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The Soul Felt its Worth

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Jack took a moment to slow his breathing. He looked over at Teal'c who was annoyingly composed under the circumstances and then over at Daniel who was just as out of breath as Jack himself was. They'd take five and collect themselves before continuing on. 

"Just because we know there's something down there doesn't mean those rings went down." Daniel pointed out. "There could be a ship in orbit." 

"We've got to check, Daniel." 

"I know that, Jack. I'm just saying, maybe we should split up." 

"Over my dead body. Which is exactly what it would take and you know that. We're checking out the whatever-the-hell you call the buried palace and then, if we don't find Carter, we'll figure out how to get up to whatever ship must be up there." 

"Major Carter may by now be gravely injured," Teal'c felt compelled to interject. 

Jack shot him a look. The Jaffa they were dealing with were apparently bad mamba-jambas. Worse than the typical fare. And the Goa'uld they worked for was a particularly evil sonuvabitch – had a penchant for torture. And he'd be nonetooglad to get his hands on the most delicate member of SG-1. 

Jack busied himself by taking a drink out of his canteen. It helped him quench his thirst, gave him a moment to catch his breath, and let him have an all important moment to think. There was a structure, not too far from their current position, that could be an entrance to the underground lair of Kuk. They would enter there and comb the place until they found Carter. Because not finding her wasn't an option. They'd just gotten the damn team back together, it wasn't going to fall apart now. 

Granted, it was his fault, sort of, that the team had been apart in the first place. His extended vacation on Edora and then his undercover mission that had tested the limits of his friendships with his teammates. Truth be told, things still weren't quite right between him and any of them, which was why this rescue mission was going off a little bumpy. 

"What do you think they're doing to her?" Daniel asked Teal'c. 

Jack growled lowly. "You don't want to know, Daniel." 

"Yes, I do, Jack." 

"No, you don't." Torture wasn't pretty. And it didn't need to be highlighted. And he damn sure didn't need Teal'c outlining it for the softhearted one of the group. 

"Maybe it's not as bad as we think," Daniel said, smally. 

Jack hoped the younger man was right. It had been six hours. In six hours, very little could have happened to her. Or a lot could have happened to her. It was impossible to know. They were due for check-in at the SGC in ten hours. That gave them enough time to scout the lair and see if they could find Carter and get her out, if they'd need to come back in with reinforcements, or if they'd need to figure out how to get onto a ship. 

"Okay, here's what we're going to do," Jack said, and he outlined the plan for them. Get to the building, get in the building, scout for Carter, hopefully find Carter and get her the hell out of the building, get her back to the gate, get home. There were contingency plans of all letters depending on what they ran into, but ultimately it all boiled down to the same mission: get in, get Carter, get out. 

Jack, Daniel and Teal'c readied their weapons and headed for the supposed entrance to the lair. There were guards there, but the guards were outnumbered by the remaining members of SG-1. Jack hoped that boded well for the rest of the rescue mission. 

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.- 

Sam came awake abruptly, her fight or flight response strong and already propelling her body up and backwards, away from whatever threats might be near her, but she was alone. In a cell. She took quick stock of her situation. She was in her uniform, but she had no weaponry. She felt like she'd gone a few rounds with a prize fighter, though. 

She gingerly ran her fingers over her stomach and ribs. Yep. Bruised. She didn't think she'd cracked anything, though. She touched her face. Her cheeks and jaw felt fine. She rotated her wrists first and then her ankles, all seemed well. So it was just her torso, then, that took the brunt of the damage. Okay. It wasn't ideal, but she could manage. 

She remembered being taken. She remembered being separated from her team, like a weak antelope from the herd. She remembered the four of them being overpowered by a contingency of Jaffa so huge that she scarcely remembered seeing such a thing. And she remembered being taken away and the guys being left behind and thinking that was bizarre.  

She remembered the sound of Colonel O'Neill's, Daniel's, and Teal'c's weapons as they'd fired on the Jaffa and how the Jaffa had apparently been willing to sacrifice some of their own to capture her for their Goa'uld. She remembered fighting. She remembered the struggle to get out of their hands. She remembered the punishing blows to her ribs and stomach, then, to subdue her. And finally, one to her temple that must have knocked her out cold.  

She hated being in a cell. She really hated being in a cell alone. There was something mildly comforting about having at least one of the guys with her when this sort of thing happened. But she had a really bad feeling about a Goa'uld that wanted only her and she hoped that the guys were doing everything they could to get to her even as she thought about them. She had a feeling, though, that it wasn't going to be a very easy task. That had been a lot of Jaffa that had come to take her away. 

She sat down with her back against the wall and her knees pulled up in front of her chest. She wrapped her arms around her legs and waited for something... anything... to happen. 

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.- 

Getting in had been easy. Moving around was proving to be harder. There were Jaffa everywhere. And while Jack was generally a fan of the shoot first school of thought, in this particular instance, he thought it wiser to keep a lower profile. Even Daniel was uncharacteristically keeping his mouth shut.  

They made their way down a short hallway that was, oddly, Jaffa-free. They checked each off-shoot and doorway for signs of Carter or jail-cells or other rooms that a Goa-uld might utilize if he had a woman like Carter in his clutches. Jack didn't want to think too hard about what kinds of rooms those might be. Because then he'd have to think awfully hard about exactly what kinds of torture his second in command might be undergoing. 

When no signs of her were had they deemed the hallway clear enough and prepared to turn the corner. Jack peeked around and saw two guards at the other end, talking to one another. He pulled his head back around and gestured to Daniel and Teal'c their numbers and then leaned back against the golden wall. He pressed his eyes closed and thought for a moment. It was possible they'd just move along if they were given a moment. And then the three men of SG-1 could turn the corner and continue on. 

The heavy sound of armored footsteps began to sound and damn if they didn't sound like they were coming in the wrong direction. Jack shot a look at Teal'c who exchanged the glance with O'Neill. The big man nodded and Jack and Teal'c steeled themselves for hand-to-hand combat. The quick, quiet type. Daniel, catching the silent conversation that passed between the two warriors, stepped back against the wall and watched, eyes wide. 

Within moments, the two Jaffa stepped around the corner and into Jack and Teal'c's waiting hands. The melee was quick and ferocious. There were grunts of pain and the steady thwack of the impact of hands with flesh and the thunk of hands impacting metal armor. But in the end, the two enemy Jaffa lay on the floor in crumpled heaps, necks broken. 

Jack tried not to think about what he'd done, what he'd had to do. It was a different thing killing a man bare-handed than it was shooting him. Neither thing was one to be taken lightly – and he never did – but it was war and he could compartmentalize his duty. But taking a life by hand was a singular experience he never had quite learned how to compartmentalize fully. 

The three men made their way down the newly emptied hallway, clearing this one in the same way they'd cleared the last, still finding no signs of Carter. Jack suspected they'd have to get much further into the bowels of the building to find where they kept their prisoners or where they carried out their torture. These gilded rooms seemed too well-appointed for such things. 

Jack led Daniel and Teal'c to the next corner and prepared himself to look around it for the next challenge. 

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.- 

The heavy sound of armored man moved down the hallway towards her. She felt the clenching in her stomach that signaled dread. She didn't know exactly what it meant that they were coming, but she knew it couldn't be good. Best case scenario they were bringing her food or water - which meant she was going to be here a while. Worst case scenario they were coming to get her for a round of torturing. Okay, that wasn't the worst case scenario. But she wasn't up to thinking about the worst case scenario. 

She kept her eyes steady on the door. She didn't want to show an ounce of weakness when he arrived. She wanted to appear cool, collected. She wanted to, maybe, get under his skin a little.  

He was smaller than she anticipated. Maybe 5'10" or 5'11". He had sandy brown hair and wide set eyes that would have made him look home-spun and innocent had he not been wearing the metal armor and forehead tattoo that screamed universal bad guy. Sam imagined him having a mid-west, corn-fed accent and it made him seem a little less threatening, even as she noted the pain-stick he held in his left hand. 

She nodded slowly and pushed herself up off the floor. He opened the door to her cell. It slid, didn't swing, she idly noted. It was either/or in places like this. He stepped into her cell and advanced on her. She stood her ground, but really, she had no where to go, up against the wall as she was. And she wasn't backing herself into the corner. Torture coming or not, she wasn't that woman. He grabbed her by the upper arm and propelled her out the door. 

They were moving so fast her feet barely touched the floor. "Hey," she said, "can we slow down?" 

It didn't seem to matter to him that he was running her off her feet. She stumbled over her toes more than once. He just hauled her up, his fingertips pressing bruises into her flesh. More for the count, she figured. 

He dragged her into a round room and dropped her in the center of it. She was so off her feet that she fell to her knees, caught herself on the palm of one hand. The floor was textured, she felt, as it pressed against her skin and her kneecaps through her pants. It was uncomfortable. She pressed herself up into a standing position, not knowing if that was going to yield her recrimination or not. The Jaffa merely looked at her, no emotion on his face. 

They stood there, looking at one another for long moments. Long enough that she considered making a break for it. A hidden door off to her left whooshed open and into the room swept the Goa'uld they knew as Kuk. He was a tall, thin man with long, black hair, a thin face, and a thin black goatee. He just looked sinister. She instantly felt on edge. 

"Samantha Carter of the Tau'ri," he said. "How very pleased I am to make your acquaintance." 

She wished she were Jack-O'Neill quick with the quips because she was still searching for the perfect comeback when he continued speaking. 

"I let you come around in your own time, that is a courtesy I will not afford you in the future. Rest assured that when you lose consciousness from here on out you will be placed directly in the sarcophagus. I am not a patient man, I have very little to entertain me, and you are here for my enjoyment." 

Oh, she didn't like the sound of that at all. "And yet you could have had my entire team," she pointed out. "But you brought only me." 

"I was interested in only you," he said with a smile. "Females are so much more fun to... break." 

She shuddered at the thought of what this Goa'uld could do, especially if he already had issues with women. She steeled herself as best she could and waited for whatever was coming next. 

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.- 

Jack, Daniel and Teal'c made their way out of the lair, careful to go back exactly the same way they'd come. Once outside Jack stepped around the bodies of the two Jaffa they'd dispatched initially to make it inside and leaned against the stone doorway to take a drink from his canteen. 

"So we'll need more people," Daniel said, finally able to talk. 

"Yeah," Jack said shortly. "A surgical strike force." 

"But we still don’t know exactly where she is." 

"But we know she's down there. We know he's down there, so we know she's down there. And there was no way we were getting through all those Jaffa," Jack pointed out. He capped his canteen and started off in the direction of the gate. They were going home a man down. That made his stomach churn. He knew he was doing the right thing, returning to the SGC to rally the troops, to get backup, to come back for Carter, but leaving her behind for god-knew-what to happen to her? He'd be a bad CO if that didn't just sit the wrong damn way with him. 

"I think one of us should stay here," Daniel said. 

"And do what?" Jack asked, incredulously. "No, seriously, Daniel?" Jack asked when the younger man started to interject. "What do you honestly think one of us could do here?" 

"I don't know. But... doesn't it just feel... wrong... to leave her here?" 

Jack scratched at the back of his head. "Yeah, yeah it does. But it's what we have to do. We've got to go back, debrief, get more people and come back and rescue Carter. It's the best option." 

"Surely they'd have to know that's what we're going to do..." 

"Perhaps they do not intend to leave her alive long enough for us to rescue her." 

"Teal'c? Shut up." 

"I did not mean to--" 

"I know," Jack said. "Just... I know." 

They tromped silently the rest of the way to the gate. Which was a surprise, Jack was really expecting more of a fight from Daniel about someone staying behind. And truthfully, it was taking everything Jack had to go back to the SGC even though he knew it was the right thing to do. It was just his own personal mantra: never leave a man behind. And he was leaving behind not just a man... but his 2IC. Not just a man, but, damn him for thinking it, a woman. Not just a man, but the soul of the team. He could see it in Daniel's eyes, even in Teal'c's... they were leaving behind something integral.  

Jack wished it were him. Not just because he always wished it were him, but because under the circumstances, the team could take it better if it were him. The three other members of the team were able to work more solidly together right now. Their trust wasn't tarnished. There was no friction between the other three members of the team. 

There was an added layer of something wrong between Jack and Carter, but he couldn't lay his finger right on it. That was bothering him, too, that with leaving her behing maybe there was some chance he'd never find out what it was. He wanted the chance to put his team back together fully – even if it meant having the tough conversations. 

"Dial it up, Daniel," Jack gave the command unnecessarily, because Daniel was already tapping out the address for Earth. Without being told he punched in the GDO code and soon, they were passing through the event horizon and then into the familiar gate room. It took only thirty seconds, maybe, for the assessment to be made. 

"Colonel O'Neill," came Hammond's voice over the loud-speaker. "Where's Major Carter?" 

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.- 

Sam gritted her teeth to avoid crying out in pain. She wasn't going to give the bastard any more than she absolutely had to.  

"You will break, Samantha. You all do. You are not different. You are not special." 

He brought the pain stick back down and jabbed it into the soft skin of her belly. She grunted at the impact and fought through the scream that wanted to rise up at the searing pain that tore through her muscles and organs as the lightning-like energy ripped through her body and exited through whatever opening it could find. 

Her body attempted to twist away from the source of the pain, but she was shackled handily to the table and lashed down across her hips. There was no escape. 

He pulled the pain stick away and then immediately jabbed it back down mere inches away from where he'd placed it before. She made a strangled sound, but it was all he was getting. 

He relished in digging the pain stick into her flesh over and over again – into any of the soft, meaty parts of her, into any part of her that had organs underneath, into any place where tissue could burn from the inside out and cause such excruciating pain that she could die a little with each application of the stick to her body. 

"Scream for me, Samantha, and this all could stop." 

"You'll never stop," she said tiredly. "You'll just choose something new." 

He chuckled madly. "Yes, yes, I will." 

Finally, he looked into her eyes, watery as they were and smiled – the most evil smile she thought she'd ever seen before in her life. Then he gently, oh so very gently, placed the pain stick over her heart. That time, she screamed. 

She was aware of being placed into the sarcophagus.  

As she slipped off she had the idle thought that it was only seven days to Christmas.