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Fragile Vessel

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Fragile Vessel
By JJJunky

 

Daniel Jackson tried to smother a yawn. He knew the airmen patrolling the corridors of Stargate Command thought he was a geek. To display his exhaustion would only reinforce their misconception. It was ten o'clock in the morning, late by their standards. They wouldn't understand why he was still tired. They didn't know, or probably care, that he wasn't sleeping well. Sha're came to him in his dreams. Sometimes as a loving wife. Other times as the monster she'd become when the Goa'uld invaded her body. He'd jerk awake to eyes that glowed at him from the darkness. Their light would fade with the memory. It was easier to stay awake than to relive his nightmarish loss.

"Hold up, Daniel," Samantha Carter called, trotting to catch her teammate.

Daniel waited. Her voice had sounded odd, but it wasn't until she sneezed he realized why. "You have a cold," he anxiously observed.

"A real beaut," Sam acknowledged, wiping her nose with a handful of tissues.

Frowning, Daniel asked, "Do you think you should be going on this mission?"

"I don't see why not. I sound worse than I feel."

"Does Jack know you're sick?"

"I'm not sick," Sam impatiently corrected, sniffing and wiping her nose again. "The colonel's left the decision up to me."

"Sam--"

Tugging at her friend's sleeve, Carter urged, "Come on. If we don't hurry, we'll be late."

The protest died on Daniel's lips as he followed the energetic woman. He knew how determined she was to be "one of the guys," but surely she must see how dangerous it would be to go on this mission? His concern grew as he trailed her into the briefing room. Jack and Teal'c had already arrived. Neither seemed disturbed when Sam sneezed. Taking the empty seat next to her, Daniel contemplated his options as he waited for General Hammond to arrive.

"Good morning, people," the career soldier greeted them, taking the chair at the head of the table.

"I think it's still a little too early for some of us, sir," Jack sarcastically replied, drawing attention to Jackson who was trying to stifle another yawn. "Daniel, you've really got to stop partying until all hours of the night."

Ignoring his officer's irreverence, Hammond said, "Shall we get down to business? Planet P3K-879 eagerly awaits your visit."

"Not as eagerly as we want to visit," Jack mocked.

Deliberately turning his back on O'Neill, Hammond asked, "Captain Carter, what did the MALP tell us?"

"It's name, possibly?" Daniel quietly inquired, reinforcing his disapproval of the binary code system used to designate the planets.

Biting her lip to suppress a smile, Sam shook her head. "The Stargate appears to be in a remote desert area, much like the American Southwest. Red rock predominates, with very little vegetation. Temperatures range from a hundred and twenty degrees Fahrenheit in the sun, to twenty-three degrees in the shade."

"Whoa," Jack gasped. "I'm no weatherman, but isn't a margin like that a little unusual?"

"Deserts generally are hot during--"

"The day," Jack finished, "and cold at night. I know. But we're talking about a hundred degree difference at the same time of day just in different areas. Aren't we?"

Sam nodded. "That's one of the things that makes this planet so interesting."

"Uncomfortable is more how I'd describe it."

"Since sunlight seems to be most prevalent," Sam continued, as if her superior hadn't spoken, "I suggest we wear desert gear."

Taking the team's agreement for granted, Hammond said, "If that's all--"

"No, sir," Daniel unhappily interrupted, "that isn't all. I don't think Captain Carter should be included in this mission."

"May I ask why?"

"She has a cold."

"I'm sorry, Captain," Hammond apologized. "I didn't realize you were ill."

An angry frown directed at Daniel, Sam reassured him, "It's just a cold, sir. I feel fine."

"It's not you I'm worried about," Daniel ruthlessly asserted, tapping the table with his hand. "It's the people on that planet."

"We don't even know if it's populated," Sam snapped, giving him a hostile glare.

"Probability says it is."

"Come on, Daniel," Jack appeased. Though he retained his affability, there was a distinct hardening of his eyes. "It's only a cold."

Daniel rubbed his brow in frustration. Could no one else see the danger? "Tell that to the twenty-five million people who died in Europe from the plague between 1347 and 1351."

"Carter, do you have the plague?" Jack demanded.

"No, sir."

Daniel continued, trying to make them understand his concern, "In 1837 a smallpox epidemic wiped out all but 125 members of the Mandan tribe. They had once numbered 3600."

His voice heavy with sarcasm, Jack asked, "Do you have the smallpox, Carter?"

"No, sir," Sam drawled, with a distinct mockery.

"Then there's the flu epidemic of 1918. Over six hundred and seventy-five thousand Americans died. More than were killed in all the wars of this century combined. The point is, General," Daniel pressed, clasping his hands to stop them from shaking, "we worry about what diseases we may bring back. Shouldn't we be equally as concerned about what we might carry to these planets?"

Hammond glanced at O'Neill and Carter before acknowledging, "I see the implication, Doctor, and I agree. Captain Carter you will stand down--"

"No!" Sam exploded.

". . . for the duration of this mission and until your cold is gone. Is that understood, Captain?" Hammond emphasized.

Avoiding eye contact with Daniel, Sam sat up straight. "Yes, sir."

"Couldn't we at least check with Dr. Frasier?" Jack suggested, also ignoring Jackson. "Maybe Carter isn't contagious."

"All right," Hammond reluctantly agreed. "I'll expect you in the embarkation room in one hour, with or without Captain Carter."

"Yes, sir." Jack rose and saluted.

"Dismissed," Hammond released them.

Daniel wasn't surprised when Jack and Sam hurried from the room without glancing his way. He knew he'd made them angry. Even Teal'c walked by without saying a word. Of course, with Teal'c it was hard to tell if it was because he supported his teammates, or he simply didn't have anything to say.

Looking down at his hands, Daniel sighed. Despite the results, he still felt justified in pressing the issue. Most of the planets they'd visited were incredibly primitive. A simple virus could wipe out an entire population. The responsibility to prevent such an occurrence rested heavily on his shoulders.

He jumped when a hand squeezed his arm.

"They'll come around," Hammond reassured him.

"I don't think so," Daniel pessimistically replied, licking dry lips.

"Right now, they're letting their emotions rule. Captain Carter's disappointed, and Colonel O'Neill feels you've usurped his authority."

"I never intended to do that," Daniel quickly defended himself, rising to his feet.

"I know, son," Hammond soothed. "Colonel O'Neill knows it, too, deep inside."

"And in the meantime?"

"I'd stay out of his way," Hammond wisely advised.

***

When Jack and Teal'c entered the Embarkation room without looking his way, Daniel knew Dr. Frasier had supported his evaluation. Glancing up into the control room, he met Sam's eyes. He'd never seen her so angry. It hurt to know it was directed at him. Their common background in the scientific field had drawn them together from the beginning. Despite her military training, she was the one who most often supported him. She was his friend. He felt closer to her than anyone, except Jack.

Daniel knew O'Neill still saw him as a geek. He was just a little less obvious about it. They had a shared history that had bonded them. But Daniel realized he had a long way to go before he would be accepted as an equal the way Teal'c and Sam were. Jack didn't always trust him. This latest incident would only serve to reinforce that suspicion.

The inner ring of the 'gate started to spin. By the time the seventh chevron locked into place Daniel had his helmet on and was adjusting the chin strap. The wormhole shot out toward them, before settling into the familiar wavy pattern. Jack and Teal'c walked up the ramp without a word. His heart heavy, Daniel's glance returned to the control room. The implacable expression on Sam's face was unnerving. Feeling more alone than he had since Sha're's abduction, Daniel climbed the ramp. Somehow, it seemed steeper this time. His usual sense of wonder missing, he stepped through.

A wall of suffocating heat struck him as he emerged on the other side. He gasped as he inhaled the super-heated air. Stumbling down the stairs, he joined Jack and Teal'c at the bottom.

"This way," Jack ordered, pointing to his right. "Unless, you have an objection, Dr. Jackson?"

Wincing at the heavy sarcasm audible in O'Neill's voice, Daniel shrugged indifferently. Even if he'd wanted to voice an opinion, he couldn't. He was having enough trouble just trying to breathe. For once, he envied the training Jack and Teal'c had received. It seemed to allow them to adapt more quickly to extreme conditions.

They followed a faint trail scored in the rocky ground. It twisted and turned marking the easiest path over the uneven surface. The terrain gradually began to rise. Breathing became even more difficult, causing Daniel to fall far behind. He longed to take off his jacket, but he was afraid the harsh radiation from the two suns might burn his skin. His clothes were soaked, clinging to his body and chaffing the soft flesh. Sweat trickled down his face and into his eyes making them sting.

No longer caring if he was left behind, he stopped. Pulling out his canteen, he took a long refreshing swallow. Though it was almost too hot to drink, water had never tasted so good. He closed his eyes, trying to imagine a tall glass of juice, so cold the container was dripping with perspiration.

"You can sleep later," Jack interrupted his daydream. "Come on up, we've found something."

Daniel could hear the annoyance in the deep voice. A self-pitying sigh escaped his lips. This was going to be a long mission. Feeling sorry for himself, he trudged up the hill. When he reached the top, all his discomfort was forgotten. Along the mesa top were abandoned pit houses, much like what had been found in Colorado and Arizona. Daniel eagerly began to explore. He was just about to enter the second house, when Jack called him.

"Wow!" O'Neill exclaimed, waving a hand for Daniel to join him at the cliff's edge. "Look at this."

Though reluctant to abandon the deserted village, Daniel obeyed. His breath caught in his throat when his eyes followed Jack's pointing finger. Ringing the cliffs in front of them were adobe dwellings dug into the side of the mesa. There were five different levels. Each level was connected by long ladders spaced systematically along the stretch of buildings.

"What is this place?" Jack whispered, kneeling to make himself a smaller target. "A giant bee hive?"

Sitting next to Jack, from exhaustion rather than fear, Daniel explained, "There are ruins like this in the Four Corners area in the Southwest. They've been linked to the Anasazi."

"I've heard of them. Didn't they vanish without a trace?"

"Initially, their fate was a mystery. Theories have since been advanced that are logical, if not as enigmatic. Some have attributed their disappearance to the drought that lasted from 1276 to 1299. Others believe most of the tribes were wiped out by disease. The few who survived were then absorbed into other nations."

"It looks like both theories were wrong," Jack snapped, rising to his feet.

Regretting that he'd unintentionally reignited his companion's ire, Daniel awkwardly rose. Though he was still uncomfortable in his sweat-soaked clothing, the short rest had eased his breathing.

"Let's go meet the folks," Jack suggested, leading the way to one of the ladders.

Daniel could only watch with admiration as first O'Neill and then Teal'c descended the stairs. Teal'c's feat was even more impressive since he was carrying his staff. As he climbed out onto the first rung, Daniel nervously started down. Perspiration coated his hands, making his grip tenuous.

His sigh of relief when he reached the bottom was short-lived. His companions had already reached the next level and were heading for the closest ladder. Divorcing himself from his task, Daniel slowly descended. When he finally reached the bottom, he was visibly shaking. Leaning on the ladder for support, he looked around, fascinated by what he saw. A field stretched from the end of the canyon to as far as the eye could see. Its grass was as green as any on earth.

Daniel took a few tentative steps away from the ladder and almost bumped into an old woman emerging from one of the dwellings. They stared at each other in shock for a few minutes. Finally, Daniel said, "Hello, I'm Daniel Jackson."

A loud piercing scream met his introduction. Throwing down the basket she'd been carrying, the old woman ran to the closest ladder. With an agility Daniel envied, she sprinted up it.

"You seem to be having a strange effect on women today," Jack caustically observed.

No sooner had the woman disappeared, then a loud rattling sound resounded through the clear air.

"I think she's calling for reinforcements," Jack mildly noted, unslinging his weapon.

"You won't need that," Daniel said, his lips puckered with annoyance. "If these are the Anasazi or an offshoot of that race, they're peaceful."

"There's that 'if' word again," Jack commented, releasing the safety.

The cynicism of the remark grated on Daniel. "They were known as the Basket Makers. Does that sound threatening?"

"When I see their eyes aren't glowing," Jack defended, his voice rising with authority, "then I'll lower my weapon. Not before."

Footsteps echoed against the cliff. The reverberating sound made it impossible to estimate how many there were. A line of men appeared, each with a spear held high over his shoulder ready to be thrown.

Jack raised his weapon. Teal'c followed suit.

Worried his companions' gesture could precipitate a war, Daniel stepped in front of Jack. Raising open hands, he yelled, "Najun."

A man near the center of the long line immediately stopped and lowered his spear. Stepping forward, he turned to address his men, "Nawajun." A hand indicated they should lower their weapons. Though several clearly displayed their reluctance, all complied.

Teal'c immediately raised his staff.

Dipping the barrel of his gun to the ground, Jack fiercely whispered, "Don't ever step in front of me again, Daniel."

Unhappily realizing his actions had increased Jack's animosity towards him, Daniel sighed. Things just seemed to go from bad to worse. He regretted ever getting out of bed this morning.

"What language are they speaking?" Jack asked.

"It's a derivation of Lakota." At the puzzled look on O'Neill's face, Daniel clarified, "Sioux. While it's not exact, it appears to be close enough we can communicate."

Flipping the safety back on his gun, Jack suggested, "Just be careful you don't say something like your mother wears boxer shorts. Those spears look pretty sharp."

The man who was the apparent leader turned to Daniel, surprising the team by speaking English, "I know your language. You are not Goa'uld, but he," he gestured to Teal'c', "is Jaffa."

"He was Jaffa," Daniel emphasized. "Now he has joined us to fight the Goa'uld."

"Then he is welcome."

The men started to disperse, some heading back to the fields, others climbed the ladders to the dwellings. A few gathered around their leader, lending support and gaping at the strangers.

Gently tapping his chest with his finger, Daniel said, "I'm Daniel Jackson."

"I am Tuane."

Since the man was dressed in the same short skirt and long-sleeved shirt as his companions, Daniel asked, "Are you the chief?"

"I am iyeskawahn," Tuane explained, "spokesman."

"What do you call yourselves?"

"We are the Anakam."

"What . . ."

"You have to forgive my friend," Jack interrupted, putting a warning hand on Daniel's shoulder. "His curiosity carries him away."

A smile curving his lips, Tuane nodded. "I understand. I too quest for answers."

"You know about the Goa'uld," Jack said, a frown set in his features. "Do they visit often?"

"Often enough that we have started to build new pueblos in some nearby caves." Tuane's expressive face grew somber.

"Are your spears the only weapons you have?" Teal'c inquired.

Tuane regarded the former Jaffa with puzzlement. "What else could there be?"

"Many must die when the Goa'uld come."

Holding his head high, Tuane proudly replied, "We fight with what we have. Many Jaffa die, too."

"Maybe we can help?" Jack offered, his eyes resting on the children peeking curiously down at them.

"Come," Tuane waved an arm, "you must be tired. You can rest, then we will talk of many things."

"Of shoes -- and ships -- and sealing wax. Of cabbages and kings," Daniel unhappily recited, following his colleagues up the ladders they'd just descended.

***

Sam's anger grew proportionately with each step Daniel Jackson took up the ramp to the Stargate. Her nails were digging into the palm of her hand by the time he disappeared. Then, the wormhole collapsed, filling her with a frustration she hadn't felt since she missed the first mission to Abydos.

She had almost hated Daniel Jackson back then. He had done in two weeks what she and her team hadn't been able to accomplish in two years of intensive research. He'd made the Stargate work. Sam liked to think she would've eventually made the correlation between the symbols and the constellations. But honesty made her wonder if she would've.

Daniel had opened this new world for them. And, though he was a civilian, his recommendations still carried a lot of weight. She knew he had no idea how much power he yielded. He still saw himself as the geek Jack O'Neill had once described him as. It was one of the things that made him so endearing. Most of the time, she felt protective of him. His insatiable curiosity and his trusting nature made him vulnerable. Despite all he'd been through, he chose to see the good in people. He never pulled his gun unless it was necessary. And he never drew it first.

Turning her face away, Sam sneezed into the wad of damp tissues in her hand. She felt her anger dissipating. Now that she wasn't going on the mission, she could admit she felt lousy. She wanted to hate Daniel. For a while, she thought she did. But it was impossible to stay angry with him for long. Guilt filled her as she remembered the hurt in the puppy dog eyes that had captured her own just before Daniel walked through the gate. They had begged forgiveness. When he returned, she would be the one asking forgiveness.

***

Daniel shivered as he hurried after Tuane. Night had fallen while they were inspecting the new pueblos being built in some massive caves. Regretfully, he realized they should've waited to visit the newest cave until the next day, for with the darkness had come a bone-chilling breeze. Fires burned in the dwellings beckoning him. His teeth started to chatter as he climbed the last ladder. His hands were so numb he could barely feel the wood rungs. He almost regretted accepting Tuane's invitation. As usual, he'd listened to the voice urging him to satisfy his curiosity, rather than the voice of common sense.

Though he yearned to be warm again, Daniel dreaded returning to the hokum they'd been given for the duration of their visit. Jack would be waiting. Not the wise-cracking Jack that Daniel had grown accustomed to and sorely missed. This Jack was more like the man Daniel had met on their first mission to Abydos. The same hidden anger, with the same contempt for Daniel's scientific curiosity.

Moisture left over from the hot sun had turned icy. It coated everything, slowing Daniel's progress. Near the top of the last ladder, his foot slipped. Numb hands desperately clung to the icy rails as his other foot slid off. A hand grabbed his ankle and placed it back onto a rung. His other foot soon joined it. Gasping in fear, Daniel whispered, "Thank you, Teal'c."

"You are welcome, Daniel Jackson. Do you require further assistance?"

"No," Daniel said, his voice stronger. "Thanks. We're almost there."

Teal's presence on the investigation had eased Daniel's heartache. At least the former First Prime wasn't holding a grudge. Hopefully, Sam and Jack would come around, too. He didn't want to think what might happen if they didn't. Would SG-1 be disbanded? Or would Daniel alone be reassigned?

Strong fingers wrapped around his wrist and pulled him to the top. He leaned against Tuane's warm body for a moment regaining his strength and balance.

"I'm sorry," Tuane apologized. "I did not realize the journey would be so difficult for you."

"It's my own fault," Daniel ruefully admitted. "I knew it would get cold. I just didn't realize how cold."

"Does it not get cold on your world?"

"In certain areas. I try to avoid them."

"It will be warm inside your hokum," Tuane encouraged.

Wrapping his arms around his waist to capture what little warmth he might have left, Daniel followed Tuane to the dwelling near the end of the middle tier. Empty since the previous occupant's death, it was the closest thing the Anakam had to guest quarters.

Adobe walls had trapped the heat, as he entered it wrapped around him like a warm blanket. Slipping under his clothes, warm air caressed his skin. His sigh was a mixture of relief and contentment, until he noticed Jack's eyes resting on him. Embarrassed, Daniel unnecessarily explained, "Its cold out there."

"Ya think?"

"Jack, you should've come with us," Daniel enthused, his excitement at what he'd found making him forget the enmity that currently existed between them. "The pueblos they've built in these caves are incredible. This whole set-up is reminiscent of Mesa Verde in Colorado. Toward the end of the 12th century, the Anasazi changed their living pattern, much like the Anakam are doing now. They abandoned the mesa top pueblos and built new ones in huge caves and along canyon walls."

"Why?" Teal'c asked, the tilt of his head showing his interest.

"No one knows. It didn't make any sense. The change appeared to be done as a defensive measure. No one knew against whom."

"But you think you know," Jack said, shrugging his shoulders in mock resignation.

"Another tribe, the Hohokam occupied a region southwest of the Anasazi in the Gila region of Arizona," Daniel eagerly explained, caught up in the wonder of their discovery. "They were called the Vanished Ones. I believe the Anakam are descended from the Anasazi and Hohokam, as their name suggests."

Interested, in spite of his lingering anger, Jack asked, "How did they get here? North America is quite a distance from Egypt and the Stargate."

"I know, that's why I think there might be another Stargate somewhere in the Southwest."

Jack frowned. "Oh great, a back door for the Goa'uld to come through."

"It's got to be buried or ours wouldn't work," Daniel pointed out.

"You know how I hate those if words. Probably, isn't good enough. We've got to warn General Hammond. Get a search started. We'll head back first thing in the morning."

"Couldn't I . . ."

"No!"

One look at Jack's face told Daniel that no amount of argument or protest would change his mind. Maybe he'd have better luck in the morning? Lying down next to the fire, he closed his eyes. His whole body ached, particularly his head. Though he thought he'd taken precautions, it looked like he'd gotten a touch of sunstroke. After a good night's sleep, things would look different in the morning. Jack might even have forgiven him and allow him to stay for a few more days. Right! And pigs could fly.

****

Jack jerked awake, immediately alert. In many of the situations he'd been involved in, you didn't wake-up gradually. If you did, you'd be dead. The soft moan that had roused him repeated. On the other side of the fire, Daniel stirred restlessly in his sleep.

A touch of the lingering anger that had been burning inside him all day made Jack hesitate. Ashamed that he was letting hurt feelings dictate his actions, he threw off his blanket and crawled to Daniel's side. Despite the fire, a bite of the cool night air invaded the hokum. He shivered when it brushed across his skin. Putting a hand on the younger man's shoulder, he gently shook it. "Daniel?" Another soft groan was the only response.

The short contact was enough to tell Jack something was seriously wrong. Daniel's clothes were damp, as though he'd just come in out of the rain. Uneasy, he put the back of his hand against his friend's cheek, the way he used to do when Charlie was ill. A banked fire greeted his touch. Fear investing his soul, Jack roughly shook the sleeping man. "Daniel, wake up."

"Sha're?" a hoarse whisper inquired.

Regretting the necessity of denying the identification, Jack gently slapped the flushed cheeks. "Daniel."

Dazed blue eyes partially opened to focus on O'Neill. "What's wrong, Jack?"

"You tell me."

Licking dry lips, Daniel admitted, "I don't feel very good."

"Where does it hurt?"

"My head mostly."

"I think you've got a pretty high fever, too."

The dim light of the fire causing him pain, Daniel closed his eyes, "It's probably a touch of sunstroke."

"There's that if word, again. We aren't waiting until morning. We're going home now."

"Jack . . ."

"Teal'c," O'Neill ignored the quiet protest, "tell Tuane we have to leave. Ask him if he can guide us to the Stargate."

The former First Prime nodded his understanding, before quickly complying with the request.

Grabbing his blanket, Jack pulled off the damp one covering his friend and replaced it with his own. He shivered; this time it wasn't from the cool night air, but the horrors he couldn't prevent his mind from conjuring up.

"Tuane is also ill," Teal'c gasped, stumbling into the room. "His mate says others have become sick."

"Okay," Jack uneasily decided, "get your gear. We'll find our own way."

A shaking hand snaked out from beneath the blanket to grab Jack's sleeve. "We can't go home, Jack," Daniel croaked.

"I don't want to hear that."

"Too many of us have gotten sick too suddenly. Whatever this is, it must be highly contagious."

"I said I didn't want to hear it," Jack growled, continuing to gather his gear.

Though it was an effort, Daniel pushed himself up on a trembling elbow. "Did you listen to me at all when I was telling Sam why she couldn't come on this mission?"

"I was listening," O'Neill softly acknowledged, his hands growing still.

The elbow collapsed, dropping Daniel to the hard ground. A cry of pain escaped his lips.

Jack abandoned his packing and returned to his friend's side. Easing Daniel into a more comfortable position, he pulled the blanket up to the shoulders and tucked it around the trembling body. A hand on Daniel's arm stilled his anxious movements.

"Jack, we can't go home."

"I know." Jack's voice cracked as he made the admission. He was scared. Fighting the Goa'uld was less terrifying than facing a microscopic virus. He preferred an enemy he could see. "Teal'c," his voice stronger, he summoned his teammate, "you'll have to explain Daniel's theory about another Stargate to General Hammond. Tell them what's happened. Give Dr. Frasier Daniel's symptoms. See if she knows what I should do to treat him."

"What are the symptoms?"

"Daniel?"

His voice barely loud enough to be heard, Daniel outlined, "Severe headache, fever, and prostration."

"I will tell Dr. Frasier," Teal'c promised. "And be back as quickly as I can."

"Be careful," Daniel warned, "remember everything's covered with ice."

"The sun will be up soon. I will be safe."

It took all Jack's courage to let Teal'c walk out the door -- alone. For the first time since he'd learned of their existence, he wished he had a larvae Goa'uld in his body. He didn't fear death. It was the way he would die that terrified him.

A soft moan reminded him he had something more important to worry about. He had to keep Daniel alive until Teal'c returned.

****

"Incoming travelers!"

The announcement made Sam pick up her pace. Entering the control room, she joined General Hammond at the large window overlooking the embarkation room. "Who's coming back?" she curiously inquired, mentally reviewing the schedules of the other SG teams to see who was due to return.

"SG-1," Hammond replied, a quick glance assessing her response.

"They must not have discovered anything," Sam said, a small smile of satisfaction on her lips. Though she still planned to apologize to Daniel, she wasn't above feeling a certain vindication at their failure. At least it looked like she hadn't missed anything.

Teal'c walked out of the wormhole, his noble bearing as impressive as ever.

Bouncing lightly on her toes, Sam waited for the remaining members of her team to follow. Panic squeezed her heart when the wormhole destabilized without any additional personnel coming through. "Where are Daniel and the colonel?" she demanded.

"Let's find out," Hammond ordered, a frown displaying his concern.

Without waiting for her superior, Sam ran down the stairs. She met Teal'c at the door of the Embarkation room. "Where's Daniel and Colonel O'Neill?" she repeated.

Teal'c waited until Hammond joined them, before revealing, "Daniel Jackson is ill."

"Why didn't you bring him home?" Sam glared at him with burning, reproachful eyes.

"He believes he is contagious."

"We can set up an isolation room," Sam glanced at Hammond for confirmation.

Ignoring her pleading eyes, Hammond demanded, "How contagious is he?"

"Extremely. In a matter of a few hours, almost half of the villagers we met were displaying symptoms."

"I'm sorry, Captain," Hammond said, his face clouded with uneasiness. "I need to know more about this disease, before I'll allow Colonel O'Neill or Dr. Jackson to return." Turning to one of the airmen guarding the entrance, he ordered, "Have Dr. Frasier report to the conference room, immediately."

"Yes, sir." The guard saluted.

As she followed the general and Teal'c up the stairs, Sam could barely hold back her tears. Daniel could die. What was worse, he would do so believing she hated him. How she wished she could turn back the clock. She'd be more understanding and supportive. But life didn't hand out second chances. You had to get it right the first time.

"General," Teal'c said, taking a seat to the officer's left, "there is another matter Colonel O'Neill felt was of equal importance."

"Nothing's more important than Daniel's life," Sam contradicted, her anguish peaking to shatter the last shreds of her control.

"As you were, Captain," Hammond admonished.

"P3K-879 is inhabited," Teal'c continued, as if neither of them had spoken, "by people who call themselves the Anakam. Daniel Jackson believes they are the descendants of two North American tribes, the Anasazi and the Hohokam."

Hammond nodded. "Mesa Verde, which was built by the Anasazi isn't too far from here."

"For both tribes to have disappeared so completely, Daniel Jackson believes there must have been a Stargate nearby."

"My God!" Hammond gasped, instantly understanding the significance of the disclosure.

The tilt of his head displaying his puzzlement, Teal'c relayed, "O'Neill called it a back door."

"He's right. I have to call the President." As Hammond rose to complete his task, Dr. Frasier entered the room. "Teal'c can fill you in Doctor. I'll return as soon as I can."

"Fill me in on what?" the petite young woman demanded in dazed exasperation.

"Daniel Jackson is ill on planet P3K-879," Teal'c revealed.

Concern furrowing her smooth brow, Frasier took the seat next to Carter. "What are his symptoms?"

"Severe headache, high fever, and prostration."

"Damn!" Frasier swore, her misgivings increasing by the minute. "There could be any number of things wrong."

Wrapped in a cocoon of anguish, Sam pleaded, "Couldn't we bring him back and place him in isolation?"

"It's too dangerous," Frasier said, her voice soothing, yet oddly disconcerting. "I need to know more. Teal'c, I could use blood samples from Dr. Jackson, Colonel O'Neill, and some of the villagers. Those who are infected and those who aren't."

Teal'c rose so abruptly his chair flew back and slammed into the wall, "I will leave at once."

"I'll get you a sample case," Frasier agreed, hurrying from the room.

Feeling a wretchedness of mind she'd never known, Sam whispered, "Teal'c, tell Daniel I'm sorry. He was right, and I was wrong."

"I will tell him."

Hot tears slipped down Sam's cheeks as she watched her teammate walk purposefully down the stairs. A raw and primitive grief threatened to overwhelm her. She remembered the last time she believed Daniel Jackson dead. She had never felt such despair. Her training had taught her to be dispassionate on the outside. But, they hadn't taught her how to stop grief from tearing her apart on the inside.

***

"Sha're!"

Jack's head jerked off his chest. Groggy from his sleepless night, he grabbed for Daniel's shoulders. The man fought him with an inhuman strength, until his fever ravished body surrendered. "Sha're's not here, Daniel," he unhappily disclosed.

"How can you say that?" Daniel demanded, trying to push away the hands holding him firmly to the ground. A finger pointed to a dark empty corner. "She's standing right over there, smiling at me."

"She's a Goa'uld, Daniel," Jack brutally reminded him. "Apophis made her his queen."

"No!" Daniel pleaded, "Sha're, don't go. Please don't go."

As the hoarse voice turned into a whimper, Jack eased his grip. Sitting back, he rinsed out a strip of cloth and gently wiped Daniel's sweaty face. This wasn't the first time Daniel had thought he'd seen Sha're. And, it probably wouldn't be the last. It was getting harder and harder to destroy the illusions. Daniel was happy in his dream world.

"I'm sorry, Jack."

"It's all right. You can't help it." Embarrassed, Jack admitted, "I'm the one who should be apologizing. You were right about Carter."

"It doesn't seem to have made much difference."

Shocked, Jack shook his head. "You don't think you brought this illness here?"

"It's a bit coincidental," Daniel pointed out. A hand gently massaged his temple as a soft moan escaped his lips. "We arrive and they suddenly become ill. I could be the catalyst for the very thing I tried to prevent."

Hearing the pain in his friend's voice, Jack soothed, "Why don't we wait to see what Dr. Frasier has to say, before we start placing blame?"

A sharp cry startled Jack making him fall back. In helpless despair, he watched as Daniel's body stiffened, then started to twitch and jerk. Recognizing the signs of a seizure, Jack leaned over and pulled the blanket off. Feeling superfluous, he tore Daniel's t-shirt at the neck to ease the unconscious man's breathing. Sitting back on his heels, he watched for each irregular breath. When the muscles finally relaxed, he turned Daniel's head toward him and tilted it back. Blessing the mandatory first aid courses he'd attended, he put Daniel's right arm under his buttocks and lay the other arm across his chest. Crossing a limp left leg over the right, he grasped the loose clothing at Daniel's hip and pulled the quiescent body until it rested against his knee. With his free hand, he tilted Daniel's head way back and made sure the airway was clear.

"O'Neill," Teal'c gasped, dropping his pack and kneeling behind Daniel, "do you require assistance?"

Trying to swallow the lump lingering in his throat, Jack shook his head. "It's all right now. Daniel had a seizure."

"Is that dangerous?"

"It's not good," Jack admitted. "It means there's an abnormality with the electrical activity in his brain."

"Is this another symptom of the illness?"

"Possibly," Jack sighed, rubbing sleep-deprived eyes. "It could also have been caused by the high fever. What did Dr. Frasier have to say?"

"The symptoms I described were too general. She's asked me to bring back some blood samples."

"Whose does she want?"

"Yours, Daniel Jackson's, and some of the villagers."

"We'll be easy enough," Jack noted, gently laying Daniel on his back and covering him with a blanket. "But I don't know how co-operative the Anakam will be. Daniel's blaming this epidemic on himself. It won't be long before they start making the same connection."

Stones rattled against the outside of the dwelling. A few found their way in through the open doorway.

Throwing his body over Daniel's, Jack grumbled, "I hate it when I'm right."

"Naya yan yo," voices screamed outside.

Hesitantly straightening, Jack whispered, "I wonder what they said?"

"They want us to go," a hoarse voice translated.

"Welcome back." Jack forced a smile, as he brushed a sweaty lock of hair off Daniel's damp forehead.

Licking dry lips, Daniel whimpered, "Jack, I can't feel my left side."

"Naya yan you," the shouting repeated.

Tears blinding his eyes and choking his voice, Jack reproved, "Teal'c, you better get the blood samples and get going."

More stones rattled against the wall.

"I cannot leave you under present circumstances," Teal'c protested, his usual mask of indifference noticeably slipping.

"You're Daniel's only chance," Jack softly accused. "I haven't gotten sick. Maybe Dr. Frasier can find out why and use it to save Daniel."

Taking a vial from the case, Teal'c drew blood from both men. "You are not safe here."

"I've still got my gun," Jack reminded him. "If the locals get too hostile, I'll scare 'em off."

Carefully packing the precious samples, Teal'c promised, "I'll be back as soon as I can."

Jack grabbed Teal'c's arm. "Don't come back unless you've got a cure."

Lips pressed firmly together, Teal'c pulled away.

"Teal'c, I mean it," Jack raged. "It isn't worth the risk."

"I can not be infected."

Jack floundered in an agonizing maelstrom. How could he explain he didn't want Teal'c to return, because he didn't want his friend to watch him die? Just as he was forced to watch Daniel slip further and further away. No one should endure such pain. "Consider it an order, Mister."

***

Sam nervously paced the control room, oblivious to the dirty looks directed her way from the technicians trying to concentrate on their duties. How long did it take to get a few blood samples? A life-time? Daniel's life-time?

Guilt stabbed at her heart making her catch her breath. Smothering a sob, she gritted her teeth. She couldn't break down, not here, not now.

"Incoming traveler."

Her fingers curled into fists, Sam demanded, "Who is it?"

"SG-1, Captain," the sergeant replied.

Holding her breath, Sam watched Teal'c walk solemnly onto the ramp. She continued to stare until the wormhole disengaged. Though her mind knew better, her heart had expected Daniel Jackson and Colonel O'Neill to follow. Turning away in disappointment, Sam ran down the stairs to the Embarkation Room.

"Did you get the sample?" Dr. Frasier asked Teal'c, taking the case from him.

"I did."

"How's Daniel?" Sam breathlessly demanded.

Sad eyes rested on her. "Daniel Jackson is experiencing what O'Neill called seizures. It appears the left side of his body is paralyzed."

Sam locked eyes with the physician. "Encephalitis?"

"It's a possibility," Frasier cautiously agreed. "How's Colonel O'Neill?"

"Exhausted, but well."

"If the colonel was going to get sick," Carter argued, "it would've happened by now."

Frasier shook her head. "He could have a natural immunity. Let me analyze these blood samples. I may know more then."

A sneeze destroyed Sam's mask of uncertainty. "Good luck."

Puzzled eyes followed the physician, before finally resting on Carter, "I do not understand," Teal'c confessed. "Do you know what is wrong with Daniel Jackson?"

"From the symptoms, it sounds like encephalitis."

"For which you have a cure?"

"No." Sam's initial relief disappeared.

"Then why is this good news?"

Her lips quivering, Sam explained, "Certain forms of encephalitis aren't contagious. Daniel and the colonel could come home."

"If it is a virus, but it is not contagious, how is it contracted?"

"From a parasite."

"Why did O'Neill not become ill?"

"Is there somewhere Daniel went, but the colonel didn't?"

Teal'c's answer was immediate, "Colonel O'Neill did not accompany us to the new dwellings the Anakam are constructing in some caves."

"My guess is that's where you'll find your parasite," Sam said, wiping her runny nose. "Only those who worked or visited the caves would've been bitten."

"But there is nothing you can do to treat Daniel Jackson or the villagers?"

Tears trembled on Sam's eyelids. "Nothing."

***

"Naya yan yo."

A rock struck Jack in the small of the back. Pain traveled down nerve endings to his exhausted brain. Wincing, he picked up his rifle. "That's it," he growled, flipping off the safety.

"Jack, please, don't," Daniel pleaded, laying his good hand on the angry man's knee. "They're scared enough all ready."

"They aren't the only ones," Jack softly whispered.

"Naya yan yo."

An apologetic expression on his pale face, Daniel said, "I think we should go."

"Go where?" O'Neill snapped, waving his arms to encompass the small, single room dwelling. "I didn't see any Holiday Inns around here. Did you? Running is not the solution."

"Neither is fighting," Daniel softly argued. His hand slipped off Jack's knee, what little strength he'd garnered in the last few hours expended. "You could move to the abandoned pit houses on the top of the mesa."

"Whaddya mean me?"

Nodding toward his paralyzed limbs, Daniel needlessly reminded, "I'm not in any shape to climb ladders."

"You think I'd leave you?" Naked hurt was visible on Jack's face. "To them?"

"Not willingly, no." Daniel's tongue whipped out to lick dry lips. "You don't have any choice."

A hand resting on the rifle in his lap, Jack contradicted, "This gives me a choice."

"Fear and intimidation?" Daniel sighed. "That's the Goa'uld way of doing things. You're better than that, Jack." Daniel closed his eyes, exhausted by the exchange.

Jack's eyes softened as they rested on his friend. "You only think I am."

"Naya yan yo."

"All right," Jack shouted, "we're going."

"We?"

"We," Jack emphasized.

Weariness investing his voice, Daniel pointed out, "Jack, you'll never be able to carry me up those ladders."

"We have two options. We both go or we both stay. If you choose the latter, I'm going to use the gun to scare them off."

"You have to leave me," Daniel insisted.

"That wasn't an option."

A single tear escaped from beneath Daniel's eyelid. "Jack, there's no reason why both of us should die."

"We finally agree on something," Jack cried, raising his hands in supplication. "Neither of us is going to die."

Emptying their packs, Jack took out his knife and cut and tied until he'd fashioned a harness. Securing it around Daniel's waist and chest, he tested it. He listened for a tearing sound as he lifted the straps. Dead weight pulled at his arms. Though Jack knew it was only a fraction of what he'd be carrying up the ladders, he ignored the little voice in his head telling him he'd never make it.

"Jack," Daniel helplessly protested, "this is insane."

Realizing he wouldn't be able to carry any additional weight on this first trip, Jack stacked the remainder of their gear in a back corner of the room. He hesitated before completing his final act. He hated being so vulnerable. Quickly, before he could change his mind, he popped the cartridges out of his rifle and sidearm and buried the pieces in different places in the pile. They would be at the villagers' mercy. "Okay, Daniel," he said, "you can tell them we're leaving."

His clenched jaw clearly displaying his displeasure, Daniel called, "Umkiyepi iteip eya."

"Are you sure they'll let us go?" Jack asked, glancing to where he'd hidden the guns.

"We're doing what they want. Why shouldn't they?"

Sometimes, Jack marveled at his friend's naiveté. At the same time, he envied it. He wished he could see people in the same trusting light. With a do or die attitude, he lifted Daniel into his arms and walked out the door. About a dozen villagers backed away from the entrance. They stood passively and watched as he crossed to the nearest ladder.

"Are you all set, Daniel?"

"I still think this is crazy."

"I'm gonna need your help. Do you think you can stand for a minute?"

"I'll try."

Jack lowered the smaller man's feet to the ground. His one good leg shaking beneath him, Daniel leaned against the ladder. Turning around, Jack knotted the arms of both his and Daniel's jackets around his neck. They would give his shoulders a measure of protection. Slipping his arms through the straps attached to the front of Daniel's harness, he tightened the bindings until Daniel's head was resting against his neck. Staggering under the load, he lifted his right foot onto the first step. Gripping tightly to the side rails, he lifted his left foot. Keeping as much weight forward as he could, Jack climbed rung by torturous rung to the next tier.

At the top, he crawled onto the rocky ledge and collapsed. Daniel's dead weight pressed down on him, making it difficult to breathe. Heat from the duel suns enveloped him, making him feel like a baked potato.

"Jack, please," Daniel softly pleaded, "leave me."

Not deigning to respond, Jack staggered to his feet. Their faces expressionless masks, villagers quietly watched. A fire ignited in Jack, giving him strength. Hands wet with perspiration fought for purchase. Sweat streamed down his face in rivulets. Its salty taste invaded his mouth. He yearned for a glass of water . . . another necessity he'd been forced to leave behind. His muscles screamed in agony.

At the top of the next level, he collapsed again. It took him longer to recover this time. Daniel didn't say a word. Jack's initial relief turned to concern. Twisting his head, he tried to catch a glimpse of the pale face from the corner of his eye. His struggle ended in frustration. Their relative positions made his attempt impossible.

One more flight.

Determination alone pulled Jack to his feet. Foot by agonizing foot, he climbed the ladder. Near the top, he felt Daniel move. "Daniel, stay still," he quickly warned, almost knocked off balance.

One hand was torn from its grip when Daniel violently twitched.

Recognizing the initial signs of a seizure, Jack wrapped his arms around the rails. Legs that had been pushed beyond their limit shook threateningly. A flaying arm punched him in the side, knocking the air from his lungs. Winded, Jack tensed, waiting for another attack.

The seizure finally ran its course.

Jack desperately scrambled up the last few rungs. He knew if he didn't do it quickly, he might not make it at all. Crawling out onto the mesa, he loosened the straps and slipped out of them. Ignoring the numbness that had invaded his body, he turned and placed his fingers on Daniel's neck. While one hand desperately searched for a pulse, the other unhooked the confining harness.

Only when his questing fingers found a throbbing vein did Jack allow himself to drop to the hard ground beside his friend. His limbs trembled, muscles spasming, objecting to the way they'd been treated. His exhausted body started to surrender, relaxing against Daniel's. Recognizing the danger, his mind screamed in protest. In just a few minutes, the sun had turned the exposed flesh on his arms a bright red. Daniel's face and arms were also turning crimson. He would have to seek shelter.

Regretfully realizing he didn't have the strength to carry Daniel, Jack lifted the unconscious man's torso and dragged him to the area where they'd discovered the pit houses. He wasn't picky; he chose the first one he came to. Leaving Daniel in the slight shade the stout building provided, he went inside. At first, the intense cold was a relief. Soon though, his teeth started chattering. He was shivering so violently, his muscles protested. Going back outside, he retrieved his jacket and slipped it on before returning.

Gathering the small pieces of wood and straw scattered about the floor, he placed them in a pile below the hole in the roof. There wasn't enough to make a big fire, but it would be adequate to take the chill out of the air. He'd have to gather a lot more wood and retrieve their blankets from the hokum. Even then, the long cold night wouldn't be comfortable.

A small fire flickered feebly behind him as he went to check on Daniel. Though he was still unconscious, a pulse beat methodically, if slowly. Jack was worried. Daniel had never been unconscious this long. Had the torturous climb aggravated his condition? Unfortunately, this was a question his limited emergency training couldn't answer.

As quickly as he could, he collected whatever would burn from the ground and the other abandoned homes. By the time he was done, he had a steady flame. Wishing Daniel would wake up, he awkwardly placed the younger man's limp left hand into the sleeve of his jacket. The task brought back painful memories of when he'd dressed his son. Gritting his teeth against the piercing ache, he pulled Daniel forward until the unconscious man was leaning against his chest. Tugging the jacket across Daniel's back, he slipped his right arm into the sleeve. Gently pushing Daniel back against the wall of the dwelling, Jack pulled the thick fabric up and brought the edges together. His fingers fumbled as he fought the troublesome zipper. A simple task when performed on himself, turned into a frustrating ordeal when done on someone else. Several times, he was tempted to give up. Only the bone chilling cold that had greeted his initial entrance made him persevere.

When he finally pulled the zipper to the top, he searched his pockets for the fingerless gloves he habitually carried. He had just begun to think he'd left them behind when he found them in an inside pocket. They wouldn't be much protection, but they were better than nothing. As soon as he'd slipped them on Daniel's hands, he dragged the helpless man into the relative protection the house offered.

Though he hated to leave Daniel alone, he knew they would need the blankets and other gear he'd left in the hokum. He almost cried as he thought about climbing up and down the ladders again. Despite his training, his body had already been pushed to the limits of endurance and beyond.

Checking Daniel's pulse one last time, he staggered to his feet. Blanking his mind of everything, except the necessity of retrieving their supplies, he stumbled to the cliff edge. Sitting down, he swung his legs out onto the first rung of the ladder.

"Yata heyayabi."

Jack couldn't translate the words the villagers were shouting at him, but he understood the threatening gestures, particularly those made by the ones who carried spears. They were not going to allow him to return to the hokum. How he wished he'd at least kept his handgun. Though he knew what the reaction would be, he made another tentative motion to descend the ladder.

"Yata heyayabi."

A spear whistled past Jack's ear. Admitting defeat, he backed away from the cliff edge. Disheartened, he made a wide circle, picking up scraps of wood on his return journey.

"Jack!"

The scream startled O'Neill out of his exhausted stupor. Dropping the arm load of kindling he'd collected, he sprinted to the pit house. Ducking inside, he stared in disoriented shock. The right sleeve of Daniel's jacket was on fire. With his other arm paralyzed, he was beating the burning limb against the ground trying to extinguish the fire. Tearing off his jacket, Jack dove at the flaying arm. Using the tough fabric and his own body, he smothered the licking flames.

The shock and pain of this latest ordeal audible in his voice, Daniel whispered, "I . . . know . . . what we . . . can call . . . this . . . planet."

Sitting up, Jack carefully lifted his scorched coat. First degree burns ran up Daniel's arm from the ball of his hand, almost to the elbow. Though he knew they had to be painful, Jack was relieved it wasn't worse. He didn't have the medical supplies or the skill to deal with third degree burns.

"Furies."

"What?" Jack finally focused on his friend's face.

"We can . . . call this . . . planet . . . Furies."

Jack thoughtfully regarded the younger man before finally replying, "I may regret this, but why Furies?"

"The Furies were Greek . . . goddesses who punished," Daniel's voice grew stronger as he lost himself in the world he loved, "the crimes of those . . . who escaped retribution . . . for their sins."

A red haze of anger enveloped Jack. "For cryin' out loud, will you give it a rest already? There's no proof we're responsible for this epidemic."

Afraid he'd say something that he might regret, Jack stalked back outside. In the dim light of the distant stars, he retrieved the wood he'd gathered. He hoped it would be enough to get them through the night. He shivered in the cold wind blowing relentlessly across the mesa. Muscles already stiff and sore, shivered uncontrollably.

His face and hands were numb by the time he reentered the pit house. Dropping the wood in a pile a safe distance from the fire, he blew on his hands. Kneeling close to the warm flames, he sighed as the heat enveloped him.

"Jack."

There was an edge in Daniel's voice making O'Neill wary.

"I want you to promise me something."

"What?" Jack asked, without agreeing to the proposal.

"Promise me you'll keep looking for Sha're."

"We will," Jack emphasized.

Seeming not to have heard O'Neill's qualification, Daniel continued, "If you find her and you can't remove the Goa'uld, I want you to kill her."

"What?" Jack turned his head so fast it made him dizzy. When his vision finally cleared, he strained his eyes, seeking Daniel's in the dim light.

"I know Sha're." Daniel caught his breath and choking back a sob, he revealed, "She would rather die, than go on living as a Goa'uld."

"Daniel . . ."

Tears glistened on Daniel's cheeks. "She has a strong spirit," he proudly declared, "but a soft heart. She would never willingly hurt another."

Knowing what the request had cost his friend, Jack reluctantly agreed, "I won't let her live as a Goa'uld."

"Thank you," Though Daniel's eyes were closed, tears continued to slip down his cheeks.

Jack turned away, granting the younger man a modicum of privacy to indulge his grief. It had been easy to grant Daniel's request. He barely knew Sha're. Killing her would be easier than watching his friend die.

***

An itch inside her nose was Sam's first warning. Diving for the box of Kleenex usually kept on the conference table for Daniel Jackson, she grabbed several sheets. She had barely lifted them to her face, when she sneezed.

"Bless you," Teal'c said.

Two more sneezes left Sam temporarily breathless. Wiping her nose and mouth, she finally replied, "Thank you."

Crossing to the long window overlooking the Stargate, she bit her lip in frustration. It'd been hours since Frasier had disappeared with the blood samples Teal'c had brought back. Sam had spent most of that time pacing. A scratchy throat and alternating bouts of sneezing and coughing told her she should've spent the time resting. But every time she lay down and closed her eyes, she saw Daniel's face the way he'd looked just before he walked through the gate to P3K-879. Guilt haunted her, making it impossible to sleep.

The sound of a door opening turned Sam around with a hopeful heart.

"Dr. Frasier is on her way up," General Hammond informed them, taking his usual seat at the head of the table.

The pulse in her throat throbbing with painful intensity, Sam took the chair to his left. She clasped her hands across her stomach to calm the butterflies fluttering within.

"What did you find, Doctor?"

Hammond's question drew Sam's attention to the petite woman entering the room. The frown creasing her brow heightened Sam's anxiety.

"Not much, General." Taking a seat next to Teal'c, Frasier explained, "The blood samples were clean. If it is encephalitis, as I suspect, that doesn't surprise me."

"So you still don't know anything more now than you did before," Hammond deducted.

"No." Frasier shook her head. "I don't know what Dr. Jackson has, but I do know what he doesn't have. That narrows things down a bit."

Biting her lip to contain the scream of frustration filling her throat, Sam growled, "What do we do now?"

"There's only one test that can conclusively confirm encephalitis," Frasier said, her eyes resting first on Sam, before shifting to Hammond. "A spinal tap."

"Can you teach Teal'c how to perform one?" the general inquired.

"No," Frasier insisted, "the process requires extracting fluid directly from the spinal column. If you don't know what you're doing, you could kill or paralyze your patient."

Sitting back in his chair, Hammond demanded, "Are you saying there's nothing we can do for Dr. Jackson or Colonel O'Neill?"

"General," Frasier looked at her hands, before continuing, "I'd like to go through the 'gate and perform the spinal tap."

"Out of the question."

"Mr. Teal'c can bring back the sample for analysis. There won't be any chance of contamination."

"You'd be unable to return until that was confirmed."

"I know," Frasier calmly replied.

Leaning forward, Hammond pressed, "If you're wrong, you'll never be able to come home."

"I'm not wrong," Frasier said, speaking with a quiet, but desperate firmness. "And I'm not trying to be a hero, General. If we can verify the diagnosis, we may be able to help Dr. Jackson and those villagers. At the very least we'll prevent more from becoming ill."

"My priorities are to my own people, Doctor, and that includes you. I'm not sure I can justify risking one life to save two." Rising, Hammond paced the area behind his chair.

The action reminded Sam of Daniel. He often paced when he was trying to recall some obscure detail. Tears of pain and frustration glistened in her eyes. "General, please. Daniel deserves a chance."

"Doctor," Hammond stopped to lock gazes with the young physician, "I can't order you to do this."

"You don't have too, sir. I'm volunteering."

His face a mask of indecision, Hammond crossed to the window overlooking the Stargate. Silence invaded the room. Finally, the pain of his decision reflected in the glass, he said, "You leave in one hour."

***

Daniel watched forlornly as the last spark died. He didn't bother to wake Jack. There was no fuel to reignite the fire, and it was too dangerous to search for more until it was light. Of course, once the sun came up, a fire would be unnecessary. The paradox of their situation wasn't lost on Daniel. Jack's body, curled next to his own, offered the only warmth. It wasn't enough. Daniel shivered. The numbness that had claimed the life from the left side of his body seemed to be spreading. Sometimes, he wondered why he kept fighting. It would be easier on Jack if he gave up. Daniel couldn't help but smile as he imagined his friend's reaction if he ever voiced his belief. Jack took his duties as leader very seriously. He would willingly die himself, before he'd allow Daniel to.

A dim ray of light shot across the floor into Daniel's eyes, almost blinding him. Turning his head away, his body soaked up the tepid heat accompanying the beam. Flesh that had been shivering uncontrollably, stilled. He lay quiet, savoring the feeling. Voices from outside aroused him.

Conscious of the burned flesh on his arm, Daniel gently elbowed Jack's chest. When this failed to gain a response, he jabbed a little harder, flinching as his aching arm tingled. "Jack, wake-up. I think we're going to have visitors."

Jack yawned and stretched muscles that had stiffened overnight. "Did you invite anyone for breakfast?"

"I thought I'd wait until we settled in a bit before we had a house warming."

Shivering in the cold trapped inside the adobe walls, Jack muttered, "This place could use a lot of warming."

"Hinanpaya."

Puzzled eyes rested on Daniel.

"They want us to come out," Daniel translated.

"Why?" Jack demanded, scooting to the door and cautiously peering outside.

"I guess we'll find out when we get out there."

"Not on your life," Jack sharply replied, his voice firm, final. "They already have a weapons advantage. I'm not giving them position too."

"Hinanpaya."

"Ask them why they want us to come out," O'Neill ordered.

Hesitantly, torn by conflicting emotions, Daniel called, "Takuwe?'

"Wojuhana ektaya wakan tanka nou."

When Daniel didn't immediately translate the reply, Jack grew impatient, "Well?"

"I - ah, think," Daniel shuddered, as he drew in a deep breath, "I think, they want to sacrifice me to appease their Gods."

"They can think again," Jack growled, pulling his knife from its sheath.

Keeping all emotion from his voice, Daniel pointed out, "They have spears, Jack. You can't fight them."

"I can try."

"And die for nothing?" His voice softening, Daniel argued, "I may be dying already, Jack. You'd be sacrificing yourself for nothing. I can't let you do that."

Earnest eyes sought Daniel's. "I don't see how you can stop me."

Daniel's eyes filled with tears of frustration. "Don't do this, Jack. I don't want you to die for me."

"Hinanpaya." The voices outside were becoming louder, more insistent.

"Do you really think I would trade my life for yours?" Jack demanded.

"No." Daniel unhappily conceded.

"Colonel! Colonel O'Neill?"

Grim features relaxed. "The Cavalry has arrived," Jack delightedly observed. "It's Teal'c."

As Jack ducked out to greet their teammate, Daniel closed his eyes trapping the tears. He'd tried so hard to be brave. Had Jack seen his fear? Had his weakness influenced Jack's decision to sacrifice himself?

The unmistakable sound of an energy weapon charging, reached Daniel's ears. He bit his lip, swallowing a protest. Though he wasn't comfortable with the decision, this time he wouldn't chastise his companions for their aggressive methods. Jack was doing what he thought best to protect his team.

A ball of energy streaked into the sky. Cries of alarm echoed into the pit house. Daniel tried to shut out the sound.

"Dr. Jackson?"

The tears blurring Daniel's vision disappeared as his shocked gaze rested on Dr. Frasier's face. Surprise was quickly replaced with fear. "What are you doing? You shouldn't be here."

"I'm glad to see you, too," the young woman sarcastically returned.

"You'll have to forgive Daniel," Jack said, following her into the house. "He gets a little cranky when someone wants to use him as a human sacrifice."

"I just don't like her risking her life," Daniel defended. An unspoken "for me" hung in the air.

Putting a large case on the floor near Daniel, Frasier explained, "The blood samples Mr. Teal'c brought back, plus your symptoms point to encephalitis. However, before we can bring you back through the Stargate, we have to be sure."

"How do you plan to get that proof?" Daniel suspiciously inquired.

"Since there aren't any electrical outlets to plug in a CT scanner or an EEG machine, I'll have to do a spinal tap."

"Oh."

"First though," Frasier said, addressing O'Neill, "we need some heat in here."

While Jack and Teal'c hurried away to gather wood, Frasier opened the case. Removing a ground sheet, she laid it on the dirt floor near her patient. A thick blanket was placed on top. She took out a thermometer and placed it in Daniel's mouth. Taking out a jar of ointment, she gently coated the burned arm. A light bandage followed. "Normally," she explained, "I'd leave the burns open to the air. They would heal faster. But, considering the unsanitary conditions, I prefer to play it safe."

His mouth wrapped around the flat plastic gage, Daniel could only nod his understanding.

Removing the thermometer, Frasier turned a flashlight on it. "103," she muttered. "Not good, but not as bad as I expected."

"It's gone down," Jack informed her, his arms trembling under the load of wood he'd collected.

"How can you tell?"

Jack shrugged his shoulders. "Daniel is Daniel again."

Teal'c entered with an even larger pile of kindling. "Will this be sufficient, Doctor?"

"For now," Frasier decided. "As soon as you get a fire going, could you put Dr. Jackson on the blanket?"

Daniel watched helplessly as his friends followed orders. The warmth of the fire seeped into his bones, relaxing tense muscles. His face flushed with embarrassment when Jack and Teal'c lifted him and laid him gently on the makeshift bed. He felt like a newborn baby. It was disconcerting having so little control over his body.

"Put him on his side," Frasier instructed. "His chin should be on his chest and his knees drawn up."

Daniel was grateful for the semi-darkness that hid the flush in his cheeks. His pride had been seriously bruised. Jack's opinion of him hadn't been high before. This latest procedure would only reinforce his earlier view. Every time he took one step forward, he took two back. If he survived this, Jack would never respect him again.

A sharp stab to his back made Daniel gasp, more in surprise than pain.

"That was a local anesthetic," Frasier explained.

Two battery powered lights were switched on. Their brightness made Daniel wince. Even with his eyes closed, he couldn't escape the glare. The distinct odor of disinfectant made his nostrils twitch. The loud snap as rubber gloves encountered flesh made him jump.

"Colonel, Mr. Teal'c, I need you to hold Dr. Jackson still," Frasier said, the needle in her hand reflecting the light. "I'm going to extract fluid from the lumbar vertebrae at the base of his spine."

Jack's heart leapt into his throat as he listened to the doctor detail the procedure. It wasn't so much what she was saying, as what she wasn't saying that made him tremble. Even with the anesthetic, Daniel would feel the needle puncture his lumbar. The agony would continue as the fluid was slowly extracted. Hadn't Daniel been through enough?

At Frasier's nod, Jack put one hand on Daniel's head, keeping it pressed down against his chest. He then placed his other hand on Daniel's right shoulder. Teal'c took up a position near Daniel's feet, careful to stay out of the doctor's way.

Taking a deep breath, Frasier leaned down and placed the needle between two vertebrae. Her hands steady, she slowly pushed it through the tough layer of epidermis. A tiny drop of blood dripped onto a gloved finger.

A stifled groan escaped from deep within Daniel's throat.

Jack swallowed hard, biting back screams of frustration. He wanted to whisper encouragement, but he couldn't speak. The words were locked in his throat.

"Hold still, Dr. Jackson," Frasier warned. "We're almost finished."

When Daniel didn't respond, Jack dropped his gaze to the pale face. Tears trickled down stained cheeks. The sight almost shattered Jack's self-control. He quickly looked away.

By the time Frasier withdrew the needle, Daniel's clothes were damp with sweat. The agony of his ordeal was etched on his expressive face.

Covering the puncture wound with a sterile bandage, Frasier said, "You can lay him down now."

Jack eagerly complied, anxious to escape. He needed time to rebuild his defenses. An agonized scream escaped Daniel's clamped lips, as Jack laid his head on the blanket. Jack blanched, "What did I do?"

"Nothing," Frasier soothed, "the fluid I extracted cushions the brain. When you moved his head, the brain bumped into his skull."

"Will he be all right?"

"Except for one hell of a headache, he'll be fine."

"Oh God, Daniel," Jack apologized, "I'm sorry."

An attempted smile turned into a grimace. "No . . . choice," Daniel comforted. "I . . . was beginning . . . to feel . . . like a pretzel."

Jack looked away, biting his lip. Even in excruciating pain, Daniel was trying to make him feel better.

Pulling a small container from the large case, Frasier carefully placed the needle inside. Handing it to Teal'c, she said, "You'd better go."

Teal'c swiftly rose and crossed to the entrance. He paused before stepping outside. "O'Neill, I will leave my staff weapon in case the villagers return."

"Thanks, Teal'c," Jack gratefully accepted.

As the former First Prime disappeared, Frasier asked, "What did the villagers want anyway?"

"Daniel."

"Why?"

"To sacrifice him to their god."

Her face visibly paling, Frasier stuttered, "Oh."

***

Sam stared at the Stargate, willing Teal'c to return. She'd started her vigil in the control room, until she'd grown tired of the looks of pity directed her way. She didn't deserve anyone's pity.

In the Embarkation Room, the guards who were securing the facility against a Goa'uld attack were oblivious to her presence. Sniffing, Sam wiped her nose on the fistful of damp tissues in her hand. A sneeze that echoed around the cavernous room turned her face a bright crimson. None of the airmen even glanced her way. Their attention remained focused on the Stargate. Most, if not all, had known at least one of the five victims killed in Apophis' initial raid. Duty, self-preservation and a desire for revenge played a role in their diligence. Sam joined their vigil, though for entirely personal reasons.

It felt strange. Daniel was in danger, and she wasn't there to protect him. He was one of the few men who'd ever accepted her as a doctor and a captain in the military. He rarely challenged her decisions or tried to take charge when the two of them worked together. She'd never had to prove herself to him.

Tears glistened on her eyelashes. She blew her nose and hoped the guards would attribute her sniffles - and weakness - to the cold.

"Captain Carter?"

Sam straightened when General Hammond appeared at her side. "Yes, sir?"

"Haven't you heard a watched pot never boils?"

"Teal'c should be returning soon, sir."

"Even if he does, it'll still be hours before we know the results of the tests," Hammond gently pointed out.

Sam unhappily nodded. "I know, sir."

"Then will you please go somewhere and lie down, before you infect the rest of my command."

Her bloodshot eyes avoiding her superior's questing gaze, Sam argued, "I'm fine, sir."

"I don't appreciate being lied to by my junior officers, Captain."

Abashed, Sam apologized, "Sorry, sir."

"Get some sleep," Hammond softly ordered. "I'll have someone contact you as soon as we know something."

Though reluctant to leave, Sam came to attention and saluted. "Yes, sir."

"Dismissed, Captain."

With a last look at the Stargate, Sam marched from the room. Once she was out of the general's sight, she sagged against a wall. She hadn't realized how much she'd depleted her energy reserves. She wouldn't be any help to Daniel or the colonel if she became a patient herself. This time, she vowed, she would be there for Daniel.

***

Shadows danced on the adobe walls. Jack watched them as he tried to figure out what had awakened him from the first real sleep he'd had in days.

"Sha're?"

The questing voice was almost lost in the crackling fire. Jack lifted his head and stared across the flickering flames at his friend. Daniel hadn't moved or spoken since the spinal tap. Soft moans escaped dry lips, testifying to the pain he continued to endure. Glancing toward the door, Jack saw Frasier had dropped off to sleep. Though she was suppose to be on guard duty, he couldn't blame her. It'd been a trying day, emotionally and physically.

"Sha're, wait for me."

Scrambling out of the sleeping bag Teal'c had thoughtfully brought with him, Jack crawled around the fire. Laying a hand on the anthropologist's shoulder, he whispered, "Daniel?" Even through the thickness of the blankets, he could feel the heat radiating from the body under his touch.

"Sha're's here, Jack." Glazed eyes stared up at him.

"No, Daniel, she isn't."

The unfocused gaze shifted to a dark corner. "I have to go to her."

Somehow, Jack knew he couldn't indulge this fantasy. "You can't go to her, Daniel," he desperately prevailed.

"But I miss her."

The raw pain in the choked voice almost broke Jack's resolve. But, he knew if he didn't fight the illusion they would lose Daniel. Cupping the flushed face between his hands, Jack whispered, "I know you miss her, but you can't go. We need you here." Playing on Daniel's protective instincts, Jack softly added, "I need you."

Long lashes closed over the bright blue eyes. "Sha're needs me more."

Jack's grip tightened as he gently shook the limp head. "No, she doesn't. You said it yourself, she's strong. She'll wait for you."

"I don't want to wait," the childish voice peevishly protested. "Please Jack, help me."

The plea almost broke Jacks' resolve. He knew the pain of loving someone and losing them. It was an agony that would be renewed if he allowed himself to accede to Daniel's wishes. "Doctor," he called.

Years of training brought the young physician instantly awake. "What's wrong?"

"Daniel's worse."

"Jack," Daniel cried, "help me. Sha're!"

Crossing to O'Neill's side, Frasier muttered, "It could be the disease or it could be his arm's become infected."

"Sha're, don't leave. I want to go with you." Daniel threw off his blankets.

"Does the cause really matter?" Jack impatiently demanded, gently holding Daniel down.

"Definitely. It determines what drug I should use."

His eyes resting on Daniel's flushed face, Jack whispered, "I buried him once. I'm not doing it again, Doctor."

Sympathy visible in her eyes, Frasier swallowed past the lump in her throat. "I guess the medications can't hurt him any more than the fever is." Digging into her medical bag, she extracted two hypos and deftly injected the contents into Daniel's arm.

"Now what?' Jack anxiously inquired, feeling the body beneath his hands slowly relax.

"Now," Frasier put a hand on her patient's shoulder, "we wait."

***

"Captain Carter?"

Sam turned away from the demanding voice. It was always the same. She'd just fallen asleep, and someone wanted her awake. Her eyes burning a protest, she partially lifted heavy lids. When she saw her visitor was Teal'c, she abruptly sat up, almost bumping heads with the former First Prime. "You're back."

"I returned some hours ago."

"Why didn't anyone wake me?" Sam angrily demanded, swinging her legs over the edge of the cot. "General Hammond promised."

Teal'c tilted his head, "You would have lost sleep unnecessarily. There was nothing to report until the tests on Daniel Jackson's spinal fluid were completed."

"What were the results?" A sneeze punctuated Sam's question. Sniffling, she leaned over to slip on her shoes.

"It is encephalitis as Dr. Frasier diagnosed. Though it is a mutated form, it is not contagious."

Stunned, Sam stared up at the tall black man., "Daniel can come home?"

"That is correct."

She'd been waiting and hoping for so long, Sam found it difficult to comprehend that what she'd wanted would finally come to pass. Tears filled her eyes.

"I will be returning to planet P3K-879 in thirty minutes," Teal'c continued, seemingly oblivious to her emotional breakdown. "SG-3 and a medical team will accompany me."

"Why? Daniel's coming home." Sam rose and pulled on her fatigue jacket.

"To aid the villagers. They will spray the caves with insecticides to alleviate the parasites."

Sam blushed. In her concern for Daniel, she'd forgotten about the stricken villagers. As Teal'c turned to leave, Sam put a hand on his arm. She had one more question. Knowing her friend wouldn't lie to her was both a blessing and a curse. "Teal'c, how was Daniel when you left?"

"He was in great pain from the spinal tap."

Teal'c's voice softened. At first, Sam thought it was her imagination.

"Daniel Jackson is a fighter. He will not submit to this illness."

"I know." Sam closed her eyes. Tears coated her lashes. "I guess I just needed reminding."

***

Teal'c's staff in hand, Jack patrolled the perimeter of the abandoned mesa. Villagers were massed near the edge of the cliff, but no one made any threatening gestures or tried to approach. They'd seen the power of the Goa'uld weapon and obviously had no desire to challenge it. Jack knew Daniel wouldn't approve of his using force to subdue the angry mob. He didn't care. No one was going to sacrifice Daniel to appease a pagan god who didn't have the power to end the suffering.

"Colonel!"

The doctor's cry made Jack's heart thump wildly in his chest. Instead of returning to the pit house, he wanted to run and hide. The truth didn't always set you free. Daniel's death would lock him in a prison of heartache he could never escape. He'd made a partial bid for freedom since Charlie's death. Another would seal it tight again.

"Colonel O'Neill?"

Jack couldn't ignore the urgency in the physician's voice. Despite the suffocating heat, he broke into a run. Though it was a short distance, sweat was trickling down his brow by the time he arrived. His clothes clung to him as though he'd been caught in a rainstorm.

Breathing heavily, Jack ducked into the crumbling building. In the dim light of the fire, his eyes immediately sought the doctor's.

"Look," Frasier smiled at him, as she turned down the blankets covering her patient. The hand, that had been paralyzed, was opening and closing. "His fever's almost gone, too," she happily announced.

"He's going to be all right?" There was an unusual tremor in Jack's voice. A rare display of emotion for the normally reserved man.

"I won't be sure until I'm able to run some tests, but it looks good."

"Jack?"

The weak voice sounded beautiful to Jack's ears. Kneeling beside Daniel, he said, "Welcome back."

"Did I go somewhere?"

"You tried," Jack whispered, realizing how close he'd come to losing his friend. "How do you feel?"

"Like someone used my head for a bowling ball," a soft moan accompanied the analogy.

"What can I say? I got bored."

"Dr. Jackson," Frasier broke in, "I'd like to see how much muscle control has returned. Could you move your left foot for me?"

Fierce concentration on his face, Daniel complied.

"Can you bend your knee?"

Though the leg shook uncontrollably, Daniel followed the instruction.

The weariness on her patient's face making her pause, Frasier softly encouraged, "One last thing, then we'll let you sleep."

Daniel nodded complacently.

"Please lift your arm."

The limb rose, though it barely cleared the ground.

"That's wonderful," Frasier praised. "Why don't you try to sleep now?"

The voice was slow and soft, "I don't . . . think . . . I'll have to . . . try . . . hard."

Jack helped the doctor replace the blankets over the sleeping man. Relief made him feel dizzy. This nightmare would be over soon. His complacency was shattered by the sound of voices outside. Grabbing the staff weapon, he hurried to the door.

"Colonel O'Neill?"

Slipping outside, Jack raised a hand to greet Teal'c and the team that had accompanied him. When he saw how badly his arm was shaking, he let it drop to his side.

"Teal'c" Frasier greeted the new arrival, "what were the test results?"

"It is encephalitis as you suspected, Doctor," Teal'c solemnly reported. "It's a mutated strain . . ."

"Which is a blessing," Frasier interrupted. "We have drugs that are effective against it."

His head tilted in puzzlement, Teal'c asked, "How did you know this?"

"Dr. Jackson took a turn for the worse last night. I figured the drugs couldn't hurt him any more than the fever was."

Teal'c's eyes immediately sought O'Neill's. "Daniel Jackson will be all right?"

"It looks that way," Jack reassured him. "The paralysis has disappeared, too."

His satisfaction at the news reflected in his dark eyes, Teal'c said, "Captain Carter will be pleased. She has been very worried."

"I'll bet," Jack agreed, realizing she must be feeling the same guilt he had been.

Doctor Warner stepped forward. "Colonel, if you could direct us to the village, we can start treating the inhabitants."

"Now that could be a problem." Jack frowned.

"Why is that?"

"The last time we saw them, they wanted to sacrifice Daniel to their god."

"Oh." The older man swallowed past the lump in his throat. "I see what you mean. Would it be possible to try to get close enough to talk to them?"

"Only their Spokesman appears to speak or understand English and he's ill."

Undeterred, the physician pressed, "Is there any other way to communicate with them?"

"Only if one of your people speaks Lakota."

Though the voice sounded distant and fragile, there was an intensity that made it impossible to ignore. "I can talk to them, Jack."

Ducking into the pit house, Jack protested, "Daniel, you can barely hold your head up."

"Maybe my body isn't working so great," Daniel conceded, "but there's nothing wrong with my mind."

"That's debatable."

"Do you think I can lie here and do nothing, when I can help save lives?"

The logic of Daniel's argument was impossible to ignore. Despite the way they'd been treated, Jack felt no animosity toward the villagers. He understood the fear associated with the loss of a loved one. "Teal'c, help me."

Together, the two men lifted Daniel to his feet. Supported on both sides, they carried him outside. Eyes, unaccustomed to the bright light, squinted shut.

"Wait a minute," Frasier ordered, rushing back into the pit house. She returned with her camouflage hat and placed it on Daniel's head. She tilted it so it would shade his eyes. "How's that?"

"Better," Daniel gratefully acknowledged.

Nodding to where the sun hung halfway down the sky, Teal'c said, "We'd better hurry. It will be difficult and dangerous to try to return to the Stargate at night."

Jack warily regarded the villagers as they made their approach. They didn't have any reason to trust these strangers who had suddenly appeared in their midst. How Daniel would convince them to accept help had him worried.

"Hau," Daniel greeted them. "Tokel, Tuane?"

A young boy broke away from the group and hurried down the ladder.

When one of the SG-3 marines raised his weapon, Jack ordered, "Hold your fire." As soon as he'd confirmed that his command had been obeyed, he whispered, "What did you say, Daniel?"

"I asked them if I could talk to Tuane."

Remembering his own torturous journey up the ladders, Jack hoped the villagers wouldn't have to carry the weak spokesman to the top of the mesa.

"Unk's el wookiye," Daniel told the remaining crowd.

No one spoke, or even acted as though they understood his plea.

The young boy returned with another boy who appeared to be in his late teens. "Wesa says you want to speak to my father."

Momentarily speechless with shock, Daniel stuttered, "Is Tuane your father?"

"He was. He died yesterday morning."

"I'm sorry," Daniel's voice cracked, displaying the depth of his feelings. "Your father was a wise and just Spokesman."

Throwing his thin shoulders back, the boy announced, "I am Spokesman now. Why do you not leave?"

"We couldn't until we knew what had made me ill."

The young face lost its stern visage. "You are no longer sick?"

"No. We have medicines that helped me and could help your people."

"You brought the sickness. Why should I believe you?"

"No, we didn't," Daniel anxiously protested, his voice weakening. "The disease was caused by a parasite." At the confused look on the boy's face, Daniel clarified, "A bug that lives in the caves where you are building your new pueblos. The only people who got sick are the ones who worked or visited the new section you just opened up. That's why I got sick, but my friend didn't."

"I don't believe you."

"Did you work in the caves?"

"No," the boy reluctantly admitted, "my chores kept me in the fields."

Daniel pulled his arm free of Jack's grip to wave it at the villagers. "Wiwanyang takukates mis shan mahel makohlokas."

For the first time, several of the villagers responded to Daniel, by shaking their heads in the negative.

"You see," Daniel nearly lost his balance as he pressed his advantage.

Quickly grabbing his arm, Jack cautioned, "Easy, Big Guy. You're not ready to solo yet."

"Please," Daniel pleaded, "let us help you. We have medicines to make your sick well and poisons to kill the bugs."

The boy caught Daniel's eyes with his own. "My father said that though you speak it badly, you know the words of our ancestors. This means you are special. My father was wise. I will respect his beliefs and accept your help."

A tired smile lifted the corners of Daniel's mouth. "Your father would be proud of you."

"Thank you." The boy bowed slightly to show his appreciation.

"May your god guide your spirit wisely," Daniel extolled him.

When the boy turned to talk to his people, Daniel whispered, "Jack, unless we want to destroy everything I just pledged, we better beat it. I think I'm gonna pass out."

"Right," Jack agreed, wrapping an arm around Daniel's waist, "we're outta here. Dr. Warner, you're on your own."

The physician didn't look happy, but he nodded. "Understood."

They hadn't gotten very far, when Jack felt a limp head rest on his shoulder. Dead weight almost pulled the body from his arms. To his surprise, he felt anger toward his friend. Why did Daniel keep pushing himself? He seemed to have no sense of self-preservation.

***

This time when Daniel woke up it was to the sterile environment of the SGC infirmary. He wallowed in the softness of the thick mattress and savored the comfort of a room that wasn't too hot or too cold. Even the constant stinging of his burned arm had abated.

There was however, a weight on his hand he couldn't explain. He cautiously opened his eyes, remembering his initial reintroduction to sunlight after so many hours spent in the shadowed pit house. To his surprise and delight, he found the lights in the infirmary had been dimmed. The soft haze that had coated his eyes during his illness had disappeared. A relieved gaze rested on a blonde head pillowed on his hand. A soft sight escaped his lips. Sam didn't hate him. Maybe in time, she would even forgive him.

Someone dropped a tray in the next room. The noise reverberated into the infirmary, waking the sleeping woman. Raising her head, Sam sheepishly smiled. "Hi. Welcome home."

"Believe me," Daniel fervently returned, "it's good to be home."

Looking away, Sam took a deep breath to reinforce her courage. "Daniel, I'm sorry about the way I acted before you left."

"It's all right--"

"No," Sam interrupted. She swallowed hard, biting back tears, "It's not all right. Your argument was valid. Even before all this happened, I knew that. I let my desire to visit a new planet blind me to the truth."

His voice gently chiding, Daniel pointed out, "If anyone can understand how you felt, it's me. You don't have to explain."

"I," Sam spoke in a weak and tremulous whisper, "could've killed someone with my selfishness."

The vice that had gripped Daniel's heart when he thought himself responsible for the villagers' illness was only a memory. But he knew he would not soon forget its grip. He prayed he wouldn't. Then, he would never be tempted to ignore his body's weaknesses and follow his own selfish desires.

Sam held his hand in both of hers and hugged it to her chest. "Don't ever scare me like this again. I thought you were going to die."

"Every time we step through the gate one of us could die."

"I know, I just . . ." Sam stuttered to a halt.

"You just what?"

Tears glistened on her eyelashes. "I was afraid you were going to die thinking I hated you."

"I knew you weren't too happy with me," Daniel ruefully admitted. "I understood."

"You're too forgiving," Sam impatiently accused. "I don't deserve it."

"Will you feel better if I rant and rave like General Hammond?"

Sam smilingly shook her head. "I guess not."

"Good," Daniel tiredly sighed, "I don't think I have the strength."

Her nose twitching, Sam fought back a sneeze, only to have it explode in the middle of a yawn.

"It looks like I'm not the only one who needs rest," Daniel gently observed. "I'll see you tomorrow."

"Yeah," Sam agreed, giving his hand a squeeze, "I guess I do."

Rising, Carter took one last reassuring look at the pale face, before forcing herself to lay Daniel's hand on the bed and walk away. She looked forward to going someplace where she could be alone -- where she would no longer have to control her emotions.

As she exited the infirmary, she was surprised to find Colonel O'Neill hovering near the door. He had a look on his face that puzzled her. She would almost say it was anger. "Is there something wrong, sir?"

Surprise at her sudden appearance stilled Jack's pacing. He hesitated a moment, "No, ah," he started to say something else, before repeating, "No."

Accurately deducing that her superior's confusion was related to Daniel Jackson, Sam gently informed him, "He's still awake, if you want to talk to him."

"Who?"

Sam didn't answer. It was unnecessary. They both knew who was uppermost in both their minds.

"Thank you, Captain," Jack finally broke the uncomfortable silence stretching between them. "I'll check on him."

"You do that, sir."

Jack waited for her to leave. When it became apparent she wasn't going to, he reluctantly entered the infirmary. He hated this place. The odors assaulting his nostrils reminded him of the doctor's futile attempts to save Charlie.

As he approached Daniel's bed, he fought to control the anger still raging inside him. Daniel was too weak, too fragile. Now wasn't the time to give his emotions free rein.

"What's wrong, Jack?"

It amazed O'Neill that someone so young and seemingly naive could be so perceptive. "Nothing," he shortly replied.

Daniel didn't say anything. He just stared at his friend. The intensity of emotion in the blue eyes broke through Jack's defensive walls. "Why," Jack demanded, deliberately looking away, "do you risk your life for nothing?"

Shocked, Daniel slowly shook his head. "I don't."

"You don't?" Jack bitterly repeated. "You weren't strong enough to talk to the Anakam, but you did it anyway, and almost slipped into a coma. This isn't the first time you've pulled a stunt like that. On P3X-797, you were almost killed trying to save the High Councilor's daughter."

"I couldn't just leave her on the dark side," Daniel protested.

"Everyone else would've," Jack argued, pacing the length of the bed, "but not you. Then, there's Nem. He messes with our heads, almost kills you, and you want to be friends."

A frown furrowed Daniel's brow. "I know what lengths someone is willing to go to find a loved one."

"Then on . . ."

"Is there a point to all this, Jack?" Daniel interrupted.

O'Neill turned away, refusing to look at his friend. "I don't want you as a member of SG-1 anymore."

"What?!" The word snapped out, triggering a fit of coughing. Pressing a hand to his chest, Daniel demanded, "Why?"

"I don't want to bury you again. Once was more than enough."

"I'm sorry, but that wasn't really my fault. I was kidnapped."

"Yet, you willingly risked your life to aid your kidnapper."

"I didn't have a lot of choice."

Hooded eyes focused on his friend, Jack asked, "If you'd had a weapon, would you have used it?"

"No," Daniel softly admitted, letting his head dropped back on his pillow.

Jack slapped the bed with his hand. "That's what I mean. You have no sense of self-preservation."

"I do, too," Daniel protested, before sheepishly conceding, "I just don't listen to that voice as much as I should, I guess."

"Ya think?"

A small smile played on Daniel's lips. "I seem to remember you risked your life to save Lt. Connor."

"That's different."

"How?"

"I was his superior officer. I was doing my job."

"And I was doing mine," Daniel gently reminded him. "I'm the linguist. Who else could've talked to the Anakam?"

Realizing he was responsible for the stress and exhaustion currently infusing the young face, Jack quietly pleaded, "Will you at least try to think of yourself first, once in a while?"

"I do."

"Not often enough."

Raising his hand, Daniel pledged, "I will try to do better in the future."

"That's all I ask," Jack sighed, visibly relaxing. "Now, I think we both better get some sleep."

"That's easy for you to say," Daniel grumbled. "As soon as I fall asleep, they'll be waking me up to do some more tests."

"Think of it as an incentive to get better."

"Is that what you do?"

"Nah. I sleep with a handgun under my pillow. That seems to discourage them."

"I'll bet." A yawn turned into a soft moan.

Jack pretended not to hear. He felt better, though he didn't know why. Nothing had really been resolved. Daniel would continue to risk his life, while Jack would continue to get angry every time he did. He could no more change Daniel Jackson than he could change the earth's axis. Yet, despite the frustration and fear that accompanied the scientist's actions, he didn't want to try.