Category: H/C, Angst, Drama
Rating: R violence and language
Warnings: Torture, sacrilegious in places, Mention of canon Character Death

Between gluttony and deprivation lies the Middle Path. The Buddha built his discourse on enlightenment upon this foundation, this one truth. Yet here, on this world lightyears away from the bodhi tree under which Siddhartha Gautama first sat to contemplate the nature of life, a perversion of the Four Noble Truths toward enlightenment had taken place.

Life is suffering.

A simple truth, the first of the Four Noble Truths. The people of W2T-118 or Gayahran had distorted the meaning. Here they believe in the principles, the truism that life is suffering yet they do not bring it to the next step toward enlightenment. To their central core they hold the belief that life is suffering as a tenet to live by. Here they wish to inflict suffering; here they wish to be afflicted with suffering.

Jack’s words still echo in his head, torment him even as he is tormented and torn. “No glowy stuff Daniel. I don’t want to have a repeat of Kheb here. We’re not here to find the wizard, just SG5.”

Daniel had nodded, had agreed. He would visit the shrine; seek out the monks that prayed there. He would look for leads to find their lost team. He wonders now how long ago that was. Will Jack find him? Would Jack understand what it meant to seek enlightenment in this place?

“Do you seek enlightenment?” one of the monks had asked him.

There was no other answer but the truth. They told him to strip as he walked into the inner sanctuary of the temple. He never questioned them, didn’t dare.

He should have.

Life is suffering.

As they lead him through the middle path, they ask him, is it enough? Yet they do not allow him to answer; they bind and gag him. Tears slip from his eyes and they promise him his suffering is only the beginning of the path. Pain streaks across his chest, blossoming like a sacred flower. They start here, near the core of who he is – his heart.

Even now as the blade draws its blood, he begs them with his eyes. They ignore his silent pleas, telling him to accept the burden of suffering. To suffer is to find the path toward enlightenment. A cry breaks out through the muffle of the gag and they assure him that he has chosen correctly. He must endure the pain of suffering, to truly suffer the burden of life he must consent and tolerate the brand, the blade, the flail, the rod, and the hammer.

He shakes his head, beseeching them to let him go, he does not want enlightenment. He wants release. With calm words and reassuring tones, they tell him all those that seek enlightenment cross the bridge of doubt. They shore him up against the doubts, offering what he fears, what he pleads to be saved from. The sound is stopped in his throat, suffocated and choked. His nostrils flare against the next device, they promise him it will hurt. They promise him, he will suffer.

He does.

In a moment of grace, they remove the gag. He screams one word, one word toward salvation.

“Jack!”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

            “Daniel’s meeting with the head honcho guys now,” Jack says as he hunches over the MALP. “Not sure the villagers actually have any information about what happened at the site and SG5. They don’t seem all that friendly.”

            “Keep me posted on your progress. Check in again at 2100 hours,” Hammond replies. The wormhole goes dead and Jack stares at the circle, its empty space and the tranquil mountain region about him.

            Fog lifts off the early morning peaks mixing with the rising reds and oranges of the dawn. It’s pretty country here; he could stay here, vacation. Maybe find a nice mountain stream and settle down to some good fishing. He looks at his watch, maybe they should check in on Daniel.

            “Carter,” he calls.

            The Major looks up from the small handheld she’s recording data. “Sir?”

            “Last night when we left Daniel, when did those monk guys tell us the meditation or whatever they were doing would be over?”

            She glances at the horizon, the dawn reflected in her eyes. “Sundown today sir.”

            “Then we have enough time to do some recon, find out what we can about SG5, look over the site, talk with the villagers,” he says and claps Teal’c on the shoulder. “Make nice, nice with the locals then we can get Daniel and see if he’s found out anything.”

            “You do not seem overly concerned regarding the whereabouts of SG5.”

            He drops his head for a minute and stares at his muddy boots. It rained last night, the thunder was harsh and unforgiving. “Actually Teal’c what concerns me the most is that there is no sign of anything wrong. No struggle at the site, no weapons fire. Nothing.”

            “You believe they utilized a ring transportation device and are no longer on the planet.”

            He points a finger at Teal’c. “Bull’s eye. Great shot, big guy.” He scans the long path back to the village. The quaint quiet village outside the temple. “What we need to do is go back to the site and find the rings.”

            Carter joins them and asks, “But why wouldn’t they have returned, sir. It makes no sense. They would have returned and checked in.”

            “Not if they couldn’t Major.”

            “Something happened.”

            “Score one for the Major and one for the Jaffa. It’s all tied up.” He looks once more toward the path to the village but knows they have to take the opposite path toward the archeological site where SG5 had been working. Several of the villagers had been working with SG5 to excavate the remains of an ancient city. He considers then makes his decision.

            “Carter, I’d like you to go back to the village and get that guy, Tonto,”

            “Tee-on, sir.”

            He waves off her correction. “Whatever and bring him back to the site. Maybe he can lead us around a bit more, give us some idea where SG5 was when they disappeared.”

            She nods and gathers up her gear.

            “Check in every two hours.”

            “Yes sir.”  She heads back to the village and for a second a creeping sensation grips him. Perhaps they should go, all of them, get Daniel and high tail it out of there. Some thing was amiss but right now even though his spidey senses were all a tingle he couldn’t place it.

            He shakes it off and turns to Teal’c. “Come on Zorro, we should go check the site again.”

            As they march down the path, Teal’c informs him, “O’Neill, I am not Zorro.”

            “Nope, and I’m not the Wizard of Oz but you don’t see me complaining.”

            With that his Jaffa friend raises an eyebrow then nods and they continue toward the SG5 site.  The site is not far from the Stargate and as they approach it, Jack notes the center dais. When they first explored the site, the dais stood out like a beacon. The rusty hooks embedded on its surface, the old stains of blood gave him a chill and bristled the hairs on the back of his neck.  All cultures had their savage phases, some still do. But sometimes actually seeing the evidence of it just didn’t set right.

            He surveys the area as Teal’c walks the perimeter. Something is here; it’s niggling at the back of his brain – a fleeting thought that he can’t capture like some incessant gnat pestering him. Bending down, he brushes away some of the over growth on the base of the dais.

            “Teal’c?” His companion climbs the few stairs to the dais. “Can you read this?”

            “Yes, O’Neill, it is in a Goa’uld dialect. Quite ancient.”

            “What’s it say?”

            “Life is suffering.”

            And that persistent chill brushes up his back again.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

            She recalls walking by Daniel’s side as they entered the village. Something pulled inside of her then, pulled, fell and released. Maybe it was the altitude, maybe it was the fine rock gardens lining the path. She never put her finger on it but there was an ease about the village, a peace. Sam witnessed it wash over Daniel when they first talked with the village elders. His shoulders relaxed, the tension held about his eyes softened. This place was peace.

            As she thinks back Sam smiles and nods to the passersby. She likes this place and wishes she could spend more time. It is strange for her to connect with a place so pacifying, so soothing. She likes the edginess of being in the Air Force. She keeps it quiet that she likes the shot of adrenaline that battle gives her, that they end up in situations needing her technical know-how at a moment’s notice. She thinks it might be an addiction, but she keeps this to herself. So feeling an acceptance of this peaceful place, this haven of tranquility is a new experience for her. She can’t wait to talk with Daniel about it.

            Daniel.

            It takes her about an hour to get to the village and she immediately looks toward the temple at the end of the long main street. He’s in there, meeting with the monks, working toward a solution. The colonel was hesitant when the monks refused the team questioning them about SG5. The monks asked for one to seek the path of enlightenment and Daniel had volunteered. Of course, the colonel insisted that Daniel not repeat Kheb but that was a different Daniel ~ that was a Daniel that had not been ascended and descended.  Enlightenment was second nature for him. Daniel was a shoo-in Sam smirks as she remembers the colonel winking at Teal’c. The Jaffa gave the colonel a double take. Daniel just laughed.

            She sets herself a strategy to talk with a few of the villagers as she searches out the streets to find Tee-on. It’s a crisp, clear morning and she raises her face to the sky. The warmth of the day is new, just beginning and so while she feels the heat touch her face the chill of night still hangs on in the air.

            A scream startles her and she nearly drops her P90. The strap across her shoulder jerks and she spins around to find a woman standing in the center of the yard outside her small hut. The woman uses a flail to whip herself. She shudders as she abuses her thighs and upper arms. Stumbling, Sam falls backward and bumps into a hunched over older man as he shuffles down the street.

            “What, what is she doing? Shouldn’t someone help her?” Sam moves forward but the silver haired man stops her with a gentle hand to her arm.

            His eyes are kind.  His stoop shoulders tremble as he looks up at her. “She follows her path. You must not trouble her.” The woman cries out again and the old man seems gratified to hear the pain in her yell.

            Sam yanks her hand free and backs away from the man. Glancing at the woman again, she shivers and hurries away. She fingers the radio and calls for the colonel. “Sir?”

            Static answers then a tight voice. “Carter? Problem? It isn’t two hours yet.”

            The woman’s screams are dulling and softening as Sam walks down the street. “Just a disturbing incident, sir.”

            “Explain.”

            She watches as villagers stroll past the woman as she self-flagellates. Blood stains her arms and back but none of the villagers even turn to look at the abuse. “There’s a woman in the village that seems to be somewhat psychologically unbalanced. She’s whipping herself to the point of bleeding sir. No one seems to even worry about it or even try to stop her.”

            “Could it be some type of punishment, Major Carter?” Teal’c asks.

            She considers this and frowns. “Not sure, Teal’c. It isn’t as if there’s anyone there to ensure that she’s actually doing it. It’s like she’s voluntarily beating herself.”

            “Check it out Carter but don’t spend too much time. One lune is not what we’re here for. Get this Toto guy out here so we can get some answers,” he says.

            She nods then keys the radio. “Understood.”

            “Any sign of Daniel?”

            “None sir,” she answers and peers toward the temple. Its many tiered roof glints in the rising day light with coppery tones and she wonders at its construction. “Still too early.”

            “Right, right. Well if there’s any way to get some idea how he’s doing with the negotiations take it.” His voice sounds tainted and she squints at the glistening temple. Nothing is out of place yet the weeping of the woman behind her stains the serenity of her surroundings.

            “Will do.”

            “Out.”

            Villagers give her placid expressions of acceptance and peace. Not one even looks toward the woman who is now lying in the grass, finished with her beating and panting.  Sam looks away also, shame flares red and warm on her cheeks but what else should she do?  She can’t believe these people are that uncaring. Maybe this woman beats herself everyday? Could it be so common that people just walk by without even seeing it?

            As she adjusts the pack on her shoulders, she catches a glimpse of the old man she saw earlier. She nods to him and as she walks up to him asks, “Does she do this everyday?”

            He smiles a toothless, joyful grin at her. “She follows her own path, as we all must.”

            Pursing her lips, Sam shakes her head. “I don’t understand. How can it be all right for her to hurt herself in that manner?”

            “Life is suffering. It is the truth of enlightenment.”  He hobbles away.

            The words reverberate, shaking like a violent earthquake to rumble across the landscape. Yet it is still distant to her ears. She knows something is wrong, askew. Glancing at the temple again, she hopes Daniel can figure out a way to communicate with these people, really understand their ways. Knowing the language and knowing the culture are two different things entirely. If anyone can figure out their seemingly innocuous culture it will be Daniel.

            She sees Tee-on in the distance and starts toward him, the shadow of the temple looming over the village.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

            The small breathes he captures fill his lungs with little air but expand the throbbing in his head.  He lies on his side with his eyes closed. He no longer cares to see what is happening, what they are doing. He tried to communicate with them and even though they speak the same language he cannot possibly hope to comprehend their understanding of the Buddha. It is a perversion, a distortion so sickening and false his words lose their meaning with these people.

            He sought enlightenment once, found a true path to seek an inner peace and understanding of this world and others. There was pain there, the pain of so many who suffered life. His one weakness, his one fault was that he wanted to stop it all, not let it happen. He couldn’t accept that life is suffering.

            Somehow these monks know that he cannot accept it. They vow to make him understand, to acknowledge that life is suffering and to realize the beauty in suffering. Someone touches his forehead and for all his bravado and promises to himself to not react, he does. He leans into the hand at his cheek and he knows it is not a monk. The hand is small and delicate, not a man’s hand. His eyes flash open but it isn’t Sam.

            It is a little girl. She can’t be more than eight or ten years old. Her lips are round and full, the color of ripe cherries. Her eyes are soft and tender as she looks at him. She leans down and lifts his head onto her lap. A moan escapes his lips and her small hand runs along the length of his full lower lip. She hushes him and then offers him water. The pain is so great in his throat he has trouble swallowing but she is kind and patient, dribbling the water into his split lips, his gashed face.

            Her dark eyes are beautiful to him, serene and sacred. He wants to ask her what her name is, but he can’t form words with the shattering pain that plagues him. Her hand pets his forehead and he is acutely aware of how innocent and young she is. He wonders if he was ever that young. His mother and father died and so had his youth.  For a moment, he wants to tell her to go outside in the bright afternoon of the day and play, race, run and laugh. But a selfishness comes over him, he doesn’t want to be alone. Maybe as long as she is here, the monks will leave him alone. He only has a few hours left, sundown he should be free.

            This one thought heartens him and he takes solace in it. A little chuckle comes to his lips; Jack is going to kill him. Well, he promised no glowy stuff and no repeat of Kheb. At least he got that right. This was definitely not the same sect as the monk they met on Kheb. Not even close. He thinks on Jack, on his team. His mantra throughout the session, through the brand, blade, flail and rod has centered on his friends. Knowing how they care, who they are, their strength and fortitude. He knows they will be there when this is over. He knows this.  Deep down, he wonders if this is enlightenment, this knowledge of his family.

            The girl is moving around him, shuffling on her tiny slippered feet about the darkened room. Light from slanted windows shafts into the room near the ceiling but it never reaches the floor. The darkness of the cell devours it; the light is too weak and insubstantial. It only throws shadows and paradoxically strengthens the darkness of the cell.

            As he contemplates the light far above him, the little girl urges him to lie flat on the floor. He does not fight her. She is sweet and quiet. She uses a damp clothe to clean his wounds and wipe his swollen eye. She whispers that life is suffering and he cannot but agree with her right now. He cannot believe in the innate goodness of humanity. Not now, not when the last twenty hours have been about torture.

            She runs a hand down the length of his arm, pausing only to feel the thump of his pulse. It is still there, the persistence of his life pounds and strides forward like an army marching toward inevitable defeat. She fingers his hand, smoothing the palm. He closes his eyes and he wishes she wasn’t here. Too young, she should not see something so horrible and wretched. He wishes to tell her to leave. He can’t. And the shame boils over him, makes tears seep out of his eyes, stinging and cleansing all at once. He shouldn’t keep her here to support him. But he can’t tell her to leave; he is too frightened to be alone.

            Something cold whispers over his palm, cold like iron.  Turning his head, he tries to see what it is, but she is bent over him and blocks his view. He feels a manacle secured about his wrist, locking him to the floor. Looking over her shoulder, she smiles and holds up a hammer.

            No, no. Brand, blade, flail, rod and hammer. The last instrument, the last means of torture. No. no. Not her, she can’t do this. His brain explodes as she gives him a gentle smile.

            “Life is suffering,” she says and the hammer comes down.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

            O’Neill confers with the native, Tee-on, as they review the ruins. Teal’c notes the small man hops about on the balls of his feet as O’Neill questions him. He presents a moving target and Teal’c knows without closing the distance that the man is lying. He will relate this to O’Neill as soon as possible. Walking the perimeter of the site, Teal’c studies the markings on the ground, the lay of the grass, the broken branches, the burnt out remains of the firepit used by SG5. They were not abducted and there is no sign of rings.

            SG5 remains on the planet. He closes the gap between himself and his leader. The colonel squints in the dying daylight and says to the man, “Listen, Toto, I don’t care if the wicked witch of the west is after you right now, I need some answers. You were working with SG5, right.”

            “That is correct. I cleaned and carried. I did nothing else.”

            Teal’c stares at the man but the native avoids his gaze, does not want Teal’c to examine him. This says all that the Jaffa needs. “O’Neill, may I request a private conference with you?”

            O’Neill considers him then motions Major Carter over to him. “Watch Toto here make sure the wicked witch of the east doesn’t fly in on her broom stick and make off with him.”

            Major Carter nods and Teal’c ushers his leader to the side of a crumbling building. “This man lies to you, O’Neill. Do not trust what he is saying. I believe he did much more for SG5 than that which he admits to freely.”

            “So do I, T-man.  Any ideas what?”

            “At this juncture, no. I would endeavor to quiz him about the ruins Perhaps in this way, we might reveal his deceit,” Teal’c advises.

            “Sounds like a plan,” O’Neill agrees, looks at the coming twilight, and then adds, “Let’s not spend too much time here. He hasn’t told us much the entire day just a lot of mumbo-jumbo about life is suffering crap. I want to get this over with and see if Daniel got anywhere with the monks.”

            He gives a short bow and walks with his commander to interrogate the villager again. Major Carter’s expression strikes him and he turns toward her and asks, “Are you not well, Major Carter.”

            She shakes her head as if to clear unpleasant thoughts. “No, Teal’c, I’m fine.” She pauses and bits her lower lip before continuing, “It’s just this whole thing about life is suffering. It seems their entire society is centered on this one point as if it is the fulcrum.”

            “Did not Daniel Jackson say that this culture possibly originated from one that uses these principles called the Four Noble Truths and this is one of them.”

            “Yes Buddhism,” she says as she nods. “But I saw that woman this morning, the dais with obvious signs of torture that the Colonel found and well.”

            “Carter?” O’Neill has been half listening as he gives the man some water.

            “They were so complacent this morning with that woman and her self-abuse. It just didn’t feel right, sir.” Major Carter fumbles with the strap of her P90, trying to distract herself. “Daniel should be able to tell us more.”

            “Yeah,” O’Neill replies but Teal’c recognizes something distant but distinct in his commander’s eyes. “Hey Tonto.”

            The villager looks up from his seat on the broken steps of the ruins.

            “This life is suffering thing, what is it?”

            “It is the truth of our path toward enlightenment. Life is suffering. One must accept this truth and all else will follow.”

            “How does one accept this life is suffering line?” O’Neill questions.

            “Through the way of the monks, as it is written.”

            O’Neill gives a low grumble and curses before he asks again, “Did SG5 want to find out about this enlightenment stuff?”

            “Of course, it is our way.” The man’s eyes are open. There is no obfuscation about his discourse. “I guided them to the monks and they went to the temple.”

            “When was that?”

            “The day before you arrived on our world.”

            Something rides over Teal’c like a breaking wave. The force of it is a monsoon, he glares at the man then toward the cut path to the village.

            “What did the monks tell them?” O’Neill is asking.

            “I do not know. Each went into the temple to seek enlightenment.”

            “Together or one by one?”

            “The holy men only allow one by one but your people insisted that they all go as one. That as one they sought enlightenment. They chose one to speak for them, the woman.”

            “Doctor Rita Sanchez, sir,” Major Carter supplies O’Neill with the name.

            O’Neill raises a hand to ward her off then turns to Tee-on again. “Have you been through this enlightenment at the temple?”

            Major Carter shifts and Teal’c can see an uneasiness to her shoulders, her stance. The tension in O’Neill’s face fractures his expression. Even his own thoughts betray him and cause the stirrings of stress and the tightening of his muscles to rally for action.

            “Yes, I have sought enlightenment as we all do when we come of age.”

            “And what does this enlightenment entail?” Teal’c asks.

            “To truly understand enlightenment one must understand the Noble Truth. Life is suffering.”

            “Christ,” O’Neill swears and then pulls them together. “If this is what I think it is.”

            “Some sort of torture sir?”

            “Yeah, I think Daniel is in trouble.” O’Neill glowers at the man sitting patiently on the broken steps.

            “I believe you are correct, O’Neill. Daniel Jackson is in grave danger.” Teal’c looks toward the horizon; the peaks of the mountains cut a jagged line into the twilight sky.  The colors of day dying and spreading in the distance remind him how long Daniel Jackson has been at the temple seeking enlightenment.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

            As he stares up into the blackened night he shudders but not from the cold. The night sky greets him from the narrow window. The onset of night infects him and overwhelms him. The twilight has come and he is still within the temple.

            “Jack, Jack, Jack,” he murmurs over and again. His mind fails to grasp the enormity of his friend’s absence, but maybe it does. He wants to weep. Jack is not there. He thought he would be free, released but he is not. No one has come, and it is night.

            “Jack, Jack, Jack.”

            Quakes rack his abused body but he doesn’t fight it. The battle is over; he has come for enlightenment. Life is suffering. His team is not here and, for the first time, he comprehends the truth of suffering. He is alone.

            He closes his eyes to deny the night. He smiles – just a little curve of the lips. He suffers and knows.

            Life is suffering.

            A crash startles him from his reverie. He doesn’t open his eyes immediately. There is no reason. To seek enlightenment is to know that life is suffering. He must suffer, must continue to do so. Other sounds permeate his hell and he curls in on himself. Shouts break the darkness; cries and calls open the cell and cracks of light leak in.

            “Fuck.” He hears the word, knows the voice. A hand tugs on his shoulder, and drags him to lay flat on the floor. He doesn’t fight it and he wonders at how easily he’s learned and understands the system of torment. “Daniel, can you hear me?”

            He peers up into dark eyes, sees a halo of light about a silvery gray head. Light streams in from the cell’s door to illuminate the recesses of this holy place.

            “Carter, get me a medkit.  Teal’c if even one of those monks walks by shoot him, shoot him dead. Do you understand me?”

            “Indeed.” A large figure stands sentinel duty near the door.

            “Daniel, come on.” The figure over him gives him a shake and then there are hands on him. A cool clothe wipes over his face and touches the wounds on his torso. “Daniel?”

            “Sir, he’s probably in shock.”

            “Did you see that table? Fuck I haven’t seen anything like that since,” he stops. “Carter, his hand?”

            A delicate touch lifts his left hand and he cannot keep the moan from whispering from his lips. The figure over him strokes his shoulder to calm him. He takes it, lets it fill him.

            “It looks like someone used a hammer or blunt instrument on the fingers sir. Might be broken, I’m not sure. We’ll have to wait and see what Janet says.”

            Far off he hears a sizzle and then it is repeated.

            “Teal’c?”

            “I have killed one of the monks protesting our presence, O’Neill.”

            O’Neill. The name resonates like a loud brass band, heavy and thick. O’Neill. “Jack?”

            Hands cup his face. “Daniel? Daniel can you hear me?”

            He nods. The warmth spreads over and through him. He thinks of all the times he’s heard about ‘grandma’s chicken soup’ when you’re sick and he knows this is better, so much better. “Jack, you came.”

            “God, Daniel, I’m sorry. I didn’t know, I didn’t know.”

            He gives a little smile. “Neither did I.”

            “Teal’c get some transportation. I don’t care if you have to steal it,” Jack yells and then turns back to him. “Carter is going to give you something for the pain. We don’t know everything that’s wrong so we’ll need to improvise a back board.”

            “Brand, blade, flail, rod and hammer,” he mumbles. He sees Jack look up at Sam. “I finished. Hammer was last.” He gives a little giggle. He hears Jack curse and then a prick in his thigh. It stings at first but then the warmth diffuses and the tension he doesn’t know he’s holding unravels.

            He doesn’t remember much after the injection. Flashes and feelings – no real grasp of reality or the occurrences around him. For the first time in over a day he thinks of himself. Holds onto himself. He’s jostled into a flat bed and he feels the motion of an animal pulled cart. There are others sitting around him. Instructions are barked and he briefly hears the words SG5.

            “SG5?” he asks.

            A hand squeezes his shoulder. “We found them Daniel. They weren’t as lucky as you.”

            For some reason this is the final straw. Tears fall freely from his eyes, jarring his chest as he heaves with the emotion. He had never been close to any of the members of that team, never truly knew them. Yet their shared experience however remote has linked him to them. He feels someone lift him and hold him the rest of the ride to the gate. Something tells him it’s Jack and that it’s all right to cry.

            He does.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

            After, Jack slumps in a chair next to Daniel’s bed in the infirmary. It could be so much worse, he tells himself. A fleeting image of his friend’s body wrecked by radiation flickers at the edge of his consciousness. He abandons that path of thought and instead runs his hand along the spine of the small book he holds. Frowning, he leafs through the book only to be interrupted by a low murmur.

            “Never saw you as one to read the Dalai Lama, Jack.”

            Smiling he tosses the book onto the foot of the bed, stands and says, “I’m not. Welcome back, Daniel.”

            Wires and tubing snake under his friend’s gown. His face is battered and his hand lays in a cast cushioned by a pillow. There is a fine sheen to his skin that reminds Jack of white paste. Daniel shifts in the bed but his movements are unsure and elicit a stifled moan.

            “You doing okay? I could get Fraiser over here.” Actually, he’s required to get the small doctor as soon as her patient is awake, but for just this minute, this moment he wants to make sure his friend is here among the living.

            “I’ll be fine.”

            This hurts to hear. Not the normal ‘I’m fine’ but ‘I’ll be fine’ future tense. So not good.

            “How did,” Daniel makes a little motion with his hand. “SG5.”

            “We found them right before we found you in another cell in the temple. Seems they ended up attacking the monks right at the start of their enlightenment session. They attacked when the monks went to brand Sanchez.” He notices Daniel’s hand stray to his heart, where the scar, the brand still mars his skin. “It wasn’t pretty. We brought their bodies back.” He hates to say these words but he respects Daniel too much to hide what happened.

            “They killed SG5,” he states in a flat voice.

            “Fraiser says that by the looks of it – they died of asphyxiation and it was probably an accident. The monks were punishing them for lashing out. Or so Sam thinks.”

            “They didn’t suffer then?” Daniel looks at him, his one unblemished eye seeking answers, answers Jack doesn’t have.

            “Probably not.”

            His friend bows his head, nods once then again. “Good, good.  That’s good.”

            Sam walks into the room, her smile shy and open all at once. He can tell she doesn’t want to show too much emotion in front of him but she is bursting to greet Daniel with joy. She settles for a squeeze of his uninjured hand.

            His face softens and Jack catches Daniel’s eyes. There is gratitude and patience there, along with fear of the horrors he’s been through. Teal’c joins them and they sit, quiet and peaceful as Daniel drifts off to sleep. None of them leave, they stay in a semi-circle about Daniel as if to cocoon him and protect him.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

He sits on Jack’s dock, his knees up against his chest, his arms wrapped around his legs. His chin rests on his knees. He’s watching the lake, the wind ripple over its surface and the faint reflection of the trees in the water. A bird calls out and the song seems to skim over the surface of the water. It is a warm autumn day.

            It has been over three weeks since he was at the temple. Janet released him from the infirmary just a few days ago and Jack insisted that he stay at his cabin for while, just until he gets back on his feet again. He stares at his bare toes, twitches them. He realizes he’s chilly and even as he becomes aware of this, a blanket floats over his shoulders and lands to rest wrapped around him.

            He peers up and sees Jack standing over him. “Teal’c and Carter are in town and want to come over, you know for a visit. Maybe pizza,” he pauses. “Beer, you know.”

            Daniel furrows his eyebrows, purses his lips and nods. “Sounds good, that’s fine.”

            Jack isn’t looking at him, but staring out to the edge of the lake with its murky, quiet depths. “You don’t have to, not if you need more time. You might need more rest.”

            “No, no I’m fine.” He thinks about Sam and Teal’c and the invasion of the quietude. The noise, the forced smiles and then the glances of sympathy and pain. He hates it; he wants things to be normal again. He’s realized something and he wants his team to know it understand it too. “I’d like them to come. It would be good.”

            Jack drops, his long lean body folding, crumpling onto the dock with him. “You’re fine?”

            He gives Jack a little smile. This is Jack’s way of asking him to talk, to get it out. “Really, Jack, I’m fine.” Daniel knows Jack won’t believe him. So he adds, “It was a little girl.”

            He can see Jack turn to look at him as he says, “She took a hammer and smashed my hand. It hurt like hell, but.” This is harder than he thought it would be; then he hoped it would be. “What hurt the most was the fact that it was a little girl, she treated my wounds. She did it without malice. She did it because she thought she was helping me. They all did.”

            “You can’t rationalize torture, Daniel.”

            He puts his chin on his fisted hand, crouching over his knees. “But it’s true. They believe it’s the only way to enlightenment, to comprehend the concept of suffering in life.”

            “Daniel.”

            He drops his fist, lays his head on his bent knees, hiding his face for a minute from Jack. Leaning back then, Daniel stretches out. It isn’t comfortable to move yet, his ribs are still mending, his hand throbs, his body is still getting used to the scars, the loss of a spleen. “It’s what they believe. I walked into the situation and didn’t do enough research to know what I was getting into.”

            “Daniel, no way this is your fault.”

            “It was a mistake. I’m not saying it was my fault, but it was a mistake.” He sighs, he needs to rest his back, the muscles protests his movements.

            “You gonna stick to that anthropological crap?”

            A little laugh comes to him, unexpected and bright. He nods and through his smile he says, “Yeah, I think so.”

            Silence settles over them. Through the pause, he feels the breath of life about him, understands it. The scuttle of an insect, the flight of a bird, the caress of the leaves – the embrace of life holds him and he understands.

            “Pizza tonight.”

            “Sam and Teal’c, pizza. Sounds good,” he murmurs.

            Jack nods and stumbles as he gets up. “I’ll call and tell them.” He starts back to the house but Daniel calls him back.

            “The worst part was thinking I was alone.” He gazes up at his friend.

            “You’re never alone, Daniel. Not now, not ever.”

            Daniel says. “Yeah, I know that now.”

            “Good,” Jack says. “Good.”

            Daniel smiles.

THE END

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