Part 1

 

Daniel is eight years old.

How do we know this? 

It had nothing to do with the barrage of tests Fraiser conducted in her usual fastidious fashion.  Nor was it the height to weight charts discussed at length and ultimately filed away with other assorted pediatric opinions.

The moment Daniel’s eyes flew open and we saw the dread in his expression, I just knew.  Poor kid couldn’t finish a sentence without his words dissolving into choking cries, and their meaning was unmistakable.

According to the monks on P2R-119, the only planetary designation I will ever willingly remember because one day I’m going to return there and do unimaginable harm to the bastards who did this, Daniel will stay this way until the punishment has cancelled out his crime.

So what was his crime, you ask? 

He read from the temple walls.

Innocuous enough, especially for a man who’s made it his life’s work to decipher the past of long dead civilizations and bring their history to life, yet such a simple act has caused so much grief for all of us.

Daniel was thrilled at the prospect of being allowed to tour the Kaftans most sacred holy temple.   An ancient relic to a long dead religion, the monks had guarded its sanctity for millennia, even when its true purpose had been lost in the annals of time.  From what Daniel understood, and from the threads of his conversation I’d actually remembered, the Kaftan religion as it stood today was a far cry from the bloodthirsty one that existed at a time when our own history could be measured by the number of dinosaurs still roaming the Earth. 

If there had been anyone around to count them.

He’d pressed the monks for more information.  Heck, this is Daniel we’re talking about, he’d literally goaded them for every detail they could remember, sure that at least their oral history would give up some of its secrets.  It wasn’t to be though.  With the eventual demise of the original Kaftan religion and peace flooding their new world, the monks of the time had laboriously scribed every gruesome detail of their brutal history on the temple walls and sealed it with a curse.

Maybe they thought no one would ever try to read those walls.  Maybe the long dead language it was written in precluded anyone from even attempting to break its linguistic code.  Then again, maybe they never thought they’d meet someone like Daniel Jackson either.  Whatever the reason, they had failed to warn us that the temple walls were sacred and the stories it told of weren’t to be spoken aloud.

So off we went.  One over-excited archeologist and our two monk friends. 

I use the term ‘friends’ loosely.

I’m not one for fairy tales, but trust me, this place was picture perfect.  Snow-capped mountains in the background, trees everywhere, and a temple thingie that looked more run down than my neighbor’s old fishing cabin.  All of this smack in the middle of a weed infested clearing.  I got burrs stuck in my burrs. Okay, maybe picture perfect is a stretch, but give me a break, you get my drift, right?

Daniel bounced from foot to foot very much like the proverbial kid in a candy shop while the rest of us tried to see how the monks regarded this crumbling monument to their past as being well cared for.  It was only as we got closer that we realized the temple itself was much father back from the ruins that, Daniel had casually observed, may have been the front face of a pantheon-like structure. 

It was all Roman to me, a point I made abundantly clear to Daniel as we cleared the fallen pillars.  Naturally my archeologist had to slip in to lecture mode and remind me of the comparative architectural styles between varying cultures.  My witty return remark about the distinguishing differences between my cabin in Minnesota and the local Colorado version was met with silence and a slow blink.  I was definitely failing upwards.

The walls of the temple that held the Kaftans only surviving historical records were contained in something much larger than the room the monks had described.  Walking down several carved stone stairs we entered into a chamber lit with strategically placed wall lanterns that threw off enough light to cast eerie shadows on the supporting pillars and walls.  Several halls led off in all directions from the central chamber, and with a restrained sigh I knew Daniel would want to explore every last one of them.

That noted, I naturally hated the place.  Teal’c commented he was reminded of the cartouche rooms found on many Goa’uld planets – which brought a curious stare from Daniel.  Carter flicked out her multi-purpose doo-dad, and doing a quick three-sixty degree circle, declared the place to be power source free and totally boring.  Well, she didn’t quite say that but the faraway look in her eyes when she discovered there was nothing of interest here to satisfy her natural scientific curiosity said it all.

Daniel, however, was in his natural habitat.  Dropping his pack to the ground and shoving his boonie hat into a side pocket, he made a beeline for the nearest wall, running his hand lightly above a section of text. 

“Boustrophedon,” he murmured, head cocked to one side. “An ancient writing method where every second line is read in the opposite direction.”

“Ancient?” I asked out of curiosity. “As in?” 

“Old, Jack.”

“Ah!”

Working his way down the first wall, pausing occasionally to backtrack a line or mumble something unintelligible under his breath, Daniel’s expression ran the gauntlet from surprise all the way through to recognition. 

It was the recognition that was his undoing.

“It’s Uralic… very old Uralic,” he stated, rather matter of factly oblivious of the blank expressions of the rest of his team, namely us.  “I mean its part of the Uralic family of languages from Eastern and Northern Europe. This is… wow… amazing!”

“If you say so, Danny,” I said, clapping a hand on his shoulder but saving my eye rolling for Carter and Teal’c who looked similarly bemused.  “We’re gonna go check the rest of this place out.  Make sure there’s nothing here you can get yourself into trouble with.  You’ll be all right here for a while?”

“Yep,” he mumbled, glasses sliding down his nose and face pressed as close to the wall as he could get without actually touching. “Just me and the walls,” he added, waving his free hand over his shoulder to indicate the rest of the room. 

I had to laugh at this point.  Despite my goading and cries of boredom when we’re on missions like this, I really do enjoy watching him get so caught up in his work that even my blatantly quippy remarks are ignored.  He gets so engrossed in that mystical world of his I may as well save my breath for another time.

With a parting warning not to touch anything he wasn’t not absolutely sure about, we left him to his own devices. 

Not my brightest idea.  Actually, with the brilliance that is hindsight, I know  it wasn’t  my brightest idea, but I honestly didn’t see any threat in a room full of scribbled-on walls and two aging monks who couldn’t fend off a twig in a light breeze. 

That was to be the last time we saw Daniel as an adult. 

What happened next I doubt we’ll ever truly know or understand, and the monks, their faces schooled and body language unreadable, refused to tell us anything. All we can be certain of is that Daniel, obviously caught up in the thrill of discovery, decided to share his find with our hosts and set about reading whole passages from the walls.  None of us could have predicted what would happen next. 

When we returned from giving the rest of the sprawling temple complex the once over, a child, we were told was our team-mate, was lying in the exact same spot where we’d left Daniel.  Carter was the first to act, and kneeling down beside him, declared he was likely only sleeping.  Shrugging off her jacket, she laid it across his chest and tucked it around his shoulder, sparing a moment to card her fingers through his long bangs.

My reaction was a little less subdued and bordered on cold outrage.  To this day I can still feel one of Teal’c’s hands on my arm and the other pushing the barrel of my P-90 down as my attempt to get a straight answer out of the monks had obviously failed.  

Apparently I’d promised to spare their lives as a reward for answers, and when none were forthcoming I’d decided to feed them a lead encased dinner instead.

Thanks, Teal’c.

We were told the punishment would cancel out the crime.  

The curse was real and couldn’t be ignored, the monks added as an afterthought, as though that justified their actions.

Not offering so much as a shrug or even a sympathetic wince, the monks spun on their heels and headed from the temple, their last words still bouncing off the inside of my skull.

“Let those who read be damned to the pain of the past, and the endless cycle of its memory.”

So here we are.  Daniel is eight years old.  How do we know this? 

Because beside his physical appearance, he’s reliving his past: the past in which he watched as his parents died under several tons of rock as the cover stone of some tomb they’d unearthed in Egypt collapsed on top of them.

And this past is tearing him apart bit by bit. 

With a clarity of thought I didn’t know I possessed, the monks’ words broke our hearts in a way none of us would recover from.  The punishment was exacting.  Not only was Daniel now forced to relive what was probably the singular most devastating moment of his life, but they had regressed him to the exact age at which the accident occurred.

Daniel’s eyes half flicker open and his mouth begins to twitch.  Whatever he’s screaming, it’s for his ears only, and all we can see is the torment on his face.

We’ve timed his nightmares now and as sure as clockwork, every four hours, the memory of his parents’ death is played back in his mind in real time, and in all its glory.  I know when the screams will start, and even though I want to run… I can’t.  How can I leave him with this cycle of misery and pain?

This is what it’s like.  His memories are so horrendous he can no longer vocalize them.  He’s lost, and with a pang of recognition, I understand his pain.  I’ve been in dark places where I wondered whose cries I was hearing, only to find they were always mine.  This is where Daniel is, and it will eventually destroy him.  This I know.

So we’ve sat here in the room for three days now, just watching him.  We know when the memory starts.  Daniel stirs, whimpers, and then bolts upright, arms flying out in front of him.  God help me, but I know what he’s trying to do.  Poor kid, in this endless memory he’s forced to relive, he’s trying to save his folks, trying to push the cover stone off them.  Can you imagine what this is like?  A boy, eight years old watching a rock slip and crush his mom and dad? Their screams and the smell of death hanging in the air would be the stuff of anyone’s nightmares. 

Eventually he collapses, tears streaming down his face, and hugging his knees, he rocks slowly.  Back and forth, mouth opening and shutting in silent screams… and it’s all I can do not to scream with him.

Carter knows she needs to be strong for Daniel, crying makes her feel better, but it doesn’t help Daniel.  So there she sits, next to me, her back so straight it could snap.  Her eyes are red-rimmed and she looks shattered, but this is Carter, she knows her duty, and so she lifts her chin and sucks it up.  Still, if she thinks I miss the tears she swipes away, she’s wrong.  Her attempts to comfort Daniel during a memory cycle push him deeper within himself, and with each turn we lose him just a little bit more.  Even Janet’s attempts at sedation have failed.  

Teal’c stands quietly by the door guarding against god knows what.  He’s bereft.  His indomitable spirit has been crushed and there is nothing this warrior can do.  I know he’ll see this through to the end, but I don’t need to tell you who will be taking point if we ever head back to P2R-119.

Daniel is winding up for another cycle now.  His breathing speeds up, eyes dart restlessly under their lids, and his voice breaks into small whimpers.  His body tenses as though he’s having a seizure, his eyes fly open, a hoarse cry is ripped from his throat, and I’m suddenly propelled back to a place that in my mind I tried to bury a long time ago. 

Sara never understood what I’d gone through, and despite the fact that Carter saw combat time flying sorties over the Gulf, I’m pretty sure her tour of duty didn’t include months of psychological and physical torture at the hands of the enemy. Looking at Teal’c, I can see the muscles in his jaw tensing and his gaze harden.  He knows.  As first prime he might not have metered out the interrogations so much as supervised them, a privilege of rank probably, but on his climb to the top he would have been forced to do things in the name of his god that there would be no justification for.

I know what this is like.  There are memories I’ve buried so deep, along with scars that have conveniently healed to the point I’m no longer reminded of how I got them.  Not all those scars are physical.

They don’t want to kill you.  What’s the fun in that? Nope, capture an enemy soldier and you’ll be rewarded, but bag yourself an officer and your family lives well on his blood, and the information he can unwillingly provide, for years to come.  I bet the bastard that scored me was living the high life. 

Everyone is made to be broken.  How you achieve that goes one way or another.  You can beat your prisoner to within an inch of his life and hope the physical pain is more than he can bear, and he reveals himself like a code that’s been cracked, or you can take the other path.

The psychological one. 

Directed stimuli.  Harsh and merciless.  I understand Daniel’s pain more than I want to admit.  I remember the bite of leather straps on my already abused skin matching my throbbing head that was strapped to the spine of a high backed chair so I couldn’t move… no matter the need. 

And then there’s the image of a little girl that will live in my mind forever. 

She must have been all of about three or four.  Dark brown eyes, long hair, and a smiling face, she was almost posing for the camera.  The first few times I was forced to watch her image - or maybe it was the first few days, I can’t remember now – I was confident she had no idea of what was about to happen to her.  I mean she couldn’t willingly have consented to being martyred, but looking back on it now, I’m not so sure.  We’d been warned the enemy liked to use kids as weapons, all in the name of upholding values that were so different from ours, but I’d never witnessed it first hand.

So she waved at the camera, her giggles being fed through an archaic sound system blasting out at me from the four corners of my tiny cell.  Her image was blocked momentarily as a hand waved in front of the camera holding a US military issue grenade… with the pin pulled.  God, I knew what was coming.  Didn’t need the visual to get the idea but the sick bastards running this movie for my entertainment made sure I saw every last damn frame.  Ever had your eyes held forcibly open?  You get the idea. 

The hand moves away from the screen just long enough for me to catch “smiley” blowing me a kiss as the grenade is dropped down the front of her blouse… and seconds later she’s blown four ways to hell, taking everything with her.

You don’t forget those images, especially not the bloody gore that coats the camera lens just moments before it’s destroyed.  And not when you’re forced to watch it over and over again for days on end.  Time loses its meaning, and even when they were generous enough to release me from the chair, the film still played and the speakers still yelled at me.  There’s no respite.  It’s make or break, and you have no idea how much I wanted to break.

Most do.  They go quiet after a while.  The shock of whatever stimuli they’ve been subjected to finally wins and they become compliant, even catatonic.  I got lucky, saw my chance for escape and took it, but the time I spent at the repat hospital opened my eyes up to just how lucky I’d been and how unfortunate others hadn’t.  Most of the soldiers our boys had managed to rescue from the enemy were lifeless husks, beaten beyond recognition and subjected to untold psychological terrors.  Cold lifeless eyes staring out at nothing, lost in their own worlds with little to no hope of ever being reached again.  If I thought what I’d gone through was hell, what the heck had happened to them?

The Geneva Convention held little weight in that war.

So, you tell me, exactly when does the punishment cancel the crime?

 

Part 2

“There are regions of his brain just shutting down.  I’ve never seen anything quite like this.”

No matter how many times I look at the medical monitor, the kaleidoscope of colors that represents an image of Daniel’s brain finds new and ever more boring ways to confuse me.  I can’t focus on this.  The small body in the bed that represents my very big best friend, needs all of my attention, and I simply don’t have time to listen to Janet tell us one more time how very little there is she can do.

I just don’t fucking get it.  I understand Fraiser’s need to be all clinical and detached, she’s got a job to do and hard decisions to make.  I get that, and don’t think I don’t recognize how much more difficult that becomes when the person she’s caring for is a freak of nature, something that by all rights, can’t actually be.  Of all the whacked out stuff we’ve seen through the ‘gate this sits right up there with our minds being transferred into artificial bodies and the whole concept of parasites taking over human hosts to rule the galaxy.  Actually, I take that back, this is way worse than anything we’ve run afoul off.  Sue me, but I didn’t sign up for this crazy crap.

I read somewhere, a long time ago, that in war no one is innocent.  What a laugh! Whoever thought up that crazy notion needs to be tossed through the Stargate ass first.  It’s a war out there, might not always look that way, but the galaxy is just one big battle zone with enemies way smarter than we’ve got the right to be going up against.

So, while the doc is attempting to enlighten us all with her ability to say a lot but convey absolutely nothing, I focus on Daniel’s face.  He’s quiet at the moment, but beneath that peaceful exterior is a mind in turmoil.  I’d thank who ever is watching over him for these moments of small mercies, but that type of thinking tends to bite me in the ass when the monks’ little mind game starts up again and the kid is thrown back into his living nightmare.

My butt is numb from sitting in this chair for so long, but it’s a small sacrifice in the scheme of things.  Daniel is sound asleep, turned on his side facing me with his hand curled inside mine.  At times I can feel his soft puffs of breath tickling the hairs on the back of my hand.  It’s taken a few days for Daniel to allow us into his world and share some measure of physical contact.  No-one blames him.  Why would we?  He doesn’t know who we are. His mind is stuck in an endless loop of his parents’ death, and I mean the exact moment of their death. Poor little bastard, it’s a horror story, one I’m thankful we don’t figure in.  

“He’s dying.”

What? 

As fast as my mind registered Janet’s words I shut myself off from Daniel-watching and tune back in. “What do you mean dying?”

“I’m sorry, sir.  His mind simply can’t withstand the strain of reliving such an intense memory over and over and it’s shutting itself down.”

After Daniel’s last cycle she called for a sedative and an MRI, in that order, and I figured she wanted to know what was going on as much as me.  Janet is no slouch, she knows just as much about cruel and unusual punishment as the next seasoned military doctor, and I was pretty sure she’d read the signs. 

Secretly I was holding out hope for option B – the one that says those freaking monks built in this punishment with some sort of biological clock that counted itself down with every cycle.  I mean was it too much to hope for that there was an end in sight to this?  Who the hell would hand out a punishment in such cryptic terms if there wasn’t a way to end it?

Now she was telling us he’s dying?  What became of options A and B?  What happened to the punishment cancelling out the crime?  If they wanted him dead why go through with such a barbaric sentence.  Was it all for our benefit?  Sure as hell wasn’t for his.

“But that-” I splutter, lost for words and finding myself floundering in the absurdity of it all.  Thankfully Carter caught onto my line of thought and graciously took up the baton. “That doesn’t make any sense, Janet.” Ya think?

Janet let out a soft “huh” cocked her head towards the monitor and whispered, “You’re all assuming it did from the start.  I can’t begin to understand what type of biology or technology is at work here that could even achieve the type of physical regression we’ve seen.  The psychological component of this is well beyond anything Mental Health has ever dealt with.” Janet lifted her gaze from the monitor to meet each of ours in turn before settling on Daniel and adding, “Which is the primary reason they haven’t been involved.”

Scrubbing my hand across my face, I mutter “small mercies” under my breath and pointedly ignore the stares I can feel generated in my direction.  Apparently my fondness towards the good doctor at Mental Health is no secret.  No need to guess why.

“Is there nothing we can do, Doctor Fraiser?”  Teal’c, ever the optimist, has finally bitten into the conversation.  He’s normally a pretty quiet guy, only offering up comment when he has something of relevance to add, and only when he feels it might be useful.  Blood out of a stone is a saying I’ve heard attributed to him on more than one occasion.  Guess you have to know the guy like we do… and I know this has thrown him for a six.

“I don’t know what to suggest really,” Janet adds, her mouth downturned in a sad smile.  “There’s just so much going on here that we don’t understand.”

“We’re taking him back, now.” I hadn’t intended to say that, but by God, when the words slipped out I meant every damn one.  “We take him back and get them to undo whatever it is they’ve done.”

Janet throws me a wide-eyed and very disapproving look.  “I don’t think that’s wise, sir.”

Daniel is starting to stir in his sleep.  His fingers, held so loosely in my hand, are starting to twitch and I take note of the time on the wall.  “Look, you’ve already admitted you don’t know what to do, and there’s no way in hell I’m going to believe the bastards that did this don’t know how to fix it, so I say we take him back.  And we do it right away.”

“Sir, we can’t be sure-”

“Carter, so help me, unless you’ve got a solution we haven’t thought of, I don’t want to hear it.”  Carter’s mouth hangs open for a moment before she snaps it shut and straightens her shoulders.  She knows the score.  My mind’s made up and there’s no changing it.  Teal’c gets the message loud and clear.  Head tilted towards Daniel, he’s asking for my unspoken permission to pick him up and get the hell outta Dodge. 

“One hour, Colonel.  That’s how long you’ve got till the next cycle starts.  You can’t possibly make it back through the gate and back to the temple in that time.  Let him ride the next one out and I’ll sedate him for the trip.”

“Nope, not this time, Doc.  Give him a sedative, help him out, yes, but we’re leaving now.  No way is he going to endure this any longer.  One way or another, this is going to end.”  Brave words… and I mean every last one of them.

 

Part 3

Teal’c argued for a night-time arrival, I wanted day, while Carter did her bit by figuring out the planetary time difference between P2R-119 and Earth.  Saying I won is a bit childish but my team got the idea I wasn’t in the mood to be stood over or talked down to at this point.  Wise move on their part.  Keep your opinions to yourselves and your eyes on the job – that was all I wanted, and grateful for not having my orders turning into a dark briefing room moment, that was all I got. 

My point was simple.  No way in hell did I want those bastards on ‘119 to know we were coming.  Hell, if I had a ship at my disposal I would have taken the long way there, but Daniel doesn’t have time, and we don’t have the resources.  A night-time arrival meant the glow of the ‘gate lighting up the landscape – a bigger nightlight you couldn’t find.  Point made, orders received with a chorus of “sir”, and the combined teams of SG-1, SG-2, and Fraiser and her medic, hit the gear-up room.

Not once did I ever think this was going to be easy, and a huge part of me was secretly itching for a fight, an excuse to put the plan I’d been carefully mulling over in my mind into action.  I had to hold back though, rein in my impulses and look at what this mission was all about.  Getting help for Daniel was top of my list… revenge had to take a backseat.

Funny thing about backseats though – they always see a lot of action. 

At least something is working our way.  We exit the ‘gate on ‘119 to a clear skies and not a soul in sight.  Pretty much what happened last time.  There are two paths leading off in opposite directions from the Stargate.  The first leads directly to the enclave of the monks, which rests above a shanty village that we never got to visit.  The second, as we found out much later, leads to the temple where Daniel read the walls and started this whole squirrelly adventure.  At the very least it would provide us with a quicker route back to the ‘gate.

“We clear?”  I say to Feretti, as the last of our team members clears the ‘gate and starts to fan out.  Lou gives me a wry smile and shields his eyes with his hands, casting his gaze down the path that leads to the temple.

“As a bell,” he replies dryly, with a small nod and a pat to his bulging vest pocket.  He’s a good man to take into the field, is Feretti.  Our conversation is over in a few words and yet we say so much.  The look he gives me as he gathers his team with a jut of his chin and a few wordless hand movements, says it all.  He’s just as devastated about Daniel as the rest of us.  The bond between these two men stretches all the way back to our first mission to Abydos, when Lou was a cocky Lieutenant and Daniel a wheezing, sneezing geek, two more unlikely friends I’ve never seen.  Well, not counting myself and Daniel.

Speaking of Daniel.

We brought him through the ‘gate safely cradled in Teal’c’s arms.  It probably wasn’t the best means of travel but it was certainly going to be the safest if we ran in to trouble on the other side.  No sooner had we exited and found the vicinity of the ‘gate to be clear, than Janet and her medic had ushered Teal’c off to one side of the dais and set Daniel down on top of a sleeping bag.  My heart lurched at the sight and it took a few calming breaths to bring it under control.  He hadn’t so much as moved or cried in hours, and I could tell from Janet’s pinched expression that his prognosis was growing dimmer by the moment.

“Carter,” I hiss, catching her moving on the edge of my vision.

Tilting her head in my direction, her attention firmly set on her small patrol area, she whispers back, “Sir?”

“How much C4 are you carrying?”

“Standard supply, sir, why?”

Ripping open a Velcro pocket on my vest I pull out two blocks and toss them at her.  “Take these and catch up to SG-2.  Feretti will fill you in on the details.”

I catch her look as it morphs from surprise to confusion.  “You, ah, don’t need me to…?” she asks, nodding in Daniel’s direction.

“No, Carter.”  I can’t explain to her my sudden change of heart, my reason for wanting her with Feretti and his team.  I trust her implicitly, with my life, but so much has gone wrong, so much has been lost, and I don’t want her anywhere near these bastards when we confront them. Bad enough I have to take Daniel and Fraiser. Nope, the less I have to worry about, the better. “Get going.” 

I ignore her pained wince because I know she’s a good soldier and no way in hell would she let her emotions become the drive behind making piss poor judgements.  Lips pursed, she acknowledges my order with the barest of nods and tucks the extra blocks of C4 in the pocket of her vest.

Watching her trot down the path after SG-2, I let out a long-held breath as she fades into the undergrowth, the tight knot of fear and apprehension in my chest loosening just a fraction.

I know time is a wasting here.  One hour we had when the decision to return was made, and we used up at least twenty minutes just getting our asses kitted up and through the gate. 

I turn my attention back to Janet, who’s tucking her stethoscope back in her pack and shaking her head slowly, looking for all the world like she’s lost her best friend. Which isn’t far from the truth.

“Doc?” 

“I just don’t know, sir,” she says, carding her fingers through Daniel’s hair and pushing it back off his face. “He’s not responding to stimuli anymore and my efforts to stabilize his temperature and heart rate aren’t working.  His body is shutting down.”  The hopelessness in her eyes matches the tone of her voice. It’s time to end this one way or another.

~oOo~

“You have returned.”

Get outta here!  I’m standing so close to this guy I can feel his hot breath on my face and he goes and does that whole state the obvious gig.  Man is a fool, first class.

“We have some unfinished business.” Squaring my shoulders, I push my face in even closer so he’s left in no doubt as to my sincerity. “You,” I add, firmly pressing a finger into his chest, and not giving a damn whether he likes it or not, “are going to undo whatever it was you did to my team mate, and you’re going to do it now.”

Unblinking, he casually slides his gaze from my face to my finger and pushes my hand away.  “I will do no such thing.  Your friend sealed his fate when he read from the forbidden walls.”

Ding dong, wrong answer.  Here I was worried about Carter’s emotions versus piss poor judgment and I’m barely holding on by a thread.  “See, there, right there is the problem.  Did you think to tell him it was forbidden before you let him in?  Daniel told you he was a linguist, you knew that from the start, and yet it didn’t cross your mind to tell him there was some penalty for being brighter than the average Joe?”

“Ignorance is not an excuse,” he declares calmly, head cocked to one side, meeting my steady gaze. 

“What?”  I take a deep breath, willing my heart to slow down.  “Of all the lame-ass comments I’ve ever….  He’s dying, you bastard, dying!  Is that part of the punishment?  Because if it is, I have to say, why didn’t ya kill him in the first place?” 

“You must be mistaken, we-”

The grip I have on my P-90 is starting to slip from my sweaty palms as I straighten my shoulders once more in an attempt to tower over this idiot.  “You what?  You don’t have a fucking clue what you’ve done, do you!”  I thumb my radio, my gaze never leaving this guy’s face.  “Teal’c!”

“O’Neill.”

“Bring him in.”

Janet, the medic, and Teal’c make their way into the monastery with Daniel once again held firmly in Teal’c’s arms.  Trailing a thundercloud, Teal’c’s jaw is set and his eyes so intently focused on the monk I’m expecting to see a hole in the guy’s forehead.  Would save me the chore of boring one there myself, but not the intense pleasure.

This guy is all class.  Without so much as a blink in response to what I can only describe as a Jaffa death stare, he shuffles forward, his face schooled, and sweeps his gaze over Janet and her medic, before settling on Daniel. 

Not a word.  He barely gives him a second look before gathering in the sides of his robes and spinning back towards me.  “I do not understand your concern.” 

You have got to be kidding me!

“I’m sorry.”  Janet’s steady and calming voice drives a wedge between the monk and my next intention, which was so not going to be sanctioned.  “You should be addressing your comments to me.  I am Doctor Jackson’s physician.”

Still holding my gaze, the monk’s nose wrinkles into a sneer, and I wonder if his reaction is to our presence or Janet’s in particular.  I don’t recall any uneasiness towards Carter from either of the monks last time we were here, but then their attention was mostly focused on Daniel. 

Lips pursed, head turned to the side but not far enough to actually make contact with Janet, the monk nods once and closes his eyes.  “When the punishment has cancelled the crime, your friend will be restored.  I have told you this, and it will be.”

“Goddamn it!”  My P-90 swings freely on its vest clip and I’ve got this guy by the shoulders because I’m so far over his fucking riddles I can’t see daylight. “We can do this the hard way or my way.  Take your pick!”

With cold compassion bleeding from every pore, the monk looks me up and down in a measuring manner, his eyes almost gloating in victory.  Like Hell! This is one fight I’m up for, and I’ll suffer the consequences gladly.

“I will not waiver in my belief, Colonel. Your threats are idle, and my resolve is strong.”

“Right,” I sneer, releasing one shoulder and slapping my vest.  “I wonder how far that resolve of yours extends.  Let’s test it out, huh?” With a twitch of a smile and an equally deadpan expression, I thumb the button on my radio.  “Carter?”

“Sir.”

“Fire in the hole.”

Scant seconds later, the monastery rattles from the concussive blast of a single block of C4 going about its explosive business less than fifty feet away.  Windows rattle, the floor heaves ever so slightly as it shifts above the shock wave, and I’m expecting the monk to leap out of his skin and crash to his knees wailing forgiveness. 

Seems he’s made it his lot in life to piss me off with his poker-faced expression.

“Impressive,” he offers coolly, voice overlaid with sarcasm.  “Do you often use such measures to get your way, Colonel?  Or was that something new for my enjoyment?”

Sonofabitch! “Carter!”

“Yes, sir.”

“Round two.”

Moments later another explosion rocks the building, but nothing like the last blast.  I’m waiting for the monk’s snide comment and he doesn’t disappoint me.

“Not nearly as impressive as your first attempt.”

“It’s further away.”

“Really?”

“Yep.” I release his shoulders and rock back on my heels, holding back a self-satisfied smile that’s just itching to break out.  This guy isn’t buying a clue and that works to my advantage.  “Want another one?”

His stare is cold and even.  Doesn’t even flinch, and in a battle of wits, this guy is one tough competitor.

This time I don’t even bother calling Carter.  Thumbing my radio on then off I stand back and wait.  Seconds later a third blast grumbles its way to our ears with barely enough force to be noticeable.

“I can keep doing this all day, ‘ya know.  No bother for me.  Doesn’t help Daniel, of course, but then you don’t seem to care about that now, do you?”

“As I have said-”

Climbing back into his face, I match his cold gaze.  “I know what you’ve said but now, see, here’s the clincher.  I’m wondering just how much you and your pals really like that nice temple you’ve got yourselves.  You know the one – lotsa’ nicely decorated walls with tempting words that will get the reader in a whole load of hurt.  Remember that place?  I hope you do because every blast the good major trips, is one blast closer to bringing that place to the ground.  Kapeesh?”

“Colonel!”

I really wanted to finish this nice little repartee I’ve got going with the guy, but Daniel, whose timing is a matter of SGC legend, decides the fun and games are over and starts seizing in Teal’c’s arms.

“Put him down!” Janet orders, dropping her pack to the ground and rummaging through its contents.  “Damn! Roll him onto his side. Hold him, Jerry.”

The scene playing out before us is one we were all hoping to avoid.  Fraiser had done her best to brief us all on what was happening to Daniel, and the myriad of scenarios that could play out.  She’d voiced her opinion loudly on our decision to take him off-world, despite admitting she didn’t have the ability to save him.  One hour she’d said when the decision was made, and wincing at her words, I take another hesitant look at my watch.  This time there is no holding back a disappointed groan when I realize this seizure is perfectly timed with his next cycle. 

“Phenobarbital in! Jerry, roll him and grab me a survival blanket.  Teal’c, watch his legs.”

The monk looks on with morbid fascination as Janet and her medic struggle to stabilize Daniel.  Drugs are infused with practiced skill as his body jerks and shakes in the throes of a seemingly never-ending seizure.  I try not to watch, it’s not something I ever want to see, but I at least owe Daniel the dignity of seeing this through to the end.  After all we’ve been through these last few days you’d think I wouldn’t be affected by this… but I’m torn.  A part of me wants to help, while the other part of me wants to slam the monk up against the wall and rip out his…

“What is this?”

Ever been so pissed off you could snap a man’s neck and actually know you wouldn’t regret it? 

Damn the questions, damn the consequences? 

I clench my hands into fists in an effort to put them to some other use besides smacking the crap outta this guy, and, moving in quietly behind him, I make sure he can feel my breath against his ear.  “Take a good look at your own handiwork, ass-hole.”  He flinches at my unexpected closeness, and I grab his arm to stop him pulling away. “Your punishment has just exceeded the crime.  Every four hours right?  You decided every four hours he would relive his most horrific experience.  Well, congratulations, you got that part right.   Only this little parlour trick of yours forgot when to stop, and now it’s killing him.”

I can feel the slightest of trembles under my touch, which only makes me harden my grip.  No way is he getting out of this.

Janet rocks on her haunches and scrubs a hand across her weary face.  I feel her tiredness.  Dark rings circle her eyes, her mouth is held tight and grim.  We’re all trapped in this nightmare together but Janet has the added personal pain of desperation and failure.  One hand resting on Daniel’s shoulder, her lips twitch with the barest of smiles, and I can see the shudders wracking his body starting to abate.

“Good boy,” she mutters under her breath, as she lays a soothing hand on his cheek. 

“Doc?”

Janet meets my concerned look with one of her own and shrugs.  “His body can’t withstand another cycle, sir.  We’re already seeing the results of multiple organ shutdown – renal failure and hypotension. I could go on.”

I would prefer it if you didn’t, Doc.

“I do not understand.” 

Well, that has to be an understatement.  The monk has been standing there watching this play out with such dark interest that I was sure he’d seen it all before. Snapped back to reality, my hand still tightly gripping his arm, I spin him to face me, and shoot back, “He’s dying!  Not clear enough for you?”

Shaking his head slowly, the monk lowers his chin to his chest and sighs audibly.  “It was not our intent.  We are merely those who protect the temple and its sacred words.  This duty has been handed down over time and none but our own, save your friend here, have ever broken the code.  Those who have succeeded suffered the punishment and recovered from their ordeal.”

“See,”  I find myself still hanging on to this guy but doing one of Daniel’s little patent dances on the spot, my frustration coming close to overshadowing my judgment, “I don’t get it.  Why even let anyone read your damn walls if all you’re going to do is punish them for getting it right?”

“It is all in the learning.”

“Crap!” I push this guy away with as much force as I can safely control and pick up my P-90, abandoned on its clip.  Testing the weight of it in my hands, I grumble my displeasure at the absurdity of his words through clenched teeth.  “Fix it!”

“I-”

“You fix it or I’ll have Carter make short work of this monastery and your precious temple.  With you and your buddies in it.”

“You wouldn’t!”

He doesn’t know me from squat.  No lack of excuses here and hang the repercussions.  “You wanna test that theory?”  I slap a hand to my radio.  “Carter!”

Yes, sir.”

“No!”  He holds his hands up in defeat, eyes wide and pleading.  “If I fix this you have to promise me one thing.”

Kidding, right? Do I look like a one-man trade delegation? “What?”

“That you will speak of this to no-one and you will leave this world and never return.”

I’ve got one hand raised in the air, finger crooked, and about to go off slightly more than half-cocked at this guy about why the hell we should keep our mouths shut, when Janet puts paid to my would-have-been rant.

“No time!” she shouts, her hand pressed firmly against the pulse point on Daniel’s neck.  “Jerry, defib!”  Pulling scissors from her vest she makes short work of his over-sized t-shirt, pushing the tattered remains aside, and leaving his chest bare. “If you’re going to do something, I suggest doing it now. He’s in full arrest!”

I’m not sure which of us moved first.  I had fully intended on grabbing this guy and dragging his worthless carcass over to my dying team mate and shoving the point of my P-90 where the sun don’t shine.  I’ll give him this much credit though… he moved a lot quicker than I did.  Not sure if it was the shock of Janet’s words or the urgency with which they were delivered, but when I finally took stock of myself, the monk was already standing over him.

“You must away,” he said, with a flick of his wrist. 

Janet was caught mid-action, the defibrillator paddles poised directly above Daniel’s chest as she looked to me for guidance, brows furrowed with indecision.  I could only nod and watch as she sat back on her bottom and inched herself away, her wavering hesitation slowing her retreat. 

The monk stood over Daniel’s prone form and clapped his hands together, holding them there.  Pulling them apart achingly slowly, blue tendrils of electricity seemed to flow between his palms, twisting and weaving about each other until they formed into an incandescent ball of energy.  Forcing his palms outwards, towards Daniel, the monk stepped back and let his hands fall to his side.  The ball seemed to grow, pulsing in intensity as it drifted away from the monk and hovered in the air. 

The air around Daniel started to distort, and as though this was a cue to move, I caught Janet and her medic rising to their feet and backing away slowly.  Drifting lazily now, the ball settled above Daniel’s un-moving chest, and with a brilliant pulse, encased him entirely in a wash of blinding blue light. 

The air was electrified.  Every inch of my skin felt like it was being kissed by static discharge and the hairs on my arms and chest were standing on end.  The feeling was as intense as it was captivating.  With a momentary pang of guilt, I realized Carter would have been dead impressed

As fast as the energy had enveloped Daniel, it dissipated, gathering itself back in to its ball form and collapsing into nothing.  Shaking away my relief at no longing feeling like I was crawling out of my skin, I push my way past the monk in my haste to get to Daniel. 

“Yes!” Whole, and very much his adult self, I hold off dropping to my knees to check him out for myself, in favor of letting Janet take care of her business.  She gives the monk a very curious but intense stare as she once again goes for the pulse point on Daniel’s neck and smiles her relief. 

“Not the best pulse you’ve ever had, Doctor Jackson, but we’re not going for looks here.”

I want to whoop, but we’ve got unfinished business, and I can see from the relieved but concerned look on Janet’s face that Daniel still has issues.

“We need to get him back to the infirmary, sir.”

I got that, Doc, but thanks.  “Teal’c?”

“I have a stretcher outside, O’Neill.”

“J’ak?”  The voice is weak and rough but recognizably Daniel, and pushing my immediate concerns away for the moment, I squat down by his side.

“Here, buddy.”

He’s trying to open his eyes, but looking like his eyelids must weigh a ton, and the effort is just too great, they stay firmly closed.  Heck, I’m amazed he’s even conscious, and if the surprised expression on Fraiser’s face is any indication, so is she. 

Face pinched in pain, Daniel groans softly and coughs, “No more.”

There aren’t too many times Daniel and I truly understand what each other is trying to say without going into a lengthy conversation, but this is one of them.  The effort of those few words is too much and the loll of his head to one side tells me he’s unconscious, probably the best thing for him at the moment.  I leave him to Fraiser and Teal’c, safe in the knowledge that by the time I’m finished here they’ll have him on his way back to the ‘gate, and home.

“You must leave now.”

No way had I forgotten about Mr. Happy.  If he thinks saving Daniel’s life was going to earn him some moral credit in my books then he was sadly mistaken.  His brief moment of messing with Mother Nature over, and he’s back to barbing me with recriminating looks aimed at getting us the hell off his planet.  For some absurd reason a picture of Ba’al’s mother ship hovering over the monastery pops into my mind and I wonder if these people have ever gone up against the Goa’uld.  They’d be mighty interested in this guy’s fancy light show, not to mention the potential for new hosts. 

Looking down at Daniel being readied for transport, I can already hear his moans of morality if he learned I’d turned this world over to the Goa’uld out of spite.  Sue me, but right now, I really don’t give a damn.

~oOo~

We’ve been left alone, a good thing really as I didn’t want an escort back to the ‘gate, nor another excuse to throw the monk into the wash of the wormhole as it forms.  I called ahead once we’d cleared the monastery and had SG-2 and Carter meet us, allaying her fears about Daniel the moment she answered my hail.  Didn’t take a genius to know her mind had been working overtime playing out worst case scenarios and scaring herself witless.  Not that she’d ever admit to it though.

They’re waiting for us when we arrive, and I force a smile when I notice the ‘gate is already active and waiting for Air O’Neill to depart.  Good girl, always thinking on her feet; she’ll make a fine team leader one day.

“Carter.”

“Sir?”  She looks up at me from her position next to Daniel’s stretcher where she’s resting her hand on his neck – no doubt verifying that the tales we’ve told her of his miraculous upsizing have been proven true.  Like I’d lie to her!

Holding her back as SG-2 and Janet step through to home with their precious cargo, I wait till the last person has disappeared into the wormhole.  “Remote detonator,” I request flatly but with a waggle of my fingers.

“Sir, you-”

“Carter, hand it over.”

Holding my gaze for the briefest of moments, she pulls open a pocket on her vest and pulls out the remote detonator, eyeing it suspiciously before handing it over.

Testing its weight in my hand, I cocked my head towards the active ‘gate.  “Now, off you go, I’ll be right behind you.”

Thankfully, I don’t need to ask twice. Carter nods once, turns, and I follow her up to the base of the gate and watch as she passes through.  I’ll be right behind her, she knows this, but I’ve got a bit of unfinished work to take care of first, and I don’t need a witness.

Flicking the safety, I tease the detonator switch with my thumb and look out in the general direction of the temple.

“No more, Daniel.”

The End

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