AUTHOR: Rebecca Ratliff
DATE: December 2002
ARCHIVE: If I haven't submitted to your archive, please ask. (I'll say yes, I just like to know where it is.)
CATEGORY: Action/adventure, angst, hurt/comfort.
RATING: R language, violence
SPOILERS: To mid-season 6, big one for Cure
SEASON/SEQUEL INFO: Season 6, between Cure and Prometheus. Gates of War Series sequence: Abyss Novelization, Sirikat, Fields of Gold, A Nice Quiet Week in the Country, Brothers in Arms
SUMMARY: O'Neill finds himself in desperate circumstances with the Tok'ra Malek. Imprisoned in Osiris' lair on a Goa'uld world, they must escape from behind enemy lines.
"Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Showtime/
Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. I have written this story for entertainment purposes only and no money whatsoever has exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author. Not to be archived without permission of the author."
FEEDBACK: would be much appreciated. :)
Cimmeria was in the middle of a cold, rainy autumn. SG-1's assignment was to get a supply of crystals found only there for use in laser experiments at Area 52. As usual, Carter had tried to explain, and O'Neill's eyes had started glazing over once she got beyond the basic physics he had learned in flight school way back when. Jonas listened intently, as he did whenever a conversation drifted into something new to him, but O'Neill didn't really care about the finer points of crystals. He had orders to get a supply of them, and it didn't much matter what the geeks at Area 52 were going to make out of them, unless and until it turned out to be a practical weapon.
The rain was pouring down, and they were soon soaked to the skin. The only one who complained about it, uncharacteristically, was Teal'c. His complaint was that it washed out any signs of other traffic around the stargate. That put a stop to the chatter as everyone got their minds on business.
They were looking for a physical threat, such as surprising a Jaffa patrol. They didn't realized that the gate was being watched by one very patient, very well camouflaged Jaffa, who waited until they were away before he dialed out and went home to report what he had seen.
Cimmeria was an Asguard world, Norse in its long ago cultural roots and constant association with the Asguard. The people were rough around the edges, quick to fight and quick to forgive. They lived simple lives, more from preference than necessity. Farming their fields, hunting the deep forests that surrounded their villages, coming home at night to a feast in the common hall and enjoying a long story washed down with mead or dark rich ale, that was the good life where they were concerned. O'Neill wasn't inclined to argue with that.
The Asguard's recent difficulties with their old enemies the Replicators and with Anubis had convinced them that the time had come to teach their protected peoples to defend themselves against the Goa'uld. This had led to them learning to make a few new things that the Cimmerians called "magic"--amulets that glowed in the presence of naquada (usually the signature of a symbiote.) Armor that turned staff fire and could often disrupt zatnik'tel blasts. "Magic wands" that threw "thunderbolts"--a hefty electrical charge rivaling staff weapons. Coupled with the Cimmerians' own skills and courage in combat, that was enough to give them the opportunity to defend their land against the Goa'uld. The Asguard had also encouraged them to join in the Alliance with the Tau'ri, the Tok'ra and the Free Jaffa.
They were in luck, a group of Cimmerian miners was about to make the journey to the nearest crystal mines. They spent the night in the village hall, after having a few tankards too many of mead and eating way too much roast pork. They climbed a ladder into the loft where a young warrior lit a lantern for them and showed them where to find sleeping furs in a huge old carved chest that looked like it should contain gold in a dragon's hoard. Smoke curled lazily up to a hole in the roof, and as the fires were banked down for the night, a few sleepless old folks gathered closer to the firepit and continued to speak in low voices long after the rest of the hall had gone to sleep.
A hissing cat woke O'Neill and he jumped out of his sleeping furs because there sure hadn't been a cat there when he went to sleep. It was a big old one-eared, one-eyed ginger tom, and he was seriously pissed at something on the lower level.
Somebody that didn't belong there.
No time for boots or shirt, he grabbed his P-90 and crawled to the edge of the loft.
There was a Jaffa bending over an old woman's sleeping form with an upraised dagger. He fired a shot and the surprised bastard fell over dead into the firepit. "We're under attack! Everybody out!"
Most of the hall may not have understood the English shout, but the sound of a gunshot and the stench of a burning body didn't need to be translated. Half-dressed people came swarming down the ladders and the shit hit the fan as far as the Jaffa sent to attack the village were concerned. Some woman screamed, "Valhalla, I am coming!" and rushed straight at a surprised Jaffa, swinging a huge axe. His head rolled across the room. O'Neill could see that things were under control in here. He headed for the door, most concerned about the several smaller dwellings around the hall where extended families with children lived. Quinn was on his six, and so were about fifteen or twenty Cimmerians.
"Where are Carter and Teal'c?"
Quinn shook his head. "Carter was on the women's side and they were mostly fighting in that storage area under their side of the loft. Teal'c was right behind me somewhere."
"What's the chief saying?"
"Something about securing the perimeter."
"OK, they got enough people to handle that. Let's find out if there are any more of these bastards before they start setting buildings on fire."
"I wonder why they raided this place! They had to know they'd get their asses handed to them!"
"Crazy overconfident Goa'uld, go figure!" O'Neill would worry about the whys and wherefores later. He cleared the nearest building, and considered the next one cleared as well when the door burst open and a Jaffa came flying out head-first, followed by an irate Cimmerian.
Jonas pointed to a storehouse with an open door. They ran across the open distance to the storehouse.
It was a maze of barrels of ale and containers of foodstuffs. Covering each other, they started to clear the place.
O'Neill opened fire on a Jaffa that he saw. The one he didn't see shot him with a zat, and the next thing he knew he was bound and gagged and slung over somebody's shoulder.
Confusion reigned in the village for an hour or so, until the last of the attackers were mopped up. Carter spotted Teal'c and called, "Where are the Colonel and Jonas?"
"I do not know, MajorCarter, they were in the hall with me one moment and gone the next."
"OK, let's find them!"
A Cimmerian teenager came running up and wanted them to follow her. They found a group of Cimmerians gathered around someone lying on the ground. Sam's heart jumped into her throat as she pushed her way through the crowd.
A healer was working on Jonas, who had been hit upside the head, most likely with a staff weapon. He was only semi-conscious now, but when he recognized Sam, he urgently pushed away the healer who was trying to examine his wounds. "The Jaffa took Col. O'Neill prisoner! You've got to go after them!"
Teal'c repeated that to the village chief, who spoke some of the English/Goa'uld pidgin that was becoming the language of the Alliance. He translated, "The trackers will not be able to pick up the trail until first light."
"Do you think you can do any better?"
"With this cloud cover it is unlikely," he apologized.
"OK, let's gear up and get ready. It shouldn't be too long before it starts to get light. Jonas, don't give the healers any trouble. We'll let you know as soon as we know anything."
Other people had the same idea, going back to their bedrolls to get fully dressed for the cold weather and to collect the rest of their weapons. As the wounded were tended and the sentries were discovered dead, the townspeople turned into an angry mob. If there were still any Jaffa in the area come daylight, Carter felt sorry for them. The village elders sent runners to warn neighboring settlements of the raid. It wouldn't take long before the whole area was stirred up.
Carter located a young man named Leif Olafson, who spent most of his time at the alpha site training with the army of irregulars that was gathering there. He spoke enough English to get along, and when it got light enough to follow a trail, he and several warriors went with her to search for O'Neill.
When it became clear that the Jaffa were outdistancing them, she sent Leif and two other fast runners with Teal'c to try to catch them. Knowing she couldn't keep up, she stayed with the other tracker and the main body of Cimmerian warriors, intending to push on and catch up as quickly as they could.
She knew they hadn't been fast enough when the advance party returned alone. Praying with all her heart that they hadn't found O'Neill dead someplace, she went over to hear their report.
Leif said, "Major Carter, I have bad news. The Jaffa reached their ship with too much of a lead for us to prevent them from taking off."
Carter swore. "OK, you did the best you could. Describe this ship to me."
"It was one of the small pyramid ships, the same as all the others except for a symbol above the main door. It was like the mark of the Jaffa who raided the village last night. I tried to draw it." He handed over a folded piece of paper.
Neither Teal'c nor Jonas recognized the glyph. Carter said, "OK, we've done all we can here. Let's get home and hope the Tok'ra can identify this symbol."
The Jaffa escorted O'Neill deep into the ship and stopped before an ornate door. While one of them covered him with a zat, the other pressed a series of symbols on the door.
The room looked like a bad movie version of a Turkish harem. The walls were covered with rich hangings, and the deeply carpeted floor was scattered with oversized cushions for seating.
"Phew, did somebody take a bath in cheap perfume? It smells like a damn French whorehouse in here."
"Shut up and get undressed."
"Like hell I will!" O'Neill put up a fight and pretty much gave as good as he got until one of the Jaffa shot him with the zat. Before he regained enough control of his muscles, they stripped him and chained him face down and spread-eagled to the floor.
Out of everything he had been through in his life, rape hadn't been one of the things he had faced. He had frankly been surprised that he had escaped it in Iraq and later as Ba'al's prisoner. It looked like his luck had run out. What he remembered from descriptions of things others had survived wasn't good. He could probably expect some real injuries and possibly severe ones.
Whatever was going to happen, if he had taken anything of value from Ba'al's dungeon, it was the knowledge that he could get through a hell of a lot before suffering took him someplace from which he might not find a way back. If he didn't let some damned rapist push a bunch of psychological buttons, he would get through this too.
For that matter, his imagination could put him through any number of things while he waited for the Goa'uld to get on with it. His imagination was one thing that was still under his control. Stay focused, keep fighting until his chance came, get home.
Home was a movie night. Last time had been Lord of the Rings. Sam laughing and throwing popcorn at Jonas. Teal'c trying to figure out why, if the humans had sophisticated fireworks, they hadn't figured out how to make simple mortar rounds. Telling each other not to spoil the plot for Jonas, who hadn't read the books. Getting really caught up in the story in spite of themselves about the time the Fellowship had to take the shortcut through Moria. The stand in the tomb, the goblins, the balrog. Gandalf on the bridge. Take out the magic and they had been in situations like that, known people like that.
He almost laughed out loud. Hell, he could see the Nox or better yet Sirikat's people as elves--all they were missing were the pointy ears--and nobody would ever convince the diminutive queen that some of the things she did weren't magic spells.
He hadn't heard the door opening, didn't know anyone else was in the room with him until he heard the delicate whisper of satin slippers on the carpeting. He turned his head but all he could see were a pair of feet and ankles. Female, thank You, God. She wore loose- fitting black see-through pants, he could see gold ankle bracelets through the sheer fabric.
"Well, I must say, after all I've heard about the vaunted O'Neill of the Tauri, you aren't that impressive in person." From the voice, she was Goa'uld, and young--or her host was, anyway. She spoke English, but with a heavy accent that he couldn't place.
"Sorry, Princess, once you've seen one ass you've pretty much seen 'em all."
"Osiris told me that you were amusing."
He kept his tone carefully neutral, as if the answer really made little difference. "Osiris? Is that who's running the show, Princess?"
"She is my liege lady."
"And who would you be?"
"I am Yanara." Typical Goa'uld arrogance, but O'Neill figured her for young, and nowhere nearly as sure of herself as she was trying to let on.
"You must be new. We're kind of a backwater, it takes a while to hear the news."
"A little. My lady has let me play with you until she can question you herself." A delicate, warm hand touched the small of his back. O'Neill tried not to react, didn't exactly succeed.
She made a small, pleased sound that she could scare him. Like a kid pulling the wings off flies, he thought. She didn't have the experience, and that worked to his advantage, but he had to remember that she was born as mean as her queen had decided to make her. He couldn't expect compassion from a snake, even a young one.
He was pretty sure Osiris wanted him in decent condition. Well, she probably wouldn't mind if her new little pet softened him up a little, but she'd want to have her own fun and she'd want him in a condition to appreciate it. "Did Osiris make any rules for this little game?"
"I can't kill you, or damage you...much. That's all right. We can have a lot of fun anyway." A knife whispered out of its sheath.
Oh, yeah. Lots of fun. Now he knew what he was up against. The key word was survival. Stay focused. Keep fighting till his chance came. Get home.
The knife traced a shallow scratch. That was nothing, he could feel a few drops of blood running down his side.
Then he heard the girl opening a jar. He smelled something like moss or old wet leaves. She slicked something oily along the cut.
And set fire to it, or that was what he thought at first. He yanked instinctively at his bonds and cursed instead of crying out, and then bit off a string of oaths at the girl's cruel laugh. He wasn't having any damn kid laughing at him. Although the burning pain made his eyes water, he used anger as strength and went still and silent, taking slow even breaths. After a time the worst eased off.
Another cut. This time he was ready. "Hey, Princess, aren't you supposed to be asking me questions or somethin'? I guess Osiris didn't really have time to show you the ropes, huh?"
She stretched out beside him. It was all he could do not to jerk as far away from her as his restraints would allow. A tarantula would have been more welcome. She trailed her fingers along the back of his neck. "You don't have the first idea who I am, do you?"
"Sorry, Princess. Not a clue."
"You don't know anything that really interests me. I'm just amusing myself until I have to give you to Osiris. Now, if you come up with something that she might want, maybe I'll get you a nice drink of water. Or a sip of my wine, would you like that?" She caressed his cheek with a wonderfully cold silver goblet. "But you see, what I want comes later. After she gets everything she wants and you're begging to die, she's going to give you to me. But I'm not going to let you. Not for a very long time."
"Now, see, you're starting to get the hang of it. That was almost scary."
Yanara made a long cut that time, tracing the line of his shoulder blade, and she took her sweet time rubbing the oily stuff into it. Some part of O'Neill's mind not occupied with his stubborn refusal to react or cry out wondered what he had done to piss her off, but she wasn't forthcoming with any more information.
Jack lost all sense of time as minutes dragged into hours. The burning pain seemed to last longer each time, and didn't let up as much. Thirst became an annoyance, then a torment of its own.
Focus. Fight. Home.
"Tell me, Tau'ri, what do you gain from your obstinance?"
"Better figure that out for yourself, Princess."
"What do you mean by that?"
"You're a little fish with sharp little teeth, but you're swimming in a real big pond. You'll find yourself in a situation like this yourself as soon as Osiris gets bored, or decides you screwed up-- whether you really did or not. And as far as Anubis is concerned, well, you'd better just hope he doesn't notice you at all."
He had shaken her, he could hear it in her voice. "Do you expect me to think you care in the slightest what becomes of me?"
"Did I say I did? Why should I? You decided to play with the big Goa'uld."
"Then why talk to me at all?" She laughed, a little too shrill. "You've already proven that you can hold your tongue when you want, for now."
"Maybe you're not the only one who's bored, Princess."
"Or maybe if you keep me talking, you don't get cut for a few minutes."
That was sure part of it, but she didn't need to know that. "Maybe so, but I'm going to start passing out before too long, so it wouldn't really matter one way or another, now would it?"
"You aren't passing out now." She proved it with another cut, more of that damn stinking oil.
This was a bad time, when the room started spinning and blessed unconciousness was so close, yet so far. Hanging on those last few minutes was always the hardest. "Not this minute, but not long now."
There was a trick he had learned back in Iraq, that once he went under and started to come to, he could stay just barely conscious, resting in a safe warm darkness, nearly beyond pain. He wasn't sure how he did it, except that he had to be really exhausted before he could make it work. He had never mentioned it in debriefing, and call it paranoia or premonition either one, he had a very bad feeling about reporting it without knowing how it worked. For now it was plenty to know that it worked.
After a few more rounds, unconciousness finally claimed him. When he started to come to, he knew if he did there would be more pain. It was better just to pull the covers back over his head and stay asleep for a while longer.
"Jack?! How did you get here?"
He jumped at that startled yelp, and took an interest in his surroundings. "Daniel?"
"Yeah, right here, but you shouldn't be able to see me!"
Seeing Daniel-the-ghost seriously rattled almost made the whole day worthwhile.
"It's a trick I figured out when I was a POW in Iraq. Wait till you pass out and then just decide not to wake up yet. Is this where you hang out now? Am I dead for real this time?" Jack looked around. It was dark, but he wasn't just floating in nothingness. There was a surface under him. He was lying on a path of faintly sparkling sand. Behind him was a portal and that was where the only light was coming from. Looking closer, he could see his body. His back was a mess of blood and greenish-black oil. He couldn't tell how badly he was cut up. When he tried to get a closer look, he felt a nearly irresistible pull trying to suck him back into the real world, where more pain and exhaustion waited. No way. Not gonna do that yet.
Daniel hastened to assure him, "You're still alive. You're on a spirit path, and you can get to the realms of the dead from here, as well as the realms of the living. I was using it to get to you. I would be Interfering with a capital "I" if I told you any more about it because exploring this, and whatever you find here, are part of your journey. Your choices to make, not mine to influence. You'll have to wait until you get home and find a shaman or a psychic to teach you. Or just be more patient with Teal'c when he tries to teach you how to do kel-no-reem, if you're more interested in practice than theory."
"I'm interested in going home, Daniel. You know me and this mystic crap."
"I know you're essentially doing some serious pathworking with no clue what you're actually messing around with, and you're finding some pretty damn dark places to do it!" Daniel was clearly anxious, and between the two of them, anxiety generally led to a shouting match.
Jack scowled. "Hey, wait, wait, wait, if you're trying to say I'm getting myself into these messes on purpose, you are so full of shit."
"Well, in some ways we all set our destinies, but that was absolutely not what I meant in any kind of deliberate choice sense. I'm just saying that you keep falling into situations like this and I can't believe it's all a big coincidence. Spirit paths are all kinds of dangerous and you're close enough to ascension to be able to play with forces that you've convinced me you don't want to have anything to do with--"
Jack looked around into the darkness surrounding them. He had heard something or seen a flash of something--hell, English didn't have the vocabulary for this place. But there had been something, he was sure of that. "Shut up a minute, Daniel, there's somebody else here with us."
When Jack shifted into combat mode, Daniel instinctively did the same, just like old times. He shut down the lecture and pulled up defensive energy, ready to shield them both, and searched around for the presence that Jack had sensed. There was nothing there now but traces of an aura.
"O-kay. If that didn't just prove my point, Jack, nothing will. Somebody was here, they were following me not you, and they just left in too much of a hurry to cover their tracks. You were aware of them when I had no idea."
Jack took that in. "Daniel, when you said not a coincidence, did you mean somebody is deliberately setting me up, or that the Great Beyond is hitting me over the head with a clue stick?"
Daniel laughed. He missed Jack's irreverent humor so much. "I'm around you enough that if someone was actively doing this, I think I'd know. More likely the second. But beyond that I'm as much in the dark as you are."
"Daniel, I don't want to go back there yet--"
"Then don't, you're OK as long as you can clearly see your way back. Just don't go any further in until you find a teacher. Why in hell didn't you do this against Ba'al?"
O'Neill suddenly found the featureless blackness around the faintly luminescent path extremely interesting. "I did once, he threw me in the dead box and if I remember right that's what we were trying to avoid."
"Ah, yes, there was that." "Want to tell me what all that was about? Who's spying on you?"
"If I knew who, I'd do something about it," Daniel replied. "Somebody was evidently hoping I'd screw up and cross the line. They're using you and me to get at Oma Desala," he said, a real anger moving just below the surface.
"What'd you do, trade in the NID for these Others people?"
"That pretty much puts it in a nutshell. Ordinarily, I'm way beneath their radar. The thing is, for some reason they're afraid to mess with Oma Desala face to face so they'll try to get at her through us if they can." Belatedly Daniel put all that aside. "The last thing I ought to be doing is bothering you with this. You should be resting while you have the chance."
"Danny, stay close. I'm not too worried about Yanara right now, but she's taking me to Osiris and that's gonna get real bad before it's over."
Daniel promised, "I'll be right here. Even when I can't create a visual for you because there are other people in the room, I'll be this close."
A familiar wavering jolt went through the ship as it came out of hyperspace, waking O'Neill. He remembered that when Yanara hadn't been able to wake him, she'd got her first prime, who had said he was a weak Tau'ri and just needed to sleep it off. He had been thrown into a cell, along with a bottle of water and a set of clean prison browns, then the door had been locked. It had taken a lot of guts to leave his safe place and go back to a reality that hurt, but he knew he needed real sleep to prepare for what was coming.
His arms and legs didn't want to move at all, after having been immobilized for so long, but he had got dressed as quickly as he could. The water was warm and metallic tasting, and he hoped there wasn't truth serum or anything like that in it. He was so dehydrated he had to take the chance. And then he had curled up on the floor of the cell and gone to sleep.
It looked like rest time was over.
Pelosia was the kind of backwater planet where all kinds of illicit trade went on. Practically anything in Goa'uld space was available for the right price, including information. Malek was following leads to the location of a weapons plant. Destroying it would be one more delay in Anubis' preparations for war.
Other information available at the right price included the whereabouts of a Tok'ra spy. He expected to meet with an informant. Instead he found a group of Jaffa. "Malek. Osiris will be pleased with our catch."
"I don't doubt it, but a pity you'll never know." The Tok'ra drew two daggers, sending that man and one of his companions to join their ancestors before one of the survivors powered up a zatnik'tel and dropped him in his tracks.
It was planet's night when the ship came to a landing. O'Neill caught a glimpse of starlight before he was marched through a door and along a maze of dark corridors by a couple of Jaffa. They arrived at a door which was guarded by a third Jaffa, who unlocked it and let them pass. There was another prisoner there, the Tok'ra Malek. O'Neill checked himself from greeting his cellmate by name, in case he was using a cover identity to conceal his importance to the Goa'uld. Malek was hanging by his wrists from an overhead bar. He was naked to the waist and covered with bruises.
Osiris looked O'Neill over. "I believe that you and Malek here are acquainted."
Damn. Too much to hope that Malek's cover had held. The Tok'ra weren't exactly his favorite people, but he really hated to see Malek subjected to this. "We've met," he replied.
"Prepare him," Osiris ordered. The Jaffa removed his shirt and secured him beside Malek, at the cost of a few kicks and a head butt that left one of the Jaffa with a broken nose. In the end, though, he ended up exactly where he had known he would.
Osiris traced the pain stick up the back of Malek's neck. His body bucked and he endured in silence for several seconds. Finally, though, he started screaming, the pain stick's sickly amber light glowing from his eyes and open mouth. Jack realized that this simultaneously subjected both host and symbiote to the device' effects. They couldn't be able to help each other much like that. Eventually the screams weakened, and finally Malek hung motionless in his chains, his body drenched in sweat.
Then it was his turn. O'Neill answered the Goa'uld's demands for information with name, rank and serial number twice before the only sound he could make was a scream.
O'Neill landed hard on the stone floor and the cell door shut behind them. Malek lay on his side a few feet away, looking every bit as miserable as O'Neill felt.
Nothing Osiris had done had deprived Malek of a dry sense of humor, or of the courage to use it to draw attention to himself away from O'Neill. They had traded that favor back and forth a few times over the next several hours, surviving until Osiris had decided for whatever reason to give them a rest.
O'Neill took stock of his own injuries. Other than the same old same old with his knee, he was fairly sure it was all superficial. He gave himself ten minutes to rest, then got himself moving, searching the cell for some kind of a weakness. There were none and he really wasn't expecting any, but it couldn't do any harm to try.
"So, any idea where the hell we are?"
Malek groaned and sat up. "Two days in hyper out of Pelosia," he winced. Jeryn had passed out, and he hoped his host stayed that way for a while.
O'Neill tried to match the name "Pelosia" up with gate coordinates. Jonas was the only one who could keep that all straight. "They caught me on Cimmeria, and I guess we were in hyperspace for three or four days."
"You could have tried to keep track."
"I did, but it was kind of a long trip, and Yanara got bored. It was two days before that, then I don't know if it was one or two after."
"....Oh." Malek thought about it. "That narrows it down. We have to be on either Imrys or Shalayne. If it's Imrys, we aren't too far from the chappa'ai, but there are probably 500 Jaffa between here and there. If it's Shalayne, we're cooked. Osiris has a palace on an island and the only way on or off is by air or sea."
"So we steal something that flies or floats," O'Neill replied, stating the obvious.
"Explain Tau'ri optimism to me, in this mess."
"What's to explain? My people will get us out of here," he replied. "Gonna be rough in the meanwhile, but hey, we might get a shot at Osiris."
"I'll believe that when I see it. She has more lives than a cat."
"I can hope. Who is this Yanara, anyhow? I didn't know her, but man, she sure knew me."
"Well, that explains it alright." Let's see, she probably figured she owed him for Momma Amaunet and Poppa Apophis, and Uncle Ra as well. Yeah, he could see how she could figure she had an axe to grind.
Malek jumped about a foot, then knocked something the size of a cigar across the cell. "We're on Shalayne. Damned cockroaches."
"That was a friggin' cockroach?"
"I hate those things. If you go to sleep in here, they'll be crawling all over you when you wake up. They don't bite except in self defense, so knock them off, don't grab them."
"Been a guest here before?"
"Yes, a while ago. I was hoping Osiris wouldn't make the connection, but she could hardly wait to tell me."
"Yeah, I can imagine."
A key rattled in the lock. They got to their feet. O'Neill commented, "That didn't take long. Do you want to put up a fight?"
Malek sighed. This was just going to lead to another beating, but so what? At least they would know what this one was for. "Jeryn does. Might as well give it a try while we can."
"Go along with 'em till we hit the bottleneck at the door."
As soon as they got to the cell door, Malek suddenly threw one of the Jaffa holding him into one of O'Neill's guards, and elbowed the other one in the pouch. O'Neill broke somebody's arm--and came up with a zat. That shifted the odds from snowball's chance to longshot, and they took full advantage. Malek grabbed a weapon and the keys.
"Do you know the way out or do we just shoot everything that moves and hope for the best?" O'Neill asked.
"I knew a way out five hundred years ago! I didn't know you ever had a plan!"
"Whatever works!" O'Neill grinned.
Malek turned right and up some stairs, with O'Neill watching their six. Malek kicked in a door and they surprised the hell out of about a dozen Jaffa who were eating their supper. The air went blue with zat fire, and Jack went down hard. Malek stood his ground, firing until the last of the Jaffa were unconscious. He stuck a couple of extra zats in his pockets and hauled the Tau'ri to his feet. As soon as O'Neill's muscles obeyed him again, he took his weapon back.
Malek led them through the Goa'uld warrens, ducking patrols when they could, shooting their way out when they had to.
Malek stopped and stared out a window. "All right, I've got religion," he said. "Take a look at that!"
O'Neill looked down on a row of death gliders. "Oh, no, the last time I took a joyride in a stolen death glider, it had an override on the autopilot and I had to breathe vacuum before that one was over."
"I know how to disable the autopilot," Malek said.
"Like I was saying, let's get the hell out of here."
There was open ground between them and the gliders. O'Neill grabbed Malek's arm. "Walk."
"Are you crazy--?"
"They're looking for a couple of guys who just broke out of jail, not ground crew doing their jobs. These jailhouse uniforms don't stand out that much unless you're looking."
Malek did a double take, but O'Neill was right. They got to the cover of the gliders before they had to start shooting.
Malek jumped to the wing of the nearest glider and gave O'Neill a hand up. "You'll have to fly, the autopilot is in the rear of the cockpit."
"No problem, transfer fire control up front and hang on." O'Neill fastened his restraints and made sure the canopy was locked, then he got the bird in the air.
"Give me a vector." The language barrier got in the way, Malek spoke pretty good English but not technical jargon and certainly not USAF fighter pilots' shorthand. "Which way, damn it?"
"That way till we hit the coast!"
O'Neill made a single strafing run to make sure none of the other gliders got off the ground. "How are they for radar--sensors? Will it help if I skim the water?"
"No! They'll have satellites."
O'Neill got some altitude. Something gave in the back with a satisfying crack. "That does for the autopilot."
"OK, get me a heads-up display. If they got sats we're gonna have company shortly."
The HUD came to life. O'Neill swiftly located the artificial horizon. Although he couldn't read the Goa'uld writing, he figured out the graphics well enough for most of the other instruments. On a clear bright day like this he wouldn't have to fly by instruments anyway. All sarcasm aside, O'Neill said, "Anything showing on the HUD is a bogie unless you tell me otherwise. I don't want to shoot down some passenger jet full of civilians or anything like that."
"You know they will probably shoot us down from space."
"I know. Do you want to go back?"
Malek shook his head. "When you put it that way, no."
"Then we make for the gate."
"Turn left as soon as the coastline comes into view. Give me the long-range scanners--that's the third button down in the furthest bank to the right."
O'Neill pressed the button. His attention was on his screen. If a mother ship took them out from orbit with an energy weapon, there was nothing he could do about that. But if they sent gliders up after him, that was something else again.
Malek said, "Oh, wait, this is wrong--"
"Wrong? In what way is it wrong?"
"The chappa'ai is fucking gone!" Malek yelled.
"You've been taking English lessons from the Marines."
"The scientists, actually...."
"So they moved it in five hundred years," O'Neill said. "Where do we go now?"
"Somewhere we can lose this thing and go to ground."
"And that would be...?"
"I'm trying to remember. There was a major city further along the coast."
O'Neill said, "Fasten your seatbelt. The inertia dampers take a second to compensate sometimes."
Malek was oddly reassured by that observation. A mediocre pilot who never pushed the craft to its limits wouldn't know about the delay. He mirrored the HUD. There were three...no, four gliders approaching.
O'Neill armed the cannons and took off like he was making a run for it. The Jaffa took the bait, but as soon as the lead pair got a lock he put the craft into a vertical climb that, as he had warned Malek, slammed them back into their seats momentarily. His back protested but he had so much adrenaline in his system that he barely registered the pain. He leveled off and dived, now on the Jaffa's six. They were still trying to figure out where he was when he blew the first one out of the sky.
The rest scattered, juking wildly as they realized the fox was in the henhouse. O'Neill took down another target.
Malek warned, "Red has us inline."
"I see him, where's his damn wingman? Did he learn that crazy Ivan from me?"
Malek increased the display area. "If you mean that ballistic climb, I think he did."
A tight Immelman reverse got the glider indicated by a red triangle off his six and put him on a head-to-head course with his wingman. They crossed paths firing. Cannon blasts stitched their left wing, but O'Neill watched his line of blasts walk across the other glider's cockpit. The blazing wreckage plunged into the sea.
"Give me a damage assessment," he snapped, occupied with the last bogie and a plane that suddenly had started flying like Jacob's cargo barge. They circled a few times, neither able to get inside the other's turn.
Malek reported, "Our energy level is dropping. We're only going to be in the air a few minutes."
"Understood." O'Neill sideslipped, losing airspeed while putting as little stress on the damaged wing as possible. He got a lock on the last glider and fired. "I hope you can swim, because we're ditching."
"I'm going to blow the canopy before we hit, these things sink like stones."
"Hold off until the last second. I want Osiris to think we went to the bottom with it."
He heard Malek counting under his breath. The canopy blew two seconds before they skipped across the waves and settled, rapidly taking on water. They secured their weapons and dived in.
For a minute, O'Neill thought he had dived into acid. The network of small cuts that Yanara had made burned fiercely.
Malek asked, "What's wrong?"
"I've got some scratches, the water burns pretty bad."
"The salt content is higher than in most oceans. Will you have trouble swimming?"
"I don't think so." After a few minutes the burning let up. They came ashore in some rocks and headed inland as fast as O'Neill's bad knee would allow. They didn't stop until they were several klicks from the shore and they found a rock overhang to hide under. They lay back in cool sand under the rock and caught their breath. O'Neill noticed idly that there was graffiti scrawled all over the shallow cave.
Malek asked, "Do you want to tell me how we did that?"
"Dumb luck! I'll bet Osiris is foaming at the mouth!" O'Neill laughed. Considering how he had expected to spend the day, it had turned out pretty well.
"Not bad flying, for a Tau'ri."
"Didn't exactly join the Air Force to run around shooting at stuff on the ground."
"So how did you end up here?"
"About 99% of that is classified. Let's just say I made a few choices after Viet Nam--a war my country fought thirty years ago-- that took me in some strange career directions."
"Not regular Air Force."
"And from there to General Hammond's second."
"Well, after they found out I disobeyed orders in a big way on the first Abydos mission, the brass decided to pull me out of retirement instead of throwing my ass in Leavenworth and losing the key."
Malek laughed. "I suspect that Osiris is not the only one that you have left foaming at the mouth."
"Pissed off Garshaw a few times."
Malek said, "But that is so easy to do. I could tell you a few tales, but as you say--classified."
"Don't try to tell me you're some kind of a loose cannon," O'Neill snorted.
"That depends on whether you ask Garshaw," Malek smirked.
"How come I never hear anything out of Jeryn?"
"He says little to me and less to anyone else, but if he chooses to speak, listen to him. If you ever think you see me fighting with two daggers, you will see Jeryn. Beyond that, his tale is his own to tell you." Malek fell silent a moment, then continued in a puzzled tone. "He says you already know him, he saw a kindred spirit in your eyes when we fought the ashrak."
"Let's put it this way, are there times you give him your speed and strength and stay out of his way while he gets the job done?"
"Oh, yes, there are such times."
"What I said about 99% of that story being classified?"
"I understand that quite a lot better now," Malek said quietly.
It was starting to get dark. They watched the stars come out one by one. Malek said, "The Pangarans have started production of the tritonin antidote."
"That had to be hell. Garshaw couldn't find anyone but you to take care of it?"
"What more could I do for Egeria than to make sure her final wishes were carried out? I never had the chance to know my queen. She was captured before I was blended with my first host. All I know of her is what Garshaw and Selmac have told me. She was always my honored ancestor. She didn't become my mother until the day she died. You could have knocked me off my feet when she forgave the Pangarans."
"It's probably easier to forgive people like that when you're knocking on heaven's door. I guess. I doubt I'd have been that generous in her place. I suppose that's why she's some kind of a saint."
"That certainly is the truth. I fulfilled Egeria's wishes--but I hope they don't just get away with it! And if you asked me again if I had any ethical problems with using a Goa'uld like that--"
"Yeah, I think I'd have a different opinion about that myself now," O'Neill agreed. It was one thing to think about sticking someone like Hathor in a fish tank for fifty or sixty years....but he hadn't done anything like that, he'd killed her in a fair fight. In retrospect, he could live with that without guilt. It hadn't turned him into something he didn't want to be.
When it was completely dark, O'Neill went to the edge of the overhang and looked around. "There's a skyglow, must be your big town."
Malek joined him, and listened. "Do you hear that? We aren't far from a road or a highway. That means small settlements. Jack, I think our best chance now is for me to find us clothing other than prison browns."
He nodded. He didn't like sitting here waiting, but he didn't speak the language. "So, what's the deal here? I'm supposed to be your slave? Can we pull something like that off?"
"I suppose we must. You have no idea how much I hate pretending to be that which I have fought against all my life." Malek's eyes flashed with a long bottled up rage.
"Hey! I'm the one playin' the slave, and you don't hear me bitchin' about it."
"I am being ridiculous, I suppose. I shouldn't be too long."
Jack said, "It isn't like we're moving here or anything, Malek. We find out where they moved the stargate, we get there, we get the hell out."
The Tok'ra was gone long enough for O'Neill to start getting really nervous. Finally, though, Malek got back with clothes, food and bottled water.
O'Neill asked, "What did you do, knock over a 7-11?"
"I broke into a store after hours, if that is what you mean. I didn't want to run afoul of some poor shopkeeper who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"Security tape? How easy would it be for them to tell what was taken?"
"The first thing I did was break the recording crystal, and I ransacked the place. Except for the money in the safe and a bottle of wine, they will have trouble figuring out exactly what I stole."
O'Neill started to change clothes, into the cheap cotton shirt and pants and sandals typical of slave clothing.
Malek got a look at his back. "Let me see--"
"I told you, Yanara kept herself entertained quite a while," he snapped in a very conversation-ending tone.
Malek had serious concerns. "Did she put something on--?"
"Oh, yeah, that was half the fun. Some kind of greasy stuff."
"The sea water was a blessing in disguise, it opened most of these. You have several badly infected wounds. This needs tending. Are you running a fever?"
"No, I don't think so."
"Perhaps we are in time to avoid worse trouble, then. Jack, I know you would rather be left alone, but it will complicate things immensely if you do really take ill."
OK, that had to be the understatement of the year. "Yeah, I know, just get it over with."
"As quickly as I can manage," Malek promised. "Finish your water and give me the bottle."
Jack threw the bottle against the rocks and picked out an especially sharp piece, leaving the rest lie with other broken glass that was there already. Malek nodded. Nothing out of the ordinary.
Jack didn't make a sound as Malek opened and cleaned the wounds. That in itself was evidence of the control that getting through the unpleasant chore required. They could only hope they hadn't waited too long. "Do you want to rest for a while longer?"
"No, if we're going to move let's move before it gets light. I didn't think, there'll be blood stains."
"No one will pay attention to blood stains on a slave's clothes." Jack got the same end-of-story tone right back. He followed Malek through bottomlands along a river, occasionally skirting a farmer's field. When they came to a deep spot, they tied rocks in their prisoners uniforms and threw them in.
On the outskirts of the little town, they found a public transport station. They took to the road. Jack kept his eyes downcast and carried the burlap bag containing the zats. If trouble came along, he hoped they could get to their weapons in time. While a lot of people carried knives, there weren't any guns in evidence.
Malek bought two tickets and they waited for the transport. Most of the people waiting with them were low-ranking Goa'uld, the local John Q. Public on their way to work. Enough of them had slaves along that his presence was unremarkable. Everyone was wrapped up in their own concerns, drinking whatever they had in their morning paper cups, reading their newspapers.
The transport rattled into the station, a three car tram. O'Neill followed the slaves onto the last car. A uniformed guard at the front of the car took their tickets and enforced proper behavior, which included no talking.
As the transport pulled away from the station, O'Neill threw a momentary panic as he realized he had no idea which stop to get off. The first stop, though, a guy got on and two slaves got off with him. This process was repeated several times over the next few stops. He took advantage of the remainder of the trip to rest, like the others glancing up only when the transport rumbled to a stop.
O'Neill figured he must have known the Goa'uld had cities where ordinary folks went about their business every day. But as long as he kept his eyes on the cracked sidewalk outside the transport station and ignored that he didn't speak the language, he could have been in any big city back home. The traffic on the street, the jostling pedestrians, the sounds and smells coming from the shops they passed, were the same. For an unpleasant moment it was more than a decade in the past and he was walking down a Baghdad street, fitting in just as well--better, he spoke Farsi.
Malek found a cheap inn and got them a room. A slave girl brought in a pallet and a leg chain for O'Neill. She deferred to Malek, but made no secret that O'Neill was more work in her busy day. Malek excused her without ever really having seemed to notice her. He could play the part, however much he hated it.
Malek expertly gimmicked the lock on the leg chain so that it would open with a hard yank. O'Neill put the sack with the guns in it casually within reach. "What's the plan?"
"I'm going to try to contact the underground and find out where they moved the chappa'ai. If I am not back by nightfall, assume that I have been taken."
O'Neill nodded. "You sure you don't want me to go along?"
"Considering the situation, I doubt the underground will want to have anything to do with me in the first place. I am certain they will never have heard of me if a stranger is along."
Malek nodded once, and left the room. O'Neill stretched out on the pallet. It wasn't the Hilton, but he'd been in worse places, including Osiris' little island getaway. He had to get some sleep or he was going to be worse than useless tonight, when he was going to need his wits about him. The thing about sleep was, he knew the dreams would come, and he had used up just about all his defenses against them. Exhaustion won out.
At least he got about five or six hours of rest before he woke up, not knowing where the hell he was. The unfamiliar weight of the shackle was tight around his ankle, and he could still feel that little bitch Yanara's hands on him, the quick biting sting from her sharp knife, then burning agony as she rubbed that foul-smelling stuff into the cut. The memory of the pain was still too recent, too real.
It was damn well over. He was shaking, but he dragged himself back to the present. He had got through worse than this alone before, and he would do it again now.
"You're not alone."
"Danny." The warmth he felt at the sight of his friend chased out the last shadows of the nightmare.
"I can't stay visible more than a few minutes. I just wanted to make sure you were all right."
"Yeah. I just have to work through this, Daniel, you know that."
"I know, and I know you will, it's just--I hate this."
"Something going on...up there?"
"Not right this minute. We have to be so damn careful. Oma hardly lets Shifu out of her sight these days, or me either for that matter. She's kind of running interference for us at the moment, and there is no way I can take a chance on letting Malek get a look at me. But I know you can sense that I'm with you whether you can see me or not. Just have faith that it's real, OK?"
"Yeah, just--I needed a reminder after the last few days."
"Get some more sleep. Oma's got you warded, you won't dream about anything you don't want to."
"Thank her for me, but is she sure she ought to take the risk?"
"The Others aren't about to call her on it."
"No, I guess they wouldn't. And, Daniel?"
"Ask her to look out for Malek, as long as she's sticking her oar in anyhow. He and Jeryn are the ones taking all the chances right now."
"She already is. And she says they can take care of themselves. Go back to sleep." Daniel winked out in one hell of a hurry when a door opened and someone walked by in the hall outside. Whoever it was went on by.
Jack pulled the threadbare blanket back up. Whatever was up with Daniel...was out of his hands, and apparently in Oma's very capable ones. Do what you can. He closed his eyes and let himself drift off again.
The next time he woke up, he heard Malek's footsteps in the hall.
Once the door was shut behind him, Malek sat down on the creaking bed. "It's a mess, Jack. The underground is in a shambles and no one wants to know anyone else. I found out where the chappa'ai is, they moved it near a bigger city a few hundred miles from here. I did get us a carriage. It would be too risky to travel so far on the transport. Our pictures are surely out by now, and once word of the reward circulates--"
"We should get moving."
"You look like you're about to drop."
"If you can drive that thing, maybe I can catch some sleep here and there in the carriage." He underscored O'Neill's understanding of the serious nature of the situation when he concealed one of the zats in his waistband. O'Neill did likewise and got out of the chain, gave it back to Malek so he could get rid of the evidence of tampering.
Malek got in the back seat of a fairly standard looking used four- door sedan, just different enough that people would turn their heads and look if you tried to drive it down the street back home. It used to be blue but now was mostly rust. They drove on the right side of the road, so that was one good thing.
A stop signal was a flag that dropped from a box in the middle of the intersection. Other than that, there really wasn't anything different enough for him to have any problems. He attracted little notice just by following the flow of traffic. Once they were on the main road, there was little traffic and no traffic rules. Malek said, "Wake me when we come to an intersection with another high road beside a large lake. We will be near the chappa'ai then."
Once Malek got to sleep, he was out like a light for several hours. They cruised along, only occasionally passing another car. Driving at night in farm country, Jack figured, was the same wherever you were in all God's creation. Jack kept his eyes wide open in spite of the false sense of security engendered by the very normalcy of the situation, but for miles all he saw were fields and pastures, barns and farm houses, and the occasional hamlet with its sidewalks pulled in until morning.
They topped a hill and, from the chain of taillights, he picked out several cars stopped behind a road block a couple of miles ahead. "Crap. Malek, we have a problem up here."
The Tok'ra rubbed his eyes. Jeryn answered, drawing a sharp look from O'Neill. "Stopping cars, are they? Well, well. I was wondering when they would get around to that. Let Malek sleep. We had best take this turn-off, whatever it turns out to be."
"You're keeping Malek asleep?" O'Neill asked skeptically.
"Yes. He needs the rest. Malek could always take control if he wished, but we two are years past such power games. We trust each other to keep watch." There was a kind fondness in Jeryn's tone. O'Neill suspected there were few who could put it there. He could make a short list himself.
The road petered out to two dirt tracks and finally dead-ended at a lakeshore. "Malek mentioned a lake," O'Neill said.
"The chappa'ai is on the far shore."
The far shore was lost in darkness. "Looks like we walk."
Jeryn nodded. Sound carried near water. O'Neill decided Jeryn's preference for silence wasn't any bad thing, considering.
Sometime shortly before dawn, Malek woke and Jeryn handed off. O'Neill watched his eyes unfocus for a couple of seconds as Jeryn quickly brought him up to speed.
"We're going to have to risk traveling by daylight," O'Neill said. "It's only a matter of time till they find the car."
Malek agreed. "I expect the chappa'ai to be guarded. Osiris must know that this is where we are bound."
"We'll figure that out when we get there. We need a minimum of 45 seconds to dial out and jump through the gate. We can't go to Earth because we don't have a GDO. And we can't take a firefight home with us to the Alpha Site."
Malek said, "I know the coordinates to a dead world, if it turns out to be possible to activate the gate and hide until they've gone through."
"Then we go through to Cimmeria. I'm betting the Cimmerians are still pretty fired up from the last time, and Osiris won't dare send too many of her people after us there."
"My best team has it shaved down to 42 seconds," Malek smirked. "But we still need that 42 seconds."
"I guess we'll still figure that out when we get there."
Later that day, they crept through tall grass and looked down on the valley containing the Stargate. There was a full platoon of Jaffa in battle gear holding the gate, and they weren't the new recruits who did most of the dying in any army. These were the crack veteran troops who did most of the killing. O'Neill saw no way for the two of them to get to the stargate without help.
The shattered remains of a MALP lay near the gate. That was good news. If Hammond had sent a probe through he knew the situation and some SG-team, probably his, wouldn't walk through blind into a kill zone. He had been terrified of an outcome like that, he had fought his own fear all the way up this damn hill because he had dreaded what he might see around that gate.
The SGC also knew he was still causing Osiris trouble, if she had her troops on that kind of alert. If he knew Hammond...the general was cautious and wily, yet decisive when the time for decision came. Given Osiris' force here, he would bide his time, give the Jaffa time to become complacent, then launch an attack in sufficient force to take and hold the gate for a short time.
Malek said, "You've still got an idea in your pocket."
"If I read Hammond right, I sure do. Hope you don't mind a wait."
The sun got hot and every breath of air through the grass was welcome. Jack wished heartily for his P-90 or better yet a sniper rifle. He was in a perfect position to take out several of those Jaffa when things started, but a zat was a close-quarters weapon.
Another hour passed. Sweat running down his back burned in raw wounds. A flying bug droned endlessly as it searched for food. The sun passed its zenith and shadows lengthened.
Malek said, "I had you, and the Tau'ri, figured all wrong."
"Lot of that goin' around," O'Neill admitted after a while. "I think we both finally got things straightened out."
The gate started dialing in. They waited tensely while the backwash cleared and the wormhole formed.
Smoke grenades came through the gate, followed by a couple of anti- personnel rounds. Before the chaos could start to clear, everything SGC and the Alpha Site could put together poured through the gate. Osiris' Jaffa put up a brave resistance but they were quickly overwhelmed. Jack and Malek ran for the gate.
One Jaffa, mistaken for dead, got in one last strike for his god. He fired a staff blast that hit Malek in the side. Jack shot the Jaffa, then slung Malek's arm over his shoulder. "Keep moving, we're almost there." He hoped that once they got to safety, the Tok'ra would be able to heal his host's injury.
The gate disengaged and someone started to dial. Medics loaded Malek onto a stretcher. He and the rest of their wounded were taken through first, then they made a fighting retreat through the gate. A nurse sent O'Neill to the infirmary.
Tok'ra medics were getting Jeryn stabilized so that Malek could more easily heal him. SG-1 crowded around. O'Neill hadn't admitted to himself how worried he had been until he saw all of them standing there safe.
Janet did a quick triage and threw his team out of sickbay. There wasn't room to swing a cat in there. "Jack, what the hell is this?"
"Knife cuts, but Yanara rubbed something in them. Malek did the best he could to clean them up while we were on the run."
"Pretty good job for battlefield medicine," she commented.
Janet had a talent for creating an island of calm in a busy sickbay. A Tok'ra medic was healing a Marine lieutenant's severe staff burn, while at the next bed an Air Force nurse was taping a Jaffa's sprained ankle.
Jack was content for the moment just to lie still. Malek was all right, Jack could hear him and Jacob trading wise cracks in Goa'uld. The wounded Marine seemed to be coming along fairly well too, if complaining was any indication.
By then his back was numb enough for Janet to clean the wounds properly. Debriefing, including a zatarc test, came next. He and Malek both hated that, but it would at least get telling the whole story all the way through the most difficult first time out of the way, and they could be sure afterwards that they weren't walking time bombs waiting to go off. Janet's forbidding presence made sure no one rushed them or made it any worse than necessary in any way, and with Jonas there to translate they were free to tell it in their own languages.
Hammond asked Jacob Carter, "Can you get me some background on this Yanara?"
"I'll have what we've got sent over, but it isn't much. Once you know she's Amaunet's daughter, that's about all there is to tell. We're going to be seeing the rest of that clutch for a while but they won't be players unless someone more powerful supports their claim. Yanara would have never been able to collect the resources to kidnap Jack from Cimmeria without Osiris' backing."
"Then I think we have enough for tonight. Dr. Fraiser?"
"Colonel O'Neill, you can go. I want to see you tomorrow to recheck those wounds. Somebody make sure he takes all those antibiotics." Three somebodies nodded.
The Tok'ra healer didn't want Malek to go through the gate again that night, what he needed was sleep and a lot of it. Janet assured her that her patient would be fine where he was. "It's late, Indella. If you'd like I can arrange quarters for you."
"That's very kind."
Jacob went off to have a couple of drinks with Hammond. Two evacuations aside, this was their first planned joint mission, and neither of them could complain about how well it had gone. That had been entirely due to the commanders in the field, Ferretti, Bra'tac and Carter, understanding all three units' strengths and weaknesses, and putting their people in the best position to carry out Hammond's orders. Hammond felt he could report to the joint chiefs that, when a wormhole could be maintained, command and control from SGC could be very effective.
SG-1 took O'Neill home. He meant to go straight to bed and sleep until he had to go back to the doctor the next day, and he saw no reason for them all to stay there with him. But there was just no way he was going to be left alone anywhere until Fraiser okayed it. That was simply understood and it would have been true no matter who had been captured. Just knowing they were in the house was a reassurance that he was glad he didn't have to admit he needed after all. It wasn't just that they were there for him, it was also that he knew exactly where they were and that they were all right.
He washed up and got to bed. There was something unreal about that, as insane as the last week had been, to be safe in his own bed.
Carter tapped lightly at his half-open door. When she saw he was awake, she said, "You left your prescriptions on the kitchen table."
"Well, damn, you caught me."
She laughed and set the bottles and a glass of water on the stand. He didn't argue with the antibiotics, but only took one of the pain pills.
"I'll be right across the hall if you need anything."
"OK." Jack thought, he couldn't ask her for the one thing he needed. But until he retired, or until Sam got a promotion and a team of her own, her smile would have to do.
That wouldn't be so long, he realized. She would be up for promotion soon now, and such a capable officer wouldn't stay his 2iC forever. She was ready for a command of her own. It was hard to imagine not having her on his team, after six years. Almost as hard to imagine as being allowed to be with her, finally. They hadn't done the easy thing, but they had done the right thing, and the rewards weren't too far in the future now.
She crossed the hall and left the guest room door ajar. He could hear the mattress creak as she settled in. From downstairs came the quiet sounds of an occupied house -- the refrigerator opening and closing, the TV with the sound turned low, the creaky floorboard by the downstairs bathroom door. He'd been right. Keep focused. Keep fighting.
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