Hard Choices

Jack leaned heavily against the wall, his adrenaline still pumping.  He couldn’t get out of the gateroom fast enough; away from Daniel; away from the damn robot; away from Daniel’s tears.

Damn it, I didn’t have a choice, Daniel.

His radio crackled as progress reports came in from all sections of the facility, verifying the destruction of the Replicators.  From the sounds of it, the demise of the robot resulted in their simultaneous demise.  They were now as harmless as pieces of Lego. Even so, Jack had given orders to incinerate the lot of them.  He wanted to include the robot, but Hammond ordered otherwise.  It would be put in storage until the Asgard could be contacted.  Reece, his mind reminded him.  No, he couldn’t think of her, of it, as a creature with a name, as the young girl Daniel saw even after she hurled him into a wall and damn near broke his skull.  Jack could still see the look of shock on Daniel’s face when he blasted through the door.  Goddamnit, Daniel.  What the hell did you expect me to do?

Jack pushed himself away from the wall when he heard the familiar clatter of a gurney’s wheels.  He had put through a call for medical aid to the gateroom.  In spite of the emotionally charged moment, or that he was a ‘stupid son-of-a-bitch’, Jack had clearly seen Daniel was injured.

Jack held up his hand, halting the medical team.

“Doctor Jackson can walk to the infirmary.  I want the robot put on the stretcher,” he ordered.

The two attendants, Conroy and Parker, looked at one another quizzically.

“Sir?”  Conroy queried.

“And cover it…her with a blanket,” Jack added, fixing the two men with a hard look.

“Yes, sir.”

Jack stepped aside to let them pass.  He watched them round the corner.

“I am sorry, Daniel,” he whispered.

                                    ***************

Daniel didn’t look up as he heard the approach of the gurney.  He was still seated on the floor, his good hand resting on Reece’s arm.

“I don’t need that,” Daniel said wearily.

“It’s not for you, sir,” Conroy replied respectfully.  “It’s for, uh, her.”

Daniel glanced up in surprise.

“Let me look at your wrist, first,” Parker said, stooping down to gently take Daniel’s arm.

Daniel winced and sucked in a breath as Parker expertly probed his wrist.

“You’ve definitely broken something there, Dr. Jackson.  I’ll apply a temporary splint to make you more comfortable.  It won’t take a minute.”

“Thank you,” Daniel said quietly, returning his gaze to Reece.

“There, that should help,” Parker said.  “Let’s get you on your feet and see how you are.  The colonel says you’re okay to walk to the infirmary, but broken bones can take a lot out of you,” he said amiably as he assisted Daniel to his feet.

“The colonel?”  Daniel said absently.

“Yes, sir.  Colonel O’Neill.”

Daniel shook his head.  How the hell do you know how I am, Jack?  You didn’t even ask you son-of-a—

“It was Colonel O’Neill who told us to put her on the stretcher,” Conroy explained, nodding to the robot, “and to cover her up.”

“Jack told you to do that?”  Daniel asked, studying the other man intently.

“Just a couple of minutes ago.  I thought it was a bit odd for a robot, but, damn, looking at her…” he said, shaking his head.

Daniel closed his eyes.  Shit, Jack.

“Are you feeling okay, Dr. Jackson?”  Conroy asked.

“Yes, I’m fine, thank you.  You should take her out of here,” he said quietly, looking at Reece.

Daniel watched the attendants lift Reece’s lifeless body off the floor and place her on the stretcher.  Their actions were quick and professional, and Daniel felt his eyes sting and his chest hurt as they gently covered her body.  He knew they were watching him and probably chuckling inside at the pathetic civilian crying over a machine.

“I’m sorry it ended this way, Dr. Jackson,” Parker said solemnly.  “Doctor Frasier told us how hard you tried.”

Daniel closed his eyes and squeezed the bridge of his nose, effectively halting the tears.  Damn it, I’m misreading everyone today.


Thank you,” Daniel whispered.  He opened his eyes and looked at Parker.  “Ed, isn’t it, and Max?” he added, looking at Conroy.

“Nailed it in one,” Conroy beamed, grinning at his partner.

Daniel smiled in return, surprised but heartened that he could still smile.

“Well, if you’re ready to go, Max can take her to the morgue, and you and I will take a slow pace to the infirmary,” Parker suggested.

“Okay, Ed,” Daniel replied, anxious for a change of scenery even if it was the infirmary.

                                    ***********************

The sweep of the base took longer than Jack thought, or maybe he was taking longer to do the job so he wouldn’t have to think about Daniel.

Fat chance, he thought grimly.  He hadn’t been able to get Daniel out of his mind for more than a few minutes at a time.  He’d had a hunch this whole robot thing was going to go down the toilet the minute he realized Daniel had feelings for the machine.  He’d got that look in his eyes and nothing was going to stop him. 

“Nothing except shooting his friend dead right in front of his eyes,” Jack muttered darkly.  “Crap.”  He shouldn’t have been surprised by Daniel’s tears, but he had been.  That and his words, ‘you stupid son-of-a-bitch’.  That had hurt…a lot.

Damn it, Daniel.  Do you think I shot her because I had a choice?  There was no goddamn choice, and I’m sorry as hell I hurt you, but I made the right call.

“O’Neill.”

Jack fingered his radio.  “Yeah, Teal’c.  What have you got?” he asked, rubbing the back of his neck wearily.

“The base is secure.  All the Replicators have been found.”

“Good.  Burn every damn one of them,” Jack ordered.

“Very well.  How is Daniel Jackson?”  Teal’c asked.

“He’s been better, Teal’c,” Jack replied.

“Daniel Jackson is strong, O’Neill,” Teal’c affirmed,

“Yeah,” Jack said quietly, clicking off his radio.  “Okay,” he sighed.  “Hammond first and then Daniel.”

                                    ************************

Jack entered the infirmary and quickly scanned the occupied beds.  No Daniel.  That’s good.  Nothing serious.

“Colonel O’Neill.”

“Hey, Doc,” Jack said, turning to see Doctor Janet Fraiser come out of her office.

“If you’re looking for Dr. Jackson, he’s in his quarters, or at least he should be,” she amended with a knowing frown.

“He’s okay?”  Jack asked.

“Not exactly, Colonel.  His wrist was broken in two places.  Fortunately, the factures were clean, and I’ve pinned them together.  He’ll be off-duty for a few days, but definitely no gate travel for at least three weeks,” she explained.  “I wanted him to stay in the infirmary for the night, but you know Daniel,” she smiled.

“Yeah,” Jack smiled.  Sometimes I wonder though.

“Anyhow, we compromised.  He said he’d go to his quarters and rest,” Janet said.

Jack saw the dubious look on her face, and he nodded.

“I’ll check on him, Doc.”

“I’d appreciate that, Colonel.  Thank you.”

Jack plunged his hands into his pockets and tried to look nonchalant.

“So, uh, other than the broken wrist and the earlier head thing, how is he?”  Jack asked.

“He’s hurting,” Janet replied bluntly.  “I believe he was quite fond of Reece.”

“She threw him into the wall and broke his wrist, for crying out loud.  He’s lucky she didn’t break his goddamn neck,” Jack said gruffly.

“Yes, she hadn’t had time to develop the restraint you have, Colonel O’Neill,” Janet replied icily.

Jack’s back stiffened at her remark.  For a small woman, she packed a heavy punch.  Jack hadn’t missed ‘the look’ she had flashed him earlier when he’d told Daniel he didn’t like most of what he said, but he managed to restrain from throwing him into walls. The thing of it was, Jack didn’t know why he said that and with such venom.  It had just come out, and he didn’t stop to analyze it, nor did he want to now.

“Touché,” Jack mumbled then turned and left the infirmary.

                                    ************

Jack stood outside Daniel’s door, weighing his options.  Something was wrong between them.  He could either try to fix it, or ignore it and hope it would just go away and things would go back to normal, whatever the hell normal was.  Some option, he though grimly.

Closing his eyes, Jack rapped firmly on the door.  He leaned in to listen for any movement.  He rapped again and called out.

“Daniel?”

“I’m not in there.”

“Jesus!”  Jack snapped, startled by the voice behind him.  He turned around to see Daniel standing there with a pile of books balanced in his good hand.

“You’re supposed to be resting,” Jack said, scowling at the books.

“Reading is restful,” Daniel replied, shrugging past Jack.

Jack watched Daniel juggle the books awkwardly while he tried to grasp the doorknob.

“Here, let me do that,” Jack said, reaching past Daniel to open the door.

“Thanks,” Daniel murmured in a barely audible voice as he swept by Jack.

Okay, this is going to be fun, Jack thought as he followed Daniel inside.

Daniel deposited his books on the bed and began sorting through them, his back to Jack.

Jack sighed inwardly and rolled his eyes.  Oh, yeah, great fun.  He cleared his throat.

Daniel stiffened but did not turn around.  God, Jack.  Please go away.  Now is not the time.  It’ll only make things worse.

“Is there something you want?”  Daniel asked, his voice stiff and unfriendly.

“I’d like you to turn around,” Jack replied, trying very hard not to get angry.

“Fine,” Daniel said, straightening his back and turning around.

“How’s your wrist?”  Jack asked, nodding towards the cast.

“It’s broken,” Daniel replied.

“I know that,” Jack grumbled.  “What I mean is, how does it feel?  Does it hurt?”

“I have stitches and pins.  What do you think?”  Daniel responded.

Jack stared at the sullen blue eyes and nodded.  There was obviously no point in trying to initiate any semblance of an amiable conversation.

“Yeah,” he murmured and turned to leave.

Daniel saw Jack’s shoulders visibly sag, and the guilt hit him square in the gut.

“Jack,” he called.

Jack stopped at the door and turned around.

“You did what you had to do,” Daniel said quietly.  “I know that.”

But, Jack thought.  There’s a big fucking ‘but’ there.

Daniel didn’t elucidate further, and Jack merely nodded and walked out, closing the door behind him.

Daniel looked thoughtfully at the door.  He closed his eyes and dropped his chin to his chest.

One week later

“Your wrist is healing nicely, Daniel,” Dr. Fraiser informed him cheerily.

“That’s good,” Daniel murmured absently, staring at his bandaged wrist.

Janet observed her friend and patient with a worried frown.  Taking a deep breath she voiced her concern.

“Daniel, I can heal broken bones, but I can’t heal a wounded soul.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Daniel said looking up sharply.

“I think you do,” she corrected.  “No one worked harder than you to help Reece, Daniel.  You can’t blame yourself for what happened to her, and you can’t blame Colonel O’Neill either,” she added.

“I don’t blame Jack,” Daniel said defensively.

Janet gave him her ‘don’t bullshit with me’ look, and he pursed his lips before conceding.

“Okay, maybe I did blame Jack at first, but that was before I knew how serious the situation had become.”

“Serious?”  Janet said incredulously.  “Daniel, this facility was seconds away from self-destruct.  If the colonel hadn’t done what he did—”

“We wouldn’t be having this conversation,” Daniel interjected tiredly.

“That’s right,” Janet said firmly.

“Can I go now?”  Daniel asked, effectively terminating the conversation.

“Yes, Daniel, you may go,” she sighed.  “I’ll inform General Hammond and Colonel O’Neill that you’re fit for light duty.”

Daniel nodded and headed to the door.  He stopped and turned to see Janet at her desk, holding her head in her hands.  He chewed his bottom lip as he warred with his emotions.  Slowly, he returned to her desk and sat down.

Janet looked up, puzzled.

“Daniel”

Daniel stared at her silently for a few seconds then glanced away.  “This isn’t easy,” he murmured.

Janet’s breath caught in her throat.  Daniel was reaching out to her, and she prayed with all her might she wouldn’t blow it.  Daniel rarely, if ever, asked for help.

“I give you my word, Daniel, nothing will leave this room,” Janet vowed softly.

Daniel looked back and smiled briefly.

“You shouldn’t make promises you can’t keep.”

“I swear to you, Daniel.  If you want nothing to leave this room, then nothing will leave this room,” she declared firmly.

Daniel looked into her dark, determined eyes and nodded.  He looked down at his hands, opening and closing them slowly.  Softly, he began to speak.

“I look at my hands, and I seen them unearthing a delicate artifact.  I see my fingers running lightly along a wall, feeling the faintest indentations of a long forgotten language.  I see them…”  Daniel fisted his hands as a sob caught in his throat.  “I see them brushing Sha’re’s hair…caressing her skin.” 

Janet remained silent, not daring to intrude.

Daniel blinked away his tears and cleared his throat.

“At least, that’s how I used to see them,” he said bitterly.  “Now, I see them clutching a gun, squeezing the trigger and killing people I have no right to kill.  These hands are now used to deceive and destroy, not to study and learn.”

“Daniel,” Janet whispered.

Daniel looked up, raw grief in his eyes.

“I look in the mirror, and I don’t know who I am.  I don’t recognize the person looking back at me.  If  Sha’re were still alive, she wouldn’t recognize the man she fell in love with,” he said quietly.

“Daniel,” Janet said, reaching out and grasping his hands.  “Oh, Daniel, if you could only see yourself the way I do, the way we all do,” she said fervently.  “You possess a strength and gentleness that’s…overwhelming,” she said, searching for a word.

Daniel smiled sadly, but shook his head and averted his eyes.

“What you give us, each and every day is priceless,” Janet continued.  “I never had the pleasure of meeting your wife, but from what I’ve heard from the colonel, your fears are unfounded and unfair to her.  I can’t argue that what you’ve experienced, both the good and the bad, hasn’t changed you.  If it didn’t, you’d be nothing.  Who we are is shaped by our experiences.  Daniel, I’m not just spouting empty platitudes here,” she said, squeezing his hands to get his attention.

“I know you’re trying to help, Janet, and I appreciate it.  I really do,” Daniel said, looking at her and gently removing his hands from her grasp.  “But I really don’t know what I’m here.  Why I’m still with SG-1.  What my purpose is.  I joined the SGC so I could find Sha’re and take her home to Abydos.  We all know how that turned out.  Failing that, I promised to find her son.  To make sure he was safe.”

“You did that,” Janet said.

“No, Oma Desala did that.  I was just a…God, I don’t know what I was,” Daniel said, sitting back and hugging himself.

“And yet you’re still here,” Janet said.  “Why do you think that is?”

“That’s what I’m saying,” Daniel stressed.  “I don’t know.”

“I think you do,” she said quietly.

“Then could you please enlighten me,” Daniel requested acidly.  “Sorry,” he said, dropping his gaze.

“Daniel, please forgive me if I’m out of line here,” Janet said.

“Sounds ominous,” Daniel said, smiling weakly.

“I wasn’t present,” Janet began, “but when you were on Ernest’s planet you didn’t want to leave, am I correct?”

“What was in that room made the Rosetta Stone seem like graffiti,” Daniel said, his muscles stiffening.

“You wanted to stay.”

“I wanted to understand,” Daniel said quietly.

“You were willing to risk your life and possibly a lifetime of loneliness, just like Ernest suffered, to have the chance to learn and to understand,” Janet said.

“Yes,” Daniel said tightly, knowing where Janet was going and why she had asked for his  forgiveness.

“Well then, what about Sha’re?” she asked, her pulse racing.  “Wasn’t rescuing her your sole purpose for joining the SGC?”

Janet didn’t know if Daniel was too angry to respond, or if he was just shutting down on her.  Either way, she was in too deep to stop now.

“You have a passion, a need, for knowledge, Daniel; passion to understand and to communicate; to share.  You’re not a killer, Daniel.  You’re not even close.  Yes, we’re fighting a war out there, and yes, there will be casualties, whether they be alien or human.”

“I know that; I’m not that naïve.  I just didn’t think I’d be the one pulling the trigger,” Daniel replied grimly.  “I know I get caught up in things, and I tend to forget or ignore the consequences.  Like Sha’re,” he added softly.

“We all have doubts, Daniel,” Janet said.  “Every time I lose a patient I wonder what I did wrong; what I could have done different.  I lose a piece of myself each time, but then I remember the patients I’ve saved and the ones I pray to God I’ll be able to save.”  Janet sighed and said, “Don’t ever think you’re not needed, Daniel.  As Colonel O’Neill said, you made this place happen.”

“Don’t blame this all on me,” Daniel said, a small smile gracing his lips as he unwrapped his arms from around his chest.

Janet smiled and visibly relaxed at his remark.  “All right, but you started it,” she chided.

Daniel smiled, but there was a sadness about him that made Janet’s heart ache.  If she had to put words to it she’d say his soul was sick or wounded.

“Daniel, I can’t imagine what this place would be like without you.  No, no I can,” she amended, “and it scares the hell out of me.  It would be an empty shell filled with empty souls, and the colonel…well, you know how the colonel reacts to loss.”

“Charlie was Jack’s son,” Daniel said.  “I’m just…” he shrugged and closed his mouth.

“Just his best friend?”  Janet said.  “Just the man who gave him a reason to live when he though he had lost everything?  Just the pain-in-the-ass teammate who watches his back and always gives him another option?”

“You’re not going to let me wallow, are you?”  Daniel asked, his blue eyes finally showing a spark of life.

“Not on your life, buster,” Janet smiled.

“Okay, well I guess I’ve taken up enough of your time,” Daniel conceded with a smile.

“Daniel, as long as you’re not cluttering up one of my beds, I’m happy to see you any time,” Janet replied.

“I’ll remember that.  Thank you.”

“One more thing,” Janet said.  “As your physician and your friend, I’d like you to consider a holiday, or at the very least, an assignment to a non-military mission.”

“Is there such a thing?”  Daniel asked rhetorically.

“I can talk to General Hammond,” Janet continued.

“You said no gate travel for at least three weeks,” Daniel said, flexing his wrist.

 “I’m sure there’s some benign planet with interesting buildings and history just waiting for your touch,” Janet smiled.  “If you promise not to do any digging,” she added.

“Actually, two of my assistants are preparing to return to P2N-651,” Daniel said thoughtfully.   “Maybe they’d like the boss to tag along and breathe down their necks.”

“I’ll let you talk to the general then.  He already has my blessing to assign you to light duty,” Janet reminded him.

“Now, I just need Jack’s blessing,” Daniel said dubiously.

                                    ****************

“If Dr. Fraiser says you’re medically fit to travel, Dr. Jackson, I have no objection to you accompanying SG-5,” General Hammond said.  “Major Branson could use an extra man as Sergeant Stein has taken some personal leave.  In fact, Doctor,” Hammond said with a smile, “any opportunity to benefit from your expertise is a plus in my book.”

“Thank you, sir,” Daniel replied, coloring slightly at the general’s praise.

“You may not always think your work is appreciated, Dr. Jackson, but I can assure you it is and that it is highly valued,” Hammond said gravely.  “I appreciate the difficulties you must bear operating in the confines of a military environment, never mind a top-secret one.”

“I don’t expect special treatment, General,” Daniel said, furrowing his brow.  “I just…sometimes have trouble understanding our motives.”

Hammond studied the young man seated across from him.  He took in the pallid features, the dark smudges under the eyes, and the stooped shoulders.

“Do you enjoy working at the SGC, Dr. Jackson?”  Hammond inquired softly.

Wary blue eyes looked at the general.

“I love my work,” Daniel replied.

“SG-1?”  Hammond asked.

Daniel shook his head slowly.  “I don’t know what you’re asking, sir.”

“I think you do, son,” Hammond said kindly.  “Every family, even the most close-knit, have their differences.  Usually they sort themselves out, but there are times when a little distance is necessary.  I’ve been looking at your file,” he said, nodding towards the computer.  “Vacation time is not only mandatory, it’s necessary.  When was the last time you had a rest, Dr. Jackson, that didn’t involve convalescing?”

Daniel held the general’s gaze for a few seconds and then glanced away.  It was a simple and fair question, but for the life of him, Daniel couldn’t come up with a satisfactory answer.

“Just as I thought,” Hammond murmured.  “I want you to think about remedying that, Dr. Jackson, while you’re on P2N-651.”

“Yes, sir.  I should…go pack,” Daniel said awkwardly.

“Very well.  I’ll be briefing with you and SG-5 at 0900 tomorrow.”

Daniel nodded and stood up to leave.

“Dr. Jackson, have you talked to Colonel O’Neill about this mission?”  Hammond asked.

“Uh, no.  Not yet.  I wanted to get your permission first,” Daniel replied.

“Would you like me to talk to him?”  Hammond offered.

“No, thank you, General.  I’ll talk to Jack,” Daniel said.

Hammond nodded and watched the young man leave.

“You can’t save everyone, son.  Not even robots,” he murmured to himself.

                                    *****************

Jack signed another report and tossed it onto his out-pile.  As much as he hated unexpected downtime, it did give him the opportunity to catch up on his paperwork.  He sometimes wondered if Daniel deliberately got himself injured for the sole purpose of allowing Jack to catch up.  On this occasion, however, he dismissed the thought entirely.  If anything, Daniel would probably be pleased to see Jack flounder in a sea of red tape and paper cuts.  The man had barely spoken to him in two weeks.  Not that he’d gone out of his way to approach the archaeologist.  He’d tried.  Sort of.  What do you say to someone who called you a ‘stupid son-of-a-bitch’ and looked as if they’d reached the end of their rope?  Lie low and hope it all blew away.  It worked in the past.

“Not this time, damn it,” Jack muttered, throwing down his pen and pressing the heels of his hands into his eyes.

A firm rap on the door saved Jack from introspection.

“Come in,” he called, still rubbing his eyes.

“Hey,” a soft voice said.

Jack looked up sharply and tried not to show surprise.

“Hey,” he replied.

“You busy?”  Daniel asked, avoiding Jack’s eyes.

“Just paperwork,” Jack responded, gesturing to the piles of sheets.  Crap, he can’t even look at me.  “Sit down,” he offered.

“Uh, no thanks,” Daniel said, glancing at him briefly.  “I have a briefing to prepare for.”

“A briefing?”  Jack frowned.  “I didn’t hear anything—”

“I’m going with SG-5 to P2N-651,” Daniel interrupted.

“That’s Branson’s team,” Jack said.

“Yes, I’m going to help my assistants, Doctors Peter Taylor and Sharon Reynolds,” Daniel said.  “You remember P2N-651?”

Jack nodded slowly.  “Abandoned.  Lots of temples.  Lots of squiggles.”

“Yes, I see you remember,” Daniel said stiffly.  “Janet says I’m well enough to go and play with squiggles.”

“Daniel, I didn’t mean—”

“I just came to tell you,” Daniel said, brushing Jack off.  “I thought you might like to know.”

“You thought?”  Jack said incredulously.

“Anyway,” Daniel said, hugging himself, “we leave tomorrow afternoon.”

“For how long?”

“Three days, maybe more,” Daniel shrugged.  “Depends how much we find.”

“You really feel up to it?”  Jack asked, nodding towards Daniel’s wrist.

Daniel fixed Jack with an unwavering blue stare.  “It might help me take my mind off things.”

Now Jack had trouble holding Daniel’s gaze, and he looked away.  “A change is as good as a rest,” he mumbled.

“Well, I have a lot to prepare,” Daniel said, anxious to leave the room and the conversation.

“Sure.  I’ll see you tomorrow then,” Jack said.

Daniel nodded.  “See you,” he replied, then turned and walked out, carefully closing the door behind him.

Jack sat back, picked his pen up and threw it across the room.

“Crap.”

                                    *******************

“Teal’c, have you seen the colonel?”

“I have not, Major Carter.”

“Daniel’s leaving in twenty minutes.  I thought he’d at least be here to see him off,” Sam said.

“As did I,” Teal’c replied.  “I am not comfortable with Daniel Jackson going on this mission.”

Sam looked warily at her companion.

“Why do you say that, Teal’c?  I mean, I’m not comfortable with it either, but that’s because I don’t like us being split up.”

“I cannot say, Major Carter.  It is just a feeling,” Teal’c responded.

Sam stared at Teal’c, but he did not elucidate further.  She wasn’t surprised, but now she felt more uneasy than ever.

“Hi guys, “Daniel said, coming up to Sam and Teal’c.  “Thanks for seeing me off.”

“Try to enjoy yourself, Daniel,” Sam urged, trying to hide her concern.

“I will, Sam,” Daniel replied.  “I’m looking forward to this.  It’s been a long time since I’ve studied something at my leisure.”

Neither Sam nor Teal’c missed the way Daniel casually looked around the Gateroom and up into the control room.

“O’Neill has not yet arrived, Daniel Jackson,” Teal’c informed him.

“I’m not expecting him to, Teal’c,” Daniel said.  “I just thought he might,” he added quietly.

“Daniel, I’m sure he’d be here if he could,” Sam insisted.  “He left the mountain earlier.  Something must have tied him up.”

“I’m sure you’re right,” Daniel said unconvincingly.

                                                            ********************       

“Damn it, come on,” Jack muttered, punching the elevator button a third time.  He looked at his watch again and rolled his eyes.

“For crying out loud, who the hell’s on this thing?” he bellowed, thumping on the door.

                                    ***********************

“Are you ready, Dr. Jackson?”  Hammond inquired.

“Yes, General, and Dr. Fraiser’s given me enough Tylenol for two weeks,” Daniel smiled.

“I’m afraid you’re only allowed five days, son,” Hammond said.  “Make full use of it.”

“I will, sir, and thank you again.”

“SG-5, you have a go,” Hammond announced, looking at Major Colin Branson.

“Yes, sir,” Branson saluted.  “Let’s move out, people,” he ordered, addressing his team.

“Have fun, Daniel,” Sam said.

“Remember your exercises, Daniel Jackson,” Teal’c added.

Daniel smiled and said, “I’ll see you in five days.”

Daniel glanced one last time to the control room.  He didn’t know why it was so important to him that Jack be present.  It just was.  He swallowed his disappointment and turned to follow his team up the ramp.  A few steps from the event horizon, an urgent voice called out.

“Daniel, wait!”

Daniel stopped and turned.  His eyes widened in surprise to see Jack running up the ramp.

“Crap, I thought I was going to miss you,” he puffed.  “I got stuck in traffic and then the damn elevator went on strike.  Not to mention the line-up to get this,” he said, holding up a bag that had Daniel practically salivating.

“I got it ground.  Thought you might like some decent stuff this time out,” Jack said, stuffing the package into one of Daniel’s pockets.

Daniel, still speechless, gazed down at his bulging pocket.

“There’s more than enough to share, but take it easy, okay?  Don’t stay up all night,” Jack said.

Daniel looked up at Jack and saw warm, concerned eyes.  Concern for his welfare, but more importantly, concern for their friendship which had become a little too fragile of late.

Daniel smiled warmly, appreciation and acknowledgment of Jack’s gesture evident in his eyes.

“Thanks, Jack.  I’ll bring some home for you.”

“I’ll look forward to it,” Jack said sincerely. “Have fun,” he added, patting Daniel on the shoulder.

Daniel smiled again, nodded farewell to Sam and Teal’c and then turned and stepped quickly through the Stargate.

Jack watched the wormhole wink out, acutely aware of two sets of eyes boring into the back of his skull.  He turned around.

“What?  Did you think I wasn’t going to show?” he asked accusingly.

“Well, sir,” Sam said, looking at Teal’c for support.

“Your absence was keenly felt, O’Neill,” Teal’c stated.

“I know,” Jack sighed.  “Believe me, I know.”

“I’m glad you made it, sir.  That was close,” Sam said quietly.

“Indeed,” Teal’c agreed.

“Yeah,” Jack said, glancing back at the Stargate.

Jack had long ago vowed that unless he was laid up in the infirmary, or otherwise incapacitated, he would always be present to witness any of his teammates go through the Stargate.  They all knew how he felt.  It was never spoken aloud, but the possibility of never returning was very real, regardless of how benign the mission may be perceived to be.  A spur of the moment decision to buy Daniel his favorite brand of coffee as a token of friendship and maybe even apology, had almost backfired in such a way that it would have stretched their tenuous connection even further.  Jack shivered and looked at Sam and Teal’c.

“Anyone hungry?” he asked, realizing he wanted to keep his remaining teammates a little closer for a little while longer.

“I’m starving, sir,” Sam smiled.

“I, too, would enjoy a little repast,” Teal’c concurred.

“Great.  Let’s see what the chef’s cooked up today,” Jack said, eagerly ushering his remaining teammates towards the door.

 

                                    ****************

Daniel was exhausted.  Happy, but exhausted.  Jack’s impromptu gift had turned a mission that Daniel had viewed as an escape into a pleasurable excursion of discovery.  He and his colleagues had already collected an impressive amount of text on videotape, rubbings, and sketches.  Five days was not nearly long enough to collate all the information that was available to them so Daniel felt compelled to make the most of his time.  He worked long into the night, stayed up even longer translating, and drank way too much coffee.  The latter he felt justified in blaming Jack.  After all, what did Jack expect by giving him fresh ground beans, for crying out loud?

“Well, for one thing,” Daniel murmured to himself, “he expects me to take better care of my co-workers.”   It was one thing to push his own endurance, but quite another to expect his assistants to follow his lead.

 Daniel straightened up slowly and stretched his cramped muscles.  He walked stiffly over to the makeshift desk.  Slumped over a pile of rubbings and sound asleep, were his assistants.

Daniel glanced at his watch and winced with guilt.  He shook the pair gently.

“Peter, Sharon,” he called.  “Time to wake up and go to bed.”

They awoke with a start, but before they could come out with any apologies, Daniel held up his finger.

“Don’t even think about it.  I’m sorry.  I got carried away.  You should’ve told me what time it was,” he admonished lightly.  “Let’s call it a night, or day, or whatever,” he muttered, gathering up their work.

“We can do that Dr. Jackson,” Peter said, gesturing to his yawning colleague.

“Sorry,” Sharon replied, yawning again.

Daniel reluctantly allowed them to carry the majority of the equipment.  Jack had patiently explained to him on more than one occasion, that as mind-boggling as it was, the people assigned to his department were thrilled and honored to be there. Luckily, for Daniel, his latest recruits were intelligent, enthusiastic, intuitive, and more than willing to work long hours.  Daniel had tried to get them to call him by his first name but to no avail.  Jack had told him to do so would spoil the mystique.  Daniel smiled to himself as Jack’s words came to mind.  Face it, Danny boy, you’re a legend.  Those kids are thrilled to work with you so don’t spoil it for them.

“Do we have everything, Dr. Jackson?”  Sharon asked, looking around.

“That’s everything,” Daniel confirmed.  “I’ll take point,” he said, slipping unconsciously into military lingo, his flashlight lighting the way.  “I’m surprised Major Branson let us stay this long.  Ten to one he’s got a guard posted outside.”

“How do you do it, Dr. Jackson?”  Peter asked.

“Excuse me?”  Daniel said, turning around and temporarily blinding the young man.  “Oops, sorry,” he said, chagrined.

“How do you put up with the military and all their restrictions?  There’s a year’s worth of work here already, and we’ve barely scratched the surface.”

“They pay your salary, Peter,” Sharon admonished.

Daniel smiled.  “There is that, but you’re right, it isn’t easy.  Colonel O’Neill’s always telling me I can’t have my cake, eat it, and then expect to have seconds.  What I give up on one hand, such as time to actually finish a job, I gain with the other, such as more opportunities to meet new cultures and gain allies.”

“To procure knowledge and weapons to use against the Goa’uld,” Sharon added a little testily.

“And you’ll save yourself a lot of grief by remembering that,” Daniel said.  “The Goa’uld want us dead, or as hosts which can be worse than death.  It’s easy, damn easy, to focus on something else and completely forget their existence.  Fortunately, General Hammond also sees the wisdom of non-military objectives.  Otherwise, we wouldn’t be here.”

“Still, it must be very frustrating for you,” Peter repeated.

“You learn to live with it,” Daniel said with a lightness that felt false.  “Now, let’s get out of here before the two of you wake up too much.”

Daniel led them through the tunnels and out into the watchful presence of Sergeant Edward Cairns.

“Dr. Jackson, you’re lucky,” Cairns said.  “The major gave me orders to physically roust you if you weren’t out in another twenty minutes,” he said, grinning.

“I’ll have to get him to give lessons to Colonel O’Neill.  He would’ve had me fed and tucked in three hours ago,” Daniel replied wryly.

“Rumor has it you caused all his grey hair,” Cairns laughed.

“You know what they say about rumors, Sergeant,” Daniel said, waving his hand dismissively.

                                    ****************************

Jack couldn’t sleep.  He tossed and turned, swore profusely, then tossed and turned some more.

“To hell with it,” he growled, getting out of bed.  He grabbed his bathrobe, slipped it on and his slippers at the same time.  He went into the kitchen, toyed with the idea of making coffee, but settled on a watered-down Scotch.  Armed with a hefty hunk of cheese and a box of crackers, Jack retired to the living-room. 

Jack turned on the television and flipped through various channels.  He settled on a documentary on glass-blowing.  He wanted something he could focus on.  Sports he knew inside and out.  He needed something that wouldn’t allow his mind to wander to a certain absent archaeologist; there was too much unfinished business there.  Jack had said he was sorry that Reece had to be killed, and Daniel had acknowledged he had done the right thing.  But there was more to it, and that’s what kept Jack from getting any sleep.  Ever since SG-1 had brought the robot back to the SGC, he and Daniel had been on opposites sides of the fence.  Why had he fought Daniel at every turn, and why did he get so angry at Daniel when the robot had thrown the younger man at the wall?  And what exactly did Daniel mean by ‘you stupid son-of-a-bitch’?  It was questions like these that drove Jack to seek solace in glass-blowing and it actually worked for thirty minutes until an ad about an upcoming special, “Unlocking the Secrets of the Great Pyramids’ blew his solace all to hell.

“For crying out loud,” Jack murmured.  “All right!” he yelled, looking up at the ceiling.  “I’ll talk to him when he gets back.”

Jack immediately felt better.  He had made his decision, and he would stick to it, come hell or high water, or annoying archaeologists who tended to clam up when he felt like talking.

“You’re in for it now, Danny boy,” Jack chuckled, settling effortlessly back into the intricacies of glass-blowing.

                                    *************

Daniel noticed them at the same time as Major Branson: footprints, and more than one set by the look of the ground.

“We’ve got company,” Branson whispered, his fingers curling tightly around his P-90.

“They look fresh,” Daniel said softly as he lowered his lantern to the ground so he could compare his own footprints in the dusty floor to the unexpected ones.

“Too damn fresh,” Branson added, looking around warily.

Daniel had a sudden wish for the presence of Jack, Sam, and Teal’c.  He jumped slightly when Branson tapped him on the shoulder.  He looked up at the major and immediately translated the latter’s silent order of a nonchalant, but hasty retreat.  Daniel nodded and followed the major outside.

“Cairns, do you read me?”  Branson spoke into his com unit.

“I read you, sir,” came the crackling reply.

“We may have company, Sergeant.  We found footprints; two for sure, maybe more.”

“Understood, sir.  Everything’s quiet here.  No one’s come through the Stargate,” Cairns reported.

“Okay.  Stay alert, Sergeant.  We’re coming back,” Branson said.

The major frowned and looked at Daniel.

“If no one’s come through the Stargate, then either our company arrived before us, or they’ve come by ship.”

“Or, they’re indigenous, and we missed seeing anyone the last time out,” Daniel suggested.  “It’s a large planet, but wherever they came from they have just as much right to be here as we do.”

“I knew you’d say that,” Branson sighed, “and you’re right, but we know why we’re here.  What I don’t like is not knowing why anyone else would be here.  There’s nothing here but—”

“A bunch of empty buildings full of funny scribbles,” Daniel said wearily.

“That’s not what I was going to say, Dr. Jackson,” Branson said.

“Sorry,” Daniel replied sincerely.  “I guess I forgot who I was talking to.”

“Dr. Jackson, I know Colonel O’Neill can be a bit…frustrating at times,” Branson said carefully.

“That’s one way to put it,” Daniel smiled.

“However, and you didn’t hear this from me,” Branson said, lowering his voice, “O’Neill would be lost without you.”

“Where did you get that idea?”  Daniel asked in astonishment.

Branson stared at the bewildered blue eyes and shook his head.

“No disrespect, Doc, but O’Neill’s right.  You really can be dense at times.  Now, let’s get back to camp and figure out our options.”

“How’s this for an option?” a voice called out from behind them.

Daniel and Branson whirled around automatically.  A round object thrown from the building they had just left landed at their feet.

“Oh, shit,” was all Daniel had time to say before the shock grenade exploded.

                                    ***********************

Daniel awoke with a jerk and a mouthful of dirt.  He spat the dirt out and rolled onto his back.  His head throbbed painfully, but he knew that was the least of his worries.

“Dr. Jackson?”

“Branson?”  Daniel answered quietly.

“I’m over by the wall.  I can’t see anything,” Branson replied grimly.

“It’ll pass,” Daniel assured him.  “That was a Goa’uld shock grenade.  They’re designed to incapacitate but not injure.”

“I guess that’s good news,” the major answered.

“Are we alone?”  Daniel asked, sitting up gingerly, pressing the heels of his palms into his temples.

“As far as I can tell,” Branson sighed.  “This is not going to look good on my record, you know.  Being captured by someone with goa’uld technology.”

“Well, if it’s any consolation, Ferretti would say you were doomed from the start,” Daniel said, trying to see his hand in front of his face.

“I don’t believe in that,” Branson said.

“In what?”

“The Jackson Curse,” Branson replied.

“Ah, but you’ve heard of it,” Daniel observed.

“Yeah, and I know who started it.”

“Who?”  Daniel asked.

“You really want to know?”

Daniel hesitated before answering.  “Yes, I really want to know.”

“Colonel O’Neill,” Branson replied.

“Jack?  Jack started that rumor?”  Daniel asked, his stomach clenching at the thought.

“Easy, Doc, it’s not what you think,” Branson said reassuringly.  “He started it because he didn’t want you on anyone else’s team.  I’ve got to hand it to you, Dr. Jackson.  You’ve really done a number on the colonel, as unintentional as it was,” he laughed.

Daniel said in silence, absorbing the major’s words.  Images of Jack flashed in his mind: surprising him with coffee in the Gateroom; shooting Reece dead in front of him; hugging him in the storeroom; telling him to shut up.  Daniel squeezed the bridge of his nose when his own image appeared: flaunting himself in robes while Jack was on his knees in chains; telling Jack he was never very bright; calling him a stupid son-of-a-bitch.

“I think my sight’s coming back!”  Branson said suddenly.

“What?”  Daniel asked, bringing himself back to the here and now.

“I can see shapes,” Branson said excitedly.  “Can you see anything yet?”

Daniel blinked bitter tears out of his eyes and concentrated on the darkness.

“Yes, I can see a little.  In another twenty minutes we’ll be fine,” Daniel confirmed.

“What about the headache?”  Branson asked hopefully.

“I’m afraid you’ll have to get used to that,” Daniel replied. 

“Figured as much.”

“Don’t strain your eyes, Colin.  Just let it happen,” Daniel encouraged.

“Okay, you’re the expert, but patience isn’t one of my virtues,” Branson warned.

“Could’ve fooled me,” Daniel replied.  It’s not really a dream mission babysitting three archaeologists.”

“It’s not babysitting, and I’ll let you in on a little secret,” Branson said, lowering his voice.  “I always wanted to be an archaeologist.”

“You’re kidding?”  Daniel laughed in surprise.

“Scout’s honor.  When I was a kid my Dad was stationed in Crete for a couple of years.  I fell in love with the place and the country; the history and the mythology.  I couldn’t get enough of it.  Cried for weeks when we moved back to the States.  My poor parents had to take me to every museum they could find.  Then I discovered Egypt, Central America, Native American Indians, you name it.  I joined the Air Force to see the world.”

“So you could see the past,” Daniel said thoughtfully.

“Yeah, and now I’m a million light-years from the world, on another planet.  Go figure.”

“Do you ever regret not pursuing archaeology?”  Daniel asked.

“Sometimes, but regret can be as debilitating as any disease,” Branson replied.  “If you let it go unchecked, your life can be ruined.  Don’t get me wrong, Dr. Jackson.  I love what I do.  I just know there’s a lot more out there.”

“That’s why you’ve been letting me work till all hours.”

“Your passion reminds me of my childhood.  I guess you could say I get a vicarious thrill out of watching you work,” Branson snickered.

“Jack gets a migraine,” Daniel replied dryly.

“He’ll have more than a migraine when he finds out I got us captured,” Branson said wearily.

“This isn’t your fault,” Daniel protested.

“The Jackson Curse?”  Branson suggested with a smile.

“No, it’s the Jack O’Neill ‘just one of those crappy days’ scenarios,” Daniel replied.

“It certainly is crappy,” Branson sighed.  “I know I don’t have to tell you that this could go very bad for us.”

“I know,” Daniel admitted quietly.

“I also know my men can handle it and so can you.”

“But what about Peter and Sharon?”  Daniel guessed.  “I honestly don’t know.  The SGC sets strict physical requirements, even for academics but being captured and possibly tortured?  I don’t know.  Can you ever really prepare for that?”

“Maybe it’ll all turn out to be one big misunderstanding,” Branson said hopefully.

“Maybe,” Daniel said, but his gut told him otherwise.  You might not get that coffee after all, Jack.

                                    **********************

 

“You are worried about Daniel Jackson,” Teal’c said solemnly.

Jack glanced sideways at this teammate, and then returned his gaze to the idle Stargate.

“I don’t like the team being split up,” Jack replied.

Teal’c raised an eyebrow.  “Daniel Jackson has gone on numerous missions with other teams.”

“Yeah, well he shouldn’t have,” Jack murmured.  “He’s a member of SG-1.  That’s where he belongs.”

“Indeed.  I am pleased to hear you say that, O”Neill,” Teal’c said gravely.

“Damn it, Teal’c, I don’t like this,” Jack said, shaking his head.  “All this goddamn waiting.”

“Major Branson is a fine warrior, O’Neill, as is Daniel Jackson.”

“I know,” Jack sighed.

“And SG-5 is a very capable team,” Teal’c added reassuringly.

“I know that, too,” Jack grumbled.

“But they are not SG-1,” Teal’c said.

“No, they’re not.  Where’s Carter,” Jack asked, looking at Teal’c.

“I believe she is in her lab, O’Neill.”

Jack nodded and looked back at the Stargate, his mind forming a plan.

                                    ******************

“I don’t know anything,” Daniel gasped, sinking to his knees as his captor cruelly twisted his injured wrist.

“Last chance, hero.”

“Go to hell,” Daniel spat between clenched teeth.

“I warned you,” his torturer sighed as he twisted Daniel’s hand viciously.

Daniel screamed hoarsely at the resulting pain and audible snap of bone.

“Once more for good measure,” a voice whispered close to his ear.

Daniel almost passed out as another bone cracked then snapped.

“Come on, let’s work on the female.  This one’s broken,” the man clutching Daniel’s wrist said with a cruel laugh as he gave the abused wrist a final twist before letting go..

“Not yet.  I’m not finished with him,” crooned a second voice that chilled Daniel’s blood.

Daniel swallowed past his pain and nausea long enough to glare defiantly at the two men standing over him.  He didn’t know who they were.  Mercenaries he suspected.  Thugs roaming the galaxy for any information to sell to the highest bidder, most likely a Goa’uld.  Aris Boch had class, but these were just brutes.

“Was it just dumb luck our ship crashed here, or was it Fate?” the second man asked as he walked slowly around Daniel.

Daniel tried to maintain eye contact but found it too painful.  He closed his eyes as a wave of nausea twisted his stomach.  Besides, the two men were not pleasant to look at.  Jack would’ve called them ‘Ugly’ and ‘Butt Ugly’.  Thoughts of Jack filled Daniel’s mind, and he made a silent vow to his absent friend.  I won’t go down easy, Jack, and I won’t tell them a damn thing.  I promise you.

“On your feet,” Butt Ugly ordered.

Daniel started to comply and then hesitated.  He knew it would cost him, but he also knew the longer he could draw this out, the greater the chance Hammond would mount a search and rescue.  He glanced down at his watch, under the pretense of cradling his wrist.  Four more hours until they were due to check in.  Oh, God. 

“I think I’m going to be sick,” Daniel rasped.

“You’ll be more than just sick if you don’t get on your feet now,” Butt Ugly growled, punctuating his threat with a stinging blow to Daniel’s left ear.

Daniel braced himself from falling with his good hand.  He swallowed bile and waited for the vertigo to pass.   He broke out in a cold sweat as he got shakily to his feet.

“Abu, I think he really is going to be sick,” Butt Ugly said scornfully.

Abu?  I prefer Ugly, Daniel thought as he swallowed more bile and then faced his captors.

Abu found something disconcerting in the piercing blue gaze directed his way.

“Turn around!” he ordered.

“Where are the others?”  Daniel asked obstinately.

“You’ll see them soon enough…unless you decide to cooperate,” Abu purred.

Confusion flickered across Daniel’s face and his gaze faltered.

“I see I finally got your attention,” Abu sneered.  “But, first things first.  Carsu, take his jacket and shirt off.”

Carsu, or Butt Ugly, muttered under his breath as he did his partner’s bidding.

“I can do it myself,” Daniel said, starting to shed his jacket before they could cruelly yank it off.  To his surprise, they allowed him to do it, but they lost patience when he had trouble with his T-shirt.

Carsu stepped forward and slashed the shirt with his knife, cutting deeper than necessary.

Daniel flinched and looked down at the blood welling from the slice on his chest.

“Oops, Carsu grinned, displaying a set of misshapen teeth that matched his features.

“Leave it,” Abu ordered.  “It will help absorb the blood.”

Daniel tried to ignore those last words and watched Abu.  He didn’t like what he saw.

Abu discarded one broken branch after another.  They didn’t feel right, but he knew the perfect one was here.  Spying his quarry, he called to Carsu.

“Carsu, get your ugly carcass up there and get me that branch,” he growled.

Carsu, muttering silently to himself, scampered up the tree with an agility that amazed Daniel.

“Move and you’re dead,” Abu said to Daniel while he pointed the archaeologist’s own zat gun at his chest.

Daniel remained still and used the opportunity to scan the area for any sign of  escape.  There was none.

“Not that one you fool!  The one above it,” Abu barked impatiently.

Carsu hacked off the branch and tossed it down.

Abu caught it deftly in this thick fingers.  He hefted it experimentally, feeling the weight.

“This will do nicely,” he murmured.  He whacked it against a rock and the end split into several thick, sharp fibres.  “Very nicely,” he whispered with a wolfish grin.

Daniel’s stomach clenched, and his heart raced.  He knew what was coming.  It was a scenario Jack had warned him about, but one they had hoped would never happen.  Daniel took a deep breath and concentrated on the positive aspects of his situation:  he was buying time, and as long as his captors concentrated on him, they were leaving the rest of his teammates alone. 

Abu gave the stick another whack for good measure and smiled when Daniel jumped at the sound.  He swaggered back to his prisoner who was studying the ground at his feet.

Daniel flinched slightly when he felt the tip of the switch prod him under the chin.  He looked up into the cruel, soulless eyes of Abu.

Abu’s confident sneer wavered as cold assessing blue eyes burrowed into his.  Under different circumstances Abu knew he would be unnerved by the look, and it angered him.

“On your knees!” he ordered.

“I have this little ACL problem,” Daniel said, the words out before he knew what he was saying.  A vicious kick to the back of his knees, courtesy of Carsu, had him kneeling immediately.

Thanks, Jack.  You picked a great time to influence me, Daniel thought as he stifled a grunt as his knees impacted with the dirt. 

Daniel stared straight ahead as Abu walked slowly around him, tapping the large stick methodically against his boot.

Get on with it, you ugly bastard.  Whatever you do to me will be nothing compared to what Jack’s going to do to you.  Thoughts of his friend brought renewed strength and resolve to Daniel.  He was a survivor, Jack had told him, and he was also damned hard to kill

Daniel’s ordeal took on a surreal quality.  The light seemed too bright and the air a little too thick.  He heard what sounded like a gull in the distance and then a slow intake of breath behind him followed by the rasp of cloth being stretched.  Daniel closed his eyes and steeled himself for the first blow.

                                    ***********************

Jack paced back and forth in front of General Hammond’s desk; his face flushed and his posture rigid.

“You know the procedure, Colonel.  SG-5’s next check-in is in four hours.  Until such time I must assume everything is fine,” Hammond explained.

“That’s just it, General,” Jack said.  “Everything isn’t fine.”

“And you base this on a gut feeling?”  Hammond queried.

“It’s more than that, sir.  I can’t explain it.  It’s just that sometimes…sometimes I can feel him,” Jack said, frowning at his words.

“Dr. Jackson,” Hammond said.

Jack nodded.

“Jack, I know you and Dr. Jackson have some unresolved issues—”

“Sir, this has nothing to do with destroying that damn robot,” Jack said, his jaw muscle twitching.

“Then how did you know I was talking about Reece?”  Hammond asked quietly.

Jack closed his eyes and took a calming breath.  He opened them and looked levelly at Hammond.

“General, the situation with…Reece and the Replicators ended the only way it could under the circumstances.  I know, believe me I know,” he laughed mirthlessly, “things didn’t go the way Daniel would’ve liked.  They didn’t go the way I would’ve liked either, but I made the right call, sir, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”

Hammond nodded.  “I’m glad to hear that, Colonel because if you were having second doubts about your actions you’re no use to me or this facility,” he said bluntly.

“Yes, sir,” Jack acknowledged.  “About my request?”  Jack asked impatiently.

“Yes, this…connection that you and Dr. Jackson have,” Hammond murmured.

“I know it sounds crazy, General, but—”

“Colonel, after everything I’ve seen I’d be the last person to say something was crazy,” Hammond said kindly, “but we’re operating on a shoestring budget.  I can’t authorize opening the Stargate without a damn good reason.”

“The lives of six people, four of whom are civilians, isn’t a damn good reason?”  Jack asked hotly.

“Colonel O’Neill, you are out of line,” Hammond said quietly.

“Damn it, General,” Jack said, scrubbing his fingers through his hair.  “It’s not just me, Teal’c feels it, too.  They’re in trouble; serious trouble.  Four hours, hell, it might as well be four days.  We have to go now,” Jack implored.

Hammond observed Jack closely throughout the meeting.  He had seen his first under stress on countless occasions.  Often he would blow off a little steam by railing against an ideal, principle, or sadly, Dr. Jackson.  But this was different.  The colonel wasn’t angry; he was scared.  Hammond had often witnessed the uncanny ability of O’Neill and Jackson to read each other’s minds, to finish each other’s sentences.  Through death, pain, and sorrow, the two men had forged a bond of friendship that had been tested time and time again.  Hammond had never seen one as strong as theirs.

Hammond’s eyes lowered to the report lying on his desk: more bureaucracy; cutbacks in almost every department; cancellation of additional personnel, and unbelievably, reduction in the deployment of MALP’s and UAV’s.  Hammond had fought tooth and nail over the last one.  Sending men and women through the Stargate into unknown and possibly hazardous situations was ‘acceptable risk’, but God forbid an expensive piece of equipment should be sent through and lost.

“George, please,” Jack whispered desperately.

Hammond looked up, his face set, and his blue eyes angry.

“Tell me what you need, Jack.”

                                    ***********************

The air crackled and sizzled for the second time and Daniel squeezed his eyes shut.  He didn’t want to see; he didn’t want to know.  Open your eyes, damn it.  He deserves a witness.

Daniel opened his eyes and gazed at the still body on the ground.  His name is Edward Cairns, ‘Eddie,’ to his friends.  His mother’s name is Joanna, his father’s, Frank.  They live in Eugene, Oregon with their daughter, Jill.

The third shot made Daniel flinch, and his eyes closed automatically.  A stinging pain forced his eyes open.

“Tell me the coordinates to your world,” Abu demanded.

Daniel’s obstinate silence earned him another stinging lash across the back.  He bit his lip as his abused body absorbed the blow.  He had lost count of the blows.  It wasn’t important.  A hand fisted in his hair and his head was wrenched back, his neck muscles straining.

“Do you want them all to die?”  Abu asked harshly.

“I don’t…want… anyone…to die,” Daniel rasped out painfully.

Daniel’s head was released with a jerk that nearly snapped his neck.  He heard the zat being primed, and he prepared to die.  Do it.  Get it over with.  Sorry, Jack, but I tried.

“Bring out the female!”  Abu shouted.

Daniel slumped forwards.  Oh, God, please let it end.

                                    ************

“Sir, I’m getting some definite heat images,” Sam said, as the members of SG-1 and SG-3 carefully watched the UAV transmission.

“Life signs?”  Hammond asked.

“I’m not sure, sir.  There isn’t—wait—yes, there’s movement!” she said excitedly.

“How many, Carter?”  Jack asked, leaning anxiously over her shoulder.

“It looked like three, possibly four,” She said, shaking her head.  “The UAV’s passed over.”

“Turn it back, Major,” Jack ordered.

“Yes, sir.  Wait, there’s more!” she said, as definite red blotches showed up on the screen.  “They’re close together.  I can’t tell how many,” she said, shaking her head.

“Major, how far are those last images from the first ones?”  Hammond asked.

“No more than a quarter of a mile, sir.  There doesn’t seem to be anything beyond that last image,” she said, as the UAV continued on its way.

“Bring it back to the first images, Carter,” Jack said calmly although his hands were gripping the back of her chair.

“Yes, sir,” she said, deftly bringing the UAV around.   “The first images should be coming up right about…now.  There!  There’s definitely four and, oh, God…”

“Carter?”  Jack queried, waiting for confirmation of what they just witnessed.

“One of the images just vanished, Colonel.  There was definitely four.”

“Now there are three,” Teal’c said somberly.

“General,” Jack said, looking into Hammond’s concerned blue eyes.  “There’s no activity at the ‘gate.”

“SG-1 and SG-3, you have a go,” Hammond announced.

 

                                    ************************

“You’re not going to get anything out of him,” Carsu hissed.  “He doesn’t even care about the others.  You’ve already killed two of them.”

“He cares, and he’ll talk,” Abu said stubbornly, glaring at the battered, bleeding body at his feet.

“You could’ve at least let me have some fun with the female before you killed her,” Carsu pouted, aiming the zat at Dr. Reynolds’s corpse.

“Leave it,” Abu ordered.  “Let him see what he’s done.”

Abu leaned over and yanked Daniel’s head up savagely.

“Look at her!” he spat.  “Look at what you’ve done!”

Daniel looked; he had no choice, but he couldn’t see.  Sweat, tears, and blood mixed together to blur his vision.

“Do you hear something?”  Carsu asked suddenly.

“Like what?”  Abu growled, backhanding Daniel to the ground.

“A droning sound,” Carsu replied, looking up towards the sky.

Daniel heard it, and he knew exactly what it was; a UAV sent from the SGC.  Search and rescue.  He didn’t have the strength to distract his captors.  Maybe it didn’t matter.  Maybe it was even better if they did see it.

“There!”  Carsu whispered harshly.

Abu watched the object fly over, and his eyes narrowed to dangerous slits.

“Do you know what that is?” he demanded, yanking Daniel’s head up.

“Yes,” Daniel said, his eyes not wavering from Abu’s.

“What is it?”  Abu shouted, shaking Daniel fiercely.

“Your demise,” Daniel replied, earning himself another heavy blow to the face.

“Come on, they’re not worth it,” Carsu said hurriedly, expecting the enemy to drop out of the sky at any moment.

“Quiet!”  Abu barked.  He needed to think.  He had four prisoners.  He started with six.  They were from a planet called Earth, and they came through what they call a Stargate to study the abandoned buildings to try to learn who had once lived here.  The one at his feet, Dr. Daniel Jackson, divulged no further information once he realized he and Carsu were not interested in their quest or their health.  The others similarly refused to speak.

Abu turned away, rubbing his temples.  There was something he was forgetting; something important.  Their crash-landing on this shell of a planet must have damaged his memory.  Why were they wasting so much effort with these humans?  The others: Branson, Cairns, Reynolds, and whatever the other three were called didn’t mean anything.  But Daniel Jackson?  Why was he spending so much time with this one?

“Abu, what are we going to do?”

Abu looked at his partner with contempt.  Even the human female had shown more courage.  He opened his mouth to voice his opinion when the now familiar drone returned.  Both men looked up, and Abu made his decision.

“Pick him up,” he ordered.  “He’s our way off this hole.”

“Leave him.  We’ve got the—”

“Get him now!”  Abu roared, pointing the zat at Carsu’s chest.

“All right, all right, I was just trying to save us some time,” Carsu grumbled as he hefted Daniel over his shoulder.  “What about her?”

Abu aimed and fired at Sharon’s body.

Daniel closed his eyes in pain, anger, and sorrow.

“What about who?”  Abu smiled, gesturing to the empty spot where Sharon had lain.

Carsu chuckled and shifted his burden as he followed Abu.

                                    *************************


”They’re coming back, sir,” Sergeant Cooper reported as he peered through the small opening of their cell.  “The UAV must’ve made them nervous.”

“All of them?”  Branson asked anxiously, straining at his ropes with renewed vigor.

“No, sir.  I don’t see Cairns or Reynolds.  They’re carrying Jackson.  Christ,” he whispered.

“What?”  Branson asked, his heart pounding.

“It looks like they did a number on Dr. Jackson.  Looks like they used a whip or something,” he murmured, suddenly wishing he wasn’t the one with window access.

“Oh, God, this can’t be happening,” Peter whispered.

“It can, and it is,” Branson said evenly.  “We’ve already gone through this, Taylor.  I know this mission was supposed to be a cakewalk, but we all know the risks of going through the Stargate.”

“That’s not what I meant, Major,” Peter said wearily.  “Dr. Jackson explained the dangers to us in great detail.  What I meant was, why are they fixating on him?”

“Sorry,” Branson apologized.  He should’ve known Dr. Jackson wouldn’t let any of his assistants go through the ‘gate unprepared.  “We don’t know if they are fixating on him,” he said, but he couldn’t help but be reminded of the Jackson Curse.  “We don’t know what’s happened to Cairns or Reynolds, but the fact they’re not with them leads me to believe that they’re dead,” he said bluntly.  “I think you’re right, Cooper.  The UAV spooked them, and that can make them even more dangerous.  They’re not finished with us yet so everybody stay alert.”

“I won’t tell them anything,” Peter vowed.

“I know you won’t,” Branson acknowledged with a sad smile.  “Cooper, how far away are they?”

“About fifty feet, sir.”

“Shit,” he muttered, pulling angrily at the ropes binding him to the wall.

                                    *********************

Jack saw red.  Angry bees buzzed in his head as he clutched Daniel’s jacket in his hands.  He stared at the bloodied dirt at his feet.

“This blood is fresh, O’Neill,” Teal’c stated, anger in his voice.

“Colonel,” Sam said, holding out a bloodied stick.

Jack’s jaw clenched.  “Throw it away, Carter.”

Jack knew it was Daniel’s blood.  It was always Daniel’s blood.  Was he still alive?  That was the question that burned into his heart and mind.  This was the spot where one of the images had vanished.  Someone had died.  Had that been Daniel?  Jack reined in his anger and his fear.  There were six live at stake, not just one.  Mentally chastising himself for his lapse into selfishness, Jack adjusted his sunglasses against the glare of the sun.

“Let’s go,” he said quietly, his voice promising retribution.

                                    ***********

Daniel’s stomach lurched, his wrist throbbed, and his back screamed with each jarring step that Carsu took.  Hanging upside down didn’t help.  He hung limp and heavy, and Daniel wished he was a hundred pounds heavier.  Anything to make the bastard work harder.

“Hurry up!” he heard Abu call from up ahead. 

Daniel could see a structure in the distance, the one where he and Branson had regained consciousness.  He presumed the rest of his teammates were in there.  Something swayed in his peripheral vision.  His eyes focused on the object; a zatnikatel hooked into Carsu’s belt.  Carsu was left-handed and was wearing the gun on his left side within reach of Daniel’s good right hand.Daniel’s pulse quickened and he felt an adrenaline rush.  Could it be that easy?  Could he just reach over and pluck it out?   Daniel swung his hand experimentally.  No, not easy, but possible. 

Daniel licked his lips and concentrated.  He’d only get one shot at it, and there was a good chance he’d end up dead for his efforts.  He knew what Jack would do.  No question.

Carsu stumbled and cursed.

Daniel’s hand shot out, grabbed the zat, primed it, and shot Carsu.  Oh, shit, was Daniel’s last thought as the electrical field enveloped them both.

                                    ****************

“Holy shit,” Cooper whispered.

“What?” Branson asked, creasing his struggling with his bonds.

 “Dr. Jackson just took out the guy carrying him.  He grabbed the bastard’s zat.”

“A zat?  Damn, that means—”

“Yeah, he and Jackson both went down like a ton of bricks,” Cooper winced.  “The other guy’s not happy.  He…”

“Sergeant, what’s happening?”  Branson demanded, unnerved by Cooper’s sudden silence.

Cooper turned away from the window.

“He’s kicking the shit out of Jackson,” he said quietly.

                                    ***************

It was a scene right out of one of Jack’s worst nightmares:  Daniel on the ground, bleeding and unresponsive, while some goon put the boots to him.  Jack didn’t know what he yelled, but the brute looked up, and then Teal’c’s staff weapon blasted a hole in his chest.

Jack glanced at Teal’c, knowing he should chastise the Jaffa for killing a potential source of information.  He met the dark remorseless eyes of his teammate and nodded.  He knew the fury and rage Teal’c felt.  He only wished he had beaten him to it.

Jack ran to his fallen comrade, shadowed by Sam and Teal’c while the members of SG-3 headed to the building which was occupied by SG-5, judging by the cheers and yelling from within.

Jack knelt beside his friend.

“Daniel?” he choked, his heart in his mouth as he took in the younger man’s condition.  He thought of the bloodied stick and anger surged behind his eyes.  He felt for and found a pulse.  He blinked away his tears.

“Sir?” Sam asked, her voice trembling.

“He’s alive,” Jack said.

“O’Neill, this one is awakening,” Teal’c announced, his foot heavy on Carsu’s chest.

“Do what you have to do,” Jack said between clenched teeth, his eyes still on Daniel.  “God, Carter, look at him.  Where do we start?” he murmured, shaking his head.

“Sir, he’s coming around,” Sam said.

“Shit,” Jack muttered, as Daniel’s eyelids fluttered.

“Stay still, Daniel,” Jack said softly, one hand gently pressing on his friend’s chest.  He felt Daniel tense under his touch.  “It’s okay.  We’re taking you home,” Jack soothed, wiping sweat and blood off the younger man’s face.

Daniel’s eyes fully opened, and Jack’s chest constricted as the wary blue eyes softened into recognition and relief.

“Jack,” Daniel whispered, relaxing under the older man’s touch.

“Hell of a way to rest, Daniel,” Jack teased lightly, his thumb caressing the stubbled cheek.

Daniel’s answering smile faltered, and his eyes widened in urgency.

“Jack, the others.  They’re—”

“They’re okay, Daniel,” Sam said, kneeling and opening her medkit.  “SG-3’s bringing them out now.”

“Not all of them,” Daniel murmured.

Jack exchanged an uneasy glance with Sam.

“Who’d we lose, Daniel?” Jack asked quietly.

“Sergeant Cairns and Sharon,” Daniel answered dully.

“It’s all right, Daniel.  We’ll talk about it later,” Jack said, patting the injured man’s shoulder.

“I couldn’t save them, Jack,” Daniel whispered, his face scrunching in pain and sorrow.

“Don’t talk, Daniel.  Just let us take care of you.  Carter?”

“We should splint his wrist first.  It’s broken again,” Sam said, quelling her anger.

“My back,” Daniel rasped.  “Have to get off my back.”

“Easy, let me do that,” Jack said, placing his hands under Daniel’s shoulders and easing him up so he could lean sideways against him, taking pressure off his back.  Jack felt the stickiness of blood immediately, but he swallowed his outrage.

“Colonel,” Sam whispered when she saw her teammate’s torn and bleeding back.

“His arm, Carter,” Jack said.

“Yes, sir,” she said, focusing her attention on the task at hand.  “I’ll need you to hold him still, sir.  This is going to hurt.”

“I will take your place, O’Neill,” Teal’c said gravely.

Jack glanced over and saw their prisoner thoroughly bound and unconscious.  He nodded to Teal’c and relinquished his hold on Daniel.  He carefully re-positioned himself and held Daniel’s arm firmly while Sam probed the broken bones.  He tried to block out the flinching under his fingers and focused on the remaining members of SG-5 who were emerging from their captivity.

The rescuers and the rescuers gathered around the solemn members of SG-1.

“What the hell happened, Branson?”  Jack asked as he held Daniel’s arm rigid while the younger man tried to pull his arm free of Sam’s grasp..

Branson wrenched his gaze from Daniel.  He looked back at Jack and explained about the footprints, the Goa’uld shock grenades, and their subsequent capture.

“They said their ship crashed and was damaged.  We were their ticket out, but they wanted more.”

“Let me guess: gate addresses,” Jack said wearily.

“They concentrated on Dr. Jackson,” Branson said.  “I tried to divert them, but—”

“You don’t have to explain, Major,” Jack said.

“They took him away,” the major continued.  “That one came back later…twice,” he said, gesturing to Carsu.  “He took Sgt. Cairns and Dr. Reynolds.  We haven’t seen them since.”

Jack felt Daniel flinch at the names, and he placed a reassuring hand on his friend’s shoulder.

“They didn’t make it,” Jack said, looking at Branson and shaking his head to signify dropping the subject.

“Colonel, permission to search for their ship.  There may be something of value—”

“Permission denied, Branson,” Jack said.  He already had what he valued; nothing else even came close.  “You’ll report to General Hammond.  If he wants to send another team, that’s his call.  You’ve all been through enough.”

“Colonel O’Neill!”  Cooper said suddenly.  “This man is dead,” he reported, looking down at Carsu.

Jack looked sharply at Teal’c.

“I did not harm him, O’Neill, although it took great restraint,” Teal’c replied.

“Damn it,” Jack muttered.

“Colonel,” Cooper said, an odd catch to his voice.  “They’re not real.”

“What?”  Jack and Branson said in unison.

“They’re not real,” Cooper repeated.

“That one’s bleeding,” Branson said, looking at Abu.

“It’s superficial, sir.  Look,” Cooper said, pulling away the flesh from around the staff wound and exposing the circuits lying underneath.  “It’s a robot.”

“Carter, check it out,” Jack said.  “I can finish here.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Daniel, I’m going to give you something to help with the pain, and then we’re getting the hell out of here,” Jack said quietly.

Daniel nodded dully.  His body was wracked with pain, and his emotions were raw and too near the surface.  Bitter tears of frustration and helplessness leaked from his eyes.

 

part 2

 

link image
link image
link img
link img
link img
link image
isis link
Eilidh17
DennyJ
Amberfly
Carlyn
Winterstar
LadyD
Isis
   
  Hawk50 Nancy Bailey Carrie AnnO  
link img
link img
link image
Marzipan
JAJJAJ
Gemsong
Cancer
Taylyn
GateGremlyn
Pough

 

 

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