Fission of Silence

 

When it was over, the beast took the wet cloth and cleaned Levan with care and precision, dried him carefully, and folded his clothing back in place. Then the beast rose from its knees, poured a glass of water, and offered it to Levan, who ignored the drink. The beast kept the glass outstretched, compliant with the standing orders. Levan rested his head against the back of his chair, smiling, sated.

The beast held the glass, slick with condensation, in front of its body without moving, without looking at Levan, without wondering when the glass would be taken. It was always taken. It always would be.

Sitting in his oversized leather chair, Levan rotated his ankle, the joint cracking and popping. He glanced at his fingernails, noticed a speck of dirt under one and cleaned it out. He took the glass and drank from it. Without giving thought to the readiness of the beast, he passed the cup back and let go of it. Levan swiveled around in his chair to face his desk and began to sort through a stack of papers, until he became aware that the creature was still near. Levan glared hard at the beast, blistering it with eyes that spewed hatred and disgust. He pointed to the ground, and it quickly knelt, lowered its forehead and hands to the floor, the empty glass still in its hand.

"No! You…you idiot!" Levan bellowed. He kicked the glass from the beast’s hand, sending it crashing against the wall. The beast’s petrified expression darted from the glass shards to Levan’s shoes and back to the glass. It knew it had to make a decision, the right decision. The simple creature knew it should be able to figure it out—remain crouched until Levan told it what to do, or clean the broken glass. Its mind tumbled with the decision. Finally, the creature chose to clean up its mess, crawling as fast as it could to pick up the strewn pieces of jagged glass. Its hands shook as the beast made frenetic movements to pick up each piece. Numb with trepidation, the creature didn’t feel the glass slicing into its fingers, but became aware of the injuries when it saw the droplets of red staining the floor. Desperately, it pulled the sleeve of its garment over its hand and tried to wipe away the smears before Levan caught sight of them.

The beast heard the crack against its jaw before it felt the actual pain. Then, in a split second, the creature felt its head smack against the floor. Splinters of glass dug into its cheekbone. Trembling and afraid, the terrified creature remained huddled on the floor.

"Terrak!" Levan yelled, kicking the beast’s legs away from his path toward the door. "Terrak! Get in here!"

"Yes, Levan," Terrak said, racing into the room.

Levan strode back to his desk, stopping next to the recoiled creature. "Do you see this?"

"Yes, Levan," Terrak replied, regarding the twitching body on the ground.

Levan looked upon the creature, silent and cowering, with disgust. Levan pulled a thick hand across his mouth and slapped Terrak viciously across the face. And then again. Terrak recovered, showing no display of pain or emotion whatsoever.

"This is useless," Levan informed him. He kicked the beast away, a piece of rubbish, something repulsive left thoughtlessly in his way. "And you, as its keeper, are responsible for it."

"Yes, Levan," Terrak replied.

"It is useless and stupid." Levan stepped to his desk, fumbled through a list of files on his desktop monitor, and brought up one in particular. Seething with anger, shaking his head and muttering expletives, Levan read through the document, occasionally glancing in contempt at the beast. "How long have we had it?"

"Seven months, Levan."

Levan fingered each line of the document, searching for the loophole he needed. "I’m a patient man, Terrak. But this is…this is intolerable." He sharply punched the monitor, sending a tactile message for the monitor to turn the page. He scanned the document, becoming more and more agitated. His eyes fell to the figure curled up submissively next to his desk, the broken glass still cluttering the floor of his office. Levan’s face became red with acrimony. Terrak became aware of his owner’s anger and fell to his knees, screaming into the creature’s ear.

"Clean up your mess, you ridiculous fool!" Terrak barked. The beast scampered to its knees, bent over the broken pieces, and once again attempted to clear the glass as quickly as its trembling hands would allow. Thin rivulets of blood raced down the creature’s bruised cheek. Pinpoints of red splattered the ground, sailing from its frenzied hands.

"Terrak! Do you not see the mess it’s making?" Levan cried, taking the document and pointing it at the mixture of blood and broken glass.

"Yes, Levan. I am sorry, Levan," Terrak said.

The beast, anxious and frightened, glanced up at Levan, unsure of what should be done.

Levan’s eyes widened with horror. "Did you…Terrak, did you see that?" he asked, staring at his servant in incredulity.

"I am sorry, Levan," Terrak replied, yanking the beast from its crouched position. Terrak spun the beast around to face him, fisted its rough, cut-away collar, and slapped the creature, once, twice, three times, brutally and in rapid succession. "You shall never look at Levan again!"

The beast’s ears rang from the beating. Its vision grayed. The creature reached out a hand to steady itself. It scratched a pattern on the floor—up and down and up and circle, circle, circle. Blood dripped from the creature’s fingers to the floor, and Levan became further incensed.

"Remove it, Terrak! Now!" he screamed, stepping away from the sullied area.

Terrak grabbed the beast by the wrist, jerked the stunned creature off its knees and dragged it out of the room, where he beat the beast until its fear and confusion were gone.

*****

The guard unlocked the heavy door, and the old man, stooped and unkempt, shuffled into the room.

The creature lay panting in a tangle of bloodied limbs. One eye swollen shut, the other swimming in a sea of blood, the beast waited for the healer, silently and trembling.

The old man dropped his satchel next to the beast and lowered his gnarled body to the ground. His arthritic joints creaked and moaned when he knelt next to the ravaged body.

"You are a hindrance to yourself," he said, wiping the sweat from his forehead with a craggy hand. The old man reached into his bag and produced a bowl into which he poured a mixture of coarse powder and sticky fluid. He combined the ingredients with two bent fingers, stirring it into a thick paste, earthen and musty.

"If you are lucky, you will be sold," he said, watching the consistency drip from his fingers into the bowl. "If not, Levan will kill you."

The man’s rheumatic fingers dipped into the salve and scooped out a portion, which he smoothed onto the beast’s battered face. The creature flinched. The man pressed his hand to the beast’s shoulder, steadying it. "Be still. You know this will sting only for a moment. Of all Levan’s creatures, you should know that. I spend half my time healing you. When will you learn? Probably never." He continued to smear the putrid concoction across the beast’s raised cheek, over a split lip, an open gash across its ear. Another dollop was smoothed across the eyes, until the beast’s entire face was covered, its injuries hidden under the oozing paste.

"Of course, if he were planning to kill you, he wouldn’t bother with having you healed, now would he?" The man pushed aside the bowl and wiped his fingers on the beast’s soiled garment. He pulled a knife from his sack, pressed it next to the tender, pulsating skin on the beast’s neck, and sliced into the rough material of its robe. He drew the knife down, through the burled and scratchy cloth, slicing the bloodied material away. The old man tore at the seams, exposing the beast’s shaking body to the dank air. "Oh, what a mess," he mumbled seeing the distention of the abdomen, the bruising over the legs, hips and ribs. "Why do you do this to yourself?"

The old man straightened the beast’s body, laying the creature’s bloodstained hands next to itself. "No, I suspect you will be sold, and soon," he said, taking a metallic sheet from his sack. He unfurled the sheet over the beast’s body, covering the creature from its neck to its filthy feet. The old man leaned precariously across the beast, tucking the sheet around and under the body, making sure it came in contact with every critical point—the broken ribs, the fractured elbow, the abdomen swollen with trapped blood.

"Levan and the consortium had such high hopes for you. The last creature died during the purging. But not you. You were stronger than Levan expected. Stronger and more stubborn. You have always been stubborn, beast. That is why I must spend my time repairing the damage." The old man pressed his hands to the ground and slowly raised his curled form. He tottered to the wall of the dank room and stopped next to a console. He keyed in a pattern, and from the back wall, a circular pattern of light moved forward, ascending upon the creature to surround it. The light began at the base of the beast’s feet, engulfing them in garish light. "Unfortunately, Levan has found you to be untrainable and stupid. Stupid."

The particles of light slid across the beast’s ankles and legs, sending currents of electric pain through the creature’s body. The old man watched with apathy while the beast silently twitched, flinched and convulsed. Under the blanket, the beast’s fisted hands rattled against the ground, its body arching under the encompassing torrent of pain.

The old man found himself bored with the sight and turned his attention to the wall where a centipede slithered quietly across. He watched it, fascinated by the skittering symmetry, the coordinated articulation of movement. While the buzz and whir of the energy field slowly encircled and scraped across the beast’s body, the man gently placed his hand on the wall and waited for the insect to crawl into his palm. The antennae of the insect grazed against the old man’s hand before propelling itself up and over the callused skin. The man’s mouth opened to a decayed smile while the legs of the centipede tickled his skin. Without taking his eyes off the roving insect, the man reached for the console with his free hand and increased the strength of the light beam. The beast’s heels dug into the floor, its body seizing under the onslaught.

The arthropod writhed across his hand, dipping between each finger, a wave of legs moving across the soiled hand. He lined up his two hands, and the insect moved from one set of gnarled fingers to another, silent and undulating.

"What a marvelous creature," the old man reported, stroking the segmented body with great affection and care. He turned his palsied hand over, allowing the centipede more surfaces on which to scamper. He heard the soft grunts escaping the beast, glanced up to see the light had made its way to the beast’s neck, and reached over to the console, turning off the healing particle stream. The circular machine receded into the back wall.

He stooped down, falling the last few inches onto aged knees, and lowered his hand to the ground. "There you go, my little friend," he cooed, allowing the insect to peel off his hand and onto the stone floor. It slithered away, into the darkened shadows between abutted stone.

The old man tore the metallic sheet from the beast’s newly restored body, wrapped the sheet over his hands, and shoved it into his sack. "You do this to yourself," he spat, taking a piece of the beast’s discarded garment from the floor. He used it to wipe the salve from the creature’s face, scraping away the gritty paste to reveal freshly gained scars. The old man slapped the beast’s shoulder. "Get up," he ordered, pointing to where it should go.

The beast rolled to its side, rolled to a weakened elbow, pressed itself up from the floor and sat up, kneeling on the back of its legs. The creature’s head slumped forward, a combination of exhaustion, pain and humiliation pouring through it.

"Drink this. Go on," the old man said, pressing a cup into the beast’s chest. The beast took it and raised it to its lips. The steaming, rancid liquid spilled across its lips and into its mouth, but the creature knew better than to gag. A savage beating had taught it never to gag again. The beast swallowed the liquid and placed the bowl next to its body. The creature replaced its hands in its lap, awaiting the next step.

"For a stupid creature, you are very strong. Your injuries were severe, but somehow you survived. You always do," the man said, pulling himself up by leaning his entire weight onto the beast’s shoulders. The old man shuffled to the wall and grabbed a long hose, turned the spigot, and pelted the beast with water.

The icy temperature of the water seized the beast’s lungs, but it remained motionless, allowing the water to peel away the remnants of the salve, rinse away the by-product of the particle spray. The formidable stream of water needled the beast's still throbbing skin, but it didn’t move. There were some things it was able to learn. Some things it could remember.

The old man turned off the water and let the hose smack against the wall. He grabbed a parcel out of a cubby in the wall and tossed it at the beast. "Here is your new garment. Put it on. Levan will expect to see you soon," he said.

The beast pulled the sack-like robe from off the floor and searched for the bottom opening, turning the garment in its hands, becoming more and more frightened when it couldn’t produce the hem. The old man bristled, rolled his eyes, and ripped the cloth from the beast’s hands. The beast flinched and turned its head, readying itself for the imminent onslaught of discipline. Instead, it felt the coarse material skimming over its skin.

"The intelligence of pulp," the old man muttered, yanking the beast’s arms through the sleeves, ripping the garment over its torso. "If you were lucky, Levan would kill you, put you out of your own misery. End your wretched life." He pushed the beast away, repulsed by the creature’s inability to do the simplest things. "But you will be sold. Yes, I’m sure of it. Like an ox, you are stupid but strong. Levan and the others will be able to command a good price for you."

The beast pulled the robe past its hips and over its legs. The creature, panting with fear, smoothed the harsh sheath against its thighs, and then became still, compliant once again.

"Pick up my tools and hand them to me," the old man ordered, waving at his things, nudging the beast with his booted foot. The beast gathered the healing tools, stuffed them into the man’s sack, and offered them to the old man.

"You should be grateful, creature," he said, limping toward the door. "Levan has been very patient with you. Your next owner surely will not be as tolerant." The old man knocked on the door, regarded the beast with disdain, and waited for the guards. "You will likely be killed then. Pray that you are." The door swung open, and the old man tottered out.

The beast slumped to the ground, binding its arms around its waist, pressing its forehead into the filthy, wet floor. Its warm breath ricocheted off the ground and settled against its face, brought the pathetic creature a modicum of comfort that it knew it didn’t deserve. The beast brought its hands to its mouth and breathed into their union.

One hundred hair-like feet crawled over the beast’s ankles and calves. One hundred minute legs slithered under the beast’s gown and over its knee, changing their straight course to dip over the taut slope of a rounded thigh. The beast opened its mouth to scream but that ability had been taken from it months ago. The creature wanted to scrabble away, but was paralyzed with fear. It pressed its shaking hands to its mouth and screwed tight its eyes.

One hundred legs whispered across the beast’s hips, stopped at the tight intersection of abdomen and thigh, and diverted its course across the beast’s stomach, brushing against the constricting muscles.

Adept at only two things, the beast called on one and disappeared. It moved away from dinning silence, from touch, from fear. It pressed into the darkness, folded the edges of awareness in on itself, and ceased to be.

Until the beast was gone.

*****

"As I was saying," Levan continued, holding the door open for his guest, "we had very high hopes for the creature when it came to us." Levan motioned for the man to take a seat in front of his desk.

Denjo Blont sat down in the chair. He was broad and stout, a look of uncompromising scrutiny in his face. He had come a great distance to purchase the creature for his clients, and the formalities associated with such a purchase bored him. Blont wasn’t interested in details, only numbers.

"You’ll find all the pertinent information within," Levan said, handing Blont a small chip.

Blont took the chip, inserted it into the monitor on his side of the desk, and when the data appeared before him, began to skim over the information indifferently. "You paid 52,000 Mead for it?"

"Yes."

"You ask 62,000, and yet you’ve only been in receipt of the creature for less than…" Blont flipped back to the original bill of sale, "…less than the seven months."

"The consortium feels this is a fair price. After all, the creature has been purged and trained, at our considerable time and effort," Levan informed him.

Blont paged through the information, glancing at the data, the pertinent notes. One particular notation struck him. He shook his head skeptically. "No, this can’t be right," he said, turning the monitor to Levan.

Levan craned his neck to see what Blont was questioning. "Yes, that is correct."

"Fifty corrections?"

"The most we’ve ever had to administer."

"Over what period of time?" Blont asked, the pages of data cursing over the monitor. He began to feel the deal turning sour.

"Ten days," Levan said.

Blont’s eyes fixed on Levan. "Ten days?"

"It received 25 corrections within the first two days," Levan said. "The third day, it received eight. By the end of that day, our trainers felt confident that purging had begun and that the creature could stand more. So, you can see, 62,000 Mead is a fair price."

"But it is purged, correct?"

"Yes, completely," Levan assured him, nodding his head with confidence. "The creature is strong, to be sure. It is strong and healthy, and able to be physically pushed beyond any creature of its kind. However, it does not meet our needs sufficiently, and the consortium is willing to sell it. We ask only to recoup the price of ten days worth of purging."

"Is it trainable?" the man asked, taking the chip from the monitor and tossing it on the desk.

"Imminently," Levan said. "The training it received for its particular job was well learned. It has been my personal beast, and I have been well satisfied with its performance. Unfortunately, it never was able to understand the more basic rules of our society. This is not the fault of our training or staff. It is merely a matter of the creature being unsuitable for our needs. Pardon me, won’t you?" Levan rose from his seat and stepped toward his office door. Terrak rounded the corner of the door and listened for Levan’s instructions. Terrak nodded and hurried off. Levan walked back to his desk and sat back in his large overstuffed chair. "Please excuse the interruption."

"Certainly," Blont said.

"If I may be so bold, it is my understanding that your interest in the creature is purely for research," Levan said, rocking back in the chair.

"Correct," Blont said. "That is why we jumped at the chance to purchase it as soon as we heard the consortium was putting it up for sale."

"Tell me, what type of research will you be performing on the creature?" Levan asked.

"It is only a creature. What do you care?" Blont asked in return.

"I take an interest in all the creatures that pass through here. They are things, it is true, but even so, they deserve a bit of dignity," Levan said.

"Once I give you the 62,000 Mead, the question of its dignity will no longer be your concern," Blont said.

Levan stared back, mildly disgusted with the buyer’s disdainful attitude. He nodded in acquiescence and said, "Very well."

Blont reached inside his tunic to pull out a satchel. He poured into his hand coins of different size and composition. He tossed them gently, unearthing a few coins in order to see the amount. He pawed through the currency and handed six coins to Levan. "62,000 Mead."

"I think you will be very satisfied," Levan said, accepting the payment over the expanse of the desk, and in exchange, offered Blont the information chip. "You may keep this. It now belongs to you along with the creature."

The door to Levan’s office opened, and Terrak stepped through with the beast shuffling close behind. It kept its head down, both eyes cast to the ground.

"Ah, here is your creature now," Levan said, rising from his seat, extending an invitation to Blont to peruse his purchase.

Terrak stopped in the center of the room and brought the beast to a halt. Blont rose from his seat and stepped slowly around the creature, looking for the distinguishing marks his client had described. Blont paused in front of the creature, chucked it under its chin and waited for it to lift its face.

The creature automatically did as it was told, but kept its eyes averted, knowing the price to be paid for looking a master in the eye.

"Look at me," Blont said, tapping the creature against the forehead.

The beast raised its eyes, stared off at nothing of consequence.

"Yes," Blont hissed, finding the strange color of the beast’s eyes riveting, just as his client had described. "Yes, this is the one."

The creature’s eyes, empty and lifeless, contained a color Blont had never seen in a creature. It was the color of the Burankin moon during the harvest, the color of deepest jewels.

Blont wrapped a rope around the beast’s waist and tied a slipknot in it. He wrapped the other end of the rope around his own thick, sullied hand, all the while peering salaciously into the creature’s striking features. "You will come with me," Blont told the beast. It lowered its eyes and followed Blont from the room.

"It was a pleasure doing business with you," Levan called out, but Blont and his new possession had left the office.

*****

There was a breeze that left no discernable sensation; a scent that sparked no recognition; a light that awakened no response. The beast scuffed along behind Blont through the dusty streets of Xiotank, unaware of its surroundings, unaware it was alive.

Their walk had been carried on in silence. The beast kept a few paces behind Blont; Blont now and again checked to make sure the pitiful creature was indeed following him, giving the rope a swift yank. Blont scanned the area, constantly in search of the perfect opportunity.

Along a decrepit section of buildings, Blont grabbed the creature by the nape of the neck and pushed it into a darkened vestibule.

The beast’s face came into hard contact with the masonry, its nose smacking against the rough façade. The beast lifted a hand to steady itself against the wall.

"You have cost me more than I was prepared to pay," Blont said, pressing a burly hand into the center of the beast’s back, crushing the creature into the wall. "I shall take my lost wages out on you."

The beast opened its eyes and saw its own hand against the wall. One thumb and four fingers, slender and trembling, unlike the short, stocky fingers pressed into its back. The creature felt its body being forcefully butted up against the coarse masonry. The beast counted the knuckles on each finger, watched the strange cords below the skin dance while it grasped hold of the wall, scratched at the rough surface. Watched a halting pattern emerge—up and down and up and circle, circle, circle…

The beast’s primitive cassock was pulled up over its hips, allowing its now exposed legs and hips to grind against the rasp of the coarse masonry. The creature’s face scraped against the surface again and again and again. Uneven nails at the end of the fingers dug into the wall without making a sound—up and down and up and circle, circle, circle-- and the beast watched as the cords under the thin skin became more prominent against the rough, hidden vestibule wall.

"Yes," Blont harshly whispered into the beast’s ear, his hot, quickening breath smearing against the creature’s skin. "Yes, I shall take my lost wages from you."

The beast heard a muffled grunt, an urgent groan but forgot it as soon as it passed though the air. The beast watched the fingers become rigid, tremble, splayed across the textured surface.

"Make it worth my lost wages," Blont crackled, reaching with a wanton hand around the creature, clawing at a hipbone to better find his recompense. "Yes. Make it worth my time."

The beast saw its own hand sliding out of sight, fading into insignificance. Sliding away from tactile awareness and into nothingness.

After Blont had reaped enough payment from the creature, he picked up a discarded rag off the ground and tossed it at the beast. "Here. Clean yourself. You shall meet your new master soon. I don’t want them to find you any filthier than you already are."

The beast stooped to the ground to retrieve the rag and wiped it beneath its bleeding nose, over its scoured and torn body. It stood out of habit only, let the rough fabric of its meager clothing skim over its hips and legs

"Come along. My clients are waiting for their precious bounty," Blont stated, yanking the beast by the rope from the vestibule.

The beast stumbled, fell with an awkward thud against the ground, and slowly righted itself.

"Come!" Blont barked.

The beast fell in step with Blont, its head lowered, its shoulders stooped, unaware of the blistering heat, unaware of its lingering fear.

*****

The beast had no way of knowing how long they had walked, only knew apathy. Only knew fatigue.

But then it was brought to a halt. A stabbing in its ears shuddered through the beast. A stimulus, shrill and biting, clawed at its ears. The creature shut its eyes to close out the painful discordance. Touches and movement surrounded it, made it dizzy with fear.

Faces and the piercing throb that punched against its mind crowded around the beast, confusing the creature, filling its head with too much.

The faces pulled the creature, placed hands on it, entered its head in excruciating sibilance. The beast pressed its chin to its chest and tried to disappear.

A horrendous cacophony exploded in the beast’s mind, pulling its sparse attention up to take in the sight. The creature was being directed to step into the swirl of the large ring. Flesh deep memories of the pain circles brought bore into the creature. Made the creature’s last thought scream in abject terror. Another circle, another purging, another healing...

The ring dropped from its sight, the sky appeared in its stead. A circle of faces jumbled above the beast, blurred and graying, hovering close to its face. The beast’s skin no longer responded to touch, no longer processed sensation.

The beast closed its eyes and capitulated to the endless cycle of death.

*****

Janet Fraiser and members of her staff raced through the halls of the corridor based on one single command—"Medical team to the embarkation room!"

An almost daily ritual, usually ending in a sprained ankle, an allergic reaction to histamines no one could possible have thought to look for.

While she ran next to the clamoring gurney, Janet silently checked off all the teams. SG3 and SG5 were on base. SG8 was off world but had checked in not minutes earlier stating their boredom. SG6 and SG11 were off world, but thoroughly enjoying themselves along the shores of an interstellar paradise.

That left SG1.

There is no way, she told herself. SG1 had been looking for Daniel for months now, always returning disheartened and without answers. There is no way that this time they found him. Just no way.

 

"Let’s pick up the pace, people," Janet ordered, sailing through the final hall to the embarkation room doors. The second they crashed through the double hung doors, she saw the impossible.

"Get him on the gurney!" she yelled, reaching out for Teal’c to meet them at the end of the ramp.

Teal’c quickly but with great care laid Daniel’s limp, battered body onto the white sheets. The lifeless limbs fell in grotesque configurations, defying their natural resting positions.

"He passed out right before we came through the gate," Sam said, her eyes darting between the professionalism of Janet and her staff and Daniel’s pallid countenance.

"Let’s move it!" Janet bellowed, ripping the side rails up and taking hold of the bed. At a break-neck speed, she and her staff ushered out the gurney.

Sam stood unable to pull in the smallest of breaths. She began to feel herself getting sick, her stomach revolting at the sight of her once robust friend.

"Oh, God," she groaned, dashing from the ramp. She made it as far as the double doors before she ducked behind a generator box and threw up.

"Major Carter," Teal’c said, placing a hand on her back. "Are you not well?"

"She’s fine. Briefing in ten minutes," Jack retorted, passing them on his way to the locker room. "Make that five." He threw the doors shut behind him and strode down the hall, leaving in his wake the stench of fury and indignation.

Teal’c ground his teeth together and dismissed O’Neill’s behavior out of hand. He turned back to Sam and stooped to speak with her. "Shall I help you to the lavatory?"

Sam pulled a trembling hand across her mouth and cleared her throat. She spit the remaining bile from her mouth into the splashed puddle on the ground. "No. I’m fine. Thank you, Teal’c. I’m fine."

"It was indeed unsettling to see DanielJackson in such a condition," Teal’c said, guarding over her, keeping the other passing personnel away.

"That’s not Daniel," she said, hunched over her knees. "There’s no way that…that can possibly be Daniel."

"I am quite certain it is," Teal’c assured her. "It is clearly evident that he has suffered great hardship, but I am confident that we have, indeed, brought DanielJackson home."

"We brought something home, Teal’c. I don’t know if it’s Daniel," Sam said, feeling her way against the wall to the door. She stumbled out of the embarkation room and down the hall to the bathroom where she vomited again.

*****

"Let’s get that IV going now, people," Janet ordered.

So began the flurry of activity. Sets of hands attached leads to Daniel’s chest, others cut and ripped away his sack-cloth garment. While one worked methodically to start a femoral IV, and another to start a subclavian, a third nurse placed an oxygen cannula under Daniel’s nose, draping the tube over his ears.

"I need Ringer’s lactate running," Janet said. She placed her stethoscope over scars and bruises on his chest, listening for the shallow, lethargic sound of his breathing. "I need blood gases."

"Done," said a nurse, producing a vial of dark red fluid. She raced out of the room to the lab.

"Daniel?" Janet said, continuing to listen for any irregularities in his heartbeat. When Daniel did not respond, she called out his name again. "Daniel? Can you hear me?"

"Temp is 104.2," a nurse called out.

A pulse ox was attached to the tip of his scraped forefinger, and a Foley catheter was snaked up to his bladder.

Janet stepped to the head of the gurney--nurses and technicians perfunctorily moved out of her way.

She pulled the penlight from her lab coat pocket and opened his right eye. "Daniel? I need you to wake up now." Janet repressed the twitter in her gut when she pulled the lids open to reveal those eyes that she thought she might never see again. Those eyes that were constricting with the light, slowly but surely. "I’ve got a Glasgow of…call it 12."

"Doctor, O2 is at 98%," a nurse reported over the bare and scabbed body.

"Any signs of active bleeding?" Janet asked, flicking the light across his left eye.

"No, ma’am," they answered back, one after another.

Janet replaced the penlight in her pocket and reached behind Daniel’s head to his neck. She tipped her face down, concentrating on the work of her fingers as they palpated the cervical vertebrae through the long, dirty hair. "How’s his belly?"

The resident pressing against Daniel’s impoverished abdomen answered, "Belly’s soft with scant bowel sounds."

A technician wheeled in a gangly machine and waited for the orders he knew would be coming.

"Daniel," Janet said, raising her voice a notch above the cacophony surrounding him. She placed two fingers in his hand and wiggled them. "Daniel, squeeze my fingers, okay? Come on, Daniel. Squeeze my fingers." Daniel’s hand remained motionless under her touch.

"Pulse is 100; blood pressure is 80 over palp," came the reading.

"Fluids open wide," Janet said.

One after another, the nursing staff worked their hands over his limbs, checking for recent fractures.

Janet stepped next to the orderly holding the portable x-ray machine. "I want a single view chest film and a flat plate abdominal," she said, peeling off her gloves.

"Yes, ma’am," the orderly replied, wheeling the machine within the circle of procedures.

A passing nurse slipped a sheet of paper into Janet’s hand. The data showed more of the same—metabolic acidosis: a body in shock. "Push the sodium bicarb."

"Doctor?"

Janet looked up at the sound of the gently rumbling voice. "General Hammond?" she said, walking up to him. She was surprised to see the general in the infirmary so soon after SG1 had arrived. He didn’t usually want to be anywhere near the infirmary when there was a crisis. It wasn’t his place, he often said.

The general remained next to the entrance of the trauma room. "How is he?"

"Well, sir," Janet said, taking a moment to glance over the once strong and healthy body. Her eyes caught sight of the upraised scars along Daniel's brow, the yellowed bruises staining his ribs, "he’s been ripped up and put back together somehow. I won’t know the extent of his injuries until I get a look at his x-rays, but for right now, we’re working on getting him stabilized."

"Is he conscious?" General Hammond asked, shaking his head in disbelief over the obviously abused body.

"No, sir, he isn’t. He’s in a deep state of unconsciousness. We’re going to be taking him to radiology as soon as he’s stabilized," Janet told him.

"Doctor Fraiser?" said a nurse somewhere in the scrum around Daniel.

"Sir," Janet said, turning from him, grabbing a new pair of gloves.

"Go," General Hammond said, understanding all too well that she was needed to take care of Doctor Jackson.

"What do we have?" Janet asked, quickly snapping her gloves on.

General Hammond stepped outside the infirmary, pulled one hand across his mouth, shook his head and cursed.

*****

Jack hunkered down in the black armchair, his hands folded solidly on the table in front of him. He stared with steely indifference at the wall over the empty chair on the other side of the table.

Sam and Teal’c stepped into the room and quietly took their seats. Jack’s sightline never diverted, and Sam thought it best not to try to gain his attention. Teal’c took a fleeting glance at O’Neill and just as quickly looked away.

"Let’s begin," General Hammond said, entering the room. He lowered his girth into the chair at the front of the table and opened a file.

"Well, General, it seems our contact came through for us...finally…" Jack said, turning his head to speak directly to the general.

"We arrived on R43-972 yesterday to set up the exchange," Sam said. "As I’m sure you remember from the mission report we filed previous to proceeding with the mission, we took with us a quantity of uranium 235. We set up camp in a safe house near the gate on 972 and waited for the exchange."

"Denjo Blont, a mercenary we met on one of our previous search attempts, did indeed have the information and wherewithal in order to find and extract DanielJackson from his…imprisonment," Teal’c said.

General Hammond’s nodded, the memories of all Daniel’s injuries corroborating the information perfectly well.

"We’re not certain about that, General," Jack said, glaring at Teal’c for his slip of the tongue. "All we know is Blont was able to come up with Daniel, we gave him the uranium, and then we came home."

"From the looks of his condition, he wasn’t out there casually roaming around the universe, sir," Sam added, tipping her head in disbelief over the colonel’s cavalier attitude.

Jack chose to ignore her. "At 21:50, Blont and Daniel arrived at the gate. This Blont character gave us a disc of some sort," Jack said, tossing the chip onto the table. "He didn’t exactly speak English, so I don’t have a clue what it is, but he seemed fairly emphatic that we should take it."

The general picked up the disc, turned it over in his hand. "Major, do you have any idea what this is?"

"Well, sir, I haven’t been able to look at it, but my best guess would be that it’s some sort of ID. Something that needed to stay with Daniel. Blont kept pressing it against Daniel and pointing to his head," Sam said. "I’ll take it to my lab, see what I can come up with."

"See to it," General Hammond said, handing the disc to Sam. "So, this…Blont person…"

"Person might be a stretch, sir," Jack interjected. "He looked to be three chromosomes short of being an actual person."

"Fine," General Hammond said, taking note of the distinction. "When this…mercenary brought Doctor Jackson to the gate, how long was it before you were able to dial home?"

"When they first walked up…" Sam began.

"Who are they, Major?" the general asked.

"Blont and Daniel, sir."

"Are you telling me Doctor Jackson walked to the Stargate?" General Hammond asked. After having seen the condition Daniel was in not moments ago, the general found the idea of him being able to walk absolutely unbelievable.

"Yes, sir," Sam answered. "Moments after the exchange, in fact while we were walking toward the event horizon, Daniel stopped and then…"

"It was as if he could no longer go on, General," Teal’c interceded. "He collapsed in my arms."

General Hammond ran a hand over his pate, his face turning crimson with disgust. "You’ll forgive me, people, but I was just down in the infirmary, and I’m having the damnedest time comprehending how Doctor Jackson was able to walk at all."

Sam was hardly able to contain the apprehension in her voice when she asked, "Is he…?" .
"He’s holding his own," the general offered. He studied the faces of his flagship team. "I realize this has been a particularly trying time for you all. I applaud your perseverance and determination. I also realize that until we can talk to Doctor Jackson, try to come to some conclusions about what happened, there’s going to be a great deal of unanswerable questions. Give it time, people. You’ve waited this long. Another couple days won’t hurt."

"Yes, sir," Jack said for the team.

"I’m sure you’re all ready to hit the showers, get a hot meal. I won’t keep you any longer. Dismissed," the general said, rising from his seat.

"Thank you, sir," Jack said, rising also. When the general had left the room, Jack sat back down.

"Sir," Sam quietly said.

"What is it, Carter?"

"About Daniel," she said.

"Carter, you know everything I know. What could I possibly tell you?" Jack asked, pressing his fists into the table.

Sam stared at him, ground her teeth together in anger and prudence, and then shook her head. "I’m sorry, sir. I realize we’re all in the same boat."

"Yeah, well," Jack said, closing his folder with a slap, "we wouldn’t be in the goddamn boat if orders were followed in the first place."

"Sir," Sam said, knowing that the sound of disbelief and hurt in her voice bordered on insubordination.

"Leave it alone, Carter," Jack warned, glaring at her. "Now, I have a report to write up. So do you. It’s time we got back to what we do, and what we do is work for the United States Air Force. This little foray into scavenger hunting has gone on long enough. We’re done. We found Daniel. It’s over. Now it’s time to get back to work."

"Yes, sir," Sam said.

"I want to see the copy of your report on my desk in two hours," he said, striding out of the briefing room.

"Yes, sir," Sam quietly said in the wake of the colonel.

"DanielJackson is back with us, Major Carter," Teal’c said, sensing Sam’s growing confusion. "It is indeed a time to rejoice, is it not?"

Sam bit down on her thumbnail and glanced at Teal’c. "Yes. It is. Thank you, Teal’c."

"May I assist you in the writing of your report?"

Sam stood up, supporting her weight on the table. "I think I can do it. Thanks anyhow."

"You are most welcome," Teal’c said, rising in respect.

"Teal’c," Sam said, half way to the door.

"Yes, Major."

"Did you see what I saw?" she asked.

"If you are referring to the hollowness in DanielJackson’s countenance, then yes, I did."

Sam and Teal’c locked eyes, understanding each other’s concern and pain.

Understanding that they had found Daniel, but wondering how much he had lost.

*****

Sam peeked inside the room and was met only by the soft chirping of machines, the omnipresent smell of alcohol and latex, and the sight of a long-lost friend.

She padded into the room and edged in close to the side of Daniel’s bed. At least he’s clean now, she thought, remembering the smudges of dirt on his hands and feet, the way his hair had clung to his skin in greasy strands. Sam wondered if his long bangs, curving over his eye, were bothering him. She reached out with a steady hand and pushed the soft hair to the side, and when she did, strange, glinting strands of silver sparkled, hidden among the ubiquitous brown. Had he been gone that long? Was it age or his ordeal that had brought his hair to gray? Sam felt the sting of tears close to the surface. Her fingertips lingered next to his temple, brushing aside his hair, discreetly touching him, just to feel his warmth, know he was alive.

"Hey, Sam," Janet quietly said, stepping up to the opposite side of the bed. She kept her hands deep within her lab coat pockets and just looked at him, not so much as his physician, but with the concerned eyes of a friend.

"His hair is so long," Sam said. It was all too much to take in—cracked and bloodied lips, disconcerting scars on his face and neck. She tried to find a safe spot on which to concentrate, but found only more vestiges of the unthinkable. She shook her head at the obscenity of it all. "Why would anybody do this to him?"

"I have no idea," Janet quietly said. "Sam, his injuries…" She had to stop, clear her throat, try to begin again without losing her composure. "Whoever did this knew what they were doing. Daniel’s injuries…"

"Janet?" Sam said, becoming apprehensive at the thought that perhaps Daniel was even worse than he looked.

"I’m sorry," Janet said. She shook her head. "I need to file my report with General Hammond before I can discuss this with you. You understand, don’t you?"

"Of course," Sam told her. She fixed her eyes on Janet’s, trying to find some unspoken message in her expression. Janet blinked against the tears filling her eyes, tilted her head, and then turned away, escaping to the sanctuary of her office.

"Excuse me, Major," a second lieutenant said.

"Oh, sure," Sam said, stepping aside so the nurse could take Daniel’s blood pressure. She picked up his limp arm, placed his forearm between her body and arm, and wrapped the black cuff around his bicep.

Sam slid to the end of the bed and mindlessly watched the nurse pump up the collar. Sam’s eye followed the lifeless arm past the black inflating cuff and through the nurse’s hold to the dangling hand. The fingers bounced with each move the nurse made. Sam watched the long fingers attached to the freshly scraped palm sway and rock. Her eyes moved away from the open, outreached palm to the wrist.

"Oh, my God," she uttered.

A macabre grid of uneven scars clawed into Daniel’s wrist. Sam stumbled to the side of the bed and grasped his hand, touched the scars with her trembling fingers.

"Major?" the nurse said, looking over her shoulder.

"I’m…" Sam tried to speak, but the sudden realization of what Janet was trying to tell her bore down on Sam like a tidal wave. "I’m sorry. I just…"

"It’s okay, Major. I’m finished here," the lieutenant said, allowing Sam to take her place. The nurse walked to the opposite side, checked to make sure Daniel was receiving enough oxygen, and that his IV was dripping at the appropriate frequency. Then she smiled at Sam and left the room.

Sam waited for the nurse to leave before taking a closer, anxious look at the scars. She ran her fingers along the lengths, shaking her head in disbelief. A terrible, crushing thought crossed her mind, and she laid his arm down, reached across Daniel's body for his other hand and lifted it.

"Oh, no," she whispered. Raised and stretched skin crisscrossing his wrist sent shockwaves of terror through her.

"Oh, Daniel," she cried, holding his hand, caressing the ghastly tissue with her own tremulous fingers. "What did they do to you?" Sam closed her eyes, didn’t want to see the signs of his hopelessness anymore. She replaced his hand at his side and ground her fists into her eyes. "Oh, Daniel." She wept for the months lost, for the unconscionable acts he must have endured. She cried and sobbed for the despair he surely felt, and for the desperate attempt to escape it.

"Oh, Daniel," she wept, leaning into him, kissing his rough cheek just above the oxygen tube. She brushed back his long hair, tried to quiet the sobs racking her body, and showered his pillows with tears.

Tears and supplication, in equal parts, for the horrors she knew had brought Daniel to such an act.

*****

Janet walked through the quiet halls of the mountain, her back and legs stiff from use. She’d been on call for fifty hours straight, and she felt grubby and achy and tired.

One more stop, one more duty, and she could crash in her quarters for a good, solid twelve hours. She pulled on the tight muscles in her neck, twisted her head around to quell the burning pain. Twelve hours of quiet, perhaps a few hours of sleep and, more than likely, of worrying about Daniel.

Janet slapped the file against her thigh while she walked. It was so late; she knew she’d just be dropping the file on General Hammond’s desk for his approval in the morning when he returned.

And that was probably a good thing. Information like the stuff in the file would keep anyone awake for hours wondering, ruminating, and gasping at the sheer brutality of it.

If she weren’t so damned tired, Janet thought she’d be up doing much the same. There is grace in exhaustion, she decided.

Rounding the corner to the General’s office, Janet opened the file and made sure it was in order—all the pertinent information, the copies of blood and fluid analysis, even a few Polaroid shots just to bring it into perfect obscene focus. Standard in such cases. Standard for this kind of trauma. Standard procedure that seemed ridiculously inappropriate for such a completely unsettling and grotesque case.

The door to the general’s office was open, so Janet stepped inside and laid the file on his desk. Then she turned around to get started on that twelve hours of peace and quiet she was forcing herself to take.

"Doctor Fraiser?" General Hammond said, stepping out of his personal lavatory.

"Oh, General. I thought you’d gone home," Janet said, taking a few steps inside the room.

"I was thinking I’d just stay on base tonight," he said. He looked at his desk. "Is that Doctor Jackson’s file?"

"Yes, sir. It is."

General Hammond walked to the front of his desk, sat down, and tapped the folder apprehensively. "Doctor Fraiser, I was just going to have a drink. Before I open this folder up, would you like to imbibe with me?"

"Oh, sir, you don’t know how much," Janet said, taking a seat in front of the general.

General Hammond opened up one of the drawers in his credenza and produced a bottle of whiskey and two cups. "To tell you how much I drink here in my office, I received this bottle as a gift from Jack O’Neill two years ago." The general placed the two glasses on the desk, unscrewed the top off the whiskey and began to pour. "I’ve looked in on Doctor Jackson from time to time, and something tells me I’m going to want a drink before I hear your report." He handed one of the cups to Janet, raised his and offered, "To the Air Force."

"To the Force," Janet said, clinking her glass to his.

General Hammond rocked back in his chair, downed a swig of the smoky liquid, and let it sit on his palate. He stared wearily into the glass and watched the film of alcohol slide down the side of the cup. "Now that I’ve had a little of this, why don’t you tell me what I’m going to find once I open that file."

Janet emptied her glass and slid it onto the desk. General Hammond was shocked by how quickly she had drunk it, and peered into her eyes. "That bad?"

"I’m afraid so, sir," she said. She folded her hands in her lap atop the still crisp front of her dark blue skirt. "Frankly, sir, I’m not sure why he’s alive. Whoever had him must have had some sort of accelerated healing device, because there’s no way he suffered all of those injuries at once. He couldn’t have lived through that much. Plus, the fact that the scars and fracture sights are all of differing levels of healing suggests he’s received the assorted injuries over an extended period of time."

"What kind of injuries are we talking about?" General Hammond reticently asked.

"There’s calcification of fractures to his skull, both collarbones, his right humerus, his left wrist in three different places, assorted fingers and ribs."

"Dear God," the general uttered in horrified astonishment.

"Yes, sir, and as you make your way down the rest of his extremities, you find much the same. He has pneumonia, which we’re aggressively treating. There’s the tissue damage, from a lesion on his aorta to thickened scar tissue around his kidneys and abdominal cavity." Janet propped her elbow on the armrest of the chair and ground her palm into her aching eyes. "I’ve never seen such massive damage, and all healed. All of it. Except…"

General Hammond waited for her to go on, but when she seemed unable to, he poured her another shot of whiskey, and pushed the cup closer to her.

"Thank you, sir," Janet said, her voice choked with emotion. She picked up the glass in one shaking hand, downed the amber liquid, hardly allowing it to pass over her tongue. Janet held the cup in her lap, focusing her thoughts on the cylindrical rim. Focusing her emotion to push aside the inappropriate anger and personal issues. The alcohol seeped through her bloodstream, flooding her muscles with numbing reprieve from pain. She nodded her head, signifying she was ready to go on. "Sir, there’s evidence of rape."

"Excuse me?" General Hammond verily spat out.

"Doctor Jackson’s…body shows evidence of…of rape. Tearing, bruising, swelling. It seems that it happened very recently," she told him.

"Son of a bitch," the general muttered, turning away from Janet and training his eye somewhere deep into the glass partition between his office and the briefing room, looking for the spot on the map where people, aliens, monsters could live that were so barbaric. "Does Jack O’Neill know?"

"No, sir, and I don’t believe he needs to know," she said.

"Certainly," the ranking officer agreed. He ran his fingers against his crimson brow, unnerved and inflamed. "How is Daniel now?"

"He’s in a coma."

"Is there anything I can do?" the general asked, his blue eyes glistening with sympathy.

"You can go in and talk with him," Janet quietly suggested, shrugging her shoulders. "The sound of familiar voices is always welcome."

"Then that’s what I’ll do," he said. General Hammond grasped the bottle of whiskey, turned it a few times where it stood, and then tipped it to pour another drink. "I suppose this bottle has seen the last of my credenza drawer," he said. He filled his cup again and dropped the empty bottle into his garbage can.

"Sir, I think I’ll go to my quarters unless there’s anything else I can do for you," Janet said, standing and smoothing her skirt down.

"No, you go right ahead," General Hammond said, nodding. "And thank you, Doctor. I appreciate the information. I know this can’t be easy for you."

"No, sir, it isn’t," Janet agreed. She made it as far as the door before she thought she’d tell him the rest. Tell him the truth about all Daniel’s scars. "Sir…"

"What is it, Doctor?" General Hammond asked.

Janet took a deep breath and decided enough was enough for one night. "Thank you for the drink."

"Goodnight, Doctor," he said, and when he longer heard her heels clicking in measured steps through the hall, General Hammond tossed back the rest of his drink, set the glass on the desk next to him and ran his finger along the lip.

He was an old soldier, and being such, he had seen every variety of pain a human could endure, but there was something about the humiliation of rape that infuriated him. Something about the complete lack of respect and regard for another person’s dignity that lacerated his core.

Something about Doctor Jackson being treated in such a way.

*****

"Wake up, Doctor Jackson," the nurse called, performing the hourly procedure. She rasped her knuckles against his breastbone. "Open your eyes, sir."

General Hammond watched the scene from outside the infirmary doors. Over the past few days he had seen it before—Doctor Jackson propped up at an angle, one of the nursing staff or doctors on call producing pain on his body, trying to get a reaction from the comatose man. They’d call out his name, manipulate his arms and legs, peer into his eyes, all for him to return to exactly the same position as before.

"How is he?" Sam asked, stepping beside the general.

"Still in a coma," General Hammond told her.

"He’ll wake up soon, sir," she promised, and didn’t know why she was trying to reassure her CO. Embarrassed, Sam glanced at the general and smiled while her face flushed.

"What can you tell me about that disk you were given?" he asked, keeping a watchful eye on the slack-jawed archeologist.

"Not much, I’m afraid," Sam said. "Sir, SG1 is meeting up with the Tok’ra in a few days. I’d like permission to give the disk to my dad, see if he can come up with anything. The Tok’ra may have the proper technology to unlock it."

"Certainly," General Hammond said. He watched the nurse pull the naso-gastric tube from Daniel’s nose, with quick precision. The general winced.

"I know," Sam said, having seen the general’s reaction. "Doctor Fraiser tells me it doesn’t hurt, though. Especially since he’s in a coma."

"Helluva thing," he said.

"Yes, sir."

"I go in there to talk with him, try to keep him company, and I don’t have the faintest idea what to say," General Hammond admitted.

"I’m not sure it’s important what you say, sir," Sam told him. "I think it’s just hearing your voice that’s good for him. Just hearing familiar voices, that’s all." She looked in while the nurse snaked a new gastric tube through Daniel’s nose and down into his stomach. Even though she understood the mechanics of the procedure, she could almost feel the tube glancing across the back of her throat, and it brought on an empathetic gag reflex. Sam averted her eyes.

General Hammond chuckled, his chest bucking. "The irony of it. My wife used to say the same thing to me when the girls were babies. I didn’t know what to say to them because they were just babies, and I don’t know what to say to Doctor Jackson now."

"If it’s any consolation, I don’t either," she said.

The general folded his hands together behind him, clucked his tongue against his cheek, and said, "I suppose I should be getting back to my office."

"Yes, sir," Sam said. She pushed open the door to the infirmary and kept her distance while the nurse finished her duties. After a few moments, the nurse gathered the used gastric tube and the rest of the bio-hazard material and threw them out. She checked the flow rate of the new gastric tube and left the area. Sam quietly took her place at Daniel’s side.

"Hey, Daniel," she said, pulling up the high stool next to his bed. She took a seat and picked up his hand. "Um, I know I come in here every couple hours and tell you the same thing, but, well, I’m not sure what to say. I guess I should take my own advice and just start talking." Sam reached forward and freed his hair from under the tube taped to his cheek. "It seems so strange to see you with long hair again." She brushed it back, smoothed it down. "There’s so much to tell you. You missed a lot. A lot has changed." Including you, she thought. Everything about him had changed—the length of his hair, the pink, raised welts on his skin. Sam felt she could easily sink into irretrievable depths of sorrow for him, but she knew it wouldn’t help. Not for her, or for him. So she sat with him, pulled her hands across his rough fingers, watched his chest rise and fall under the thin gown.

And then she began again. She took from the bedside table a bottle of hand crème, squirted a dollop into her hand and rubbed it between her palms, warming it. "Your name is Daniel Jackson," she said, holding his right hand and smoothing the crème over his long fingers. "You work here at the SGC. You’ve been gone a long time, but you’re home now. You’re home."

*****

Jack waited until the relative silence of night in the mountain settled in. He waited until Carter had gone home, until Teal’c had gone to his quarters, and until the nursing staff had finished their rounds.

And then Jack stepped into the room, his hands hidden in his pockets almost as well as his growing frustration. He stopped at the foot of the bed, tapped the tray table.

"So, Daniel," he said almost inaudibly, looking up, really hoping with his simple opener Daniel would wake up this time, answer him. It was a long shot that once again didn’t have a chance in hell of paying off.

For five days he had waited for the quiet of night to steal into Daniel’s room, never staying for more than a few minutes. For five days he had watched the tubes being changed, cleared—some added, some taken away. Five days of watching the nursing staff roll Daniel to one side, strip his sheets, and fold new bedding under him.

Five days of watching nothing but a body.

"So, Daniel," he began again, pulling a chair up to the side of the bed. Jack spun the chair around, straddled the back, and tapped his fingers against the metal headrest. "So, Daniel…"

What did he think he was going to find to say today that he hadn’t been able to say for the last week? Jack wanted to ask questions, not chitchat with a carcass of a man. He wanted to know just what the hell happened to Daniel. What happened, when, where? Why had this been done to him? And then again, maybe he didn’t want to know.

"So, Daniel…" Jack tried again, swiping a finger under his nose, working hard on his nonchalance. What the hell went on over there? Daniel had been able to walk to the Stargate, hadn’t he?

"So…" he began again. Jack felt his hands itching to reach out, touch the jagged, scarred skin on Daniel’s wrist, laid out plain as day for everyone to see. Jack wanted to reach out, if only to turn Daniel’s wrist over, lay his arm across his abdomen, hide the frightening gashes. He’d seen those kinds of wounds before—self-inflicted, all of them. The residual sign of desperation in the most extreme. Jack rubbed his stinging eyes. What the hell had Daniel been through to make him want to do that to his own body? How did he do it? With what? Who found him? How did they stop him? Why did they stop him? Would he try it again?

"Jesus, Daniel," Jack whispered, propping one arm on the top of his chair. He ground the heel of his hand into his eye. Without stopping to ask another unanswerable question, Jack thrust his hand through the bed rail and covered the offending scars that screamed of insufferable pain and dejection. Jack pressed his hand to Daniel’s wrist, covering it. How long did you wait for me, Daniel? How long before you realized I wasn’t coming?

"Ah, Danny," he said, pushing his hand against the rigid lines in his brow. "Why couldn’t you just have done what you were told? Huh? Would it have killed you to just follow orders one damn time?" Jack caressed the thin flesh of Daniel’s upturned forearm. "I told you not to disappear, not to just walk off. But you did, didn’t you? When are you gonna learn, dammit? Well, this time it cost you. You trusted the wrong people, and it’s taken me eight goddamn months to find you. Eight months, five different star-systems, and thousands of hours to figure out what the hell happened to you. Was it worth it? Hmm? Did you find what you were looking for? Was your curiosity satisfied?" Jack lowered his head onto the back of the chair and reached back to massage the burning muscles in his neck. The chain from his dog tags became tangled in his fingers, scratching the nape of his neck.

"I can only protect you when you follow orders, Daniel. I don’t make them casually or without regard for the objectives of the mission. I make them in order that the mission goes smoothly, safely. That’s my job. But I swear to God, I think sometimes you defy my orders just because you’re bored. Nine times out of ten, you can get away with it. But that tenth time, Daniel, that tenth time…It’s a pretty dangerous way to get your kicks, my friend. Pretty fuckin’ stupid choice you made, and this time it looks like you bit off more than you could chew." Jack withdrew his hand, wiped both on his thighs and stood up. He replaced the chair against the wall and turned to walk away.

At the end of the bed, Jack grasped the tray table. "Well, I did my part, Daniel. I made an order; you defied it. I searched all over hell and back for you; you disappeared. I made a promise—no one gets left behind."

Jack took two tentative steps toward the door, grabbed hold of the doorjamb and said, "I kept my promise and brought you back, or whatever the hell is left of you. You have to do the rest. My job is done."

Jack strode out of the infirmary, finally knowing what he had come to say.

*****

"Sir, we have received word from the Tok’ra that they’d like to set up a meeting with us to discuss recent developments," Sam said during their meeting. Teal’c sat to her left; General Hammond to her right, at the head of the long table; Jack sat fidgeting in front of her; and Andy Packard, Daniel’s substitute in his absence, sat to Jack’s right.

"By all means," General Hammond agreed. He opened up his master folder. "Is there a particular time they were thinking of setting up this meeting?"

"Selmak mentioned that day after tomorrow would be an opportune time," Sam said.

"Very well," the general said, writing himself the note. "You have a go."

"Sir, I’d like Packard here to accompany us on the trip," Jack said, patting Andy Packard on the back. "He needs to be brought up to speed on all things…obnoxious."

"That is, until Daniel comes back," Sam interjected, waiting for the colonel to respond.

"Doctor Packard is currently attached to the liaison faction of SG7. Isn’t that correct, Doctor Packard?" the general asked.

"Yes, sir," Packard said.

"Then I’m inclined to hold off for this mission," Hammond said. "We don’t want you to be spread too thin."

"Yes, sir," Packard said again.

Jack leaned toward the general. "Sir, if Packard is going to join SG1—"

"--that is until Daniel returns," Sam said, enunciating each word.

Jack ignored her and continued on. "--he’ll need to be up to date on all our…friends."

"All in due time, Colonel," the general said. "I have some work to do, so if there isn’t anything more…"

"No, sir. Thank you, sir," Jack said, standing along with Sam and Teal’c while the general walked out of the room.

When they were all seated again, Jack turned to Packard. "Packard, now that things have…well, now that we’re back to being a field unit, we have a lot of work on the books. You think you’re up to it?"

"I’m certain of it, Colonel," Packard said, smiling with over-enthusiastic confidence.

"Colonel," Sam began, her cheeks burning with acrimony.

"We’re a military team, and my way is law," Jack told Packard. "You gonna have a problem with that?"

"No."

"Fine," Jack said, picking up his folder, "then we’ll get along just fine."

"Sir," Sam called to the colonel.

"Not now, Carter," Jack shot back over his shoulder on his way out of the briefing room.

"So, Major…" Andy Packard began with a smile.

Sam slapped her folder shut and crossed the room. "Not now, Packard."

*****

It felt hands on its arms. Felt fingers near its face. The creature dared not open its eyes. If it remained asleep, the hands would go away.

But the hands stayed, and they touched the beast, softly at first and then, as they always did, they began to hurt the creature.

"Daniel," Janet called, rubbing her knuckles once more against his sternum. "Daniel, it’s time to open your eyes."

The beast sucked in a breath, tried to block out the pain. Before it was able to, a light shone in its eye—bright and slicing.

"Come on now, Daniel. Time to show me those beautiful eyes of yours," Janet called to him. She turned to the nurse at her side. "Call Colonel O’Neill and General Hammond. Tell them Doctor Jackson is waking up."

"Yes, ma’am," the nurse said, walking away at a clipped pace.

"Daniel, open your eyes," Janet said, eliciting pain in his chest again.

The sound in its head reverberated, banged against its skull. A sound? The beast pried open its eyes to try to understand the stimuli.

"Good," Janet said, checking Daniel’s pulse. "Well, it certainly is good to see you again."

Sounds scratching at ears that hadn’t heard in months, punctuated the beast’s mind. Noises that it could almost understand floated into its brain. Noises

"Hi, stranger," Janet said, smiling, touching his face.

Two blue eyes glanced around the room, at times drooping shut, at times blinking in latent remembrances.

The beast knew this place somehow. Knew the brightness of the expanse that covered its legs. Knew that sound. Knew that…voice.

"Daniel, I want you to squeeze my finger for me," she said, wiggling her two fingers in Daniel’s limp hand. She watched and waited. "Daniel, come on now. Show me how strong you are. Squeeze my hand."

There was a sensation in its hand, a jostling that needed touching. The beast embraced the warmth with his weak fingers, but it was so tired…

"No, now don’t close your eyes," she said, shaking his hand. "Open up, Doctor Jackson. You’ve been asleep for far too long. Open your eyes, Daniel. That’s an order."

The creature was too tired to disobey. Somehow it knew the price, knew what it would suffer, even if this order was the first he actually understood, could actually hear. Then was it real?

"Hi there," Janet said. "Can you tell me your name?"

The beast managed to focus in on the round face. He knew the face. Knew it from where, he couldn’t tell. But the face was staring back at him, and it was pleasant, and it was…a name. A name, a word you call someone. A name.

"Can you tell me your name, Daniel?" she asked again, watching his eyes track her, hold her focus. He kept his eyes trained on her face, not quite her eyes, as if she were the only surviving member of a fatal accident, and the sight of her was too much to behold.

"Do you remember your name?" Janet asked, coming in close to hear him speak.

The beast stared at the mouth from which these vaguely familiar sounds poured. These were words, small, imperfect gifts that he had bartered away so many months ago. Traded away in exchange for safety.

 

"Daniel," Janet said, increasing the level of oxygen he was receiving. "Daniel, do your know where you are?"

Daniel…One gift found. A word, a name that was for him.

Calling on every grain of strength he had, Daniel nodded.

"Good. Good, Daniel!" Janet said, smiling. She rubbed his shoulder and smiled some more. "Good."

Safe for the first time in an eternity, Daniel searched for the next word to show he possessed his soul once again. Daniel. I…

 

The nurse returned to his bedside and said, "General Hammond is in DC, and I gave the colonel the message, ma’am,"

"What did the colonel say?" Janet asked.

"He asked if I had anything else to report," she said.

Janet spun to face the second lieutenant. "He said what?" She stared at the nurse, aghast at the colonel’s stoicism. For whatever reason she couldn’t even begin to imagine, Jack O’Neill had been petulant and short in the last few days, and this was just one more sign that it was nowhere near ending.

"Thank you, Lieutenant Smith," Janet said, returning to her patient. She picked up his hand in hers, stroked it gently and smiled. She wondered if Daniel was even aware of Jack’s behavior of late.

D... Daniel. I... D... Dan...

Janet pulled a tissue from the bedside table and blotted the silent tears falling from his unwavering eyes.

"I know. It’s all a lot to take in," she said, rubbing his chest with care and comfort. "You’re gonna be fine, Daniel. We’re going to take good care of you."

I…Daniel. Daniel Jackson.

Daniel’s hand in hers was weak, listless, but the feel of his pulse next to her fingers was strong. She nodded her head and smiled again at him. "We sure have missed you."

Daniel kept his eyes bound to her presence. He focused for a brief moment on her sheltering eyes, saw her hand nearing his face, and tried not to flinch when he felt her wipe the cooling wetness from his cheeks.

Daniel. I... me.

*****

Sam had almost completely forgotten the feeling of exuberance, the thrill of exultation, but while she rushed through the halls to the infirmary, her body twitched with joy. Daniel was awake.

She took the corner wide right before the elevators. She didn’t need to smack into anybody and break her nose in her joy. Reaching the elevators unscathed, Sam punched in the floor for the infirmary and waited impatiently, bouncing on her toes.

"Carter," Jack said, passing behind her.

"Oh, Colonel," Sam said. "Are you going to the infirmary?"

"No," he said, pressing level 16.

Sam looked at the lit up button. "Daniel’s awake."

"So I heard," Jack said, lacing his hands behind his back and keeping his eyes peeled on the numbers flipping across the digital display.

"Um, I’m on my way to see him. Would you like to join me, sir?" she asked, just as the doors slid open. She and Jack stepped in.

"No, Carter. I wouldn’t. We have a lot of work to do before we go have tea with the Tok’ra. I, for one, thought I’d do my job."

Sam bit down hard, grinding her teeth together, her eyes flashing with acrimony. "Yes, sir."

The doors opened to level 16, and Jack stepped out. "Carter."

"Sir," she said, and watched him disappear while the doors closed again. "What’s his problem?" she asked, knowing the protective anonymity of the elevator surrounded her. She began to bounce again, eagerly awaiting the moment when she’d see her friend, be able to talk with him, hear from him that he was all right, and that this would all pass, just like everything else had. More than anything, she couldn’t wait to see his smile, slight as it usually was, and hear him offer a hello in his gentle voice.

When the doors slung open, Sam could hardly contain herself. She took long strides through the hall, once nearly coming to blows with a passing airman.

Sam slipped inside the room and mouthed a hello to Janet. Janet motioned for Sam to join her at Daniel’s side.

"He’s very weak, but if you call his name he should respond," Janet told her, passing Daniel’s hand to her.

"Thanks, Janet," Sam said, smiling. Janet stepped back and allowed Sam more room. "Hey, Daniel," she said. She grasped his hand and stroked his forearm, luxuriating in the presence of his responsive touch. "Can you wake up for me? Daniel?"

Daniel heard the familiar sound being called and realized it was a name. His name was being called somewhere out there, beyond his sluggish ability to reason. Just another dream he had long ago stopped believing in, he decided.

"Daniel, wake up, sweetie," Sam said again.

The dream was back. The dream of hearing his name called, of seeing his friends walk through the rough metal door had returned. He had refused to dream that dream months earlier, and the return of it pained him. He knew the only way to end it was to open his eyes, see that he was still in his holding area, alone and afraid.

His eyelids felt glued shut, but with a great effort he was able to open them. Blurred lines and fuzzy images, blots of colors oscillated in front of him. He blinked and then caught a clear glimpse of green. His eyes moved up to find the familiar sight of a belt—webbed with a brass buckle. Something lit in his consciousness, and he pressed on, trying to remember how he knew this sight. A black shirt, two dog tags hanging from a silver chain hung between…between breasts under the knit shirt. His gaze traveled higher to meet with large blue eyes so similar to his own, short blonde hair. She was smiling at him. Daniel knew her face, knew her. Someone he hadn't expected to ever see again.

It was cruel and unmerciful, this dream. It showed him images of those he missed and longed for. It showed him what was home. And then it always disappeared.

"Hi, Daniel," Sam said, leaning toward him. She gave his hand a reassuring squeeze and was thrilled to offer him her first smile in months.

The feel of her hand in his gave him the final evidence that the dream was, in fact, not a shadow of his memory at all. He was home. This person, this woman was part of his home. He was home.

Daniel relaxed into the soft hand. He brushed his fingers, weak and ineffectual, against her smooth skin, just to know she was there, just to know he wasn’t dreaming. She, too, had a name, and it would come to him, but for now, her hand in his was more than ecstasy.

"How are you, Daniel?" she asked, caressing his arm with gentle strokes, making sure to stay away from the IV in his wrist.

The sounds formed words, and the words had a meaning, and those meanings formed a thought, but the thought drifted away.

"Daniel? I asked how you are," Sam said.

Daniel heard her words but took a moment in order to completely digest their meaning. You, Daniel? Finally, when the words and their meaning connected, he nodded. Yes, he wanted to say, I Daniel.

"It’s good to have you home," Sam told him, smiling. She leaned over and kissed his temple, lingered for a moment just to cherish his presence.

Home, he thought. He excavated the word from its hiding spot and brushed it off. Home. Yes. Home. Daniel closed his eyes and nodded again. You home…

Sam watched his eyes flutter for a moment and then close. She was grateful for the little time he had been able to stay awake. Grateful just to have him so close. She pulled up a chair, never letting go of his hand, and stayed with him until she knew it was time to return to her lab.

*****

"Don’t eat that," Jack said, pointing with his silverware at the tray of nondescript meat. "Don’t eat that, either."

Jack, Teal’c and their fill-in, Andy Packard, shuffled down the mess hall line. "Okay, that is soooo not spaghetti sauce," Jack insisted. "How can that possibly be spaghetti sauce? It’s…purple."

The airman behind the steaming table stood, draped in apathy. He was used to the daily tirade about the quality of the food, especially from Colonel O’Neill. "Sir, what can I get you?"

Jack drew back his chin and looked over the assortment. "What did you eat?"

"The food service crew ate a lunch of lemon-shrimp salad on a bed of bib lettuce with fresh croissant and a nice chardonnay, sir," the airman said, keeping his eyes averted.

"Is he serious?" Jack asked Teal’c.

Teal’c pointed to the sweet and sour pork. "I do not believe he is."

Jack scowled at the airman and tapped the glass partition, motioning for the sarcastic airman to dish him up some of the same.

"Forgive me for saying so," Andy Packard added, following Jack in line, "but I don’t think the food is all that bad."

"For cripe’s sake, Packard, where have you been stationed the last couple years? The Gulag?" Jack queried.

"I’ve been in England," Packard said, pointing to the meat loaf.

"’Nuff said," Jack told him. He picked up his tray and walked it over to the enormous coffee urns. Jack filled up one cup for himself and offered to fill one for Packard.

"So, Andy, how would you feel about joining SG1 on a more full-time basis?" Jack asked, carrying his tray to an open table.

"I believe SG1 is fully staffed, O’Neill," Teal’c said, shocked by Jack’s offer.

The three men sat down at the table and began to take assorted plates, cups and silverware off their trays. "We need someone to take over Daniel’s place…"

"On a temporary basis, I’m assuming," Teal’c said.

"Well," Jack began, bobbing his head back and forth, "maybe not so temporary."

"That would be great!" Andy Packard said, laying his hands down flat next to his dinner. Jack nodded and speared some of his sweet and sour pork.

"I must renew my objection over the idea that DanielJackson is being replaced," Teal’c said, lowering his voice to an impressively thunderous growl.

"From what I’ve seen, you’re doing a great job out in the field. Do you think you could shoulder the added responsibility of being the linguist and social scientist of SG1?" Jack asked, ignoring Teal’c’s growing anger.

"I know I can!" Packard asserted.

"DanielJackson is SG1’s linguist and archeologist, O’Neill," Teal’c stated, raising his voice with his ire.

"He was, Teal’c. Was," Jack reminded him. Jack refused to make eye contact with Teal’c. He picked up his fork. Stabbed his food. Sipped his coffee.

"And he will be again," Teal’c said.

"So what do you think, Packard? Maybe we should go have a chat with General Hammond?" Jack asked.

"Sure!"

"DanielJackson will be returning to SG1, O’Neill. He has not been away that long that we should think of replacing him."

"Eight months, Teal’c!" Jack barked, slamming his fork to the table. He glared at the Jaffa, annoyed with his protective attitude. "He was gone eight months, and I hate to break it to you, but he doesn’t look like he’s coming back anytime soon." Jack’s eyes burned with anger and resentment. "It’s time to move on, Teal’c."

Andy Packard tried to sink into the background. Joining the SGC’s flagship team would be an enormous honor, but joining them in the middle of such blatant strife made the offer less and less appealing.

Teal’c ground his teeth together and held Jack’s contemptuous stare. "Perhaps it is." Teal’c placed his food on his tray and excused himself from the table. Jack returned to his meal.

"Anyhow, Packard," Jack continued, his voice returning to a dull, unenthusiastic drone, "you’d have more responsibility."

"Yes, sir," Andy said, focusing on his own meal.

"How many languages do you speak?"

"Um," Andy began, his head swirling from the tension between the two men, "five, three of which are dead or archaic."

"Five?" Jack reiterated. "Hmmm. That…that’ll do."

*****

"You want some more of this?" Sam asked Daniel, holding up a small bowl of Jell-O.

Daniel stared at the red blobs, blinking.

"Daniel? Do you want anymore Jell-O?" Sam quietly asked, touching his hand.

Daniel looked up from the bowl and glanced at Sam, but in a quick moment, his eyes turned from her. His forehead creased in a sign of his apprehension. He heard foreign sounds coming from her, but they had come and gone so quickly he was unable to grab hold of them. He shook his head back and forth and tried to play back the sounds.

"No? You don’t want anymore?" she asked.

No…Want…Want? Want? Daniel tilted his head to the side and strained to understand. Want? Want? It was gibberish, meaningless noise. Again he shook his head.

Sam put the bowl back down on the tray and looked him over—gaunt, quiet, frighteningly introverted. She placed her hand on top of his and rubbed it with slow, soft touches. "Daniel, you have to eat, otherwise Janet’s going to have to put the tube back in."

Daniel pulled his hand out from underneath Sam’s hand and held it next to his stomach. His finger scratched into the cotton material, scratched short lines, tight circles.

"Daniel?" Sam said, bending her head to the side to catch his attention. "Daniel, I need to go in a few minutes. We’re going off-world at 1100, and I’d really like to know you’re doing all right before we leave." Sam picked up half a piece of lightly burnt toast and handed it to him. "Please. For me."

Daniel slowly lifted his eyes and held Sam’s focus for a quick moment. He looked at the toast and understood that it was being offered to him, so he took it. He turned it a few times in his fingers, brought it to his mouth and paused before biting into it, as if the very thought was repulsive. He broke off the corner of the triangular piece and nodded.

"Good," Sam said, picking up a napkin and offering it to Daniel. "You have crumbs on your gown."

Daniel looked at the object in her hand but couldn’t remember what it was. He couldn’t remember. And then he was looking at her, his lips trembling, trying to come up with the right word, his eyes becoming red with tears.

"What, Daniel?" she asked.

His eyes fluttered; short bursts of air, unarticulated and syncopated, left his parted lips; he pulled and pinched at the skin around his neck.

"It’s okay," she said, wiping off his gown. "I’ll take care of it." Sam glanced from the front of his gown, speckled with tiny crumbs, to his anxious expression. She tried to offer him a reassuring smile, but found she could hardly contain her apprehension. She took great care to brush the remains of the toast away without furthering his discomfort. "There. No sweat." She picked up his water glass and held it out for him. "Are you thirsty?"

Daniel knew there was a sound for it. Knew somewhere in his mind there was a word, a symbol for what he was trying to tell her, but it wouldn’t come. It didn’t belong to him anymore, and it wouldn’t move forward. The sound remained hidden, lost to him.

"Daniel, do you want some water?" she asked, coming closer, trying to hear his words.

One word, he knew. His finger scratched into his neck and he nodded. He nodded that he knew the word, but the straw came toward him nonetheless. In compliance, a state he had become too familiar with, he took the straw in his mouth.

"That’s great, Daniel. Drink," Sam said, happy that she was able to break through the silence and communicate at least on a very limited subject. She held the cup for him while he sipped from it, his lips shaking the smallest amount.

When he was finished, he turned his head and signified that he didn’t want it anymore.

Sam put the cup back down on the tray and paused before taking his hand in hers. She waited for him to take it away, but he didn’t. He stared at their hands, and she stared at him. There were so many questions she wished she had answers for. So many things she wished she could ask him—why are you still so afraid? Do you know you’re safe? When will you be…you again? But she couldn’t, not now. Not when answering the question of whether he was thirsty evoked such emotions.

She gripped his hand tighter in hers and cleared her throat. "I wish you could come with us, Daniel. It’s just not the same out there without you."

Daniel sucked in his lower lip, shrugged his shoulders and blinked his eyes.

"I’ll come see you as soon as we get back, okay?"

Daniel turned his hand over in hers and tightened his grip.

Sam felt his hand shaking against her hand. "Don’t worry. I’ll be fine."

Leave. Go. Leave me. But the words seemed wrong to him. Something--he wasn’t sure--was missing. He closed his eyes and tried, really tried to think.

"Daniel, are you okay?" Sam asked.

Daniel rubbed his eyes, pressed his hand tight against his cheek. Do. Do. No. Don’t. Yes. Don’t Leave. Don’t go. Don’t leave me. Hear. Hear... me. Daniel let his hand slip to his neck and he focused in on Sam’s eyes with great intensity. Hear me. He nodded, knowing that he had finally found the words. He nodded that, yes, he connected the words to form a thought. Hear me don’t leave. Sam. Don’t leave.

 

"You’re sure you’re okay?" she asked, watching him bob his head up and down. "A few days, that’s all. We’ll be back soon. I’m going to see Dad."

Daniel crushed Sam’s hand in his grip, forcing his thoughts from his mind to her hand. P... please. Please, don’t go.

Sam felt him give her hand a tug, and she smiled. "I’ll tell him you said hello." She stood up and brushed off her hands. She handed Daniel another piece of toast and said, "Eat."

Daniel stared at the darkened, crumbling bread and complied with the orders—he took the toast and brought it to his mouth.

"I’ll see you in a few days," Sam said, rubbing his shoulder. She waved to him as she stepped through the door. Once outside, she headed toward Janet’s office.

Sam knew it was going to take time for Daniel to return to his normal, everyday self, but his eyes…his fear…his silence. A mosaic of a lost soul, shattered and haphazardly put back together.

Outside Janet’s office, Sam knocked once before popping her head in.

"Hi, Sam," Janet said, looking up from a stack of files.

"Hey, Janet. You got a minute?" Sam asked, grimacing.

"Sure. Is this about Daniel?" she asked, closing the top folder, capping her pen.

"Does it seem strange how…quiet he is?" Sam asked, taking a seat in front of Janet.

"He’s only been out of the coma for a few days," Janet began, and then she held up a hand to intercept Sam’s next words. "Even so, I’m concerned about his level of communication. I’ve scheduled a cat scan and an MRI for this afternoon. I’m also having a neurosurgeon and a speech and language pathologist come in on a consult."

"So, it’s not just my imagination," Sam said, nodding.

"No, it’s not. He’s having a very difficult time communicating, and I think we need to get to the bottom of it," Janet said.

Sam rubbed the back of her neck, hoping the extent of Daniel’s difficulty was just a temporary glitch. There were so many other worries to consider—his massive injuries, the scars that graphed across his wrists—so many other things, that if he couldn’t communicate…If Daniel couldn’t communicate…

"Oh, God, Janet. If Daniel can’t speak…" Sam began.

"Why don’t we cross that bridge when we come to it, Sam. Really, it has only been a few days," Janet tried to assure her. "We’ll figure it out. Don’t worry."

*****

"I gotta tell you, the Tok’ra should really think about getting in touch with the people on ‘Trading Spaces,’" Jack said, looking over the latest in crystal technology.

"Jack. Sam. Teal’c," Jacob Carter called, walking toward them with his hands outstretched. "I trust you found us easily enough."

"We’re here, aren’t we?" Jack answered.

"Sam, how are you?" Jacob asked, hugging his daughter and ignoring Jack.

"Oh, fine, I guess," she said, enjoying the warmth of her father’s embrace.

"How’s Daniel?" Jacob asked, releasing Sam.

"He’s home," Jack added, and with his parsimonious words, Jack hoped to relay his ongoing distaste for the Tok’ra.

"I know. I heard."

"Of course you did," Jack cracked. "Isn’t it funny how the Tok’ra are on the leading edge of all the best gossip, but when it comes to actually knowing anything at the time, they don’t have a clue?"

"Are we gonna do this again, Jack?"

"You know me, Jake. I like to do these things until they’re done right, and it’s never been done right. Hell, where the Tok’ra are concerned, I’d just settle for being done."

Jacob stared at Jack with dispassionate eyes and then turned to Teal’c, leading him and the rest of the team down the cavernous halls. "Teal’c, what can you tell me about a Jaffa named Cu’bec?"

"He was a rising and influential warrior under Apophis. When I left my post as First Prime, Cu’bec was earning a reputation for being a brazen yet powerful opponent."

Jacob lowered his eyes for a moment, and his symbiote Selmak took over. "Our sources tell us Cu’bec has left the Jaffa and would like to aid in the Tok’ra’s cause."

"Let me guess: You don’t trust him," Jack said.

"That is correct, Colonel O’Neill, at least not yet."

"Hey, here’s an idea. Why don’t you keep him at arm’s length, toss him a few table scraps just to keep him coming back for more, and then demand that he be subservient to you. You ever thought of trying that?"

"Colonel O’Neill…" Selmak began.

"Oh, wait. That’s how you treat your ‘friends’," Jack said, using his hands to signify contemptuous quotation marks.

"Look, Jack, if this is about Daniel…"

"Hell, no, it’s not about Daniel! Daniel’s fine. Daniel’s home. Daniel couldn’t be better!" Jack bellowed.

Jacob turned to Sam. "Is there anything we can do?"

"Wait a minute," Jack said, raising a hand in the air. "I’ve heard that offer before. When was it?" Jack snapped his fingers and pointed at Jacob. "Oh, right. Eight months ago, the last time we were here."

"We did all that we felt we could at the time."

"Which was what, exactly?"

"Jack, this is neither the time nor place…"

"No, I’d like a goddamn answer, Jake!" Jack demanded. "You called us here to pump Teal’c for information. Fine! He’ll talk when you do."

"What can I tell you, Jack?"

"You can tell me how long it took the Tok’ra to decide not to help us find Daniel."

Selmak said, "There was no decision made regarding that."

"Then was it an overall consensus just to let it die on the table?" Sam asked, entering the fray.

"We discussed in depth the situation, and it was decided that inquiries would be made at the appropriate time," Selmak told them.

Teal’c asked, "How often did those times occur?"

Jacob turned away from the question, pinned his lips together and shook his head. "Look, Jack…"

"No, Jacob! I think you oughta answer the man’s question. How many inquiries were made?"

"Sam…"

"Answer the question, Dad."

Jacob tilted his head back and closed his eyes. "Unfortunately, the appropriate time never came up."

"Sam. Teal’c. Let’s go home," Jack ordered, glaring at Jacob.

"You can’t do this, Jack. We have things to discuss," Jacob called after him.

"Funny, something doesn’t feel…" Jack began, snapping his fingers.

"Perhaps the word you are looking for is ‘appropriate,’ O’Neill," Teal’c said.

"Yes, that’s it. Thank you, Teal’c." He and Teal’c strode away.

"I’m sorry about Daniel," Jacob called after them, "but the Goa’uld are about to cut off one of our main arteries, and…"

Without losing as much as a beat, Jack turned on a dime and charged Jacob. "Let me tell you about arteries," he said.

"Sir," Sam tried to interject.

Jack shrugged off her advances and continued to bear down on Jacob. "Arteries are things that can be sliced open by a person when they’ve lost hope that their friends will ever come looking for them. Arteries can be severed wide open when a person realizes that their friends probably haven’t found the appropriate time to inquire about them."

"Sam?" Jacob said, looking to his daughter, asking without words if what Jack was saying was true.

Sam looked at Jack, not sure if she should display SG1’s dirty laundry out in the open. They had never discussed Daniel’s scars, had never talked about what might have happened, had never as much as acknowledged that each of them knew. But with Jack’s blustery breach of Daniel’s private sufferings, Sam felt it was only right to fill her dad on the part of the pain they were all living with.

"We think Daniel tried to commit suicide, Dad," she informed him and found, as she said it, how the words, like acrid bile, left her wanting to retch. "He slit his wrists. It looks like he tried to kill himself while waiting for us to find him."

"Jack, how could I know?"

"You couldn’t have, Jake, because that wouldn’t be prudent." Jack slapped his hat on the back of his head. "Well, I blame the Tok’ra for that, and I blame myself for taking your word eight months ago that you wanted to help." Jack spun around and began to walk away. Teal’c followed.

"Is Daniel all right, Sam?" Jacob asked.

"No, Dad. He isn’t," Sam told him. She pulled the disk from her vest pocket. "This was given to us when we found Daniel. I told General Hammond that I’d see if the Tok’ra could help figure out what it is. I’d really like to go back to the SGC and tell my CO that his old friend and former Air Force buddy did the right thing by us."

Jacob took the disk from her. "I’ll see what I can do, Sam," he quietly said.

"Don’t see about it, Dad," she said. "Make it happen."

"Okay." Jacob nodded and closed his hand around the disk. "I’ll personally make sure it gets done."

"Don’t let me down, Dad," Sam warned him.

"I won’t."

Sam jogged ahead to catch up with Jack and Teal’c, and Jacob pocketed the disk.

part 2

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