Patefactio
by Denny J

 

“What do you mean, ‘I’ll get used to it’?” Vala’s words tumbled out as she exited the gate.

“Oh, I generally get the blame when something goes wrong,” Daniel said resignedly, scanning the area surrounding the gate. 

“Daniel, that’s not true,” Sam countered. 

“Now, Sam, ya gotta admit, he has had his fair share of misfortune.”

“Thanks, Mitchell.”

“Don’t forget, I’ve read all of SG-1’s mission reports and, ya know, an awfully high percentage of them were FUBAR.”

“That doesn’t mean they were all my fault.”

“Your file doesn’t lie.”

“Good reading, was it?”

“Jackson, only you could make dying an art form.”

“I haven’t died that many times.”

“Shall we review?”

“Thanks, I’ll skip that trip down memory lane.”

Vala was grinning.  “Oh, I’d like to hear about it.”

“No, you wouldn’t,” Daniel stated casting a glare in her direction.

“We’ll talk later,” Cam said with a wink. 

“Oh, goody.”  Vala bounced down the steps, giving Daniel a smirk as she passed. 

“Village is this way, two clicks.”  Sam pointed down the dirt path that led away from the gate, suppressing a smile as she headed in that direction. 

Teal’c waited for Daniel and Vala to follow before taking up the rear position next to Cam. 

“You’ve been mighty quiet on the subject, Teal’c,” Cam said looking across at his teammate.  “I bet you’ve got the scoop on all of Jackson’s deaths.”

“If you mean do I know the details, then you are correct,” Teal’c responded flatly.

“Well?”

Teal’c cocked his head and raised an eyebrow, but made no reply.

Vala had obviously heard because she turned, walking backwards as she spoke.  “C’mon, Muscles, I want to know all the juicy details.”

“Vala,” Daniel warned.

“You are correct in thinking I was present at several of Daniel Jackson’s deaths; however, you would be wrong if you believe I would share those intimate details with you.  That is for Daniel Jackson to relate.” 

“Thank you, Teal’c,” Daniel replied with a self-satisfied grin.  Turning his attention back to the path they were on, he hurried to catch up to Sam.

With the discussion effectively ended, Cam shrugged his shoulders and kept walking.
A short distance down the path, Teal’c stopped, his gaze scanning the surrounding forest.

“Carter, Jackson,” Cam whispered. 

Tuning in on Teal’c’s alert stance, everyone brought their weapons up in unison. 

“What is it?” Sam whispered.

“We are being watched.” 

“How many?”  Cam kept his voice low as he scanned the trees, straining to see what had caught Teal’c’s attention.

“I am unsure but I believe at least six.” 

“I think we should lower our weapons and let them know we’re not a threat.”  Daniel locked gazes with Cam. 

“You may be used to this dyin’ bit, but I’d rather not experience it first hand.”

Rolling his eyes, Daniel lowered his weapon and called out, “My name is Daniel Jackson.  We’re explorers from Earth--we mean you no harm.”

Several seconds ticked by and then a figure appeared at the edge of the trees.  The person was clad in earth tones--brown, green and tan--that blended with the forest.  A deep green hat covered all but a lock of blonde hair topping a face partially obscured by a crossbow aimed in their direction.

“Drop your weapons.”

“Uh, I don’t think so,” Cam replied.  It was going to take more than a guy with a crossbow to make him give up his weapon.

Daniel laid his P-90 on the ground and rose slowly, holding his hands at shoulder height, palms out, to show they were empty. 

“Jackson!” Cam hissed.  Apparently, his teammate didn’t feel the same way. 

One by one, more natives appeared from between the trees until they were surrounded by a dozen archers all aiming crossbows at SG-1. 

The first man spoke again.  “Are you followers of Origin?”

Cam exchanged a look with Sam as he gripped his weapon tighter, knowing she was thinking the same thing:  how long would they be dealing with the fallout from the Ori’s attempt to convert their galaxy?

“No, we’re just explorers,” Daniel reiterated.  “We don’t follow Origin.  Do you?”

Ah, now there was the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question.  Cam waited for the answer, mentally planning how to get them out of here with minimal loss of life if the situation turned sour.  

The man sneered and spat on the ground, his answer obvious.  “If you are not here to convert us, what do you want?”

“We are interested in a cultural exchange.  We wish to learn about your people and possibly establish trade.”

Several of the other natives glanced between themselves, a few murmuring to each other. 

“You do not bring a Prior to instruct us?”

Daniel glanced back at his teammates briefly before replying.  “No.  We were at war with the Ori but we defeated them.”

This brought another round of murmurs from the group of natives.

“Careful, Jackson.”  Cam cautioned, hoping he wasn’t giving out too much information. 

Daniel didn’t hesitate as he continued.  “Has a Prior already visited your world?”

The man didn’t lower his bow, but he appeared to relax, taking an almost haughty stance.  “Yes.  A Prior and his followers visited our village and attempted to coerce us into following Origin.”

“Coerce?”

“Many of our people fell ill.  The Prior said that only our faith in Origin would save them.” 

“What happened?” Daniel asked. 

The man narrowed his eyes, carefully scrutinizing each member of SG-1.  “How do I know you have not been sent to find out what happened to the Prior?  You do not look like the Prior and his followers, but that does not mean you are not believers.  You may be trying to deceive us.”

“I assure you,” Daniel placated, “I’m speaking the truth.  We do not follow Origin and there is no Prior among us.”

“Well, not anymore.” Vala leaned close to Daniel and whispered, “It’s a good thing they didn’t see you a few months ago, Daniel.”

In the stillness of the forest, the whisper was amplified, carrying her offhand comment to the ears of the natives. 

“What does she mean?” the native spokesman demanded.  “Do not try to deceive us!”

Cam watched the man’s relaxed demeanor vanish as he took a firmer grip on his crossbow.  The rest of the natives followed suit and Cam was sure he and his teammates each had several arrows pointed at vital parts of their bodies.  He made a mental note to himself to strangle Vala later.

“Don’t pay any attention to her,” Cam said trying to sound nonchalant.  “She can be a bit—”

“Crazy?” Daniel supplied, glaring at Vala who had the good sense to keep her mouth shut and not add to the deterioration of the situation.

“Not the word I had in mind, but it’ll do,” Cam replied.

“They lie!”  Another native stepped forward and stood next to the first man.  “I lost my son to the plague and I will not allow another Prior to harm my family.  Kill them, Averill, kill them now!”

“There will be no killing, at least, not until it is proven they are lying, Morven.”

“Pah!  You would allow more strangers into our village.  Have you learned nothing?” the man seethed. 

Cam watched as the man appeared to turn away, but instead, he whirled around, crossbow taking deadly aim as he let an arrow fly.  As if in slow motion, Averill reached for Morven’s arm, while in front of him, Jackson turned and put an arm out as though to protect Vala from the whizzing projectile. 

“Jackson!” Cam warned even as he held his own fire, aware that Averill had grabbed Morven’s bow. 

The warning was slower than the speeding dart, and Cam watched helplessly as it embedded itself in the back of Daniel’s right shoulder. 

“Uhhh,” Daniel ground out as he pitched forward, Vala attempting to take his weight as he fell.

“Daniel!”  Sam shifted her gaze from the threat surrounding them to take in the damage to her teammate’s body as Vala cradled it.

Teal’c moved to put himself between Daniel and the man who had shot him, his own weapon sweeping back and forth as if daring another native to try something.

“Help him, Carter,” Cam said, keeping his own weapon trained on the leader, Averill.

As Sam bent to tend to Daniel, the native leader approached, crossbow held in one hand, its tip pointed downward.  He raised his other hand as if to hold off their bullets.  “What Morven did is wrong, but we must know the truth.  Drop your weapons and accompany us to our village.”

“Sorry,” Cam replied curtly.  “We don’t take too kindly to our people being shot.  We’ll just head back to the ‘gate and go home.”

“I am sorry, also,” Averill stated, “but I cannot allow that.” 

As his bow came up again, another wave of natives appeared from the trees, doubling the size of the group surrounding them.  Cam decided his plan to get out with a minimal loss of life was about to be revised. 

“Don’t.”  The voice was so faint, Cam almost didn’t hear it.  Knowing what was coming, he steeled himself to resist Jackson’s argument. 

“I’m not crazy about goin’ to their tea party, Jackson.  Besides, you need to be in the infirmary.”

In his peripheral vision, Cam saw Sam and Vala trying to hold Daniel still.  He lay on his stomach, head resting on Sam’s folded jacket, arrow still protruding from his shoulder.  Unable to see what was happening, he obviously was able to follow the conversation. 

“We need . . . to prove . . . that we’re not . . . followers of . . . Origin.”  Daniel panted between words ground out through clenched teeth. 

“They’ll just have to take our word for it,” Cam countered. 

“Also . . . need to find out . . . what happened . . . to their . . . Prior.”

Damn.  Jackson was right and he knew it.  Cam knew it, too.  But having an injured team member took precedence.  Glancing around at the armed natives, he wondered just how much luck they’d have making it back to the gate in one piece, dragging an injured Jackson with them. 

Cam addressed Averill.  “Will you help our friend?” 

“Yes, we will care for him.  But you must give up your weapons.”

Cam looked first at Teal’c.  The Jaffa’s jaw twitched in restrained anger, but he tipped his head to Cam, indicating his willingness to follow his team leader.  He shifted his gaze to Sam and Vala who were trying to comfort Jackson.

“Sam?” 

He knew she understood he was asking for her assessment, not just of Daniel, but of the entire situation. “The arrow needs to come out but I think it’s too risky to do it here.  Daniel’s not going to be able to make it back to the gate on his own, so I think we’re going to have to trust these people to hear us out.”

“Thanks . . . Sam.”  Daniel’s breathing was starting to sound raspy.

She ran a hand over Daniel’s cheek and let it rest on the back of his neck.  Cam turned his attention to Vala who was worrying her lower lip with her teeth, eyes moist with tears waiting to fall.  He wanted to lay into her, but now wasn’t the time. Oh, but they were gonna have a talk when they got back, a talk about keeping your mouth shut in tense situations. 

Turning back to Averill, Cam nodded his head and then unclipped his P-90 and placed it on the ground.  The rest of his team followed suit and quickly found themselves being patted down for weapons.  When the natives were done, they pulled out rope and began tying their prisoners’ hands.

“This really isn’t necessary,” Cam pointed out, which was a waste of breath just like he knew it would be.

“Until the truth has been discerned, it will be necessary,” Averill replied. 

Vala had to be pulled away from Daniel, the tears no longer held back. 

“Do not worry,” another man told her, “we will treat his injury when we arrive at our village.”

Cam and his teammates watched as the natives hastily dragged some branches over, lashed them together, spread a cloth over it and tied it off. Gently, they lifted Daniel and placed him face down on it.  Men took hold of each corner and slowly lifted it, a soft groan the only sound Daniel made as they began walking down the path.

Surrounded by crossbow-carrying natives, SG-1 was urged to follow.  Cam shook his head, silently berating himself for adding to the list of missions that had gone FUBAR. O’Neill’s gonna have my butt for this.

~oOo~

The village consisted of a jumble of sturdy wooden houses surrounding ancient stone structures that were in disrepair.  These were the ruins that had caught Jackson’s attention on the UAV footage.  They were now entering one of these structures—one that had been partially restored.  Too bad Jackson wasn’t awake to see it. 

Cam sought out his teammate who was being carried through the door on his litter.  There had been no sounds—not even a moan—for the last fifteen minutes of their hike.  Cam assumed he was unconscious; at least, he hoped that was the case. 

Inside, Cam’s attention was drawn to the high ceilings and the tapestry-covered walls of the passageway they were following.  Urns filled with oil burned along each wall.  Passing through a doorway, they entered a larger room with benches lining two walls.  Here they stopped and were pressed to sit.  Cam wasn’t surprised when no one offered to untie them.  Jackson’s escort carried him through another door and out of sight, their footsteps echoing down the hallway.  Averill stopped Morven, the man who had shot Daniel, and basically told him to go cool off someplace else.  Throwing SG-1 a scathing look, he obeyed, stalking from the room.

“Where ya takin’ him?”  Cam nodded towards the doorway where Daniel had been taken, not keen on having his team separated, even though there wasn’t much he could do about it.

“Our healer will tend to him.  We will remain here and discuss who you are and your purpose for coming here.”  Averill’s voice was pleasant, but left no doubt who was in charge. 

“Considering their weaponry, I’m sure they’re used to treating these types of injuries,” Sam assured him. 

She was probably right about that, Cam knew, but it still made him uncomfortable.  He glanced at Vala, who’d been uncharacteristically quiet since Jackson had been shot.  She wasn’t crying any longer, but her eyes were downcast and he knew she was beating herself up over what she’d said.  Good.  He wouldn’t have to do it, then. 

Several other people entered the room, coming to stand next to Averill while he spoke. “Your friend claims you are not followers of Origin; that you are ‘explorers’.  But this woman,” he gestured at Vala, “implies that your friend is a Prior, even though he does not look like the one who visited us.  Explain.”

Where to begin?  “Sam, you wanna take this one?”  He knew she would present a concise, informative explanation. 

Giving him a grim smile, Sam began. “Our friend, Daniel Jackson, was telling you the truth about the Ori.  We were at war with them because they were trying to force us to worship them.  They invaded many worlds, trying to coerce the people to accept Origin. We recently defeated them—they’re all dead.  When they died, the Priors were freed from the hold the Ori held over them.  At one point, Daniel was captured by the Orici who turned him into a Prior against his will.  We got him back and were able to reverse what she’d done to him.  That’s what Vala was referring to—”

A sharp cry of pain pierced the air sending a shiver down Cam’s spine.  All eyes turned to the doorway through which Jackson had been taken.  Vala jumped up, her intention to go to Daniel clear, but she was pushed back into her seat.  She turned anxious eyes to Cam.  No question what had just happened; he was pretty sure the arrow had been removed. 

Seeing her distress, Averill tried to assuage her fear.  “Our healer is skilled in treating these wounds.  Do not worry.”

“Please, let me go to him,” she pleaded. 

“When the healer is done, we will let you see him,” Averill assured her.

Vala didn’t reply, but turned her eyes to the door again.  Teal’c and Sam were also looking anxiously in the direction of the distant room where their teammate lay.  Cam was just as worried as they were, but he knew there was nothing any of them could do for Jackson.  The most they could do was try to convince these people to let them go.

Turning his attention to Sam, one of the men standing next to Averill spoke. “You say your friend is no longer a Prior; how were you able to reverse this?  How do we know you were not sent here to see what happened to the Prior who visited us?”

Cam could see Sam was trying to pull herself together and focus on what the man was saying.  “It’s very hard to explain; you’ll just have to believe us when we say he’s no longer a Prior and we weren’t sent to check on you.  Can you tell us what happened to the Prior who visited you?  Did he heal your people of the sickness?”

The man seemed to consider her words before continuing.  “The Prior who came to our village told us of Origin.  When we would not agree to follow its teachings, he warned us there would be consequences; that is when our people began to fall ill.  He left and came back the next day, again asking if we were ready to embrace Origin.  More of our people were becoming ill—three had died—but still we refused him.  It was at that moment that his staff began to glow and when the light went out, he dropped it and appeared confused.  He said, ‘What have I done?’  No one was sure what was happening.  We asked him if he would heal our people but he covered his face with his hands and began to speak words we did not understand.  Angry over the death of his wife, Morven shot him with an arrow and he fell dead.”

Sam exchanged a glance with Cam; they knew this had been the moment the Ark had been used against the Doci.  That explained what happened to their Prior; there was just one other unanswered question that left Cam feeling very uneasy.  Sam was obviously on the same page and he nodded for her to ask.

“What happened to the soldiers who came with him?  Where did they go?”

Averill answered her.  “The death of their Prior threw them into chaos—our men chased them and they retreated into the ruins where they disappeared.  We do not know where they went, but they did not leave through the Annulus as our people had it guarded.”

“Rings,” Teal’c stated succinctly. 

“That’d be my guess,” Cam agreed, realizing that actually left one more question.  “Sam, didn’t you say their ships required a Prior to fly them?”

Sam nodded.  “Yeah.  I was only able to get around it with Daniel’s help.  Unless they have someone on board who could do the same . . . .”

She left the sentence unfinished, knowing Cam and Teal’c would understand what that meant—in all likelihood, there was an Ori ship currently hovering over the planet.

“Damn.”  Time to speed things up a bit, Cam decided.  “Fellas, we may have a problem here.  Without a Prior, the Ori soldiers may be stuck on board their ship in orbit around this planet.”

“Their ship?”  Averill’s face displayed his confusion.

“A big ship—boat--,” Sam foundered trying to describe it in terms they would understand, “that travels among the stars.  It’s how they came to your planet,” Sam explained.  “It means they could come back at any time.”

Murmurs rolled through the small crowd gathered in the room.  Averill and the other man conversed animatedly together for a few moments before raising their hands for silence. 

“Are you saying that we may still be under threat from the Ori soldiers?”

“That’s exactly what we’re sayin’,” Cam confirmed.  “If you’d let us go, we’d be glad to help you defend your town against them.”

“We must discuss this further before making a decision,” Averill stated.

A man entered the room, wiping his hands on a cloth.  “The arrow has been removed and the wound treated.  He will recover.”

Vala jumped up again, turning pleading eyes to Averill. 

“You may go to him.”  He nodded to the man who had entered.  “Take her to see her friend.  Borel, go with them.”  

One of their guards nodded his head to Averill and took hold of one of Vala’s arms, leading her to the doorway.  She looked back, a fleeting smile crossing her lips before she disappeared from sight.

The two native men shifted to the far side of the room, leaving SG-1 to wonder if they’d gotten through to them or not, and Cam to wonder why they couldn’t, just once, have drawn a quiet, uninhabited planet for their mission. 

~oOo~

You’d think he’d be used to it by now—that throbbing, pulsing, burning, take-your-breath-away pain that came with being seriously injured.  But he wasn’t.  Daniel lay still, trying to reorient himself.   He knew he’d passed out—right after they’d pulled the arrow from his back.  It had felt like they were pulling his insides out along with it. 

A hand gently came to rest on his shoulder.  He knew that hand.  The voice confirmed it.

“Daniel?  Are you all right?”

“Do I look all right?” he managed to ground out. 

Ignoring his testiness, Vala asked, “Do you need anything?” 

“I need for you to go away.” Why did he always respond to her that way?

The hand disappeared and it was so quiet, he wondered if she’d left.  Prying one eye open, he found her sitting next to him, worrying her bottom lip between her teeth, blinking back tears.  He hadn’t meant to sound so harsh, but he couldn’t help it.  Being shot did that to him. 

“I’m sorry,” she stammered, “I didn’t mean to—”

“I know.  It’s okay.  I’m okay.  Sort of.”

She swiped the back of her hand across her eyes and leaned forward, cupping his cheek with her hand.  “Well, don’t scare me like that again.”

“I’ll try not to.”  He gave her a lopsided smile that turned into a grimace as he shifted, jarring his shoulder.

Someone came into view behind Vala and placed a hand on her shoulder.  “We should allow him to rest now.”

Vala looked up at the man.  “Please, let me stay with him.  I promise to let him sleep.”

“Well—”

“It’s all right,” Daniel assured him.  “Let her stay.”

“Very well.  Make sure he does not try to get up,” he instructed Vala.

“Believe me, there’s no chance of that,” Daniel replied.

The man left and Vala began running her hand through Daniel’s hair.  He felt himself relax, the pain in his shoulder diminishing in intensity from unbearable to excruciating.  Eyes closed, he felt himself drifting as Vala’s soothing touch continued.

~oOo~

A loud noise woke him and he heard Vala shout ‘No!’  Whatever they had given him to drink before they removed the arrow made him feel like he was stuck in molasses. Blinking to clear his vision, he tried to focus on what was happening.  What he saw sent a lightning bolt of fear through him, immediately clearing away the cobwebs in his brain. 

Vala was struggling against the hold of two Ori soldiers.  Another was standing over the body of one of the natives and two more were headed straight for him.  Shifting to maneuver himself up, he stifled a cry of pain as the movement aggravated the wound in his back. 

“This is the one.”

“But he looks—”

“It matters not how he looks, only that he is the one we detected and the one we have been ordered to collect.”

Before he could get himself upright, the two Ori soldiers grabbed his arms and slowly shifted him until he was sitting on the bed.  Chest heaving as he fought through the pain, Daniel looked up at one of them, surprised to see concern on the man’s face.

“Prior, are you able to walk?”

The part of Daniel’s brain not dealing with pain tried to process that statement.  Prior?  “What?”

“There is no time,” the other soldier said urgently. 

Glancing over his shoulder, the first man ordered, “Bring her,” and began lifting Daniel off the bed.  The second man took hold of his other arm and pulled. 

Daniel groaned with the effort of standing and worked to get his rubbery legs to hold him up.  Obviously not willing to wait on him, the two Ori soldiers supported him under the arms and began pulling him forward.  Ahead of him, Daniel glimpsed Vala, still held tightly between two of the soldiers, hands tied behind her, a piece of cloth wrapped around her mouth to keep her quiet.  Good luck with that.  Daniel almost laughed out loud.  I must be delirious. 

Realizing he should probably try calling for help himself, Daniel started to yell, but the sound was swallowed by a gasp as he was jostled over rubble on the floor.  Questions flew through his mind:  Why were the soldiers here?  Had it been a setup all along?  Where were Sam, Teal’c, and Cam?  And most importantly: where were they going?

~oOo~

Cam shifted on the bench, rolling his shoulders to ease the kinks caused by having his hands tied behind him.  The trick was doing it without causing further damage to his wrists, which were already abraded from trying to work free of the ropes.

Averill and Tareth, he’d overheard the other man called, were still conversing quietly in a far corner where they’d retreated to discuss SG-1’s statements.

They’d been offered nothing to eat or drink and Cam was finding that irritation adding to his discomfort. 

“Help!”  The voice preceded the native man as he stumbled into the room, eyes wild with fear. 

Averill and Tareth immediately ran to his side.  “What has happened?” Averill questioned.

“I returned to check on them and . . . and . . . ”  The man pulled in a breath and released it, trying to compose himself.  “Ori soldiers were there—they headed into the ruins.  I fear Borel may be dead.  Dallin may be alive, I do not know.  The two strangers are gone.”

Cam jumped up, Sam and Teal’c mirroring his movement, but they were prevented from any further action as the guards quickly surrounded them. 

“Looks like we were right; the Ori soldiers are still here.”  Cam directed his words at Averill. He wondered if Jackson and Vala had gotten away, or if the Ori had taken them.  With Jackson’s luck it was probably the later.  But why take Jackson and Vala?  How would they even know SG-1 was here?  Or was it random? Whatever the reason, it couldn’t be a good thing when it came to the Ori.  All things to worry about later; right now, they needed to focus on finding their teammates.  

“We can help you.”  Sam’s urgent voice pulled Averill’s gaze to her. 

He glanced at Tareth and back at SG-1, taking in each of their faces, obviously considering his choices.  “Very well.”  He nodded to the guards.  “Release them.”

Cam stifled a hiss as the ropes fell away.  Flexing his sore wrists, he asked, “What about our weapons?”

Averill’s face was grim as he nodded to the guards.  “Get them.”

~oOo~

Daniel was vaguely aware of being pulled through crumbling corridors.  Strong hands supported him, which was a good thing since his vision grayed in and out with each step as he dealt with jolts of pain slicing through him.  He could hear Vala’s muffled protests ahead of him and wondered how long it would take for their captors to tire of her and do bodily harm.  An inappropriate chuckle bubbled in his throat as he thought of how many times he’d wanted to do that himself.  He really must be delirious. 

Mercifully, his forced march came to a halt.  Sweat dripped into his eyes as his head hung down and he took his first full breath in what seemed like ages.  Any relief he felt was short-lived when he heard a familiar, metallic whirring sound.  He knew without looking that it was the sound of rings descending around them.  A bright flash searing through his closed eyelids confirmed it. 

The rings released them and Daniel forced his eyes open to take in their surroundings.  The familiar lattice work on the wall told him what he’d already suspected:  they were on an Ori ship.  Marching feet halted to his left and he turned his head, seeing four Ori soldiers standing at attention. 

“The Prior is injured,” one of his escorts explained.  “Go and prepare a place for him and find the medicus.  Take the woman to the cells.”

More muffled protests came from Vala’s direction.  Not wanting to be separated from her, Daniel focused his failing strength on speaking.  “Wait.  I want her . . . to stay . . . with me.” 

There was a slight hesitation before the soldier replied.  “Very well.  But keep her restrained and silent,” he instructed his men.

Relieved he’d managed one small victory, Daniel gave in to his body’s pull toward oblivion.  

~oOo~

Cam picked his way over another pile of rubble as they pushed deeper into the ruins.  There were only two exits from the room where Jackson had been taken; Cam had sent Carter and Teal’c with Tareth and half of his men while he’d gone with Averill and the other half.  He figured Jackson wasn’t in any condition to move quickly, and he was sure Vala would have done her best to slow them down if the Ori soldiers had them.  The ring room couldn’t be too far away.  At least, that’s what he hoped.

“Carter.  Got anything, yet?”  He knew she would have called if she had, but somehow it made him feel like he was doing something constructive if he asked.

“Not yet.”  Short and sweet.  She was as worried about what the Ori followers wanted with Daniel and Vala as he was.  

“Right.  Keep looking.”  It crossed his mind that they could be wrong about the rings, but he dismissed it; it was the only scenario that made sense.  They’d find them and ring up to the ship, take out a bunch of Ori soldiers, and rescue Jackson and Vala.  Piece of cake.  Of course, he’d always been a pie man, himself. 

~oOo~

Voices pulled him towards consciousness. 

“ . . . sure that he is a Prior?”

“Yes, the ship has identified him, but I also recognize him.  He is the Orici’s Most Favored.  I was on her flagship when he was brought aboard.  I saw his face before the Orici gifted him with the status of Prior.”

“Not much of a gift if you ask me,” he heard Vala mutter. 

“I agree.”  Daniel opened his eyes and turned his head towards the voices, finding he was lying on a very soft bed. 

One of the soldiers moved closer.  “Why do you no longer look like a Prior?”

“Because I’m not a Prior!”  Head pounding with the force of his words, he lowered his voice.  “I’ve changed back into a normal human again.”

“That is not what the ship’s sensors say,” the soldier in charge interjected.  “They indicate you are a Prior.”

How could that be?  Merlin assured him—promised him—that he would be returned to his pre-Prior state once he’d left him.  Why, and how, would the ship identify him as a Prior? 

“Then the ship’s sensors are wrong,” Daniel argued. 

“We shall see,” the commander replied.  “Are you finished treating him?” he asked someone just out of Daniel’s line of sight. 

“There is a fever in his wound.”  An older, gray-haired man moved into Daniel’s view and he decided it must be their doctor—medicus they’d called him.  “I fear it has been infected with a poison.”

The words pierced through the fog in his head.  Poison?  That, at least, explained the burning that was spreading from his back to his arm and chest, along with the chill that wrapped itself around him.

“How is that possible?” one of the soldiers asked.  “The Priors are impervious to injury.”

“Perhaps he speaks the truth, that he is not a Prior,” another added.

“Enough!” the commander ordered.  “The ship recognizes him as a Prior.  He must try the chair; otherwise, we will continue to be stranded here.”

Daniel was still processing the fact that he’d been poisoned, but the commander’s statement about being stranded got his attention.  His head wasn’t completely clear, but he understood the ship must be stuck in orbit with no one to fly it.  He wondered, again, what had happened to their Prior. 

“Can you counter the poison?” the commander asked the doctor. 

“I have done all I can without knowing where the poison came from.”

“Then we may not have much time.  I am sorry, Prior, but we must move you,” the commander said, a touch of regret in his voice.  He nodded to his men and two came forward and began lifting Daniel to his feet.

“Ahh!”  Daniel squeezed his eyes shut as agony flared through his upper body.  Having no strength to resist, he let the soldiers take most of his weight as they tried to steady him.

“Where are we going now?” he heard Vala whine.

Daniel ignored her as he tried to push past the pain and growing nausea and focus on the situation.  I’ve been poisoned and apparently, they have no antidote.  Their Prior’s gone and they think I can fly the ship.  What’s gonna happen when they find out I can’t?  He decided to make one more appeal. 

“This is a mistake.”  He hissed as the soldiers shifted his position.  “I’m human, just like you, which means I can’t fly this ship.”

“We will know soon enough,” the commander replied.  “Bring her also.”

“You know, boys,” Vala said as two soldiers grabbed hold of her arms, “I enjoy a little rough play now and then as much as anyone—just ask Daniel—but really, this is a bit much.”  He was beginning to wish they’d left the gag in place.

“I will release you if you promise not to interfere,” the commander offered.

“Oh, you have my word,” Vala purred.  “Daniel will vouch for me.”

As they released her bound hands, Daniel looked over at her, seeing the mischievous smile he was all too familiar with.  We are in so much trouble. 

~oOo~

“Colonel Mitchell.”

“What’ve ya got, Teal’c?” Cam released the button on his radio, hoping for good news.

“We have found the rings.”

Yes!  Finally something was going right.  “Where are you?”

“Approximately one hundred yards from our starting point.  The corridor divides at the sixty yard mark.  Take the left passage and you will find us.”

“On my way.”

Motioning to Averill, he headed back the way he’d come, moving as quickly as possible without tripping on the rubble.  He didn’t need anything else slowing them down, like a sprained ankle. 

A short time later, Cam’s group met up with Carter and Teal’c’s group who were standing around a ring platform set in the middle of a crumbling room. 

“All right, we need to leave a group here to keep an eye on things; the rest of us will ring up to the ship,” Cam began sketching out his plan.

“What about the SGC?  Shouldn’t we contact them for backup?”  Carter glanced around the room at the group of natives armed with crossbows.  Cam understood her concern, but he figured the last thing they needed was another delay. 

Glancing at his watch, he said, “Check-in’s not for another three hours.  If we go to the gate and contact them, it’ll take at least an hour for the round-trip.  I don’t want to leave Jackson and Vala in the hands of the Ori followers any longer than I have to.  Besides, I think these people can defend themselves pretty well, if they’re willing to go with us.”

“We are,” Averill confirmed.  “We want to rid our land of these Ori and their followers.” 

Carter’s mouth drew into a thin line, a sure sign she wasn’t happy about it, but was going to go along with it anyway.  “All right.  Let’s do it.”

Cam turned back to Averill.  “Then let’s not waste any more time.  Choose five or six men to stand guard here.  The rest will come with us.  Now, here’s the plan . . . ”

~oOo~

He could add vertigo to his list of complaints, the biggest being the biting pain of his injured shoulder as he was half pulled, half carried through the ship’s corridors.  Occasionally, a shiver coursed through his body, aggravating his wound.  All of it, he knew, was due to the poison working its way through his system.  Even so, his worry was centered not on his body, but on what would happen when they put him in the control chair. 

These people had placed all of their hope into a misguided belief that he still had the powers of a Prior.  They were desperate, and he knew all too well what could happen when desperate people found their final hope taken from them.  Things could get ugly.  There was one possibility, one chance, that he could convince them to let the SGC help them get home.  He had a feeling that wouldn’t go over well, but he had to try. 

Entering the ship’s bridge, Daniel lifted his head to see a control chair identical to the one he’d used when Merlin had still been a part of him.  He could remember how it felt to have the ship’s systems respond to his thoughts; this time, he was on his own.

“Place him in the chair.” 

“Wait!”  Daniel tried, unsuccessfully, to halt his forward motion; they continued to move him towards the chair.  “There’s another option.”

The soldiers supporting him stopped in front of the chair and looked to their commander. 

“What option is that?” he asked.

Taking a deep breath, knowing this may be his only chance to get through to them before they discovered their mistake, he continued. “My people, the Tau’ri, can help you get back to your home.”

“What makes you think we want to go home?”

Daniel really needed to learn this man’s name.  It was always better to negotiate on a first name basis.  “First, tell me your name.” 

“I am commander Revis, though I do not know why that is important.”

“My name is Daniel Jackson. Revis, I know you have spent a lot of time traveling among the stars, taking the message of Origin to many worlds.  But I’m telling you now, the Ori are dead.  They were not true gods.  There is—”

His sentence was abruptly cut off as Revis backhanded him across the face.  Daniel staggered, but was prevented from falling by the hands gripping his arms.  His face stung from the blow and his head pounded with the beating of his heart.  Bile rose in his throat and he forced it back down.

“Blasphemy!  You have been corrupted, just as our first Prior was.”

“No, I’m telling you the truth.”  He paused and spat out a wad of blood before continuing.  “Your Prior learned that truth, too, through a message sent by the Doci in Celestis.  The war is over; there’s nothing for you in this galaxy.  Let us help you return to your homes.”  He knew it wasn’t exactly the truth, but he hoped the faith these people had in the Doci would carry some weight with his words.

 “You will help us, but not to return to our homes.  We still have a mission, one which we will continue until Origin has been brought to every world in this galaxy.  Put him in the chair.”

Strong hands turned him around and settled him into the chair.  He tried to arch away as his wound came in contact with the back of the chair, but the soldiers easily held him in place.  Struggling would gain him nothing, so he sat still, waiting for them to realize their error. 

A new sensation entered Daniel’s awareness, not one of pain, but something else, something familiar and pleasant.  A tingling entered his limbs, along with a feeling of warmth.  It began spreading from his extremities to the rest of his body, dulling his many aches and pains until they barely registered in his consciousness.  At the same time, he was aware of the chair beginning to glow with a soft blue-white light.  He knew this—he had experienced it with Merlin.  With little effort, he was able to ‘see’ what was happening in the ship’s systems.  He could feel the engines humming as they waited to be engaged, could hear the regular exchange of air in the life support system, and sensed the impulses of the computer circuitry connecting everything through him.  A small part of him wondered how this was possible, but a larger part simply enjoyed the feeling of connectedness it gave him, and the sense of power running just underneath it all. 

“You see, Prior, you cannot hide who you are from the ship.  It recognizes you.  And now, it, and you, will help us continue on our journey.”

~oOo~

Cam swept the room with his P-90 from his crouched position on one side of the ring platform.  Sam mirrored his move from the opposite side.  Finding the area deserted, both moved away from the rings, taking up positions on either side of the room.  Apparently, the ship’s crew wasn’t too worried about anyone from the planet using the rings. 

Seconds later, Teal’c, Averill and two more men ringed aboard, followed by a third group of armed villagers.  On Cam’s signal, they set their plan in motion.  Two men stayed to guard the rings, while Teal’c and two others headed out to look for Daniel and Vala. 

Cam and Averill headed in the direction of the bridge, hoping to clear the way for Sam and the villager, Thance, who followed at a distance.

Cam had no idea how many soldiers were on board but he hoped with the element of surprise on their side, they’d be able to take the bridge and Sam could tie into the ship’s controls.  His other hope was that Teal’c wouldn’t have any trouble finding their missing teammates.  He didn’t know for sure why they’d been taken and had no idea where they would be held.  He was counting on Teal’c to figure it out. 

He stopped at the sound of footsteps in the corridor ahead.  Motioning to Averill, he pulled back into one of the small vestibules at a room’s entrance.  The footsteps died away and the two men continued their trek to the bridge.

~oOo~

Here in the chair, he felt like he was part of the ship.  Connected to everything, aware of everything.  Daniel knew he could fly them anywhere, but he wasn’t going to, at least not yet.  If they went to Earth, these followers of false gods, former adversaries in a galactic war, would be incarcerated, or worse.  No matter what they had done as they blindly followed the Ori, Daniel knew they were only misguided pawns in a game of ascended beings.  He couldn’t fault them for following what they’d been indoctrinated to believe their entire lives.  But he could take them home, if only he could convince them that was the best—only—course of action left to them. 

Daniel reveled in the sensations flowing through him.  He knew the ship and it knew him; united into one entity.  So, it was no surprise when he felt the rings activate and deposit eight people on the ship.  But he didn’t need the ship to tell him who was among the eight.  Things were either about to get a lot better, or a lot worse.

“Now, Prior, our first duty is to destroy the non-believers on the planet below.  Release the weapons controls and allow our men to operate them.”

Destroy the non-believers?  They want to kill everyone on the planet for not accepting Origin? He’d expected to be asked to fly the ship, not attack the village. “I won’t help you murder innocent people.”

“Innocent?  They killed our Prior and they have rejected Origin.  Our orders demand they be punished.”

“I won’t do it.” 

“You tell them, Daniel,” Vala said indignantly, crossing her arms and lifting her chin defiantly. 

“Bring her,” Revis ordered.

Two soldiers grabbed her and pulled her so she was standing in front of Daniel’s chair, then pushed her to her knees. 

“Do it, or I will kill her.”

“Now wait a minute,” Vala argued, “I’ve done nothing wrong—”

Revis cut her off.  “This is your last chance.”  He raised his weapon and aimed it at her chest. 

Daniel locked his gaze with Vala’s.  He knew what he had to do, but how could he?  She gave him that little one-sided smile and nodded her head.  Don’t you dare give me permission, Vala.  He wondered where his team was; he suspected he could find them if he concentrated, but he couldn’t tear his attention away from the woman in front of him, wondering if this would be the last time he’d look on that lovely, infuriating face. 

“Vala—”

“Don’t, Daniel,” she shook her head, “I—    Wait!”  She looked at Revis.  “You can’t kill me, I am the mother of the Orici.”

The statement sent a ripple of confusion through the soldiers. 

“What?”

“Lies!” 

“How can this be?” 

“My daughter would be very upset to know you don’t believe me. I never lie, right, Daniel?”

“She’s telling the truth,” Daniel asserted, ignoring her.

“Your word means nothing to us.  It is a ploy to delay what must be done.”

“And what would that be?”  Cam’s voice resonated throughout the bridge, and Daniel couldn’t help smiling at the timing of his team’s arrival. 

He couldn’t see them from where he sat facing the large window, but he was aware of the Ori soldiers taking defensive stances.  Revis kept his weapon pointed at Vala, moving it closer until it was mere inches from her neck.  At the same moment, he was aware of a weapon taking aim at his own head.  He didn’t tell them it was unnecessary; that he didn’t think he had enough strength to fight.  His connection with the ship was bolstering his strength, but he knew it was only temporary.  It wasn’t healing him of the poisoning. 

“I do not know who you are or how you got aboard this ship, but you are outnumbered.  Surrender your weapons.”

“I don’t think so,” Cam replied.  “We’ve come for our friends here and we’re not leavin’ without ‘em.” 

Daniel heard more footsteps and then the sound of bodies shifting. 

“Daniel, you okay?”   Sam’s voice was a boost to his failing strength.

“More or less.” 

Vala smiled up at him reassuringly. 

“It seems we are at an impasse,” Revis stated. 

The tension in the room was palpable.  The faces of the soldiers he could see were nervous and haggard.  Someone was going to slip and start firing; and if they did, people were going to die.  Daniel closed his eyes and focused on his connection with the ship, searching for a way to shift the situation to his team’s favor.  There.  It was risky, but maybe it would at least give them a chance.  He just hoped he had enough strength to see it through.

“Guys, you might wanna hold on to something.”

The lights on the bridge blinked once and went out.  The soldiers nervously held their positions, that is, until the floor beneath them began to shift.  Slowly at first, it tilted, then quickly began moving downward, nose first, gradually picking up speed even as the angle became sharper.  Suddenly, bodies were sliding and rolling across the floor of the bridge.  Daniel heard the shouts and curses of people being thrown to the ground, scrambling to hold onto something, and the clang of weapons as they scattered across the room.  He hoped his friends had understood and prepared themselves. 

Daniel opened his eyes briefly, long enough to see the blue-green planet that now filled the entire window in front of him.  Time to pull back, to put things right.  He just needed to find the correct system and restore it.  But he was losing his connection; his body weakening even as he fought to right the ship. 

Through slitted eyes, he saw Vala holding on to the base of the chair.  “Daniel, darling, I think you’ve made your point.”

He struggled to keep his link with the ship, closing his eyes against the fast approaching planet. 

“Daniel!  Pull up!” 

I’m trying, Sam.

“Jackson!  Any time now!”

Tuning out their voices, he focused on pulling the ship out of its steep descent.  Gradually, the ship slowed, its nose pulling upwards once again until the floor was level.  He slumped back in the chair, his body shivering from exhaustion and the poison coursing through his veins.  It was up to his team, now.

Faintly, he heard scuffling, raised voices, and then felt a hand gently cup his cheek. 

“Daniel?”  Vala’s concerned voice drifted to him.  She was all right. 

“How’s Jackson?” he heard Cam call from somewhere across the room.

 It was a good sign--maybe his plan had worked after all.  He could relax, knowing his team would take care of the situation.  There was just one more task he needed to do.  As he completed it, his link with the ship severed and he felt himself sliding sideways just before he passed out.

~oOo~

Cam and Averill finished collecting the scattered weapons while Teal’c stood guard over the Ori soldiers.  Jackson’s brief warning had been immediately heeded; they’d all learned to trust each other without hesitation.  Well, except for Averill and Thance, who been tossed around with the rest of them.  As the ship righted, Cam and Sam had taken charge of the bridge while the soldiers were still trying to recover from the dive the ship had taken.

Teal’c and the other villagers had arrived soon after and were effectively keeping the soldiers contained to a small area of the bridge.

“How’s Jackson?”  He’d seen Daniel slump in the control chair as soon as the ship had leveled off.

“Passed out,” Vala replied.  “I think the poison is spreading.”

“Poison?” Sam left her position next to Cam and leaned over her unconscious teammate, feeling for his pulse. 

“The doctor said there was poison in his wound and that he couldn’t treat it because he didn’t know what it was,” Vala explained.

Great.  Didn’t they have enough problems?  Cam turned to Averill; the poison must have been in the arrow, so maybe he’d know what it was.

“Do you know what this poison is?”

“We have a poison that is rarely used.  Morven must have been desperate to find something that would kill the Prior if he used this.” 

“Is there an antidote?”

“Yes; we have a mixture that will counteract the poison if it is given soon enough.”

Cam exchanged glances with Teal’c and Sam, his eyes coming to rest on Vala whose own eyes were moist with tears.  He knew they were all thinking the same thing:  how long was ‘soon enough’? 

“Okay, then we’d better get Jackson back down to the planet ASAP.  Sam, why don’t you and Teal’c stay and try to get control of the ship.  Averill and I will take Jackson.”

“I’m going with you,” Vala declared.

“Fine.”

Sam pulled out her laptop from her backpack, went to one of the control panels, and began connecting to it. 

“Teal’c, think you can keep these guys under control?”

“Most definitely.”

Cam turned to the commander.  “How many more soldiers are on board?”

“Enough that you will never make it to the ring room.”

“Right.  That’s what I figured.”

“We will hold the bridge, Colonel Mitchell.  Take Daniel Jackson to the planet and retrieve the antidote.”

“That’s the plan,” Cam replied as he moved to Daniel’s side, preparing to lift him.

“Cam, we have a problem.”

So not what he wanted to hear.  “What’s wrong, Sam?”

“I’m using the same interface Daniel gave me before, but it won’t let me in.”

~oOo~

“ . . . but it won’t let me in.”

The urgent voices of his teammates pulled Daniel back to awareness, in time for him hear their plans to try and make it to the ring room.

“It’s too big a risk.”  Daniel reluctantly opened his eyes.

“There you are.” Vala’s voice was light, but held an element of concern.

He turned his head and found her kneeling beside him.  “You know it’s rude to fall asleep in the middle of a tense situation,” she admonished, smiling at him.

“Sorry, couldn’t help it.”

“Well, just don’t let it happen again.”  She was trying for sarcasm, but Daniel felt her hand lying warmly on his arm and he knew she was scared for him. 

“Save the banter. In case you haven’t heard, we’re kinda pressed for time here,” Cam countered.

“Daniel?”  Sam leaned over him, drawing his attention.

“Sam.  Everyone okay?”

“Yeah, we’re fine, but the ship’s not letting me interface with it.  It’s like I’m locked out.” 

“Perhaps the ship is configured to a specific Prior, or safeguards have been installed to prevent anyone but a Prior from operating the ship.”  Daniel was relieved to hear Teal’c’s voice behind him.  He had obviously survived the nosedive the ship had taken. 

“Carter?”  Cam was obviously waiting for her to confirm or deny Teal’c’s theory.

“Teal’c might be right.  They know we were able to fly their ships—they could easily have put something in place to prevent it.”

“Which means Jackson needs to unlock it.” 

“Can you get around it?” Sam asked.

Daniel didn’t think he had the strength to move, much less operate the chair again.  As if to reinforce his thoughts, a shiver rippled through him, every muscle responding with pain. 

“Help me . . . up.”

Vala took one arm and Sam the other.  They pulled him upright and he squeezed his eyes shut against the vertigo that enveloped him. 

“Look, I’d like to get this ship running as much as the next guy, but I don’t think Jackson’s up to this.  And even if we get control of it, we still have to get to the ring room.  I think that should be our first priority.”

“I agree,” Vala added, still holding on to Daniel’s arm. 

There was no way Daniel would let them risk their lives just to get him off the ship.  He had to try another way.  “Revis?”

The commander stepped into Daniel’s line of sight.  “I am here.”

“Although I admire your devotion, don’t you think it’s time to consider your men?  Do you want to be stranded here permanently?”  He didn’t think the man needed to know that someone would eventually find them, whether it was another liberated Ori ship or the SGC. 

“The Ori will send someone for us.  We must be patient.”

“And how long have you been waiting already?”

Revis shifted uncomfortably, but answered unflinchingly.  “The length of time is not important.  It is a test of our faith.”

“Jackson, I don’t think you’re gonna convince these guys,” Cam stated.  Leaning closer to Daniel’s ear, he said sotto voce, “The word ‘zealot’ comes to mind.”

“Well, maybe there’s someone else who can convince them.”

“To whom do you refer, Daniel Jackson?”

“Tomin.” 

The name was obviously familiar as Daniel heard the soldiers whispering in response. 

“Well, if you hadn’t noticed,” Vala interjected, “Tomin isn’t here.”

“Not yet,” Daniel replied with a small smile.  He sobered as he returned his attention to Revis.  “You know of Commander Tomin?”

“Of course.  He is a great commander of our armies.”

“So, you would believe his words?”

“Yes.  But I do not understand why you speak of him as though he were here.”

“Maybe he will be.”  Daniel closed his eyes, summoning all of his dwindling strength to connect once again with the ship.  As before, he felt his pain muted into the background as the ship’s systems became his own.  Locating the communications link, Daniel opened it, hoping his earlier message had gone through. 

He heard a soldier’s surprised voice.  “We are receiving a message from another Ori ship!”

“The communications system was locked.  The Prior has opened it for us,” another reasoned.

A familiar voice resonated through the comm link.  “This is Commander Tomin.  I wish to speak with your commander.”

Disconnecting from his link with the ship, Daniel opened his eyes and saw Tomin looking back from the video screen.

“I am Commander Revis,” the man replied, stepping forward. 

“Commander, Daniel Jackson has informed me of your situation.  What he and his friends have told you is true:  the Ori are dead.  The Priors are now piloting our ships back to our home galaxy.”

Tomin stepped aside to reveal a Prior sitting in the control chair.  The pale face turned towards the video screen and spoke. 

“Truth is elusive to those who refuse to see with both eyes.  The Doci has shown us that we have been misguided on our path to enlightenment; where before we only saw with one eye, now we see with two.  Just as Demah, the blind man, listened to the voice of the prophet and was able to find his way home even though he could not see where he placed his steps, we must listen to the Doci and make our way home, even though we do not understand the reason.  We must return to our homes and find a new path.”

Daniel was aware of the shocked voices of the soldiers as Tomin turned back to the screen and continued.  “I know this is difficult to understand, but it is true.  We are on our way to you now and will help return you and your ship to your home.  But you must let these people go. They have done much for our people and we owe them a great debt.”

Revis nodded slowly as he considered the words.  He looked from Tomin to Daniel and back.  “I admit that I find this very hard to believe, but I will bow to your wisdom, and that of the Doci.  We will do as you say.”

“Good.  Our ship will reach you shortly.  Please make sure that Daniel Jackson and his people are treated well.”

The screen went blank and Revis turned back to Daniel.  “Even though I do not understand what has transpired, we will do as Commander Tomin requests.”  Motioning to his men, he said, “Please escort these people to the rings.”

“Thank you, Revis,” Daniel said.  “I’m sure Tomin will explain everything thoroughly when he arrives.”

“I am sorry we were unable to cure you of the poison.  Please forgive us for delaying you.”

“Speaking of which, let’s move before Jackson uses up another of his nine lives,” Cam said. 

“Give me . . . a hand,” Daniel said, moaning as he shifted in the chair.

“Well, don’t expect me to carry you,” Vala said mischievously, “I might break a nail.”

“You’re so . . . considerate.” 

“I will assist you, Daniel Jackson,” Teal’c stated, moving to take Vala’s place at his side, reaching down to pick Daniel up.

“Thanks, Teal’c, but . . . I can . . . walk.”  If he could only get his body to cooperate.

“Sure you can, sunshine,” Cam said, moving to his other side and grabbing hold just as Daniel slumped forward. 

~oOo~

Daniel drifted towards wakefulness, faint noises becoming more distinct, blending into a familiar pattern.  He was in the infirmary.  He half expected to hear the sound of Janet’s heels clicking across the floor.  Three years and he still couldn’t let go. 

His thoughts drifted back to the last thing he remembered—being on the Ori ship.  If he was in the infirmary, then he was missing a pretty big chunk of time.  Deciding he needed to find out what had happened, Daniel peeled his eyelids open, an act that took much more effort than it should have. 

“Well, it’s about time!”

The voice was something else that no longer belonged here.  He turned his head, blinking to clear the blurriness, and moaned as every muscle protested the move.  “Jack?”

“Got it in one.  At least you have a few brain cells left.”

“What are you doing here?”

“Checkin’ on you.  I read Mitchell’s preliminary report and decided this was one mission debrief I had to hear in person.”

“You just want to be able to chew me out and a phone call wouldn’t have been satisfying enough.”

“You’re thinking surprisingly clearly for someone who’s recovering from being poisoned.”

That explained why his muscles were screaming in pain, and why he was missing the details of how he’d gotten from the ship to the infirmary.  “How long?”

“Four days.”

“Four?”

“Yeah.  Ya know, you’re lucky you even survived.  Sounds like it was a pretty potent poison.  By the way, you wanna tell me how you were able to fly that ship?”

Daniel looked away.  “I don’t know.  I shouldn’t have been able to.”  He quickly turned back to face Jack.  “If that’s in Cam’s report—”

“It’s not.  Don’t worry; no one outside of SG-1 is gonna know.  But, if you think you can do it again . . . ?”  Jack raised his eyebrows questioningly. 

“Maybe it’s better if we don’t find out.”

“Maybe.”

“But what happened?  How did I end up here?”

“Carter and Teal’c stayed to wait for Tomin; Mitchell ringed back to the planet with you, gave you the antidote, and high-tailed it back through the gate.

“They had a cure?”

“Fortunately.  It just took this long to completely flush it from your system.”

“Sure it’s gone?”  Daniel closed his eyes again; queasiness and light-headedness making him question Jack’s statement. 

“Doc Lam says your body just needs time to regain strength.”

“That’s an understatement.”

“Damnit, Daniel!  I thought we’d broken you of the almost-dying habit.  Ya know, you may be on your second set of nine lives, but at this rate, you’re gonna use them up before you’re fifty.”

“Then I have a few years left.”  He opened his eyes again, hoping to see a smile on his friend’s face, but Jack was dead serious. 

“You need to stop doing this, Daniel.  I—we—don’t want to lose you.  I was hoping, now that the Ori are gone, that your missions would be less . . . ”

“Dangerous?”

“Deadly.  How long can you keep this up?  Hell, I don’t know how long I can keep this up.”

 “Thinking about retirement again?”

Jack paused as if considering it, brown eyes never wavering as they held Daniel’s gaze. “Not as long as SG-1’s still goin’ through the gate.”

“That’s what I thought.”

“But could you please space these death-defying episodes a little farther apart?  Give me time to recuperate in-between?”

“Oh, forgive me for being so insensitive to your needs.  I promise to check your schedule before getting injured again.”

“That’s more like it!”

“Ass.”

“The one and only.”

 

The End

 

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