Script by Brad Wright. This novelization by Rebecca Ratliff
WARNINGS: adult themes, violence
CATEGORY: Action/Adventure, Angst, novelization including missing scenes
TIME FRAME: Season 6
SUMMARY: Jack is captured by Ba'al. Help comes from a most unexpected source.
DISCLAIMER: All Stargate SG-1 characters are the property of Stargate SG-1 Productions (II) Inc., MGM Worldwide Television Productions Inc., Double Secret Productions, Gekko Film Corp and Showtime Networks Inc. No infringement of those rights is intended. This story is for entertainment purposes only and no money exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. The original character Ti/Mira is the property of Rebecca Ratliff.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: Stargate SG-1 "Abyss" screenplay by Brad Wright. Novelization by Rebecca Ratliff.
It says R and it means it. Due to mature themes and graphic violence this story is not suitable for children. (If you've seen the episode you know what I mean.) All the credit for this story should go to Mr. Wright, the original author. The responsibility for any errors in this novelization is mine alone. Feedback is always appreciated. --RMR
A cold, drizzling rain muffled the sound of two desperate fugitives' headlong flight through the dark forest. They could hear their pursuers crashing through the underbrush terrifyingly close behind them.
The smaller of the pair slipped on wet leaves and fell headfirst into the mud. She found herself unable to get up. "It's too far!"
Her male companion helped her to her feet, but she admitted defeat. "I can't!"
How had everything fallen apart so catastrophically? They had nearly reached the gate, he could see the torchlight flickering in the distance. "Hide here until the chappa'ai is activated. Go."
Shae'lin disappeared into the underbrush. Kan'an/O'Neill continued to the chappa'ai. The brief delay had allowed his pursuers to close in. Knowing it was futile, Kan'an tried against all hope to lock in the gate coordinates. An open gate was a slim chance for Shae'lin to escape. Before he could finish, a staff blast hit him in the back. His knees buckled and he collapsed.
His host had never regained consciousness. Kan'an had betrayed everything he had ever believed in and only managed to create a total disaster.
There was only one thing left to be done. He separated from O'Neill and fell to the ground, then wriggled into a space between two rocks. No one would find him there, especially in the dark. He had left O'Neill in an awful mess, but his host had a slim chance alone and none if they had still been blended. Now there was nothing for Kan'en to do but wait to die.
O'Neill was barely conscious and was trying to crawl for cover when the Jaffa caught up, but it was pure blind will to live that could only hold off the inevitable for a few moments. The Jaffa collected a corpse.
"The host lives, my lord."
It wasn't the first time Jack O'Neill had awakened in a sarcophagus, but usually he could remember what bonehead move had put him in there in the first place. The Jaffa looking down at him was a clue that he was in trouble up to his eyeballs. This time he didn't think it was his fault.
The gate alarm sounded through SGC Headquarters. A technician watched a computer screen.
General Hammond descended the stairs to the control room. Several personnel at stations around room acknowledged his entry, but at this critical stage they barely diverted their attention from their monitors. One of them reported, "It's the Tok'ra."
Hammond replied, "It's about damn time!"
Tok'ra Councillor Thoran came through gate. The guard detail had him fixed squarely in their sights. Thoran was very careful not to make any sudden moves whatsoever until General Hammond entered the gate room and gave the order for them to stand down. Thoran relaxed a bit as they obeyed. "General Hammond."
"Councilor Thoran. I'm afraid my patience on this matter has just about run out. You've been promising the safe return of Col. O'Neill for days. Where is he?"
"I'm afraid I'm the bearer of bad news."
Tension filled the conference room. Hammond, Dr. Fraiser, and the three remaining SG-1 team members were seated at the table. Colonel O'Neill's chair was conspicuously empty. Thoran stood with his back turned.
Major Carter stated skeptically, "And he just walked out of your base. Nobody noticed he was gone until it was too late." Her tone clearly indicated that she found that explanation seriously lacking in credibility.
Thoran turned to face the Tau'ri. "With the attack on Ravanna, our numbers have been severely diminished. We had no reason to expect this. I see no reason to assign blame." Thoran stayed on his feet as he spoke, like a schoolboy called on the carpet in the principal's office.
Jonas Quinn, the newest member of the team, observed, "Col. O'Neill did put his life in your hands."
"Receiving a symbiote was his only hope for survival."
Teal'c's voice was as cool and unruffled as ever, but there was an element of threat there too. "He could have refused."
Dr. Fraiser put in, "In which case, you would have never been able to retrieve the knowledge in Kan'an's mind."
Thoran acknowledged, "A more than fair exchange."
Hammond put it plainly. "Col. O'Neill would not agree to a blending with a symbiote unless there was more at stake than his life."
Thoran suggested, "Perhaps it was that repugnance at blending with another mind that caused O'Neill to behave so irrationally."
Fraiser gave Thoran a look that typically made the junior medical staff squirm and wonder what part of their diagnosis they had just screwed up, but she directed her observations to Hammond. "General, I can't speculate on Col. O'Neill's state of mind. But while a mature symbiote can take control of the host body whenever it wants to, it doesn't work both ways."
Carter, Jolinar's former host, added, "I can vouch for that, sir. There is no way Col. O'Neill could have walked out on his own."
Teal'c concluded, "Then he was forced to do so against his will by the symbiote."
Thoran objected, "You accuse an honored Tok'ra of behaving as a Goa'uld!"
Hammond started, "Councillor--"
Thoran interrupted hotly, "Kan'an has fought the Goa'uld longer than any of you have lived, yet you spit the word "symbiote" as though you spoke of vermin. Whatever you may think of our form, Kan'an was as a brother to me."
No one took up the implicit challenge.
Thoran went on more calmly, "The Tok'ra Council accepts that Kan'an may be lost to us."
Hammond said, "That's the big difference between us, Councillor. We don't leave our people behind."
O'Neill was hurried down a corridor between two Jaffa guards. They held him securely. He considered putting up a fight, but he wouldn't have got far. For now, he decided just to play it cool and hope somebody would explain what the hell was going on. Like where he was, how he had got here, and what the hell he was doing here.
The Jaffa opened a door and hustled him through. There wasn't a lot in the room, just a chair and some kind of a small table or workbench type object on a low dais. A long dark corridor opened off one wall, gated off by a wrought-iron spiderweb looking thing. The Jaffa took him up the stairs onto the dais and gave him a sudden shove. Instead of falling down the stairs, though, he fell straight "down" toward the spiderweb and ended up lying against it face-first, held there by several G's of force as if he were in an accelerating aircraft.
This was not a good situation.
Someone else entered the room and O'Neill fought gravity to turn over and get a look at him.
Must be the lord of the manor, from the deferential way the two Jaffa backed out of the room and shut the door behind them. O'Neill had the ridiculous thought that the Goa'uld looked like Ares from that television show. Same dark hair, same fascination with black clothes, same...attitude. Something in his eyes was a hell of a lot more dangerous than a comic-book semi-villain, though. O'Neill knew a stone killer when he saw one and this was it. A bit of black lace at the hems of his sleeves gave a patently false hint of softness. O'Neill figured out exactly how much trouble he was in and he didn't care for the bottom line at all.
The Goa'uld crossed to the table and looked up at him again, returning the favor and sizing him up. "Who are you?"
O'Neill replied, "You go first."
Ba'al selected a dagger from the table and sat down. "You claim you do not know me?"
O'Neill's usual sarcasm took over. "Well, take no offense there, skippy, I'm sure you're a real hot important Goa'uld. I've just always been kind of out of the loop with the snake thing."
"I am Ba'al."
"That's it? Just "Ball?" As in bocce?"
Ba'al stood. "Do you not know the pain you will suffer for this impudence?" The dagger floated at his fingertips. A telekinetic Goa'uld wasn't something you saw every day.
O'Neill declared, "I don't know the meaning of the word." He knew as soon as the words were out of his mouth that bravado was the wrong tack to take with this guy. He backpedalled, "Seriously. Impudence. What does that mean?"
Before O'Neill knew what was happening, Ba'al let go of the dagger and it flew unerringly to bury itself in his shoulder. O'Neill let out a cry that at first was as much surprise as pain, but it didn't take long for the pain to hit.
Ba'al seemed satisfied. "Good." He selected and studied another dagger. "I shall begin again. Who are you?"
Deadly serious now, O'Neill recited, "Colonel Jack O'Neill, US Air Force, two "l's" in that." There didn't seem to be much sense in going on with the serial number.
Ba'al said, "That may be who you once were, Tok'ra."
"I may be a lot of things, but I'm no Tok'ra."
Ba'al conceded, "It is true that we were unable to capture the host. Your symbiote fled the body out of cowardice. But it is also true that the Tok'ra share body and mind equally. You will know all that it knew."
O'Neill objected, "I think I know less than you...think I know."
Ba'al raised the dagger. "Why have you come to this outpost?"
"Now, see, that's a perfect example right there. I haven't a clue."
Truth it may have been, but the explanation sounded hollow in O'Neill's own ears. Ba'al released the dagger. Another outcry, even though he had tried to grit his teeth this time.
Ba'al took up another dagger. "You have been here before." O'Neill spoke with difficulty through the pain. "First time."
"You know your way to and from my most secret outpost. Clearly you have been here."
O'Neill replied, "What?"
"Did you really hope to escape my personal guard?"
"What?!" This whole thing was just getting better and better by the minute.
Ba'al demanded, "Why did you abduct my slave?"
O'Neill figured it was time for the truth. "Alright, look! This is the last thing I remember, I swear to God. I was sick. I had to let the Tok'ra put a snake in my head or I would have died. Right now I kind of wish I had."
Ba'al smiled, "A wish easily granted. What was your mission here?"
O'Neill told him, "No mission."
Ba'al demanded, "Why have you returned?"
O'Neill insisted, "I've never been here!"
Ba'al went on right over his protests, "What did you want with the female?"
O'Neill asked, "What female?"
Ba'al told him, "Death will only offer a temporary escape. I can revive you again and again, a thousand times if need be. Only once you have told me everything I ask will you be allowed to die--one last time."
As he released the dagger, O'Neill realized that was true. There were no limits to what this psycho could do to him as long as he had a sarcophagus handy. There was a moment of deep pain and he had time to realize he had been stabbed in the heart before he went under.
Councilor Thoran and SG-1 studied the star map in the conference room. Hammond had made it clear to Thoran that he expected nothing less than the Tok'ra's full cooperation, and Thoran had assured him that he would do all he could. Carter had picked up at once that there were definitions of "full cooperation" and "all" involved.... She asked, "Where was his last mission?"
Thoran replied, "As an operative aboard a mother ship in Topakna's fleet. He managed to escape during a battle with Lord Yu's forces, but just barely."
Quinn mentally reviewed what little they knew about Topakna and Lord Yu. It wasn't a question that he might have forgotten some of the details, a photographic memory was his blessing and curse. There simply wasn't a wealth of information available. "Did he have a motive to return to that vessel?"
Thoran asked, "Such as?"
Quinn elaborated, "Unfinished business? Task left undone?"
Thoran paused a moment to converse with his host. "His report stated the mission objectives were complete. We are willing to attempt contacts with our operatives on these worlds here, here and here." He indicated locations on the map.
Teal'c observed, "His previous missions."
Thoran affirmed, "If Kan'an returned to either of these worlds, for whatever reason, our operatives may have learned of it."
Quinn asked, "Well, when will we hear news?"
Thoran told him, "It may take many months."
There was a pause. Carter found that patently unacceptable.
Teal'c tried a different tack. "You spoke of Kan'an's mission reports."
"What of it?"
Carter said, "Well, we'd like to see them. If Jonas' instinct is correct and Kan'an had unfinished business, there may be clues."
"Their contents are not relevant."
Quinn backed Carter, "Well, Col. O'Neill's life is at stake. I believe that is relevant."
Thoran's tone was all finality. "What you ask is not possible."
Carter answered mildly, "Really."
O'Neill was awakened by a loud scrape of stone on stone as the sarcophagus opened. Before he got a chance to get his bearings, a couple of Jaffa hauled him out of the box and marched him down a hallway. Sure he was on his way back to Ba'al's funhouse, he put up a short fight until the Jaffa convinced him they had obviously no reservations about killing him and tossing him back into the sarcophagus if he made their workday difficult. He settled down.
They took several turns, and he made an effort to memorize the route, although it did him little good to be able to retrace his steps to the sarcophagus. They passed a few closed doors and then went through a heavy one into a cell block. He looked into the cells they passed, all were empty. They stopped at a doorway and pushed a large button on the door frame. A force field went down and they shoved him inside.
One of the guard shut the door and the cell upended itself. He slid downhill as the cell floor became a wall. Peachy. If he'd had any ideas about jimmying the force field blocking the cell door, that was right out, now that it was a good six feet overhead and he was short one convenient ladder. He thought about climbing some kind of direction indicator thing on the wall, but it obviously wouldn't hold his weight even if he could get some kind of grip on it. There were recessed light fixtures in the walls, but the translucent fixtures were made of something tougher than glass or plastic. It was too much to hope that he could have busted one and improvised a weapon.
O'Neill took another look up at door. If he could just get up there.... He was startled to see a woman in a black dress seated there. She looked sort of like Carter, only younger and a lot less sure of herself.
The girl asked, "Is it you?" She had an accent he couldn't quite place, but she was familiar, like someone you met in the grocery store and you knew you should remember them but couldn't quite. She disappeared into thin air.
OK. He'd seen things before that weren't really there. Getting killed could do that to you. He just had to wait a while for the effects of the sarcophagus to wear off, and the people who weren't there would go away.
Daniel Jackson appeared sitting on one of the cell's hard benches. He said, "Hi, Jack." Then he waved.
This was a whole new level of weird. O'Neill stared. "Daniel."
"I leave, and look at the mess you get yourself into." Daniel was just calmly sitting there, hands loosely clasped in his lap, just like it was any Friday night back home with pizza and a stack of videos.
O'Neill realized his mouth was open and closed it.
Daniel said, "It's good to see you."
One of the Jaffa guards walked by without looking into the cell.
O'Neill was pretty rattled by the appearance of his best friend's ghost, but he told himself it was just the sarcophagus. "Yeah. You too." He realized he was wandering around the cell and sat on the other bench. Daniel looked so... um... normal. Cream colored sweater and khakis. "It's a shame you're a delusion."
Daniel assured him, "I'm here. I'm really here."
O'Neill decided that his hallucinations didn't have any business arguing with him. "Sure you are." He thought about it a minute, then took off his shoe and threw it at Daniel. There was a small flash of light as the shoe hit him, but it went right through him and bounced off the wall to land in the middle of the cell. Yup. Delusion.
Daniel had to be Daniel, though. "Here in the sense that my consciousness is here, if not here in the full physical flesh and blood sense, which is really neither here nor there. The point is, you're not imagining this."
O'Neill pointed out, "I just tossed my shoe through you."
Daniel went on patiently, "Yes, you did. That's because I've ascended to another plane of existence."
O'Neill said, "Ohhh."
"Remember Oma Desala, the whole glowing thing, you helped me out, I couldn't have done that without you, remember that?"
O'Neill remembered that a whole lot better than he wanted to. "Yeah."
"I'm energy now."
"How's that working out for you?"
Daniel said, "Good, actually. Very good. Very--"
"Very good. You, however--"
O'Neill fell back on his usual sarcasm. "Yeah, well, you know what it's like, coming back from the dead." He recovered his shoe. "Takes a while to get the color back in the cheeks."
Daniel's tone indicated complete understanding. "Yeah." He'd been addicted to the sarcophagus once and almost hadn't made it back to the normal side of the street after that one.
O'Neill lowered himself back to his bench. "So...not a delusion?"
"OK, show me your stuff. Bust me out of here."
Daniel said, "I can't."
O'Neill asked reasonably, "Why not?" Daniel told him, "I'm not allowed to interfere."
O'Neill objected, "You're interfering right now."
Daniel automatically denied that. "No, I'm not."
O'Neill insisted, "Yes, you are."
"Interference," quote/unquote, was a big deal. Daniel remembered an incident where the Others had wiped out an entire race of people to counter the effects of one Ascended's interference. He was skating on some very thin ice, he had to be certain it would hold his weight. "No, I'm not. I'm consoling a friend."
O'Neill asked him, "What good's the power to make the wind blow or toss lightning around if you can't use it to spring an old friend out of jail?"
Daniel's reply was heartfelt. "I would if I could."
"You can't do that stuff?"
"I can, I just--I can't."
O'Neill told him, "Well, thanks for stopping by then."
Daniel burst out, "Ba'al is torturing you and I wasn't going to sit by. Look, all he wants to know is the reason you came to this planet. You really don't know?"
O'Neill asked, "Do you?"
"Well, all I know is that you, or more accurately the symbiote that the Tok'ra placed inside of you--congratulations, by the way--walked off undetected in the middle of the night and came here."
O'Neill said, "I can't believe I actually let them put a snake in my head. My head. I agreed to this."
Daniel asked, "It never shared with you why it would walk alone into a heavily fortified Goa'uld outpost?"
O'Neill yelled, "There was no sharing! I was sick!" He emphasized the statement with a gesture that was even more demonstrative of exasperation than his tone of voice.
Daniel said quietly, "I know."
O'Neill calmed down and continued, "They did the implantation--a word I intend never to use again--and I woke up here! That's my week so far."
Daniel mused, "So you really don't know."
O'Neill said, "Ah... Something to do with one of Ba'al's slaves. I've got a visual, but I've never met her before."
Daniel said, "Nobody knows you're here."
O'Neill thought, this was just like old times. Daniel would talk his way through a problem and figure out all the angles. It was best just to let him go even if he forgot all about politely sugar-coating things along the way.
"And even if they did, they'd never be able to pull off a rescue because this place is a fortress."
O'Neill didn't like the sound of that, but they had pulled off escapes from Goa'uld fortresses before. He didn't see what made this one so special.
"Ba'al is just going to keep torturing you to death, reviving you in the sarcophagus until he finds out what he wants--which is impossible because you don't know anything--or until you're not worth reviving anymore. But you'll cease to be the Jack O'Neill we know long before that."
O'Neill's mouth went dry as he followed Daniel's logic. That was a real freakin' good possibility. "Well. Apparently I've got a big day tomorrow."
Daniel shook his head. "No, I'm not going to let that happen, I won't let him destroy you."
O'Neill told him, "You just said you couldn't help."
Daniel gave him one of those intense looks, the one that meant he had a wild-ass idea that he was sure would work. "No, I can't stop Ba'al from torturing you any more than Oma could heal my radiation sickness, but--I can help you ascend."
O'Neill stared at him. He was the one who was supposed to be delusional here.
Hammond descended the stairs to the stargate control room where Thoran and SG-1 were squared off in an angry confrontation.
Thoran complained, "Your underlings will not allow me to leave!"
Hammond informed him, "My officers and enlisted personnel are following my direct orders."
Thoran said, "This Jaffa threatened my life."
Teal'c stood relaxed, with his arms folded across his chest, and calmly explained, "I merely informed you that any further attempt to activate the stargate would result in physical injury."
Thoran demanded of the General, "Then I am a prisoner?"
Hammond told him, "I would prefer that you consider yourself a guest."
Carter said, "And, you'll be free to leave as soon as you provide us with the mission reports we've requested under Article IX of our treaty."
Thoran objected, "Such a request to the Council must be made in person."
Quinn asked reasonably, "Why's that? This control facility is quite capable of relaying your request on multiple frequencies, including those used by the Tok'ra."
Hammond said, "Of course, if you choose not to avail yourself of that capability, we would be pleased to provide you with comfortable quarters until you decide to change your mind."
Thoran said angrily, "You threaten the peaceful continuation of relations between our two peoples, General Hammond."
Hammond answered, "If our relations continue in the direction they're going, Councilor, I don't give a damn."
Thoran glared at Hammond, then at SG-1. They stared right back, smiling. It was starting to dawn on Thoran what Jacob had meant when he had warned him never to mess with a two-star general before he had his morning coffee. These people were going to lock him up until they got what they wanted and there was absolutely nothing he could do about it. "Very well. I will make your request that the reports be sent here immediately."
Hammond simply said, "Thank you." He calmly turned around and went back upstairs to his office.
There was a final stare-down between Thoran and SG-1. The two Tau'ri and the Jaffa didn't give a millimeter. His pride stung, Thoran turned to the comms station and asked the technician to open a connection to his people.
O'Neill said, "So...you want to be my Oma?"
Daniel replied, "You could put it that way. I mean, I wouldn't, but maybe that's just me."
O'Neill asked, "And then what?"
Daniel said, "And then--I don't know."
O'Neill's skepticism was plain. "You don't know.
Daniel explained, "No, I mean, ascension doesn't make you all knowing. I mean, I really don't know."
O'Neill told him, "If I'm catching the next plane of existence out of here, you've got to give me some--"
Daniel went on, "It's your journey. No one but you can choose what you become or the path you take. All I can promise you is that it will be an amazing journey."
O'Neill made an exasperated noise.
Daniel finished, "Once you release your burden."
O'Neill threatened, "Daniel, so help me, if you start talking like Oma--"
"I am not talking like Oma Desala."
"Sounds like Oma."
Daniel shook his head. As fond as he was of Oma Desala, he knew exactly what Jack meant. "No, no, no. See Oma would say something like, uh, if you know the candlelight is fire then you know the meal was cooked a long time ago or something like that."
O'Neill asked, "Why?"
"To open your mind."
"Though a candle burns in my house, there's nobody home."
Daniel tried to start with the basics. "OK. Let's take this one step at a time. This has to be something you want. I can't do this for you." For the first time, Daniel stood up and took a few steps around the cell. O'Neill thought maybe he was just starting to get the hang of this hologram stuff.
"One step at a time."
O'Neill said, "Oh, there's gotta be another way out of here." He got up to face Daniel.
"Jack--" There was that Daniel puppy-dog look.
This time it wasn't working. "What if you did a little scouting for me? That would be all right, wouldn't it?"
O'Neill said, "I'm not asking you to knock down walls or anything, just a little recon." How could that be "interference?"
Daniel said urgently, "Ba'al is just going to torture you again, and--"
O'Neill went on with another sensible suggestion. "Or a zat gun. Help me get my hands on a zat gun."
Daniel warned, "The next time is going to be worse."
O'Neill told him, "That's when we move, the next time they come for me." They'd have to flip the room right side up again and open the force field to get him out, and those were the biggest obstacles he could see to an escape.
Daniel told him, "You can't fight your way out of this!"
For the first time, some of O'Neill's fright came through in his voice. "Then help me!"
Daniel said, "Not that way."
The cell block door opened.
Daniel said, "They're coming."
"They can see you, right? We can use that."
Daniel wanted nothing more than to do exactly what Jack requested. Instead he said, "I'll be back."
O'Neill told him, "A distraction. That's all I'm asking for."
Daniel was heartsick. "I promise." In his mortal years with SG-1, Daniel had become as much a soldier as a scholar. It was that part of him that decided someone really needed killing for putting him in a situation where he had to desert his best friend at a time like this. The only reason he was able to do it was that he knew the consequences if he interfered would be as bad for Jack as for himself. He disappeared when the guards arrived.
O'Neill looked around his empty cell and whispered, "Daniel!" All right, this was just freakin' wonderful. First Kan'an and now Daniel. Who else was about to pop up out of thin air just so they could run out on him?
Jack fell as the guards opened the cell and the gravity changed. The Jaffa hauled him to his feet and marched him down the corridor.
SG-1 sat around a workstation with three laptop computers in front of them. The computers held Kan'an's mission reports.
Quinn said, "His motive had to be personal."
Teal'c asked, "For what reason?"
Quinn reasoned, "Well, the Tok'ra claim that all of Kan'an's spy missions were a complete success, therefore he'd have no reason to go back to any of those planets. If we take them at their word, we can rule out any logical reason. Now, Kan'an had to be motivated by something profound enough to not only risk his life but also the life of his host."
They turned back to the mission reports.
O'Neill stared at the acid bottle Ba'al was holding. One perfect drop slowly formed at the end of the spout. Under the Goa'uld's telekinetic control, it flew over to splash O'Neill's chest. An acrid smoke stung his eyes as it ate a hole through his shirt. He cried out softly as it found his skin and started to burn, just like the other burns he had already sustained.
Ba'al informed him, "Tolvec acid will take some time to burn through all the way. Though it cauterizes the flesh as it burns, a very small amount often finds its way into the blood, and begins to spread. Why have you returned, Tok'ra?"
O'Neill said, "I'm human."
Ba'al agreed, "Betrayed by your symbiote."
O'Neill said, "It used me."
"To do what?"
O'Neill still found some defiance. "I don't know, and I don't care."
Ba'al started a new line of questioning. "What did the symbiote call itself?"
O'Neill lied, "I don't remember." Actually he did, he had been told Kan'an's name before he had given permission for the blending.
Ba'al said, "Tok'ra retain the identities of both host and symbiote. You are O'Neill. What was the name of your symbiote?"
O'Neill protested, "I--I just told you--" "What Tok'ra secrets could a single name reveal?"
"I don't know."
Ba'al asked reasonably, "Why protect the one who betrayed you, abandoned you to this?"
O'Neill lied again, angrily this time. "If I knew the name, I'd give you the damn name. I don't care about protecting the Tok'ra."
Ba'al said, "The Tok'ra have been a nuisance for centuries." He held the acid bottle up to the light.
O'Neill protested, "Don't--"
Ba'al said, "Even when we thought they'd been wiped out, they become all the more insidious. Like...acid...burning holes into our empires."
O'Neill said, "_Kan'an._ That's the name."
Ba'al smiled and lowered the acid bottle.
O'Neill said softly, "Kan'an."
Ba'al laughed and put the acid container down, then selected another bottle.
O'Neill said, "I--I just told you--"
Ba'al replied, "Yes. You did." He splashed O'Neill with the contents of the bottle.
O'Neill scrambled for the courage to endure more burning, only to be completely surprised when the liquid's effect became apparent.
Ba'al told him, "This neutralizes the acid and numbs the pain. So, you see--the truth is rewarded."
Shame at his lapse gave him the strength to take up the fight again. "I don't know anything else."
Ba'al said, "There may be much more of this Kan'en still in your memory than even you know."
O'Neill kept his mouth shut. If he made any of the dozen or so smartass comments he thought of, Ba'al could very easily pick up the acid bottle again.
Ba'al assured him, "It will come to you."
The Goa'uld touched a control on the table. The gravity web slid away and O'Neill fell down a long dark tunnel.
Two Jaffa shoved O'Neill into his cell and locked it. He lay where he landed when the gravity shifted. It felt good to lie there for a minute. Nothing hurt. That wouldn't last long. He wanted to make the most of it.
Unfortunately, the imaginary lady came back. "Is it you?"
O'Neill asked, confused, "What--?"
"You should not have come back."
"I don't...remember..." If O'Neill had ever met a girl like that, he knew he would have remembered.
"If I leave with you, he will know."
O'Neill started, "You..."
Daniel's tan suede oxfords appeared by his ear. O'Neill looked up at him as Daniel asked, "Jack, who are you talking to?"
O'Neill told him, "That woman..."
She disappeared again.
Daniel told him, "There's nobody there."
O'Neill replied, "Look who's talking."
Daniel asked, "Does it still hurt?"
O'Neill touched the burn experimentally and said, "No."
"I told you I'd come back."
O'Neill got mad. "If the Daniel Jackson I knew was really here--"
Daniel protested, "I am."
"Then do something." He got to his feet. "You listen to me. I don't want to go through that again. If you were really my friend and had the power to stop it, you'd stop it."
Daniel tried to explain, "The hardest part of being who or what I am is having the power to change the things I want to change and knowing that I can't. Even when I'm certain, even when it's absolutely clear to me, even when it affects the people I care about."
O'Neill gave him a disbelieving look and turned away.
Daniel said, "Because for all I can do, I'm no more qualified to play God than the Goa'uld are."
Jack's silence was eloquent concerning his opinion of that line of logic.
Daniel said, "Ba'al will keep this up."
O'Neill agreed, "Yes. He will."
A hint of desperation crept into Daniel's tone. "We don't have an unlimited amount of time." O'Neill found a new reserve of defiant courage. "Gotta be someplace, do you?"
Daniel said, "No!"
Neither of them said anything for a moment after that. There wasn't much time and they didn't really want to fight.
Daniel got back to the situation at hand. If they could just think of something.... "Look, there's got to be a reason Kan'an came back here. Was it for the woman? The one you were just talking to? She must have something to do with all of this."
O'Neill told him, "Y'know, screw it. It doesn't matter. Carter and Teal'c will think of something."
Daniel wished with all his heart that were true. "Even if they could find out where you are--"
O'Neill said, "And you know, Jonas, he's at least as smart as you."
Daniel said, "There isn't always a way out, Jack."
O'Neill absolutely refused to believe that. "Hey, you know, if that was true, I'd have been dead a long time ago."
Daniel asked, "How many more times do you think you can go into that sarcophagus before it starts changing you?"
Daniel wanted to shake him. "How many times has it been already? It can regenerate your body and make you strong enough to go through that all over again. But all the time, it's destroying who you are. And once that happens, you won't be able to ascend no matter how much you want to."
O'Neill said, "Hey! I appreciate what you're trying to do."
Daniel said, "I wouldn't be here if I didn't believe you could do it." Well, that was a lie--he would have been there even if he were absolutely certain that there was nothing he could do but helplessly pass the time.
O'Neill reminded him, "This is me we're talking about."
Daniel said, "Yes it is. Now, please, just try to open your mind."
"Oh, stop it, willya?"
Daniel argued, "C'mon, do you think the Asguard named a ship after you because they thought it was a cool name? Now is not the time to play dumb, you're a lot smarter than that! They saw our potential in you, because of who you are and what you've done. _Humanity's_ potential. That's the same thing Oma saw in me."
"I am not you."
Daniel replied, "Yeah, when has that ever stopped you from doing anything?"
O'Neill reasoned, "OK. Put yourself in my shoes and me in yours."
Daniel answered without the shadow of a doubt, "You'd be here for me."
O'Neill said, "Damn straight. I'd have busted you out, blown this rat hole to hell, and made sure that son of a bitch suffered!"
Daniel told him, "The Others would have stopped you."
O'Neill replied, "They'd have a hell of a fight on their hands."
Daniel said uncertainly, "You wouldn't do that." Except, Jack would do that. Daniel had seen him take on impossible odds before.
O'Neill told him, "Ba'al would be dead."
Daniel objected, "Jack--"
"And don't think I'd stop there."
Daniel protested, "You're a better man than that."
O'Neill yelled at him, "That's where you're wrong!"
They stared at each other for a long moment. Daniel realized that Jack had meant every word, and how deeply it must hurt him that Daniel wasn't willing to take on the Others for him. Jack just didn't realize that course of action held no chance of success. It would be out of the frying pan right into the fire. Well, he'd understand later, after he ascended, and at this point, that was the only important thing.
Daniel said, "Right now, I can't imagine doing or being anything other than what I am. I see things, I understand things in a way I never could have before. But I chose this. Even when Jacob was trying to heal me, I chose this. But, you, in the place you're at right now, you don't have any other choices. This is not your life we're talking about, Jack, this is your soul. This is it. What I'm offering you is your only way out."
O'Neill answered with quiet, grim confidence. "You're wrong about that, too. I have another choice."
Daniel shook his head. "What are you talking about?"
O'Neill answered only with a level, ice cold stare.
Daniel's eyes widened as comprehension dawned. "No!"
O'Neill spelled it out with all the emotion of a laundry list. "Any minute, they're going to come. Ba'al is going to kill me again. You can make it the last time."
Daniel plead, "Don't ask me to do that!"
O'Neill said quietly, "You can put an end to it."
Daniel knew if he had still been human, he wouldn't have been able to find enough air to breathe. He declared, "I won't do it."
Jack and Daniel looked up as they heard the now-familiar clang of the cell block door.
O'Neill told him, "I'd do it for you, and you know it." This time he was ready for the gravity shift. "I don't want to see this cell again, Daniel."
Daniel disappeared as the two Jaffa took O'Neill away. Jack had been suicidal when they had first met, distraught over his son's death. Since then he had found new reasons to want to live. Over and over again, Jack's refusal to give up no matter what had saved the team and the world itself a hundred different ways. This wasn't surrender. O'Neill had simply analyzed the situation and laid out the options he saw available to him. He obviously didn't believe ascension was a viable choice for him. Daniel was sure he was wrong about that, but if Jack was right that left only two unthinkable alternatives: death at Ba'al's hands or at Daniel's.
Against his will, Daniel thought it through. He could sabotage the sarcophagus and prevent Jack from being resurrected. Damn it, Jack had known that was the only method he could consider. Actually taking Jack's life was not something he could ever do. It had to be sabotage.
If Daniel did that, all the consequences of his interference would fall on his head alone. Not even the Others could touch a soul that had crossed over. The Ascended, even the formidable Others, were not gods. There were powers far stronger than they.
Daniel had asked Jack to stop heroic measures when he was dying of radiation sickness so that he could ascend. Now he knew what that decision had cost Jack. Now Jack was asking him to stop the Goa'uld from bringing him back so that he could cross over. How could Daniel do any less even if it tore the heart and soul out of him?
Jonas got up from his chair and walked off some of his frustration. "I don't know about you two, but I'm beginning to get the feeling that there is absolutely nothing here."
Carter thought a minute, then turned back to her computer as a few things started to come together. "Wait. Guys. Look at this."
"What is it?"
"The mission where Kan'an worked undercover as a minor Goa'uld in Ba'al's service. How long ago was that?"
Teal'c said, "Several months. Ba'al has kept the existence of the outpost hidden from the other System Lords."
Jonas summed up the mission report in question. "The outpost was a secret testing facility for weapons technology and gravity field generators. Over a period of several months, he was able to map out the entire facility, catalogue its defenses."
Carter agreed, "That's what Kan'an reported to the Tok'ra council. But something just struck me. He used Ba'al's Lotar, his personal slave, to access much of that information."
Jonas agreed, "Yeah, the lotar gave him access to Ba'al's chamber when he was away."
Teal'c asked, "Do you believe Kan'an withheld information in his report?" Carter shook her head. "No. But think about it. A Lotar is a Goa'uld's most trusted servant."
Teal'c asked, "Why would he so blithely betray his master?"
Carter corrected, "Her master. The slave was a woman. Access to Ba'al's own chamber?"
Teal'c asked, "Are you suggesting that Kan'an engaged in an affair with this slave in order to gain access to her master's quarters?"
Carter said, "Well, something had to be going on between them, otherwise why would she take the risk?"
Teal'c had to agree, "The Tok'ra would go to great lengths to accomplish a mission."
Carter acknowledged, "So, maybe he was just using her. But, who knows, I mean, the Tok'ra are a very passionate race."
Teal'c said, "The Tok'ra accept sacrifice as a function of war. I do not believe this slave was sufficient motive for Kan'an to return."
Jonas saw where Carter was going. "Insufficient motive for _Kan'an_. The decision to act came after blending with the mind of Col. O'Neill."
Carter continued, "At which point, he would have been confronted with every thought and belief that makes the colonel who he is. And be forced to judge himself by that same code of honor."
Jonas said, "Especially what General Hammond referred to as the difference between us and the Tok'ra."
Carter concluded, "We don't leave our people behind."
This time Ba'al hadn't given him the usual half hour or so in his cell to recover from the sarcophagus. That, he knew, was SOP. Get the prisoner depending on some insignificant bit of routine, then yank the rug out from under him by changing the program. It was all designed to wear down resistance.
His imaginary friend had come back out to play. Even though he knew she wasn't real, his disorientation was such that he couldn't help interacting with her. She asked, "Is it you?"
O'Neill told her, "You shouldn't be here."
She asked, "You look so different. How can you be Kan'an?"
"If I leave with you, he will know."
O'Neill fought for clarity. "He used both of us."
Once again, she winked out. O'Neill figured out where he was, back in Ba'al's torture chamber. Hallelujah.
Ba'al obviously thought O'Neill had been babbling to him. "He did use both of us. How long were you host to this Kan'an before he convinced you to come here? Days? Or merely hours?"
O'Neill went back to his stock answer. "I don't remember."
"What did this Kan'an share about his previous mission here?"
"Nothing." There was one good thing about being able to tell the truth under interrogation. He didn't have to keep track of a series of lies. Right now he wasn't sure he could have remembered the alphabet.
"What did he want with my slave?"
O'Neill recited again, "I don't know."
"Why did he return?"
"I _don't_ know."
Ba'al stood and took a few short steps to the table.
"I believe you. You are a victim of this Tok'ra, just as I am. This Kan'an took over his host body--your body--just as I only know the Goa'uld would have done. He used you to come here. But to what purpose? I believe the answers are in your mind, even if you were only host to him for a matter of hours, something of him will be left behind. Heh. An unfortunate inheritance for you." Ba'al opened a panel on the table and removed out the acid bottle and a dagger. "Because I will find them, if I have to dig them out."
General Hammond summarized Carter's theory. "You're telling me Kan'an was compelled to rescue a slave he encountered months ago."
"As a direct result of blending with Col. O'Neill, yes, sir."
Thoran was openly skeptical. "Based on the arrogant notion that the colonel could never have left her behind."
Carter ignored him and addressed the general. "Sir, I know from first-hand experience how deeply the emotions can be shared between a Tok'ra symbiote and its host."
Thoran stated the obvious. "So do I, Major Carter. Still your theory seems to be based on nothing more than intuition."
Carter said calmly, "I won't argue that. But it's not without reasoning. I know that's where Col. O'Neill is."
Teal'c backed her up. "As do I."
Jonas made it unanimous. "We're all in agreement."
Thoran had to admit, the Tau'ri knew O'Neill much better than he did. All the same.... "It makes no difference. If indeed Col. O'Neill is in Ba'al's hands, then he is far beyond our reach."
Teal'c told him, "We have plans to the outpost."
Thoran appealed to the Jaffa's tactical expertise. "Then you know it is a fortress. An army could not hope to penetrate it."
Carter argued, "Kan'an obviously thought it was possible." She turned to General Hammond. "Sir, if we went in with a small force, maybe two SG teams--"
Hammond's voice was heavy with regret. "I'm sorry, Major, but I agree with the Councilor. I've gone over the intel we have on this outpost. A successful attack of any magnitude is beyond our capabilities."
This was getting real old real fast. This time O'Neill was awake before the Jaffa hauled him out of the box. He assumed they were dragging him back to the torture chamber, but Ba'al must have had to take a potty break, because they took him to his cell. When the cell got done deciding which way was up, he leaned against the wall for a moment, then slid to the floor. In spite of the sarcophagus' rejuvenating effects, he was so damn tired. He wondered how long he had, if he could actually get a little real sleep knowing sooner or later those Jaffa were coming back.
When they did, he would do exactly what he had done the last time. Keep fighting to the best of his ability. SG-1 would get him out of here. When they did, he'd be here waiting.
Daniel wasn't around. Jack was idly curious where his friend had gone, but he was too tired to worry about that for too long. He didn't realize he had fallen asleep until his jailers woke him when they came to fetch him again.
Jack lost track of time after that. He had taken Daniel's concerns about how many times he had been in the sarcophagus to heart, and had made a redoubled effort to keep himself coherent and alive for as long as possible. It was a grim battle that he knew he must ultimately lose. His only objective was to buy time for somebody to think of something. This time it was acid again. That stuff hurt like hell. Eventually it got in his bloodstream and that was the worst yet so far.
Ba'al told him, "Look at the back of your hand."
A large brownish bruise was spreading up towards his wrist. It burned from the inside out.
Ba'al explained, "The acid is starting to weaken your blood vessels. It's only a matter of time now before a more important vessel bursts. This leads inevitably to internal bleeding. Imagine what it will feel like when acid contaminated blood begins to pool in your body cavities. Spare yourself that. Tell me what Kan'an wanted here."
O'Neill's torment had stolen his voice, he could only answer in a hoarse whisper. "I don't know what he wanted."
Both of them just waited--Ba'al, for O'Neill to break; O'Neill for the final moments of the session. Jack tried to fix the faces of his teammates in his mind, but when the bleeding Ba'al had promised started, he couldn't focus on anything beyond getting through one second at a time. Knowing the price the sarcophagus would exact, he still surrendered to darkness as soon as it offered relief.
Daniel materialized as soon as Ba'al's Jaffa turned their backs. Both he and Jack had lost track of how many times the cycle had repeated itself. Jack lay where he had fallen when the gravity field had reoriented itself.
"Where were you?"
"I'm sorry, Jack, I was just checking on something." He had been at SGC HQ checking things out, but he wasn't about to tell Jack that people there were just as stumped as the two of them. Daniel had stopped talking about ascension and Jack had stopped asking Daniel to put him out of his misery. Both options were still on the table, there just wasn't anything else to be said.
Ba'al had been seriously pissed at Jack the last time, suspecting that the colonel had pieced together more of Kan'an's memories than he was admitting. Consequently the last session had been especially brutal, but Jack had been able to take a measure of control of the situation by infuriating the Goa'uld enough that he had lashed out without thinking. He had crushed Jack's ribs so that he had slowly suffocated, drowning in his own blood. Contending with the sarcophagus' disorienting effects, it took him a long while to shake off the overwhelming horror.
"Talk to me, Danny. I doubt that bastard is going to give me much of a rest. I gotta get focused before his Jaffa come back."
"OK, what do you need to hear?"
"Did you find Sha're? I can't believe I didn't think to ask before.".
"Yeah, she's been looking out for me ever since she crossed over. We're soulmates. Nothing can ever separate us for long. I should have had the faith to know that all along."
Jack smiled at the way Daniel's eyes lit up. "Tell her hello for me. If you see her before I do."
"I sure will. And talk about not being able to believe I forgot to say something sooner -- I found out about Charlie, Jack. He's OK. He got reaquainted with some of your relatives, then he reincarnated back on Earth. Expect to run into him again before too long."
"I don't know exactly but he's either close right now or your paths are going to cross soon."
"Maybe I'll be his kid brother next time around."
"I didn't think of that but you could be right."
Jack took a deep breath and pushed himself up along the wall to sit up for a while. "Wait a minute. You wouldn't have agreed with me about coming back as anyone's little brother unless you thought I was coming back. You're going to end this while I'm still me, aren't you, Daniel?"
Jackson gave him a rebellious look, then sighed deeply and gave in. "Yeah, if it comes to that, God help us, yeah, I will. And what was the point in arguing with me if you knew that all along?"
"I wanted to believe it all along but I didn't KNOW till just now. I didn't know how serious you took that prime directive shit."
"REAL serious, Jack, you know as well as I do how serious the Others take it. But this is serious, too. There are groups of souls that pretty much stick together. Relationships change, but the underlying bond doesn't. We're part of a family like that and I'm not losing you just because Oma Desala says I'm a bad boy if I stick my nose where it doesn't belong." Daniel shook his head. "We lost Jonas-- Carter's ex, I mean. He took the dark path. If we're lucky we won't cross paths again, but I don't think we have that kind of luck."
"You mean, up till now through -- how many lives -- he was one of us, one of the good guys? And now he's gone rotten and he can't ever straighten himself out?"
"I mean he probably won't, not probably can't. I ascended. He descended. You do the math."
"My God, Daniel, that's what I'm asking you to risk, isn't it? That's why you refused at first?"
"Jack, you listen to me, I came here all superior thinking *I* was going to teach *you* how to ascend. Man, what an arrogant ass I can be! I was the one who had a lesson to learn. Over these last few days I've had it hammered into my head that everything, and I mean *everything* I needed to understand before I could ascend I LEARNED FROM YOU. Courage. Honor. Duty. Sacrifice. And so much more that made me ready when the time came, just for that moment, to be the best I could be as a human being. Do you know how many more lifetimes I could have spent getting that right? I got it in one because I had the best teacher. I think you will ascend, in your own right time. But if you don't, Jack, if I have to step up, don't you ever doubt that you are worth whatever it costs me. If it was just a matter of making the Others mad at me, don't you know you would have been out of here the second I found out what was happening? But what I'm trying to say is, it's not about me or you, it's what could happen to lots of other people if I screw up." At Jack's blank look, Daniel explained, "If I screw up your life path by changing your destiny, that could ripple out from person to person and end up causing something really catastrophic that neither of us could predict. It looks so straightforward and simple on the surface but it could end up killing millions of people or letting the Goa'uld conquer the earth."
Jack said, "What if you waited till the very last second? How much could I affect anybody's destiny if I was going to end up a permanent mindless vegetable unless you saved me?"
Daniel answered in an anguished voice. "I don't know, Jack, I can't see the future! This isn't what I want. I've been at it inside, outside, forwards and backwards and I just *can't* come up with anything that doesn't have a considerable chance of causing something like that. You have a destiny, something that you were born to accomplish. I wanted to think your destiny was ascension because that would fix everything and get you the hell out of here. But what if I'm wrong? What if your destiny is to go all the way with this? And if I make a horrible mistake I won't be able to go back to fix it no matter how many people I kill!"
Jack's voice shook, a lot, because he had no idea how many torture sessions he might have to endure, but the look in his eyes was all determination. "Daniel, I understand now, okay? I get it. I can't promise you I won't ask you again down the line to please just kill me permanently. I will, before it's over. But for what it's worth, I'm in my right mind now, and I understand why you can't. Forget what I said before and do what you know you have to do, let me go if it comes to that. But I'm betting it won't. The rest of the team will never give up and they will find a way to get me out of here."
Daniel reached for Jack's shoulder without thinking. Of course they phased right through each other.
A door slammed and they heard approaching footsteps. Jack shuddered and said, "I didn't absolutely *have* to be right about Ba'al being in a freakin' big hurry."
Daniel came to a reckless decision. "Jack, do you trust me? I mean, really trust me?"
"Of course I do, what does that have to do with anything?"
"It won't be so bad this time, *I promise*. Just close your eyes and don't open them until the cell door opens, OK?"
Jack gave him a commanding officer glare, but then relented, nodding. He did trust Daniel, with his life, his soul, anything. He closed his eyes. Nothing happened except for a momentary sensation of comforting warmth.
When the Jaffa got there and Jack opened his eyes, as usual Daniel had disappeared. It was a long walk down the corridor to Ba'al's torture chamber. The look on Ba'al's face promised an entirely new level of suffering, confirmed by an assortment of cruel looking instruments that he hadn't seen before. Terror welled up, but he remembered what Daniel had said. Trust carried him through the next few moments as the Jaffa made him disrobe and forced him onto the energy web. The gravity field allowed only enough movement to underscore his helplessness.
Ba'al stared into his eyes. "Tell me, O'Neill, what was it that Kan'an wanted with my slave? What good is it doing you to pretend ignorance?"
"I'm not pretending anything. Do you think I still owe Kan'an anything? He's the one who got me into this mess. If I knew any more I'd tell you. For the love of God just give me some time to figure more of it out!" He didn't have to fake desperation.
Ba'al nodded slowly. "I do believe you. Unfortunately, time won't help you figure it out. You need...persuasion." Ba'al studied his collection for a moment, considering and discarding several things before he chose a sharp, thin blade. "You know, there is a real art to removing just enough skin to expose nerve endings. Then we use simple things -- alcohol, or a little salt water, even the light touch of a strand of thread. The pain is exquisite but it can be prolonged for a very long time before you'll need the sarcophagus again. Do you think that will help you put it all together?"
There was no sense trying to reason with a psychopath. Time to try something else. "Rot in hell, you bastard."
Ba'al didn't react to the insult. He wasn't going to make the same mistake as the last time and let Jack anger him into doing something violent rather than something skillful. He gestured and the blade floated across the ten feet of space between them.
Jack felt a cottony, cobwebby sensation as if a warm soft gossamer blanket had gently been drawn around him. The cold metal blade touched his skin, shaved off a two inch wide strip from shoulder to hip bone. Blood beaded up and started to drip to the floor before the pain registered. But it was somehow...distant. He was aware of it, but he was observing, not experiencing. He steeled himself to endure the next few seconds as Ba'al flooded the wound with alcohol, but the burning pain couldn't quite reach him.
After a few hours, it was as if Jack were actually floating a few feet away from the bloody body writhing on the gravity web. He listened to himself screaming for hour after hour, until his voice gave out and all he could do was whimper. Mingled blood and serum formed a large pool until it reached a floor drain. Ba'al knew what he was doing. It took a very, very long time for Jack to lose enough fluid volume to go into deep shock. It was a horrible thing to watch, like a train wreck that he couldn't drag his eyes away from. At the last he was unrecognizable, a horror movie monster that his own mother couldn't have identified. All that time the agony stopped just short of reaching him inside his cocoon. Whatever Daniel had done, worked. And he had seen bodies that looked as bad or worse on the battlefield before he had ever even heard of stargates or Goa'ulds.
Ba'al's tossed the blade aside. "It would be to your advantage to try to recall something useful after you wake up this time. You could earn, say, eight hours of rest before we resume our little game. Think about it. Just what could that wretched Tok'ra have wanted with my slave?" His tormenter's oily voice faded off into distance as the lights slowly went out.
Jack opened his eyes to see a Jaffa reaching towards him to pull him out of the sarcophagus. He tensed, knowing what it was going to feel like when rough hands touched raw flesh. But he was uninjured, not even scarring remained. They waited stolidly as he put his clothes on then hustled him back to his cell.
Daniel didn't appear this time when the cell upended and the Jaffa walked off. Jack shook his head in an attempt to clear the sarcophagus haze. "Daniel, are you here? Daniel?"
His friend materialized on the bench. His feet were drawn up and his hands were locked around his ankles. "I'm here, Jack."
"What did you do? It was like everything was happening to someone else, not me." When Daniel didn't answer right away, Jack suddenly put two and two together. "Someone else. Aw, shit. Daniel, tell me you didn't do what I think you did."
Daniel nodded but said nothing, just clasped his hands tighter around his ankles. For an energy creature he still had some very human body language.
"My God. I never could have got through that on my own. You went through it for me. All the way." He stared at Daniel, trying to wrap his head around that one. He was still sane because Daniel had silently stepped into his place and let Ba'al skin him alive, without ever once letting either the Goa'uld or Jack himself suspect what he was doing. All that screaming had been Daniel, and he hadn't even realized. Damn....
Daniel admitted, "Yeah, once, Jack. Once! Every other time I just stood by and let you endure that and I did nothing."
Jack was astonished to hear guilt in Daniel's tone. "Never mind that. You came through when it counted, Space Monkey."
The old nickname gave them both a smile. "Now I know what Oma meant about incarnating every once in a while. Otherwise you forget what it's like to be mortal and the reminder hits you like a ton of bricks."
"That was one hell of a reminder, Daniel. Entirely too much crammed into a couple of days. Look at me. Are you okay?"
"I will be."
Jack searched his eyes, and felt a terrible guilt for what he saw there, but he knew Daniel was telling the truth. "How much trouble are you in for interfering?"
"None. You gave me your absolute trust. A blank check. I didn't betray that trust by possessing you against your will or making you do anything you didn't want to do. There was no interference since I didn't take any action at all. I just went along for the ride. Umm...in the front seat."
"If I ever ask you to do that for me again, I'd have to be out of my head. I'd understand later if you said no. Use your common sense."
Daniel stared at the floor. "Jack, I d-don't know if I could do that again."
O'Neill answered after a moment. "Nobody ever knows if they can go back for more. Sooner or later the time always comes that you can't. That's where I was a couple days ago and you stepped up. Now it's one day at a time and we do the best we can."
Daniel nodded. Maybe that was the life lesson they were both supposed to take from all this. You never know, you just take it one day at a time and do the best you can. He had forgotten just how frail a mortal body really was. He had known in a logical sense that he was getting in over his head, but hadn't really taken that into consideration since once he incarnated he was committed to remain mortal as long as that mortal body lived. Since he had known he couldn't reverse his decision after he was committed, he had conveniently skimmed over the consequences of his action. He'd done all right for the first hour or so, but pretty much after that he had been aware of nothing but blinding pain and Ba'al's incessant demands for information that he did not have. He honestly did not know how he had succeeded in shielding Jack so completely and certainly had no memory of having done so.
For his part, Jack was doing everything he could to keep his mind off the subject of Ba'al's slave. He was afraid that Ba'al was right, that Kan'an's secrets were buried in his subconscious mind and that was where they absolutely needed to stay. He no longer had any illusions about keeping anything from Ba'al, after having given up the Tok'ra's name. At least, thank whatever powers that be for small miracles, the Goa'uld had no apparent interest in SGC. Whenever a team member was missing, codes were immediately changed and so forth. All the same he still held information that the System Lords would be very interested in obtaining. It was very possible that only Ba'al's single-minded obsession with Kan'an and the slave girl was all that had kept him from bringing that up in the interrogation. At any time he could start asking about SGC's plans and tactics and personnel.
Mostly to distract himself, he started a remember-when session. At first the war stories elicited smiles, but some of that stuff was just plain hilarious and before long they both laughed until the tears ran. These were bonds of friendship that stretched back lifetimes into the past. Jack didn't pretend to understand that, but if Daniel said it he could believe it and that gave him a deep faith that they also stretched lifetimes into the future. He and SG-1 were on one side of a great divide and Daniel and Sha're were on the other, but they were still and would always be parts of the same whole.
The now-familiar sound of the cell block door slamming shut brought them back to reality with a jolt. Daniel's fear of pain and death gave way to simple raw love for his best friend. He choked, "Jack--"
O'Neill was absolutely blown away by his gentle friend's capability for self-sacrifice in the face of what awaited. Not this time. Whatever came, this time at least he would face his own demons without putting it off on Daniel. He shook his head. "My turn at bat. You work on Plan B. We really, really need a Plan B right now."
"Jack, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry." Daniel had been half-coherently repeating that like a mantra for the last half hour, ever since the Jaffa had dumped him into the cell again. "Shh. There's nothing to apologize for, it's OK. You did all you could do." Jack tried not to let anything except reassurance into his voice, but he was as shaken as Daniel. Against his better judgment, Jack had let Daniel take the last hit for him. This time it had been red hot needles, no easier or harder to endure than any other of Ba'al's little diversions as far as Jack was concerned. But Daniel had just completely lost it. Jack had managed to take control, and keeping the sheer panic down helped, but he hadn't known how to shelter Daniel from the pain. It had been several hours of pure hell for both of them before he died that time. Now Daniel was dealing not only with the torture itself, but also with shame and guilt. In his mind, he was a coward who had let Jack down, which was bullshit. Jack tried again. "Daniel, everyone has a limit and Ba'al found yours. I was there, remember? You did your best and that's all anybody can do."
Neither of them could offer the other the slightest glimmer of hope. They had lost their last ace in the hole. Even if Daniel did offer to take his place again, and Jack was sure he would, Jack didn't intend to let him. It was one thing when Daniel had been able to buy him some time. But to risk letting Daniel go through that for nothing--no. Despair threatened to overwhelm both of them.
Jack rested his head on his knees, sure he was about to faint from terror of the next round. "We must have been through worse than this sometime, huh, Daniel?"
"Jack, I don't think it GETS any worse than this."
O'Neill thought about it. "Yeah, it could be worse. I could be alone like I was in Iraq. Of course, the Iraqis had to keep me alive if they wanted any chance of getting the information they were after. But I think being alone was at least a little bit worse."
Teal'c rested in kel-no-reem in his quarters, surrounded by a sea of candles, floating in a nothingness that was everything. He meditated on the plans to Ba'al's outpost, free of his conscious mind's paralyzing fear of Jack's situation. He awakened abruptly from his meditative state as a blindingly obvious solution presented itself. Quickly he put out the candles and hurried through the corridors without a backwards glance.
General Hammond looked up from his desk at the sound of someone knocking. "Come in."
Teal'c opened the door and greeted him with his customary respect. "General Hammond."
"Teal'c. What is it?"
"I have been meditating on the possibility of rescuing Col. O'Neill."
Hammond said, "I've just been going over the plans of the outpost again myself. I just don't see how we'd have any chance of success against a fortress this well defended, no matter how big the force."
Teal'c replied, "Agreed. I believe it would take the power of a Goa'uld mother ship to do so."
Hammond observed, "Unfortunately, we don't have one of those."
Teal'c replied, "Perhaps not. But there are many System Lords that do."
Hammond thought that was a fine example of thinking outside the box. Now it was only a question of getting the information into the right hands and persuading somebody to take action. What had been an impossible task was now just a very risky, difficult one...the usual fare around SGC.
Ba'al demanded, "What was its name?"
O'Neill was barely conscious. It had been hours, maybe days, and he wasn't even sure what all had been done to him this time. He whispered, "Kan'an."
"Good. You remember his name. What was his mission?"
"Was it to steal the slave from me?"
"I don't know." Broken record.
Ba'al scoffed, "Did Kan'an believe a slave could know my secrets?" He gestured with a dagger. "There's something else you're hiding from me. I sense it. I feel it."
O'Neill knew he had a number of wounds, but he could no longer place exactly where they were. His whole body just hurt. "When are you going to end this?"
Ba'al promised, "If you tell me what I wish to know, I will end this."
O'Neill whispered, "Daniel...."
Ba'al looked annoyed. "Your mind is beginning to fail. It is time for the sarcophagus. But as you regain the strength to return here, consider this: It will be far worse next time."
O'Neill whispered again, "Daniel...."
Hammond descended the stairs to the gate control booth where Carter had just finished sending a transmission. Politics did indeed make for strange bedfellows. "Councillor Thoran's threatening to end diplomatic relations."
Carter asked, "What did he say?"
"Along with several other things that I won't mention, that is precisely the reason that they've been reluctant to share intelligence."
Teal'c dismissed Thoran and the Tok'ra's peculiar definition of honor. "Then so be it."
Hammond told him, "That's more or less what I said. The Tok'ra need us right now more than we need them. Do we expect any response from Lord Yu?"
Carter replied, "No, sir. We know he received the plans to Ba'al's outpost and the message that went along with it, but we have no way of knowing if he'll act on it."
Teal'c said, "I believe he will. Ba'al has kept the existence of this outpost from the other System Lords."
Jonas commented, "I still don't understand how destroying the power generators first is going to help the colonel."
Teal'c told him, "It will give O'Neill a fighting chance. Nothing more." Even so, Teal'c's voice carried a strong tone of reassurance. In all the years that Teal'c had known O'Neill, he had never needed anything more than a fighting chance to do something extraordinary.
O'Neill looked around his cell. "Daniel?"
"You were gone."
Daniel said in a comforting tone, "I know, I'm sorry, there was something I had to do. But I'm back now, and I promise I'll stay with you till this is over."
O'Neill said, "It'll never be over."
"Yes it will."
O'Neill said, "Daniel, you have to end this."
Daniel told him, "Jack, you just have to hang in there a little while longer."
O'Neill said, "No. I can't go back in there. If I go back, I swear to God, I'll give Ba'al what he wants. I'll tell him."
Daniel could hear in his friend's tone that the parameters had changed. "What?"
"That he loved her."
Daniel asked, "Kan'an?"
O'Neill explained, "He came back for her. He wanted to save her."
The pieces all fell into place. "Ba'al doesn't know this."
O'Neill told Daniel, "If he finds out, he'll do to her what he's doing to me."
O'Neill spelled it out. "Daniel, if you don't end this, I'll tell him."
That was Jack, all right. For himself, all he had needed was the reassurance that Daniel would give him a way out before the sarcophagus did anything irreparable. With that in mind, he had put up a hell of a fight because he believed in his friends to come up with something to get him out of here. Now, though, the situation had changed. An innocent bystander had got involved and Jack was prepared to sacrifice everything rather than endanger her. Daniel told him with all the assurance that he could, "You won't have to. It's almost over, Jack."
O'Neill looked up, fully awake. "How?"
"You were right, Jack. There's always a way out. Or at least there's always a chance. Your journey isn't over, Jack, not yet."
O'Neill was suddenly afraid that Daniel had got himself into terrible trouble. "What'd you do?"
"I didn't do anything, it was, um, Sam and Teal'c, and, um, Jonas too." He smiled.
After all, it had gone down exactly as Jack had always known it would. "They thought of something."
O'Neill stood. "What?"
The lights flickered and the gravity field wavered.
Daniel said, "This is it. All you wanted was a fighting chance, Jack, now you have it. If anyone can make it out of here, you can."
Out in the corridor, some Jaffa raised the alarm, shouting, "Lord Yu attacks!"
There was a power surge followed by a brownout. The gravity field bucked like a boat on rough seas, then went down, along with everything else except emergency lights. O'Neill got out of the cell fast, before someone turned the power back on, but that didn't happen. He turned for one last look at Daniel. The cell was empty behind him.
A guard rounded the corner. Before he could tell anyone there was a jailbreak in progress, O'Neill took him down. With the advantage of surprise on his side, it was a short fight. He collected the Jaffa's zat gun and started looking for the exit.
All the cell block corridors looked alike, and he wasn't completely sure he wasn't going in circles. All the cells so far had been empty. He could have passed his own cell two or three times and never known it. Then he came to a cell with an occupant--Kan'an's lover.
Her cell was open, too, but she hadn't dared try to get out on her own. "Come with me."
Shae'lin backed away, shaking her head. "No, he'll stop us."
O'Neill grabbed her hand. "Come on!"
She made her decision and they made their break for freedom.
Shae'lin knew her way out of the jail area. Once they were out in the normal corridors where people lived and worked, Jack took a back way that offered less chance of running across anybody who would squawk about a jail break.
"What's your name, anyhow? I've been hallucinating you for the past God only knows how long, but I still don't know who you are."
She looked at him. "My name is Shae'lin. You--you are Kan'an's host... but he isn't there, is he? Who are you?"
"Nope. He jumped ship somewhere along the line. I guess he didn't want to come to Ba'al's party. I'm Jack O'Neill."
They came to an intersection. Jack held up his hand for Shae'lin to stay where she was. Another explosion shook the fortress, closer this time. Shae'lin crossed her arms over her head and looked up at the ceiling as soon as stuff stopped raining down around them. "Jack, I think this whole building is going to collapse!"
"Can't take too many more hits like that." It was a good thing Lord Yu didn't go in for cruise missiles, or this place would be a pile of rocks by now, with them under it. O'Neill took a quick glance around the corner. "OK, we have a corridor straight ahead and another one heads off to the left."
"I think we turn up there. I don't know this area of the palace."
"Palace. Yeah, that's one word for it. Come on, we're clear." They rounded the corner and ran like hell for the nearest cover, a doorway.
The door slid open and a very surprised Jaffa almost fell over O'Neill. He sidestepped to turn profile to the door and dropped the Jaffa with the stolen zat. Another one inside the room brought up his staff weapon and got off one wild shot from the hip before Jack stunned him as well. Shae'lin screamed as the energy beam just missed her. Luckily with the building about to fall in, nobody would think screaming was out of the ordinary. Everybody would be too busy running for their lives to investigate.
"Which way from here, kid?"
She poked her head in the door. "This is the barracks. We have to be close to the exit to the practice field."
"Here, get that stupid dress off. Keep your shoes."
"Just do it!" He kicked the lock off someone's footlocker and pulled out a black shirt and pants. He robbed the two unconscious Jaffa of their armored vests and zats. "Do you know how to fire one of these?"
She nodded and accepted the weapon. O'Neill grabbed up one of the staff weapons. When he unlatched the safety the firing aperture opened, but he had no idea how many charges remained.
Shae'lin cinched the vest as tight as it would go. "I'm swimming in this thing."
"No one will catch more than a glimpse in the dark. You'll just look like a short Jaffa. Which way?"
"That's the bath, so it has to be this way. There will be sentries on the door, unless they were ordered to join the fighting."
"Just two of them?"
"I think so. "
"C'mon, let's go."
The sentries were gone, but there was a real door and it was locked. O'Neill blew the lock out and kicked it open. Most of the fighting seemed to be centered on the other side of the building. He ducked back inside as a pair of death gliders came in low, setting up for a strafing run. A low, rumbling series of explosions shook the building to its foundations and a big chunk of rock almost flattened them. He grabbed Shae'lin's hand. "Now's our chance, go!"
There was a hand-to-hand practice yard outside, with a set of bleachers on the other side, and fifty yards of rough grass from there to the tree line. O'Neill paused in the shadows of the bleachers to take a good look around.
"I don't like it, this is going too smooth. This isn't just a fighting chance, it's freakin' gift wrapped." Jack knew the old saying about looking a gift horse in the mouth. There was another old saying about no plan surviving the first encounter with the enemy.
"Everyone is fighting Lord Yu. His Jaffa are merciless in battle. Unless Lord Ba'al has already escaped, the chappa'ai will be guarded. That is where we must fight or die."
Jack grinned. "I'm sick and tired of dying, so I guess we fight. Do you remember how you and Kan'an got there the last time?"
Shae'lin looked around. "We ran and ran, but I remember that tall tree."
"You mean that damn idiot just took off through the forest like a bat outta hell? No wonder he got us caught!"
"He came back for me."
"Yes, he did, and if he hadn't run out on me he'd be leaving with us too," Jack snapped back.
Shae'lin looked like she was going to argue, but Jack was in no mood to get into a discussion about Kan'an's finer points. "We're going to have to make a run for the trees. Stay about ten or fifteen feet away from me and zig-zag -- don't run in a straight line. That will help mess up their aim if we draw fire. Don't break your ankle in a ditch or anything. If I get hit, keep going until you get some cover then shoot me three times."
She nodded, eyes wide. "Jack, the same goes for me. Lord Ba'al will never believe I was stolen twice, especially if I'm caught wearing armor and carrying a weapon." She grabbed his hand, he could feel her shaking like a leaf.
"Hang in there, Shae'lin. Do you remember the gate sequence?"
"OK, then. Let's do this."
They pelted across the grass and reached the sheltering forest without opposition.
There was a lot of underbrush, so Jack took the chance on using a path that they came across. Both of them were basically unfamiliar with the area. The odds were they would never find the stargate in the dark unless they followed an established trail to it. His heart was pounding against his ribs. If there was an ambush waiting, they could walk right into it and the last thing they would see would be the flash of a Jaffa weapon before they woke up in a sarcophagus somewhere.
OK, he told himself. That isn't something I need to think about right now.
He kept them moving with deliberate haste. His eyes never stopped scanning the foliage for any sign of someone lying in wait.
Noise on the trail behind them alerted him to the approach of a patrol. They took cover in the trees. Jack readied his staff weapon as the Jaffa came in sight and studied every face. If Ba'al was hiding among them he fully intended to blow the bastard's head off his shoulders. Let the sarcophagus try to fix that. But the renegade System Lord was not among them.
There were eight of them. Those weren't good odds, especially when he counted in the Jaffa who were already on guard duty at the stargate. Until now their luck had been incredible, but O'Neill had the feeling the other shoe was getting ready to drop. This squad undoubtedly had orders to secure the gate for Ba'al's escape. It wasn't going to be easy to get past them.
"Okay, Shae'lin, we're going to do this a little differently. I'm going to move up a ways and make sure the coast is clear. You stay here and cover me until I signal for you to move up. Got it?"
Shae'lin nodded. They covered another mile or so before O'Neill heard something moving in the brush. He almost shot a cow--or at least the local equivalent. He lowered his weapon as half a dozen of the creatures ambled past, grazing as they went. It wasn't hard to imagine them laughing at him. When they were a safe distance away, O'Neill signalled Shae'lin to join him.
They put another couple hundred meters behind them. Shae'lin sniffed. "I think we're getting close to the chappa'ai. I can smell the smoke from the torches."
O'Neill experienced a brief flash of memory, flickering torchlight and burning pain in his back.
Behind them, something spooked the animal herd. They milled around for a little while, then one of them bellowed and the whole herd took off at a gallop. O'Neill dragged Shae'lin head first under a thicket of briars. Thorns grabbed at clothing, hair and skin. O'Neill drew a sharp breath as a flashback of Ba'al and those damn needles became reality for a moment. He was surprised that some part of his mind realized it *was* a flashback and shut it off like flipping a light switch. A parting gift from Daniel? If so, he was duly grateful. He couldn't afford to go section 8 now if they were to have any hope of getting out of here. Momentarily they heard yelling and staff fire. Rival bands of Jaffa were conducting a running fight to the stargate.
O'Neill recognized Ba'al and saw red. He brought up his staff weapon.
"That's him, that's that son of a bitch, and I've got a shot--"
"Please just think, you'll bring all those Jaffa down on us!" She whispered. "I know what he did to you, I could hear all of it from my cell. But this isn't the time, unless you want revenge badly enough to throw our lives away for it. Let him go, and then we can use the chappa'ai to get out of here!"
Jack took a deep breath and settled down. Shae'lin was right. No matter how badly he wanted revenge against Ba'al, doing something crazy now would only get them both caught. He could not let the sarcophagus do his thinking for him. Besides, he could always hope someone else would shoot the bastard...or better yet, that Lord Yu wanted him alive.
The firefight worked its way past them and they couldn't keep track of who was winning. Shae'lin stopped by the corpse of one of Lord Yu's Jaffa and liberated a sword. At Jack's skeptical look, she replied, "My Lord Ba'al likes to watch gladiatorial games, and as you've probably seen, he is fascinated with edged weapons. I've only lost two bouts. I don't like the sarcophagus any more than you do, you see."
Jack's gift for sarcasm was legendary around SGC headquarters, but he really admired the amount of venom that Shae'lin loaded into Ba'al's name and title. She struck a classic pose, testing the purloined weapon's weight and balance. Jack grinned approval. "I'm beginning to understand what Kan'an saw in you."
At mention of Kan'an an expression of deep sorrow crossed her face. Jack swore at himself for sticking his foot in it again and said, "Let's get closer and see what's happening."
They moved carefully, from cover to cover. By the time they reached the gate, the shooting had stopped. Dead bodies, Jaffa from both sides, littered the area in front of the gate. It was open.
When nothing stirred anywhere in ten minutes' time, Jack cautiously approached the DHD. Shae'lin held her zat gun at the ready and joined him near the DHD, keeping a very apprehensive overwatch. At any moment, more Jaffa could come down the path to retreat through the gate, where ever it went. "Jack, what are you looking for?"
"I went down right here, by the DHD. I remember getting hit. This must have been where Kan'an left me. He can't have gone far. If we can find him, at least we can take his body back home for his folks to bury."
Shae'lin teared up again, but nodded. They used up all the time that the gate stayed open to search, but to no avail. Jack realized Ba'al's Jaffa would have already searched the whole area thoroughly before now, if there was a body to be found they would already have found it. Ba'al would never have been able to resist crowing about it if that had happened. When the gate shut itself off half an hour later, Jack called a halt. "Time for us to get out of here."
"Let's just look a little longer."
"Shae'lin, I'm sorry. We tried, but he just isn't here. It's too dangerous to keep looking. It's going to be dawn soon."
Shae'lin resigned herself to her bitter loss and nodded, keeping watch while he locked in the code for the alpha site. He didn't want to go back there and deal with the Tok'ra, but he couldn't try for Earth without a way to make radio contact first. Playing chicken with the iris was a no-win game.
The Tok'ra were very relieved to see him. At least a dozen of them crowded in and repeatedly apologized for Kan'an's actions, until Jack didn't want to hear one more "I'm sorry" from anybody. "It wasn't your fault that Kan'an went loose cannon. Let it go, all right?"
A short brunette whose name he thought was Ti/Mira said, "Will you let the man have some air? Don't you fools have any idea what he's been through? Somebody bring wine and food." She sat them down on floor pillows around a low table. Jack picked a seat by a pillar and leaned back against it. Now that the adrenaline high of the escape had worn itself out, all his strength seemed to have left him and he could have slept for a week. He was determined to go home as soon as the gate cycled through rather than go to sleep here, though.
Ti/Mira asked gently, "Does Ba'al know you came here?"
He had been through worse debriefings. This was information that the Tok'ra had to have. He pushed the weariness aside to give her a straight answer. "I don't think so. He escaped through the stargate. We had to wait for his gate to close before we could come here. No one else came near the gate while we were waiting."
"Then if no one follows you through, our location ought to remain secure. And if they do come through I can't say I'd be especially disappointed."
"Save me a piece of that," Jack agreed.
"What happened to Kan'an?"
Shae'lin told that one, she knew more about it than Jack did. She finished her narrative with their unsuccessful search for a body near the stargate.
Ti/Mira's eyes glowed briefly and Ti asked, "Is there any chance my brother could still be alive?"
"Your brother? I didn't know he had a sister." Jack couldn't get rid of his anger towards Kan'an but he told himself he could keep a civil tongue in his head around a grieving sister and girlfriend. "There's always a chance of anything, but that gate is out in the middle of nowhere. It's at least a couple of miles from Ba'al's hideout. The only people around there were the gate guards and they were all Jaffa. I just don't see how he could have found another host in time. I'm very sorry for your loss, Ti."
She nodded. "Thank you. That means so much, coming from you."
Shae'lin said, "I know what Kan'an did was wrong, but he did it to save me. He died to save me."
Ti said though tears, "He always told me if one of his spy missions went wrong he'd have to kill himself, because he was so afraid he'd betray everybody. I guess he finally did it."
Jack said, "If that was his reason, it was a good one." No different than his asking Daniel to let him off easy, when it came down to it.
Ti just nodded and leaned over to put a hand on Shae'lin's arm. Shae'lin said, "We were going to come here, but I never thought I'd be here without him."
"You're among friends," Ti said. "You both will always be welcome at my table." Mira's higher voice chimed in as her personality went dominant. "Our table."
Jack remembered a conversation with Daniel about the importance of an offer of hospitality in a lot of cultures. Generally once they fed you, you were part of the clan unless you broke some important taboo or something. It sounded like Ti/Mira meant more than a cup of wine and some mystery meat stew, which really turned out to be very good. Living on energy from the sarcophagus for so long might have had something to do with it, but he made the first serving disappear in record time. He sat there wondering if it was acceptable to ask for seconds, when Ti/Mira leaned over and refilled his bowl. They watered the wine, but all told that was a good thing too.
A young man pushed the door curtain aside and said, "Excuse me for interrupting, Colonel O'Neill, but you wanted to be informed when the gate was ready. We've established radio contact with SGC and let them know you escaped."
"Forgive me for eating and running, ma'am."
"Not at all, of course you want to get home."
"Shae'lin, are you coming with me?"
"Jack, there are no words to express how grateful I am to you for getting me out of that place. I owe you everything. But if it's all right with you I'd like to stay here. Kan'an's work won't be done as long as the Goa'uld hold even one world enslaved." She looked at Ti/Mira. "If you'll have me, of course."
Mira replied, "From this day, you are my sister. Whatever you choose to do, go or stay, will be right." The two women embraced, then they walked O'Neill back to the gate room. Ti/Mira shook his hand in the Earth gesture that she had learned from Jacob. Shae'lin hugged him tightly, then her sorrow-filled eyes searched his for some remaining trace of Kan'an that Jack knew she wasn't going to find. He pulled her head to his shoulder again for a moment. "Take care of yourself, kid."
"Be careful yourself," she replied. "Until our ways meet again, Jack."
He cut the goodbyes short before Ti/Mira and Shae'lin started sobbing again in front of the crowd in the gate room, and stepped through. He hadn't taken three steps down the ramp on the other side before a more disciplined but much happier crowd welcomed him home.
O'Neill awakened. His eyes first focused on a flat white surface that seemed to his blurred vision to glow faintly. Oh, God, no, not again--Then the "wall" moved and he realized it wasn't the side of a sarcophagus, just some piece of medical equipment. He was at HQ in sick bay. Carter, Teal'c and Quinn were standing at the foot of his bed. It felt like he had dropped a full rucksack after a fifty-mile hike. He was home and the rest of the team was there and he didn't have to worry about anything for at least the next ten minutes.
Carter was giving the others an update. O'Neill kept quiet to hear what she had to say. "Dr. Fraiser says he'll probably suffer withdrawal symptoms from so much time in the sarcophagus, but otherwise she expects a full recovery."
Quinn asked, "What happened to the woman he went back for?"
"Her name's Shae'lin. She decided to stay with the Tok'ra."
Teal'c said, "So she may continue Kan'an's fight in his name."
O'Neill got his voice out of mothballs. "Hey. Tryin' to sleep here."
The look of relief on Carter's face spoke volumes. "Sorry, sir. Glad to see you're okay."
O'Neill told her, "Listen. That was a good idea you had there."
Carter glanced at Quinn and Teal'c. "Actually, sir, we all contributed to it. Do you need anything, or--?"
O'Neill looked around. "Water."
The three of them left, closing the door behind them. Daniel appeared where they had been standing.
"I always seem to be saying goodbye to you."
O'Neill said, "Yeah, I noticed that. Why don't you stick around for a while?"
Daniel replied, "I can't, really."
O'Neill objected, "You just did."
Daniel explained, "Special occasion."
O'Neill suggested, "Christmas?"
O'Neill knew a friend closer than a brother was about to be ripped out of his life again and it was going to hurt just as much this time as before. But he did understand. "I've got my journey, you've got yours?"
Daniel acknowledged, "Something like that, yeah. Look, I know you don't think so. Right now, you have your doubts, because you've been through something that no one should have to go through. I guess what I'm trying to say is, you're going to be all right."
O'Neill asked, "How do you know?"
Daniel told him, "You're just going to have to trust me."
O'Neill said, "I can do that. Are you gonna be okay?" O'Neill knew full well that his attitude of leaving the past in the past and getting on with life would help him deal with what Ba'al had done to him. There was just too much to do to waste time falling to pieces about something that was over and done with. Daniel, though, had walked through hell right beside him, and he had never handled things the same way Jack did.
Daniel said firmly, "I'm going to be fine." Jack believed him.
The door opened. Daniel disappeared before Carter entered, with a glass of water. "Here you go, sir."
O'Neill thanked her and she made a quick goodnight. He didn't know if Daniel could still hear him, but he had no doubt that he was watching over them. "Thanks."
Daniel said to Oma Desala, "I let Jack down."
"Friends let one another down on occasion. Friends need not be perfect for one another."
"That wasn't one of those times. I should have been stronger."
"Your act of courage was in taking up your friend's burden in the first place. After that, you gave everything you had to give. Relief from pain, for as long as you had the ability to give it, was only a part of it. The greater part was love which *has* no limits. I am not beyond life lessons of my own, and I thank you and Jack both for teaching me a great deal about unconditional love."
Daniel laughed. "Don't let Jack hear you say that."
"I am sure I could find a more acceptable word for it than love if I ever did," Oma replied. "Yet his love for others is the root of his strength."
"That and pure stubbornness!" Daniel agreed. "I might have misunderstood your meaning myself, before. It's so much harder on that side."
"I share your concern for him but you can trust him to your friends. They will take care of him. You know this. I am concerned for you as well."
"Who, me? I'm fine." Ba'al had taken him to a place of absolute terror that he would have done anything to escape. Only the fact that he had not had any knowledge of value to the Goa'uld had saved him. But he wasn't ready to talk about that yet, not even with his mentor. He asked about something else instead. "Oma, did you give Teal'c the idea about Lord Yu's mother ship?"
"I *gave* him nothing."
Daniel glared at her. "Explain to me how that wasn't interference."
"I did not interfere with your destiny or with Jack O'Neill's. I inspired Teal'c to achieve a part of his destiny, and that is always permitted. You know this. You intended to do the same thing."
"I intended to interfere, and damn whoever tried to stop me," Daniel admitted. "I didn't realize that wouldn't have been against the rules. It just seemed like the interference with the least chance of causing some horrible catastrophe."
Very few things startled Oma Desala any more. That her young disciple had been willing with his eyes wide open to risk the wrath of the Others for his friend's sake was a startling thing, although on reflection she realized it ought not have been. Daniel seemed so gentle, it was easy to forget that under the gentleness was steel. "More than one path leads to the same destination. You had the first rule firmly in mind: Always act in love. Meditate on that. And on this as well. Sometimes many seeds must fall that one may grow."
"Be careful or they'll take away your sensei license for subversive sentiments like that."
"There are evil times coming, Daniel. Subversive action may become necessary. No, I cannot tell you more. But I will say this. You are here for a reason, and your hour is almost at hand. You must know your way so that you will know when you must step from the beaten path to follow it."
Daniel was not used to hearing Oma speak so plainly. "If something bad is going to happen, I should be with my friends, not safe here having a good time. It isn't right."
"Your heart is good and your instincts are to be trusted. But ask yourself, will your friends need you as you are or as you were?"
Frustrated, Daniel demanded, "How can I know if you won't tell me what's going to happen?"
"Am I supposed to know how the shadows will fall before the torches are lit? Wait until you know before you rush into taking on flesh again."
He agreed, unwillingly. Just because Oma Desala always seemed to be right didn't mean he had to like it. "I miss them."
"Why? They are with you always, as you are with them."
"In my heart? That isn't enough sometimes."
"It is not, but duty often makes separation necessary, you knew this as a mortal. Daniel, if you were clothed in flesh once more you would be missing Sha're just as much. We Ascended are always torn between the world of the spirit and that of the mortal realm. You must give your mortal loved ones the time to learn to see across the veil, and it may take more than one lifetime for them to do that. Do you think that you are following your path if you sit here feeling sorry for yourself all that time?"
"So advise me, O Wise Guru. What should I be doing instead?"
"Go. Learn. Be of use when the time comes."
O'Neill warmed his coffee and started a new pot. Dr. Fraiser scowled at that. "Replacing one addiction with another may not be the most effective way to deal with the situation."
"I'm not," he protested. Janet raised a skeptical eyebrow. "No, really, Doc, it's like this. I had the coffee monkey on my back already. I'm just getting back to the way things were."
Janet made an exasperated noise and rolled her eyes, but couldn't keep a smile off her face. She filled her own mug from the other pot. "When in Rome. For once be nice to Dr. Hanrahan at your session tomorrow. You can go back on light duty as soon as psych signs off."
Hammond gave Jack an old fighter jockey's thumbs up. Seriously he asked, "Can you really do that? Get back where you were?"
"More or less, sir, I think so. Well, before, I didn't want to hunt Ba'al down personally and do stuff that Doc here doesn't want to know about."
The general's eyes narrowed. The first time he had heard what Ba'al had done to Jack, Hammond had gone white hot and rumor was he had put his fist right through the first sheet rock wall out of earshot of Jack's room. He had the anger under control now, but it was clearly still smouldering. "I hear you. I'd give a month's pay to join you on that mission."
Janet said, "Absolutely, Jack, after sewing you all back together two or three times a month for all these years, I speak fluent Payback."
Hammond asked, "So what do you think happened to Kan'an?"
"I think he's dead, sir. His sister said he would have committed suicide rather than be forced to betray the Tok'ra. He didn't think he could resist interrogation. You know, if I could get my hands on him I'd like to wring his scrawny little snaky neck for bailing on me like that--but at the same time, he had a reason for what he did. Let the dead bury the dead, I guess."
Janet sipped her hot coffee, looking at Jack over the rim of her mug with such a speculative expression that he felt her staring at him. "All right, Janet, *what*?!"
"Daniel really was there, wasn't he? You weren't hallucinating."
"Doc, there's no way anyone can prove one way or the other whether he was really there. You can explain almost everything by hallucinations or, what did Hanrahan call it, dis-ass-something?"
"That's the one. I learned a long time ago in Iraq that some really weird things can happen to POW's without any need for a ghost to complicate things. At first I thought Daniel was a delusion. I guess it all comes down to faith. I don't have any trouble believing that, if it's possible, Daniel would come back to us at a time like that to do whatever he could do. But there's one detail that the Logical Explanations just don't quite explain."
"I knew Lord Yu was going to hit Ba'al's outpost before it happened. And I am not psychic."
Fraiser sighed, and confessed, "I think I can corroborate your story, Jack. I was in the corridor checking something on the meds cart at the time that you said Daniel was in your room. I heard the two of you talking, I knew it was Daniel's voice. By the time I got there, Sam had walked in just ahead of me and he was gone. Like you said about Logical Explanations, I rationalized it and promptly forgot about it--until I consulted with Dr. Hanrahan."
O'Neill laughed. "I think Hanrahan is flying blind without instrument certification. His heart's in the right place, but--for cryin' out loud, he still expects everything to be normal. Just when we'd got Dr. MacKenzie trained, too."
Fraiser narrowly avoided spewing coffee and defended her colleague, "He's new. He'll eventually get used to it. One of these days when this whole thing is finally declassified, he'll be able to rewrite a whole lot of psychology books."
"It's a load off to know Daniel is with Sha're," Jack said. "It's damn time that story had a happy ending."
"If the rest of it's true, then the part about your son--"
Jack held up his hand. "He isn't Charlie. That's a past life and he probably doesn't know anything about it now."
"That's got to be hard to swallow."
"A little, when I first started thinking about it, but it isn't the important thing. All that really matters is, whoever he is now, he wants me back in his life again this time around. Everything he needs to work on is in this life, not the last one."
Hammond said, "You sound like you found a lot of peace out there in spite of, well, everything."
"Yes, sir, maybe I did. I think it's going to take longer than a couple of weeks to sort out everything."
"Daniel would say you're on your right path, I guess."
"I hope so, sir."
Fraiser said, "I miss Daniel. I don't think I realized how much until I heard his voice."
Jack said, "He's still fighting the good fight, Doc, just from a different duty station." That wasn't faith or belief anymore, it was a simple statement of fact. When he yawned in spite of the caffeine, Jack knew it was time to find his rack. "If you'll excuse me, General, Doctor, I'd better call it a night."
Hammond nodded, and Janet patted his arm with a fond, sisterly smile. "Good night, Jack."
Except for a few folks working the night shift, the corridors were quiet this time of night. But tonight he wasn't watching every shadow with a thousand-yard-stare expecting Ba'al to jump out at him. Knowing that Hammond and Fraiser believed him about Daniel was a big part of it. This was now, this was real, and all the horrors of Ba'al's planet were far away tonight. In spite of the coffee and toorecent memories, tonight at least he fell asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow, and Ba'al stayed out of his dreams.
Created on ... September 01, 2003
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