confined to the SGC or Mental Health. He suppressed a shiver as he walked down the hall towards Mackenzie's office, directions courtesy of Janet.

Mackenzie's door didn't stand out from any others along the way and Daniel backtracked when he realized he'd reached a T in the hall. He took a deep breath and knocked on the door, noting the I. Mackenzie. He briefly wondered what the 'I' was for. He didn't remember ever hearing Mackenzie's first name. Isaac? Isaiah? Somehow neither possibility fit. He raised his hand to knock again and nearly punched Mackenzie in the nose when the door opened.

"Doctor Jackson," Mackenzie said and stepped back with a gesture inviting Daniel inside. He closed the door behind them. Daniel stood in the middle of the office--a small office with a sofa, two comfortable looking chairs and a desk that contained a phone, a folder precisely aligned with the edge of the desk, and a pen on top of it. Bookshelves lined one wall and pictures of Mackenzie and his family were placed in among the books. Mackenzie's office had a window and Daniel crossed over to see the view.

"One of the reasons I keep my office here," Mackenzie offered from the vicinity of his desk.

Daniel could see why. The office had a beautiful view of Pikes Peak and closer to view was a small garden with a few bird-feeders hanging from holders.

"Nice view," Daniel commented and wondered why he shivered when the temperature in the room was comfortable.

"Doctor Fraiser faxed recent additions to your file to me," Mackenzie said, pointing to the folder. "You took medication before coming here?"

Daniel tensed. "Doctor Fraiser thought it might help to make the, uh, trip here easier."

Mackenzie nodded. "And how did you feel about that?"

"It's not as though I truly had a choice." Daniel stepped away from the window. If he was going to convince Mackenzie of his lack of need for psychiatric help, he probably should start playing the game the right way.

"Doctor Jackson." Mackenzie began and then stopped as if he was reformulating his words. Daniel waited, wondering what on earth Mackenzie could say that could possibly make this palatable.

Mackenzie got up and moved to one of the chairs. "Doctor Jackson, I realize that our interactions have not been on the best of terms. I made a mistake in judgment years ago, didn't think outside the box when I knew the SGC spends it time dealing with a great many unknowns."

Daniel cut him off with a sharp gesture. "You believed me when it mattered. You listened when I told you to call Jack." He sat down on the other chair, his legs feeling shaky.

Mackenzie nodded. "Thank you." He tapped the folder on his lap. "So, this..."

"You've read it." Daniel wiped his hands against his pants, his palms sweaty.

"I have. I understand your reluctance to use medication in this instance."

Daniel didn't respond. He studied his interlaced fingers instead.

"I'd like more time to come my own conclusions about its necessity," Mackenzie continued, "although I do agree with Doctor Fraiser that blood pressure medication is wise at this point."

"I don't want to be here," Daniel blurted out. He hunched his shoulders--it had been the wrong thing to say. Mackenzie was in charge--he could lock Daniel up, he could tell Hammond and Janet that Daniel wasn't fit to be at work. Daniel's heart started to pound and his mouth grew dry. He didn't expect Mackenzie's next words.

"I can't make you stay."

Daniel looked up at Mackenzie, sure it was some sort of trick.

"The door's unlocked," Mackenzie pointed out.

He couldn't stay seated. He had to check. Daniel walked to the door, turned the door knob slowly and took a deep breath when the door swung open. He looked into the hall and then back at Mackenzie who sat watching with a bland expression.

Daniel took a step into the hall and then hesitated. No, he didn't want to be with Mackenzie but he thought it might be where he needed to be. He stepped back into the office and pulled the door shut behind him.

"I don't know what to say." Daniel turned his hands out in a placating gesture.

"We don't need to talk if you don't want," Mackenzie told him, "but it would be helpful for me if you would be willing to answer a few questions about any symptoms of post traumatic stress you are experiencing." He smiled almost apologetically. "Doctor Fraiser's report is most informative, but I prefer hearing information directly from my clients."

Daniel rubbed his hands on his sleeves and avoided meeting Mackenzie's eyes. "Um, okay." He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He could handle a few questions he was sure.

By the time, Mackenzie finished most of his questions, Daniel's shirt was soaked through with sweat, which was ridiculous he told himself. It wasn't as though questions about his appetite, his sleeping habits, his ability to concentrate and complete tasks should be that frightening. Sometime during the exchange of information, Daniel had gotten up and walked to the windows. He didn't remember doing it. He couldn't remember how he'd wound up over by the windows watching the birds flitting to and from the bird feeders. The sky was darkening and Daniel couldn't remember if that was the way it should be or not.

"Huh?" He turned as Mackenzie's voice registered with him. From the doctor's expression, it was apparent a question had been asked.

"Your sex life, Doctor Jackson. I asked if your sexual drive has been affected."

" that important?" Daniel didn't know what to say. Was Mackenzie prying to get Jack in trouble?

"Everything we discuss is confidential, Doctor Jackson. My oath and duty is to you. I will not break that confidentiality unless you plan to harm yourself or someone else or you give me permission to do so." Mackenzie got up from the chair and placed the folder and the legal pad he'd been using on the desk. "As for my question, sexuality is an important part of a person's well-being. And considering you have been a victim of sexual assault, yes, it's important for me to have an indication of your current views on the subject."

Daniel shook his head. "I, uh, there's nothing." He pushed his glasses up and pinched the bridge of his nose. "I mean, there's no...not anything. I don't feel..." He let his breath out in a gusty sigh, unable to find the correct words. "Jack and I..."

"Jack is your current partner?" Mackenzie asked, no hint of condemnation.

"We...I don't know how long it'll last. Not with everything and me...the way I am." Daniel swallowed hard. He found his way to a chair and sat down, his legs no longer able to hold him.

"The way you are?"

"Damaged." Daniel didn't even bother to look at the doctor. He leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. God he was tired.

"No one could come through what you have without being changed, Doctor Jackson. To expect that you would simply step back through the Stargate and resume your old life with no difficulty would be foolish--not on your part but on ours." Mackenzie stepped in front of him and then knelt down. "I think for the time being, you should be coming to me every other day at the least. It's going to be hard work, and a challenge."

"I want my life back," Daniel whispered. He did. He wanted it so badly he could taste it.

"Then I'd say you're on the way to healing," Mackenzie said. "It took courage to come here today, but it took more courage for you to close that door behind you earlier."

Daniel nodded even though he didn't believe it.

Mackenzie gave him a small smile. "I have an appointment available at fourteen hundred day after tomorrow. Will that be suitable?" He got up and retrieved something from his desk before returning to Daniel. He held out a small card. "This has my cell phone and office numbers on it. You are free to call any time day or night." He pointed to the cell phone number. "I always have my cell with me. Don't hesitate to call and if you feel that you want to harm yourself, I'd like you to promise that you will call me before you take any action."

"I promise." Daniel took the card with shaking fingers. "I won't. I mean, I promise."

"Thank you." Mackenzie offered his hand and Daniel shook it.

Daniel stood. The door looked a million miles away. He patted his pants pocket and then realized he didn't have his car. "You mind if I make a call?" he asked. "I was driven here--I need to get a ride home."

Mackenzie shook his head and continued to scribble on a small pad. "Go ahead." He held up one finger and handed Daniel a piece of paper. "This is a prescription for the blood pressure meds. We can discuss other possibilities over the next few appointments."

Daniel nodded and stuffed the paper in a pocket. He hit the speed dial on his phone, hoping that Jack answered quickly. All he wanted for the moment was to get home and sleep.

* * * *

There he was. Jack spied Daniel standing on the walkway talking to Mackenzie as he pulled into the parking lot. Mackenzie. He still found it hard to believe that Daniel had actually agreed to see the man. It wasn't somewhere Jack would have gone. He parked the Avalanche and turned off the ignition. He briefly thought of honking the horn but with the way Daniel spooked these days, he dismissed it just as quickly.

Play it cool. That was all he had to do--play it cool. He adjusted his sunglasses and walked towards the two men.

"Daniel. Doctor Mackenzie."

"Good evening, Colonel." Mackenzie nodded in acknowledgment. He made a show of looking at his watch and then at Daniel. "Good evening, Daniel." He gave a brief smile and a quick wave as he headed out towards the parking lot.

Daniel didn't say anything, but continued to stand there with his hands in his pockets.

"So." Jack tossed his keys in the air a few times and waited for some response.

"Yeah." Daniel shrugged and then shivered as the breeze picked up. "Sorry I had to call you but Janet sent me out here with an airman. She, uh, well, sorry."

"No need." Jack reached out to place a hand at Daniel's nape and withdrew the gesture when Daniel shied away. He held up his hand--empty and open, the same gesture they'd used a hundred times off-world. Friend, not enemy. "We'd better get going," he said when Daniel shivered again. His fingers itched to touch his friend, his partner, but he didn't. He jerked his chin in the direction of the Avalanche and then began to walk hoping Daniel would follow.

Daniel not only followed, but for once he walked beside Jack. He didn't speak until they were buckled in and on the road again.

"I have an appointment on Thursday," Daniel said over Maria Callas singing O mio babbino caro, "with Mackenzie."

Jack kept his eyes on the road but allowed himself a sideways glance at Daniel's hands--hands which were clenched so tightly Jack thought he might not be able to pry them apart. "Yeah?"

"He thinks I should come every other day." Daniel began to bounce his leg. "At least for now."

"Laucklin didn't work out?"

A derisive snort was the response to that question. Daniel pulled a bottle out of his shirt pocket and shook it. "Blood pressure. Janet says it's too high and Mackenzie agreed."

"Any other pills?"

"Not for now."

Jack wondered if Daniel had shared the fact that he threw up most of what he ate, if he told Mackenzie he spent most nights waking up from repeated nightmares, if he shared that he couldn't go in any crowds because someone might come up behind him and startle him. And then he realized with blinding certainty that he couldn't make Daniel share that information. That Daniel's recovery was, despite all the support Jack could give, ultimately in Daniel's hands.

"He asked about my sex life."

What sex life, Jack wanted to say. He hated himself for even thinking it. It was too soon. Hell, he had come to the realization a few weeks ago that he and Daniel might never have sex again. That maybe too much had happened, that maybe Daniel wouldn't ever recover his desire to share himself that way. And even though Jack hoped it wouldn't be true, he also knew that if it was, it wouldn't matter. He loved Daniel and he was sure Daniel loved him. In sickness and in health, for better for worse--they'd never said the words in front of a minister, or even a civil official, but Jack lived them every day and would continue until the day he died.

"I'm sorry," Daniel said, with such sorrow Jack wanted to find Hatan and take him apart piece by piece.

"No. No need to be sorry."

"I can't give you what you want. Maybe I should move out, find another apartment."

"What I want is for you to be happy, to be able to live with what's happened." Jack was relieved to see the driveway. He pulled in and slammed into park. He undid his seatbelt and turned sideways in the seat. Daniel sat, pale and sweating.

"Look at me," Jack requested softly, not putting any command into his tone.

Daniel obeyed, light from the dashboard reflecting off his glasses and hiding the expression in his eyes.

"I won't make you stay if you don't want." Jack raised his hand. "Uht. I won't make you stay," he continued, "but I don't want you to go. What we had, no, what we *have* is more than just fucking. And besides that's why God gave us right hands."

"I might never..."

"We'll worry about never when it comes." Jack assured him. "I love you, y'know.'

"Yeah," Daniel said. He opened the door and got out.

It was an awkward start, but a start nonetheless. A baby step up a mountain higher than Everest.

* * * *

Jack rolled over in bed and realized the other side of the bed was cold. Daniel's insomnia was getting out of hand. He didn't know how the man continued to keep going--and despite Daniel's efforts to hide it, it was affecting his work. Translations that used to take Daniel hours were taking him days and he always looked tired. Hell, looked tired, Daniel *was* tired. He sat up and turned on the light. Nope, Daniel wasn't even in the bedroom. Jack knew he and Daniel needed to talk. Talk as in--Daniel, Fraiser, Hammond and I think you need to take a break. Think you need to take a leave of absence. Yeah, Jack could already see how that was going to go. A talk, but not tonight. Not after Daniel had spent however many hours with Mackenzie earlier. Nope, no talking. But maybe some hot chocolate--some pie.

Jack got out of bed and pulled on his bathrobe. He heard the noise when he went in the hall--and knew immediately who it was. He padded down the hall noiselessly, straight to the guest bedroom.

He knocked on the half-open door. "Daniel?" When there was no answer, no interruption in the ceaseless muttering, he tried again. "Danny?" He nudged the door open with his foot, angling his body so that if Daniel was in any mood to attack, he'd be protected. He hit the light switch as he entered, not even sure where Daniel would be.

"Shit." Jack crossed to Daniel who sat huddled in the corner of the room, one arm up in the air while his head nearly touched his knees. Jack crouched down in front of him, out of Daniel's reach but close enough for Daniel to hear him.

"Twenty-three asks forgiveness. Twenty-three is sorry." Daniel's words were soft but crystal clear. "Twenty-three will not disobey again."

"Danny," Jack said, louder this time. "It's Jack. C'mon buddy. Come back to me."

Daniel rocked back and forth slowly. "Don't, Master. Please." He pushed himself further into the corner. "Please. I will. I will. Please. Twenty three will obey."

Crap. Crap and double crap. Jack stretched out his arm and touched Daniel's sock-clad foot. "Daniel, listen to me. You're back home. It's me, Jack."

"My name is Daniel Jackson. My name is Daniel."

"Yeah, that's right. Your name is Daniel and I'm Jack. Remember?" Jack moved a little closer when it appeared Daniel wasn't going to strike out. Jack slid his hand up to Daniel's knee.

Daniel ceased his rocking and lifted his head. "Jack?"

"Right here."

Daniel blinked and then shook his head. Jack hated the confusion that showed in his friend's eyes.

"Where? I was asleep." Daniel said in a lost voice.

"Just a little flashback." Jack settled on the floor next to Daniel. "You back with me?"

"Huh." Daniel rubbed his face and then looked around the room.

"Guest bedroom, buddy." Jack kept one hand in contact with Daniel while he fought to regain control.

Leaning forward, Daniel rested his head on his knees. His back heaved under Jack's hand and Jack frowned at the dampness of the t-shirt.

"How about you get a shower?" he suggested. "You'll catch a chill."

Daniel turned his head to stare at Jack. "I'm tired."

"I know you are." Jack got to his feet and held out a hand. "So, shower?"

He felt relief when Daniel nodded although the relief was short-lived as they walked, or rather Jack walked, Daniel allowed himself to be guided, back to the bedroom.

"Shower?" Daniel asked and headed off in the wrong direction before Jack caught him by the shoulders.

"Not in the closet please," Jack told him and guided him in the direction of the bathroom.

Daniel stood in the stark light, his hands by his side, and not moving. Okay, so still not firing on all cylinders, Jack thought. He began to run the water and waited for Daniel to start to strip.

"Danny," he finally said when nothing happened for a few minutes. "This is gonna require you taking off your clothes."

"Huh," Daniel said again.

"How about if I help?" Jack asked, not sure if this was going to work.

Daniel nodded and allowed Jack to divest him of his t-shirt. He wobbled when Jack helped him take off his sweat pants.

"You gonna manage in the shower?"

Jack's only response was a wobbly lurch in the direction of the running water. "Guess not." Jack answered for Daniel and quickly stripped out of his own t-shirt. He figured the sweat pants had to stay out of necessity. A flashback in the shower would be so not a good thing--and Jack didn't relish trying to explain a concussion to Fraiser.

"C'mon," he urged and let out a sigh of relief when Daniel stepped into the shower. Jack closed the curtain behind them and adjusted the water to be just a bit warmer.

He squirted some shampoo in his hand and nudged Daniel to turn. "Close your eyes," he warned and then began to rub the shampoo into Daniel's wet hair.

They'd done this for each other before--after rough missions when one or the both of them was bow-tight with tension. Those times the showers had turned into something more. Something Jack knew could not happen, must not happen until Daniel was the one to take the initiative. He caught water in his cupped hand and rinsed Daniel's hair.

Jack grabbed the shower-gel Daniel insisted on using despite Jack's comments that it was girly-stuff. He was never going to let anyone know that he kept that bottle in the shower the whole time Daniel was gone, opening it now and again for a whiff when the loneliness got to be too much and the nights were too long.

He slid his now soap-slick hands across Daniel's shoulders, gentle when he came to the brand. Daniel made no indication of feeling it. Jack wondered if the nerves had been damaged. He swept them down the length of Daniel's spine, across scars that hadn't been there the last time they'd showered together all those months ago. The backs of Daniel's thighs bore new scars also, the skin rough under Jack's fingers. Hatan had done this, Hatan and the guards in the slave-ship--the guards from the time Daniel couldn't remember. Jack hated them--hated that Daniel, Daniel, the man of peace, the man of justice and conscience and wonder, had been the one taken, the one to suffer. Daniel turned when Jack pressed lightly against his flank. There were scars on the front too--although not as many. Most of the scars were on Daniel's legs, twisted lines where skin had not healed properly. His ankles still bore the marks of the hobbles Hatan had used and as Jack moved up Daniel's body, it was more than apparent that he still hadn't gained back lost weight. In the shower, ribs stood out in stark relief and the bones of his pelvis appeared to be covered by only the very finest layer of skin. Jack didn't know if Fraiser even realized how bad it was.

Jack hesitated when he came to Daniel's cock. "Daniel?" Jack grabbed a wash-cloth and placed it in Daniel's hand and then pointed but Daniel only stared at him, his forehead furrowed with confusion.

Jack braced his feet and began to wash Daniel's cock, a quick swipe or two with the cloth. It didn't surprise him when there was absolutely no response to the touch. It didn't surprise him but he felt as though it was time to mourn.

Jack was aware of Daniel's intense scrutiny as he washed Daniel's arms, his hands, and then used the shower to rinse off every bit of remaining soap.

"Good." Jack announced and stepped out of the shower. He grabbed a towel and wrapped Daniel in it before he pulled off his soaked sweats and wrapped a towel around his waist.

He backed Daniel up, made him sit on the closed toilet seat and rubbed Daniel's hair as dry as he could. He grunted as he got down on his knees to start drying off Daniel's feet and legs.


Jack looked up to see Daniel watching him quizzically. "Yeah?"

"Um..shower? Did I sleepwalk?"

Jack rocked back on his heels. "You had a flashback." He waited a few seconds but when Daniel didn't say anything more he continued. "I found you in the guest bedroom. You were a little sweaty."

"I don't remember." Daniel's eyes were wide. He took the towel Jack handed him and began to dry himself. "That's bad isn't it?"

"It's what happens." Jack kept his tone matter of fact. "When I got back from Iraq, I had them too."

"I can't remember. I mean, I can't remember anything about it." Daniel looked scared--Jack hadn't ever seen that expression of terror on Daniel's face before. "Am I going crazy?"

Jack placed his hands on Daniel's knees. "No. You aren't going crazy. You're going through hell and coming out of it alive. You're allowed to have flashbacks. It's part of the process."

"You have a degree in psychiatry?" Daniel said with a bravado Jack was certain he didn't feel.

"I went through it myself. And I'm here and sane." Jack pointed to himself and grinned.

"General Hammond and some others might disagree about the sane part." Daniel gave a small smile which was exactly what Jack had hoped for.

"I do my best. Keep them off-guard." Jack put an arm around Daniel's shoulders as he stood.

"I'm so tired." Daniel leaned into Jack's embrace.

"I know. I know." Jack led him back to the bed. "We're gonna get through this," he promised when Daniel was finally lying down again. "We're gonna get through." And when Daniel put his head on Jack's chest and an arm across Jack's stomach, he was content. For now, maybe for always, it would be enough.

* * * *

"General Hammond," Daniel acknowledged as he entered the man's office. He narrowed his eyes as he noticed Jack and Janet sitting in the other chairs. This wasn't good. His gut twisted and he wished he hadn't eaten that half of a turkey sandwich an hour ago.

"Please sit down, Doctor Jackson." Hammond gestured at an empty chair.

"Uh, I think I'd rather stand." The thought of sitting made him feel trapped. He glanced at the door and calculated how many steps it would take him to get there. He didn't miss the way Janet, Jack, and the general exchanged glances.

"As you wish," General Hammond replied. He sounded kind, like the grandfather he was. He shuffled some papers on his desk. "Doctor Fraiser, Colonel O'Neill, and I have been discussing your fitness for duty."

"Fitness for duty," Daniel repeated. He'd been doing his job--he came to work every day, something Janet hadn't even thought him capable of doing. "What's wrong with my work?" He heard his voice rise and winced. Good way to convince everyone he was perfectly capable of doing his job. "You think I'm unfit for duty." It wasn't a question.

"Daniel." Janet tapped a folder with one finger. "I'm concerned about your health, your mental state. Quite frankly, you're on the edge and I'm not seeing the progress I'd like."

"Progress. I'm eating. I'm going to Mackenzie. I'm doing everything you've asked and more." Daniel found himself looking not at Janet but at Jack. "You agree with them," he whispered with sudden realization when Jack looked back, all military and hard.

"Yes, I do. You need time off. Time to get yourself back together," Jack said. That hurt most of all.

Daniel felt the anger build but he didn't let the others know. Instead, he gave a short quick nod and walked out the door without looking back. The hell with them, the hell with all of them. He kept his head down as he walked through the halls, not acknowledging anyone else's presence.

He found himself at Sam's lab with no memory of how he got there. Sam looked up in surprise at his entrance.

"Daniel? What's wrong?" She put down whatever gadget she was working on and came to his side to steer him to a stool.

"Do I belong here?" Daniel demanded when she perched on the stool across from him.

She frowned. "What do you mean? Of course you belong at the SGC."

He shook his head. "No. Now. Do I belong here now? Janet, Jack, and Hammond said I need a break. Time off. Time to get myself back together." He didn't add that if he didn't know if he could ever get himself back together. That his deepest fear was he was already too broken to ever be whole again.

"Oh." Sam picked up a nearby screwdriver and twisted it in her fingers. "Daniel." Her voice turned soft and he hated her for it.

"Never mind. I already know your answer." He ignored her calling his name as he stormed out of her lab.

Teal'c. Teal'c's quarters. It was the only sanctuary Daniel could think of in a place that had suddenly, horribly become a place where he was an outcast.

"DanielJackson." Teal'c bowed when he answered Daniel's knock. "You appear distressed."

Daniel felt too angry to be able to speak coherently. He nodded and then entered Teal'c's quarters when his friend stepped to the side.

"Please, sit." Teal'c waved a hand towards the cushions on the floor. "I was preparing for kel-no-reem. Perhaps you would like to join me?"

"I don' I'll disturb the mood or something." Daniel backed up towards the door.

"That is foolishness. Your mind is troubled."

"They want to get rid of me," Daniel blurted out. "They don't think I'm capable of doing my job anymore."

"Are you?" Teal'c asked and began to light candles.

"Of course I am. I'm doing it, aren't I?" Daniel began to pace. "I come here every day. Do exactly what I'm supposed to. I don't know why no-one will believe me when I say I'm fine and I'm dealing with what happened to me."

"Do you believe your own words, DanielJackson?" Teal'c asked. He settled on the floor and closed his eyes. "You may stay or go. The choice is yours."

Daniel leaned against the wall as Teal'c quieted. He wasn't going to be rude enough to disturb his friend's meditation. He found himself breathing in time with Teal'c. He felt a need to sit down, to stop his movement. He slid down to rest against the wall. He would close his eyes for just a few minutes, just until Teal'c was finished. He was so god-damned tired. It never seemed to leave him. Close his eyes, rest. Yes, rest was good.

* * * *

Jack shoveled in another mouthful of oatmeal and turned to the latest hockey scores in the morning paper, using the rustling paper to sneak a look at Daniel.

Daniel--who sat with lowered head, stirring his oatmeal with little enthusiasm and ignoring the cold coffee by his right hand. As had been the case the past few days, Daniel remained in his sweats despite the hour.

"You have an appointment with Mackenzie today?" Jack asked when he could bear the silence no longer.

Daniel looked up; the dark circles under his eyes making it appear as if he had bruises. "Yeah. Um, yeah." He pushed the bowl away as if it disgusted him and got up to pour his coffee down the drain.

"Daniel." Jack followed him to rinse his own bowl. "We need to talk about this." Yeah, talk, as in not sweep the fact that Jack was on the side of Doc Fraiser and Hammond in the process. Problem was Daniel didn't see beyond that.

"You'll be late," Daniel pointed out. He didn't look at Jack.

"You'll be back before you know it." Jack raised a hand to squeeze Daniel's nape and let it drop when Daniel shied away from his touch. "I'm sorry, but you know it was the right decision."

"Fuck you." Daniel pushed away from the sink and faced Jack. "Fuck you to hell. The only thing I had was work and now that's been taken away too."

"Daniel." Jack scrubbed his hair with one hand. "You know..."

"Yes, I know. I know. I heard it all before--repeatedly. Now go. And leave me the hell alone."

"We need..."

Daniel interrupted him again. "No. We don't. You do. No one cares what I need. Just go. Please." He rubbed his arms as if he was cold. "I have to go shower and get ready for Mackenzie." He turned without another word and left.

"What are we gonna do?" Jack said after him, perfectly aware Daniel didn't hear a word. He grabbed the keys from the hook at the door, proud he didn't lower himself to slamming the door behind him.

* * * *

Daniel waited until he heard Jack pull out of the driveway. There was no way he could venture out today. He didn't want to get dressed--there was no point to it anyway. He rummaged on the night table and found Mackenzie's card. Good. One less thing to deal with. Daniel dialed the office number, relieved when he got voicemail. Dealing with any questions was the last thing he wanted.

"Doctor Mackenzie, Daniel Jackson here. I need to cancel my appointment for this afternoon. I, uh, don't think I'll be able to make the next one either. I'll give you a call to reschedule." He added a cough for good measure.

He hung up the phone while his heart pounded in his ears. He closed the bedroom drapes to shut out the sun, turned off the phone, and then lay down and pulled the covers over his head. The house was quiet around him, and he slept.

* * * *

Daniel looked like he'd just gotten out of bed, Jack thought when he came home. Same way he'd pretty much looked the past few days.

"You see Mackenzie today?" Jack asked.

The way Daniel's gaze slid to the window before coming back to Jack was all the answer he needed. "Yeah."

"You're a piss-poor liar," Jack pointed out. He went to the fridge and grabbed a beer.

Daniel shrugged. "So, I overslept. It's allowed."

"You've been doing that a lot lately. Sleeping." Jack put the beer down on the counter--the taste turning in his mouth. "When's the last time you took a shower? Shaved? Wore something other than sweats?"

"Is this twenty questions?" Daniel backed up. His hands were shaking--Jack could see it from where he stood.

Jack pinched the bridge of his nose. God give him strength. "Well forgive me for worrying about my best friend."

"No one asked you to care." Daniel sounded as if he was a sulky teenager. He backed up until he was against the wall.

"I do care. God damn it, Daniel, I love you. You've missed your appointments with Mackenzie for the past week."

Daniel shrugged again. "I was tired. I slept." He sighed, a sigh that seemed to go down to his very core. "I just...couldn't." He made a vague gesture with one hand. "Just. I'm going back to bed."

"Back to bed?" Jack took a step towards him, hand outstretched to stop him from going. "You've spent most of the day in bed. I don't think you need any more sleep." Nothing had prepared him for dealing with this Daniel--a Daniel who didn't seem to care about anything any longer, a Daniel who moved slowly and appeared apathetic, a Daniel with no hope.

"C'mon. You've got to eat something."

Daniel shook his head as Jack moved closer and later, Jack would curse himself for not reading the signs that were all there, but at the moment, Daniel was hurting and Jack was angry and that was enough to set things in motion.

Jack touched Daniel's shoulder. Daniel pulled his hands up to cover his head and slid down the wall.

"Ah crap." Jack crouched down in front of Daniel. "Daniel. Hey."

Daniel lowered his arms a fraction to stare out at Jack with no recognition. He shook his head slowly. Jack wondered what he was seeing.

"No. No. No." Daniel chanted. "Not happening. It's not happening."


"No. Get away from me!" Daniel's voice rose to a near scream. He put his hands out in front of his face. "Get away!"

Jack backed off, not sure if it was him Daniel was pushing away or some ghost from his captivity. He put his hands where Daniel could see them, if indeed Daniel was actually seeing anything.

"Daniel. Hey, did I tell you what Carter did today?" He kept his tone light, conversational. "She and Bill Lee were working on one of her doohickeys--and they finally got it to work. Seems it was a child's toy and squirted some sort of orange goo all over her and Lee and the lab. You should have heard her--actually I'm surprised you didn't. Even Teal'c stayed out of her way after that."

Daniel pulled his knees to his chest--his chin resting on his knees, his arms wrapped around his calves--and stared out at Jack, but whether or not Daniel was seeing him was anybody's guess.

"You know, buddy, I think we oughta call someone," Jack suggested . "Have them check you out. What do you think about that?"

Turning his head, Daniel rested his cheek on his knees, effectively shutting Jack out.

They sat that way a while longer until the cold began to seep through Jack's chinos and the light faded in the kitchen.

"Daniel?" Jack finally ventured again.

"Twenty three. Daniel's dead." The flatness in Daniel's voice sent a chill straight through Jack. "Daniel should have died, Daniel should never have come back."

It was that expressionless statement that got Jack moving-and he knew who he had to call, much as he despised it.

* * * *

"What are you doing?"

Jack hadn't even heard Daniel's approach as he dialed Mackenzie's cell phone, which scared the shit out of him. There was no way Daniel should have been able to sneak up on him.

"Calling someone for help." Jack looked straight at Daniel--really looked. He knew this look--he'd seen it on his own face when he'd come home from Iraq. Looked at his own hollow eyes, seen the loathing and self-hatred when he looked in the mirror. And he knew, much as he hated to admit it, that there was no way he could handle this alone. "Calling Mackenzie."

"I don't need Mackenzie." Daniel took a step towards Jack, the apathy seemingly gone and replaced by anger. "I don't need anybody."

"Yeah." Jack agreed without putting the phone down. For the first time Jack could recall, Daniel scared him.

Daniel continued his approach. "I can make you happy, Jack. I've been told I'm very skilled. Do you like it when I fight? Hatan liked it when I fought him."

Jack put out a hand, keeping Daniel's at arm's length. "This isn't what you want, Daniel. Believe me. It's not what you want." He continued dialing the number and put the phone to his ear, relieved when it started to ring.

"You want to get rid of me." Daniel made an awkward lunge towards Jack. "You want me out of here. I'm not going with him. I'm not going back to Mental Health." Daniel shook his head. "No padded cells. Not again, not ever again."


Jack never thought he'd be so glad to hear the psychiatrist answer his phone. "O'Neill. We really need your help here. Daniel's...we need your help."

"Shut up!" Daniel screamed, surely loud enough for Mackenzie to hear.

"I'll be there in fifteen, Colonel."

Jack could hear Mackenzie moving and rustling noises as if he was getting dressed.

"If you need to call an ambulance..." Mackenzie's voice was cut off as Daniel grabbed the phone and threw it.

"I'm not...I'm not crazy."

"I know you're not." Jack made a grab at Daniel--another tactical error. Daniel went--well, he might have said he wasn't crazy, but Jack had never, not even when Daniel was under the influence of Machello's bugs, seen Daniel so out of control like this. Daniel overturned a chair, grabbed a glass and threw it. He yelled and screamed in a language Jack didn't recognize. The embroidered silk he'd carried home was ripped in two. He pounded on the wall. Jack got a wild punch in the eye when he got too close.

"Stop it. Daniel, stop it." But the words didn't register. Jack didn't know if they ever would.

He heard a car pull into the driveway and knew he had to leave to let Mackenzie in. Shit.

He ran to the door, and opened it before Mackenzie even had his hand up to ring the bell.

"He's upstairs," Jack said. "He kinda went..." Jack began to make a twirling gesture with one finger to his head and then aborted it. This was no time to joke.

Mackenzie nodded. "Has he tried to hurt himself?"

Jack shook his head and then led the way because all of a sudden he didn't know if during the brief time he'd left Daniel alone, Daniel might have tried to...God, Jack didn't even want to think it.

They found him in the master bedroom, in front of the mirror, fists raised and resting on the fragmented glass.

"Hate him. Hate him." Daniel was saying over and over in a voice nearly gone from yelling.

"Doctor Jackson?"

Jack let out his breath when Daniel turned to look at Mackenzie. At least the sound of an unfamiliar voice pulled Daniel's attention somewhere else.

"Doctor Mac?" Daniel's voice broke. He managed one step away from the mirror before he began to sway.

"Steady. Steady," Mackenzie said as he took Daniel's weight. "Let's sit down."

"Jack? Is Jack here?"

"I'm here." Jack moved closer when Mackenzie gestured for him. Between the two of them, they lowered Daniel to the floor. Jack sat with him, allowing Daniel to lean into him.

Mackenzie knelt in front of them. He pulled out a blood pressure cuff. Daniel didn't resist. He allowed Mackenzie to perform a brief exam.

"I'm sorry," Daniel offered at one point. "I'm so sorry." Jack took the tissue Mackenzie gave him and wiped the tears from Daniel's face. Tears Jack was sure Daniel wasn't even aware he shed.

"It's okay. It's gonna be okay." Jack soothed in a whisper.

"Do you know what day it is, Daniel?" Mackenzie asked, his voice far gentler than Jack would have assumed.

"Thursday. No, wait, uh, Friday?"

Jack felt his heart sink--it was Saturday.

"Where are we?"

"I'm on the floor."

Mackenzie smiled. "Can you tell me where?"

"Jack's house. Home."

"That's good. You're doing great, Daniel."

"I'm sorry. I didn't want to...I didn't mean to..." Daniel shook his head.

"Daniel, I'm going to make a suggestion as your doctor. And I know you might not want to do this, but I think that for the next few days, you really need to do it. I'd like you to go to the hospital."

Daniel stiffened in Jack's loose hold. "Hospital. Mental Health. Because I'm crazy."

"You are not crazy," Mackenzie quickly reassured and Jack swore he saw a wince there. Guilt perhaps? "Remember how you and I discussed some medications? I agreed that we'd try it without them. But you've missed your last three appointments. You weren't really sick, were you?"

"I couldn't. It's like being in molasses. Everything is...I'm sorry."

"You don't have anything to be sorry for," Jack said.

"Colonel O'Neill's right, you know. What happened wasn't your fault. Will you come to the hospital? We can get your medication started, start daily appointments."

"Jack?" Daniel looked at him. And Jack knew what he had to say.

"You have to decide."

"I'm not crazy?" Not a statement but a question.

"You're depressed, experiencing post-traumatic stress, and you need some time to work everything out. I know you, Daniel. You will work it out."

"I think I want to get better," Daniel finally agreed.

Mackenzie nodded. "I'm going to give you a sedative for now, Daniel." He placed one hand on Daniel's leg. "We're going to transport you by ambulance. I want to keep monitoring your vitals. Is that all okay with you?"

Daniel nodded and leaned even more fully into Jack. He watched Mackenzie give the injection and then closed his eyes.

"I'm only looking at a forty eight to seventy two hour stay, Colonel," Mackenzie explained when it was apparent Daniel was asleep. He glanced down at the floor. "I blame myself for allowing things to progress this far."

"Daniel's always been stubborn," Jack said, "but then, you probably knew that."

"He is. And that's what is going to get him through this."

"You think he's going to be able to come back to the SGC? To SG-1?"

"I think that with Doctor Jackson, anything is possible." Mackenzie got up as they heard the ambulance pull up. "If he wants it badly enough, he'll be back."

Jack placed a kiss on Daniel's head when the doctor left to direct the crew upstairs. "Come back to us, Danny. We miss you."

* * * *

Mackenzie frowned as he looked at a sleeping Daniel. The gurney's straps held Daniel in place as the ambulance turned a corner. At least they didn't need to use the siren. Mackenzie could see Colonel O'Neill following in his SUV, and he didn't think the man would take kindly to being told that no, he couldn't sit by Daniel's bedside until the man awoke. The good colonel was going to be even more upset when he found out that for Daniel's stay, he wasn't going to have visitors either.

Damn it. He should have done follow-up calls, instead of believing Doctor Jackson's phone calls over the past few days. He'd been doing this job a long time--long enough to know that he should have thought of depression, especially considering the news a week ago that Hammond and Fraiser had agreed that Daniel shouldn't be working. And oh boy, were they going to get an earful. He'd been walking around on eggshells, worried about misjudging Daniel and making a mistake like he had the last time, and he'd failed in his duty. It was his job to fight for Daniel at this point, because Daniel couldn't fight for himself. Not now, not in this state. Maybe they all expected a little too much of the man--he'd proved time and time again that he was resilient, probably the most resilient person Mackenzie had ever known. But this had been different, this time Daniel believed he had failed in some way. He'd lost hope in everything, lost himself. Daniel had hit the proverbial bottom and Mackenzie was determined to throw the man every bit of rope and all the ladders he could because the alternative was losing him.

Daniel had placed his trust in Mackenzie--a feat Mackenzie wasn't sure he could have managed had the roles been reversed. Now it was time to live up to that trust.

He placed his fingers around Daniel's scarred wrist and began to count the heartbeats. One day, one hour, one minute at a time--that was the beginning of the mantra he needed to teach Daniel. And he'd always known Daniel was an excellent student.

* * * *

"Doctor Mackenzie." Daniel turned away from the window to face the psychiatrist. He pulled his bathrobe a little closer, hating that it didn't have a belt. Oh yeah, he couldn't have a belt in case he tried to...don't go there, he told himself.

"How are you feeling today, Daniel?" Mackenzie asked.

Daniel shrugged and looked out the window. There wasn't really a view, except of a parking lot filled with cars. He thought of green grass, of the way the tiztia bent over heavy with blossoms in the spring, of the flash of Sansha's needle in and out of the robes he embroidered, silk thread glimmering in the evening light. "I'm here."

"Here." Mackenzie repeated.

He always hated that psychiatrists did that. He forced himself to move away from the window--he hated the bars across it anyway and sat on his bed. "Here--as in alive. As" He gestured at the room. He folded his hands on his lap and waited but Mackenzie didn't talk--only sat and watched. "Here as in back home." Daniel's hands began to tremble and he interlaced his fingers so Mackenzie wouldn't see. "And I keep seeing Beruga--remembering...stuff." He closed his eyes to keep the tears that seemed to come out of nowhere from falling.

"Does remembering bother you?" Mackenzie asked.

It was the same song and dance--had been every day since he'd been admitted. Mackenzie pushed, Daniel pushed back, and to tell the truth, he didn't know how much longer he could keep up the pretense. Maybe he really was crazy--maybe he really did need to be locked up and kept away from everyone.

"Why should it bother me?"

"Why shouldn't it?" Mackenzie shot back in his impassive voice with his impassive expression.

Daniel looked down at his pajama pants--there was a small hole in the right leg--a defect of the fabric, as if the thread hadn't quite caught. Like him, flawed, defective, worn beyond mending. "Sometimes I want to go back," he whispered and then looked up to see if Mackenzie was surprised by his admission.

"To Beruga?" Nope--no surprise.

"I knew my place. I knew who, what I was. And now..." God, his throat felt like it was going to close up. He blinked a few times and his throat felt even tighter. "Now I don't know. I can't find myself anymore. I don't know who Daniel Jackson is. I thought when I came home..."

The room grew silent. Daniel could hear the clock ticking away the seconds, the sound of traffic, someone talking out in the hall, and his own rough breathing. He wrapped his arms around himself, feeling cold. "I thought everything would be over when I came home. But I can't forget. I can't just put it behind me." He looked at Mackenzie. "I don't want to be lost anymore." He couldn't say any more. He, the linguist, didn't have the words. He didn't want to feel dirty every time he took off his clothes and saw his naked body. He didn't want to not know how to talk to his friends. He didn't want to wake up at night and find he was sleeping on the floor because he thought he was back in Beruga. He was home and free, but he was still a slave.

Mackenzie handed him a tissue. Daniel took it and wiped his face, blew his nose. He stuffed it in his pocket.

"It's not easy coming back," Mackenzie said.

Daniel shook his head. "No, it's not."

* * * *

The seventy two hour stay stretched into a week when Daniel had a bad reaction to one of the medications Mackenzie prescribed. He began to sleep through the night though, and his appetite began to return. His sessions with Mackenzie wore him out though and he would spend a few hours afterwards angry at the world. It's normal, he reminded himself. There were days Daniel thought getting his PhDs were less frightening than learning how to live in his own skin again.

He left the hospital with something he hadn't felt for a long time--hope.

* * * *

Jack stood in the doorway of the kitchen and watched Daniel chop an onion with single-minded determination. The afternoon sun shone in the window and highlighted Daniel's hair and the planes of his face. At least his face was filling out as he began to regain weight. He was looking more like Daniel. He wondered how rough the session with Mackenzie had been today--Daniel's days had narrowed down to appointments with Mackenzie and the "homework" Mackenzie gave him each day. The meds were helping--at least Jack believed they were. Daniel occasionally smiled and he got up and dressed each morning and showers had also been added to the mandatory list.


Daniel finished chopping the onion and put it in a small container before he turned to face Jack. "Hey yourself."

"How you doing?" Jack walked closer and placed his hands on Daniel's shoulders, pleased when Daniel didn't flinch.

"Decent," Daniel answered. He squirted dishsoap on his hands and washed them thoroughly. "I took a nap a little earlier."

Jack was sure the surprise must have shown on his face because Daniel frowned and shook his head. "Mackenzie's orders. It was...rough."

And really what could Jack say to that? Daniel didn't want to share what he spoke about in Mackenzie's sessions, although he wrote furiously in a notebook each night. Jack wasn't sure if it was Daniel trying to spare his feelings, or Daniel coming to terms with his captivity on his own. He wasn't even sure if they could ever go back to what they'd had before everything went to hell in a handbasket. Daniel slept in the spare bedroom these nights and never knew Jack spent a few hours sitting on the edge of the bed watching him sleep and wondering how he could heal what was broken. He was willing to wait for eternity if that was what it took. It was the thought that maybe Daniel would want to walk away that scared him shitless.

A timer beeped on the counter. Daniel turned it off and looked out the window. "You going to come?"

"Wouldn't miss it," Jack said. He grabbed the house key out of the basket on the counter and gestured towards the door. Another of Mackenzie's prescriptions--a forty-five minute or longer walk every day, rain or shine. Jack was grateful it was shine today--he didn't relish walking in the rain as they had the past few days.

* * * *

It was cool as they walked the path through the woods. Daniel took a deep breath--the scent of evergreen rich in the evening air. He had to grudgingly admit that this order of Mackenzie's was doing him some good--when he was walking he could think, he could forget, he could work things out. Jack was silent as he always was on the walks. But even though there was silence, Daniel felt closer to Jack during these forty five minutes than he did at any other time during the day and night. Jack didn't discuss what was going on the SGC with him, and Daniel still hadn't decided if that hurt or not. When it came down to it, he wasn't sure if he could go back. There were things he missed--the excitement of finding the key to another language, studying artifacts brought to them from other worlds, but could he go back? He still felt adrift. And what if he *did* go back and couldn't handle it? Did he really want to fail? Did he want the pity of the people who had once worked under him? Or even worse the pity of his friends? Back in the saddle he'd told himself earlier in the day. It was time to get back in the saddle, hokey as the metaphor might be. If he didn't go back soon, he feared he never would.

He took another deep breath for courage. "Tomorrow, I'm going to talk to Mackenzie about coming back to work." He stopped walking and turned to look at Jack.

He didn't know what he expected Jack's reaction to be--a grin, a "yeahsureyoutbetcha," a hair ruffle, he only knew he didn't expect it to be so subdued.

"Are you sure?" Jack asked in a quiet, serious voice Daniel rarely heard him use.

"Of course I'm sure," Daniel said it louder than he'd meant because of course he wasn't really sure at all. He was scared to death and it had taken all his strength to open up that little bit. He could feel his heart start to pound and he focused on taking slow deep breaths. Jack touched his shoulder and he pushed his hand away. "I'm okay. I'm okay"

Jack stepped back. "Yeah. Sorry."

Daniel turned away and began to walk faster. He could feel his throat tighten and he forced himself to push down the emotion. He glanced at his watch and hoped Jack didn't notice. Twenty minutes to go. He could handle that. One day, one hour, one minute. One minute. Daniel began to count to sixty in Abydonian.

* * * *

"I miss work," Daniel said as he stood by the window in Mackenzie's office. He looked out at the bird feeder and watched smaller birds scatter as a jay flew in.

"What do you want to do about that?" Mackenzie asked from his position on the stuffed chair he always sat in.

Daniel turned away from the window and walked back to the loveseat. He sat down and leaned forward, his elbows resting on his knees. "I want to go back." He didn't flinch from looking at Mackenzie. "I want to get back to my office, to my books."

"It sounds as though you've thought this through."

Daniel leaned back and pinched the bridge of his nose. "I've done everything you've asked. Everything you've wanted. It's been over a month. I think I'm ready."

Mackenzie nodded, much to Daniel's surprise. "I agree. I'll need to sign my approval, and you're going to have to talk to General Hammond. He still has final say."

Daniel's mouth went dry. He rubbed his hands on his jeans. He hadn't thought of that part. He thought Mackenzie would sign off and he'd just go back in. What if Hammond said no? What if he managed to screw things up by a panic attack or losing control? "Oh," was all he managed to say.

"Perhaps you'd like to practice?" Mackenzie asked.

He felt like he was back in school--role-playing the possible scenarios. Daniel had always hated it, but he found himself nodding. He could do it. He knew he could.

* * * *

"Welcome back, Doctor Jackson." General Hammond stood and extended his hand.

Daniel shook it firmly--something he doubted he would have managed when he first came back from Sabak. "Thank you, sir." He was inordinately proud that his voice didn't waver--that he managed to keep his breathing slow and even despite the way his heart felt like it was going to pop out of his chest. And then they stood in Hammond's office looking at each other.

"I'll, uh, just be going." Daniel shifted his weight from one foot to the other. He pointed towards the door.

"I think you'll need this," Hammond said and opened a drawer in his desk. He handed Daniel his ID badge and keycard with a smile.

Daniel closed his fingers around them and kept his head down for a minute so he could hide his reaction. When he looked back up, he was able to smile back. "Thank you."

"I've instructed Doctor Wellings to catch you up to speed," General Hammond added as he walked with Daniel to the door. "SG-8 is going on a mission tomorrow and I'd like you at the briefing--something about a temple to Thoth?"

"Yes, sir," Daniel said and stepped through the door and back into his old life.

* * * *

He thought when he went back to work that everything would be back to normal. He was off most of his meds, his appointments with Mackenzie had been cut back to once every two weeks, and he slept through the night. So, why, Daniel thought as he brought a cup of coffee to his lips one morning, did things still seem so wrong?

It was the elephant in the living room, the sword of Damocles hanging over his and Jack's heads. Even though he knew he could talk to Mackenzie about his lack of sexual drive, his inability to even manage an erection if he tried to pleasure himself, he was too ashamed to bring it up.

Daniel stared out the window at the rain, his coffee forgotten. God, he was screwed up. He watched the raindrops trailing down the window, following their path. He remembered rain on Sabak--lying on the floor in Hatan's room in the murky early morning light and listening to rain hitting the glass and looking out through a rain-smeared window. He remembered lying huddled under a blanket in his quarters there while Sansha and Yasur fed him sugared tea and the pasty gruel and the rain hit the skylight with such force he thought the window would break and drown him and he hadn't cared. He looked down at his hands, proud they weren't shaking with the memories and then rubbed at the scarred skin at his wrists--a constant reminder along with the brand on his shoulder and the rest of the scars.


Jack's voice from behind him startled him and he stood so fast, he knocked over his chair.

"Don't." Daniel held up one hand as if to ward off Jack's presence. "Of all people you should..." and then he shut his mouth and shook his head. "Never mind. You just startled me. I was, um..."

"Yeah, I should know better," Jack replied in a quiet voice, completely at odds with the Jack Daniel remembered, and walked past him into the kitchen. Daniel watched him busy himself with the coffee maker even though the pot was more than half-full.

Daniel turned away when the mundane domesticity made him swallow hard. Hatan had won it seemed, even though Daniel had escaped. No matter how much he wanted things to be normal, he doubted they ever would be. He'd let down his team, let down Jack. He stepped closer to the windows and drew his finger through the condensation.

Someone coughed near him and he turned to face Jack who was standing there holding a mug of coffee.

"What's it say?" Jack asked, lifting his mug towards the glass.

Daniel frowned at him and then looked at what he'd done. Freedom he'd written in the language of Sabak, in the calligraphy he'd embroidered into the silks Sansha had given him, letters he'd hidden in flowers and trees and wings of birds in his clumsy too-large stitches. "Nothing important." Daniel pulled his sweatshirt sleeve over his hand and rubbed the word away. He heard Jack sigh--a sound that seemed to be more frequent these days. He couldn't give Jack what Jack wanted--he didn't think he'd ever be able to have sex again, hell, at this point, he didn't know that he ever wanted to sleep in a bed with someone again.

"Dan..." Jack began and then stopped as if even finishing Daniel's name was painful.

"I'm sorry," Daniel said. He turned until he was totally facing Jack. "I...uh, look, I know this isn't...I mean, you, me, I think it's too late. I'm..." Daniel gestured down his body. "Scars and you know, it's..." Damn it, he always knew the right words before. He curled his hand into a fist and settled for shaking his head before he headed towards the guest room.

"What the hell?" he heard Jack say and then footsteps behind him. He made it into the safety of his room but Jack followed him right in, reached out, and grabbed Danie's arm.

"What is going on with you today?" Jack asked, his voice rising slightly, snagging Danie's arm, not angry, puzzled. Come on, give me a clue here, buddy, he thought. Jack felt that no matter what he did lately it seemed it was the wrong thing--he'd even resorted to visiting Mackenzie once just to seek out advice. But everything he'd tried fell flat.

Or maybe, Daniel revised as he looked at Jack's face, anger was there.

He pulled his arm out of Jack's fairly loose grasp in a jerking motion and stared at Jack, seeming lost, angry, and something, he didn't know what, seemed to break inside of him. The words that only moments before had been lost, came flooding into his head and spilled out of his mouth into the quiet room.

"Where the hell were you?" Daniel asked. "Where, in all the months I was gone, were you? Oh wait, I know where you were--you and Sam and Teal'c were all back here living normal lives, having enough food to eat, sleeping in beds, coming and going as you pleased." He stepped forward right into Jack's personal space and jabbed an index finger into Jack's chest. "Did you ever think of me? As the months passed did you give me a passing thought? Did you wonder if I was alive? If I was safe?"

"We didn't forget you," Jack snapped in response trying to keep himself in control. Anger was good, he reminded himself--a wound to be drained, a festering sore to be lanced. "Never during all that time."

Daniel shook his head in disbelief. "No one left behind. Wasn't that the rule, Jack? Wasn't it?"

"Do you honestly think we didn't try to find you? That we didn't go back to that God-forsaken planet and hunt for you?" Jack could feel his own anger rising at Daniel's accusations despite his knowing the 'why' behind Daniel's words.

"You didn't do a good job of it did you? Oh wait, I forget, while you were celebrating Christmas, I was in a cage with human waste dripping down on me. Or maybe that was the day the guards held me down in the shit and fucked me because I dared to tell them to stop hurting a young girl? Yeah, yeah, that was probably my Christmas."

Jack swallowed hard, forcing himself to remain calm in the face of the vitriol Daniel spat out. "There was no celebration," he said quietly. He had spent the day alone, not able to bring himself to be with Carter or Teal'c. It was the day he'd written a letter of resignation and put it in his briefcase to hand to Hammond the next day. "We missed you, I missed you every single fucking day you were gone."

"I wonder what day it was when I got this?" Daniel pulled at his shirt, exposing the brand, as if Jack hadn't spoken. "Or what day Hatan finally broke me by giving me the yakuza? No matter to you--you were all fine back here." Daniel's voice rose and he pointed at Jack again. "The worst part--the worst part? I knew I was alone. When I went through the first withdrawal, that was when I finally knew the truth--that I couldn't count on anyone but me to get home. And I was all alone." Daniel backed up until he was against the wall and pulled his arms across his stomach. "I kept hoping and that was the day the hope died."

"Daniel." Jack stepped forward. "Danny."

He didn't know if Daniel was listening anymore, he'd slid down and was sitting on the floor.

"I wanted to believe. I wanted to." Daniel said, the words catching in his throat.

"Daniel." Jack sank to the floor himself, ignoring the way his knees twinged with pain. He pulled Daniel into a hug, the memory of a Daniel high from the sarcophagus pointing a gun at him and looking at him, much as he did now, lost, and hurting. "Daniel," he whispered into Daniel's hair. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." Because right now, Daniel didn't need to hear about how Carter had spent sleepless nights attempting to figure out where Daniel had been taken, until she'd finally collapsed in front of her computer and spent two days in the infirmary recovering. He didn't need to hear how Teal'c went off alone on one of the planets they'd visited when there was word of a blue-eyed stranger and came back with blood on his hands. He didn't need to hear that Jack himself had thought there were days he couldn't go on living.

There was silence for a few moments and then Daniel began to sob--harsh, gulping sounds, and Jack did the only thing he could--he held on tight.

"I'm here. I'm here. I'm not letting go. You're not alone anymore," Jack whispered again and again so that the words would finally sink in.

* * * *

His head hurt, his nose was stuffy, and he wanted to close his eyes and sleep until the pain went away.

Daniel pulled away from Jack without risking a look at Jack's face. He rubbed his face with both hands, an attempt to scrub away the shame and embarrassment.

He became aware of Jack's comforting presence, of the weight of Jack's hand on his back, of the way Jack's thigh pressed against his own, warmth seeping through fabric, of Jack's quiet breathing in contrast to his own still stuttering breaths.

"Uh," Daniel began and then shut his mouth. He finally looked at Jack, pulled off his glasses when he realized they were smeared with sweat and tears.

There was no condemnation in Jack's expression--no anger, no pity or hatred, only acceptance and caring.

"Thank you." The words were formal, necessary to maintain what little shreds of dignity Daniel had left.

Jack moved his hand higher to Daniel's nape. Daniel shivered as Jack massaged the knots there gently. He let out a small sigh.

"Feels good, huh?" Jack rubbed Daniel's shoulder. "You're gonna pop if these muscles get any tighter."

Daniel put a hand against the wall. "I'm going to piss my pants if I don't get up soon." He got to his feet--and then topped it off by wobbling slightly from the change in position. His eyes felt gritty and sore and the rest of him didn't feel much better.

"Why don't you take a shower too?" Jack suggested, getting to his feet with more grace than Daniel had managed. He put out a steadying hand which for once Daniel didn't resist.

"Yeah, that sounds good." He looked for his bathrobe and Jack pushed it into his hands. He went into the hall, heading for the guest bathroom, but Jack steered him back towards the master bath. "It's bigger--and the showerhead is better."

Daniel nodded, the thought of the pulsing water already making him feel somewhat better.

* * * *

The water was hot enough that his stuffy nose began to clear. Daniel braced his hands against the wall and let the water beat on his back. Jack had opened the door once to put in a pile of towels but other than that, had left him to his own devices.

Had he really said those horrible things to Jack? Insinuated that Jack and the others hadn't cared about him--that they hadn't even made an attempt to find him? He felt his muscles tighten. If he'd said it, somewhere deep inside he must have believed it, felt betrayed by the people he thought of as family, as closer than any friends could ever be.

He took a deep breath and coughed as he swallowed water.

There was a pounding on the bathroom door. "You okay in there?"

"Fine." Daniel answered and coughed again. "Just...I'm fine." He ducked under the spray one more time and then shut the water off and reached out for a towel. "I'm fine," he called as he began to dry off.

"Call me if you need help."

"Yes, Jack." He could almost imagine Jack leaning against the door. Daniel toweled himself off quickly and got into a pair of clean sweats and a t-shirt. He put on his robe, needing the extra warmth. He found a new toothbrush at the sink--one Jack must have put there and brushed his teeth. He looked at himself in the mirror--reddened eyes, still slightly puffy, but still recognizable. "Welcome home," he whispered before taking a deep breath and opening the door.

* * * *

"Feel better?" Jack asked from his seated position on the bed as Daniel walked into the room.

Daniel nodded and pulled his robe tighter. "Yeah. It helped." He stood halfway between the door and the bed, unable to bring himself to leave, unable to bring himself the few steps to the bed itself.

Jack tossed a bottle in one hand. "I thought maybe you'd like a massage. Loosen up those muscles."

"Uh..." Daniel looked at Jack and swallowed hard.

"You can say no," Jack said. "And when I say massage, I mean massage. Nothing more. I can do it through your clothes if you want."

Daniel took a deep breath. He *could say no*. That alone was a precious gift. He twisted the tie on his bathrobe and then made his decision. "Yeah. I'd like that. The massage I mean."

Jack grinned at him and stood up. "Make yourself at home."

It was only the second time he'd been in Jack's bed since he'd returned. That first night he'd been released from the SGC, he'd sought out familiarity and comfort, and then woke up the next day with the realization that he couldn't give Jack what Jack would want. He lowered himself onto the mattress and spread his hands out on the comforter, the cotton cool under his hands. He looked up at Jack. "I, um. How should we do this?"

"Lie on your back," Jack replied. "I'll start with your arms."

Daniel nodded. He glanced at the floor, the clock on the bedside table, anywhere but at Jack's face. The massage really wasn't going to do much good if he didn't take off some of his clothes. He undid the tie of his bathrobe and stood up to take it off. Jack stepped back, giving him space.

"You don't need to..."

"Yes I do." Daniel shed the robe and then the t-shirt. He sat down to slide the sweats off, grateful he had put on a pair of boxers, and then lay back on the bed and closed his eyes.

He felt the mattress dip as Jack sat down beside him.

"Anytime you want me to stop, I will." He heard Jack flip open the lid of the oil and then the sound of skin on skin as Jack rubbed a bit of oil between his hands. His left hand was lifted and Jack began a slow methodical rubbing of each and every finger. Jack said nothing as he moved to Daniel's wrist and forearm and then up the arm to the shoulder. Daniel made himself focus on what was happening--the way Jack's thumb bent back, the feel of Jack's skin against his, his skin soaking up the memory of long-forgotten touch as much as it did the oil. Jack slid his hand across his collarbone to his right shoulder and down his arm. This time Daniel lifted his hand as Jack got close. I trust you he wanted to say but couldn't make his mouth move.

He drifted for a bit, because it seemed there was no time at all before Jack was working on his legs.

"You okay?" Jack asked, his voice coming from further away.

"Yeah." Daniel was pretty impressed he was able to form a coherent word.

He shivered as Jack massaged his knee and Jack stopped his ministrations. God, he missed this. He missed Jack touching him--he hadn't realized how much until now.

"Okay. It's okay." Daniel told him. Jack patted his thigh and continued, his strong fingers finding knots in muscles Daniel hadn't know were there.

"You done?" Daniel felt strangely disappointed when Jack stopped his ministrations. He managed to open his eyes and looked up to see Jack smiling at him.

"I can't do your back if you're lying on it," Jack said. He put a hand on Daniel's shoulder. "But it's up to you. Whatever you want is fine."

"Your comforter is going to get oil on it." Daniel commented as he turned over. Lying this way, he could smell Jack on the pillow--the scent of Jack's shampoo, of the soap Jack used, the other indefinable essence he thought of as Jack.

"Wouldn't be the first time," Jack said quietly as he squirted more oil into his hands.

"No, it wouldn't." Daniel remembered other times--times that seemed so long ago, memories long-distant.

"You just need to tell me to stop and I will," Jack told him--a gift as much as a promise.

Jack began to knead Daniel's shoulders and Daniel thought he'd cry with the relief of the muscles being further loosened. Jack pushed hard--pain that felt good.

His hands stilled.


"Does it still hurt?"

Daniel frowned and twisted his head slightly. Oh--that. "I think, Janet could probably tell you for sure, but I think that when they did it some of the nerves must have been damaged. I can't feel it anymore."

"I'm sorry." Jack bent down, touched his lips to the brand.

"It's not your fault," Daniel told him and let his head drop to the pillow again. "Not your fault." And then came to the blinding realization that it truly wasn't despite his desperate angry words of earlier.

Jack kissed his shoulder again--this time pressing his lips to either side of the brand where Daniel could, indeed, feel it. But no, there was nothing down lower.

Jack began to sweep his hands down Daniel's back, once again searching out the knots and tight muscles. He said nothing about the scars Daniel bore, for which Daniel was grateful. But Daniel knew each and every time Jack noticed them because his touch grew lighter as he massaged over the skin there.

They were scars--they didn't define him. For the first time since he'd returned, he knew that as truth, as certainty. Marks of honor, Teal'c would say. If he allowed the scars, if he allowed the abuse he'd suffered at the hands of the slavers and Hatan to define him, then they truly would have won and he'd continue the rest of his life not as a free man, but as a slave. He wondered why it had taken so long to come to that understanding. Maybe this was what Mackenzie had meant when he used the words healing and closure--not just empty platitudes, but words that meant something, words of action and not of passiveness.

"Done," Jack stated, resting his hand on Daniel's back.

"No." Daniel turned over, hard to do when he felt like every bone in his body had been turned to mush. "No. I think it's just beginning."

He pushed himself up and reached out to touch Jack's face. "Kiss me or maybe I should kiss you." He pulled Jack closer. "Yeah, I think, maybe..." Oh God, he'd forgotten what this was like. What it meant to kiss and be kissed when there was love involved. Because even through it all, he did love Jack. He was aware of Jack and him falling back on the bed and somehow moving until he was on top of Jack. He pulled at Jack's t-shirt until Jack helped him get it off. And then they were skin to skin--muscle against muscle.

"Good, so good," Daniel murmured between kisses. Jack grunted something that might have been a reply.

Daniel pushed his hand down the front of Jack's sweats, feeling the bulging erection Jack had. He stroked the skin, aware of Jack shivering underneath him. Jack grabbed his shoulders and his fingers dug into the muscles he'd recently loosened up.

"Yes." Daniel moaned as he tightened his hand around Jack's cock, stroking faster.

Jack groaned again and then shuddered as he came.

"God," Jack panted.

Daniel said nothing--all words had fled.

"Daniel?" Jack asked when Daniel rolled to the side.

"I can't." Daniel finally managed to say. "There's...I can't."

It was Jack's turn to be silent, but he kissed Daniel again anyway. Daniel closed his eyes against the tears he felt forming and moved into Jack's embrace.

They'd work it out--like the earlier truths, he felt it with certainty.

* * * *

Jack woke up with a warm weight draped across his chest and his arm doing the pins and needles thing. Daniel. He'd forgotten how heavy another body could be when the person was sound asleep--and sound asleep Daniel was. And Jack had to take a piss.

"Move," Jack whispered and shook Daniel's shoulder.

"Morning," Daniel mumbled and made no effort to move from his position. He jabbed an elbow into Jack's ribs as he tried to get more comfortable.

Jack turned his head to look at the alarm clock--Teal'c and Carter were coming over for a barbecue and, oh shit. He shook Daniel harder. "Wake up!"

"Time for work?" Daniel squinted at him.

"Not quite. Carter and Teal'c are gonna be here in about a half an hour."

"Shit," Daniel cursed, fully alert now that he caught the import of the situation. He sat up and banged his head into Jack's chin. "We'd better get moving."

"Isn't that what I just said?" Jack commented. "I'm gonna take a quick shower. You...well do whatever it is you need to do."

Daniel nodded and smiled--a genuine honest-to-goodness bone-melting smile. Jack figured his shower was going to be a cold one.

He came out of the bathroom ten minutes later to find the bed freshly made with clean sheets and the comforter from the guest room. Daniel dressed in jeans and well-worn plaid shirt was sitting on the bed, looking down at the floor.

He looked up at Jack's approach.

"Hey," Jack said. He wiped the wet streaks of tears away with his thumbs and then kissed Daniel for good measure.

"Sorry," Daniel gasped when they came up for air. "I. Actually I have no idea why I can't seem to know." He took a deep breath and wiped his face with a tissue.

"You're letting yourself feel again." Jack sat down beside him to pull on a pair of sneakers. "What?" There was no reason for Daniel to snort at that answer. "Been there, done that, got the t-shirt more than once."

"Yeah." Daniel didn't say anything else, but covered Jack's hand with his. For now, it would be enough.

* * * *

Something was different. Teal'c sensed it the moment he and Major Carter entered O'Neill's house. There was a sense of peace and acceptance and it took a moment for Teal'c to realize it emanated from Daniel Jackson.

"I'd better get the grill fired up." O'Neill said after handing Teal'c a soda.

"I'd better supervise," Major Carter offered with a grin and a roll of her eyes, following O'Neill through the sliding doors onto the deck.

"I think we're the safe ones," Daniel Jackson observed before taking a drink from his soda can.

"I think we are, indeed," Teal'c agreed. Daniel Jackson didn't appear to want to talk any more, turned as he was to watch O'Neill and Major Carter --so Teal'c used the opportunity to study his friend.

In the time since Daniel Jackson had returned home, he had seemed a shadow of his former self--the self-confidence Teal'c had always noticed in him gone, his rare smiles rarer still, and his posture one of a beaten man. He knew Daniel spent time in Mackenzie's care--that one night, the demons from Sabak had taken control of Daniel's ability to care about his life. He admired Daniel Jackson for that--his continuing striving for healing when so many others would have given up. There had been a day at the SGC that even O'Neill or Major Carter did not know about--a day when he had heard some Marines making comments about Daniel Jackson finally winding up where he belonged in the looney bin. Teal'c had requested that General Hammond assign them to him for some training in Jaffa martial arts and after one session would never speak ill of Daniel Jackson again.

"He is a stronger man than any of you and likely the only person at the SGC who could have survived his ordeal and be able to regain his rightful place here," had been Teal'c's final words to them.

Daniel Jackson would resume his place on SG-1, Teal'c believed. Sitting across from Daniel at the dining room table, Teal'c was sure of it. Daniel Jackson again seemed sure of himself, more confident even though he said nothing.

"I am glad you are well, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c said.

Daniel turned away from his observation of O'Neill--who appeared to be attempting to start a bonfire, not a barbecue grill. "Thank you." Daniel cleared his throat. "I don't say that often enough. But thank you."

Teal'c bowed his head. "You are welcome." He was truly honored to count Daniel Jackson among his closest friends.

* * * *

The evening was perfect, Sam decided, even despite Colonel O'Neill's burnt hot dogs and hamburgers. Next time she suggested a barbecue she was going to add that they order it instead of allowing her CO to cook.

Daniel sat beside her, a welcome warmth as the air cooled in the twilight. He'd spoken very little during the meal--very little since she and Teal'c had arrived, but he seemed at ease. So maybe he was just tired. She missed Daniel, missed her friend, missed the easy way he used to come down to her lab or she'd pop up to his and they'd bounce ideas off one another. She was also willing to admit she was selfish enough that she wanted him back on SG-1. She was ashamed of that because she wanted Daniel to be happy and whole. And there were times since he'd come back to them that she knew happy and whole might not mean being back on the team.

She looked at his profile, at the way his eyelashes brushed the lenses of his glasses, at the small quirk of his lips as he listened to something the colonel was saying, at the very edges of the brand that his t-shirt couldn't quite hide. His hair was shorter than she could ever remember it being--he'd insisted on having it nearly buzzed as much as a new recruit's when he was finally coherent again and she was sure he was meticulous about visits to the barber even still.

He turned to look at her and raised his eyebrows as if he was concerned. Sam smiled back at him and moved her hand over top of his. He smiled and twisted it under hers and squeezed it gently, but didn't pull away.

Colonel O'Neill cleared his throat. "Teal'c, you want to help me clean up this mess?" He didn't wait for an answer but began to gather up the plates and condiments.

Sam wasn't surprised when Teal'c did the same. Daniel started to get up and the colonel shook his head. "Relax, Danny." His voice was soft and gentle. She could count on the fingers of one hand the times she'd heard the colonel call Daniel, Danny, and her heart ached with the love that was behind the simple nickname. God.

It was soon quiet and then she and Daniel were left alone on the deck--and still Daniel didn't say a word. He appeared content to simply sit and soak in the peace of the evening. There was so much she needed to say to him.

"Daniel." Her voice sounded loud in the still air.

"Sam." He turned in his chair and looked at her fully. He wore an achingly familiar expression of sincerity and concern.

She smiled and to her horror felt tears in her eyes. Could things get any more embarrassing? She opened her mouth to tell him how sorry she was, how she'd failed him and all that came out was an incoherent sound.

"Sam, Sam," Daniel comforted, his arms enclosing her in a hug. His cheek rested on top of her head and she held on to him tightly so that he couldn't leave them, so that whatever, wherever he went, he would carry the weight of her love.

* * * *

Sam had never been on the colonel's roof before. She didn't know if Teal'c had ever been invited to the observation deck either. But the way Daniel settled into a battered folding chair told her that he'd spent time up here. The sky was clear and the first stars were visible. She could have named them all had she chose to, but this was an evening not for science but for companionship and restoration. Daniel was getting better--she knew it from the moment she and Teal'c entered the colonel's house. Daniel seemed more at ease, more at peace, and Sam didn't want to do anything to disturb that.

The colonel was busy with his telescope, but he too seemed at peace. The months Daniel was missing had been hard on all of them, but Sam believed hardest on Colonel O'Neill. She hugged her knees closer to her body and shook off the memories. They were together again--that was what mattered now.

* * * *

Jack took a swig from his beer bottle. The evening had gone far better than he'd thought it would, and now with them all sitting together on his observation deck waiting for more stars to appear, things finally seemed to be right again, the world back on its axis, once again spinning in greased grooves.

No one seemed to be much in the mood to talk--which considering Carter and Daniel were in the company--was saying a lot. But Daniel had been very quiet, speaking only when spoken to for most of the night. He was sure Mackenzie would have some special name for it, processing or something like it. But the name didn't matter--Daniel was coming back to them, breaking through the walls he'd built around himself, allowing the others in.

He looked back at his team--at Daniel who'd moved from the chair he usually occupied to the ground at Carter's feet, at Carter who had her head tilted back and was looking up at the stars, and at Teal'c who had taken Daniel's chair. It looked...right.

"Where do you think it is?" Daniel asked into the still air.

"It?" Jack leaned back in his chair, the telescope forgotten for the moment.

"Sabak." Daniel pointed up to the stars.

"Does this matter to you, Daniel Jackson?" Teal'c asked.

"There are still people living in slavery there," Daniel said quietly.

"We've encountered it before," Carter commented. "It happens here too."

"I know," Daniel sighed. "But there should be something we can...Sansha and Yasur and others risked their lives to help me escape. I just wonder sometimes, you know?"

Jack did know. He knew of those who helped strangers in their midst, who risked their own lives to save others, and the reality of never knowing what happened to those left behind. He didn't have an answer for Daniel and God he wished he did.

"Did I ever tell you about L'ting?" Daniel said but it wasn't really a question. "I only knew her name, not where she came from. She was little more than a child. They tried to...the guards on the slaver ship, they wanted to...they did it to me instead. I kept thinking of Cassie, of someone hurting her, of her being lost and alone. And then they put me in the bottom cages and she was above me. She gave me her name--I think that was her gift to me."

Jack made a warning motion with his hand when Carter started to lean forward. Daniel didn't need comfort; he needed to exorcise his demons.

"She was scared. We all were scared, and they treated us worse than animals. Live, die, it didn't matter, there would be enough cargo to make a profit. And those who didn't survive probably weren't worth much anyway. When we finally arrived on Sabak, they pulled us from the cages--and L'ting was on the floor. She wasn't moving. I thought she had fallen, but she...she didn't move. It wasn't until later that I realized L'ting was the lucky one." Daniel pulled his legs up and hugged his knees with a grace that made Jack envious. "Sansha and Yasur told me I was lucky. I could have been a worker in the tiztia fields. No one lasts long in the tiztia fields. But I had a roof over my head and clothing and only had to provide entertainment for Hatan. And every night I could look out the window and see the stars and wonder which one of them belonged to home." His voice grew softer until it was nearly a whisper. "I missed you all. I missed you all so very much."

Carter leaned forward, wrapped her arms over Daniel's shoulders, rested her head on his hair, and then Teal'c reached over and put one hand on Daniel's shoulder.

"We missed you also, Daniel Jackson." Teal'c summed up all their thoughts. "Thank you for returning to us."

Jack realized that only Teal'c could have said those words and gotten away with it. He stayed back, allowing Carter and Teal'c their time with Daniel--perhaps now they could all move forward. He looked up at the stars, searching for the North Star, constant like the love they felt for Daniel, like his team's trust and faith in one another.

* * * *

Daniel pointed to the building on the slide. "So you can see that this temple shows definite Toltec influences if we compare it to the previous slides. Any questions?" He looked around the table at SG-6 and his own teammates. Jack appeared to be engrossed in an attempt to balance a pen on his fingertip. Good thing he knew Jack had listened to every word of his presentation despite his apparent non-interest. Daniel waited a few moments and then turned off the presentation.

"Thank you, Doctor Jackson," General Hammond said from his position at the other end of the table. "SG-1 and SG-6, you have a go for thirteen hundred hours. I'm sure I don't have to impress upon you the importance of procuring this treaty." He looked directly at Jack.

"No sir," Jack answered, his attention fully on the general.

Hammond smiled and nodded before dismissing the teams. SG-6 left but Jack, Sam, and Teal'c remained behind.

"You're sure you don't want this mission?" Jack asked Daniel. Daniel looked at Jack, at his teammates--or maybe he should get used to saying his former teammates.

"I told you before, I can't." Daniel busied himself with closing his laptop. He didn't risk looking at any of them. Sure, he was doing welll--so well in fact that his appointments with Mackenzie were down to once a month and he no longer took any medication. But he couldn't bring himself to step through the Gate.

"Carter? Don't you and Teal'c have to do some last minute checks of our equipment?"

"Yes sir," Sam agreed.

Daniel waited until they left. "Really subtle, Jack."

Jack shrugged and looked supremely unapologetic. "You've got to go through the Gate sometime. Fraiser and Mackenzie have both cleared you."

"That's just it. I don't need to. Look, Doctor Cruz is perfect for this mission. He's a good man, Jack." Daniel deliberately didn't look out the large window that would show him the Stargate.

"He's not you." Jack insisted. He put a hand on Daniel's shoulder and squeezed before walking out of the briefing room without another word.

Daniel pinched the bridge of his nose. Sometimes he couldn't win for losing. He crossed over to the window and put his hand on the briefing room window. Once upon a time, the sight would have filled him with awe. Now it made his stomach clench--there were too many things that could go wrong when he stepped through the Stargate. He tried not to think of his team doing the same thing. "It's going to be fine," he whispered. "It's got to be."

* * * *

Hammond looked at Daniel as SG-1 and SG-6 stepped through the Gate. Anyone who didn't know the younger man would think he was calm as a cucumber--those who did would have noticed he was wound tight. George Hammond forbore to mention the left hand curled tightly into a fist, or the way Daniel's mouth was drawn into a tight line along. No, Daniel definitely wasn't calm.

He resisted the urge to sigh--he'd thought that this mission was tailor-made for Daniel to get back into the swing of things. He thought Daniel would jump at the opportunity to visit P8W-331, but like each and every other mission since Doctors Fraiser and Mackenzie had cleared him, Daniel had repeated that he didn't feel he was the best man for the job. But George feared that if Daniel didn't step through the Gate soon, chances were he'd never do it again. He knew Daniel was scared, even if Daniel wouldn't ever articulate that fear. Hammond didn't have an easy answer for him--he had no answer at all, no guarantees of safety, but the thought of the man next to him confining his work with the SGC to the mountain was depressing. He'd always thought Daniel would be the one to outlast them all--the ultimate explorer, the ultimate seeker of truth.

He could hear Daniel's breathing quicken as Colonel O'Neill stepped into the puddle and then the wormhole closed. Daniel didn't move from his spot and continued to stare at the Gate. As George watched, he slowly uncurled his fist, stretched his fingers and then took a deep breath. The expression of tension eased.

"I have some reports to finish," Daniel said quietly. "If I may...?"

Hammond nodded his assent even though it wasn't needed. He watched Daniel leave and wished, even though he knew it was pointless, that he could give that guarantee.

* * * *

"Turn the alarm off, Jack," Daniel mumbled as the annoying sound penetrated his sleep. When the noise continued, he grabbed a pillow and threw it in the general direction of the clock. And then realized that one, he was alone in their bed, and two, it wasn't the alarm clock--it was the phone. That knowledge sent a jolt through his system and he sat up, grabbed the phone and his glasses, and turned on the light within seconds.

"Jackson," he answered, blinking rapidly as his eyes adjusted to the brightness of the room.

"Doctor Jackson, General Hammond has requested you come to the base as quickly as possible," Walter's familiar voice informed him.

"What's wrong?" he asked, already out of bed and searching for a clean pair of underwear.

"There's been an incident."

Daniel's mouth went dry. "With Jack and the others?" he asked, even though he knew information wasn't likely to be forthcoming over the phone.

Walter hesitated which was enough of an answer.

"I understand." Daniel began to pull on a pair of khakis while he cradled the phone on his shoulder.


Okay this was not good. The phone had been passed to Hammond himself. "There's a car on the way. ETA," there was a sound on the other end as if Hammond was checking something, "five minutes."

Daniel looked at the clock, doing some quick calculations. Five minutes until the car arrived, another fifteen to twenty to the mountain. He wondered if he would be able to persuade the airman to exceed the speed limit.

"We'll see you then," General Hammond told him and then ended the call.

Daniel stood staring at the phone for a few precious seconds before he threw it onto the bed and left the room, buttoning his shirt on the way down the hall.

* * * *

"General Hammond?"

Daniel charged into the briefing room and nearly skidded to a stop when he saw Feretti and two of his team drinking coffee and Captain Lephart hunched over a laptop tapping on the keyboard.

The general looked at him and gave a faint frown. Daniel looked down at his attire--wrinkled khakis and a plaid shirt half-tucked in.

Ferreti gave him an understanding smile and nudged a cup of coffee towards Daniel.

"Sit down, son," Hammond said.

Daniel slid into the seat next to Captain Lephart and latched onto the coffee mug. The heat seeped into his fingers and he hoped no one noticed the slight tremor there.

"Sir, the airman, airwom...airman, wasn't able to give me any information." Daniel didn't know if that was good or bad, although he doubted the young woman even knew the Stargate existed. He was sure his voice didn't betray the slightest alarm.

"We received this message an hour ago," Hammond offered. He motioned for Captain Lephart to play the message and Sam's voice came through the laptop--hard to understand through the static and the loud noises behind her.

"...O'Neill...SG-6...blood...ritual...think sacri...not"

Daniel frowned and gripped his mug tighter. "Can you play it again please?"

Sam's voice filled the room once again. Daniel leaned closer to the laptop watching the spikes of her voice even though he didn't understand what they meant. The voices in the background were yelling, no, not yelling, chanting, but there was too much static.

"Doctor Jackson?" Hammond asked when Daniel motioned for the captain to play it yet again.

"Can you clean up the static, Gene? Was there any video feed? Do we have any other information?" Daniel requested.

"We didn't get any video," Captain Lephart said. "I'm working on the static. Give me a few more minutes, sir." He tilted his head and listened to something coming through his headphones and then began to type again.

"Any ideas?" Feretti asked.

Daniel tapped a finger against his lips. Earlier contacts with the people of P8W-331 hadn't indicated any rituals of human sacrifice. The Stargate was in the center of their largest city and the people were used to strangers coming through the gate. They were missing something--he just didn't know what. "Not yet."

He turned to Hammond. "Sir, have we been in contact with anyone on the planet since Sam's transmission?"

"We haven't." Hammond shook his head. "We believe your familiarity with the rigid caste structure was necessary before attempting it."

Daniel nodded. "I understand, sir."

"Got it," Captain Lephart said. He looked at Daniel before beginning Sam's message again.

The static had been reduced, making the chanting slightly easier to understand, although out of context, Daniel could only leap to conclusions about their meaning.

"Blood--the blood of foreign prince. We demand blood." Daniel recited along with the chanting crowd. He turned to Hammond. "Sir, I think we need to go to the planet."

"We can be ready in thirty, sir." Feretti added.

Hammond held up a hand. "First we establish contact. Then the decision will be made." He looked at Feretti and his team. "Get your team ready to go through the Gate, Colonel. Doctor Jackson, please stay."

"Yes, sir." Feretti replied and he and the others left.

Daniel wished he had another cup of coffee when Hammond looked at him with a hard, assessing stare.

"In a half hour, most likely SG-2 is going to go through that Gate, Doctor Jackson. I believe you are the best hope SG 1 and 6 have, but I will not send you through if you are not one hundred percent. Doctors Mackenzie and Fraiser have assured me you are capable of the act. What I want is your assessment."

Daniel swallowed hard and looked out the briefing room window. Jack, Sam, Teal'c, Cruz and the rest of SG-6 were on another planet, possibly being held hostage, possibly being made ready for sacrifice. There was no time to think of his own fears which now seemed petty in the face of the possibility of losing his team, his friends, his lover. "I'm ready, sir. I won't let you down."

Hammond nodded. "I know you won't."

* * * *

"I understand, Highest One," Daniel assured the priest bedecked in feathers and a mask. "We are honored to be invited to the ceremony."

The priest waved at the camera and then the transmission was cut off.

"Doctor Jackson, I'm sure you will be able to inform all of us regarding your communication," General Hammond said.

Daniel turned away from the video screen and smiled at the general and SG-2. "We've been invited to a wedding, sir."

"A wedding," Feretti repeated. He gripped his P-90 in a manner reminiscent of Jack. "A wedding."

"Not just any wedding. A royal wedding." Daniel felt his smile grow. Jack was so going to owe him for this. "The queen and Jack."

"Did you just say Colonel O'Neill is getting married?" General Hammond raised his eyebrows.

"I did, sir, although I'm sure once we arrive, we'll be able to persuade the queen that marrying Jack is really not what she wants to do."

Feretti laughed and then sobered at a quelling glance from Hammond.

"Heaven help us," Hammond said. "SG-2, Doctor Jackson, you have a go."

"Thank you, sir." Daniel replied as he got to his feet.

They left Hammond still shaking his head as they went down to the Gateroom.

"A wedding," Feretti repeated yet again in bemusement. "Only Jack." He looked at Daniel. "Well, Jack and you. Seems you have some experience in that arena, Doc."

The time when the comment would have felt painful was past, and Daniel smiled back. "Yes, I do," he agreed. He loved Jack but his time with Sha're would be a time he always held close to his heart and would treasure until the day he died.

He watched as the Gate opened and before he took a step towards the blue puddle, he felt Feretti place a hand on his shoulder and squeeze gently--something Jack might have done. He took a deep breath and walked up the ramp and through the Gate.

* * * *

He'd forgotten how different places could smell. His world had narrowed on Sabak--confined to the house, he'd rarely experienced the alien sky except through the skylight in his quarters and the large windows in Hatan's room. Then back on Earth, he'd stayed close to home or spent his days in the mountain. He'd forgotten the crowds, the sheer vitality of humans. Daniel hesitated a moment as they walked the short distance towards the waiting group of dignitaries in the center of the plaza.

"Daniel?" Feretti murmured accompanied by a sideways glance.

Daniel took a deep breath of spice-laden air and nodded. "I'm fine."

"Doctor Jackson?" A young man wearing a feathered cape stepped forward as the group approached. He smiled at all of them. "Welcome to the great city. We are most pleased you are able to attend the wedding."

Daniel smiled back. "Thank you. We are most honored for the invitation." He motioned for the others to start following the small group through the marketplace while he walked beside their greeter. "Would it be possible for us to meet with our companions?"

The young man laughed and beckoned for one of the other men to come closer. He said something in a voice too low for Daniel to understand and the man took off running. "Of course." He frowned as he stopped walking and looked at Daniel. "I am not sure your companions understand the import of this marriage. They seem most distressed."

"I'll do my best to make sure they are well-informed." Daniel assured him. "When will the wedding take place?"

"The next dawning. And then we will feast and the treaty will be signed." He touched Daniel's hand and lowered his voice. "There will be a great celebration." He smiled and squeezed Daniel's hand. "My name is Yahchay. I will be most honored to accompany you at the celebration."

Daniel smiled again and then glanced over his shoulder, relieved to see Feretti and the others were a bit behind. Jack getting married, he getting hit on within minutes of their arrival--Feretti was going to have a field day with the gossip back at the SGC.

* * * *

The building they approached was built of black stone--obsidian, Daniel thought, and the high polish it had been given reflected the fountains and pools of water that lined the grounds in front. At any other time, Daniel would have stopped to admire the beauty of it, question his guide, but there wasn't time for that now. On their walk through the city, he'd seen many signs that the people were preparing for a great event. There were banners and flags hung from windows, people scurried about laden with packages, and groups of white-robed young men scrubbed streets and buildings.

Three guards snapped to attention as SG-2 and Daniel approached the entrance to the black building.

"Welcome to the Royal Palace." The priest Daniel had spoken to earlier greeted them. "Our Lady has informed her stewards to prepare her finest guest chambers for you." He gave a pointed glance at their weapons. "We do ask that you refrain from carrying your weaponry within the palace grounds, although we will not require you to surrender them to us."

"We understand, Highest One," Daniel replied before turning to Lou. "We've got to play their game for now," he stated in a quiet voice.

"I don't like this," Lou said in a voice just as low as they were passed off to two white-robed women who nodded at them silently and motioned for them to follow.

Daniel didn't know what to say. He had never visited this world--SG-1 had made first contact with them while he was in captivity on Sabak. But Cruz had been here before with SG-6 and there was nothing to indicate that there was any reason to be worried--well none other than the fact that it appeared Jack was going to be married to the queen and/or sacrificed. Yeah that wasn't good--wasn't good at all.

The women appeared to glide ahead of them and Daniel tried to take note of the path they took. The decorations were spare--nothing ostentatious, large arrangements of fresh flowers and some decorative designs painted on the walls. Other than that, the decor was simple. They passed a few other people--all dressed in the same white robes as their guides.

They followed the women down another hall. Large open doors provided a view of an inner courtyard with an elaborate garden. Laughter drifted in along with the sweet scent of flowers and the trill of bird song even though the people were hidden from view.

The women stopped before a door, pointed, and then continued on their way with nary a word.

"Doc?" Feretti asked.

Daniel shrugged and knocked. "Um, hello?"

The door was yanked open and Daniel was caught up in an embrace.

"Daniel, thank goodness you're here." Sam hugged him so tightly he thought he wouldn't be able to breathe.

"Hello, Major Carter," Feretti said by Daniel's side.

Sam dropped her arms from her grip around Daniel and stepped back and took a deep breath.

"Sam, what happened? We got your message." Daniel touched her arm, not caring if Feretti saw. Sam looked shaken. "Is Jack here?" He glanced around the room, noted Teal'c's presence. SG-6 and Doctor Cruz were nowhere to be seen. "And where's Andy?"

" SG-6 and Doctor Cruz were invited out to the mining province. Colonel O'Neill told them to go; said there would be nothing for them to do here. So they left, we stayed.

"There was a festival in the plaza. Our guides said it would be good for us to see it--to see how the people celebrated the news of the upcoming treaty. And then we were led to the center of the plaza--all the people stepped out of our way. Yahchay said it was because we were such honored guests." She glanced at the others and then continued her recollection of the events.

"The queen made an appearance. We didn't know she'd be coming. And then more guards appeared and they surrounded Colonel O'Neill. The people started cheering. Yahchay told us the queen just gave the colonel the highest honor possible and he started talking about blood and sacrifices. They took the colonel away--told us we'd be able to see him at the appointed time. Yahchay didn't have a problem with us contacting the SGC--he said that most likely more of our people would like to see the sacrifice the colonel made for us." She took a shaky breath.

"I think the sacrifice and blood part is more figurative than literal," Daniel told her and Teal'c who'd come to stand closer to Sam. He smiled while Sam frowned.

"I don't think this is amusing, Daniel," she replied. She glared at Feretti who was making noises as if he was strangling.

"Um, Sam? Jack has somehow gotten himself engaged to be married." Daniel finally explained, trying very hard to keep his mouth from twitching.

"Married. I do not believe O'Neill would wish to marry on this world," Teal'c stated.

"Married?" Sam's eyebrows rose along with her voice. "Are you sure? No human sacrifice?"

"Technically..." Feretti began as he glanced down at his ring finger where a tan line marked the outline of his wedding band.

"Uh, yeah, right." Daniel pinched the bridge of his nose. "Did they tell you where they were taking Jack? Have you seen him at all since they took him?"

"They have not, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c answered. "However, I believe that he is within the palace. However, they choose not to listen to our requests to be taken to him."

Daniel looked at Teal'c who, even without his staff weapon, appeared foreboding. He had no doubt Teal'c could have taken down Yahchay or most of the guards and people he'd seen in the palace with a simple swipe. But the unfailing politeness and puzzlement of the natives had probably thrown Teal'c and Sam too for a loop. There had been a reason he'd recommended Andy Cruz for this mission--the man had done most of the earlier work on the planet, spent six weeks here after SG-1 had made first contact. He knew the protocols, knew the correct words, would have understood from the start...why on Earth had Jack thought sending the man away was a good idea?, Jack wasn't...he couldn't have...

Daniel took a deep breath and studied Sam. She stared back at him, her head tilted slightly to one side as if she was analyzing him like she analyzed her equations. Whatever Jack had done, Daniel was certain Sam and Teal'c were innocent in it. "Did Jack fight them?" he asked.

Sam frowned and shook her head. "It happened so fast and..." she stopped, her eyebrows going up, her eyes widening. "You mean you think he..."

"I think he did," Daniel said.

"O'Neill is capable of much deception," Teal'c added.

"Uh, guys?" Feretti caught Daniel's attention by waving a hand. "Interesting as all of this is, someone want to fill the rest of us non-SG-1 speakers in on what's going on?"

"Jack's an ass, that's what," Daniel stated. He crossed his arms over his chest and fought to control his growing anger.

"DanielJackson believes O'Neill was aware of the plans the queen had for him," Teal'c explained. "He believes it was a deception on O'Neill's part."

"And when I find him, I'm gonna strangle him with my bare hands." Daniel finished for Teal'c. He went to the door and yanked it open to find Yahchay standing there. "Take me to Jack. To Colonel O'Neill," he corrected when Yahchay only stared at him.

"You seem most agitated, Doctor Jackson," Yahchay noted as he led SG-1 minus Jack through the halls.

"Agitated isn't even the beginning," Daniel mumbled. He thought Sam hadn't heard but she slipped her hand in his and squeezed it reassuringly. Oh yeah, Jack was going to pay big time.

* * * *

At any other time, Daniel would have wanted to stop along the long hallways and study the beautiful and probably quite old murals. But for now, they were only a blur of color as he strode behind Yahchay. Feretti had been sent back to the Gate with an update--a reassurance to be sent to General Hammond that all was well and then had been instructed to retrieve SG-6 from the mining community on the pretense of their needing to be there for the ceremony.

He was going to kill Jack. He couldn't believe Jack would be so devious. No scratch that--of course Jack could be devious, and totally believable. Not much of a foundation, my ass, Daniel fumed.

"The foreign prince awaits the marriage ceremony here," Yahchay indicated as he stopped before a black door polished so highly it reflected everything. A guard stood by the door, his spear more ceremonial than weapon considering it looked as if it could be broken in Daniel's bare hands. He nodded as Yahchay spoke quietly and then pressed a button on the wall and the door slid open.

"What's this?" A very familiar voice asked. "Oh that looks good. How about some of that?"

Daniel walked into the room and straight up to Jack. He smiled politely at the two white-robed servants. "The prince will not be able to eat before the ceremony," he said smoothly. "It is a custom of our people. It would be best if you took it away." He gestured at plates of what looked to be very tasty food.

Jack watched as the food was taken away. "I was hungry," Jack complained.

"Now, now, Jack. You remember what happens when you eat marriage food," Daniel reminded him. "Hi, by the way."

"Hey." Jack fingered the sheer cloth hanging from the windows, walked a few paces back and forth--all without looking at Daniel. "What?" he finally demanded, throwing his hands in the air.

Daniel said nothing, but continued to stand with his arms over his chest while Sam and Teal'c had somehow managed to disappear further into the chamber.

"I can't believe you did…this." Daniel gave Jack his own gesture in return.

"You're so cute when you sputter," Jack replied. He shrugged his shoulders and looked at Daniel, his gaze intense. "It got you here didn't it?"

"I'm sure General Hammond is going to love to hear my report---I'm sure the government appreciated firing up the Gate just so you could have your little..." Daniel stopped mid-rant as Jack's quiet comment caught up with his brain. "It got me here," he repeated. He took a deep breath. "I went through the Gate."

Jack stepped closer to him. "That you did, Danny."

Daniel could feel a smile spreading on his face, despite his best effort to remain angry. He'd come through the Gate--and he was still whole, healthy, and strong. He looked at Jack and revised his opinion at Jack's smug grin. Oh yeah, and he didn't want to forget---pissed off.

* * * *

The queen was lovely--dark-haired and voluptuous in a way that reminded him with a sweet pang of Sha're. She, like Yahchay and the priests, wore a feathered cape although hers consisted of all bright blue feathers.

"It is good to meet you, Daniel, Scholar of the Tau'ri. Your prince spoke quite highly of you."

Daniel bowed to her and then smiled his most charming smile. "Did he? How nice of him to do so." He was aware of Jack's subtle shift beside him. Sam, Teal'c, and SG-2 stood off to the back of the small chamber where the queen had agreed to receive them.

"It is a good thing for our peoples to have this treaty," the queen continued. "The prince's sacrifice will be long-remembered."

"Um, yes, about that," Daniel said, deliberately pitching his voice lower. "I wonder if it would be permitted, Most Gracious One, if we could speak of that ceremony." He glanced at Jack whose shift this time definitely spoke of discomfort.

"Ah, yes, I understand, Scholar." She made a waving motion with her hand, effectively dismissing her staff. "The scholar and I will confer alone."

"But, your highness," Jack started to say.

"Most Gracious One," Daniel interrupted before Jack could say anymore. "Please forgive our prince. He is confused by these happenings. Perhaps my friends could ease his mind?"

"But of course, Scholar," the queen consented. She motioned for Yahchay towards the visitors. "Please see to them," she ordered the young man.

Yahchay bowed once and moved forward, herding the rest out of the chamber until Daniel and the queen were left alone.

"Most Gracious One," Daniel said when the room fell silent. "I must tell you of how I came to be here. I think you may find the story most interesting."

The queen smiled and gestured for him to sit down at her feet. "I do love a good tale, Scholar. Please share your story with me so that I may be entertained."

* * * *

"Stop fidgeting," Daniel ordered as he batted Jack's hands away from the ceremonial cape the other man wore.

"You will ruffle your feathers, O'Neill," Teal'c commented.

"Was that a joke?" Jack asked, narrowing his eyes at Teal'c. "Carter, that had better not be a snicker."

"No, sir." Sam turned away but her voice sounded strangely strangled.

"Where's SG-2?" Jack asked Daniel.

Daniel waved his hand in the vague direction of the Gate. "Oh SG-2 and SG-6 went home last night. You know, when you were being prepared. General Hammond figured there was no reason for everyone to be here. Since there was no danger and all." He bent down and adjusted the apron Jack wore.

"Don't..." Jack's voice came out more a squeak than a command.

"Oh, sorry." Daniel backed away, holding his hands in the air. He did his best to look innocent and ashamed. Jack seemed to buy it--thank goodness. Daniel watched as Jack began to pace in the spacious chamber where SG-1 awaited their escort to the ceremony. He swallowed hard as he noticed Jack's long legs, the way his ass moved considering the apron only barely covered Jack's front. He shifted from foot to foot, aware of stirrings he hadn't felt since his captivity.

"Daniel?" Sam asked. "Are you okay?"

He reached up a hand and tugged at his t-shirt. "Yeah, I'm fine. Just, uh, a little warm."

Sam smiled at him and patted his arm. "Water?"

", yeah, sure," he agreed and then accepted the cup she handed him. He drank it in one long gulp and forced himself to look away from Jack. Concentrate, he ordered himself. Concentrate.

By the time Yahchay came for them, Daniel was back in control. He just had to make sure he stayed to the side of Jack and not behind him.

* * * *

The incense tickled Daniel's nose and he fought hard not to sneeze. Jack had no such qualms--he sneezed loudly and after a quick glance at the others nearby, wiped his nose with the corner of his cloak.

"Jack," Daniel warned.

"Well it's not like there's anywhere to carry tissues with this." Jack motioned towards his outfit.

Daniel made sure he glanced down Jack's front before meeting Jack's eyes again. "No, guess there isn't." Was it awful of him that he liked the way Jack shifted uncomfortably? Daniel dug in his pocket and handed Jack a crumpled up tissue. "Don't worry. It's clean."

Jack used the tissue and deposited it back in Daniel's jacket pocket with a pat. "Thanks." He turned as drums began to pound. "What's going on?"

"The sacrificial marriage," Daniel explained, watching as the queen's guards walked the path from the palace to the plaza. Cheers came from the large crowd as the guards drew closer.

The queen mounted the large stone pedestal that dominated the center of the plaza, followed by the high priest Daniel had spoken to just the day before. The priest raised his hands up in the air and began to speak in a loud, authoritative voice.


"He's reciting the lineage of the queen--reminding the people of her right to be queen," Daniel murmured back.

The priest finished to more cheers from the crowd. He gestured for the queen and for Jack to step forward.

Jack didn't move. "Daniel, aren't you supposed to stop this marriage?"

Daniel wondered if feeling just the slightest bit, okay…a lot, smug at Jack's growing discomfort was wrong. "We can't," he stated in a calm voice--the one he used on countless missions when things were going to hell in a handbasket. "Not at this point. It would be seen as an affront."

"Come, please," the priest requested, moving with the queen towards the stone altar in the center of the pedestal. "The sacrifice is to be done now while the sun still rises."

"Daniel," Jack whispered urgently. "This is so not happening."

"Um, yeah, it is," Daniel whispered back. He gave Jack a nudge to get him moving.

"What the..." Jack paused as they stopped before the altar where the priest was holding a very sharp knife made of obsidian.

"Go ahead, Jack." Daniel gestured for Jack to lie down on the altar.

"Are you out of your mind?" Jack stood firm. "Isn't this the time you pull out one of your miraculous saves and get us the hell out of here? I so do not want to have my heart pulled out of my chest while I'm still alive."

"Of course not," Daniel told him. "Look, just trust me. It's going to be fine."

Jack looked at him and then gave a short sharp nod. Okay, that hurt--that look. The anger Daniel felt earlier dissolved with that look. Jack was scared--there was no doubt about it.

Daniel took a deep breath and spoke quickly. "It's a marriage in name only. It represents our alliance with them, a sealing of the treaty. If Sam was the one in charge, the marriage would be to her. That knife? He's going to prick your finger and do the same to the queen and combine the blood on the altar. That's it. That's the ceremony. Oh, except for the feasting afterwards."

Jack stared at him. Daniel gritted his teeth. "I'm sorry. I'm...just do it. I promise you are safe."

The ceremony took less time than the walk from the palace had, less time than Daniel's explanation, and then the priest held up his knife, the combined blood shining on it, and Jack and the queen were being cheered, while Daniel stood with a smile that felt totally fake on his face. He could see the Stargate from where he stood. God, he wanted to go home.

* * * *

The little shit--Jack snuck a glance at Daniel who was sitting between Yahchay and some official and smiling in a diplomatic way. Meanwhile he was stuck between two older women who delighted in patting his arms soothingly any time he made an effort at conversation. Just what he needed to top off the day--Jack O'Neill, intergalatic pet. Still, his plan to get Daniel off world had been sneaky, but...on the other hand, it got him here. And no matter what Daniel said, he was having fun---it was clear in the way he was taking part in the conversations going on around him. He watched as Daniel sketched some sort of box with his hands and then as Yahchay put a hand on Daniel's arm. That guy was entirely too friendly, Jack thought. Daniel shook his head at Yahchay and the younger man removed his hand and said something before pointing to Jack. Yahchay glanced over at Jack and then gravely nodded. He stood up and gestured for Daniel to do the same. Daniel looked at him in confusion but did as Yahchay directed and the two men approached Jack.

Yahchay spoke to one of the white-robed servants and they scurried off to do whatever he'd bid them.

"Perhaps my ladies would enjoy some entertainments in the garden?" Yahchay asked smoothly of the women sitting beside Jack. "Our Most Glorious One has arranged for all your needs to be met on this festival day."

The women got to their feet with an alacrity that surprised Jack--he hadn't thought they'd be able to move that fast.

"I must apologize, Colonel O'Neill," Yahchay offered. "I did not know of your relationship with Daniel Jackson."

"So it's back to Colonel?" Jack asked. "No more foreign prince?"

Yahchay looked at him, his expression puzzled for a moment before he broke into a smile. "Ah yes. I see. Yes, yes, once the ceremony is complete..." he shrugged.

"Jack," Daniel said in a warning tone.

"It is of no matter, Daniel," Yahchay replied. "Now come, my friends--let us have wine and raise our glasses to the new alliance."

The two women who Yahchay had sent away earlier had returned with silver goblets and a bottle of wine.

"This comes from another ally," Yahchay mentioned as he poured the wine into the goblets. Jack and Daniel both took the offered drink and then waited for Yahchay to take his own.

Jack sniffed the wine cautiously--it smelled vaguely of pear and something floral.

He glanced at Daniel who'd frozen as if he'd just received a shock.

"Danny?" Jack murmured.

"Your ally...through the Stargate," Daniel said, his voice low and even.

Yahchay raised his eyebrows. "Yes, of course. Tiztia wine from the Beruga Estates on Sabak. Alas, this is most likely the last good vintage we will enjoy."

"Yeah?" Jack asked. "And why is that?" He moved closer, letting his arm bump against Daniel's--a small show of support.

"There was a slave uprising months ago," Yahchay explained. "On the Beruga Estates. It is said the owner, Hatak..."

"Hatan," Daniel interrupted. "His name is Hatan."

"Did you know him? Does your world trade with Sabak also?"

And wasn't this whole thing going to hell in a handbasket quickly enough, Jack thought as he looked at Daniel's white face, at the death grip Daniel held on the goblet. "No," Jack answered. "No we do not."

"It is said Hatan's house slaves turned on him, that he was taken to the tiztia fields and his throat cut by two of the house slaves in the name of one who had been greatly wronged by Hatan. I have been told by one of the merchants that an investigation has begun, that some of those in power believe Hatan got what he deserved, that it is unlikely any will be punished for their deeds against Hatan." He stopped and took a sip of the wine. "Is this not to your liking?" he asked and gestured with his goblet to the ones in their hands.

"Uh, no. It's against our regulations for us to drink alcohol while we are on duty," Jack said with an apologetic smile. "I hope you do not think ill of us."

"No. There is no ill will." Yahchay responded. He turned and said something to one of the servant women before speaking to them again. "Daniel, my friend. You do not look well. Is something amiss?"

"'m fine. It must be the heat in this room," Daniel stated as if nothing was wrong.

Jack wished those who thought Daniel was not a man of courage could see him now. Courage or no, this wasn't where they needed to be. The ceremony was over, the treaty was signed, and God knew, they needed to be home.

"I think that perhaps it would be best for us to return to our people as soon as possible," Jack observed. Daniel shot him a dirty look, his face getting that stubborn as a mule expression. "If that meets with the approval of the queen."

"I am certain it will. She understands the necessity of duty." Yahchay agreed. He took another silver goblet from the servant woman and handed it to Daniel. "Water, Scholar."

Daniel accepted it and waited until Yahchay had stepped away. "I can handle this," he whispered. "There's no need for us to leave."

"Yeah, yeah there is," Jack whispered back. "Besides this whole..."he gestured helplessly at the abandoned wine, "mess, I've got sunburn where no one should have sunburn, so this isn't all about you," he added. It seemed to satisfy Daniel and that was good enough.

When SG-1 walked through the Gate together some fifteen minutes later, Jack thought going home hadn't felt this good in a long, long time.

* * * *

The drive home was quiet--far quieter than Jack expected. Daniel's car was at Jack's house and Daniel didn't appear to be the happiest of passengers. Jack kept sneaking glances at his partner, trying to gauge his mood. The de-briefing had gone well--General Hammond had seemed amused by the whole marriage thing and Jack would have sworn Hammond already had figured out Jack would pull something to get Daniel off-world.

But now Daniel was silent--hadn't said one word to Jack since they'd signed out of the mountain. Pissed off, Jack thought, and much as he hated to admit it, totally justified. It had been a dirty trick, even if it had worked just the way Jack thought it would. He didn't know if they'd be able to put Sabak behind them--if Daniel would ever find complete peace with what had happened to him. But as steps went, Daniel going through the Gate when he thought his team was in danger was equivalent to climbing Mount Everest.

"Daniel?" Jack turned the key and unlocked his door. "You coming in?"

Daniel looked at him as if he was surprised to find Jack in the truck, even if Jack was the driver. "Yeah. Sure. Go on ahead."

Jack shrugged and got out. He gave a last glance at Daniel as he went up the steps on the deck. He'd give Daniel five minutes and then he was coming back out no matter what the outcome.

* * * *

"Upstairs," Daniel ordered as he came inside. Jack looked at him in surprise. Daniel was not a door-slammer but Jack expected the glass was still vibrating from the force Daniel had used when he slammed the door behind him.

"Don't you want something to eat? To drink?" Jack waved his hand in the direction of the refrigerator. As soon as the words left his mouth, he knew it was a stupid question--not when Daniel stood in the middle of his kitchen, breathing as if he'd been running and with that particular stubborn set to his jaw. "Guess not," Jack added before he took a long swig from the orange juice container.

God, Daniel's eyes were blue when he got angry. Of course they were always blue--they just seemed to grow an intense blue with anger. Strange--he'd have to figure out a way to ask Doc about that phenomena. He let his breath out slowly as he turned to throw the oj carton in the sink. Was it strange that a pissed off Daniel made him hard? He wondered.

"Umph." Jack's breath came out in a whoosh as one hundred eighty pounds of solid Daniel came in contact with his back. Daniel closed his arms around Jack's, effectively pinning them to his sides.

"I said upstairs." Daniel spoke in low even tones that Jack thought he usually reserved for their Goa'uldy friends. "Now."

Jack didn't say a word but took a step towards the doorway. He was hyper-aware of Daniel's presence--not that he couldn't be. Daniel was so close to him, he could feel the other man's body heat and the way his breath dampened the hairs on the back of Jack's neck.

"Where?" Jack asked when they stood in the hall.

"Your room--and strip."

Jack didn't turn to face Daniel--he couldn't. Not yet. No, not couldn't--didn't want to. He didn't want to see confirmation of what he was beginning to suspect---that Daniel truly had gone over the edge--that what had happened on Sabak, and all through Daniel's captivity and then with Jack's hare-brained idea to get Daniel off-world had served to break Daniel. Shatter him into a thousand pieces that would never be put back together₀”a priceless artifact that would never be complete and whole again.

"Strip," Daniel said again when Jack hesitated.

"Daniel, look, this is..." Jack stopped talking when Daniel came up behind him and yanked up his shirt. Daniel's hands were cool on his over-heated skin--strong, slender fingers against the line of his spine.

"Take it off, Jack," Daniel whispered into his ear. "All of it."

Oh God. Jack's mouth went dry as he took off his shirt and then dropped his chinos and boxers. "Like what you see?" His voice sounded as if he was going through puberty again.

"Oh I like. I like it very much." Daniel placed his hand on Jack's ass. "Get on the bed." He rubbed his hand in a slow circle and Jack gritted his teeth. "Jack, Jack. Are you listening to me?" Daniel chided.

"I'm listening." Jack went face-first on the bed and started to turn over to look at Daniel.

"Don't." Daniel said. "Listen to me."

Jack kept his head down. He could hear the snick as Daniel undid the zipper on his khakis, the rustle as Daniel undid the buttons on that nearly worn-out plaid shirt he insisted was still perfectly decent. There were soft footsteps and then Daniel placed a hand on Jack's shoulder.

"Yes, yes," Daniel whispered, his breath hot in Jack's ear. "You. Me. Yes." He licked the skin behind Jack's ear and Jack shivered. But then Daniel took away his hand and Jack heard quick breathing and a whispered, "No."

"Daniel?" Jack turned over only to see Daniel standing by the bed, his hands clenched into fists and his eyes closed. "Danny, what's going on?"

Tell me, he pleaded silently.

Daniel shook his head, his body so tense Jack swore he could feel vibrations emanating from Daniel's muscles. "I..." Daniel broke off, swallowed hard and then began again. "I...I don't want to rape you."

What the hell? Where had that come from?

Jack sat up, his body already telling him he wasn't in the mood any longer. "Rape. Who said anything about rape?"

Daniel looked at him and Jack reached out and touched Daniel's arm.

"Sit." When Daniel hesitated, he patted the bed beside him. "Just sit."

Daniel sat, his breath coming out in a sigh.

"You would have stopped if I said no," Jack stated with complete certainty. "I know you would have." At Daniel's nod, he continued. "This is what we both want. But you need to be in charge. There isn't anything wrong with that."

Daniel took a shaky breath. "He took it all from me," he whispered. "I don't want him in bed with us."

"Then the bastard isn't," Jack insisted. "Look, it happened. You, we, can't pretend it didn't. But it doesn't have to define you." God, he was bad at this kind of talk, but it was Daniel and he loved him and it needed to be done. "He's only in the bed with us if we let him."

"I'm in charge," Daniel said, his voice hesitant. "I'm in charge," he repeated, his voice growing stronger. He put his hand on Jack's thigh, stroked the skin towards Jack's cock and locked his gaze on Jack's. "I'm in charge."

Jack shivered as Daniel pushed him back onto the bed.

"Turn over, Jack." Daniel ordered and then shifted so he was straddling Jack.

"Jack." The mattress moved under Daniel's weight. He spread his fingers on Jack's upper back, pressing soft kisses to Jack's shoulders, leaning more of his weight onto his lover.

Oh God. It felt good. It felt so good. Jack hadn't...for months and months his only release had been courtesy of his right hand and the image of Daniel in his mind's eye--and now, now, it was...oh God, it felt good.

Daniel moved his hands lower while the kisses grew more urgent, frantic. He licked the hollow of Jack's back and Jack thought he might just scream. Who had made that noise anyway?

"Please, please," Daniel said over and over between kisses. He tightened his arms around Jack and flipped him over so they were face to face. "Open your eyes."

Jack did--there was no way he could have kept them closed. The blue of Daniel's eyes seemed electric, a barely visible rim around black.

"You're beautiful," Daniel told him and Jack felt his throat tighten from the emotion behind the words.

"You." It was all Jack could manage to say.

"Please," Daniel repeated. "He wanted, he never, it hurt and he always was on top of me, smothering me. I want. You, I want you to. Please." He kissed Jack full on the lips and then pulled away. "Fuck me, Jack."

"You sure?" Jack brought his hands up to Daniel's shoulders. "You can. To me."

Daniel shook his head, his sweat dropping to Jack's face. "I want you in me. But I can't…not under you."

Jack smiled and pulled Daniel down for a kiss. "We can do it however you want," he said surprised he could find that many words. "Slow. Easy." He punctuated his words with long strokes of his hands down Daniel's sides. "You're in control, Daniel. Always. No means no."

Daniel nodded, keeping his gaze fixed on Jack's.

Please, Jack sent up a silent prayer. He moved his hand to Daniel's cock and stopped, waiting.

Daniel opened his mouth in a little oh--the expression he gave after the first sip of the first cup of coffee each morning and he nodded and closed his eyes. "Yesss," he sighed.

Jack moved his hand gently and then grew bolder as the expression on Daniel's face changed from surprise to pleasure. Nothing like that to make a man want to do even better.

"Now. I want it now." Daniel moaned, touching Jack's cock and squirming in a way that made Jack as eager as his partner.

Awkward didn't begin to describe the position they found themselves in, but it worked and hey, Jack always did believe in resourcefulness. He could see Daniel's face and Daniel could see his and Jack moved in him--Daniel so tight, so hot, so perfect--and Daniel, Daniel gave a hoarse cry of completion as Jack came inside him, grabbing Jack's shoulders so tightly there would be bruises in the morning, and then it was over…but not.

Not over because when they came apart, Daniel was crying. He lay with his head on Jack's chest, his tears hot against Jack's skin.

"Thank you," Daniel whispered. "I thought he'd taken it from me. Thank you."

Jack cupped his hand on the back of Daniel's head and let his own tears fall. Sometimes joy came in the quiet of true communion with another--and tears suited the moment better than smiles.

* * * *

The sky looked bluer than it had before, Daniel thought as he walked across the grocery store parking lot. Bluer and brighter. He realized he was smiling as he pushed the cart towards his car.

Okay, so things weren't perfect, but then again, his life hadn't been perfect before he'd been taken to Sabak. But things were better than they'd been in a long, long time. He and Jack still felt their way around each other--and he'd had a flashback a few nights back that had him cowering and pleading for Jack not to hurt him, but he'd come out of it quicker than he had before, and the next day, he was able to tell Jack some things he hadn't even shared with Mackenzie. He'd been going on missions with the rest of his team, had even gone off-world to visit Nyan's dig without anyone from his team and come home excited and enthusiastic about his job in a way he hadn't since his return from Sabak. Life wasn't perfect, but it was good, and that was enough.

* * * *

"Hey, Daniel."

Daniel looked up at Sam as she entered his office. She was carrying some sort of tool--and looking altogether too smug. "Sam," he replied. She was up to something. He knew it. Sam wasn't a good poker player. "You need help with something?"

She shook her head. "Can't a girl visit her best friend?"

He narrowed his eyes. Oh yeah, definitely up to something. "Janet's your best friend." He gave a last longing glimpse at the photos spread out on the table and put down the magnifying glass. The ruins on P3W-009 were going to have to wait. "What do you really want?"

Sam shrugged. "I don't want anything." She smiled--and then glanced away from his continued gaze.

"Sam." Daniel was as good at drawing out her name as he was at drawing out Jack's.

She placed the tool on the table and then looked at the photos before pointing to one. "What does that say?"

Daniel opened his mouth to answer her and was interrupted by a ringing phone. When he finished the call, he looked at Sam, who was now studying his bookshelves. "That was General Hammond. You and I are to report to the briefing room."

Sam was at the door in a shot.

"And you just happened to be in the neighborhood," Daniel muttered.

She patted his arm. "You really shouldn't be so suspicious, Daniel."

Daniel just shook his head as he closed his door. "I know you guys, remember?"

* * * *

"Jacob!" Daniel smiled in pleasure as he saw Jacob Carter in the briefing room.

The older man smiled back and took a few long steps to come to Daniel's side and embrace him. "Danny. Welcome home." He held on just a few seconds longer and then placed his hands on Daniel's shoulders and stepped back.

"You look well, Doctor Jackson," Selmac's voice filtered through Jacob's. "We were quite relieved to hear of your return to the SGC."

"Thank you." Daniel couldn't help smiling. "It is good to see you well, also."

"Sammy," Jacob said and then stepped aside to hug his daughter.

"Jacob brought something for you, Daniel." General Hammond indicated something on the briefing table.

Daniel looked at him and then at Jack who suddenly found the grain of the table very interesting.

"Go ahead, Daniel," Jacob said. He gave Daniel a little push from behind. "Here." He took up a package from the table and handed it to Daniel.

Daniel looked at it in surprise---it weighed next to nothing and the paper covering it had been hand-painted, a water color of a sunset sky tinged with gold and rose.

"You may as well get started," Jack pointed out. Daniel was aware of the others giving Jack disgusted looks. "What?" Jack held up his hands. "You know how he is. It takes him hours to open a Christmas present."

"It would be foolish of Daniel Jackson to tear this paper, O'Neill," Teal'c observed. "The craftsmanship is very delicate."

So there, Daniel thought and sat down at the table to begin to open the package.

"We were so close," Jacob was saying, "all that time our operative was on Sabak and we never knew Daniel was on the estate."

A Tok'ra operative had been on Sabak while Daniel was a slave. His rescue had only been over the mountain the whole time. He paused a moment and then took a deep breath. It was past, couldn't be changed, couldn't be undone. The paper fell away and Daniel gasped as he caught sight of the gift inside. He lifted the fabric out with hands that bore only the slightest tremor and shook it out to lie on the table.

"It's beautiful," Sam breathed. She moved closer to Daniel and slid her arm around his waist. "It's similar to that cloth you had when you came back to us."

Daniel nodded. It was Sansha's work--he'd recognize it anywhere and besides he could see the gold thread woven in the hem--Sansha's makers mark.

"How did you get this?" Daniel asked, his voice hoarse. He didn't look up from his study of the cloth. He traced the delicate line of a tiztia vine, heavy with purple blossoms, scanned the words embroidered in gold thread and hidden among the vines that formed the border. "Where did you get it?"

Jacob sat down in a chair across from him. "There was an uprising at Beruga Estates. Hatan was killed and the slaves there were taken into custody."

Daniel looked at him then, anger at the unfairness of it all. "He deserved what he got."

"We agree, Doctor Jackson," Selmac replied as Jacob's eyes flashed gold. "It was apparent to us that the Sabak people agreed also when the stories of Hatan's mistreatment was told. They have been taken into custody so that they can be reeducated and find other positions."

"Be a slave to someone else," Daniel commented flatly. Jacob looked away, and Daniel had his answer.

"It is their way, Doctor Jackson." Selmac said. "This cloth was given to us by one named Yasur. He gave it to us in the hopes that it would find its way to you when he heard we knew of you. He gave us a message also. To tell you it is unfinished, as it was not completed by its creator before his death at Hatan's hands."

Daniel clenched his hands and took a slow deep breath. He'd hoped. Oh how he had hoped that freedom was within his friends' grasp. And Sansha--peaceful, quiet, loving Sansha. He looked at the cloth again, and touched it with his forefinger. There were birds flying in the sky--a sign of freedom. Sansha had told him once--birds could go where they could not, not bound to earth but able to fly as high as they wished. He felt his throat tighten as he looked at one of the birds flying high above the others--the symbol for twenty three hidden among the blue and gold threads of the bird's tail, hidden except for those who knew how to look. The bird soared highest of all and above his wings was embroidered the word, freedom, not hidden, out in the open for anyone to see. Daniel felt his eyes burn until he couldn't hold back the tears--and he didn't care if anyone saw. Sansha had been his friend, as had Yasur--his constant reminder that there were those who were good and kind and who treated him as human when he felt like less.

Sam placed her hand over his on top of the cloth while Teal'c stood behind his chair and put his hands on Daniel's shoulders, a strong calming presence. And Jack, Jack sat down in the chair next to his, reached under the table and squeezed Daniel's fingers in his tightly.

"We're here," Jack said, the only words needed.

Daniel nodded and let himself mourn--for what had been lost, what had been gained.

* * * *

He stank of sweat and his growth of beard itched. He was dirty and he wanted a drink of water even though he knew he wouldn't be getting one soon. He wanted to live and not die.

Daniel turned his head and looked at Jack who watched the gathering of Jaffa through binoculars.

Teal'c was further up the hillside with Sam. He knew they were there even if he couldn't see them.

Hadn't this mission turned out just all peachy keen? They'd been on the run for three days but luckily they hadn't suffered any injuries, although the thought of a two hour shower was becoming more appealing by the minute--and he was pretty sure all their BDU's probably would be best disposed of as bio-hazardous waste.

Jack turned his head and gave Daniel a tight smile that stood out despite the stubble and dirt. He motioned with one hand and Daniel nodded back.

He could do it. He was their best runner for sprinting. Teal'c, Sam, and Jack were the better choices for the diversion. There was a slight rustling as Sam and Teal'c moved into better positions and then Jack was moving off, to the side and further down the hill.

Daniel began his own careful downward crawl. He turned towards Jack, waiting for the signal. Jack held up his hand and began to fold his fingers down one at a time. Daniel got to a crouch ready to run as Jack got to three, two, one.

There was a loud explosion near the tree line, mixed with gunfire and Daniel took off running towards the DHD while the Jaffa left their positions there.

He was vaguely aware of yelling, shouting, and more weapons fire, but all that mattered was his current task of opening the Gate to get them home safe and sound. He hit the symbols rapidly and poised one hand over the crystal with the other holding his weapon.

There they were! Sam, Teal'c, and Jack came running towards him, turning back now and again to fire on the Jaffa who were following.

Daniel hit the crystal and let out a breath when the wormhole formed. He used his GDO and put through SG-1's code. He got off a few shots at the Jaffa whose numbers had diminished even as they gained on SG-1.

"Come on," he yelled. Sam ran up the steps and took a leap into the wormhole while Teal'c stepped through backwards, still firing his staff weapon.

Jack was running slower, a slight limp to his gait. Daniel wasn't sure if it meant he'd done something to his leg or knee or if he was hit. But then Jack was up on the dais with him and they turned as one to shoot at the remaining Jaffa.

"Having fun?" Jack yelled over the gunfire.

"Time of my life," Daniel yelled back, his heart pumping, and feeling strangely like laughing. "Time of my..."

And his words were swallowed up by the Stargate as Jack yanked his arm and pulled them both through to home..

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