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Sacrificial Lamb

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Sacrificial Lamb
By JJJunky

 

Conscious that his uniform wasn't regulation for this unexpected meeting with his superior, Colonel Jack O'Neill tugged at the edge of his wrinkled fatigue jacket trying to eliminate a few of the creases as he marched down the hallway. He had been preparing for their next mission through the Stargate when he'd gotten the summons from General Hammond. The briefing for their visit to P3K-218 had ended hours ago. With their scheduled departure looming, Jack's mind raced, sorting possible scenarios to explain the unusual request. Had something happened to one of the other teams to alter their destination?

A knock on the general's door brought brusque permission to enter. Stepping inside, Jack inquired, "You wanted to see me, sir?"

"There's been a slight change in your assignment, Colonel."

Though it wasn't unprecedented to amend a mission after the briefing, Jack could tell the older man was uncomfortable with the proposed revision. Wary, he asked, "What kind of change?"

"Personnel."

A flash of raging anger engulfed Jack. SG1 was the best of the nine teams. They'd proved that time and again. It was typical of brass mentality to tamper with success. Who did they intend to replace? Dr. Daniel Jackson? Though he seemed impossibly young to be so knowledgeable, Daniel was indisputably the most gifted archeologist in the Stargate program. He knew almost the complete history of uncounted ancient civilizations and could speak languages that had been dead for centuries. They might still be searching for the seventh symbol that would open the Stargate if not for Daniel's genius. The fact that his wife, Sha're, had been kidnapped by the Goa'uld made Daniel the gods' most formidable enemy. Jack had once thought Jackson was a geek. His opinion had changed considerably since those early days. Daniel Jackson had as much courage as any soldier he had served with. But it was a courage tempered with compassion and a hunger to learn igniting even Jack's curiosity.

Captain Samantha Carter held a Doctorate in Theoretical Astrophysics, along with her Air Force commission. As the only other member of the team with military training, he depended on her to take command in his absence. She had the skills and the instincts to keep them alive. She was also the most knowledgeable concerning the inner workings of the Stargate and the Dial Home Devices.

As a Jaffa, Teal'c had a unique perspective of the worlds they visited. He hadn't read about their history in books; he had lived it. Like O'Neill, he was a warrior first. The symbiote in his stomach blessed him with perfect health. Despite the obvious advantages, Jack was appalled by the larval Goa'uld and saw it as a curse.

Prepared to fight to preserve his team, Jack demanded, "Who do you intend to replace?"

"Replace?" a shocked Hammond repeated. "No one's being replaced. You're receiving a temporary addition."

Only slightly mollified by the disclosure, Jack suspiciously probed, "Who?"

"General Myers of the Joint Chiefs of Staff."

"What!"

"He wants to see for himself what these Stargate missions entail."

"He wants to see if we're wasting the tax payer's money," Jack disgustedly contradicted.

Hammond nodded agreement. "That would be my interpretation, too."

Fear replacing his anger, Jack argued, "This could put my team at unnecessary risk, General. We know each others strengths and weaknesses. It's what keeps us alive. You want to add a new rule to the game after we've already started playing."

"I don't have any choice, Colonel," Hammond unhappily revealed. His voice dropping deeper as it became sterner, he added, "I have my orders. Now, you have yours."

"If anything happens to one of my people," Jack quietly replied, permitting himself a withering stare," you can expect to see my resignation on your desk. Unless of course it's me. Then I'll just come back and haunt you."

"Dismissed."

Jack reluctantly saluted before turning on his heel and exiting the room. His threat hadn't been an empty one. If Myers got him killed, Hammond was going to be one sorry-assed general.

***

Wonder shone on Daniel's face as he touched the watery compound filling the Stargate. Would he ever lose his awe of the ancient device? With a thrill of anticipation, he stepped through. The wormhole flashed by with familiar precision. He'd grown accustomed to the abrupt arrival, no longer tumbling out of the 'gate as he had in their first few missions. So, he was surprised that he stumbled when his feet hit the hard ground. Only Teal'c' strong grip on his arm prevented him from falling flat on his face. His embarrassment intensified when he discovered he had tripped over General Myers prone body. "Sorry, sir," he apologized, reaching down to help the officer to his feet.

"I can make it on my own," Myers growled, pulling away. "I'm not helpless."

When his outstretched hand was slapped away, Daniel stepped back in confusion. Only Teal'c' hand on his arm prevented him from falling back into the Stargate.

"Leaving so soon, Daniel?" Jack innocently inquired, the slight smile on his lips taking the sting out of his words.

Accustomed to his associate's caustic wit, Daniel felt no anger. In fact, he was relieved. The awkwardness he had been experiencing since learning of General Myers' inclusion on the mission disappeared. In his own way, Jack was telling him things would be no different this time than they had in the past.

His curiosity overcoming his embarrassment, Daniel looked around. Like most of the planets they had visited, with the exception of Abydos, P3K-218 had a lush plant life. Rich green trees towered high overhead. Their height spoke of a great age, or an exceptional growing season.

"Let's move out," O'Neill ordered, heading to the only trail leading from the clearing.

Adjusting his backpack, which had slued across his shoulders at his abrupt arrival, Daniel fell into step behind Myers. Though he spent most of his life these days in military attire, he still felt like a child playing dress-up. The general's ramrod bearing made him feel even more like an impostor.

"Colonel O'Neill," Myers called, to the man on point, "isn't it rather foolhardy to traverse such an obvious route when you don't know your enemy?"

Jack stopped to explain, trying to hide his annoyance, "First, General, we don't know they're our enemy. Second, we can't learn anything if we avoid the local inhabitants."

"I guess you know best," Myers reluctantly conceded, "But, I have to tell you this goes against all my training."

Making it clear she supported the Colonel, Carter reminded, "Ours, too, General."

"We've all had to learn to adapt," Daniel said, tugging at a strap, cutting into his shoulder. "That's one of the advantages we have over the Goa'uld and what may eventually lead to their downfall."

His displeasure with Daniel's observation clearly obvious, Myers snapped, "You're simplifying things a bit, aren't you, Doctor?"

"When we visit these planets, we're teaching as well as learning, General," Daniel enthused, the heightened color of his face vividly displaying his passion for his role. "The next time a god pays them a visit, he won't find sheep waiting to be led into slavery. He'll find people with minds of their own willing to fight for their freedom."

"What will he care? Superior weaponry will defeat idealism every time," Myers noted, his granite face more formidable than Teal'c's.

Remembering a battle they had fought against Ra with a bunch of untrained kids and a few weapons, Daniel whispered, "Not always, General. What may seem like defeat to you is a victory to others."

Snorting with disgust, Myers eyes rested on O'Neill. "Scientists have no concept of warfare."

"Actually, General," Samantha countered, defending her friend as well as herself, "researching past cultures can yield valuable insights, particularly concerning strategy."

"You can't study war," Myers sneered. "You have to engage in real combat to know how to fight. Isn't that true, Colonel?"

Obviously uncomfortable with the conversation, O'Neill said, "We should leave this discussion to the philosophers and keep moving."

Before anyone could challenge his decision, Jack started down the trail. Carter immediately followed with the general on her heels. Wishing he could let Teal'c become a buffer between him and the irascible officer, Daniel unenthusiastically joined the procession. As much as he disliked being in such close proximity with the general, he wasn't willing to jeopardize the team. Teal'c was a warrior. He was the logical choice to protect their backs.

Branches whipped at his face as Daniel stumbled through the dense undergrowth. Though the path was clearly visible, it was obvious it hadn't been used in a while. Vines pulled at his arms and legs throwing him off balance. It was almost as if they had a mind of their own. The hot, stifling air burned his lungs, making it difficult to breathe. After spending so much time on Abydos, he had thought heat wouldn't affect him. But there, it had been a dry heat. Here, the high humidity that was making him uncomfortable suggested the forest should be a jungle with eucalyptus trees instead of oak. The shrubs, the purple flowers to his left, even the vines tangling his clothing shouldn't survive under these conditions. "Jack," he called, anxious to share his observation, "something's not right here."

Sweat coating his face, O'Neill turned, "What's not right? Other than my brain for volunteering for this mission."

"The plant life we're encountering shouldn't exist in this environment."

"Are you sure?"

"I'm no biologist, but I'm pretty sure."

Applause greeted his remark. As the air became cooler, all eyes searched the forest seeking the source of the sound.

"Well done, Doctor. I was wondering when someone would notice."

A man suddenly appeared at the head of the trail. At least a foot taller than Teal'c, he had long dark hair brushing his shoulders. Blue eyes shone brightly from a deeply tanned face. The bronze skin was accented by the white toga-styled garment he wore.

"Welcome to Deionisis."

After a quick glance at Jack, Daniel simply replied, "Thank you. I'm Daniel Jackson, this is--"

"I know who you are."

"Oh," Daniel shrugged, uncomfortable with the disclosure. "How did you know we were here?"

"This is my planet. I know everything that goes on. Though, unlike my brethren, I've learned to adapt."

Daniel couldn't hide his shock, or embarrassment. Obviously the stranger had heard every word they had said since their arrival. "Then you're a god?"

"Isn't that obvious?"

"I just wanted it verified."

A loud sigh indicating his opinion concerning the revelation, Myers growled, "This is ridiculous. God wouldn't be living on a tiny little planet out in the middle of nowhere."

"How do you know?" Daniel asked, seeing the thunderclouds forming on their host's face. Doing some quick damage control, he addressed the stranger, "Do you mind if we look around your planet?"

"Not at all." A smile returned to the bronze face. "However, it can be dangerous. I suggest you let me show you around."

"We'd be honored," Jack partially bowed, bringing an even broader smile to the strong face.

Waving his arm in the direction they had been traveling, their host said, "Follow me."

Though vines still lined the trail, Daniel found the going much easier this time. He could hear the rustle of the bushes as animals passed close by. Screams punctured the air, sending chills down his spine. He was glad the God had made an appearance. His presence made Daniel feel safer.

When they finally emerged from the forest, Daniel wasn't too surprised to find himself facing a house of immense proportions. Pillars, reminiscent of the Coliseum in Greece, circled the building, supporting the extreme weight of a marble roof. In opened mouth awe, he stumbled across the well-manicured lawns to the entrance of the huge building. Though it looked like it would take at least twenty men working day and night to tend the vast gardens, they didn't encounter a single soul.

The inside of the structure was as impressive as the outside. Beautiful vases and wall hangings brightened the stark, white room they were led into. It was twice the size of the Stargate room, but the only furniture was a long low table sitting in the center of the open floor. Huge plush pillows circled it.

Indicating the table, their guide offered, "Why don't you rest? I'll bring refreshments."

As soon as he disappeared, the four members of SG1 fanned out to investigate. With a sigh of disgust at their rapt expressions, Myers plopped down on one of the scarlet pillows.

"Daniel Jackson," Teal'c called, "what does this say?"

Joining the Jaffa in front of a spear mounted on the wall, Daniel translated, "The Magic Spear."

A snort of disbelief from the general reddened Daniel's face. Shrugging his shoulders, he glanced apologetically at O'Neill, "That's what it says."

"What about this, Daniel?" Carter pointed to the plaque mounted under a stuffed dog.

His enthusiasm dampened, Daniel crossed to the captain's side. "Laelaps."

"Well that clarifies things," Jack muttered, looking around the room. "Do you have any idea who this guy is, Daniel?"

"I do now." Returning to the spear, Daniel touched it reverently, "There was a Greek God named Cephalus. He was the youngest son of Deion, the King of Phocis. One day while hunting in the forest, Cephalus was approached by Eos. She was the dawn goddess. But, because she'd had an affair with Ares, Aphrodite's paramour, the jealous goddess of love cursed Eos by making her perpetually infatuated with semi-mortal men."

"Now why can't we run into her on one of these jaunts?" Jack asked.

A corner of Daniel's mouth pulled into an answering smile, "Eos made some rather amorous proposals, which Cephalus rejected."

"Was he gay?"

"No, he was madly in love with his wife, Procris. Eos complimented him on his fidelity and in apparent good humor bade him not to break his vow until Procris broke hers."

Yawning loudly, Myers rubbed his neck, "Very interesting, Doctor. But what does this have to do with our host?"

"Eos urged Cephalus to test Procris' faithfulness," Daniel continued, paling under the older man's obvious displeasure. "She metamorphosed him into a stranger and gave him presents to tempt Procris. To Cephalus' dismay, Procris accepted both the presents and his advances. Angry, Cephalus revealed himself. Procris fled in anguish to the island of Crete."

"At least she chose a nice vacation spot," Jack observed.

Accustomed to the type of interruptions his companion made, Daniel ignored him. "There, Procris sought advice from Artemis, who presented her with a dog named Laelaps and a magic spear, neither of which was fated to miss its target. Artemis then changed Procris into a youth and sent her back to join Cephalus as a hunting companion."

"I hope this story has a happy ending."

Daniel started to pace, the action made it easier for him to focus on the facts. "Impressed, Cephalus offered to buy the dog and the spear, but Procris refused to part with them for any price save love. Cephalus agreed."

"So he was gay."

"Procris revealed herself and was able to effect a reconciliation with her husband."

"And they lived happily ever after," Jack said, a sickeningly sweet smile on his lips.

"Not quite. Procris was afraid Eos would try to win her husband away from her again. She followed Cephalus when he went hunting one day. She hid in a thicket and watched him, but she accidentally made a noise. Thinking it was the game he sought, Cephalus threw the spear - that couldn't miss its target."

Pointing in the direction the stranger had gone, Carter asked, "So you think this guy is Cephalus?"

"No," Daniel stopped pacing and shook his head, "when Cephalus discovered what he'd done, he threw himself from the Promontory of Leucas and drowned."

"If this isn't Cephalus," a puzzled Jack inquired. "Who is he?"

"Archius."

Pursing his lips, Jack paused a moment before tentatively enjoining, "If I ask who Archius is, will it take the rest of the afternoon for you to tell me?"

"Archius was Cephalus' and Procris' son," Daniel simply replied.

"That's it?"

"No one knows anything about him. His name was recorded, but that was all. He just disappeared."

Frowning, Jack noted, "We know he inherited daddy's dog and spear."

"Colonel," Myers exclaimed, jumping to his feet in irritation, "how can you believe such nonsense? If they even existed at all, which I doubt, these people died a thousand years ago."

"Actually, it would be closer to two thousand," Daniel automatically corrected.

His frustration at having to deal with the skeptical officer audible in his voice, Jack said, "I've seen some seemingly unbelievable things since I first stepped through the Stargate, General. I saw Daniel die. Shot in the chest by a staff. And I saw Ra bring him back to life. Nothing is unbelievable to me anymore."

Myers angrily slapped the table with his hand, the sound echoing around the room, "This is precisely why I wanted to come along on this mission. Someone needs to objectively evaluate this program. Proving or disproving theories isn't worth the money we're spending."

Concern furrowing his brow, Daniel argued, "How can you put a price tag on learning?"

"Because someone has to, or people like you will bankrupt the country."

"Is it money you're worried about?" Daniel demanded, bridled anger in his voice. "Or, is it the fact we haven't brought back any new weapons of mass destruction for you to play with?"

"Daniel," Jack cautioned, putting a warning hand on his friend's arm.

"I've had about as much of you as I can take, Doctor," Myers growled, throwing back his shoulders and fixing a steely-eyed glare on the smaller man. "I'm your superior officer and you will treat me as such."

Nerves knotting his stomach, Daniel reminded him, "I'm not in the military. You're not my commanding officer."

"You're in Stargate Command, therefore, I am your superior."

Tugging at Daniel's sleeve, Jack whispered, "If you're trying to get fired, you're doing a damn good job."

"He's had it in for me since we first started," Daniel contended, pushing Jack's hand away. "And I'd like to know why."

"I'll tell you why, Doctor," Myers crossed to the younger man. Avoiding Jack's attempts to stand between them, he poked his finger in Daniel's chest. "You opened the gate. Funding for the program was just about to be terminated when you figured out how to make the damn thing work. Now, your budget's been increased because the President believes you'll make some wonderful discoveries."

"We have, we will," Daniel defended.

"All you've brought back are viruses and an enemy with weaponry superior to our own."

"General," Carter said, barely managing to contain her anger, "we've brought back medicines that are being analyzed and tested. We're ten years ahead in nanotechnology due to what we encountered on Argos."

Daniel felt a scream of frustration clawing at the back of his throat as his eyes rested on Myers' face. They would never make him understand. "We're wasting our breath. Aren't we, General?"

"You are."

"What are you going to do when we get back?"

"Recommend the program be terminated and the Stargate buried."

Though he'd expected that precise response, Daniel was still stunned. If the Stargate was destroyed, he would never see Sha're again. Never feel her lips on his, or look into her eyes and see his love for her reflected back at him. For all intents and purposes, his life would be over.

Their host re-entered the room with a tray of refreshments. Moisture beaded on the metal surface of the containers. "Please," Archius said, pointing to the table and the cushions, "join me."

In a mild state of shock, Daniel stared at the man in confusion. It wasn't until Jack took his arm and guided him to the table that he took notice of his surroundings. He bent his knees and collapsed onto one of the cushions. He was grateful for Jack's support, but it didn't ease his pain. A glass was placed in his hand and lifted to his lips. He took a sip of the refreshing drink.

"Did you hear what you wanted to hear?"

A sharp stab of mental anguish made Daniel wince. How could Teal'c ask such a question? He knew what Sha're meant to him. Lifting his gaze to his friend's face, he was surprised to see Teal'c's eyes focused on Archius. Turning his own gaze to their host, Daniel gasped, "You were listening to our conversation?"

"Yes," Archius calmly replied. Rising, he suggested, "Take a walk with me, Doctor."

A worried frown on her face, Sam started to push to her feet, "I think I'll come along."

"You weren't invited, Captain." There was no anger in Archius' voice.

Putting his hand on his sidearm, Jack shook his head. "I really think we should stay together."

"If you feel threatened, Colonel, you may draw your weapon. However, you will find it does not work."

Carefully pulling the pistol from its holster, Jack pointed it outside and pulled the trigger. When nothing happened, he angrily demanded, "What did you do?"

"I'm a hunter. I believe there is honor in the chase, not in the killing. None of your firearms will operate while you're on this planet." Inclining his head, Archius urged, "Shall we go, Doctor?"

"Daniel?" Lines of tension were prominent on O'Neill's face.

"It's all right, Jack." While he could understand his friend's concern, Daniel felt no fear. Rising, he soothed, "I'll be back before you finish your drinks."

Finding he almost had to jog to keep up with his much taller companion, Daniel followed Archius through the back of the house to the gardens beyond. Bright colors assaulted him. Some of the flowers he recognized, most he didn't.

"Do you like my garden?"

"How could I not?" Daniel whispered, unabashedly awestruck.

Pride shone on the bronzed face. "Making things grow gives me much pleasure."

"Do you do all this yourself?" Daniel asked, his arm sweeping out to encompass the seemingly endless fields.

"I am alone here. In my experience, relationships only bring heartache."

"They can also bring joy."

"The price can be too high."

"It's never too high." Squaring his shoulders, Daniel softly admitted, "I may never see my wife again, but I will never regret the time we had."

His voice gentle, Archius said, "I've seen your pain. Wouldn't you be better off if you'd never met her?"

"No!" Daniel replied, without hesitation.

Walking over to some yellow flowers that were almost as tall as he was, Archius admitted, "My parents had a love such as yours. Greed destroyed it."

"If your father hadn't truly loved your mother, he wouldn't have killed himself."

"My father didn't throw himself from the Promontory of Leucas," Archius revealed, his voice soft, but alarming. "He was summoned before the Areopagus and banished from Athens. He went to Thebes, before retiring to an island that was named Cephallenia in his honor." Bitterness invested his voice, "Eos was a frequent visitor."

Daniel could almost feel his companion's pain at his father's betrayal. It explained why Archius had chosen to live alone. "Not all relationships end like your parents."

"Did your mother and father live happily ever after?"

"No," Daniel hesitantly confessed, shrugging his shoulders. "But my parents were killed doing what they love."

Compassion shone from the deep blue eyes. "That is why you are so knowledgeable. You escaped into your books, just as I escape into my garden."

"But I didn't avoid people," Daniel gently chided. "I learned to love a woman, who loved me back."

"Where is she now?"

"She was taken by the Goa'uld." Daniel's eyes became misty as he looked up into the sky. "One day, I'll find her again."

"You won't if your general buries your Stargate."

The reminder scored Daniel like a knife. What would he do? He didn't belong on earth. He wasn't sure he ever did. But now, after visiting so many worlds and learning about their different cultures, he knew he could never go back to the life he had led before he entered the Stargate. He couldn't stop searching for Sha're. He wouldn't stop.

***

"Permission to check on Daniel, sir?" Carter requested taking a step in the direction her friend had taken.

"Archius made it quite clear that he didn't want company, Captain," O'Neill replied, his furrowed brow showing his concern. "Permission denied."

His hands placed belligerently on his hips, Myers sneered, "So now you're taking orders from a so-called god, Colonel?"

"It is his planet, sir."

"I think we should just leave." Turning, the general found his path blocked by Teal'c.

"We will wait for Daniel Jackson," the Jaffa informed him.

Warmed by Teal'c's loyalty, Jack innocently raised an eyebrow at his superior's indignant glare. "We aren't leaving without Daniel, sir," he said, reinforcing Teal'c's position.

"I could make it an order."

"I wouldn't if I were you," Jack warned, meeting the older man's eyes with his own, "unless you want to put in your report why your orders were disobeyed. A commanding officer doesn't leave his men."

Abandoning all pretense, Myers sharply replied, "Seems to me, we were the ones who were abandoned."

Jack turned away feigning interest in the Magic Spear. He was worried about Daniel. The boy's scientific curiosity often got him into situations he was ill-equipped to handle, either due to training or his own personality. Even after all the blows life had pelted him with, Daniel retained a trusting nature. It drew people to him, like a moth to light. The problem was, sometimes they were the wrong people. Yet, no matter how often he got kicked in the teeth, he kept trying. Jack envied him this ability. When life had kicked him in the gut, he'd caved in, to the point of contemplating suicide. When his son died, nothing had seemed important anymore. The Stargate program had given him not only a reason to live, but the desire to do so. Daniel, Carter and Teal'c were his family now. He realized it wasn't the smartest thing he had ever done, getting close to people whose lives were in constant jeopardy. But then, he'd never said he was particularly intelligent.

"If they don't come back soon," Myers growled, "I'm leaving without you."

Without turning, Jack replied, "I hope you know how to dial home."

His huge bulk filling the doorway, Archius warned, "Wandering alone on my planet can be very dangerous. There are wild animals that search for easy prey."

Jack's anxiety grew until he spotted Daniel's much smaller frame in their host's shadow. As the younger man came into the light, Jack anxiously studied him. There appeared to be no physical injuries. But unspoken pain was alive and glowing in the blue eyes.

"You can't force us to stay here," Myers said, his face a mask of feverish rage.

"You are not prisoners," Archius calmly agreed. "I'm sorry if you felt you were. It's been a long time since I've encountered anyone from your world. I let my curiosity get the better of me."

Taking a few steps closer to the door, Myers said, "We're leaving then."

"General," Daniel protested, "couldn't we . . ."

"You've already compromised this mission, Doctor," Myers exploded, his nostrils flaring with fury.

"In what way?" Jack demanded, unable to bear the hurt puppy dog look on Daniel's face.

"What do you mean?"

"I want to know how Daniel's compromised the mission?" Jack pressed, holding onto his anger with difficulty. "He hasn't done anything different on this assignment than on any of the others."

His search for an answer was obvious. Finally, Myers fumed, "He's put our lives in danger."

"He did not," a displeased Archius contradicted. "You have."

Jack's hand went to his sheaved knife. The only useful weapon he had. The look on the Greek god's face didn't bode well for the team. Still, at five to one, the odds were in their favor.

"I left your world, General, because I couldn't abide the greed running rampant through the ranks of my people. I had hoped that it would disappear as the gods' influence diminished. But I see it flourishes still." Archius spit in disgust. The clump of moisture splattered the tip of Myers' boot.

Quickly stepping back, Myers indignantly protested, "Hey!"

"You are as greedy as my father," Archius continued, his lips twisted with disgust.

"I don't have to listen to this." Myers turned to leave, but found his way again blocked by Teal'c.

His face an expressionless mask, "Teal'c reproved, "It is polite to listen to your host."

"You want to shut down your Stargate so you can appropriate its funds into your own pet project," Archius accused.

Panic flashed across Myers flushed face. Pointing a finger at Daniel, he demanded, "Did you tell him that?"

"You told me."

"I've barely spoken to you."

Weariness settling across his broad shoulders, Archius sighed, "I'm familiar with greed. I know how it corrupts men like you. You are a contamination." A sweep of his arm encompassing the entire team, he ordered, "I want you off my world. You have two hours. I will destroy anyone who is not gone by then."

"Archius . . ." Daniel started to plead.

Collapsing onto a cushion, Archius buried his head in his hands. "Even you, Daniel."

"I'm sorry we were such a disappointment," Daniel whispered.

"So am I."

Tugging at the younger man's sleeve, Jack urged, "Let's go. I think he means what he says."

"He means it," Daniel confirmed.

Resuming his position on point, Jack led his team outside and across the manicured lawn to the forest. An inhuman scream made him hesitate before crossing the invisible border. The shrubs hadn't looked so menacing when Archius was leading them. Missing the security his gun usually provided, Jack put his hand on his knife. The sun was slipping lower, creating forbidding shadows. His heartbeat quickened causing his pulse to race. Each breath became more difficult. Even so, the pace he set was steady and they made good time. He felt confident they would reach the Stargate in the allotted time.

"General, look out!"

Spinning on his heel, Jack saw Daniel push Myers out of the way as a huge leonine-type creature leapt from a tree. Altering its flight in mid-air, the animal struck Daniel in the chest. The force of its momentum pushed the tangled duo back down the steep hill they had just climbed.

"Daniel!" Brushing past Carter and Myers, Jack raced after Teal'c. At the bottom of the hill, the Jaffa pointed his useless staff at the cat. His lungs starving for air, Jack looked on in despair. But Teal'c hadn't forgotten the staff was powerless. He used the end as a battering ram and knocked the screaming animal off its motionless prey. Once it was a safe distance from Daniel's torn body, Teal'c's hands moved with lightning speed turning his weapon into a club. He struck the dazed creature until it was no longer a threat.

Moving in, Jack knelt by his fallen friend and assessed the damage. Razor sharp claws had dug three deep furrows from the top of Daniel's right shoulder to his left hip. Blood flowed liberally around the clumps of dirt imbedded in the deep cuts. Teeth marks scored the tender flesh dangerously close to the carotid artery in Daniel's neck. His left leg was twisted unnaturally beneath him.

Fear filled Jack as he catalogued the various wounds. Each one was more severe than the last. Desperate, he searched for a pulse. His fingers were coated with blood by the time he found one.

"Colonel?" Carter's pale face appeared in his blurred vision.

Jack tried to make his voice sound reassuring, but he knew instantly he'd failed. "He's alive."

Already pulling her medical kit from her pack, Carter opened it, "Can we keep him that way until we get him through the Stargate?"

"If I have anything to say about it, we will."

"Colonel O'Neill," Myers protested, "he'll never make it. And if we don't get a move on, neither will we. Leave him."

Gritting her teeth, Carter said, "May I remind you, sir, if it wasn't for Daniel, you would be the one lying here right now. He sacrificed himself to save you."

"Very noble of him. Now let's go."

Continuing his ministrations, Jack calmly replied, "No, sir."

"Are you refusing to obey a direct order, Colonel?"

"Yes, sir."

Panic shone from the general's steely gray eyes. Indecision flashed across his granite face. As he turned to strike out on his own, his gaze encountered the fallen cat, "Colonel, it's suicide for one man to proceed alone."

"Yes, sir," Jack agreed, pressing down to staunch the flow of blood.

"You're endangering the lives of your entire team in what will surely be a wasted effort."

Guilt filled Jack as he recognized the truth of the unwelcome observation. He couldn't leave Daniel. He'd thought Daniel dead once before. He remembered how he felt. The emptiness had left him bereft. It had almost been as bad as when he had lost Charlie. He'd rather die than go through that again. But, he didn't have the right to condemn Carter and Teal'c, because he couldn't handle losing Daniel. "Captain," he ordered, "leave the medical kit. You and Teal'c better get a move on if you hope to beat the deadline."

"No, sir," Carter's voice was hard and angry, before turning soft and pleading. "Please don't make me leave, Colonel."

Teal'c didn't say a word. He simply stared into Jack's eyes with a frightening intensity, before returning to the task of tearing bandages.

"This is insane!" Myers screamed, his face blotched with rage. "If you don't move out now, I'll have you all court-martialed."

"You can't court-martial Teal'c," Jack calmly reminded him.

"Jack," the whispery plea was barely audible, "go."

Hope filled Jack, even as he placed a bandage over a gaping hole. With his free hand, he brushed a clump of dirt off a bruised cheek. "I can't."

Eyes ravaged with pain stared helplessly up at him. "Please . . . Jack."

"Daniel," Sam rescued her speechless commander, "you're going to make it."

"So . . . much . . . pain."

"I know," Carter acknowledged, her voice breaking. Taking a hypo from the medical kit, she soothed, "This will help."

The painkiller acted quickly, but Jack knew it hadn't been strong enough to neutralize the effects of what he would have to do next. To claim Daniel's wandering attention, Jack cupped a hand around his cheek, "Your left leg is twisted beneath you, Daniel. We're going to have to straighten it."

Closing his eyes, Daniel turned his face into the comforting touch. "Go . . . ahead."

His breath coming in short hard gasps, Jack exchanged glances with Teal'c before putting both hands on the ankle of the broken leg. Swallowing past the lump in his throat, he bit his lip and pulled. The horrible scream that greeted his action unnerved him - and they were only half done. Now, he had to bring the broken ends of the bone together so they could splint it. Shaking so hard he could barely get a grip on the soft flesh, he took a deep breath and pulled again. The scream faded quickly as Daniel lost consciousness.

While Carter taped a branch to the injured limb, Jack tugged his poncho from his backpack. "We'll use this," annoyed his voice was cracking, he paused to get a semblance of control before continuing, "as a stretcher."

"It will be more comfortable for Daniel Jackson if I carry him," Teal'c responded, handing his staff to O'Neill.

"We still have a long way to go, Teal'c," Jack protested.

"If I grow tired, I will let O'Neill know."

Knowing the Jaffa would do nothing to hurt Daniel, Jack nodded reluctant consent. Putting his arms under the limp form, he helped Teal'c lift the dead weight. Gently shifting his precious cargo into a comfortable position, Teal'c started off at a brisk pace. Frightened by the amount of blood pooled on the hard ground, Jack quickly followed.

Sweat was soon trickling down the side of his face and between his shoulder blades. Though it wasn't as hot as when they first arrived, it was warm enough to make him wish they could stop and rest. Several times, he was tempted to call a halt so he could check on Daniel, but each time he lost his nerve. He wanted to believe Daniel was still alive. He had to believe.

"There it is," Myers excitedly shouted, pointing to the Stargate barely visible through the trees. He stumbled as he broke into a run. "Hurry!"

As the general rushed up to the Dial Home Device, Jack glanced around the clearing. He wasn't surprised when Archius emerged from the trees. Strangely, he wasn't concerned for himself, but for Daniel - who might already be dead.

"By aiding your companion," Archius said, the temper he'd displayed earlier absent, "you have shown a generosity of spirit I had not expected of you."

"Can you help, Daniel?" Jack demanded, only interested in preserving the waning life in Teal'c's arms.

"I'm sorry," regret was audible in the deep voice, "my powers do not extend in that direction. You may take him back to your world."

"Captain Carter," Jack ordered, never taking his eyes off the remorseful God, "dial home. Teal'c, go through as soon as it's established."

"Yes, sir," Sam ran to the DHD. Pushing Myers out of the way, she quickly punched in the address that would take them back to earth.

As the last symbol clanked into place, a wave of energy streaked out toward them, before being sucked back into the artificial wormhole. Almost before the shimmering wave had stabilized, Myers dove through. At a more sedate pace, Teal'c followed.

Brushing a lock of damp blond hair off her face, Sam joined O'Neill, "We should go, Colonel."

His gaze resting longingly on the rippling wave, Archius whispered, "Tell Daniel, I'm sorry. I was the one who lost my temper, but he was the one who suffered."

"Daniel won't hold it against you," Jack stated, the edge in his voice showing he didn't feel the same. "He's not the kind of guy who holds grudges."

"That's because he's used to dealing with temperamental people," Carter explained, glancing meaningfully at her superior.

"Ya think?" Jack calmly replied, aware of his faults.

Fear flashed across the God's square face, "You must not let your general shut down the Stargate, Colonel. Hope is all that keeps Daniel Jackson alive. If he ever believes he will never see Sha're again, he will not want to live."

"You got to know Daniel pretty well," Sam jealously observed.

Unlacing the bracelet from his left wrist, Archius handed it to O'Neill, "This should satisfy your people and keep the gate open."

"What is it?" Jack tentatively fingered the device mounted on the leather wrist band.

"I use it to control weather."

"Like turning woods into a tropical rain forest?"

"Yes."

"The wormhole is destabilizing, sir," Carter advised, taking a few steps toward the Stargate. "We'd better go."

Jack nodded. Wrapping his fingers firmly around the bracelet, he said, "Thank you for this."

"Tell Daniel, if he ever wishes to return, he will be welcome," Archius humbly requested.

"But only Daniel is welcome?" Jack interpreted.

"Yes."

"I'll tell him."

Waving good-bye to the repentant God, Jack followed Carter into the wormhole. Metal clanged beneath his feet when he hit the ramp on the other side. He didn't hesitate at the top. Almost running, he led Carter from the Embarkation Room, down some twisting corridors to the infirmary. What he saw when he arrived left him livid. Daniel was lying on a stretcher with an IV feeding blood into his arm. Dr. Frasier stood near her desk reading some reports. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" Jack raged, staring at the doctor with burning, reproachful eyes. "Why aren't you helping Daniel?"

"Calm down, Colonel." Laying her clipboard on her desk, Frasier cautiously approached her unhappy superior, "I am helping him."

"Ya could've fooled me."

"Dr. Jackson's blood pressure is dangerously low due to blood loss. If I tried to treat him now, I could kill him. We're replacing the blood. Once he's stabilized, I'll be able to clean and stitch those wounds."

"He'll be all right then?" Sam anxiously pressed.

"Frankly," Frasier hesitantly admitted, "it's too soon to tell. I don't know what I'll find once I remove those bandages. I'm sorry I can't give you a more definite answer."

Exhaustion sweeping over him, Jack sighed, "How long before you'll know something?"

"Impossible to tell, Colonel. Why don't you and your team go get some sleep? I'll call you if there's any change."

Though he knew he couldn't sleep, Jack longed to get out of his dirty sticky uniform and take a shower. Brown patches that had once been Daniel's blood liberally dotted his green fatigues. They were a constant reminder of the tenuous hold his friend had on life. "You'll call if there's any change?" he confirmed.

"Of course," Frasier promised.

Putting one hand on Carter's arm and the other on Teal'c's, Jack guided them out of the room. They all looked a little shell-shocked. They would have to be more alert when they met General Hammond for the debriefing. Myers was sure to do everything he could to undermine their report, while at the same time revealing they had disobeyed the direct orders of a superior officer. Jack wasn't worried. Daniel was alive. That's all that really mattered.

***

Daniel let his consciousness rise slowly. He knew pain would be waiting for him. It had been there every time he'd tried to wake up, forcing him to retreat. He didn't have the strength to fight. It had been easier to relinquish the battlefield.

"Come on, Daniel. Time to open those baby blues."

Tensing, anticipating the pain patiently waiting for his return, Daniel reluctantly obeyed Jack's request. He had trouble focusing at first, but eventually, he found Jack sitting in a chair next to his bed. Carter and Teal'c stood at their leader's shoulder. Unshed tears made Sam's eyes glisten in the dim light. He wanted to reassure her, but his mouth was too dry. His tongue couldn't form the words. He was almost glad. He knew it would be a false promise.

He let his gaze rest for a moment on each of his friends. Committing their faces to memory, he let himself slip back into the abyss. Here, there was no pain. Here, he would find Sha're waiting for him.

***

His stomach twisting into annoying knots, Jack gently massaged his temples. He stared down at Daniel willing some of his own strength into the limp body. Daniel had opened his eyes as he'd requested. What Jack had seen there filled him with anxiety. There was no spark.

"I don't understand," Dr. Frasier said, her voice sounding tired. "He's not responding to treatment. His leg has been set. The wounds cleaned and stitched. And, I've pumped him full of antibiotics to fight infection. Yet, he's not improving. It's almost as if he doesn't want to live."

"No!" Sam exploded, her hand balling into a fist. "Daniel isn't like that. He's a fighter."

"Well, all I can tell you is he's not fighting now."

Jack didn't dispute the physician's claim. He had seen the emptiness when Daniel looked at him. The knots in his stomach writhed, making him wince. Daniel was the most resilient person he'd ever known. What could have changed that?

"Colonel?" A sergeant stood in the doorway. Once she realized she'd gotten her superior's attention, she saluted. "General Hammond requests your presence in the briefing room."

Rising slowly, Jack limply returned her salute. "Thank you, Sergeant." Returning his attention to the doctor, he said, "Call us if there's any change. I'll take the responsibility."

"Yes, Colonel."

Feeling older than he had when Pellops nanites had accelerated his aging on Argos, Jack led the way from the infirmary. On the short ride in the elevator to the appropriate floor, no one said a word. Jack was grateful. He couldn't bear to hear any more platitudes. The truth was all that was important now. As painful as it was to admit, the reality was Daniel was dying.

Jack wasn't surprised to find Myers sitting next to General Hammond when they entered the briefing room. He was slightly disconcerted however, to see two other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Rear Admiral Regis' record was impeccable. The black man had risen from the ranks to achieve his present position. Hard work and determination had gotten him where he was, not money or influence.

General Nolan had attended West Point. He'd grown up with all the special privileges one associated with the prestigious institute. But, from everything Jack had heard, Nolan yielded his power with a mixture of intuition, logic and compassion. Unusual qualities that had helped him achieve the rank he now held.

"SG-1 reporting as ordered, sir," O'Neill said, saluting.

"Be seated," Hammond ordered. "How's Dr. Jackson?"

Averting his eyes, Jack swallowed past the lump in his throat, "He'd holding his own, General."

"According to the reports I've read," Myers said, satisfaction on his face, "that's an exaggeration. In fact, he's still on the critical list. Isn't that right, Colonel?"

"Yes, sir," Jack reluctantly acknowledged.

Compassion audible in his voice, Regis said, "Colonel O'Neill, we're aware of the special nature involved in the type of missions the SG teams are assigned. Because of this a certain amount of latitude is allowed. However, disobeying a superior officer is unacceptable under any circumstances. Do you have anything to say on your behalf?"

Folding his hands on the table, Jack stared at them for a few seconds before looking away, "I'm guilty, sir."

"I'd like to hear the details concerning the incident in question," Nolan ordered.

Never looking up from his hands, Jack explained, "Dr. Jackson was injured, saving General Myers life. The general wanted me to abandon him. I couldn't."

"Even though you were endangering the rest of your team?"

"Permission to speak, General," Carter said. In spite of her reserve, a tinge of exasperation crept into her voice.

"Permission granted."

"Colonel O'Neill ordered us to leave him and Daniel. We refused."

"If the colonel had left Dr. Jackson as General Myers instructed," Nolan asked, in boarding school English, "would you've followed him then?"

"No, sir." Her voice was low, but composed. "Daniel was still alive. I couldn't have left him."

"Nor could I," Teal'c added, his fierce visage adding strength to his commitment.

Nolan frowned. "That is not acceptable. Without discipline, we have anarchy."

"General," the fringe of her lashes cast shadows on Sam's cheeks, "I watched Daniel Jackson die once before and thought I couldn't do anything about it. I left him then and because we did, he almost died. I couldn't leave him again. Not as long as there was hope."

"Commendable, Captain Carter," Myers softly applauded. "It still doesn't excuse your insubordination."

For a long moment, Sam looked back at him before admitting, "No, sir."

Ignoring SG-1, Myers turned to his colleagues, "Now do you see why I've recommended the Stargate program be terminated? Besides being a waste of money and a threat to this planet, it's corrupting good young officers."

"That's not true," Carter angrily denounced the statement.

"Captain," Hammond cautioned, "control yourself."

"What few benefits we've gained, "Myers continued, "are outweighed by the dangers."

His eyes hooded like those of a hawk, Jack quietly reminded, "If it weren't for the Stargate and Daniel Jackson, we wouldn't have the weather machine."

"A single discovery doesn't justify the risk."

"I disagree, General Myers," Regis said, his voice smooth, but insistent. "Once we learn how to use it, that device could end drought, bring rain to arid land, stop flooding. Millions of lives could be saved and our food production could double. Benefits like that make the SG program worth the cost and the risk."

Nolan nodded agreement. "I concur."

His face flushed a bright red with suppressed rage, Myers growled, "It doesn't excuse Colonel O'Neill's conduct."

"No," Nolan reluctantly agreed, "but I have to tell you, I couldn't have left a member of my team behind either. I'm rather surprised you found it so easy to do so."

"That madman was going to kill us all," Myers defended, looking around the table for support and finding none.

"Dr. Jackson was injured saving your life. Didn't you feel any obligation to try to save his?" Regis inquired.

Myers stood up so abruptly, his chair almost tipped over. "I'm not the one on trial here."

"Not at the moment, no," Regis agreed, also rising to his feet. "I don't believe any disciplinary action is warranted against Colonel O'Neill or his team. However, I do recommend that a disciplinary action report be placed in his file,"

"I concur," Nolan repeated, standing beside his taller associate. "I also believe the Stargate program should continue. This meeting is adjourned."

The room grew quiet. Jack felt no relief at the outcome. Nothing had been said that would make Daniel Jackson want to live. The black mark on his own record meant nothing. The only good thing that had come out of the meeting was the continuation of the Stargate program. They could resume their duties as soon as Daniel recovered. There was no if in his vocabulary.

"That's it!" Jack cried, rising so abruptly his chair sailed out from under him. Suddenly realizing the only occupants of the room were his team, Jack explained, "Daniel thinks Myers is going to bury the Stargate."

"Which would mean losing Sha're forever," Teal'c quietly interpreted.

"He's lost hope," Sam said, the pain of her disclosure clearly audible in her voice.

Jack nodded excitedly. "Even Archius knew that without hope Daniel wouldn't fight."

"How do we make him understand the 'gate won't be buried?" Carter asked, gnawing at her lower lip.

"We tell him," Jack simply stated.

As he raced to the infirmary, Jack silently prayed, something he hadn't done since before Charlie's death. How had Daniel done it? How had he broken down every wall Jack had built around his heart? In the beginning, he hadn't even liked Jackson. The constant sneezing and conversation had gotten on his nerves. Jack winced as he remembered his friend's frustration when he had tried to share his knowledge, only to be shutdown at every turn. Daniel was nothing, if not persistent. Despite himself, Jack had started to learn. And even enjoyed doing so. Once he could only look up at the stars through his telescope and dream. Daniel had given those dreams reality.

Entering the infirmary on the run, Jack almost mowed down Dr. Frasier. Catching the petite woman in his arms, he demanded, "Is it true that even in an unconscious state a person hears and understands when someone talks to them?"

"As far as we've been able to determine," Frasier breathlessly replied, "yes."

"Thank you, Doctor," Jack enthused, kissing her on the forehead, before releasing her.

Disoriented by the sudden gesture, Frasier took a moment to compose herself. "You're welcome."

Jack's spirits took a nosedive as he approached Daniel's bed. Though it had been less than an hour since he left, he could see the deterioration. Daniel was whiter than the sheets on which he lay. "He's getting worse, isn't he?" Jack whispered.

"Yes." Frasier nodded reluctant admission.

Pulling a chair closer to the bed, Jack put his hand on the unbandaged shoulder. Leaning close to Daniel's ear, he said, "Myers lost Daniel. They aren't going to bury the Stargate. We're going to find Sha're. Do you hear me? The missions are going to continue."

"Tell him again, Colonel," Frasier excitedly ordered, studying the readouts on the various machines attached to her patient.

Exchanging hopeful glances with Carter and Teal'c, Jack repeated, "We're going to find Sha're, Daniel. But it won't mean anything if you're not here for her."

Bells and whistles faintly piercing the air grew in volume. Alarmed, Jack glanced over at the doctor.

"It's all right," Frasier soothed. "His blood pressure is rising." She pushed a few buttons to mute the noise.

When his gaze returned to his friend's lax face, Jack saw color had started to return to the pale features. He closed his eyes in supplication. An unusual sound near his shoulder drew his attention. Turning, he saw Sam biting her lip, even as tears rolled unchecked down her cheeks. Even Teal'c actually looked happy. That was a small miracle in itself.

***

Bright sunlight stabbed at Daniel's eyes. He raised a hand to shield them as Jack pushed his wheelchair further into the sunshine.

"Oops, sorry," Jack apologized, pulling his sunglasses off and handing them to his friend.

Though grateful for the sacrifice, Daniel protested, "You need them."

"I've got my hat." Jack pointed to the baseball hat he habitually wore - even on missions.

Raising his face to the warmth, Daniel whispered, "This feels good. Thanks for kidnapping me."

"You may not be so grateful when the Doc gets a hold of you."

"She's a pussycat."

"She's a tigress protecting her cub," Jack corrected the analogy.

Jack parked the wheelchair in the plush grass at the edge of a stand of trees. Sinking to the ground, he leaned back against the wheel and raised his face to the sun.

"General Hammond said you handed him a letter of resignation," Daniel revealed, breaking the peaceful silence.

"I told him I would resign if Myers' presence on the team got anyone hurt. I couldn't go back on my word."

"Is there anything I can say to change your mind?"

"You'd be wasting your breath." Jack held up a hand to forestall the protest he knew his statement would engender, "I took it back just before I picked you up."

A sigh of relief whispered across Daniel's lips. Jack was a complex man, not easy to know intimately. But he had to try. He wanted to understand. "May I ask why?"

"Because of you."

"Me?"

"You won't stop until you find Sha're. I can't let you do it alone."

"Thank you," Daniel humbly replied.

Jack's mood shifted sharply to anger. "You have to promise me something though."

"What?" Daniel flinched at the tone of voice.

"You gotta promise you won't give up again."

Uncertainty crept into Daniel's expression. "I don't know that I can. I didn't consciously give up this time." Licking dry lips, he admitted, "When Myers said he was going to bury the Stargate, I felt so alone."

"Well, you're not alone," Jack forcefully reminded him. "I know you've never really had a family before, but you've got one now. Being part of a family means being there for each other. Always!"

An embarrassed half-smile on his face, Daniel acceded, "I'll try to remember."

"You better do more than try."

"There you are!" Dr. Frasier bellowed, stomping up to the pair. "I haven't' released my patient yet, Colonel."

Rising to his feet, Jack moved to the back of the wheelchair, using Daniel as a buffer between himself and the irate physician. "Daniel was looking a little pale," he stammered an excuse. "I thought he could use some sun."

"Patients generally look pale when they've just been released from the ICU."

"I'll take him back right now."

"You most certainly will."

Daniel smiled, enjoying his friend's discomfort. It wasn't often someone got the better of Jack O'Neill. Basking in the unusual occurrence, he closed his eyes. He was so tired he could barely sit up. Though he had been disappointed by the interruption, he was grateful too. It looked like he had finally gained a little of Jack's respect. He didn't want to lose it by collapsing after a mere half-hour away from his bed. He couldn't endure going back to the way things had been in the beginning. Not now. For the first time in too many years, he had a family. Once they found Sha're, it would be complete. And they would find her. Jack promised.