Only Human

Trudging through the rough, rocky terrain back to the Stargate, Jack looked around at his team. All of their faces were downcast and somber, indicative of the grim atmosphere that had seemed to envelope SG1 lately. It had been a tough couple of months, tumultuous in negative events.
Daniel had been slowing retreating into himself, painfully reminding Jack of his own state of mind after Charlie's death. He shuddered at the reminder of the total emptiness that had nearly replaced his soul. He didn't want that for Daniel. Didn't want that for anyone. It scared him more than he was willing to outwardly admit that the archaeologist seemed to be traveling swiftly down that path. It had been a long time since Jack had looked at his friend and seen anything other than an artifice of calm, a face masked in acceptance and normality. The eyes always gave Daniel away - once alight with hope and curiosity, they now reflected darkness.
The younger man wasn't the only one in danger of that scenario. Teal'c had also become more reserved than usual. Jack nearly laughed out loud at that - with the Jaffa, it was difficult to actually determine a change in mood. Over the past couple of years, though, it had become easier. Teal'c was clearly wrapped in guilt for his role in Sha'uri's death, so much so that Jack worried his friend might never be able to find inner balance again. That he could see evidence of such was enough of an indication that he should be worried.
And then there was Carter. Jack couldn't read her nearly as well as Daniel and Teal'c, a fact he was both uncomfortable with and relieved by. As his 2IC, she was invaluable and he wouldn't refute that but he always had the vague feeling there was more going on in her head than she wanted to share with him. Despite his inability to gauge her emotions, he sensed she had not fully recovered from seeing her alternate reality self such a short time ago. He shuddered, unsure if he himself had fully recovered from that experience. It had been...surreal. And awkward. Even so, that twisted, wacky experience couldn't compare to what Daniel and Teal'c were living through.
No, things had not been smooth sailing for SG1, not by a far shot. The mental states of his team members were frustratingly out of his control, as much as he wanted to aid them in the journeys they had to respectively take on their own. One thing he always tried to do, though, was to lighten the mood whenever opportunity presented itself, as if levity would really make the Bad Stuff disappear. A futile tactic, he knew, but he couldn't stop himself. Especially not today, as the opportunities had abounded more readily than mosquitoes in Minnesota during the summertime.
"So, Daniel. Tell me." Jack didn't even bother keeping the lilt out of his voice. In fact, he upped it. "Those curiously shaped rocks? What were they supposed to be again?"
"Jack, you know very well on the UAV readings they appeared to be ruins of a civilization," Daniel answered shortly.
"Okay, just checking. 'Cause they just looked like a bunch of big rocks to me," he innocently commented.
"Jack, give me a break! I'm sorry this mission was a monumental waste of time. I'm sorry we had to walk ten miles for nothing. All right?" Daniel spat, his face clearly broadcasting irritation at Jack's teasing.
Jack contemplated halting his provocation for about a millisecond before thinking about listing several ailments...sore feet, aching back...to harass Daniel some more. He'd had so few opportunities to do that lately, hadn't felt comfortable employing his method of therapy for the younger man's benefit. Daniel responding so vehemently was a good sign. A mischievous grin spread like wildfire across his face. They had at least seven miles back to the 'gate. Seven miles of tormenting his favorite archaeologist. What could possibly be better rehabilitation for his team? The banter might irritate them but he knew that, deep down, they enjoyed it.
"And why aren't you bothering Sam about it? She analyzed the UAV readings with me, you know," Daniel continued his complaints.
Out of the corner of his eye, Jack caught the good major shooting Daniel a fierce glare. Ooh, if looks could kill, Daniel would be a dead man. Clich that might be, but he'd been on the receiving end of a few of Carter's disparaging looks before and considered himself lucky to still be alive. Come to think of it, he'd got the exact same look from Sara. And Doctor Fraiser. And that woman who worked at Sergeant Davis' post on occasion. Must be a female thing.
Jack had to admit Daniel made a valid point. Ahh, seven miles of antagonizing his favorite archaeologist and his favorite astrophysicist. That was definitely better than hassling only Daniel. Grinning, he felt immensely better about his team, worry notching down a bit in the hopes they were finally on the road to recovery. He curiously eyed the last member of his team, wondering if he could finagle a way to include Teal'c in the fun...
"Actually, I was just coming to that, Daniel. Patience, grasshopper," Jack chided in a tone he knew was infuriating to the younger man. "Carter? Any scientific explanations?"
Casting Daniel one final chilly stare, Carter answered, "I can't explain it, sir. The UAV images were clear. Those should have been the remains of structures. I just don't understand."
"C'mon, Carter! You're seriously going to tell me the UAV somehow malfunctioned so bad it gave us completely incorrect information and sent us on this wild goose chase?" Jack loudly griped and waited for her to respond.
"No, of course not, sir! At least I don't think."
"Feeling a bit wishy-washy today, Carter?"
He knew he was pushing the ribbing session a bit too far but honestly couldn't help himself sometimes, easily letting himself get lost in his own mirth. Hey, if anything, at least he was getting everyone else's minds off heavier topics. Amazingly enough, if he kept telling himself that, the hesitation seemed to evaporate. He watched as Carter's face contorted and turned a beautiful shade of pink. Oh, this was so worth it. Backing Daniel into a corner was a rare enough feat, but to reduce the major to stutters was an ultimate achievement. Sadly, his good time was cut short by the intruding and ever solemn voice of Teal'c.
"O'Neill, I do not believe there are any wild geese here to chase. Is there a purpose to this discussion? It would seem neither Daniel Jackson nor Major Carter are at fault for the UAV's incorrect data or the distance of the ruins from the Stargate."
Now it was Jack's turn to glare.
"I'm not saying they're at fault, Teal'c."
"Huh. Could have fooled me," Daniel muttered. "If you shook your finger at us any harder it would be in danger of falling right off."
Carter snorted her agreement. Wait, how had his fun turned against him so quickly? Teal'c. The Jaffa had waved the 'I'm a stranger in a strange land' flag way longer than he had probably needed it. Jack had no doubt Teal'c had a full grasp on human customs and behaviors, knew what he was trying to do and apparently didn't agree with his methodology. What a wet blanket. What a really rough time the big warrior must really be having. Sobering slightly, he clenched his jaw to contain the resurging concern.
And then said wet blanket came to a sudden stop directly in front of Jack, swatting his neck. Unable to halt his own forward movement, he plowed into the large Jaffa, gracelessly bounced off Teal'c and landed with a grunt on his butt. He fumbled around on the ground for a few seconds, attempting to salvage his dignity. Muffled chortles from the two youngest team members indicated he might as well give up that idea.
"Teal'c! What the hell did you stop for?" Jack grumbled as he rose, rubbing a cheekbone sore from the impact. He turned to his companion quizzically. Teal'c stood slightly slouched with an odd expression on his face. Odd was never a good thing. "Teal'c? What's going on?"
Carter and Daniel stopped laughing at him and moved to either side of Teal'c, concern replacing amusement so quickly Jack was surprised he didn't hear a snap or something.
"Teal'c?" Sam asked urgently, sounding nervous at the Jaffa's lack of response.
She reached out a hand and laid it on the big man's shoulder carefully. To Jack's shock, Teal'c visibly flinched. What the hell? Oh, this wasn't good.
"Teal'c!" Jack called out again, louder this time. To his relief, Teal'c finally reacted.
"O'Neill, I believe we should leave this place immediately. I feel..."
"What? What do you feel, Teal'c?" Carter asked.
Turning a dazed face to Carter, Teal'c looked puzzled. "I do not know. I am suddenly unable to feel the presence of my symbiote."
"But it's still there, right?" Daniel asked, a disturbed frown plastered on his face.
"Where the hell would it go, Daniel? Maybe Junior's just taking a nap?"
"No. This is very uncomfortable. I do not know..." Teal'c stopped speaking again, apparently at a loss for words.
"Teal'c, besides not being able to feel Junior, is there anything else wrong? Any other weird sensations?" Jack prodded. He had a bad feeling about this.
"No. Physically, I am fine."
Teal'c still appeared startled by whatever was going on inside him and he had to wonder if the other man was telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Jack scrutinized the big man. His friend didn't look any the worse for wear, but if Teal'c voiced concern over something he listened. If he said they should vamoose, then vamoose they should. If there were physical problems, he was sure Teal'c would tell them when it was appropriate. To the Jaffa's estimation, anyway. As far as he himself was concerned, it was appropriate now. He had to trust his friend to tell them, in his own time. Browbeating was not his style, at least not with his team.
"Okay then, kids, let's get going. I'm sure Doc Fraiser will really love this one."
Teal'c protectively wrapped an arm over his midsection and began walking again. Daniel took up occupancy next to him, jogging to keep up with the Jaffa's long strides while he and Carter trailed behind them several meters. The archaeologist studied Teal'c's face closely and Jack shook his head. Daniel probably thought this was extremely fascinating. A part of him was gladdened to see the spark of his friend's old self making an appearance at long last, but he was mostly irritated at the clinical approach the younger man used for interacting with Teal'c. There was still so much discomfort between the two that it sometimes actually hurt to witness.
"Teal'c, is this like when we were, uh, copied by Harlan? Can you sense anything from the larva, or is it just gone?" Daniel asked.
"For crying out loud, Daniel! He said he can't feel it, so he can't feel it!" Jack shouted, surprising himself with the ire projected in his voice.
He hadn't meant to unleash that, and it was obviously the result of his agitation. Shooting him a baffled, somewhat hurt look, Daniel crinkled his eyebrows and made Jack feel like an asshole.
"It is simply gone, Daniel Jackson. I have vague memories of my life before I received my primta, but I would estimate I feel the same way now as I did as a child," Teal'c calmly explained as if Jack hadn't just yelled, apparently not perturbed by Daniel's question.
The archaeologist relaxed enough to give a bare smile, probably picturing Teal'c as a boy. At least that's what Jack was trying to do. He found it quite a difficult image to project.
"Interesting. I wonder what's causing it? Something in the air? Sam, what do you think?"
Daniel turned around, walking backward as he waited for her response.
"MALP and UAV readings indicated an almost identical atmospheric match to Earth's. No strange chemicals or particles in the air at all," Carter sounded perplexed. She spoke about a million words a minute, physical evidence of how quickly her brain was working. "Teal'c, you said it happened all of a sudden? There weren't any warning signals? Your larval Goa'uld wasn't agitated prior to its...disappearance?"
"There was no indication or distress. I simply can no longer feel it," Teal'c abruptly burst.
Whoa. Jack raised his eyebrows and glanced over at Carter. Teal'c sounded a bit irritable to him, and his 2IC's startled face confirmed Teal'c's response was noticeably out of character. Daniel, still walking backward, stared incredulously at Teal'c. If Jack weren't so concerned about the Jaffa, he would have wished for a camera. Both scientists' mouths gaped opened stupidly, a sight not often seen. But the moment didn't last. Daniel emitted a yelp as he suddenly tripped over a tree branch, solidly planting himself on the ground. The resultant thump was accompanied by rustling of grass, leaves, and, he thought, a muttered curse. Jack laughed at his young friend's flustered face when Daniel finally managed to sit up.
"Well, you lasted longer going backward than I'd have bet. You should keep your eyes forward, Daniel."
"Yeah, yeah." Daniel shrugged off Jack's teasing and stretched out his right hand. "Give me a hand, will you, Teal'c?"
Teal'c leaned down, grasped Daniel's hand in his own and pulled him up with a slight groan. His face uncharacteristically scrunched into a frown, eyebrows furrowed tightly. "Daniel Jackson, have you increased your body mass?"
Jack couldn't prevent a bark of laughter from emitting, and heard the major likewise struggle. Indignant, Daniel scorched him and Carter a glower at their chuckles. Brushing off his backside, he answered Teal'c somewhat defensively, "Uhm, no I haven't, Teal'c. Why, do I feel heavier?"
"It took more effort to raise you up than usual, that is all."
"Daniel, maybe you'd better lay off the chocolate; you are looking a little thick around the middle," Jack teased, happy for the new opportunity to ruffle Daniel's feathers.
"Shut up, Jack. I could mention the middle aged spread you're starting to display," Daniel shot back.
Jack rolled his eyes. It wasn't so long ago Daniel would have taken his teasing without rebuttal and he had to admit it was great to see the scientist rising to the bait. Actually, it increased the enjoyment considerably. The archaeologist's abnormally quietude these past couple of weeks had been almost as hard on the rest of SG1 as the young man himself. Since Sha'uri's death, Jack corrected himself. Almost as hard. God, a widower at thirty-four.
Sobering again, Jack watched Daniel brush off his butt. The younger man hadn't gained any weight. In fact, he looked thinner than Jack had ever seen him, something he hadn't really noticed until just now. No, he'd seen it; he'd just blamed it on that damned short haircut. It wasn't a valid excuse. The fact of the matter was that Daniel likely wasn't eating properly. Which made Teal'c's little problem...hmm, odd. With a frown, he automatically looked to the Jaffa. Teal'c was sweating and seemed out of breath, though they were traveling at an easy pace, hadn't gone far and Daniel was light enough even Carter wouldn't have a problem hoisting him.
"Teal'c, you feeling all right?" Jack cautiously asked. "You look a little tired."
"I am fine, O'Neill," Teal'c solemnly answered, turning his back and beginning the trek again.
He just stood for a moment, watching Teal'c and Daniel continue on. Daniel darted frequent looks to his walking companion, concern evident on his face. Jack should have been heartened by the increased interaction between the pair but the sense that there was something not right here overshadowed anything remotely positive in the situation. He concluded that Teal'c was right, they needed to get off this rock fast. A hand on his forearm snapped him out of his reverie.
Carter gazed up at him, quietly asking, "Sir, what do you think's going on with Teal'c? He's acting really strange."
"I don't know, Carter. I think we need to keep a close eye on him, though. He doesn't look well. Did you notice he's worked up a sweat? We haven't even gone a quarter of a mile. I just don't like this."
Jack ran a hand through his graying hair. He didn't like this one little bit. At all. A fluttering, nervous sensation started in his belly, a warning sign. Something.
"Yeah, I noticed, sir. When he helped Daniel up it looked like it actually took effort. Usually Teal'c doesn't have a problem with anyone's weight, let alone Daniel's," Carter softly said, unconsciously confirming what he had thought.
"We should catch up with them," Jack stated with a jerk of his head. Catch up and hustle back to the 'gate.
The them in question were about a hundred and fifty feet ahead already. Daniel anxiously peered back at them, urging them forward. He and Carter hadn't gone five steps when, out of nowhere, four huge Jaffa appeared, surrounding Teal'c.
"Hey!" Jack stupidly yelled, muscles tensing as he jerked into a run.
He watched as Teal'c brought his staff weapon about in defense, but one of the Jaffa easily wrenched it out of his hands while another brutally wrapped his arm around his team member's throat. His heart tripped a beat at Teal'c's easy defeat and he picked up his pace. Daniel lunged toward Teal'c to give what aid he could, and Jack opened his mouth to tell Daniel to run like hell even though he knew the archaeologist would do no such thing. The other two Jaffa tackled the younger man to the ground, seemingly without effort.
Raising his MP5, Jack ran to his friends but was unable to get a clear shot at their attackers. Everything was happening all at once, in slow motion and too, too fast. Daniel struggled against the huge men on top of him, fumbling for his knife. He saw the archaeologist's hand clasp around it and bring it around, jerking his hand toward one of the Jaffa. A loud roar told him that Daniel had connected with something, and he saw one of the Jaffa fall to the ground. Jack wanted to crow at Daniel's success but his elation was very short lived. The other Jaffa pulled the knife from his fallen companion and arched it toward Daniel, plunging it violently into the young man's thigh. Daniel screamed in agony before going scarily limp.
Eyes reluctantly leaving his downed team member to rest upon Teal'c, the sight they provided him wasn't any better. Teal'c was still weakly fighting the chokehold, unable to free himself. Jack watched helplessly, still fifty feet away as the Jaffa scooped Daniel off the ground and moved to join the others. One of the Jaffa fumbled with some sort of device on his bicep and the group disappeared into thin air.
Gone, gone. He was sick.
Damnit! The attack couldn't have lasted more than a minute! Where the hell had those Jaffa come from? And why the fuck hadn't the UAV or the MALP picked up on any life signs? Jack skidded to a stop as he came to the dead Jaffa, angrily searching the body for indications of which Goa'uld they were dealing with.
"Sir?" Carter breathed heavily next to him. "Sir, what the hell just happened? Where did they come from?"
"I don't know, Carter! They appeared and disappeared just like Hathor and Nirrti, but I don't recognize this symbol do you?" Jack asked, indicating the tattoo on the Jaffa's forehead.
"No, sir. Where could they have gone? Why didn't the UAV detect any life signs?"
"Again, I don't know, Carter," Jack said impatiently, already tired of the unanswerable questions and the vocalization of what had been tripping through his own mind. "What I do know is that we have to find them. Teal'c should have been able to take at least two of them down. Bought time for us to get here."
Jack wearily scrubbed both hands across his face. They'd gone from a wasted but harmless mission to losing two friends in mere minutes. He had no idea where to begin their search, and dreaded the fact that they might have to go back to the SGC without their missing teammates. Studying the sledgehammer shaped tattoo on the Jaffa's forehead, he stood up.
"Come on, Carter. Let's see if we can figure out where they might have gone. I'm not going to leave until I figure out exactly what's going on here."
"Yes, sir," Carter answered, relief coloring her words. "But sir, where do we even begin?"
Jack swallowed and looked up to the sky, the sick feeling creeping into his veins and setting up camp. God, he hoped it wouldn't build a house and take up permanent residence. He glared at Carter for her terrible offence.
Another unanswerable question.


Before he was aware of anything else, Daniel felt the cold and wet seep into him like a reptile, saturating his entire body and chilling him to the core. Shivering uncontrollably, he slowly opened his eyes to find himself in a damp cave of some sort. He rotated his head to take in his surroundings and revised that assessment...it was more like a sinkhole. Gathered in the middle of his prison, there was a large puddle of rank-smelling water, and he could hear liquid continuously trickling and dripping.
Groaning, he fought to sit up, wanting to get away from the cold and intense, shocking pain from his right leg made him gasp. He clutched it to alleviate the pain but his actions only served to increase the agony and he let his hands fall away quickly. Clenching his teeth in distress and frustration, Daniel peered down at his leg. Even in the dim light, he could see the gash was deep and still bleeding. He growled deep in his throat, shivering from what he suspected was the onset of shock. God, it hurt.
Where had those Jaffa come from? Daniel shuddered as he recalled the attack. He and Teal'c barely had a chance to fight before they were overpowered. Teal'c...Teal'c! The last image he had in his mind of his friend was unpleasant - Teal'c struggling in vain against two Jaffa. Searching the cave for signs of his Jaffa friend, he was disappointed when he discovered he was all alone.
He was sure their attackers had gone directly after Teal'c, who should have been able to take them down without any problem. It worried him that his friend had seemed to be suffering from some kind of ailment, which he was beginning to suspect was related to his inability to sense his larva. Daniel attempted to figure out exactly what was going on, trying to recall the markings on the Jaffa. He'd lost his glasses when they'd thrown him down and he never got a clear look at any of their faces. Did it really matter who had them? A Goa'uld was a Goa'uld was a Goa'uld. And, to the best of his knowledge, to be had by one of them was intrinsically a bad thing. Shuffling around to search the remote, dark corners of the sinkhole for Teal'c one more futile time, he groaned at the agitation the action caused and let his head drop to the ground. Damnit. This sucked.
With that intelligent, O'Neillian thought, his mind naturally turned to Jack and Sam, wondering if they had also been captured. They both had run to aid during the attack, but Daniel couldn't recall if they had actually made it to them. He hoped not, both for their sakes and for his and Teal'c's. He had heard them shouting, and had tried to turn to them. Until the knife cut into him. After that, there was nothing. God, what he wouldn't give for just a snippet of information. Anything. Suspecting anything he might get would be disagreeable, he decided he'd bank on that his other team members had escaped. They had to have.
Damn, his leg hurt. Daniel knew if he didn't stop the bleeding and cover the wound he'd be in trouble. He had no idea how long he'd been unconscious, but the fact that it still bled freely concerned him. Shouldn't it have stopped by now? How much blood had he lost? He still felt fairly clear-headed and he figured that was a good sign. Ac-centuate the positive, e-liminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative...but don't mess with Mr. In Between. Great. There went his clear-headedness. He snickered, though it wasn't funny at all.
Removing the belt from his pants, Daniel cringed as he carefully wrapped it around his thigh. Even the slightest touch to his leg was torture. Hands shaky, he tightened the tourniquet. Brilliant splotches of red encompassed his vision and he felt himself starting to hyperventilate. Stay calm, stay calm, he chanted to himself, trying to focus on happy things. He could never figure out why people said to do that but thought it was worth a shot. Happy things...Sam's face when she figured out a particularly difficult problem, Jack's sometimes obnoxious jokes, Teal'c's insatiable curiosity to learn Earth customs, Sha'uri...
The physical pain instantly disappeared, replaced with heartache. A month. A little over a month since she had died. Daniel felt the darkness that had only begun to recede slinking back into him. For three years he had dreamed of reuniting with her, of somehow figuring out a way to free her from Amaunet. Three years ending so cruelly as she was cut down by a friend. Teal'c had avoided him for two weeks following her death.
Daniel had been grateful for his absence.
Despite the fact he told Teal'c he'd done the right thing, he found himself unable to look at his Jaffa friend and taking routes through the Mountain where he knew he would never cross paths with the other man. Deep down, he knew Teal'c had acted in the best interest of everyone but he was only human. God, he didn't even know how he was supposed to handle his wife just simply dying... how was he supposed to handle a friend killing her? The How-To Guide to Life edition he'd read had apparently glossed over that nasty chapter.
He fiercely shook his head. Now was not the time to dredge up these feelings. Teal'c was in trouble, wherever he was. That was the important thing here, not his inability to get beyond Sha'uri's death, and Daniel was determined to find him. He had to get out of this hole somehow. Looking up, he noted the opening above was unguarded and sinkhole wasn't too deep - he might be able to climb out. It was worth a shot, anyway. All three of his teammates would make the attempt, no matter the potential hazard. So would he.
Rolling over onto his left side, Daniel readied himself to rise. He kept his right leg as straight as possible, shifting all his weight onto his left knee and pushing up with his arms. Fire seared, stemming from the wound and he immediately fell face down, gasping once again. Useless. He couldn't even stand! A sob of frustration built in his chest, wanting release. He refused, swallowing past the overwhelming emotion. Balling his fists at his side, he slid onto his back. It even hurt to breathe now. Concentrating on keeping his inhalations shallow and even, he scrunched his eyes shut and folded an arm across them.
The rhythm of the dripping water continued, lulling him into a semi-conscious state, almost hypnotizing him. Daniel lay there for countless minutes, trying not to shiver with cold and shock, because even that slight movement sent ripples of pain through him. He wasn't successful, his body taking away control. In the distance, though, he began to hear a different rhythm. Footsteps. Loud footsteps approaching from above, which meant that whoever was coming, it definitely wasn't any of his friends. Groaning, he moved his arm away from his face and stared at the hole in the ceiling for what he knew was coming. The footfalls stopped directly above him, and four sullen faces suddenly appeared at the opening above.
They gazed down at him for a few seconds before one of them grunted, "Rise."
Daniel couldn't stop himself. He laughed weakly at the idiotic request and their apparent blindness to the hole in his leg. His laughter stopped when he felt a hard probe to the wound and he couldn't stop himself - he screamed at the savage treatment, the ache of his leg turning into full-blown agony once more. The release helped only a very small amount, enough to aid him until the pain diluted into dull throbbing. So they weren't blind, he grimly thought.
"Rise," the Jaffa repeated smugly.
Drawing an unsteady breath, Daniel knew he had to do it or risk more abuse. The pain of rising couldn't be as bad as anything they intended to inflict upon him if he didn't comply. He could do it. Maybe...maybe they were going to take him to where Teal'c was. Clawing at the wall, he propped himself on his left knee and tried to ignore the burning in his right thigh. Ominous black appeared on the edges of his vision and just when he thought he was going to pass out, he felt something viciously hook him underneath both arms and he was yanked up through the hole.
The Jaffa deposited him callously onto the ground, purposely ensuring he landed on his right side. Daniel cried out again, barely clinging to consciousness as his leg gave more than a small protest at the violence, fire rocketing from the knife wound all the way to the base of his skull. Rumbles of laughter filtered through the fuzz in his head and he was lifted by his arms and dragged away from his dank prison. He tried to raise his head to watch where he was being taken but he couldn't find the energy, wouldn't have been able to see anything anyway for the gray ghosting along the periphery of his vision. All he could do was concentrate on his breathing and he didn't fight against the strong hands bruising his arms.
The journey was a short one, ending after only a few minutes. The Jaffa abruptly stopped and jostled him enough to aggravate his leg again, one of them jamming a fist on his thigh. Clenching his teeth tightly together, he was determined not to give them the satisfaction of another scream and allowed only a strangled gurgle to escape. Clumsily, Daniel wriggled against his captors' holds with as much defiance as he could, for which he was promptly punished with an elbow to his left kidney.
His legs crumpled and the vises around his biceps painfully tightened, muttered Goa'uld curses about pitiful Tau'ris bouncing through the air. Gasping for air, his lungs lost the ground they'd gained in controlling intake and refused to cooperate. It didn't help that this new room was significantly warmer than his former abode. Actually, it was hot. Way too hot. The shivers disappeared quickly, sweat already beginning to form along his brow. At least that meant they had been more from the cold than shock, a fact he was quite relieved about. Dying from shock was not on his top ten list of things to do...of course, neither was losing his leg to a massive infection. Another inappropriate snicker popped out of him before he could stop it. Tensing for repercussions, he was surprised when none came.
He cautiously lifted his head slightly and looked around. Sweat dripped into his eyes, further blurring his already impaired and uncorrected vision. Squinting, he discovered the room was some type of workshop. Daniel spotted a large furnace in the middle of the room, and eyed the tools scattered around. Blacksmith? Confused by the oddness of his surroundings, he didn't even hear the scuffling footsteps heading his way until two legs blocked his entire field of vision. Immediately, he noticed the left foot was twisted in severely and the leg was about an inch shorter than the right. The ridiculously large contingent of Jaffa surrounding him stiffened, as if coming to attention. He frowned.
Tilting his head up to look at who he assumed was the ringleader of his captors, he was a bit puzzled that a Goa'uld would be handicapped. It certainly didn't fit the usual modus operandi of any snakes he'd personally encountered, anyway. But, given the presence of Jaffa, Daniel could only assume the person standing before him was indeed a Goa'uld. The face that greeted him when his eyes finally focused was set in a permanent scowl, half covered with a flaming red scar that made the owner look like he was in eternal pain. No, he was wrong - this couldn't be a Goa'uld, he decided. He'd yet to see a physically less than perfect one, and Teal'c had once told him the Goa'uld were very particular when they chose hosts. Beauty was of utmost importance, physical perfection key. Just like Sha'uri...God.
Heart aching from the image of his beautiful wife that had instantly materialized in his mind's eye, he shook his head. No, this man was the opposite of everything the Goa'uld believed in for their hosts. He just didn't know if it was a good or bad thing. Black, angry eyes narrowed back at him, then opened wide again with a harsh golden flash. Daniel automatically jerked back in shock, a small stunned mew flying from his mouth. His mind raced to learn he assumed incorrectly, going through every pantheon of gods and goddesses on Earth to find a match for the monster that stood before him. Monster. Goa'uld. The Jaffa on his right belted him across the face to halt his movement and he slumped, watching the bursting stars attack his view.
Before he could see again, or come up with a name, the deformed Goa'uld spoke, his voice edged with hate, "You are Tau'ri, are you not?"
Daniel mutely gaped at him, blinking several slow blinks. He was still trying to cope with the misnomer standing before him. His brain was sluggish.
"Speak!" the Goa'uld roared, raising an amazingly well formed arm up as if to strike.
"Yes, I'm Tau'ri," Daniel confirmed at last, successfully keeping a stutter from his question. Already, his hackles were rising dangerously, his bitterness toward anything Goa'uld manifesting itself with attitude in tone if not words. "And who might you be?"
The Goa'uld menacingly chuckled instead of answering, nodding at his Jaffa to haul him to his feet. Rough hands heaved him through the furnace room to the adjacent one, thankfully much cooler again but not as cool as his former prison. Barren save two platforms equipped with leather restraints in the center and various implements hanging on the walls, the room had a distinct air about it he could only inadequately describe as grim. It reminded him of a torture chamber or dungeon from a bad movie, which should have frightened him, he supposed, but it only made him want to chuckle. He'd been doing a lot of that lately.
Chuckling was probably not a good idea, nor was resisting, despite his instinct to fight. Or run. So he acquiesced, playing meek and defenseless. It wasn't that much of a stretch, given his leg wouldn't let him do anything by way of escape. He was placed on one of the tables, and the Jaffa were summarily ordered out of the room, leaving him unshackled. Thrumming with adrenaline, his nerves were threadbare and he wildly reconsidered making a getaway attempt. He flicked his eyes at the door as the last of the bulky Jaffa departed, out of the corner of his eye caught the Goa'uld studying him. Once they were completely alone, the self-proclaimed god began hobbling around him slowly, rubbing his left hand all around the edge of the table. After several circles, the Goa'uld stopped at his waist, casually fitting the cuffs to both of his wrists.
"You are Daniel Jackson," the dual voice stated as the crippled Goa'uld constricted the leather straps until they pinched uncomfortably.
Moving down toward his feet, the Goa'uld continued to watch his face, and Daniel schooled his features to reflect nothing of his surprise. He had only half believed Aris Boch when the bounty hunter had told them SG1 were highly sought after by the System Lords. Even this still-to-be-named Goa'uld knew of them, so he knew now Boch had been telling the truth. Oh, how he wished he hadn't learned he was actually worth more than a day's rations! He fervently prayed once more that Jack and Sam had gotten away.
"Do not try to deny it. Your face is a common one - wanted dead or alive. Preferably alive, of course. Think of all the wonderful acts of retribution a live subject could suffer at the hands of an angry Goa'uld...but you do not need to fear that from me. If I had any interest in the System Lords' politics, I would have taken Colonel O'Neill and Cap...Major Carter as well. As it stands, my interest lies solely in your Shol'va friend. You simply got in the way."
Relief flooded through Daniel. Jack and Sam were all right, thank God! He only had moments of reprieve before the remaining content of the Goa'uld's words sunk in. Why Teal'c? He expected the alien to explain himself, which it apparently had no problem doing. Actually, he was surprised at how much information the lousy parasite was revealing. He remained silent, clamping down the urge to inquire about Teal'c. Wait for it.
"Since you happened to be there, I thought perhaps it would be useful and...nice to watch your reactions as I continue testing my latest weapons. Are you quite comfortable? I see your wound bleeds again, that is a shame. I can't have you passing out or bleeding to death before the excitement really begins! Perhaps you could use a session in my sarcophagus?" the Goa'uld pondered.
"No!" Daniel reactively burst, dread filling him. The Goa'uld visibly perked up with interest, his vivid red scar lighting as his face twisted into a smile. Biting down hard on his tongue for his stupidity, he attempted to retrain his face into a blank mask.
"You object? Perhaps you have used our healing device before? It is no matter to me whether you suffer or not," the Goa'uld jeered, leaning in close to Daniel's face. "But I can't have you dying. I have you, and so it only makes sense that I take advantage of my good fortune. I have very little contact with humans."
A multitude of scalding, sarcastic comments came to mind and Daniel had to fight to keep them inside, some of them so base as to childishly insult the Goa'uld's heritage. Damnit, Jack's influence on him was stronger than he thought. Musingly, slowly, the alien looked him up and down as if he were a lab specimen. He was a lab specimen. Squirming slightly, he felt a sick feeling creep into his gut, an inkling of an idea he didn't want to see or hear come into fruition.
"Yes, I think you will do quite nicely," the Goa'uld said at last, stroking Daniel's cheek with one finger. "I grow tired of my weak limbs and disfigured face - punishment of Sohkar. He will be the first to feel my wrath!"
A cold shaft of fear drove into Daniel as the Goa'uld laid out his intentions. No, he would not willingly use a sarcophagus and he'd be damned if this thing took him as a host. Without thinking, Daniel bucked helplessly on the table, arching his back in a foolish, panic-stricken act. The Goa'uld laughed, apparently amused by his antics. Limply, he fell back onto the tabletop as ensuing pain encompassed his leg.
"You have spirit. That will make this all the more entertaining. Jaffa, kree! Bring me the Shol'va."
"Who are you?" Daniel gasped, weakly coughing.
"And I was told you possessed intelligence," the Goa'uld sneered. "I am, of course, Hephaestus."
Hephaestus...Hephaestus? Greek god of fire...
"You and your friend will bring me the recognition and power I deserve. The System Lords will no longer laugh at my lameness while they ungratefully take my inventions! Abandoned here for all time, working as a slave to their needs! I will not do it anymore," Hephaestus laughed delightedly. "With my new body and my new weapons, I will rise up in the ranks as I should."
Daniel frowned at the crazy laughter. What did Teal'c have that could aid Hephaestus? He flexed his arms but the restraints wouldn't budge. Heart racing, Daniel tracked the Goa'uld as he paced around the room, impatiently waiting for Teal'c's arrival. The Goa'uld's mutterings and unusual propensity to reveal information had him confused, and he tried to sort out the rambling. Out of context, nothing he could hear made sense.
Sudden movement at the doorway drew his and Hephaestus' attention. Hanging between two Jaffa was Teal'c, half conscious, pale and terribly limp. Appalled by the sight of his formidable friend in such a debilitated state, he instinctively turned toward Teal'c as if he could provide aid or comfort. God, what had they done to him? Getting a closer look, Daniel took stock of Teal'c's condition, alarm rising at his findings. Teal'c's shirt was gone, revealing a torso covered with bruises, welts and burns. His arms were in the same shape. Judging from the unnatural angle his right arm was hanging, he would guess it was broken. Last item on the list, but certainly not the least, he saw a huge lump on his friend's bald head.
"Put him on the other table," Hephaestus ordered.
The Jaffa tossed Teal'c onto the unoccupied slab next to him, ignoring the groans of resulting pain. As horrible as the sounds were, Daniel was glad to hear his friend wasn't totally unresponsive. He searched the other man for signs of any further damage, relieved when he did not see any. He wanted to call out, to let Teal'c know he was there but Hephaestus walked in between them, obstructing his view.
"I see my weapon does indeed work! It is only a matter of time before I can unleash it on all the System Lords' armies!"
Daniel tried to puzzle what the Goa'uld was talking about. What weapon? Why...Teal'c! Oh, God, had Hephaestus somehow figured out how to disable the Jaffa's larva? It made sense. Teal'c had started feeling strange before and he had noticed that it seemed to take more effort for his friend to perform normal activities...like helping him up. Looking at his friend again, this time with even more apprehension, he was dismayed to see a sheen of sweat on his face. Teal'c's external injuries were clearly not life threatening, yet the Jaffa was semi conscious and apparently in great pain. Why hadn't he started healing? He had a bad feeling about the answer to that question.
"You're insane! I know what you're planning..." Daniel heard himself mutter.
"What? What did you say? You dare..." Hephaestus flashed his eyes and raced toward him with surprising agility. "I am not insane!"
The Goa'uld averted his fiery eyes, searching the room and locking on a point just above his shoulder. Unconsciously, Daniel looked to see a ribbon device hanging from a hook on the wall. Oh, God. The enraged alien hobbled over to it, put it on and aimed it at him.
Vulnerably strapped down, Daniel cringed as he saw the crystal start to glow. Not again! His wife's lovely face sprang into his mind, cold and hard as her arm extended toward him with purpose. No. Not Sha'uri...Amaunet. Closing his eyes against that horrifying image and the new pain about to be inflicted, he waited for the assault on his brain to begin. Instead, he felt warmth spreading through his hurt leg, turning suddenly to raging, burning torture. He screamed as the pain seemed to go on forever, increasing until it engulfed him completely.
Just when Daniel thought it would never end, that he was trapped in a neverending hell, his world darkened to a prevailing blackness and he knew no more.


Sam wanted to ask the colonel what he expected to find up there, but she reconsidered before the thought was even halfway complete. Her CO's mood had deteriorated rapidly after Teal'c and Daniel's disappearance, as had her own. Risking the verbal slaying she would get if she made any inquiry to his logic was not really appealing, her ears still ringing from the last time. If the colonel thought climbing the tallest tree in the woods was a great idea, then he could go right ahead. Stuck on the ground, which refused to yield any answers, she chewed on the inside of her right cheek and tried not to let her brain acknowledge the many 'what if' scenarios floating vaguely around there. To say she was worried was a huge understatement.
Ringing in her ears, Daniel's scream was as loud as ever...as was the contradictory disturbing silence from Teal'c. This shouldn't have happened, and the possible reasons for how her Jaffa teammate had been so easily compromised refused to settle. Something told her that if she and the colonel didn't find their friends soon, they would lose at least Teal'c. And probably Daniel as well. God, why hadn't she sensed the Jaffa attackers before they had materialized? Sam violently kicked a rotting log, watching the soggy wood chip into the air and flop back onto the ground. It had been over fifteen minutes and she still had no idea what they should do.
She'd been in a funk for weeks, perturbed beyond reason about her alternate self. On the surface, Sam was pretty sure she had conveyed detached scientific curiosity and professionalism, but during that entire fiasco she had been a bundle of intense energy. For some reason, she hadn't been able to accept the clear differences between her and...her. She still couldn't. It had festered in the back of her mind, drowning out everything else, and was still there despite the desperate concern for Daniel and Teal'c. Shaking her head, she tried to dispel the useless thoughts. Why couldn't she just let it go? She had to - for her friends.
Shielding her eyes from the sun, Sam peered up at the colonel swaying back and forth on the highest sturdy branch. He was scanning the area with his binoculars, trying desperately to find some clue as to where the Jaffa had come from and consequently where their friends were. There had been no further activity since their abduction and she thought it strange no additional Jaffa had sought them out. None of this made any sense - not the misleading UAV findings, not Teal'c's strange behavior, not the attack. She had a vague sense that they were all connected, but the thought remained intangible.
"Sir, any luck?" she braved, calling up quietly. Instinctively, she looked back down and scanned the perimeter of the small clearing she stood in for signs of any attackers. Nothing. Why not?
Wracking her memory, looking back on the attack, it had been apparent that the Jaffa had gone directly for Teal'c, ignoring the rest of them until Daniel had got in the way. They probably would have left him alone had he not attempted to fight them. And had killed one. She heard the colonel start his descent but kept her eyes pinned on her surroundings. His arm brushed against hers as he finally drew up next to her and she glanced at him to find a scowl still set firmly across his face. Sam sighed. He must not have seen anything. The thought of her friends in the hands of a Goa'uld finally overthrew her selfish wallowing, ashamedly late in doing so.
"Damnit, this planet is as empty as we thought it was. Is it possible this Goa'uld has a ship in orbit or something?" the colonel asked tiredly, pinching the bridge of her nose in a gesture that somehow reminded her of Daniel. Her heart panged with fear for both of her missing friends.
"I don't think so, sir. I mean, we've never seen anyone except the Asgard beam directly to and from their ships. The Goa'uld always use rings. I just don't see how they could have engineered those to be invisible. We would have seen something. Or heard something," Sam extrapolated, pushing aside feelings for logic once more. "At least I think we would have. They tend to surprise us with new technology...Teal'c's been out of the Goa'uld loop for almost four years."
"Well, that's reassuring," the colonel sighed, taking off his hat and scratching his head. He growled in frustration. "If they weren't transported to some ship, they're either still here or they've already made it to the 'gate and could be anywhere. Shit, I wish I knew where to begin."
As scary as that admission was, Sam was almost relieved to learn her CO was as much at a loss as she. No, she wasn't at a loss but where her brain was telling her to go was not something she really wanted to do, or even give voice to. Sighing, she knew she had to sooner or later.
"It is theoretically possible the Goa'uld have developed the phase technology on a large enough scale to disguise an entire facility. That might explain why the UAV revealed ruins but when we arrived we saw nothing. This may sound far fetched, but it could be that this all was some elaborate trap."
"Trap?"
"You don't think it's a little odd that we were surprised so completely? I don't know, sir. I just have this feeling there's more here than meets the eye. In case the Goa'uld did manage to hide a building, maybe we should go back to the SGC and get additional support," Sam suggested tentatively, knowing how her commanding officer would take leaving the planet without Teal'c and Daniel.
"I was thinking about that," the colonel agreed, surprising her. Rubbing his left cheek with his palm, he glared at the same rotting log she had abused earlier for a moment before looking back up to her. For a brief flash, Sam saw outright panic in his eyes but it faded to hardened calm before she could react. He continued, "But I don't want to take the chance the Goa'uld will somehow block the 'gate on this side and prevent us from coming back. Provided they are still here, that is. If we leave, we may never get back."
Sam studied the older man carefully, searching for signs of distress again. He had his shield up but still appeared extremely tired...no, tired wasn't the word. Weary. Worried. Old. And, there, she caught the terror again. It wasn't something the colonel revealed often, and she suddenly felt like a voyeur. She turned her head away from him to give him a few minutes to collect himself. If she admitted it, she needed those minutes herself.
She could make a pretty good guess why Daniel and Teal'c's disappearance was hitting him so hard. Things had been quite strained between their two teammates for over a month now, since that awful moment when Daniel had lost Sha'uri. Flying into the tent, Sam hadn't been sure which of her friends had looked worse. Daniel had been so frighteningly small on the ground, touching his dead wife's face tenderly and whispering his love. Crying. She hadn't been able to recall Daniel's emotions manifesting themselves in such a tangible way, and seeing it had shocked her. Her stomach clenched at the mere memory, a shadow of the pain she had felt for her friend at that moment.
Amazingly enough, though, Teal'c had looked nearly as bad in his position, kneeling at the foot of the horrible tableau of a dead Sha'uri and crying Daniel. His usually stoic face transmitted intense distress at the choice he had had to make...and she had no idea know how he had done it. Teal'c had revealed to her later that Daniel's absolution had been immediate and that had been...was still the reason for his dismay. He couldn't understand how Daniel had been able to forgive such a horrendous act with no hesitation at all. His guilt would not alleviate, he had said, because what he had done had been unforgivable. Despite having gained pardon.
She thought she understood - Daniel had been able to forgive because it wasn't a horrendous act. Teal'c had made the only choice he could, and everyone knew it. To see him separate himself from Daniel was painful for her; every time either one of them had sought her out lately, she had felt as though speaking either one's name in the other's presence was taboo. It was painful and awkward and so, so understandable. She had been stuck in the middle, wanting to help them both but not knowing how. Sam believed Daniel even encouraged it, possibly willing to forgive but not quite ready to forget. How could any of them expect him to go on as though life were the same? There was an absence surrounding both of her friends now, a dearth of comfort and hope.
Smiling sadly, she believed things had only just started warming up between the unlikely pair of friends. And now they were gone. Though her concern would have been great regardless of the personal conflict happening between them, taking that into account simply increased her anxiousness.
If all this that had been impacting her so greatly, even through her own admittedly self-absorbed funk, she imagined it had been worse for the colonel. As their CO and their friend. One thing she had learned in working with the seemingly hard man next to her was that he wasn't hard at all - the brusqueness he exhibited was at the very least eighty-five percent faade. Protection against feeling so much for those close to him that their pain became his. Sam knew the tactic well, and so knew how ineffectual it was.
Part of her was jealous of the camaraderie and bond she saw between the colonel and Daniel and, albeit different in form, the one between him and Teal'c. She could blame it on not really being 'one of the guys' but that was too easy. What she did know was that the difference between her interaction with their two missing teammates and the colonel's was significant. He might not think she saw how he wore the stress on his sleeve, but she had seen it for weeks.
She saw it now.
Jerking herself out of her grim thoughts and memories, Sam stared up into the sun, which provided no warmth in its rays. They coldly, harshly beat into her retinas and blinded her. She almost wished the light could actually blind her to the pain she saw emanating from her CO because, more and more, it was affecting her and making it more difficult to distance her own emotions as she knew she must.
Touching her lightly on the elbow, the colonel silently started walking away from her. His back was stiff, gait stilted and she was riveted to the spot for a full thirty seconds before she realized he was journeying the direction of the Stargate. Heart feeling as though it were in her throat, Sam jogged to catch up with him, ready to inquire if they were indeed going to take the chance and go back to Earth. Leave Teal'c and Daniel. One look at his face again halted her words, and she snapped her mouth shut.
They walked in silence. Each footfall she took edged up her misgivings about the situation, feeling as though they had already abandoned Daniel and Teal'c to their fates. Passing the dead Jaffa, Sam shuddered at the isolated puddle of blood that was undoubtedly Daniel's. There seemed to be an inordinate amount of it for a simple leg wound. Her imagination kicked into overdrive, leading her to think about how it was the same leg that had been injured on Hathor's planet. Making connections where there probably were none.
Lost in thought, she stumbled, scuffling forward a few clumsy paces in an attempt to regain balance and prevent a fall. The colonel snagged her waistband, abruptly halting her forward momentum. She quickly straightened her back, skirting away from him as she did so. The crunch of glass made her freeze, look down at her feet and then yank her head back up with awful realization. Following the same path as she had, her CO narrowed his eyes when he gazed down at her raised foot. Stayed on the shattered and twisted remains of Daniel's glasses and didn't move for a long time. He didn't even blink.
Then the muscle in his jaw twitched once and he started walking again. She leaned down, snagging up the destroyed glasses and putting them in her jacket pocket. Though she didn't know why, having them there made her feel a little bit better. Not enough. Mind racing, Sam kept spinning the crazy events of the last half hour in her head over and over, trying to catch that niggling thought and pin it down. It goaded her, remaining as irritatingly unclear to her as the questions in the game show Jeopardy! sometimes were until smarmy Alex Trebeck revealed them. She felt that comparison - she had just bet all her money on an answer she didn't know the question to and was about to lose big.
They couldn't...they could not leave this planet without Daniel and Teal'c.
"Sir," she called, jumping at how loud her voice was amid the silence. The colonel's pace didn't break. Boldly, she continued, "Sir, we can't go back to Earth."
"I know that, Carter," he growled back, finally stopping. He shot her an impatient glare. "But we can't just stand around with our thumbs up our asses while who knows what is happe..."
Flinching as he swallowed the remainder of his retort, Sam averted her face from his intense stare. She didn't need him to continue to understand that worst case scenarios had been playing out in his mind as well. Still, she couldn't shake the feeling they were heading in the wrong direction.
"What if we went back to the site where the ruins were supposed to be?"
"And why would we do that?"
"I don't know, sir. I just have this feeling that's where we should be, not here. This is all a little too coincidental, if you ask me. Wouldn't it be better to discover what we're up against so we know what we might need from the SGC?"
"I understand that, but I don't understand why you are so sure going back there will help."
Why was he being so argumentative?
"Maybe it's women's intuition, sir!" Sam snapped.
"And if that undeniably reasonable and scientific lead doesn't pan out, then we'll have wasted hours, Carter. Hours," the colonel calmly said. "Daniel and Teal'c may not have that long and I don't want to squander time climbing on a bunch of freaking rocks!"
Oh. Right. Embarrassed by her tunnel vision, Sam ducked her head, closing her eyes.
"We'll contact General Hammond, let him know the situation. Right now I'm planning to advise that two additional units be sent here for search and rescue, to err on the side of caution. All we can do is hope he doesn't run into any red tape with the Pentagon regarding risking so many lives for the sake of two."
Like Teal'c had said had happened before...again with the Hathor thing. Sam didn't know why she kept thinking about that. At least she wasn't bogged down with her residual squickiness from her doppelganger.
"You don't think..."
"I wouldn't put it past them. Shall we go before the sun disappears?"
She absently started walking the same time he did, but her mind went elsewhere. Sun disappears. The words rattled around over and over. Disappears. Vanishes. Becomes invisible. Oh...god. She was an idiot! The continual references back to Hathor were apparently her subconscious Alex Trebeck, telling her the obvious thing she had been looking.
"Sir!" she burst, forgetting herself and clutching at his forearm. "We need to request that TERs be sent with the reinforcements, if we get them. And, if possible, for a UAV to be fitted with them to do a sweep of the rock formations in case the Goa'uld somehow did manage to disguise that large an area."
"Right," he agreed, then continued to mumble under his breath in a disgruntled tone, apparently as perturbed by how long it had taken to think of it.
Filled with renewed hope, Sam picked up her pace slightly. They'd make it back to the 'gate in record time, there would be enough teams on stand down to aid with the rescue and everything was going to be just fine. Just fine. If that was the case, why was this nauseating feeling that something was wrong, wrong, wrong not going away? She glanced back one more time in the direction of the rocks and hoped that they were making the right decision. That they wouldn't come back with troops amassed only to discover they were too late and that Daniel and Teal'c were lost to them.
Dead.


Shivering with cold, Teal'c lay on the cold platform upon which he had been deposited. His head was a disarray of nebulous ringing and thick with muted pain. He felt his muscles weakening, had felt the uncomfortable sensation the entire time the Jaffa were torturing him. He was not fond of the torture and illness, or the strange heaviness suddenly settling in his chest. Breathing was becoming increasingly difficult, and his lungs caught raggedly with each inhalation. Teal'c thought perhaps this was what his Tau'ri friends experienced when they suffered a 'cold'. Never again would he be unsympathetic when O'Neill complained incessantly about being ill.
His memory was filled with holes, muddled and incomplete. Walking toward the Stargate with the rest of his team was the last thing he remembered clearly, O'Neill's mockery of Major Carter and Daniel Jackson still reverberating in his ears, at once irritating and well intentioned. The levity SG1's team leader infused into the otherwise dour, somber group had been necessary for some time. While he was not yet ready to forgive himself for taking the life of Sha'uri, to see Daniel Jackson's demeanor improve even a minute amount was had been a slight weight off his shoulders. He did not know if it would ever dissipate completely; the damage to his relationship with the younger man was tremendous and he did not expect it to regain its former status. It was a fact to which he was still becoming resigned.
Resignation did little to alleviate the ache he felt regarding his unfortunate role in his friend's pain. In collusion with the very real physical discomfort he had been dealt at the hands of these miserable Jaffa who had thus far concealed the false god to whom they swore allegiance, that ache served to make him frighteningly weak. Wracked with shudders from the icy air and the unfortunate path his cluttered mind had taken him, Teal'c found himself suddenly, surprisingly drenched with sweat. A voice broke through his melancholic regret, indistinct and nonsensical through the humming. He shook his head, needing to heave himself to his present situation. In the back of his cluttered thoughts, he had a vague sense there was something important he must remember. There was something...someone...with him in this room.
He turned his head to see who was on a table identical to his, shocked to find Daniel strapped down. Heart racing, Teal'c recalled with vibrant precision the last few moments before he had found himself in the hands of his torturers. The archaeologist coming to his aid, falling unsuccessfully. The humming in his ears turned to a loud-pitched screech, tormenting him for being so weak that he had not been able to offer protection to his friend. That, even now, he could do nothing to aid an escape attempt. The shrieking increased in volume, and he wanted to block his ears in cowardice. Rolling his head away, he tried to tune it...no, wait, the cry was real! Blinking, he squinted at the bright orange glow engulfing his friend's legs. Daniel Jackson was screaming. Orange glow. Ribbon device.
Teal'c sat up, the desire to help his friend outweighing his own discomfort. He made himself roll off the high slab, lurching toward Daniel's attacker. Preposterously unimpeded by Jaffa, he made it all the way to the Goa'uld, feebly clutching at the ribbon device to stop its damaging effect. He stumbled and fell to his knees, his arms suddenly and roughly wrenched away from their purpose. Struggling wanly, it took the newly present Jaffa only seconds to subdue him and he could do no more. He breathed harshly, barely able to keep his head up, but was satisfied to see the weapon deactivate and hear Daniel's screams fade to whimpers. Blood coated the other man's right pant leg.
The Goa'uld howled in rage, turning his anger on Teal'c and blasting him with the ribbon device. He slumped to the ground as the Jaffa released him. Advancing on him, the Goa'uld's strangely disfigured face was large with hate. Blistering pain, unlike anything he had ever felt before, became his world and his body vibrated with residual tidal waves. He could not fight it, his eyes closing briefly. He had experienced the wrath conveyed through the apparatus before but, without strength to issue a challenge, he was weakening far too rapidly. Just when he thought the agony would become too excruciating to bear, the inflaming light cut off and left him with only the struggle to draw breath. He collapsed, face down, onto the floor.
"Shol'va! You dare interfere! I should kill you right now," the Goa'uld growled at him. Through the grating voice, Teal'c could still hear Daniel making small noises of hurt. "If my experimentations had no more need for you, be assured you would be dead right now, as would your Tau'ri...friend."
With great effort, Teal'c raised his head and spared a glance his young friend, who appeared delirious, tossing back and forth against his restraints. The archaeologist was gray and as covered in sweat as he himself was. Rage surged in him for their baseless, arcane mistreatment. Swiveling his head, he looked around the room for any indication of who held them captive, not recognizing any of the marking on the walls or the symbols on the Jaffas' foreheads. The crude sledgehammer nudged something in the periphery of his recollection but it was not concrete.
He turned his attention to the Goa'uld itself, vision blurry from fever and pain. Unable to see more than a hazy outline, Teal'c squinted and the Goa'uld's terrible face became clear. The brilliantly red scar seemed almost its own separate entity, morbidly protruding out toward him. He had never known a false god to be physically flawed, and evidence of such shocked him even through his stupor. Breathing harshly, he lifted his head further and immediately noticed other impairments. A twisted leg, a misshapen hand. It was not right, but it was familiar.
And it came to him. As a child, he had questioned where the gods got their new, amazing technology and weapons, innocently curious. His mother had told him a sad tale, of a misfit god who was not as magnificent as his fellow gods, blighted early on with deformities too massive even godhood could not cure. Hephaestus was his name, and though he was unable to match the might of the other gods, he had skills that were highly sought. Skills in tool making, inventiveness in weaponry. His ugliness kept him sequestered away from the rest of the universe, a secret genius. He had believed the story a mere myth, had eventually replaced it with the idea that the Goa'uld plundered and stole what they desired and had no creativity of their own.
He had been incorrect, it would seem. It would also seem that he and, because of his weakness, Daniel Jackson had become some sort of laboratory rodents, necessary but expendable instruments in furthering Goa'uld technological advancement. Unacceptable, unacceptable. Fumbling, Teal'c managed to get his hands on the ground and he tensed his uncooperative muscles to work for him. He would not be used in such a manner, nor would he allow Daniel to die. Contradicting internal strength, his body wavered as if he were a foal. His elbows threatened to fold him back into a crumpled pile. He locked them, freezing as the Goa'uld began muttering again.
"But now that I consider it, perhaps it would be best if I heal the human before I enter him. It would be a waste of time waiting for his body to recover after I have taken possession. Yes..."
Enter. Possession. The words agitated in his head, making it swirl and ache so much the pain traveled into his belly. Death, such an abhorrent possibility only moments ago, was preferable to what Hephaestus apparently had planned for Daniel. He scrabbled onto his knees, fueled by fury, but he lacked the power to fight the instant lock two of the Jaffa obtained on his shoulders. Snarling at rage aimed at himself as much as his and Daniel's captors, he lost his ire when his roving eyes landed upon the now completely limp form of his friend. Though the archaeologist in actuality was not, he appeared small. Inexplicably, Teal'c was frightened.
"Yes," Hephaestus definitively repeated. "Now that I know my ultimate weapon works so effectively, I can begin building my own army of Jaffa and take on the System Lords. With my new, strong, host, I will make them pay for my years of suffering under their will."
Incredulously, Teal'c took another look at his surroundings. Unless Hephaestus had a store of weapons and more than the scattered few Jaffa he had seen, he could not envision the defeat of the System Lords by a single Goa'uld. Such a thing would take much power...much more than evidenced here. Hephaestus could not be entirely sane, that was the only explanation he could accept. Anything else was too terrible to contemplate and he could not give credence to the possibility the Goa'uld did indeed have enough reserves to accomplish domination.
"You will not be successful," Teal'c had to whisper. He coughed weakly, his chest rattling ominously. He remembered feeling this way only once before - when he gave his symbiote to Ry'ac so that his son may live. If not for his friends... "My friends will stop your insurrection before it begins when they come for us."
Blinking as though surprised Teal'c had spoken, Hephaestsus stared at him for a long minute before starting to chuckle and shake his head. Perplexed by the odd reaction, he leaned closer to the Goa'uld as if that would make him understand. To his astonishment, Hephaestus's laughter subsided, he shifted around slightly and then vanished.
Moments later, a bodiless voice taunted right in his ear, "How could they do such a thing when they cannot see what is right before their faces?"
He reeled back, startled by the hot breath wafting across his cheek. He had not remembered...how had he not known the Jaffa had used Ree'tu technology?
"O'Neill and Major Carter will not give up easily. They have access to TERs, which...you designed and they will...use them to determine our position."
"It does not matter. By the time they can do so, Daniel Jackson's body will be mine, my Jaffa and I will be gone and you, Shol'va Teal'c, will be dead."
With that, Hephaestus turned from him and limped toward Daniel. Teal'c was hauled backward, carted back to the elevated platform next to his unconscious friend's and strapped tightly down. In his dim peripheral vision, he saw an orange glow set upon the archaeologist's leg once again as the Goa'uld proceeded to heal the wound. Normally, he would be gladdened to know the younger man's physical suffering was nearing an end but he could not allow himself that luxury, knowing that the sooner Daniel's injuries were healed, the sooner he would suffer a worse horror. He could do nothing but turn his head, make himself watch as a form of penance for his failure to keep his young friend safe yet again
He coughed, lungs issuing protest against the accumulation of fluids in them. He wanted to expel the phlegm and mucous, spit the vile substances at Hephaestus in a useless act of insurgence and rail like a child at the injustice. Making a soft, sleepy noise, Daniel moved slightly under the healing device's ministrations. Teal'c cringed. His vow upon his young friend's immediate words of understanding, if not forgiveness, after killing Sha'uri had been to never allow emotional or physical harm to befall Daniel Jackson because of him.
And yet here they were. Teal'c was incapacitated, weak as a baby and unable to prevent the usurpation of his friend's body and mind. Despair rocked him to the core, a feeling seldom acknowledged by any Jaffa. Silently begging Daniel's forgiveness, he closed his eyes and turned away from the horrible sight. He was a coward for giving up so readily but he could not bear the penance to watch the resuscitation of health that would ultimately lead to his friend's death. A hot tear slid down his face, disguising itself among the sweat already coursing there.
It did not matter if his weakness was discovered by those surrounding him. All that mattered was that when O'Neill and Major Carter arrived, they would find only a friend who was no longer a friend and his own empty shell. Hephaestus did not have to elaborate on the latest weapon in his arsenal; no System Lord could maintain power without his or her Jaffa slaves. He did not know how Goa'uld had done it, but he did know this mysterious weapon's purpose was to weaken. To kill, as it was killing him.
"I am sorry, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c softly said.
And he never had been more so in his life. He regretted not regaining Daniel's friendship and trust. He regretted failing in his unspoken duty. He regretted...
Running footsteps intruded on the silence that had set upon the room after his quiet request for forgiveness. He jerked as the intrusion was followed by a loud voice, "My lord Hephaestus! The Tau'ri have discovered our location!"
Lolling his head the direction the voice was emanating from, Teal'c opened his eyes and his heart refilled with hope. Hephaestus cursed, stopped healing Daniel's wound and threw the healing device to the ground in a show of irritation.
"Too soon, too soon! Have they found the entrance to our lair?"
"No, my lord."
"We must see to it that they do not. Throw them in the pit!" Hephaestus indicated with a wave of his good hand. "We will dispense of the irritating vermin at once and then I will finish what I have begun."
Moving promptly at their master's directives, the Jaffa released Daniel from the restraints and one of them slung him over a shoulder. Two more grabbed Teal'c forcefully and dragged him out of the room. He didn't try to resist, knowing it was best to conserve his waning energy. Certain O'Neill and Major Carter would find them soon, he hung limply as the Jaffa marched him through the dank hallways. Underground. They must be underground, the walls were made of cold stone and there was a dirty dampness in the air that made his lungs seize up. He coughed and was rewarded with a sharp jab in the ribs. Coughing harder, he stopped observing his surroundings and let his head hang down.
Blood rushed in his ears, almost loudly enough to obscure a low moan from Daniel. He looked up in time to see the younger man thoughtlessly flung into an expansive hole in the middle of the tunnel floor. He prayed the archaeologist had regained consciousness enough to roll away from the opening before he would be tossed down into the same cold prison. The Jaffa hurled Teal'c violently into the sinkhole, raucous curses trailing after him. His not insignificant weight landed on something soft that grunted in pain, and he knew Daniel had awakened.
Instantly, he attempted to roll off his cellmate, but was too weak to move. His head rested on Daniel's left shoulder, body strewn crossways on top of the smaller man. He could feel his friend gasping for air and wriggling to free himself from his live blanket, fully aware once again. Wincing, he tried again to move and spare at least this small discomfort for the other man.
"Teal'c...get off...God you...weigh...a...ton!" Daniel croaked, wheezing loudly and unpleasantly.
Accompanying the dreadful sounds, the man beneath him started convulsing, and Teal'c was frightened he was crushing him. He bolstered up as much energy as he could, propped one hand down on the ground and used it to flop himself over. Screaming at the self-inflicted abuse, his body shook at the exertion and the resultant pain of his action. He joined Daniel's chokes, creating a duet of tortured sound that echoed around the small cavern in which they had been thrown. After a few moments, he was able to gain control of his inhalations, though they were still rattling ominously. Presaging his death. The body next to him, though, continued to tremble long after he thought it should. Concern mounting, he worried he had he caused further injury to his friend.
Fear providing the necessary adrenaline, Teal'c turned his head and shoulders toward his semi-prone friend. Shadowed by dimness and his own fading eyesight, most of Daniel's body was not visible. What he saw was that the shaking was increasing rather than decreasing and his heart beat sporadically in his chest at the implication. His death was a certainty even if O'Neill and Major Carter found them soon; he was beginning to suspect Daniel's fate would be the same. He wanted to provide comfort but he did not know what to do or whether it would be accepted. Before he could contemplate it further, a different muffled noise emitted from the young man.
Laughter.
Laughter! He found himself extraordinarily perturbed by the realization that while he had been upset and afraid for the other man's life, Daniel had apparently been enjoying himself immensely. Energy faded out of him, and he slumped onto his back, head heavily thumping the damp ground. Finally propping himself on his elbows, the object of his exasperation looked down at him. Teal'c frowned, still angry and confused as to why the archaeologist found their situation humorous - as O'Neill's banter from earlier in the day, this amusement was inappropriate and confounding. His scowl lightened somewhat as he realized the smile on his friend's face was the first genuine one he had seen since Sha'uri...the thoughts made his face twist again.
"Daniel Jackson, would you please explain what is causing you to laugh?" Teal'c asked, meaning to sound stoically jovial in an attempt to regain the glimmer of his good disposition, stunned at how feebly the words came out.
Daniel sobered immediately, apparently not liking his weakened speech either. A gamut of emotions flickered across the archaeologist's face before settling to resounding concern. Softly, a hand was placed upon his forehead, cool and refreshing, warm and comforting. Amazingly welcome.
"God, Teal'c, are you all right?" the other man whispered. The coolness of the hand lessened slightly but did not completely disappear. Fever still burned within him. Studying him closely, Daniel's features saddened as he continued, "You look like hell."
He could not argue.
"Indeed. I also feel like hell, Daniel Jackson."
"Uhm, what happened? I think I kind of passed out. The last thing I remember is that Hephaestus was ribboning me, then I was suddenly upside down staring at a Jaffa's armored ass," Daniel said mildly with a brief smile and a wince. His hand automatically shot up to his cheekbone, already displaying a large bruise from the plummet down into the pit. As an afterthought, the archaeologist murmured, "It's good to see you, though."
Intense blue eyes spoke of sympathetic pain, fear and understanding of Hephaestus' weapon. There was no need to speak of it. Closing his eyes, Teal'c said, "Hephaestus began to heal your leg in preparation for taking over your body. He was not able to complete either task."
"Oh. Okay, great on the no Goa'uld in my head thing and yeah, I know he didn't finish healing me, because right now I would love to gnaw my leg off it hurts so much. Actually, that's not true. It does feel a bit better than it did. That's good news, right?" the archaeologist rambled and Teal'c heard him shuffling around.
"Indeed."
Feeling suddenly like he was falling down a neverending hole, swirling and swirling forever, Teal'c opened his eyes. Daniel had changed positions so that they were lying side by side. His head was still thick and muddled. Despite the vertigo, he could not keep his eyes open. He knew. He knew O'Neill and Major Carter would be far too late to prevent his death. Unafraid of the actual, physical event, he began to prepare for it.
"Hey, Teal'c," his companion suddenly urged with a nudge to his shoulder as if Daniel had read his mind. "You have to try and stay awake for me, okay? Did Hephaestus tell you what he did to you? Or if there was a cure? No, of course he didn't. Why would he do that?"
Teal'c allowed a small smile at Daniel's nervous chattering. It was always better if this particular human was speaking. No matter the content of his words, they were a source of comfort for him, just as his silence was a source of apprehension.
Daniel had been silent for many days after the death of Sha'uri. Even O'Neill could not get him to speak. Though Teal'c had stayed away from the archaeologist, Major Carter always came to him to provide news on their friend's condition. He was never quite sure if his absence was beneficial to the emotional recovery Daniel required, but he felt it was necessary for their friendship. No one he had ever met could cope with tragedy in a rapid manner, and he knew the archaeologist was no exception to that rule. The void left without that relationship had been painful. His soul ached for time lost that would never be recovered.
"I am sorry, Daniel Jackson."
The soft words of his friend stopped immediately and Teal'c turned his head toward Daniel. Bewildered blue eyes stared back at him, and the archaeologist's mouth flapped open and shut repeatedly.
"I am sorry," Teal'c murmured again.
"F-for what, Teal'c?"
"For once again being responsible for your suffering," Teal'c simply answered. He was so incredibly sorry for that and for losing friendship.
"Teal'c, this isn't your fault! It was totally a case of me being in the wrong place at the wrong time," Daniel protested.
"Yes. But that is not of what I am speaking."
"Oh...oh."
Daniel's face instantly lost all of its slight animation and Teal'c feared he erred in bringing up this subject. It could not be delayed, however. He could feel his life draining from him and this was something they needed to discuss. They had never spoken directly to each other about the death of Sha'uri. With so little time remaining, he wanted to ask Daniel the question that had been on his mind since he had known the younger man.
"Daniel Jackson, I know I do not deserve your friendship. I never have, and yet you give it willingly. How is this possible?"
Pausing, Daniel stared at him and Teal'c again saw understanding on the other man's face. Sadness, replaced quickly by determination. Frustration clear in his tone, Daniel said, "Teal'c, do you remember Cartago? Remember how much Hanno wanted to see you die for your past sins? I can't be like that, I never could. I couldn't hold you responsible for actions you were instructed to complete."
"I was not instructed to end the life of Sha'uri," Teal'c gently pointed out.
Daniel winced, though he had likely known the statement was coming. Internally, Teal'c grieved for rousing pain the younger man was only now moving past.
"No, no, you weren't."
"And you still allow me to walk by your side."
"Yes."
"Why?"
"Teal'c, if I tell you something... When Sh...Amaunet had me in the grip of the ribbon device, I experienced something amazing. I haven't told anyone this...I'm not sure why. I'm afraid no one will believe me, I guess. Teal'c, Sha'uri spoke to me through the weapon. I don't know how, but I do know why." Daniel paused and furrowed his brows. Closing his eyes, he appeared afraid to continue but he took several deep breaths and did so. "She had something very important to tell me, but she wouldn't do it right away. You want to know why, Teal'c?"
Searching his friend's face, Teal'c almost had to look away from the emotion emanating from it. Daniel's eyes were filled with fear...fear for him. The fear transformed instantly to neutrality as though Daniel was trying to protect him from the truth. He tried to answer the question, but couldn't seem to make his mouth work properly. There was nothing but blurred pain and he wanted to fade away.
"Hey, stay awake. Remember, Teal'c?" Daniel prompted him gently, shaking his shoulder. "You with me?"
Teal'c nodded and opened his mouth again, pleased when words actually came out of it, "I am."
Lies. He knew what Daniel was telling him was terribly important but he could not seem to focus. Overtaking everything, his failing body battled for all of his attention.
"Good. Teal'c, Sha'uri told me about her son. She said that he was a Harcesis, that he possesses all the knowledge of the Goa'uld even though he's human and that he must be protected. But she didn't tell me about him right away. No, first she told me I needed to get on with my life. She made me see the future as it might have gone down, and it wasn't pretty - I quit the SGC and refused to forgive you. Sha'uri wouldn't give up on me, though. She kept insisting you were right to kill her and that I needed to get beyond my anger."
The importance of the other man's words pulled him out of his pained haze, and his head spun with the information. He didn't know if he should believe it or not, but in his vast experience with the Goa'uld, Teal'c had learned to never underestimate them in any way. In any case, it did not matter if the story was valid or a figment of a grieving man's imagination; Daniel was baring a part of himself that he had locked away for weeks and Teal'c could only encourage him. If he could do nothing else, this he could.
"Have you?" he whispered. "Will you ever be able to forgive my actions, Daniel?"
Startled, Daniel's eyes widened at the casual use of his name. He blinked several times, then his eyes skittered around the room as if unable to maintain contact with him. Darkness approached, emotionally as well as physically.
"I..I'm not sure, Teal'c. I understand why you had to shoot Sha'uri, but I've never actually forgiven you. I'm not sure if I'm ready for that," Daniel thickly admitted.
"I understand." Teal'c's heart sank. Selfishly, he had hoped for complete absolution in the face of death.
"No, Teal'c. You don't. I may not be ready yet but I will be someday and I'm not willing to let our friendship suffer. I know I haven't been much for company lately, but I'm working on it. I'll keep trying, I promise. I just need more time."
Grateful for Daniel's honesty, Teal'c took it at face value. He was fortunate to receive it. The promise of forgiveness was more than he would expect from anyone else. He coughed painfully and shivered, the cold from the floor invading his bare back. His strength was diminishing even more quickly.
"Thank you, Daniel," Teal'c whispered.
"What for?"
For so much.
"Teal'c, Teal'c! Don't you fall asleep!" he heard Daniel cry out frantically.
Teal'c tried to stay awake, to cling to consciousness but the world became dimmer and dimmer as he slid into oblivion. His last thought was that should he never wake, he could die in peace.


He knew he shouldn't take out his frustrations on Carter, so Jack kept his mouth clamped shut the entire hike back to the Stargate. Correspondingly, the fingers of his right hand gripped his MP5 so tightly that he was certain he was making permanent indents into the metal. His lungs heaved, as their pace had increased from a steady jog to a more strenuous clip. Cautiously, he glanced down at his watch. Another hour had slipped past, putting the timer at an hour and a half and counting.
Images of Daniel and Teal'c in excruciating pain at the hands of a Goa'uld fueled his steps, though at the same time they hindered him by stealing his breath. None of it made sense to him. The only freaking Goa'uld who had valid reason to have a vendetta against Teal'c was dead, yet Jack swore the Jaffa had aimed directly for his big friend during the attack. Apophis had goddamned well better be dead. Because if he wasn't, and if old Poppy had his missing team members...well, even he couldn't scrape up enough optimism to believe they were going back to the 'gate for a search and rescue team rather than a search and retrieval team.
Blood. Pain. Torture. Daniel screaming and Teal'c crumpling with barely a fight.
"Sir...sir, we've got the 'gate in sight." His 2IC's breathlessness was slight, a bare indication of the physical stress she was experiencing. Looking sidelong at her, Jack's gaze was redirected as she waved an arm ahead. "I'll dial."
He nodded and Carter picked up her pace, shooting ahead of him. Watching her go, Jack wondered, and not for the first time, whether he had made an error in not following her suggestion of going directly back to the rocks...ruins...whatever. Ever since she had hinted that she felt the key to this whole mess was back there, the idea had niggled in his mind. If that were the case, which seemed more and more likely to him, was going back the Stargate a complete waste of time, a contradiction of his earlier assertion? What if the Goa'uld had already blocked it, preventing them from sending for help? Head aching from the simple contemplation of the possibility, he jogged the rest of the way to the DHD just as his 2IC was finishing the dialing sequence. It didn't matter, it was too late. Either action on his part could have resulted in disaster for Teal'c and Daniel. Either one could have taken too much time.
His friends could already be dead.
"Sir, I've been thinking," Carter said out of the blue. He jolted in time with the Stargate spiraling to life. Thank God, it worked. "You know how Daniel and I both were positive the UAV revealed those ruins? What if they really were ruins? What if the Goa'uld have developed a way to, I don't know, transmit some sort of hologram rather than just making something invisible? They could have taken the Ree'tu technology and adapted it."
The desperation was obvious in Carter's words and the fact that she was still thinking about it made his self-doubt accelerate. A lump was forming in the pit of his stomach, cold and dense and monstrous. She so needed him to believe what she was proposing, and he chose to indulge her; to downplay his own concern with a refutation he didn't believe.
"Okay, say that's the case. Why? It's not like ruins of an ancient city are evidence of existing life on this planet. We can't rule out the possibility that Daniel and Teal'c are far, far away from here."
"No, sir, I know that. But - "
The camera on the MALP, which Jack was never so glad to have left planetside on a mission, began to pan toward them, the mechanical whine halting Carter's protest. In unison, they turned their attention to the small lens, their radios bursting with static.
"Colonel O'Neill, sir?" a timid voice called out.
"Get me General Hammond!" Jack instantly ordered.
"Yes, sir."
For several minutes, there was silence, cut only by his radio crackling as if someone was brushing the microphone in the control room with a rough cloth. Too long. Toolongtoolong. Rapping his cramped fingers on the MP5 in a nervous beat, Jack looked up at the mid afternoon sky. By the time they tromped back to the beginning, it would be dusk.
"Colonel O'Neill, what's your situation?" General Hammond boomed at last, and Jack jerked his gaze to the MALP camera. "You're due back here in half an hour, why the break in procedure?"
Why, indeed. God.
"Sir, we've run into a bit of a problem here," Jack said, sounding far too casual for his own liking. He wanted to scream. "On the way back to the 'gate, we were attacked by Jaffa. Teal'c and Daniel were captured."
"How long ago?"
"An hour and forty minutes. Sir, I need to request back up teams for the search and a whole mess of TERs. These particular Jaffa were of the invisible kind."
"What?"
"They appeared, snatched Daniel and Teal'c, and then disappeared. Daniel's been injured, sir, and Teal'c...well, I don't know, but we think there was something wrong with him."
"Wrong?"
Wrong! Goddamnit, they did not have time to do a play by play...
"Sir, if I may," Carter broke in. "What's important here is that we have an unknown Goa'uld who has Teal'c and Daniel and that both of them have been physically compromised. We don't think they've been taken off the planet and it's vital we begin the search immediately."
What she said.
"Right. I've got SG3 preparing for another mission right now. I can have them to you in ten minutes."
"Sir, I also think the Goa'uld have managed to modify the Ree'tu technology enough to not only use it to disappear but also disguise. I recommend we send a UAV rigged with TERs back to the ruins. If possible, if someone from the archaeological staff could help us determine who we're dealing with, it might help. The only clue we have is they Jaffa tattoos are in the shape of a sledgehammer."
"Very well, I'll work on both," Hammond agreed, though he could not have known the reason for the proposals. "Hammond out."
The Stargate blinked off. Jack could hear his watch ticking and he resisted looking at its face. Ten minutes. Such a short time but with nothing to fill it except more rampant thoughts of his friends suffering horribly while he stood here with his hands in his pockets. Shuffling from foot to foot next to him, Carter cleared her throat several times. He had a sudden impulse to muffle her and stop the aggravating noises. It was misplaced anger once again.
"Sir, do you find it at all odd that we haven't been ambushed? Why would a Goa'uld simply allow us to leave? It doesn't make sense," Carter murmured, breaking the silence at last.
"No, Carter, it doesn't make sense. None of this does, but to quote an old clich - I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth," he retorted. "If this Goa'uld, whoever he is, is stupid enough to ignore us then that's something we can take advantage of."
"True, sir. I just...I'm not sure what that means for the others."
It was easy to fill in the blanks - it meant the Goa'uld was so blindly driven by something that he or she didn't give a rat's ass if he and Carter stormed the castle and tried to break up the invite-only party. That something had to be malevolent, and Jack suspected there was a good reason for the overconfident single-mindedness. Like perhaps the Goa'uld had weapons and Jaffa enough not to worry about any kind of infringement. God, stop. He had to stop thinking like that.
"It means we get them the hell out of wherever they are."
As he said it, he realized how completely vague the words were. They had no real idea what was going on, and that fact was entirely disturbing. But he had to hang onto the idea that, bottom line, they were dealing with a Goa'uld and follow the same tactics they usually did in such cases. A Goa'uld was a Goa'uld was a Goa'uld, after all.
"Of course. God, sir, it's been almost two hours."
He knew all too well how much damage a Goa'uld could do in that amount of time, didn't need Carter to reactivate the worry. It had never ceased.
"Yes, it has."
"Do you think they're -"
"Carter, will you can it?" he growled, closing his eyes when she gave an audible gasp at the rebuke.
He didn't have a chance to apologize as the wheel of the 'gate started spinning, drawing their attention. Seconds after the blue wave gushed out and resettled, the UAV popped out of the middle of it. Instinctively ducking, Jack scowled at it as it took off.
"Cancel the UAV, repeat, do not send the UAV to the coordinates of the ruins!" Carter suddenly shouted, bumping into him as she lurched for the camera.
"Carter?"
"Sir, if we've been left alone...sending the UAV would broadcast we know the Goa'uld's secret. If we're right, it would be better to verify it on foot. Covertly."
"Stop that UAV!" Jack seconded without hesitation. To his relief, the buzzing of the remote control plane was already becoming louder as it returned to the Stargate. Bless General Hammond.
Squishing noises followed by heavy footfalls announced the arrival of SG3 and he turned around to greet them, finding them armed to the teeth. Makepeace extended two TERs to him and Carter, something of a smirk decorating his features. Bristling, Jack took the implement. He couldn't pinpoint what specifically was so irritating about his comrade, but he could tell the other colonel walked a fine line between duty and fanaticism. Something about Makepeace had always rubbed him the wrong way.
"Heard you lost your little geek and the Jaffa, O'Neill."
And there was a good part of that something. Ignoring the comment, Jack turned to the MALP and said, "Thank you for stopping the UAV, sir. I agree with Carter that stealth is one of our only advantages here, and even that's limited."
"I understand, Colonel. Godspeed and bring them home," Hammond simply said, then ended communication and shut down the 'gate.
"Follow us and keep your men alert, Makepeace," Jack sharply said, keying up his TER in favor of the MP5. "We've been left alone so far but I don't think we should count on that holding."
"Don't worry, we'll find your boys."
Boys, right. He wanted to point out that neither Teal'c nor Daniel were children but he held his tongue, conscious of the regretful fact that Makepeace and Company were the hands rocking the cradle. The hands feeding. The means to an end. God, he hoped Carter's theory was correct.
"Rothman's best guess as to the identity of the Goa'uld is some Greek god of fire or something. Hephner...whatever. The myths apparently have him as the primary toy-builder for the gods as well."
"Hephaestus," Carter corrected, her voice rising in interested hope. "I remember the name now. Seems logical that that's correct, sir, given the adaptations I think he's made to the phase shifting technology..."
Whatever. Thinking about all the potential new Goa'uld weapons they might encounter was not productive. He waved a hand in the air to stop all conversation and led Carter and SG3 away from the Stargate. Tiredness of body and spirit overcame him as his mind again wandered to Teal'c and Daniel. If he hadn't seen Teal'c taken down with his own eyes, he never would have believed his friend could be defeated by only two Jaffa. Bra'tac had taught his protg well, and Jack was pretty sure that meant quite a bit in Jaffa terms. Teal'c must really have been hurting to fall so quickly. Must still be hurting. What could be wrong with him?
And Daniel. He was proud of the way the archaeologist didn't even hesitate to draw his weapon, bringing down one of his attackers efficiently. Luck may have played a bit part in that, but Jack was still impressed. It wasn't enough, though. He was certain the younger man's wound wasn't life threatening in any way.
Augh. He had to stop flushing himself in that downward spiral, keep his head on finding his friends rather than reliving their capture or, worse, envisioning their possible fates. Pulling himself back into awareness, Jack looked around and was startled to note they had already made it back to the location of the initial attack. He trotted over and toed the dead Jaffa on the arm, grunting at the device strapped around it.
"Wouldn't do any good, sir. It wouldn't provide camouflage to the Jaffa if they were also phase-shifted," Carter murmured, answering his question before he had even really realized he was about to ask it.
Sparing her a glance, Jack frowned at her nervous and scared expression and the way her face never wavered from its constant grimace of concern. He felt helpless as she looked, and he hated feeling like that. He hated that she felt like that. He hated all of this. Moving from the corpse, he took a deep breath and signaled for them to continue on with the journey. The sunlight was fading already, casting a little bit deeper blue across the landscape. If they kept up their pace, the atmosphere would be just dark enough to impede their vision. He pushed his tired muscles to work harder, picking up the pace. They all did.
Trusting Carter and SG3 to guard against hidden threats, he kept his eyes on the rough terrain as they ran. He concentrated on the soft grunts of exertion from his companions rather than his surroundings or grim thoughts, trying to think positive. They would reach the rocks, they would find Daniel and Teal'c, and his friends would be just fine. Just fine. Enveloped in that mantra seemed to make the time go by more quickly.
"Holy shit, will you look at that?" Makepeace growled, startling Jack from his mental wanderings.
Looking up, Jack pulled to a stop, amazed to see they had arrived at the large rock formations...only they really weren't looking at rocks anymore. TERs trained on the site, Makepeace and SG3 stood with mouths agape, momentarily stunned by what the Goa'uld devices had revealed. Ruins. The UAV hadn't read anything incorrectly. Before them, huge remnants of a great temple stood, crumbling under erosion and time. Smaller, utilitarian structures surrounded the once impressive monument, constructed of stone. Some were still in very good shape. Goddamn son of a bitch!
Teal'c and Daniel were here somewhere, they had to be. He wanted to give Carter a massive hug for being right. Now they just had to prove their friends were still on the planet. Here. And safe. Gesturing for Makepeace to take Fitzgerald and Hengel and scout off to the right, he nodded at Carter and Wolfe to follow him to the left. As Carter's instinct had made her so sure, Jack now had a feeling the place they needed to look was the temple. Almost a quarter of it was still standing, revealing several gutted rooms.
Taking cover behind large protruding rocks...walls...he edged silently into the complex. The limited range of the TERs made their work incredibly difficult, the images before them flickering from reality to mirage at every turn. His heart was pounding in his chest, adrenaline pumping at the hope his missing companions might soon be found. Jack turned his head to Carter as they approached the first room, flashing his intentions quickly. Uniformly, they entered the room and swept it for possible danger, Wolfe only seconds behind. Nothing. They surveyed the space carefully before inching back out into the open.
Heading for the next room, Jack paused and held up his hand. He could hear a faint scraping noise like stone on stone. Walking backward, he urged Carter and Wolfe to follow him back into the room they had just exited. Carter gave him a puzzled frown, which he answered with an impatient eyebrow lift. She nodded, bringing herself as close to the wall as she could. They waited nervously.
Crouching just on the inside of the door, Jack heard the odd noise getting louder, accompanied by metallic clanking. He would recognize that sound anywhere - the inattentive footfalls of a troop of Jaffa. He held his breath as the marching neared their location, uncertain how many of the enemy they were dealing with. It never failed to surprise Jack how un-stealthy the Goa'uld and their minions could be. For a supposedly superior race of beings, they were pretty dense. He watched as fifteen of the brutes stormed by, led by a squat man with a severe limp and a nasty looking burn across his face. Perplexed, he shot Carter a different kind of eyebrow lift, questioning the strange sight. She returned with a half smile at him and a shrug.
As soon as the Jaffa were out of range, Jack hit his radio to warn Makepeace and his abbreviated team, but staff weapon blasts ripping through the air stopped him before he began. Shit, shit. The trio began to run cautiously toward the weapons fire, arms poised and ready to take out as many Jaffa as they could.
Jack still didn't know how many to expect to follow from their hidden lair but it didn't matter. They were so close now, and there wasn't time to think. Assuming Makepeace had either blown cover or had stupidly engaged the Jaffa troop, he cursed under his breath. The goddamn marine was about as much help as a lump of coal. He couldn't help but remember the 'rescue' led by the marine on Hathor's planet. The jarhead had managed to get everyone captured, including Daniel.
He halted his ill placed irritation, the distraction of it affecting his attention and skills. Now was not the time to rehash personal issues; Daniel and Teal'c needed all of them to get out of this. And Jack swore he'd kill every last Jaffa on this waste of a planet if that was what it took to find them.
He would find them and they would still be alive.


Daniel felt better, though better was a relative term. Considering the last thing he remembered before Teal'c's heavy form beat him into consciousness again was Hephaestus going crazy and hitting his leg with the ribbon device, he thought a little wooziness and a dull throb from his wound were quite acceptable. For himself, anyway. More than his own physical problems, he was concerned about the man lying next to him, too still, too hot and too sick. He didn't want to be right in guessing the Goa'uld's new weapon, but Teal'c's condition told him he was. He lifted his hand, brushing it across his friend's damp forehead in a sad attempt to offer comfort. Nothing he could do now would really help the other man. Wiping his sweat-slicked palm down his left thigh, he sighed deeply.
What little Teal'c had been able to tell him before passing out assured him that Hephaestus had abandoned his plan to take him as his new host. At least for now. He replayed his rude awakening into full consciousness, three hundred or so pounds of bulky Jaffa slamming into him. It had been surreally funny at the time, but Daniel found nothing amusing now.
It was quiet. Glaring up at the wide-open, inaccessible exit to their prison, Daniel speculated at the audacity and overconfidence of the Goa'uld for leaving him and Teal'c completely unguarded. When Jack and Sam came, and they were coming, they would find it laughably easy to free them. Worriedly, he stroked Teal'c's forehead again. A soft moan came in response, a sign of returning coherency but not one he really wanted to hear. He studied his friend's waxy face and he knew time was running out; if Teal'c didn't get help soon he would die. At the very least, if he could get back to Earth, where Doctor Fraiser could work her magic and keep him alive for just a little longer until they figured out how to fix this.
"Just hang on, Teal'c," he whispered, more for himself than the unconscious man.
Shifting around so he leaned against the cold wall, Daniel drew his left leg up toward his chest and gingerly stretched his right out in front of him. He kept a hand on Teal'c's shoulder, rubbing the lax muscles in a small, circular pattern. Wait, it seemed, was all he could really do. Wait for rescue or damnation. Gently tapping the back of his head against the face of the rock, he stared at the gleaming water on the far side of the sinkhole. Teal'c's breath sounds were becoming more and more shallow, so much so that he turned his head to watch the slight rise and fall of his friend's chest.
His friend.
His earlier, finally vocalized revelations had eased the subtle but disquieting misgivings he had been feeling toward Teal'c since Sha'uri's death. In the three years they had known each other, Teal'c had shown him the utmost respect and courtesy but Daniel had always sensed the Jaffa's extra reservation with him. He could easily attribute that with the fact that out of the members of SG1, he was the one with the least in common with the Jaffa warrior. He tried not to focus on other, more personal reasons why he and Teal'c were distant, the memories only served to embitter him. And his friend had never deserved that. He didn't deserve it now, even after...
"God, Sha'uri," he quietly said, voice catching in his throat.
He hadn't meant to say it, hadn't meant for the feelings to swell up inside again, not when he'd only just managed to work through the worst of them. Life had been a fog, shapeless, unclear and empty despite the denseness of mist marring his existence for so long...not long enough. It had only been several weeks. A month of unspoken calls for him to move forward and on with his life, from those around him as well as an internal need to do so. Bury the sadness, focus on other things, as if that would make the loss less real.
It was a task he was ill equipped to handle, because around every corner, in every airman's shoddily masked sympathetic and curious stare, were reminders of the truth of his existence. There was nothing now except an insane dream given to him by his beloved wife, which he could not say or do anything about. He had tried to research the Harcesis, to understand the message she had imparted through the ribbon device. But doubt festered about whether he had actually experienced such a thing, or if his desperate mind had conjured it up to help ease the pain.
But the pain hadn't been relieved, and though his dream Sha'uri had insisted he not blame Teal'c, Daniel had found that easier said than done. His escape into research had led him nowhere but to thoughts of how his Jaffa friend might know something vital, and every time he thought that he had been overcome with a physical ache so strong he had had to hunch over to rid himself of it. Eventually, he had put away his books and tried to forget it all.
"Daniel...Amaunet...must..." Teal'c's weak voice impaled his thoughts. "Please forgive...I cannot...you die, Daniel...I must, I must..."
Unconsciously, his left hand tightened on the shoulder as the meaning behind Teal'c's feverish words settled in. Much reasoning wasn't necessary for him to understand his friend was reliving the moments just prior to Sha'uri's death. It had felt so good to share his secret at last, a burden that he hadn't realized was so heavy taken off his shoulders. Good for him, but it appeared not so good for his friend. Regret filled him at not being able to give Teal'c what he most wanted, even when the other man was so close to death. Forgiveness.
"I'm so sorry, Teal'c, I'm trying. Please hear me. Please."
"No choice...none...you...needed in fight, Daniel..."
Oh...God. The words might just as well have been a dagger plunged straight into his gut. Bending over, Daniel rested his head on his left kneecap and tried to stem the tears that had sprung up in his eyes. Teal'c moaned as his fingers dug deeper into flesh, and he released his grip as if his hand were on fire. Huddled, he brought the hand up and grabbed a fistful of his own hair as he burrowed his face in the space between his leg and chest.
"No!" Teal'c roared, much more loudly than Daniel would have imagined possible. Jerking up, he blearily saw that his friend's eyes were open and wide with horror. "No, I do not want...I am sorry, Daniel."
Arching his back slightly, Teal'c appeared ready to rise up. Daniel blinked and peered at his friend, realizing that although he appeared conscious, Teal'c was in a state of delirium. Frightened, he uncurled from his protective crouch, awkwardly scrambling to his left knee in a mutated, half genuflection. He leaned down, bracing the feebly flailing body with his own until he was almost sprawled on top of the larger man.
"Shh, Teal'c, it's okay. Please, you have to calm down," he murmured. "You're just dreaming, it's not real. It's not real."
But it was real, this anguish he heard in Teal'c's voice and it tore into him, cutting him wide open. His throat closed off, halting the attempts to comfort his friend with lies. He just lay there, gently grasping Teal'c's shoulders in a quasi hug and burying his face in his own shirt, which he had wrestled onto the ailing man, like a coward, the broken words resounding over and over in his head. Giving one last incoherent mutter, his big friend finally settled down, the round of restlessness apparently over. It wasn't over for him, though. Daniel continued to struggle against the high emotions pitching through him.
Daniel Jackson, it pleases me greatly that once again you value my knowledge.
The words had been spoken by an unreal Teal'c, but they struck him again now as they had then. Not the face value of them - the sadness in the tone, as if Teal'c had realized how he had really not been ready quite yet. The understanding that the day might never come where Daniel could look at Teal'c and not see the person that had killed his wife. Acceptance that life was now warped from what it had been, cruel and cold. Harsh.
What had he done?
"I'm sorry, Teal'c," Daniel choked out, unable to stop the tears from flowing down his cheeks any longer. They washed a hot trail into his skin, rolling off his face to land on Teal'c's already wet shoulder. "I didn't know."
He hadn't known how greatly Sha'uri's death and his subsequent avoidance...shunning...of Teal'c was impacting the other man. Shame filled him, dueling with the immense sadness already there. He should have seen it, should have taken what he knew of his friend and not been blinded by his own consuming pain. Years ago, during the trial on Cartago, Daniel had found the strength to finally look analyze his relationship with Teal'c in great detail. He had been surprised to learn that he truly held no animosity against the Jaffa personally for his actions while under the service of Apophis. In fact, he was able to categorize Jaffa race in general as suffering as much under the Goa'uld as the humans they subjugated.
Nothing Teal'c had ever done since that time had indicated otherwise, his personal character shining through many, many times. The Jaffa's will and determination to aid his fellow people proved to him over and over that most of them were innocent of the atrocities they were forced to participate in. Some may be as evil as the Goa'uld they served, but if there were those out there like Teal'c and Bra'tac, the race should not be condemned. Looking at the ill man lying next to him, Daniel suddenly realized that all of Teal'c's actions were motivated by a selfless desire to aid many over the needs of one.
It was something he had always known, had come to take for granted in light of his own selfish misery; Teal'c hadn't killed Sha'uri. He had killed Amaunet. Not only for Daniel's own life, but for all of the peoples she had enslaved. And, for some unfathomable reason, his friend believed he, Daniel Jackson, was important in the fight against the Goa'uld, a belief Daniel wasn't sure he shared. But because of this, he couldn't not forgive his friend. He cried for Sha'uri. He cried for Teal'c.
"Daniel."
Sniffing, he raised his head and looked into Teal'c's face to find his friend had pulled from his fevered state and was watching him with an expression so deeply sorrowful he had to avert his eyes. Letting go, Daniel backed off of his friend's body and lost the warmth he had gained from the embrace. He shivered as the dank coldness of the sinkhole chilled his bare torso, wiping the tears from his cheeks.
"Teal'c." So much to say. He didn't know where to begin.
"Are you well?" Teal'c asked.
Was he well? One last sob escaped his lips at the inquiry, and he closed his eyes in shame once again.
"I'm fine."
"You do not appear so."
"Neither do you," he murmured, returning his gaze to Teal'c. God, what was he doing? Here was his chance to give some modicum of assurance to his friend and he couldn't muster more than a word or two at a time. "Teal'c..."
"I have little time, Daniel Jackson."
No. No!
"Don't talk like that. Jack and Sam are here, you heard Hephaestus' Jaffa. You just have to hold on a little bit longer."
"I do not think I can," Teal'c whispered, closing his eyes and going limp.
For the second time since their incarceration, Daniel panicked. He desperately called, "Teal'c, you have to wake up!"
There was no response. Fear that he really was to late to repair the fractures he had caused in their friendship escalated as he shakily probed Teal'c's neck for a pulse, so dramatic was the sudden limpness. His fingers were numb, impairing his task to the point he thought there was nothing to feel. No, there! God, thank God. Weak and reedy though it was, there was a pulse. Daniel collapsed on his friend once more, wholly disturbed the rattle abiding in Teal'c's chest with each scant inhalation.
He couldn't let this happen. Launching backward, he forgot his own twinging body and surveyed the small enclosure. There had to be a way out of here; he couldn't wait for Jack and Sam. He had to get out now, find them and bring them here. His eyes lit upon the rough opening in the ceiling and noticed it was quite near the adjacent wall. Quickly scanning it, he saw craggy outcroppings of rocks all along the height of it and debated his chances of successfully scaling it the entire twenty feet expanse.
He had to. Testing how far he could move his right leg before the pain became too great, Daniel was pleased to find he had a fair range of motion. It was still extremely tender, but not so much so that he couldn't use it. He sucked in a deep breath and scrambled to his feet, carefully determining how much weight he could place on his leg. It was shaky but it held full weight. Cringing, he resolutely eyed the small summit once again, eyes tracking down the wall and landing on his friend's motionless form. Teal'c was too close to the wall; if he had problems, the last thing he wanted to do was hurt his friend any more than he already was. Grabbing the big man's arms, he tried to drag him away from the opening.
"God, Teal'c...you really do...weigh...a ton!" Daniel grunted from the exertion and the awkward way he had to move, heavily favoring his right leg.
He slowly inched Teal'c over almost two feet, wincing with every soft moan his friend uttered. It took several minutes but finally Daniel was satisfied, and he leaned against the cool wall to rest. He wasn't sure if he'd heated up because of the activity or if it was getting warmer in their prison. There was also a decent risk of infection from the unclean environment, he admitted. Trying not to dwell on that possibility, he relegated it to the back of his mind as a factor that wasn't important. Infection was the least of his concerns, at least his own.
Moving to the wall with single-minded resolve, Daniel searched for the best footholds, scouting the wall and mentally projecting the path to take. To his relief, it looked to be a simple climb and the height of the wall wasn't such that he could seriously hurt himself if he fell. Which he wouldn't. Sucking in a deep breath, he began.
Hand over hand, biting his lip against the pain shooting from his leg, Daniel scaled the wall at a snail's pace. The need to hurry played in the back of his mind and he sneaked glances back down at to his friend intermittently. Though he knew there was nothing he could do for the Jaffa from his position, he wanted to make sure Teal'c was still breathing. It was frightening to see the big man so ill.
After what seemed like an eternity, Daniel finally reached the opening. He grasped the edge and pushed himself up with his left leg, body leaning precariously backward at a slight angle. The wall sloped more than he was comfortable with, but it was workable. Hands white knuckled with tension, he was waist high out of the hole when a loud voice from behind him made him start mightily.
"Daniel!"
His body reflexively jerked and before he knew it, his hands were slipping. Daniel scrabbled to regain control, but it was no use. He fell, bitterly cold air whooshing past him as he made a not so graceful descent back into the pit.


Her CO's frustrations had been clear from the moment Daniel and Teal'c had literally vanished before their very eyes, which was completely understandable. In fact, Sam shared his feelings one hundred percent. Now, though, his body radiated aggravation in such vast amounts she wouldn't be surprised if he was toxic to be around. Within a minimal fifty foot radius. Glancing nervously over at Wolfe as they skulkily trailed after Colonel O'Neill in pursuit of the noisome band of Jaffa, she wanted to see if she was the only one to pick up on the heightened tension. His face was awash with pure, driven concentration. Just like a good marine.
Not that she found fault with the colonel's emotion, she continued to obsess; that wasn't it at all. There was something different about how he was behaving now compared to earlier, though. It was more than good, old-fashioned worry about their missing friends. If she didn't know the colonel was a consummate professional, despite what his outward appearances sometimes indicated, Sam would think this...pissiness was because of a personal vendetta. It couldn't be with Hephaestus, since they had never encountered him before. No, it was more as though her CO was irritated with Colonel Makepeace. As far as she knew, though, the only issue of contention between the two colonels was a distinct difference in command style and so none of this made sense.
But she was glad a thousand times over that she was Air Force, and that Makepeace was not the leader of her team.
A sharp but soft whistle jarred her, making her blink and she felt her cheeks color as she realized she had let her mind wander. Her feet, however, had stopped. Way to be a better-than-average Air Force major. Combat trained and experienced. Always at the ready. Scowling at herself, Sam scooted to catch up with the colonel and Wolfe and noted her CO was giving her what had to be a mirror image of her own expression. She didn't need to be chastised in any way, shape or form. It was abhorrent of her to have let herself think about anything other than the mission at hand. About what might be happening...or have already happened to Teal'c and Daniel. In away, though, she had needed that reprieve because now that she had reintroduced the primary objective, she was heartsick all over again. If they didn't find them today, if this was some ploy to mislead them...
No. They were close, she could sense it.
As her intuition had led her to believe the ruins were where she and the colonel should have gone instead of back to the Stargate - which, in hindsight, would have been a mistake - Sam was suddenly overcome with a feeling that pursuing the Goa'uld and his Jaffa wasn't necessarily the best course of action. She was torn; she knew they had to help Makepeace, yet the Jaffa attack significantly increased their chances at locating the entrance to the Goa'uld's hideout undetected. With the enemy distracted by SG3, someone could enter the complex and find Daniel and Teal'c without having an entire army of Jaffa to deal with.
"Sir, do you think - "
"Zsst," the colonel harshly cut off her whisper, jabbing two fingers at his eyes, shifting them quickly to point straight ahead.
Wincing, Sam peered around the stone doorframe and took in the scene before her. Knew there was no choice. Staff blasts were coming from nowhere and everywhere, from all conceivable angles. Shit. They had just waltzed into the ruins without any covertness at all. Wondering how quickly their presence had been detected wasn't productive; chances were the Jaffa had seen them before they had even entered the destroyed settlement. Foolish, all of them, for letting their guards down. Even Makepeace, the tough as nails Marine. Perhaps he was a little more human than she gave him credit for and truly did care about Daniel and Teal'c. Grasping her weapon tightly, Sam ducked her head back under cover.
There was no way they could unveil every single inch of the battlefield with their TERs, and she, the colonel and Wolfe couldn't risk much of a change in venue without eliminating the element of surprise. Clearing his throat softly, her CO snagged her attention. He abruptly signaled that he was taking Wolfe to the left, toward the bulk of the fighting, and that she should maneuver around to join Makepeace, who was cornered behind a tattered stable. Or something. Daniel would...the thought of her archaeologist friend got her moving. Waving the active TER around to ensure none of the enemy were near or at least aware of her, Sam plastered herself low to the ground and moved awkwardly to the Marine colonel.
The closer she got, the closer to her person the staff blasts came, until she realized they were so because they were aimed at her. Severely off the mark, the shots ranged from just over her head to a good three feet in front of her. Obviously these Jaffa weren't really experienced in battle. It was a weakness she and her companions wouldn't let go to waste. Scrambling quickly, she let go of any notion she could return fire until she reached safety. She could see Makepeace's eyes on her, was confident he'd guarantee her back was covered.
Scorching about two inches above her head, a staff blast tore a huge chunk out of the wall. She let out an involuntary squeak and fell flat on her face as detritus flew at her, dust and tiny rock fragments. Not fast enough, grit got into her eyes, blinding and leaving her wide open, defenseless. She slithered on her belly, eyes watering in a frantic effort to clear. Before she had made much progress with either, she felt an intense pressure under her arms and she flew, body losing control as it took off. The world was a crazy jumble for a few seconds, then everything stopped and she landed with an 'oof' on something semi-soft.
"Now's not an appropriate time, Major. I'll take a rain check, though."
Makepeace. Irritation sparked, accelerating the production of tears. The first image she saw was the smirking face of the colonel. The second was a huge Jaffa bearing down on their awkward position, revealed by her still activated TER. Squirming, Sam pretended not to notice Makepeace's grin grow larger and rolled off him the same moment she shot her weapon. The Jaffa exploded from the TER's destructive force and she nearly vomited.
"Well, now I'm not so sure I want a piece of your action, Major Carter," Makepeace deadpanned as they both scurried behind a large pedestal in the middle of the half torn apart room. She glared at him, and he sobered immediately. "Thanks for that. Guess we should count ourselves lucky the damn Jaffa aren't using these things."
She nodded, unable to speak yet, still horror-stricken at the obliteration of the Jaffa. She'd forgotten how...she'd forgotten. Swallowing the bile that had risen into the back of her throat, Sam had to agree with Makepeace's point. They were fortunate. At least the staff weapons' power was relatively precise, making chances of survival just that much bet...wait. Wait a minute, why weren't the Jaffa using TERs, or even more powerful weapons? If this Hephaestus was the maker of new and adapted technology, logic dictated that they would use it. Another tactical error?
"Carter, Makepeace, what's your status?" her CO's voice cut out of her radio. She jumped.
"We're good, O'Neill. You?"
"Hit three Jaffa, no sign of the little guy they had with them."
"We've taken one down, Fitzgerald and Hengel another two. How many are we looking at?"

part 2

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Disclaimer: Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Stargate (II) Productions, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. This story is for entertainment purposes only and no money exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. This is a parody for entertainment purposes only. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author. This story may not be posted anywhere without the consent of the author.