With a narrowed gaze, Colonel Jack O'Neill regarded the small group of aliens huddled at the bottom of the steep staircase leading up to the Stargate. The inhabitants of P3C-519 appeared human, which wasn't unusual since most of the worlds in the Stargate system had been seeded from the ancient cultures of Earth. Despite this common ancestry, Jack didn't automatically trust these people. His military training had taught him to be suspicious of even the most innocuous looking creatures.
"Carter, Teal'c, take the flank," he softly ordered. "Daniel, you want to see if you can communicate with the welcoming committee?"
As Daniel nodded and descended the stairs, Jack studied the small group. There appeared to be four males and two females. They were dressed in loose fitting robes which made identification difficult. The purplish hue of the fabric tinged the flesh, what little was visible, the same color. Following Daniel, Jack adjusted his weapon to combat readiness. He would've liked to have released the safety, but due to Daniel's sensitivity toward armed confrontation, he refrained. The younger man always chose to see the universe through rose colored glasses. Jack's lenses were clear, revealing the thorns as well as the blossoms.
Since English had been a fairly common language on most of the worlds they visited, Jack wasn't surprised Daniel chose it to make his initial introduction.
"Hello, I'm Daniel Jackson. We come from a planet called Earth."
"Gatari?" one of the men replied.
"Yes," Daniel eagerly confirmed, "Gatari."
"You are from the home world," the same man enthusiastically revealed, crossing his hands over his stomach. "The children will be pleased."
Daniel's puzzled glance rested on Jack a moment, before returning to the spokesman, "Why would our origin please your children?"
"You are the lost ones."
"You turned away from the sun."
From the look on the younger man's face, Jack could see Daniel was as confused by the reference as he was. Since this wasn't generally the case, Jack allowed himself to wallow in the rare occurrence.
"When did we turn away from the sun?" a fascinated Daniel inquired.
"Long ago. Soon after our father brought us here."
Biting his lip in frustration at the slow progress of the exchange, Daniel asked, "And who is your father?"
"Ra, of course." The man's hands dropped to his side.
Shock slowed Jack's normally quick reflexes. Releasing the safety on his rifle, he shouted, "Daniel, back away! They're Goa'ulds!"
Already in motion, Daniel stumbled backward, tripping at the base of the staircase. Fighting to regain his balance, he put a hand down on the rough stone.
Jack watched in horror as a Goa'uld larva appeared from an opening in the spokesman's robe. It sprang at Daniel, covering the lengthening distance with ease. Unaffected by the desperate hands trying to push it off, it clung to Daniel's chest, before flying up to his shoulder and around to the back of his neck. A muted cry of fear turned into a scream of agony as it tore into the soft flesh.
Laying down a stream of bullets at the sandaled feet of the welcoming committee, Jack yelled, "Back away!"
"Do it now!" Carter's voice cracked as she re-enforced her superior's order.
As soon as they complied, Jack flipped the safety back on his weapon and hurried to the writhing body, "Daniel?"
"Jack," Bloody lips closed over a cry of pain, "get it out."
"We will," Jack promised, throwing a limp arm over his shoulder and lifting the wilting body to its feet. "Teal'c, dial it up."
With Carter covering them, Jack carried Daniel up the stairs. By the time they arrived, the wormhole had been established. Jack didn't hesitate and stepped through.
They had barely emerged on the other side when the body in his arms stiffened, fighting his assistance. Easing Daniel down to the ramp, Jack shouted, "We need a medical team, now."
"Medical team to the embarkation room," echoed through the base.
Jack spun around when he heard the iris close behind him. He was relieved to see Carter and Teal'c had apparently made it back safely. "You guys all right?"
"Fine," Carter replied, crossing to Daniel's side and capturing a thrashing arm.
"I too am well," Teal'c reassured his superior.
"What the hell's going on?" General Hammond demanded, entering the 'gate room only steps behind the medical team.
Relinquishing his position to a corpsman, Jack explained, "P3C-519 is inhabited by Goa'ulds, sir."
"What happened to Dr. Jackson?"
A raw scream shrilled through the air as Daniel twisted off the stretcher.
"Colonel?" a shocked Hammond demanded.
Unable to voice the obscenity to explain what had happened to his friend, Jack bent down. Taking the flailing head in his hands, he gently turned it so his superior could see the entry scar at the back of the neck.
"Oh, my God," Hammond whispered.
Daniel's head snapped out of Jack's grasp and crashed onto the metal ramp, opening a gash above the left eye. Blood poured down the pale face, staining Jack's hands as he fought to prevent further injury. "Dr. Frasier, do something," he pleaded.
"She must not," Teal'c growled, joining the fight to restrain the squirming man. "Daniel Jackson is fighting the Goa'uld's control. Your drugs will only hinder his efforts."
Swallowing past the lump in his throat as he remembered Major Kawalsky's fate, O'Neill protested, "He's already lost the fight. Why make him suffer?"
"That is Daniel Jackson's decision to make. Not ours."
Even as he silently pleaded to his friend to keep fighting, Jack wondered if he was being fair. They knew from experience the Goa'uld couldn't be surgically removed. Why continue the agonizing struggle if it was for nothing?
"You can let go, Colonel," Dr. Frasier pushed his hands away. "We've got Dr. Jackson."
As the stretcher was borne away, Jack collapsed on the ramp and buried his head in his hands. The idea of Daniel becoming a monster like Apophis made him feel sick. Gentle Daniel who only carried a gun because he was forced to. Leaning over the side of the ramp, Jack emptied his stomach.
Despair filled Jack as he stared at the swinging doors allowing access to the infirmary. It wasn't that long ago he'd stood in this very spot, haunted by the same fears. They hadn't been able to save Kawalsky. Would Daniel meet the same fate?
A corpsman brushed past on his way into the ward. Fearful something had happened to Daniel, Jack followed closely on his heels. Inside however, all was quiet. The gravity bed Kawalsky had been strapped to was in the center of the room again. Jack hesitated. He wasn't sure if he was ready to confront a Goa'uld-infested Daniel. At least Kawalsky had been a soldier. The aggressive nature of the parasite that had invaded his body had been an extension of the man himself. Daniel was a scholar. Violence was abhorrent to him. The thought of that incredible mind controlled by a merciless Goa'uld was unthinkable.
Hoping his feelings weren't being telegraphed on his face, Jack walked around the head of the bed. His body strapped securely to the metal frames, Daniel's head lay crookedly across the hole in the thin mattress. Sweat soaked his hair and trickled down the side of his face. Lines of pain and fatigue were already etched into the pale cheeks.
Jack found a cloth on a nearby table and gently wiped the damp flesh.
"Thank you," Daniel hoarsely whispered.
Amazed that even in this condition Daniel's courteous nature hadn't deserted him, a faint smile of sadness touched Jack's lips, "You're welcome."
"Jack!" Bruised eyelids slowly lifted to reveal the soft blue eyes underneath.
Pinned by the unwavering stare, O'Neill fidgeted, "Hi."
"Jack," a tongue whipped out to lick dry lips, "don't let me hurt anyone."
Remembering it had been Daniel who had discovered the doctor Kawalsky had killed, Jack reassured his friend, "You won't."
"Promise you'll kill me if I become dangerous," Daniel pleaded. His entreaty was accompanied by a soft moan. For an instant, the blue eyes glowed with an alien light.
Unnerved by what he had heard and seen, Jack shook his head. This was one vow he knew he could never make.
Jack tore his gaze away from the beseeching eyes and focused with difficulty on the female airman at his elbow, "Yes, Sergeant?"
"General Hammond requests your presence in the briefing room. Immediately, sir."
"Thank you, Sergeant," Jack saluted the noncom, grateful for the interruption. But, the glistening eyes wouldn't release him so easily.
"Promise me, Jack."
"Daniel," Jack quickly looked away. Biting his lip, he roughly admitted, "I can't."
Disappointment doused the blue flames.
"We haven't given up, yet," Jack encouraged, moving closer and wrapping his fingers around a clenched fist. "Don't you."
"I'm trying, Jack." A hot tear rolled down a pale cheek. "But, it hurts. I don't know how much longer I can keep fighting."
His hand tightening, Jack exhorted, "You've never been a quitter, Daniel. Don't start now."
Clamped lips imprisoned a sob. Daniel bowed his head and nodded.
"I have to go." Jack pushed a stray lock of hair off the damp forehead. His hand cradled the bowed head for a moment, "I'll be back as soon as I can."
Rigidly holding his emotions in check, Jack stumbled away. Embarrassed by his display, he threw his head back and straightened his shoulders. He could hide his feelings, but he couldn't escape the memory of the glowing eyes. They accompanied him from the room.
"You will lose."
Daniel tried to ignore the taunting voice of the beast that had invaded his body and was fighting for control of his mind. The wormlike creature twisted around his spinal column and squeezed, compressing sensitive nerves. White hot pain radiated down Daniel's neck, to his back dissipating in his legs. A paralyzing numbness followed in its wake. Tenacious tendrils stretched into his brain, daggers slicing whatever they touched. His mind was being raped. It was a molestation that would only end with his death.
"Stop fighting and the pain will go away."
"My pain," Daniel emphasized, unsure if the battle he waged was verbal, or only in his head. "What of those you'll enslave or kill?"
A deep chuckle greeted Daniel's concern. It had a harsh and cynical sound. "Why should you care what happens to others?"
"Because that's the way my people are. We try to help each other."
"It makes you weak. Vulnerable."
"No," Daniel contradicted, "it makes us strong."
"Because we know we won't have to fight alone."
When Jack entered the conference room, he found General Hammond, Dr. Frasier, Dr. Warner, Carter and Teal'c already waiting for him. Taking the empty seat next to the Jaffa, he suspiciously asked, "What's going on, General?"
"We're here to review the situation regarding Dr. Jackson."
"What's there to discuss?" Jack demanded, placing his hands belligerently on the table. "We get that thing out of him."
Lines of concentration deepened along Dr. Warner's brows and under his eyes, "You must realize surgery is out of the question. We all know what happened to Major Kawalsky."
"Teal'c," Carter addressed her friend, "Daniel's fighting, is there a chance he could win?"
"There is not. Few have the strength to fight as Daniel Jackson has. None have won."
"Even if we could leave it in," Jack angrily reminded them, "Daniel would become a lab rat for Kennedy and his minions."
Her mouth tight and grim, Frasier shook her head, "I'm afraid leaving it in isn't an option."
Leaning forward in her chair, Sam demanded, "Why not? As long as Daniel's alive there's a chance. We know Thor's Hammer worked. Maybe we can find Thor or his people and get it working again."
"You don't have that much time," Frasier sadly revealed. "The Goa'uld's DNA isn't compatible with Dr. Jackson's. While it's probably the reason why it hasn't been able to take him over completely yet, it's also killing him."
"But the people on P3C-519 looked human," Carter glanced at O'Neill for affirmation.
"Looked is the operative word here," Frasier said. "At one time, they may have been human. They aren't any more, at least not completely. There's enough alien DNA in their nucleic acids to make it incompatible with a human."
Jack rubbed his face with his hands. The last time he'd felt this helpless was at the hospital when Charlie died. "How long does Daniel have?"
"Forty-eight hours, if no major organs are attacked."
"Meaning?" Jack pressed for clarification.
Closing her eyes for a moment, Frasier gathered her thoughts, "The cells in Dr. Jackson's body are at war with an invader."
"We know that," Jack gave an impatient shrug.
"It's a war he can't win. When he loses a battle he won't be relinquishing a hill or a bridge. It'll be a kidney or a lung."
The full impact of the physician's revelation drove a fist into Jack's gut, "Or his heart?"
"Or his heart," Frasier repeated, nodding confirmation.
Her voice stifled and unnatural, Sam asked, "What about using immunosuppressant drugs?"
"I am, but the Goa'uld's cells are extremely invasive. The drugs are barely slowing their advance."
"What you're saying is there's nothing you can do to save Daniel," Jack's words were as cool and clear as ice water.
Looking away from the intent stare of her superior, Frasier swallowed past the lump in her throat, "That's exactly what I'm saying."
"You expect us to just sit back and watch Daniel die?"
Frasier's voice caught in her throat, "Colonel, if there was anything I could do, don't you think I'd be doing it?"
"At ease, Doctor," Hammond gently admonished. "We know you're doing the best you can."
Jack stared at his hands. Instead of seeing callused flesh, he saw his friend's face, lips agape in open-mouthed wonder at some new discovery. He was unwilling to accept the inevitable conclusion the doctor had put forth. He'd encouraged Daniel not to give up, now it was time to follow his own advice. Even a remote chance was better than none. "What about Thor's Hammer?" he asked.
"What about it?" Sam demanded, biting her lip. "We destroyed it, remember?"
Leaning forward in his chair, Jack caught her eyes with his own, "Did we?"
"You were there. Daniel shot it with Teal'c's staff."
"What if it isn't destroyed? What if we only damaged it?" Jack clasped his hands together to hide their trembling. "Could we repair it?"
Her eyelashes bordered with tears, Sam shook her head, "I don't know. I'd have to look at it."
"But it is a possibility?" Jack pressed.
"I suppose," Sam reluctantly conceded, "If all we did was disconnect it from its power source, I may be able to rig a temporary connection that will get the Hammer working again."
Standing, Jack straightened his shoulders and cleared his throat, "Captain, draw-up a list of the supplies you'll need. Dr. Frasier, get Daniel ready to travel."
"General Hammond," Frasier protested, "Dr. Jackson is in no condition to go through the Stargate."
"Will it kill him?"
A soft sight escaping his lips, Hammond said, "Then I see no reason to deny Colonel O'Neill's request. It may be a slim chance, Doctor, but at least it's a chance."
"It'll be subjecting Dr. Jackson to needless suffering," Frasier argued. "At least I can make him comfortable."
"Comfortable!" Jack incredulously repeated the word as if it were an obscenity.
Anger driving her to her feet, Frasier glared at him, "Yes, Colonel, comfortable. I don't think you understand what's going to happen here. Dr. Jackson's body is deteriorating."
"And there's nothing you can do to stop it," Jack reminded her. "All you can do is make him comfortable. That won't keep him alive, Doctor."
"But going to a remote planet to rebuild an alien device that may be beyond repair will?"
The fire in Jack's eyes died. "It has to."
Her own anger evaporating in the wake of O'Neill's despair, Frasier said, "Then I'm going with you."
"Colonel," Frasier forced herself to remain calm, professional, "what will you do if his heart stops or he bleeds internally? You won't be able to keep him alive until the Hammer's repaired, but I might."
"General?" Jack glanced questioningly at his commanding officer.
Hammond raised his hands, "The decision is yours, Colonel."
The promise of action renewing his resolve, Jack ordered, "Doctor, you and I will go through with Daniel. When the beam transports him to the caves, we'll go with him. Teal'c, give us a couple minutes. With any luck, the beam will be concentrating on us and you'll have time to escape its range."
"Do we know what that range is?"
"Let's put it this way, if I were you, I'd try to set a new world record for the hundred yard dash."
Teal'c tilted his head in puzzlement, "What is a hundred yard dash?"
Ignoring the question, Jack continued, "Captain Carter, follow the trail Kendra showed you with a FRED full of the equipment you'll need to repair the Hammer."
"Yes, Sir," Carter unhappily agreed.
"We leave in one hour, people. Let's get moving."
As the other three scrambled to complete their tasks in the allotted time, Hammond crossed to O'Neill's side, "I hope this works, son."
Afraid to speak, Jack could only nod his agreement. He stared out the window at the Stargate. His expression was a mixture of hope and loathing. It had been the instrument of Daniel's destruction, but it might also be the doorway to his salvation.
Jack watched in helpless rage as the corpsman finished "dressing" Daniel. Along with the fatigue coat and pants, a new item had been added. A wide leather belt was being strapped around the scientist's narrow waist. First one wrist, then the other was secured in the loops hanging from each side. It was the kind of belt used to restrain violent prisoners. But Daniel wasn't a rapist or a murderer. He was a good man, possessed by an evil creature.
"We're ready, Colonel," Frasier calmly informed him.
Wondering how the petite woman could be so dispassionate, Jack replaced one of the corpsmen supporting his friend. Though Daniel's legs were noticeably trembling, they carried him to the embarkation room. The fourth chevron was locking into place as they entered.
"Where are we going?" The words were spoken by Daniel's lips, but in a voice that was not his own.
His throat constricting, Jack looked away from the glowing eyes, "You'll find out."
"You will tell us, or you will die."
The sentiment was so incongruous coming from Daniel, Jack could only shake his head.
The light had faded. The puzzled blue eyes fixed on his face were familiar to O'Neill, "Welcome back."
The fifth chevron locked into place.
Daniel's gaze studied the lit symbols, "Thor's world?"
"We're going to try to get the Hammer working again," Jack explained, as Dr. Frasier replaced the other corpsman.
His puzzled gaze shifting to the physician gripping his right arm, Daniel asked, "Are you coming too, Doctor?"
"You're my patient. Where you go, I go."
"Ah, isn't that taking the doctor/patient relationship a bit far? No pun intended."
Frasier's glance rested briefly on O'Neill, before returning to Daniel, "The Goa'uld's DNA isn't compatible with your own, Doctor Jackson. I'm going to try to keep you alive until Captain Carter and Mr. Teal'c get the Hammer working."
"Maybe, you shouldn't?"
The sixth chevron slid into place.
A frown furrowing her brow, Frasier pressed, "Shouldn't what?"
"Keep me alive. I'm dangerous. I could hurt someone."
An indefinable edge in his voice, Jack pointed out, "It would be a little difficult in those restraints."
"Don't underestimate this thing inside me, Jack," Daniel warned.
"I'm not," O'Neill reassured him. "I'm not underestimating you, either."
The last chevron locked into place. The wormhole shot out toward them, before settling back into the event horizon.
Turning to the other members of his team, Jack reminded them, "Give us about two minutes, then follow."
"Yes, Sir," Carter unhappily replied.
His right arm wrapped tightly around Daniel's waist, Jack grabbed the leather wrist strap with his left, "Are you ready, Doctor?"
Copying his grip, Frasier took a deep breath and nodded.
The metal ramp clanged and rattled as they climbed up to the Stargate. Jack didn't hesitate when they reached the top. Stepping through, he dragged the other two across with him.
This time, when they emerged there wasn't anyone around to encourage the beam's activation. A familiar soft humming told Jack it wasn't necessary. "Get ready, Doctor."
Just as the blue light flashed on, Jack heard the sound of more travelers emerging. From the corner of his eye, he saw Teal'c bound off the platform and run toward some rocks. A thin layer of snow covered the ground, hampering his progress.
The light scanned Dr. Frasier before moving to Daniel's head and down to his stomach. He screamed in agony and tried to twist away from the torturous beam.
Jack planted his feet preventing his escape. He closed his eyes, so he couldn't see his friend's pain. But, he couldn't close his ears to the unearthly cries.
The light winked out thrusting Jack into a familiar darkness.
Sam watched Teal'c sprint away, and prayed he would escape the beam. She had climbed the mountain before and knew the terrain. The FRED wouldn't make it all the way. A few miles from the caves, they would be forced to leave it behind. Alone, she would have to make several trips to carry the equipment she'd need. They didn't have the time to waste. Daniel didn't have the time.
The weather was a factor she hadn't anticipated. Here in the valley, the snow barely covered the ground. The higher they went, the deeper it would become. Overcast skies warned of more precipitation to hinder their journey.
The blue light flashed in her eyes, almost blinding her. It dropped from her head down to her stomach, then winked out. A sigh of relief whistled through her lips as she manipulated the FRED's controls. Everything looked different with the snow cover. She was fairly certain she could find her way to Kendra's cabin. She only hoped the young woman would be there, and be willing to guide them back to the labyrinth. For Daniel's sake, Sam was certain she would. She had a feeling the stone Kendra had given Daniel on their previous visit wasn't meant to remember them by, but rather her. Only Sha're's ghost had prevented the woman from pursuing Daniel more aggressively. Or, so it had appeared to Sam.
"Which way, Captain Carter?" Teal'c inquired, as she joined him.
It had only been a few months since their last visit, but the ground cover made her decision difficult. "This way," she decided, after a careful study of the terrain.
The dark cavern wasn't as much of a shock to Jack this time as it had been when he and Teal'c had been transported here. Rolling to his knees, he quickly checked Daniel. He was still deeply unconscious. Jack put his fingers to the carotid artery. Though erratic, the heart beat strongly.
Turning his attention to Frasier, he gently tapped flushed cheeks, "Doctor?"
"I'm all right," irritated, the physician slapped his hand away. Sitting up, she focused her skills on her patient.
Jack watched in silence for as long as he could before demanding, "How is he?"
"I can't tell for sure, but I don't think the beam did any damage."
The long eyelashes fluttered before rising. But instead of blue eyes, the inhuman glow of the Goa'uld inhabiting Daniel's body was revealed.
"You have brought us to Cimmeria."
"Good guess." Jack wanted to smack the sneering face, but he knew the only one who would suffer would be Daniel.
"It is forbidden for Goa'uld and Jaffa to come to this world."
"Your point being?"
"We must leave at once."
Pointing to the holographic representation of Thor reciting its message of doom, Jack noted, "If you listen, you'll see that could be a little difficult."
"You will pay for this."
The glowing eyes faded, returning to the familiar blue. "Jack," excitement audible in his voice, Daniel declared, "that's Thor."
"We've met," Jack muttered, disconcerted by the rapid change.
"He's smaller than I expected."
A sheepish smile lifting the corners of his lips, Daniel nodded. "A little."
"Do you think you can stand?" Jack asked, anxious to get under way. Even his previous knowledge wouldn't make it easy to find their way through the labyrinth.
Indicating the restraints, Daniel said, "I'll need help."
With Frasier lending support on one side, Jack lifted his friend. "Daniel," he hesitated, before reluctantly continuing, "when that thing takes over, do you know what it's saying?"
"Yes," Daniel unhappily acknowledged. "His name is Nessus. In Greek mythology, Nessus was a centaur who assaulted Deianira, the wife of Heracles and was then killed by him."
"Damn!" This was more than Jack wanted to know. It meant the Goa'uld was mature. When Kawalsky's infant larva had taken over, he'd blacked out. Jack had hoped Daniel would be equally oblivious to his beast's control. "Can you influence its actions?"
"I've been trying, but it's getting stronger."
Jack heard the unspoken confession. Daniel was getting weaker. It was harder to fight. They had to hurry.
When Sam first met Kendra, she had been healing a young boy's broken wrist. This time, she was helping a cow give birth. Despite the cold, she was flushed with excitement. She cradled the young calf, oblivious to the blood covering her hands and clothes.
Finally noticing her visitors, she happily greeted them, "Hail and welcome, my friends."
"Hail," Sam repeated, still uncomfortable with the salutation.
"Thor is pleased at your return," Kendra smiled at them.
Never one for small talk, Teal'c said, "We are in need of your assistance."
The smile faded at the Jaffa's words. "Where is Daniel?" Pushing the calf towards its mother, Kendra rose her eyes searching the trail.
"He's why we're here," Sam admitted.
The color leaching from her face, Kendra gasped, "A Goa'uld has taken over his body."
Amazed by the woman's insight, Sam nodded, "Its DNA isn't compatible with Daniel's. It's killing him. We were hoping we could get the Hammer working again and drive it from his body."
"Give me a minute to clean up. I will take you to the labyrinth."
"Thank you," Sam's appreciation was spoken to empty air. Kendra had already disappeared into her hut.
"It appears you were correct regarding her desire to assist Daniel Jackson," Teal'c observed.
A significant lifting of one eyebrow displayed Sam's surprise, "She didn't even consult Thor before making her decision."
"Sha're enjoys sleeping with Apophis."
"No - o - o!" The cry of denial echoed around the cavern, hammering at Daniel with repeated blows. He could feel Jack trying to restrain him.
"The prospect of returning to you fills her with revulsion."
A hoarse whimper greeted this new taunt, "Please, no-o-o."
"Don't listen to him, Daniel."
Daniel felt Jack's hands on his shoulders, shaking him. He desperately focused on the familiar voice.
"Sha're loves you, Daniel. I saw that kiss she gave you before she was kidnapped. Remember that kiss and you'll know she wants to come back to you."
"But will you want her back after all the things she's done?"
"Yes," Daniel stopped fighting the mocking voice and relaxed. "She's not responsible for what the Goa'uld inside her does."
"I think our boy's back," Jack said, smiling at the doctor.
A sigh escaped Daniel's lips, "He's getting stronger, Jack."
"I know," O'Neill conceded.
"You have to fight him, Dr. Jackson," Frasier encouraged, putting her stethoscope and blood pressure gauge back in her bag. "I can't explain why, but your mental state is having a direct influence on your physical condition. The more it's in control, the faster you deteriorate."
Daniel closed his eyes and in a breathless whisper confessed, "I'm trying. It just hurts so much."
Sam and Kendra stopped to rest at the top of a ridge. Teal'c didn't hesitate. The controls of the FRED clasped firmly in his hands, he continued along the ledge. The machine was slowing them down. Almost to the point where Sam was tempted to leave it behind. But the three of them, would be unable to carry all the equipment up to the caves in one trip. She couldn't take the chance of leaving something necessary behind.
"Do you love him?"
The question caught Sam by surprise. Turning a shocked gaze on her companion, she stuttered, "W-who?"
Dark eyes intently studied her face, "Daniel."
"I love him," Sam acknowledged, picking up a handful of small stones and throwing them, one by one, down the hill. "But I'm not in love with him."
"What is the difference?"
The warmth of Sam's smile was echoed in her voice, "Daniel is like a teddy bear. . ."
"Yeah," Sam muttered, her smile slipping, "this is getting us nowhere." Taking a deep breath, she explained, "A teddy bear is a toy, a stuffed animal. Many people on my world receive one as a child and carry it with them for the rest of their lives. They make you feel you'll always have a friend."
Avoiding the other woman's eyes, Kendra asked, "That is how Daniel makes you feel?"
"Yes," a smile played at Sam's lips, "even when Daniel's not around, I never feel alone."
A wistful yearning appeared in Kendra's eyes, "That is not love?"
"No. Loving him would only cause me pain. Friendship is all I can hope for, all I want."
"Because of Sha're?"
"Once in a while, I catch him staring into space and I know he's thinking of her." Sam's voice cracked, "The look of longing on his face breaks my heart."
Kendra rose to her feet. There was a tremor in her voice as she urged, "We must be going."
"You're right, Colonel," Sam softly whispered, her eyes sadly following the other woman. "Daniel does have a woman on every planet."
Jack played his flashlight around the cavern. There were two exits. He desperately tried to remember which one he and Teal'c had taken. Unlike many of the other rooms, this one was familiar. The pond with the stark white bones littering its shoreline, told him they were getting close to the hammer.
"You are fighting a losing battle."
Too tired to play the Goa'uld's games, Jack ignored the remark.
"He is close to giving up."
"No," Jack's eyes conveyed the fury within him, "Daniel's not a quitter."
"How can you know that?"
An uneasy glance rested on Frasier before shifting to the glowing eyes and sneering smile, "I've been there. I'd recognize the signs."
"Would you rather see him die?"
"He would rather die," Jack confidently replied, "than be a Goa'uld."
"So be it."
Daniel's body collapsed so suddenly, Jack barely saved him from crashing to the stony ground. Gently cradling the limp form, he desperately cried, "Dr. Frasier?"
"He's not breathing," Frasier explained. "Lay him flat."
Quickly doing as he had been instructed, Jack sat back on his heels and watched as the petite woman administered artificial respiration. "Come on, Daniel," he begged. "Don't let the bastard win."
Panting, Frasier turned her head to check the rise and fall of her patient's chest. When she detected no movement, she placed her mouth over Daniel's again and blew air into his lungs.
Frightened by the blue/gray pallor of the normally pink flesh, Jack pleaded, "Fight, Daniel, fight."
Swaying dizzily over her patient, Frasier put her hand on Daniel's chest, "He's breathing."
Noticeably trembling, Jack placed his hand next to hers. His joy faded when he felt the faint rise and fall, "It's not very strong."
"Give him time. It's getting stronger."
Though he'd never been a patient man, Jack obediently waited. As the physician had promised, the heartbeats grew stronger and closer together. Two bright spots of color appeared on the pale cheeks. "Daniel?"
The long eyelashes fluttered uncertainly, before finally rising, "What happened?"
"You died," Jack anxiously replied.
"That's not quite correct," Frasier amended, frowning at her superior. "Your heart never stopped beating, it just became difficult for you to breathe."
"Which, of course, is not the same as dying," Jack sarcastically agreed.
Glancing from one angry face to the other, Daniel hesitantly inquired, "Could I get off this floor? It's awfully cold." A shiver coursed through his body reinforcing his observation.
The two combatants quickly called a truce and helped the shivering man to his feet. The trembling legs could barely support him. Hoping he wouldn't regret his decision, Jack released Daniel's right wrist and slipped the arm over his shoulder.
"Colonel," Frasier protested, "these restraints are for Dr. Jackson's protection as well as our own."
"I understand that, Doctor. I also know Daniel can't walk without help, and we still have a long way to go. If you have a better way of getting him to the Hammer, I'd love to hear it."
The tensing of her jaw betrayed Frasier's deep frustration.
Sighing lightly, Daniel facetiously asked, "Are we having fun yet?"
Teal'c parked the FRED at the bottom of the water trough. They would have to carry the equipment the rest of the way.
Realizing her choices could cost Daniel his life, Sam carefully went through what she had packed. The tools she considered essential, she layed on the ground. The rest, she placed back in the sled. Teal'c took the heaviest pieces without protest. Sam and Kendra split the remainder.
Though the Jaffa was quiet by nature, Sam sensed an urgency in him that wasn't normal. "Teal'c, are you all right?"
"I am well."
"You seem distracted," Sam persisted, walking faster so she could keep up with the taller man's stride.
The quiver in his chin the only sign of his feelings, Teal'c reminded her, "It was for me that Daniel Jackson destroyed the Hammer. If you cannot repair the damage, he will die."
"This isn't your fault, Teal'c," Sam soothed, panting at the brisk pace. "Even if Daniel had known he would be infected by a Goa'uld, he still would've destroyed the mechanism."
"He would condemn himself, for me?" The strong voice cracked.
"You're his friend," Sam gently smiled. She had seen the Jaffa home world, so she understood why it was so hard for Teal'c to believe her. Friendship wasn't encouraged among the warrior race. When it did occur, it was safer for both parties to keep the relationship a secret.
Uncomfortable, Teal'c avoided her eyes, "I would not have asked for such a sacrifice."
Sam glanced back at Kendra. Keeping her voice low, she said, "It was harder for him to reconcile his hope for Sha're, than it would've been for himself. You should feel honored."
"I do not."
Realizing her attempt to console the tortured man was failing, Sam slowed to let Kendra catch up.
"You can not ease his pain," the other woman counseled, "Only Daniel can render the absolution he seeks."
"But Teal'c has nothing to feel guilty about," Sam protested.
Brooding eyes rested on Sam for a brief moment, "He thinks he does. That's all that matters."
When the passage narrowed, Frasier released her hold on Daniel's arm and stepped back, allowing the two men to proceed without her.
Jack felt a rush of elation. He could see the Hammer. It had been a while since Nessus had reared his ugly head. Was Daniel winning the private war he fought?
The arm across his shoulders tightened. Jack frowned and turned his gaze on Daniel's face. Eyes glowed at him from the darkness. A hand gripped his shoulder with an inhuman strength. It threw Jack against the jagged stone wall. His head slammed into a protrusion. Stars danced in front of his eyes bathed in a blood red light. The muscles in his legs turned to liquid, dropping him to the ground.
Fighting the darkness hovering over him, Jack saw Daniel, or at least the beast controlling Daniel's body, turn on Frasier. The unrestrained hand whipped out and grabbed the physician by the throat. Long nails desperately clawed at tender flesh futilely fighting the unyielding grasp. The arm raised, lifting the small woman with it.
"Daniel," Jack croaked. Pain stabbed through his head, as he tried to drag himself to the struggling woman. "Daniel, stop." Jack didn't falter when he heard footsteps behind him. Teal'c bound over his prone body with an agility Jack would never have attributed to the powerful man.
Strong hands wrapped around Daniel's arm trying to break the deathly hold. Rigid fingers tightened around its victim's neck.
Tears in his eyes, Teal'c slammed a fist into Daniel's stomach. The glowing eyes dimmed before regaining strength. A back-handed slap to Daniel's face only brought an unfamiliar sneer to the pursed lips. Blue tinged Frasier's pale cheeks. With a frustrated roar, Teal'c brought the side of his hand down on the extended arm.
The sound of breaking bone echoed around the chamber, making Jack's stomach turn. Damaged muscles involuntarily released, allowing Frasier to fall to the hard ground. Her hands pawed at her throat, as she gasped for air. Finger-shaped bruises were already appearing on the chalky flesh.
"Colonel?" Carter knelt beside her superior.
"See to Dr. Frasier, Captain," Jack ordered, between clenched teeth.
Slipping out of her pack, Sam desperately dug into one of its side pockets for her first aid kit. "Kendra is taking care of the Doc," she soothed. "You better let me see to that cut on your head. It's bleeding pretty bad."
Jack could feel the warm fluid trickling down the side of his face. But what really made him nauseous was the sight of Daniel cowering against the tunnel wall. A white mass that could only be bone protruded just above his wrist. The malevolent glow had disappeared from his eyes.
"Daniel?" Jack tentatively probed.
"Oh, God, Jack," blue eyes blurred with tears focused on O'Neill. "I'm so sorry."
"It wasn't your fault, Daniel," Jack winced when Carter applied pressure to his wound.
"I almost killed you and Dr. Frasier," Daniel whispered, despair visible on his face. "Kill me now, before I succeed."
Satisfied Frasier was recovering on her own, Kendra made a tentative move toward Daniel. When he recoiled from her outstretched hand, she stopped. "I know what it's like to have the parasite inside you do unspeakable acts," she softly reminded him. "But remember, it is the beast who did this. Your body is only the vessel. Your mind was an innocent bystander."
"I should've fought harder," Daniel protested, self-condemnation in his voice.
To appear less threatening, Kendra sank down on her heels, "When you rescue Sha're and find a way to drive the Goa'uld from her body, will you blame her for the things she's done while under its influence?"
"No, of course not," Daniel quickly replied.
"Then how can you blame yourself?"
Jack relaxed as he saw reluctant acceptance on Daniel's face. Glowing eyes reappeared for a brief moment destroying his contentment. Urgency roughened his voice as he ordered, "Carter, get to work on that Hammer. Teal'c, give her a hand."
The Jaffa hesitated before obeying. An emotionless mask slipped across the brooding face.
While he was accustomed to the impassive features, Jack shivered. It felt as though a cold wind had blown across his shoulders. Something was different this time.
"Let me look at that arm," Frasier rasped. Taking a deep, unsteady breath, she knelt beside Daniel.
While doctors generally fell into the same category as scientists, as far as Jack was concerned, he felt his respect for Frasier grow. She was putting aside her fear, because her patient needed her.
"How are you doing, Colonel?"
Frasier's quiet inquiry surprised Jack. Before he could find something glib to say, she continued.
"I want you to take it easy until I can take a look at you. You probably have a concussion."
For Jack, there was no probably about it. He felt like there was a little man inside his head with a sledge hammer trying to punch a hole in his skull. The fact that he was seeing two of everything had him a little worried.
A muffled cry of pain drew Jack's attention back to his injured friend. Despite the chilly damp air, sweat trickled down Daniel's brow. The younger man was clearly exhausted. Even if they did get the Hammer working again, would he have the strength to endure its assault?
"You will desist."
Frasier dropped the partially bandaged arm and backed away, fear clearly apparent on her face.
His own heart beating faster, Jack watched Kendra calmly finish wrapping the splint around the broken arm.
"I told you to stop!"
Dark eyes defiantly met the glowing orbs, "What will you do if I don't?"
"How? You can not use your host's hands or arms."
"You dare to defy me."
"I know you. The beast who inhabited my body was as selfish and arrogant as you. She was no match for Thor's Hammer."
The glowing eyes dimmed, before flashing with a light brighter than ever.
"If I die, he dies. He is too weak to fight me."
"You are too weak to fight him," Kendra contradicted, an eyebrow raised in amused contempt. "He wants you to believe he is tired of fighting."
Uncertainty rested on features that were no longer so familiar. It was a beautiful sight to Jack's eyes. But, would Kendra's attempt to undermine Nessus' confidence be enough for Daniel to win his battle?"
Leaving Kendra to finish bandaging Daniel's arm, Frasier crossed to O'Neill. Peeking underneath the dressing Sam had placed on the gash, she said, "It's stopped bleeding. Rather than take a chance, I'm going to leave the bandage and just place another one over it. You'll probably need stitches when we get back."
"Ya think." Jack regretted the quip as soon as it left his mouth. A look of sorrow darted across the woman's face. He couldn't take back the words, he could only try to diminish their importance by showing his confidence in her abilities. Lowering his voice, he asked, "How's Daniel doing?"
Her tone carefully colored in neutral shades, Frasier replied, "Without the right equipment, it's hard to say."
"Take an educated guess," Jack urged, realizing his earlier remark had made her wary.
"His blood pressure is dangerously high. It's putting a strain on his heart." Thrusting her fingers through her long hair, Frasier pushed it off her brow, "He's having trouble breathing, which makes me believe he has a collapsed lung. And, I think he may be bleeding internally where Teal'c punched him."
Jack glanced across the chamber hoping Teal'c hadn't heard. The former Jaffa would never forgive himself if anything happened to Daniel. "What's the bottom line, Doc?"
"Even if Captain Carter can fix the Hammer," Frasier softly revealed, biting her lip, "I don't think Dr. Jackson has the strength to survive the assault. It's my understanding that the procedure is very painful and that many healthy individuals can't endure it."
The line of Jack's mouth tightened a fraction more as he caught her eyes with his own, "Your information is correct."
"Colonel," Carter's excited cry echoed around the chamber, "I think we've got it working. We may only get one chance and I don't know if it'll last long enough to purge the Goa'uld."
"We'll know in a few minutes." Jack pushed to his feet, his features becoming as flat and unreadable as stone.
"Colonel," Frasier protested, reaching out a hand to steady him, "did you hear what I just said?"
Crossing to Daniel's side, Jack nodded, "I heard."
"Then why make him suffer more?" Frasier pleaded, swallowing a sob. "For nothing."
Lending her assistance, Kendra slipped a strong arm around Daniel's waist, accepting most of his weight, "If he dies, Doctor, he will die free."
"You are all fools! To kill me, you will kill him."
"That's the way Daniel would want it," Jack confidently replied.
"You're wrong. I know what he thinks. How he feels. He wants to live."
Swallowing past the lump in his throat, Jack conceded, "I know he wants to live. You don't do the job we do without learning something about each other. But, he'll want to live as Daniel Jackson, not Nessus."
"He's begging you not to do this."
"Colonel," Frasier put a hand on O'Neill's arm, "how can you be so sure you know what Dr. Jackson would want?"
As he searched for the words to explain his feelings, Jack glanced over at Kendra. He was surprised when she smiled and nodded at him showing her support. "I know Daniel," Jack simply stated, shaking off Frasier's hand.
Jack cradled Daniel's head as they laid him in the center of the Hammer's arch. A muscle quivered in his jaw as he stepped away, "Turn it on, Captain."
The energy field wrapped around Daniel almost obscuring him from view. Jack anxiously watched, praying Daniel wouldn't regain control until the procedure was completed. Almost before the thought became a conscious desire, a shrill scream ripped through the air. It was followed by another, and another, until Jack put his hands over his ears and turned away. His eyes rested on Frasier for a brief second. Instead of the triumphant look he had expected to see, all he saw were tears of compassion rolling down the pale cheeks.
"I'm losing the connection," Carter yelled.
The energy field faded as Jack rushed to Daniel's side. A last shaky scream escaped the raw throat. Long lashes fluttered above the glazed eyes, before slowly closing.
"Daniel?" Jack anxiously demanded.
A smile found its way through Frasier's professional mask, "He's still alive. We have to get him back to Earth as quickly as possible if we want him to stay that way."
Teal'c lifted the unconscious man into his arms. Cradling his friend with a rare display of gentleness, he walked from the cave. Her shorter legs only covering half the distance as the Jaffa, Frasier was forced to run to keep up with her patient.
His eyes hooded to hide his fear, Jack turned to Kendra, "Was the beam on long enough to kill the Goa'uld?"
"I don't know," Kendra stood motionless in the middle of the chamber. "It did not seem to be long enough, but when you're in such pain minutes can seem like hours."
Taking a deep, unsteady breath, Jack whispered, "I may have put him through all this for nothing."
"No," Kendra said, laying a calming hand on his arm. "Your actions showed him you cared. It helped to fight the beast within him."
A muffled boom made Jack jump, ready to take cover, until he realized it was only distant thunder.
"Thor says Daniel Jackson will be all right," Kendra interpreted for him, a smile trembling over her lips.
His stomach churning with anxiety and frustration, Jack asked, "Has Thor ever been wrong before?"
Carefully avoiding the bandage, Jack rubbed his head. It had taken twelve stitches to close the gash. He had no desire to repeat the procedure. His stomach twisted at the very thought. A sound drew his anxious gaze to the infirmary doors. But, it was only a corpsman going off duty. How long did an MRI take? Frustrated, he started pacing the hallway again.
"Colonel," Carter protested, "the doctor ordered you to take it easy."
"I outrank her."
Carter's mouth curved into an unconscious smile, "I don't think she'll see it that way."
Slamming his hand against the door jamb, Jack impatiently demanded, "What's taking so long?"
"At least Daniel's still alive," Sam whispered, looking down at her hands. "There was so much internal damage, no one expected him to survive the surgery."
"Except Thor," Jack contradicted.
His face lined with exhaustion, Jack leaned against the wall, "Kendra said the thunder we heard as we were leaving the labyrinth was Thor telling her Daniel would be all right."
"Do you believe her?"
"She says Thor's never been wrong before."
The infirmary doors swung open revealing Dr. Frasier. Her bloodshot eyes attested to the ordeal they'd all endured. Jack held his breath waiting for her verdict. From the look on her face, it could go either way.
"He's clean," Frasier informed them. "There isn't a trace of the parasite anywhere in his system."
Dizzy with relief, Jack asked, "Can we see him?"
"He fell asleep as soon as the procedure was completed," Frasier said, shaking her head. "I'd like to keep him that way. He's got a lot of healing to do."
Though disappointed, Jack accepted the physician's verdict. He didn't want to do anything to hinder Daniel's recovery. Not after all he had been through.
"As for you, Colonel," Frasier continued, crossing her arms over her chest. "I ordered you to rest. If you're finding it difficult to follow my instructions, I could admit you."
Jack held his hands up in defeat, "I'm going home right now and I'll spend the next twenty-four hours in bed."
"Forty-eight, or no deal."
"Forty-eight," Jack unhappily agreed.
Smiling with satisfaction, Frasier re-entered the infirmary.
"Do you think I should let Kendra know Daniel's all right?" Carter asked.
Jack exchanged a smile with her, before shaking his head, "I think she already knows, Captain."
Daniel restlessly circled his apartment. He was almost sorry Frasier had allowed him to come home. He had thought that in his own surroundings, without the endless stream of well-wishers, he could find peace. But it was eluding him here as it had in the infirmary. Nessus' voice still taunted him with threats against his friends. Pictures of what Sha're was doing under her Goa'uld's influence, kept replaying in his head, until he despaired of ever holding on to his sanity. He covered his mouth with his hand to smother a scream.
A knock at the door barely penetrated his torturous imaginings. A second knock, louder and harder, finally drew his attention. He focused on it like a drowning man on a life preserver. Taking deep breaths to calm his rioting emotions, he stumbled to the door and flung it open. Shock, at the identity of his visitor, made him speechless. Finally finding his voice, he stepped back and invited Teal'c inside. "Don't take this the wrong way," he said, closing the door, "but how did you get here?"
"I hatched a ride with the driver Dr. Frasier sent to bring you in for your check-up."
"Hitched," Daniel absently corrected. At Teal'c's puzzled expression, he elaborated, "You hitched a ride."
"Hitched," Teal'c repeated, committing the word to memory.
Crossing to the window, Daniel glanced out and saw the familiar blue sedan. An airman leaned against the hood smoking a cigarette. "May I ask why you're here?" he inquired, his initial relief at Teal'c's fortuitous arrival disappearing.
"I needed to talk to you."
This time, it was Daniel's turn to be confused, "You came to see me in the infirmary every day these last two weeks. We talked then."
"There were always others around."
Realizing what Teal'c had to say would apparently be deeply disturbing to the Jaffa, Daniel urged, "Why don't we sit down."
"I prefer to stand."
"That's fine, too," Daniel reluctantly agreed.
Dark earnest eyes sought Daniel's, "I wish to apologize."
"Ah," Daniel stuttered, totally mystified by the disclosure, "for what?"
The sturdy chin quivered, "I have caused you much pain."
"Are you apologizing for the broken arm?" Daniel gasped, touching the cast in amazement. "If you hadn't done what you did, I would've killed Dr. Frasier."
"Not you," Teal'c quickly corrected, "Nessus."
Daniel turned away, staring sightlessly down at the busy street below, "It was his mind but my hand."
"You are not responsible."
"That's what everyone keeps telling me. It's easy to say but hard to accept."
Standing ramrod straight, his hands behind his back, Teal'c nodded, "I understand."
His friend's response was unexpected, leading Daniel to believe there was more to the earlier apology than just a broken arm. "What's wrong, Teal'c?"
"You have suffered greatly because of me," Teal'c said, a tremor touching his full lips.
Daniel's eyebrows shot up in amazement, "I remember you saved my life, several times in fact. I don't remember ever suffering because of you."
"Sha're," Teal'c softly reminded.
"You were a slave when you kidnapped her," Daniel said, his voice fragile and shaking. "You didn't know us or that there was a world the Goa'ulds couldn't enslave."
His mind spinning with bewilderment, Daniel shook his head, "What about Thor's Hammer?"
"You destroyed it to save me. If Captain Carter had not been able to get it working, you would have died."
"I would rather have died than live with that thing inside me."
"You should have left the Hammer in-tact."
"And left you in the caves?"
Leaning his head against the cool glass, Daniel sighed, "Then you wouldn't have been on P3X-947, where I seem to recall you killed a Centurion who was about to shoot me in the back." Turning his head so his eyes could rest on Teal'c's, Daniel pointed out, "If you hadn't been there, I'd be dead. You can't direct fate, Teal'c. It has its own time table. We're just passengers along for the ride."
"What's wrong?" Daniel anxiously demanded, putting a hand on his friend's arm. "Are you in pain?"
"That was a smile."
Daniel's luminous eyes widened with astonishment, "We've really got to work on that some more."
"Are you all right, Daniel Jackson?"
"I will be," Daniel quietly admitted.
"That is as it should be."