He glanced at his watch—twenty minutes—then back at the notebook in front of him, wondering how he was going to finish before Jack came to drag him away.  Maybe Jack would be running late.

“Hey, Daniel, ready to hit the—” the voice trailed off as its owner entered Daniel’s office, taking in the notebook and stacks of open books piled around it.

Daniel sighed and looked longingly at the artifact on his desk.  Just his luck, Jack was early.  There was no way he was going to get to finish his translation.  Of course, he wouldn’t have had the chance to work on it at all if the Daedalus hadn’t been held up while being fitted with some upgrades, thus delaying his trip to Atlantis. 

He looked up at his friend and took in the exasperation evident on Jack’s face. 

“Why am I not surprised?” Jack groused. 

“I was just trying to finish this before we left,” Daniel said defensively.

“Well, it’ll have to wait.  We’re supposed to meet Carter and Teal’c topside in twenty minutes.”  Jack paused briefly and narrowed his eyes.  “You are packed, aren’t you?”

“Yes, Jack, I’m packed,” Daniel countered in an offended tone.  “My bag’s by the door.” 

Jack walked over and hefted the large duffle, giving a soft grunt as he did so.  “Geez, Daniel, we’re only gonna be gone a few days, not a few weeks.  What’ve ya got in here, a bunch of—“  He left the sentence unfinished, flashed Daniel a perturbed look, then set the duffle back on the floor and began unzipping it.

“Just the necessities.  Jack, leave it—”

“Necessities, huh?” Jack echoed, pulling out a thick, ancient tome.  “’Sumero-Phoenician Parentage of Ancient and Modern Letters’,” Jack recited, then placed it on the floor and picked another book out of the bag.  “’Cypro-Minoan Syllabary’,” he read.  “A little light reading for the trip?” he queried, raising one eyebrow.

“Hey, those are important. I need them if I’m going to figure out what that tablet says that SG-14 brought back last week.”

“Daniel, you’re on vacation.  When you get back, you’re leaving for Atlantis.  Who’s going to work on this stuff when you’re gone?”

“Uh, Doctor Beecham will be in charge.”

“And is Doctor Beecham qualified to do this translation?”  Jack knew for a fact that Doctor Beecham had been hired because of Daniel’s glowing recommendation.

“Of course, it’s just—”

“And she’ll have help, right?”

Daniel shifted uncomfortably in his chair.  “Doctor Mercer and Doctor Caughlin will be helping.”

“So, no problem then.  Leave it for them to finish and let’s get moving!”

Daniel sighed audibly as he looked back at his unfinished translation.  Jack was right, although he wasn’t about to tell him so.  Someone else would have to finish it.  His spirits brightened somewhat as he realized his consolation was going to Atlantis.  And then he looked at Jack who was busy zipping the duffle after having removed two more books. 

His friend had planned this little trip as a chance for SG-1 to have one last get-together before they went their separate ways.  Sam was going to Area 51 to take charge of R & D, Teal’c had already gone to Dakara to continue his work establishing the Jaffa Nation, returning just for this little outing, and Jack was headed to Washington to take Hammond’s place as Head of Homeworld Security.  Somehow, Daniel just couldn’t picture Jack being comfortable at the Pentagon.  He felt a twinge in his chest as he realized they might not see each other for a very long time.  They would always be family—nothing could change that—but they would no longer be a team.  And he was going to miss them—no more lunches in the commissary, no more meetings in one of their labs, no more team movie nights, and no more going through the gate together.  There was a time when change had been the norm for him.  But over the past eight years he had found a place where he belonged and a family to belong to.  Sure, there were always changes, but for the first time since he was eight years old, he had had a constant in his life.  And even though things were about to change again in a big way, he knew this constant—this family—would always be there, no matter how far apart their physical bodies were. 

“Daniel?”

Snapped out of his musings, Daniel looked up to see Jack standing by the door, duffle in hand, an annoyed look on his face.  Daniel smiled at that, knowing Jack would stand there impatiently until he gave in.  No point postponing the inevitable.  Besides, Daniel found he was looking forward to some time with his team; who knew how long it would be before they had a chance to do this again. 

“All right, Jack, I’m coming,” he said as he closed his notebook and turned off his desk light. 

“Really?”  Jack’s expression quickly changed to one of surprise.

“Yep, let’s go.  Sam and Teal’c are waiting.”

“Uh, right,” Jack replied, trying to figure out how he had won so easily. 

Daniel flipped off the light and smiled to himself as he followed Jack out of the room.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

They drove beneath a bright blue sky, the noise of the interstate fading quickly as they exited onto a small paved road that led into the foothills.   A short distance later they turned onto another side road, this one made of dirt and rocks, which gradually climbed towards the forested slopes of the mountains. 

The path—for that’s what it looked like to Daniel—wound through the trees, tall pines interspersed with quaking aspens.  On one side, a stream tumbled noisily over boulders on its way downhill.  Daniel rolled down his window and was immediately overwhelmed by the cool air filled with the scent of pine and earth.  He closed his eyes and savored the warmth of the sun and the sound of his friends’ voices.  Even though he was thrilled to finally be going to Atlantis, he knew this was something he would miss.

After jostling over the rutted road for awhile, Jack finally pulled the vehicle into a small clearing.  A well-kept two-story log cabin stood in its center, a large porch stretched across the front.  A short distance beyond the cabin, Daniel could see the edge of a lake. 

Jack stopped the car and shut off the engine.  “Well, kids, whadda ya think?”

“Wow,” Sam said, opening her door.

Daniel took in the beds of bright wildflowers surrounding the cabin and the glint of sunlight bouncing off the lake beyond.  Butterflies flitted through the air, occasionally pausing long enough to sip from the garden’s columbine.  Wow was right. 

He opened his own door and exited along with the rest of his team. “It’s great, Jack.” 

“Indeed.  This is a most pleasant environment,” Teal’c agreed. 

“Told ya!” Jack beamed.  “Let’s get unpacked and then we can check out the lake.”

Daniel exchanged an amused look with Sam; they both knew Jack couldn’t wait to start fishing—he’d spent half the trip to the cabin telling them all about the fantastic new lures he’d bought. 

~ ~ ~ ~

A short time later the truck had been unloaded, everyone had claimed a bedroom and unpacked their bags.  After consuming a lunch of sandwiches and chips, they had each grabbed a fishing pole and tackle box and headed for the lake. 

The afternoon was spent trying their luck from various spots along the banks of the lake.  As the shadows lengthened towards evening, they gathered their equipment and surveyed the results of their efforts.  To Jack’s consternation, Teal’c had caught two more fish than he had, including the largest of the bunch. 

“It was a most satisfying afternoon, O’Neill.”

“Yeah, rub it in.  It was just beginner’s luck.”

“I believe you once told me that catching fish required great skill, not luck,”

Sam turned her back and tried to muffle a snort.

“Was that a comment, Carter?”

She turned back to face him, trying unsuccessfully to hide her smile.  “Uh, no, sir.”

“C’mon, Jack, don’t be a sore loser,” Daniel said, diverting attention from Sam.

“E tu, Daniel?”  Jack feigned a wounded look as he picked up his small stringer of fish.  “Just for that, you can cook.”  He held out the fish to Daniel, who reluctantly took them.

“I don’t remember it being my turn.”

“Well, it is, so you’d better get busy cleanin’ ‘em.”  Jack broke into a smug smile as he turned and headed for the cabin. 

Teal’c stopped and held out his stringer of fish to Daniel, offering a small bow when he took it.  “Thank you, Daniel Jackson,” he said, turning and following Jack back to the cabin. 

Sam looked at him sympathetically as she held up her string of two small fish. 

“Not you, too, Sam,” Daniel responded dejectedly. 

“C’mon, I’ll help you,” she replied, laughing, unable to resist his pleading blue eyes. 

“Thanks.”

Shoulder to shoulder, they followed their teammates back down the path towards the warm lights of the cabin. 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The meal had been eaten, dishes cleaned and put away, and now a fire was crackling in the stone fireplace.  Jack and Daniel were facing off over a chess board while Sam and Teal’c were locked into a close game of cribbage. 

“Checkmate,” Daniel announced quietly, and smugly, Jack thought.

“Humpf,” was Jack’s response.

“Going to chalk it up to beginner’s luck?” Daniel asked. 

“Ha, ha,” Jack replied.  “One of these days the tables will be turned.”

“Another game?”

“Are you kidding?  I think I’ll see if Carter needs some pointers.”

Sam flashed Daniel a look that clearly conveyed, “Help”. 

Daniel just shrugged and Sam’s look quickly changed to, “I’ll get you for this.”

Watching as his three teammates became absorbed in the game again, Daniel took the opportunity to slip out onto the porch.  The cool, crisp air teased his nose with the scent of pine.  A nearly full moon reflected off the lake, illuminating the soft ripples as they lapped the shore. 

Again his mind turned to his upcoming trip to Atlantis.  And, again, he realized how much he was going to miss his friends.  Their excited voices carried through the screen door and made him smile.  They had defeated the replicators and, for the most part, the Goa’uld.  This was what they had spent so many years fighting for.  And going to Atlantis was a dream come true—something he had wanted for a long time.  Even so, there was still a small part of him that was reluctant to let go of the past and embrace the future. 

Of course, there was another reason for going to Atlantis now.  It was the perfect place for him to research and explore the knowledge that had been reawakened in him, thanks to what the renegade Tok’ra had done to him.  He had explored it, albeit in a limited way, without anyone’s knowledge, including that of his teammates.  He felt a twinge of guilt for that, but he knew they were safer not knowing. 

As he leaned on the railing, he noticed Jack’s tackle box sitting on the floor.  Next to it leaned their fishing poles.  Focusing his mind on the box, he watched as the latch released and the lid slowly lifted open.  One of the lures floated upwards from its resting place and hung in the air.  It dropped quickly back into the tackle box as Daniel became distracted by the feeling that someone was watching him. 

“Whatcha doin’?”

He turned to see Jack standing just inside the door, looking out at him through the screen. 

“Uh, just enjoying the fresh air.”

Jack pushed open the door and joined him on the porch.  “Yep, can’t beat the weather.” 

Both men were silent for a few moments, the only sounds coming from the nocturnal creatures in the forest. 

“Thinkin’ about goin’ to Atlantis?”

Daniel darted a look at his friend who continued to gaze out at the moonlit landscape.  He knew he shouldn’t be surprised—Jack could read him like a book.

“Yeah.”

“Having second thoughts?”

“No, not really.  It’s something I’ve wanted for a long time.  It’s just--I’m going to miss . . . everything.”  You.  Sam.  Teal’c.  But he left it unsaid. 

“Yeah, things are going to be different, that’s for sure.  But I bet once you get there and start diggin’ around in all that Ancient stuff, you’ll be fine.”

Jack looked at him then, his face neutral, giving away nothing, but Daniel sensed that Jack was feeling him out—trying to get him to talk.  Despite what people might think, Jack could do subtle.  Daniel almost laughed at the thought. 

“What?”

“What?”

“What were you smiling about?”  Jack asked.

Oops.  “Nothing.  Just remembering.”

“Yeah, we’ve had some good times.”

“And some bad.”

“Always interesting, though.”

“Yeah, always interesting.”

“Some close calls.”

“Too close.”

“Actually, some were more than close—a few of ‘em hit you like a ton of bricks.”

Daniel’s brows knitted together, then rose on his forehead as he nodded and shrugged.  “I suppose so.”

They fell silent again, each contemplating the events that had led them to this point.

Jack returned his gaze to the lake, and when he spoke, his words were soft.  “Have you tried using it?”

Daniel froze.  He knew exactly what Jack was asking him, but feigned ignorance as he replied.  “Using what?”

Jack turned his head just enough to catch Daniel’s eye.  Daniel felt as though Jack was looking straight into thoughts.  He tried not to squirm as he held Jack’s gaze. 

“You know you can tell me anything, don’t you?”

Anything but this.  Daniel hated lying to his friends—hated keeping something from them.  He wanted nothing more than to share what he had discovered—but he couldn’t.  He knew they would be safer not knowing.  “Sure.  But I still don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Jack held his gaze a few moments longer, finally seeming to come to some kind of decision.  “Nothing.  I just wanted you to know that you can always talk to me if, you know, you have a problem or . . . something.”

“I know.”  Jack had backed off.  Daniel knew it wouldn’t be forgotten, but Jack wasn’t going to push him.  At least not yet.

“Think we should call it a night?”  Jack’s voice regained its relaxed tone. 

“Yeah.  Let’s go see who won the game.”

As Jack turned back to the door, he spotted the open tackle box.  “Huh, I was sure I’d closed this up tight.”  He bent down and re-fastened the latch. 

“Maybe a raccoon got into it.”

Jack stood and gave him a questioning look.  “You think a raccoon wanted to go fishing with one of my lures?”

“Uh, never mind.”  And for a brief second, the same assessing look passed over Jack’s face and was gone. 

“Definitely time to call it a night,” Jack said.  “Did you even drink a beer?”  He opened the door and gestured for Daniel to go ahead of him.

Daniel didn’t answer as he entered the cabin, guilt settling over him for not confiding in Jack, but also well aware that he hadn’t fooled his friend for a second. 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Slowly, stealthily, still lying on his stomach, he reached under the bed and grasped the gun he had placed there.  He strained to hear the noise again, but the only sound came from the crickets outside his window. 

He could have dismissed it as the creak of the cabin settling, but he knew better.  Carefully, Jack pulled his arm up, gun raised, as he rolled onto his back.  Finding he was alone in the room, he slid from the bed and crept towards the door, placing his feet cautiously to avoid making any sound. 

Pausing only a moment, Jack spun around the door frame, coming face to face with a zat.  In a split second, he recognized the person holding it—Teal’c.  Lowering his gun, Jack released the breath he’d been holding.  Teal’c didn’t lower the zat, but instead aimed it in a different direction.  Wordlessly, Jack signaled for Teal’c to take the stairs while he checked on the rooms of their remaining teammates who, he noticed, had failed to make an appearance. 

As they separated, an unusual odor drifted under Jack’s nose.  It was a cloyingly sweet smell, somewhat familiar, and Jack tried to place what it was.  Suddenly, his vision did a loop and he stretched his hand out to the wall to steady himself.  Damn, he knew what it was now.  He tried to call out to Teal’c, but dizziness overwhelmed him again and he found himself lying on the floor, vision fading along with his consciousness. 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 

Awareness returned slowly, and with it a pounding headache and the sensation of something scratchy against his cheek.  He reached lethargically for the offending substance, and wondered when his arm had turned to lead.  Cracking one eye open, he saw that he held a fistful of straw.  At the same time, he became aware of a chill seeping into him from whatever he was lying on.  Opening his eyes fully, he took in the gray stone floor strewn with clumps of straw and the iron bars that made up three of the walls around him.  The fourth wall was made of the same gray stone as the floor, with the added feature of a metal ring embedded in it.  A sturdy chain trailed from the ring, and following it with his eyes, Jack discovered it ended in a metal cuff that was affixed to his ankle. 

Crap.  Not a good sign.  First priority: finding his teammates.  Tossing the straw aside, he attempted to push himself up, an involuntary moan escaping his lips.

“O’Neill.”

“Teal’c?  You okay?”  He managed to maneuver into a sitting position and searched for the source of Teal’c’s voice. 

“I am.  Are you well?”

“’Well’ is kind of a relative term, T.”  Jack could now see Teal’c sitting in the cell across from him, chained to the wall like he was. 

“Carter, Daniel?”  Time to find the other half of his team. 

“Colonel Carter is in the cell next to you and has yet to regain consciousness.”

Scooting gingerly to avoid aggravating his headache, Jack reached the bars and spotted Sam sprawled on her stomach.

“Carter.”

A moan was the only response. 

“Carter!”

“Sir?”  Her voice sounded raspy. 

“Carter, up and at ‘em.”

“Yes, sir,” she replied, her voice sounding slightly stronger.  She rolled onto her back and opened her eyes.

“You okay?”

“I think so.”  There was a slight pause and then, “Where are we?”

“Definitely not the cabin.”

“I do not believe we are still on Earth,” Teal’c stated.

“How could you possibly know that?”  Jack thought that assumption was a stretch, even for Teal’c. 

“I have heard the sound of Jaffa.”

Jack didn’t doubt Teal’c and the revelation gave him a sinking feeling, especially since there was still one teammate he hadn’t heard from. 

“I don’t suppose you’ve seen Daniel?”

Teal’c lifted his chin and his gaze became dark with anger.  Jack knew what was coming.  “I have not.” 

“That’s what I figured.”  Even though Jack held a faint hope that Daniel might have escaped back at the cabin, he knew the attack had been too swift for any of them to avoid.  Which meant Daniel was most likely in the company of whoever had captured them.

Sam had become much more alert during the exchange, and was now sitting up.  She looked intently at Jack and quickly picked up on his train of thought.   “You think someone’s after Daniel for the—”

“Carter.”  Jack cut her off and signaled that their conversation might not be private.

She nodded her head in understanding and left the sentence unfinished.  Jack watched her take a closer look at her surroundings, her gaze coming to rest on the chain anchoring her to the wall.  She tugged on it and then began to examine the cuff more closely.

Jack turned his attention back to Teal’c.  “T, any luck?”  He nodded towards the chain and shackle that Teal’c was also scrutinizing. 

“No.  I have been unable to break it.”

“Well, keep workin’ on it.  Maybe there’s a weak link in it somewhere.”

Teal’c gave a slight dip of his head and resumed testing the links.  He stopped at the sound of the door at the end of the hall opening.  Two Jaffa marched in, followed by a girl with long, dark brown hair carrying a bucket.  She looked to be in her early twenties and she looked scared.  A Jaffa unlocked Sam’s cell and the girl silently moved inside.  She pulled a dipper full of water from the bucket and offered it to Sam.  With head down, she repeated this with Jack and Teal’c until all three had quenched their thirst and their cells had been locked once again.

Jack made a mental note of the Jaffas’ tattoos, glancing at Teal’c to affirm he had seen them, too.

As their three visitors turned to leave, Jack called out, “Hey!”  The Jaffa stopped and turned back to face him.  “Nice place ya got here, but we were in the middle of a vacation and we’d kinda like to get back to—”

“Silence!” one of the Jaffa barked.  “You will remain here until our Lord is ready for you.” 

“Ready?  Are they planning a feast in our honor?  I just love a good feast.”

The Jaffa stepped closer to the bars of Jack’s cell and sneered.  “Hardly.  When She has finished preparing the other one, She will send for the three of you.  Then we will see how much you enjoy what is planned for you.” 

Turning quickly, the Jaffa marched out of the cell block, followed by the second Jaffa and the young girl, who gave Jack a furtive glance over her shoulder as she disappeared from view. 

Jack’s remarks may have sounded flippant, but they had gained him some of the intel he was searching for.  First, he knew Daniel was here and in the company of a Goa’uld.  Second, he knew the Goa’uld was a female.  With Teal’c’s help, they might be able to figure out who they were dealing with and what she might want them for.  Although he already suspected what it might be.  There was a good chance Ba’al hadn’t given up on gaining access to the Ancient knowledge in Daniel’s head.  He’d probably had time to think about the events that had occurred on his base a few weeks earlier and might have decided that Daniel had had something to do with their escape. 

This Goa’uld was probably working for Ba’al.  A lot of planning had gone into their abduction.  But he’d worry about how that had been accomplished later.  Right now, his main concern was Daniel.  The words of the Jaffa floated back to him.  ‘When She has finished preparing the other one.’  He wondered just what the hell she was doing to Daniel to ‘prepare’ him. 

Sam voiced his concern along with another.  “What do you think they’re doing to Daniel?  And what do they want with us?”

“I think I could make a pretty good guess on both counts—this is eerily familiar.”

She nodded her head in agreement.  It had only been a few weeks since the General and Daniel had been tortured by Ba’al.  She had seen Ba’al’s symbol on one of the Jaffa, but hadn’t recognized the other.  Most likely it belonged to the female Goa’uld; but was she working for herself or for Ba’al?  Sam, too, was afraid the System Lord hadn’t given up his quest to gain access to the Ancient knowledge.  She also wondered how they were ever going to keep Daniel safe if every Goa’uld in the galaxy came after him.

“You believe Ba’al is behind this.”  Teal’c made it a statement, not a question.

“I’d say it’s a good bet,” Jack answered.  “Did you recognize the other symbol?”

“I did.  It belongs to a minor Goa’uld named Anath.  I have only heard of her in passing, and that was many years ago.  I do not know if she served a particular Goa’uld.  I believe she aligned herself with various system lords as it benefited her. 

Jack was silent as he considered the information. 

Sam spoke up.  “You think she’s working for Ba’al?”

“That may not necessarily be the case,” Teal’c continued.  “Ba’al would most likely prefer to conduct his own interrogation and would not leave it for a subordinate to perform.”

Jack could attest to that.  He would never forget the look of pleasure on Ba’al’s face as he tortured him over and over.  Just a few short weeks earlier he had received a second helping.  He quickly shut down that train of thought—he needed to focus on the present and how they were going to get themselves and Daniel out of here.

Time to assess.  What did they have and what did they need?  Jack took a quick inventory, noting that all three of them were wearing what they had slept in: T-Shirts and lightweight sweat pants.  And they were all barefoot.  No weapons, no gear.  Oh, and don’t forget the whole ‘chained to the wall’ thing.  Just dandy.   

“Do either of you have anything we could use to unlock these cuffs?” 

“Sorry, sir.”

“I do not.”

“Okay, other ideas?”

Both of his teammates shook their heads and remained silent.  Jack ran a hand through his hair in exasperation.   They had nothing—they were going to have to sit and wait.  But there was still one hope left to them—Daniel.  Jack had no idea what was being done to his friend, but he had to hope that Daniel would come through for them again and find a way to get them out of here. 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 

The pain in his head was accompanied by a buzzing sensation.  Daniel tried blinking his eyes and found it took a lot more effort than it should.  Finally, he succeeded, squinting to keep too much light from bombarding his retinas.

Grey stone greeted him and he tried to remember where he was.  His head felt fuzzy and he couldn’t seem to hold a thought long enough to finish it.  Images flashed through his mind and were gone:  the sun reflecting off of a lake, a game of chess, lying in bed with moonlight streaming through a window.  It was as though his ability to concentrate was gone. 

“Good.  You are awake.”

He didn’t recognize the voice and turned his head towards it—the pounding and buzzing intensifying as he did.  His vision was a little blurry but he could make out a face framed by long, dark hair.  It was a woman’s face—narrow, tanned, with dark, penetrating brown eyes.  For a fleeting moment, the image of another dark-haired woman flashed through his mind.  But this wasn’t her; this was someone he’d never seen before.

“Who—”  His throat and mouth were dry and the word sounded like a croak.

The woman looked to her left and nodded to someone he couldn’t see.  A young woman came into view; her hair was also dark but her brown eyes were softer and held a touch of fear.  She held a cup with one hand and with the other reached behind Daniel’s head and helped him raise it to drink. 

As he took a sip, he tried to reach for the cup.  Except his hand wouldn’t move.  Panicked, he tried to lift the other arm and found that it, too, was immobilized at his side. He began moving all of his limbs and found that all four were securely tethered to whatever he was lying on.

“What’s . .. going . . . on?”  He continued to struggle weakly against his bonds and the young woman backed away.

“I advise you to drink when it is offered,” the first woman spoke, ignoring his question.

“Tell me . . . what’s . . . going on . . . and . . . who . . .you are.”  His strength was flagging and he ceased his struggles.

“I am Anath and you are my guest.”

Daniel’s headache continued to pound, seeming to radiate from a spot at the base of his skull.  Dizziness washed over him, so he laid his head back down and closed his eyes.  He tried to concentrate on the woman’s name.  It was familiar—where had he heard it?  Other images and words began floating through his mind:  a stringer of fish, a tackle box with a lure floating above it, you know you can tell me anything. 

His eyes flew open as images of his teammates became foremost in his mind.  They had been at a cabin—had gone to bed.  Where were they now?

“Where . . . are they?” he demanded as he renewed his struggle with his bonds. 

The woman smiled at him as she reached out and touched his cheek.  “They are also guests here.  They are waiting for us to finish, then they will join us.” 

Her hand moved down his cheek, one finger tracing the line of his jaw to the point of his chin, hesitating only briefly before sliding down his chin to his throat.  The finger continued its movement, reaching his breastbone and following it down the length of his chest.  It was then he realized he wasn’t wearing a shirt. 

Daniel shivered and tried to focus on the feeling of fabric against his legs.  He gave a sigh of relief as he realized he still wore pants. 

The woman‘s finger came to rest just above his navel, where it slowly traced a loop around it before finally leaving his skin.

Relief flowed through him.  He told himself she was only playing with him, trying to keep him off-balance and confused.  She was succeeding. 

Thoughts of his friends had fled and he consciously pulled them back. 

“What do you want?”  He tried to sound angry and not scared, but she just smiled indulgently at him.

“Isn’t it obvious?  I want you.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Jack had inspected every inch of his cell—most of it with his eyes as his chained foot kept him from being able to reach much.  Teal’c and Sam had done the same but none of them had found any means of escape. 

They’d discussed what little intel they had about where they were, and, with no other visitors, they were left to silently contemplate what might be happening to their missing member.

The clanking of the door at the end of the hall drew the attention of three pairs of eyes.  The teammates stood as the two Jaffa who had visited them earlier entered, followed by four more.  They moved to Sam’s door first, unlocking it and then entering.  One trained a zat on her while the other spun her around to face the wall, grabbed her hands and pulled them behind her back, then fastened manacles to both wrists. 

“Hey guys, is it time for the party?” Jack taunted. 

Ignoring his words, two more Jaffa moved to Jack’s door and opened it.  They followed the same procedure and soon Jack’s hands were also bound behind him.

“What’s on the menu?  I’m kinda partial to barbeque—oof!”  His words were cut short by a Jaffa backhand. 

Jack decided he’d baited them enough and remained silent while he watched four of the Jaffa descend on Teal’c’s cell.  Evidently, they were concerned that Teal’c might put up more of a fight.  Teal’c didn’t resist and was soon bound in the same manner as Jack and Sam.  One of the Jaffa released Teal’c’s ankle from its shackle and he was pulled out of the cell.  Jack and Sam were also released from their ankle shackles and pushed into the hall.  Surrounded by the six Jaffa, the teammates were marched from the room, hopefully to be reunited with their fourth member.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“Do not worry, Doctor Jackson.  I brought you here because of what is in here,” she gently patted the top of his head.  “Although,” Anath continued, threading her fingers lightly through his hair, “you are even more attractive than I had been told.”

Trying to ignore her intimate touches, Daniel focused on her statement that she wanted what was in his mind.  He had no doubt she was after the same thing Ba’al had wanted.  But how did she even know about it?

“You look confused, Doctor Jackson.  Surely you know what I refer to?  Or are you wondering how I came to know about your new ‘abilities’?”

Daniel tried to school his features, hoping he didn’t look surprised, not missing the fact she had said ‘abilities’ and not ‘memories’.   “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Anath laughed out loud.  “Do not pretend you do not know.”  She pulled her hand away and looked at him thoughtfully.  “I was in charge of analyzing the data that was collected while you were a guest of Ba’al.”

Daniel’s headache and dizziness were easing and it was getting easier to focus, allowing
him to be able to process the information.   Anath said she had been in Ba’al’s palace, had access to everything that happened.  Had she figured out that he was the one who had shorted out the equipment and freed Jack?  Or was she just guessing?  Trying to get him to reveal something?  He would just have to stick to his clueless act and pretend he didn’t know anything.  Somehow, he didn’t think she would fall for it.

“Look, I’ll tell you the same thing I told Ba’al—I don’t have any memories from when I was ascended.”

Her eyes turned cold and her smile faded as she leaned over him again, placing a finger on his lips.  When she spoke, her warm breath ghosted across his skin, causing a shiver to race up his spine.  “Oh, it’s not your memories I’m after, Doctor.  Although, I guess I will get them eventually.” 

What?  What the hell is she talking about?

Her smile returned but there was no humor in it.  Her finger began to trace back and forth across his lips.  “Still confused, Doctor Jackson?  Let me explain.  My dear brother, Ba’al, was very short-sighted; all he could think of was learning where the Ancients hid their weapons.  But I know there is something greater to be gained.  I want the power of the Ancients and I know that you still have that power.”

Daniel’s skin began to crawl, goosebumps rising not just from the warm breath on his face and the finger playing across his lips, but from the sudden realization of what Anath planned to do. 

Her smile became feral and her finger stopped its movement.  “I see you understand now, Daniel.  May I call you Daniel?  After all, if things go as planned, you and I will soon be as close as two beings can be—when one is inside the other.”

Before he could protest her mouth came down on his, capturing his lips and silencing his scream.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Gray stone, crumbling stairs, and more gray stone.  Actually, crumbling was a good description of the entire place, which looked to Jack like a castle right out of a Bela Lugosi movie.  Water seeped from cracks in the walls and a musty smell permeated the air.  Their cells had actually been in better shape than anything they’d seen since leaving them.  The rest of the palace might be falling down, but someone had made sure their prisoners wouldn’t find a way to escape.   

After another flight of eroding stairs, they found themselves in a long hallway.  They passed a couple of rooms where servants were working on patching the crumbling walls, supervised by more Jaffa.  It was lighter up here, sunlight slanting in through narrow windows set high in one wall. 

At the end of the hall they came to a set of huge wooden doors reinforced with iron bars, guarded by two more Jaffa.  A brief exchange of words between their escort and the guards and the doors were pushed open. 

Jack decided this must have once been a beautiful hall.  Tattered tapestries still hung on the walls and a raised dais at one end held a battered, high-backed chair, ornately carved, with a seat cushion that had seen better days.

To one side of the dais stood several people in plain, simple clothing—servants, or slaves, Jack assumed.   He noticed one of them was the young woman who had brought their water.  A small group of Jaffa lined the opposite wall.  Jack noted that several of them carried the mark of Ba’al, others Anath’s symbol, and a couple he didn’t recognize. 

The three of them were brought to a stop about a dozen feet in front of the ‘throne’ and pushed to their knees.  Jack winced.  No wonder my knees are bad.  He scanned the room for possible escape routes, noticing Sam and Teal’c doing the same. 

There were several narrow windows on one side, too high to do them much good.  The only other door was behind the dais but it was unguarded—at least for now.  Jack figured the servants wouldn’t interfere with their escape but they would still have to deal with about a dozen Jaffa.  There would be the added problem of whichever Goa’uld had brought them here.  Of course, they wouldn’t attempt anything until they had Daniel back. 

The door behind the dais creaked open and two Jaffa entered, followed by a dark-haired woman dressed in leather pants and top, a crimson cape flowing behind her.  She wore leather boots with a low heel, but even so she was at least as tall as Sam.  Her long, dark hair cascaded around her shoulders, framing her narrow face and deep brown eyes.  Jack knew before she spoke that this was Anath.

The Goa’uld stopped in front of the dais, but didn’t sit.  Instead, she looked appraisingly at each of her captives, a faint smirk playing on her lips. 

“So, this is the famous SG-1.”

“And you must be the un-famous Anath,” Jack retorted. 

Her smile grew as she focused on Jack.  “Ah, General O’Neill.  I was unable to converse with you the last time we were together.”

Sam and Teal’c both stole a glance at Jack as he tried not to show his confusion.  Where had they met?  He was sure he would have remembered her.

“Say, were you at the Fourth of July picnic?  There was a big crowd this year.”

“I have heard about your sense of humor.  Maybe you will find what I have planned amusing.”   She turned to her Jaffa escort and ordered, “Bring him in.”

Jack tensed, wondering what shape his friend would be in.  The Jaffa returned, followed by two more Jaffa who each had a grip on one of Daniel’s arms, pulling him into the room.  Jack quickly scrutinized his condition.  The good news was he was walking on his own and even though he’d lost his shirt and shoes, he still had his pants.  Which was definitely a good thing when dealing with a female Goa’uld.  He also seemed to be bruise-free.  The bad news was that his hands were bound behind him and some type of patch was covering his mouth so he couldn’t speak.  Jack watched him glance at each of his teammates and he knew Daniel was assessing their condition, too. 

~ ~ ~

Daniel had been paralyzed with fear as Anath pressed her mouth to his—fear that he would feel the symbiote slither into his mouth and burrow into his throat, that when it was over he would no longer be himself. 

But Anath had pulled back, smiling at him. “Not yet, my Daniel, but soon, I hope.”

He had squeezed his eyes shut, relieved that he was still him, but shaking as her words cruelly brought back memories of the one who had last called him ‘my Daniel’.  His beautiful Sha’re, how terrified she must have been as Amaunet invaded her body and stole her life.

Daniel had been abruptly pulled from his memories by the Jaffa who released him from the table he lay on.  They bound his hands behind him and silenced his voice.  His thoughts began to race   Why had Anath separated him from the others?  She hadn’t asked him any questions and she hadn’t made him a host—yet.  What was she waiting for?  And what about his friends?  They are waiting for us to finish.  Finish what?  Had she done something to him he didn’t know about? 

The Jaffa had pulled him out of the room and marched him down the hall, Daniel barely aware of the gray stone walls as he fought against the dizziness that threatened to topple him.  Eventually, he was led into another room and brought to a halt.  Lifting his head, he discovered he was face to face with the rest of his team. 

Though he was grateful to find his teammates still alive and apparently in good health, he was worried about what Anath had planned for them.  He wished he could speak to them.  If Anath wanted him, wanted the power of the Ancients, why did she need the rest of them?  Did she just want them to witness her taking him as a host?  Did she want to torture him by torturing them?  Unless . . . she wanted to test that power.  Oh, God.

Briefly, he took in the huge room with its colorful tapestries hanging on the walls and the ornate chair sitting on the raised dais behind him.  Under different circumstances, he would have been eager to explore—but not now. 

One of the Jaffa knelt and Daniel felt something cold wrap around first one ankle and then the other.  He looked down to see his feet were now shackled and being anchored to metal rings in the floor.  Raising his head, his eyes met Jack’s and he could see how concerned his friend was.  Jack gave the slightest shake of his head that clearly said ‘Don’t do it, Daniel’.  In that moment, Daniel knew that Jack understood that whatever Anath wanted, she was going to use the three of them to get it.   

But he didn’t know if he could follow Jack’s order—and there was no question that had been an order.  He didn’t think he could stand by and watch his friends suffer.  And they would suffer unless he gave the Goa’uld what she wanted, which was obviously something more than just taking him as a host. 

Anath moved closer to Daniel, observing the looks that passed between the teammates.  “And now, my friends, I assume you would like to know why I have brought you here.”

She reached up and placed a finger on the patch covering Daniel’s mouth, running it back and forth across his covered lips, her brown eyes filled with anticipation.

Jack ground his teeth together, but forced himself to remain still as he watched the Goa’uld toying with his friend. 

 

“Daniel would explain it to you if he could,” she continued, “but I have heard that he can be a bit . . . verbose, so I think we will keep him silent.”

Blue eyes flashed with anger as Anath spoke.  Daniel realized she knew what taking his voice away would do to him.  She was using every means she could to unsettle and provoke him, to make him feel helpless.  Obviously pleased with his reaction, she removed her finger and turned to the rest of SG-1. 

“We already know you’re working for Ba’al,” Jack blurted out, taking some small pleasure in beating her to the punch. 

“I do not work for anyone.  That short-sighted fool didn’t know what he had in his grasp.”  Anath’s smile faded as she became agitated.  “I set this up to do my own work.  I only pretended to assist him.”

“Oh, yeah, this is a great set-up.  I love what you’ve done with the place.”  Jack continued to push her.  She had revealed that she wasn’t in league with Ba’al, maybe he could get her to reveal something else. 

Anath laughed humorlessly.  “This,” she swept her hand around to encompass the room, “is temporary.  A place no one would think of looking.  When I have what I desire, nothing will be out of my reach.”

“Daniel’s not gonna to tell you anything.”

“I’m not going to ask Daniel about his memories, General, if that’s what you’re thinking.  I am after something greater and you’re going to help me.”

“Like that’s gonna happen.”

“I see you are skeptical, General.  Then let me demonstrate.”

Turning back to Daniel, she placed a hand on his shoulder, trailing it across his skin as she walked around him, pausing to lean in closer so her mouth brushed his ear.  “You have been part of SG-1 for many years now and I know that you care for them very much.  What would you do to protect them?  To spare them pain?”

Jack could see the anger in Daniel’s eyes turn to fear.  He felt his own heart rate accelerate as he realized what Anath had planned.  She had deprived Daniel of his ability to speak—he could give her no information.  But she wasn’t after words, she wanted actions.  She wanted Daniel to use the power of the Ancients. 

He wasn’t sure what kind of power Daniel had, but Jack was sure his friend wouldn’t hesitate to use it if it meant saving them.  He was one of the strongest men Jack knew, but this would test his limits of self-control.  There was too much at stake; they couldn’t risk giving Anath access to that power, even at the cost of their lives.  He had to make sure Daniel understood that.  “Daniel---uhh.” 

The Jaffa nearest Jack used the end of his staff weapon to punch him in the stomach before he could reinforce his order to Daniel.  Jack doubled over, his head almost touching the floor as he tried to drag in a breath.  He could hear Daniel trying to call out to him through the patch that was keeping him gagged. 

“I’m . . . fine,” he said through gritted teeth, glancing first at Daniel and then at Sam and Teal’c, whose own features were alternating between anger and concern. 

Anath continued to stand close to Daniel, her hand still on his shoulder.  “You can spare him further pain, Daniel.”

Daniel turned his head, giving her a sideways look, blue eyes smoldering with anger.  She was testing him—trying to get him to use the power he had tapped into.  Maybe she wasn’t sure he had the power; maybe she wanted to see what he could do before she took him as a host.  If he resisted, Jack, and most likely Sam and Teal’c, would suffer.  But if he tried to use the Ancient power, she would know exactly what he could do and wouldn’t hesitate to take him as a host.  And there was the chance she would kill his teammates anyway, or sell them to the highest bidder.  Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.  He knew if he could tap into it, he would use every bit of that power to stop this. 

He looked at his friends, his eyes coming to rest on Jack, words unnecessary as he silently pleaded for Jack to understand.  With a slight shake of his head, Jack reaffirmed his position on the subject. 

Anath stepped away, looking from Daniel to Jack.  “Do you need more persuasion?”  She nodded to the Jaffa who had punched Jack—her First Prime according to his gold tattoo.  With a smirk, he raised his staff weapon and brought it down across Jack’s shoulders. 

“Ahhh!”  Jack was knocked forward onto the floor where he rolled to his side. 

“Does that bother you, Daniel?  Do you wish to stop it?”

Daniel kept his eyes focused on Jack, ignoring her, trying to keep himself calm, trying to follow Jack’s order. 

“Maybe we need to try a little harder.”  Anath nodded to her First Prime.  Moving quickly, he brought his staff weapon down on Jack’s back. 

“Uhhh,” Jack moaned.  “Still . . . fine.”

The Jaffa viciously kicked him in the stomach and Jack tried to curl into a ball.  This time, Daniel tried to take a step towards his friend, forgetting that he was tethered to the floor.  He briefly struggled to maintain his balance and remain upright. 

“You can stop this, Daniel,” Anath’s voice purred next to him. 

He looked at her then, hatred boiling from every pore.  She smiled and he looked away, forcing himself once again to calm down and not give in to her provocations.  God, he hated having to stand by while the Jaffa beat Jack.  Anath was right about one thing—he could stop it.  He was sure of it.  He could almost feel the power trying to build inside him and he longed to release it.  Only Jack’s admonition held him back.

Daniel watched, feeling helpless, as the Jaffa used his staff to beat Jack, bringing it down hard on his arm and then on his leg.  Jack didn’t want Daniel to give in to her but he knew she wouldn’t stop until he gave her a demonstration.  She wanted to be sure of the powers she would gain before she jumped hosts. 

Warring internally with himself, Daniel watched Jack desperately try to avoid the Jaffa’s staff.  He didn’t know how long he could continue to watch and do nothing. 

“Nothing, Daniel?”  Anath echoed his thought as she walked around him once, then stopped facing Jack.  “That is unfortunate.”  She nodded to Kor’ac, who unleashed another powerful blow on his friend. 

“Nnnnnn.”  Daniel tried to yell through the patch that silenced him, his heart pounding in his chest.  He moved forward again until the chains around his feet would allow him to go no further.  Jack looked up, lines of pain etched on his face, and his eyes met Daniel’s.  In that brief glance, Daniel understood that Jack was absolving him of responsibility.  And then his friend slumped into unconsciousness. 

“My lord,” Kor’ac said, aiming his staff weapon at Jack, “do you wish—”

“No.  Leave him for now.  He may prove useful again.”

Daniel turned to Sam and Teal’c, searching his friends’ faces, seeing not only determination, but also resignation in them.  They both knew they wouldn’t be spared, but still they gave him their silent support. 

“Who shall be next?”  Anath walked slowly back and forth in front of Sam and Teal’c. 

“I will,” Teal’c stated, drawing her attention.  “I do not fear the pathetic followers of a false god.  The system lords no longer have dominion over this galaxy.  Their power is gone—taken from them by the Tau’ri and the Free Jaffa.”

“Teal’c, no,” Sam pleaded. 

“I believe that is a challenge, Kor’ac,” Anath taunted. 

Kor’ac moved to her side.  “I will meet that challenge.”

With a tip of her head, Anath gave her permission and moved back to stand next to Daniel. 

“Shol’va!”  Kor’ac barked.  “It is you who are pathetic, aligning yourself with these humans.”  He lifted his staff as he approached Teal’c.    

“I see you must use a weapon; you are too weak to rely on your own strength.”  Teal’c remained stone-faced as he spoke.

Kor’ac’s fury rose and he handed the staff to one of his men.  “We shall see who is weak, Shol’va.”

Kor’ac lunged at Teal’c, letting his fist fly directly into Teal’c’s cheek.  The force snapped Teal’c’s head to the side and sent him to the floor.  Kor’ac moved in to follow up, but Teal’c swept his feet in an arc, knocking Kor’ac’s feet out from under him.  Before Kor’ac could recover, Teal’c jumped to his feet, unhindered by his bound hands, and lashed out with his foot, connecting with Kor’ac’s back. 

Kor’ac cried out in pain and roared, “Jaffa!”  Immediately, three Jaffa were on Teal’c, subduing him and pushing him back to his knees. 

Kor’ac rose to his feet, face red with anger and pain.  He walked over to the wall and returned holding an all-too-familiar object.  Daniel tried to move forward again when he saw what the Jaffa held—a pain stick. 

“Unnnn.”  Daniel tried to call out to his teammate, unable to control his reaction. 

Sam knew she needed to keep Daniel from acting.  “Don’t give in to her, Daniel!”

Daniel’s gaze darted to Sam.  She had to understand; they couldn’t expect him to stand by and let all three of them be tortured, not when he could do something about it.  Sam shook her head, reinforcing Jack’s order. 

Kor’ac held the pain stick in front of Teal’c.  “Enough.  Let us see how quickly you beg for mercy.”  And with that, he touched the torture instrument to Teal’c’s shoulder. 

The crackling sound of the activated stick was accompanied by Teal’c’s cry of pain.  Light blazed from his eyes and open mouth. 

Daniel’s gaze was locked on Teal’c and Sam tried again to reach him.  “Look at me, Daniel!”

But Daniel kept his gaze frozen on Teal’c, his blue eyes burning with a fire of their own.  He stood absolutely still, an air of calmness about him, and Sam realized what he was doing. 

Kor’ac touched the stick to Teal’c’s shoulder again, dragging another pain-filled cry from him.  But instead of pulling it away, Kor’ac kept it in contact with Teal’c’s body.  Teal’c’s cry faded as he ran out of breath and his body became rigid.  Sam had never seen anyone endure the stick for so long.  She thought it would surely kill him. 

Sam looked back at Daniel, still and focused, and knew he must be trying to draw on the abilities deep inside him.  She had to stop him.  “Don’t let them get to you, Daniel!  Focus on me!”

Daniel’s gaze flicked to Sam and she thought maybe she was getting through to him. 

Kor’ac pulled the stick away and Teal’c pitched forward to the floor, his body shaking from the prolonged contact, then becoming still as he joined Jack in unconsciousness. 

Anath turned back to Daniel.  “You surprise me, Daniel.  I thought you cared for these people—that they were your friends.  But yet, you let them suffer when it is within your power to stop it.”

Daniel didn’t look at her, but instead closed his eyes, his head pounding as he tried to contain the power.  He drew in a shaky breath and let it out.  Please let this be over. 

“Maybe you should listen to Colonel Carter,” Anath’s silky voice continued. 

Opening his eyes, Daniel saw Anath watching him, her evil smile still taunting him. 

“She wishes you to focus on her, Daniel.  Why don’t we do that?  One more little test.”

God, no.  No more.  His silent pleas went unheard as Anath spoke to her First Prime. 

“Kor’ac.”

“Yes, my Lord?” he replied, bowing to her. 

“You may have the woman to do with as you please.”

What?  Daniel looked frantically to Sam in time to see her eyes flash with fear before resolving into a hardened glare directed at the First Prime.

Daniel tried uselessly to protest.  Kor’ac looked at him, a sneer on his face, then dropped the pain stick to the floor and moved to Sam.  The Jaffa reached down, grabbed a handful of hair, and pulled her to her feet.  If she was afraid, she didn’t show it, stubbornly lifting her chin to look Kor’ac in the eye. 

Kor’ac gripped her hair with one hand and reached out with the other to touch her face.  Slowly, he drew his fingers down her cheek and across her lips. 

Once again, Daniel tried to vocalize his objection.  Ignored by the Jaffa, he turned to Anath, silently pleading with her, but she just smiled smugly at him. 

Daniel turned back to the scene playing out in front of him.  Bastard!  Leave her alone!  Kor’ac kept a firm grip on Sam’s hair as his other hand continued to trail down her throat all the way to her breast.  Cupping it in his huge hand, he squeezed, eliciting a wince from Sam. 

“I bet you like it rough,” Kor’ac leered.

Sam’s eyes narrowed and before Kor’ac realized what was happening, her head tilted back and then rammed forward as she head butted him. 

“Rough enough for you?” she spat.

Kor’ac released his grip on her hair and staggered a couple of steps, then reached up and touched the blood that was dripping from his nose.  Looking from his red fingers to Sam, he smiled, and in one swift motion, backhanded her, sending her sprawling on the floor.  She rolled from her stomach to her side, but Kor’ac stepped in and grabbed her, rolling her onto her back.  The manacles bit into her wrists as her bound hands dug into her back.  Sam pulled in her feet, preparing to kick, but Kor’ac grasped both of her legs and straddled her, his knees keeping her pinned.  A lecherous grin spread across his face as he reached up and took hold of the neck of her T-Shirt and pulled.  The sound of ripping fabric echoed through the room as Sam’s shirt was torn from the neck down her left side, leaving the sleeve hanging and her breast exposed. 

This was too much for Daniel to bear; there was no way he could stand by and watch Sam be raped.  As the Jaffa continued to attack Sam, Daniel ceased struggling against his bonds and ended his attempts to shout.  His entire body became still, focusing on Kor’ac’s hands as they touched his friend intimately.  He would stop this.  Ignoring the spikes of pain lancing through his head and the weakness in his limbs, he concentrated on drawing on his abilities, hoping he had enough strength to use them.  Reaching deep inside, he was surprised how easy it was to draw on the power. 

Suddenly, Kor’ac’s body stiffened and his hands ceased their movement.  His head jerked upwards and he grabbed at his own throat.  Choking sounds tumbled from his lips and his face began to turn red. 

Anath’s smile faded, replaced with a look of alarm.  Spinning around to Daniel, she spoke sharply.  “We are pleased with your demonstration, Daniel.  You may stop now.”

But he didn’t.  He could feel the power surging through him and knew he held the Jaffa’s life in his hands.  The Jaffa who attacked Sam, who beat Jack and Teal’c.  Searing pain filled his skull, but he would not stop.  Another thought wormed its way through his anger; it wasn’t the Jaffa he should be attacking, he should be going after the snake who was manipulating them. 

Kor’ac suddenly dropped to the floor like a stone.  He clutched at his throat, gasping for air.  Sam rolled to her side, relieving the pressure on her arms.  She looked up and saw Anath grab for her own throat, eyes wide with shock.  She began gasping for breath as her body slowly lifted off the floor.  “Jaffa!” she managed to croak. 

Another Jaffa held up a small device and pressed a button.  Sam watched Daniel’s body jerk and then stiffen, as though it had received a shock.  Then his eyes rolled back and his body collapsed bonelessly to the stone floor. 

Anath was released and dropped to the ground, landing unsteadily on her feet.  She staggered a few steps and crashed to her knees.  A ripple of unease passed through the Jaffa and servants gathered in the room—they had just seen their ‘God’ attacked by some unknown force.  By the way they looked at Daniel, now unconscious on the floor, Sam was sure they knew where that force had come from. 

It was then she noticed that Jack and Teal’c had both regained consciousness, both staring at the tableau before them. 

“Jaffa, take him back to the lab and return the others to their cells.  We are done—for now.”  Anath climbed to her feet and rubbed her throat before casting a glare at the three teammates. She then turned her attention to her downed First Prime.   “And tend to Kor’ac.  Send him to me when he has recovered.”

“Yes, my Lord.”

Jaffa moved in and grabbed the three teammates, hoisting them none too gently to their feet.  Jack swayed and was kept upright by the Jaffa on either side of him, Sam ignored the fact that she was still exposed and stood tall, and Teal’c held his head up defiantly as the Jaffa grabbed his arms.

As they were herded from the room, Sam’s last glimpse of Daniel was as a Jaffa released his feet from their shackles and hefted him over his shoulder.  She hoped it wouldn’t be the last time she saw him. 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Awareness returned slowly and with it, pain and confusion.  Where was he?   What had happened?  Like a fog lifting with the rising sun, his mind began to clear.

His entire body ached; every nerve ending burning as though it had been shocked.  And then he remembered—it had. 

An image of Sam being attacked by the First Prime flashed in his mind.  He had used his abilities to stop it, and had then turned them on Anath.  Her face took center stage in his mind as he remembered how good it felt to see her gasping and choking.  But then something had stopped him; something stronger than any zat he’d ever felt. 

Where was he now?  What had happened to his friends?  He had kept his secret from them thinking he was protecting them.  A lot of good it had done them. 

He cautiously pried his eyes open and found he was lying on his back, looking up at a familiar gray stone ceiling.  Moving his arms and legs, he discovered he was once again tied down.  Turning his head carefully, ignoring the sharp needles of pain lancing through his skull at the movement, he scanned his surroundings and found he was alone in the room.

Another memory surfaced and he felt a wave of panic as he remembered Anath promising to take him as a host.  But he was still alone in his body—still thinking his own thoughts and able to move his own limbs. 

So she still hadn’t done it.  He had given her what she wanted—proof he had access to the Ancient powers—so why hadn’t she taken him yet?  He was pretty sure it hadn’t been an idle threat.  A Goa’uld with the power of the Ancients would be unstoppable.  That’s why he knew he would have to find a way to stop her first.  The only other option would be for him to die before she could take him as her host.  Not the option he preferred, but one he wouldn’t hesitate to pursue if he had to.

His mind finally free of the haze he had woken up in, Daniel realized that without much effort, he could free himself.  It seemed the more he drew on the powers, the easier they were to use.

He glanced around the bare room, wondering if he was being observed, if they would intervene if he tried.  Freeing himself was only one part of the problem; he would have to free his friends, too, provided they were still alive.  An unfamiliar sensation brushed his mind and, inexplicably, he knew that they were. 

Spirits lifted with the thought his friends were still alive, Daniel decided escaping was worth the risk.  Quieting his mind, he focused on his restraints. 

The door on the opposite side of the room suddenly opened.  Daniel tensed, expecting to see Anath, but instead the dark haired young woman he had seen earlier entered, carrying a tray, accompanied by two Jaffa.  The Jaffa stationed themselves just inside the door while the girl made her way cautiously to Daniel’s side.   He looked into her eyes, finding they were more wary than afraid now.

“I have brought you food and water,” she said, setting the tray down on something out of his field of vision.  The upper part of whatever he was lying on began to rise, stopping before he was sitting completely upright.  Obviously, someone was observing and controlling things.  He wondered how far he would have gotten if he’d freed himself.

The girl held up a piece of purple fruit that looked like some kind of berry.  She moved it to his mouth, waiting for him to take it.  He really didn’t want to sit here and be fed, but he knew it was the only way he would get to eat anything.  He had to admit, he was pretty hungry.  He opened his mouth and allowed her to pop the piece of fruit in.  It was deliciously sweet and tangy at the same time and he savored its cherry-grape flavor.

“That was good,” he said, “Can I have another?” 

She smiled tentatively at him and reached for the tray.  She held up another, larger piece and he opened his mouth again, accepting it eagerly.  The juice gushed in his mouth, a small trickle escaping his lips, dribbling down his chin.  A cloth appeared in her hand and she gently wiped it away.  He smiled at her.  “Thank you.”

Her hesitancy disappeared and her smile broadened. 

“I’m Daniel.  What’s your name?”

“Meryet.”  She offered him a piece of bread and he ate it, watching her closely.  Was she part of Anath’s court, traveling on her hat’ak, or was she a native of this planet, forced into more recent servitude? 

“Where are you from, Meryet?”

Her nervousness reappeared but she answered him, her words barely a whisper.  “This is my home.  Anath and her Jaffa arrived a fortnight ago, conquering the village and enslaving my people.  They took the ancient citadel for their own and forced us to work here.”

“You will cease speaking and finish your task,” one of the Jaffa barked, remaining by the door. 

Meryet visibly paled at the reprimand and dropped her eyes to the floor.  “Forgive me.” 

She reached for the tray again and a cup appeared in front of Daniel. Her eyes flitted to his before looking away.  She pressed the cup to his lips and he drank, all the while wondering what they had done to provoke such fear, not sure he really wanted to know.  He closed his eyes in frustration.  Another free people forced to live under the thumb of a tyrant.  Another reason to stop Anath before she gained even more power. 

He didn’t want to cause trouble for her, but he had to risk one more question.  “Meryet, have you seen my friends?  Are they alive?” he whispered as softly as he could.

She brought her eyes up to meet his again and held his gaze long enough to nod, almost imperceptibly. 

Setting the cup aside, Meryet offered him a piece of meat. 

Meryet had confirmed what he’d felt—his friends were alive, thought he had no idea what shape they were in.  He needed a plan if they were going to get out of this, but he also needed more information. 

As Meryet brought the water cup back to his lips, he risked one more question.  “Do you know what Anath has planned?”

Meryet darted her eyes to the side as though expecting the Jaffa to stop her, but she spoke anyway. 

“Anath is preparing one final trial for you.  That is all I can say.” 

“We are done.”  The Jaffa’s voice made Meryet jump.  “Bring the tray.”  She quickly replaced the cup and picked up the tray, giving Daniel a final sympathetic glance before heading for the door. 

Decision made, Daniel waited for the door to shut to begin his escape.  But as the bolt rammed home, he felt a sting at the base of his skull.  A tingling sensation began spreading outward from that point to every part of his body.  Buzzing filled his head again and his vision began to blur and waver.  He closed his eyes against the disorienting sensation, trying to figure out what was happening. 

Anath.  She had done something to him.  The buzzing intensified and his thoughts scattered like leaves in the wind.  There was something he needed to do—what was it?  Daniel fought to remember.  Escape—yes, that was it.  He needed to get free and . . . and . . . do what?  He was floating now, limbs relaxing, mind at rest, drifting.  There was something . . . something . . . nothing. 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

He was back on the cold stone floor, the annoying straw poking him through his T-Shirt.  But that was a minor irritant compared to the pain the rest of his body was in.  Jack didn’t need to see his body to know he was covered in bruises.  His biggest concern was the burning pain in his side—most likely a busted rib or two.

Their trek through the halls and down the stairs had been shear agony.  Returned to their previous accommodations, they had been chained to the wall again and left alone.

Not wanting to move any more than necessary, Jack lay on the floor and called to his teammates.  “Carter, Teal’c—what’s your situation?”

“I am here, O’Neill.  I have recovered from the effects of the pain stick.”

Having been unconscious at the time, Jack hadn’t seen what had been done to his teammates.  He knew from personal experience just how bad a pain stick could be, and had his doubts about Teal’c’s statement.  But, the big guy sounded strong so he was probably at least on his way to recovery.

One down, one to go.  “Carter?”

“Here, sir.  I, uh, I’m okay—nothing broken.”

Jack didn’t like the hesitancy in her voice and decided he’d better see for himself.  Wrapping an arm around his middle, he used the other to lever himself upright, hissing with the pain as he did. 

Looking into Sam’s cell, he could see she was sitting up, arms wrapped around her knees, head down.  He couldn’t see any injuries, but something definitely wasn’t right. 

“Carter . . . Sam, what did they do to you?”

She met his eyes briefly and looked away, giving Jack a bad feeling.  “The First Prime . . . got a little . . . rough.  I’m okay, though.”

Okay, something was missing from that explanation.  Rough—her choice of words made Jack’s bad feeling hitch up a notch.  “Did he—”

“No!  No, he didn’t.  He . . . he tried.”

Jack let out a breath of relief.  Knowing Carter, the First Prime had come out on the losing end of that match.   She was obviously still shaken up, though.  He needed her to get past it and focus so they could concentrate on getting out of here.  “Good.  So you set him straight?” 

“No, not me.”  She looked at him again; he’d hoped to coax a smile from her, but she was dead serious.  “It was Daniel—he stopped him from . . .   He stopped him.”

So Daniel had used the Ancient power.  If Jack had had any doubts before that Daniel had these abilities, he was sure now.  Unfortunately, Anath would have no doubts, either.  He’d tried to tell Daniel not to show his hand but he should have known his friend wouldn’t be able to stand by and watch while the rest of them were tortured. 

That left two questions:  What would Anath do now that she knew what Daniel was capable of, and why were the three of them still alive?  He was afraid he already knew the answer to the first one.  He didn’t want to think about it.  As to the second question, obviously, Anath had something else planned.  They’d need to discuss their options, but first, he needed to make sure Carter was okay.  He knew she was worried for Daniel, but she also still had her arms wrapped tightly around her chest and Jack noticed for the first time that her T-Shirt was torn. 

“Carter, you hurt?”

“No, sir.  Just a few bruises.”  She noticed him looking at her torn shirt.  “It got ripped in the . . . scuffle.”  She released one arm, but held on to the torn piece, holding it in place.

“Here.”  Jack slowly, carefully began pulling his T-Shirt over his head.  His side screamed at him but he finally managed to get it off.  “Take mine.”

“Sir, I—”

“It’s okay.  You need it more than I do.”

He inched towards her and she did the same.  When they’d both reached the end of their tethers, he tossed it through the bars.  Sam caught it and turned away, pulling what was left of her shirt off and replacing it with his.

Turning back around, Sam took in the bruises blossoming across his chest and back.  “What about you, sir?”

“I’ll live.  Which is more than I can say for that bitch when I get my hands on her.”

A couple of seconds of silence ticked by before Sam spoke in a hushed voice. “Do you think she’s already taken Daniel as a host?”

It was the question he had been avoiding—shoved into a dark corner of his mind.  Something he’d hoped he’d never see happen.  And now, something that probably had happened.  He didn’t think he could stand to look into those brilliant, compassionate, blue eyes and see them flash with the malevolence of a Goa’uld.  But no matter what happened, he wasn’t giving up on his friend. 

“I don’t know, but either way, we’re getting Daniel back.”

“What do you propose?”  Teal’c asked.

“I’m open to ideas.  Either of you got any?”

“Well, we know we can’t break these chains,” Carter pointed out, and Jack was glad to see her brain shifting gears in the face of a challenge.  “But maybe we could get one of the servants to help.  We could get them to bring us a weapon or something to release these manacles.”

“Worth a try—these people can’t be too happy about Anath taking over. Teal’c—what about the Jaffa?  You think any of them might be persuaded to switch sides?”

“They will undoubtedly have heard of the free Jaffa. I may be able to appeal to their own desire for freedom and perhaps convince them to aid us.” 

“Okay, that’s two good possibilities.  We just have to hope that someone comes back and pays us a visit and they don’t just leave us here to rot.”  Privately, Jack didn’t think the snake would be satisfied leaving them alone.  No, she hadn’t finished with them, he was sure. 

“Indeed.”

part 2

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