Summary: A Goa'uld invades Daniel.
Rated: PG-13. H/C & Angst. Thanks to Lems for beta reading.
Moderate spoilers for "In the Line of Duty," and minor spoilers for a variety of other first and second season episodes, including "Children of the Gods" and "Fire and Water."
The Demon Inside
"Hold on." Daniel Jackson pressed his uniform tunic over the gushing wound of the old man's chest. "Jack!" He screamed with everything he had. "Jack! I need help!"
Daniel looked around frantically, finding no sign of his friends amidst the chaos of bodies and shrubbery. Everything had happened so quickly. One minute they were walking through the forest at a leisurely but cautious pace, then an energy blast blew out the trunk of a small tree just in front of Jack, throwing splintered pieces of bark over them.
They all dropped instantly, instinct overriding the need for any verbal commands, and Sam, Teal'c, and Jack had their guns ready.
That's when all hell broke loose. Screaming natives appeared out of the brush, surrounding them. At first, Daniel thought they meant to attack, but when they bypassed SG1 without so much as a glance, he realized their screams were of terror and they were running from something.
"What the hell..?!" Jack's strained voice barely rose above the screams of the natives. "Keep your head down, Daniel!"
Daniel jerked lower, and a blast in the distance made him cover his head with his hands. Another rush of bodies and more screaming followed the blast, and this time Daniel's curiosity got the better of him. He lifted his head, searching the woods behind the fleeing natives. He saw no threat.
Still, they were running from something. He frowned. Perhaps they weren't frightened. Perhaps this was some kind of ritual... He tried to study the expressions on their faces as they ran past. They looked afraid. Fear was a relatively universal emotion, and humanoid expressions of fear were remarkably similar across cultures.
But that didn't necessarily mean they were afraid. As an anthropologist, he knew better than to make such assumptions.
Another explosion. This one shook the ground, and a loud crackling sound rose from behind the SG1 team.
At Jack's shout, Daniel spun around, saw the towering pine-like tree toppling toward them, and lunged out of the way. The massive trunk hit hard, shaking the ground once again.
"Jack!" Daniel rolled onto his back away from the tree.
If Jack replied, Daniel doubted he'd have heard him amidst the screams. More natives rushed past. Another energy blast scorched through the air, and Daniel saw the beam hit one of the running natives -- an old man -- in the back, burning a hole straight through the upper right part of his chest.
The old man's body jerked forward, and he crumbled to the ground.
Daniel sprung to his feet and made a mad dash for the old man, automatically slipping out of his uniform jacket and dropping to his knees next to the fallen native. He held the cloth over the wound, knowing his actions were most likely futile. The injury looked fatal.
"Hold on." Daniel increased the pressure, the faint throb beneath his palm the only indication that the man was still alive. " Jack! Jack, I need help!"
A familiar squeal from behind him turned his blood to ice, and he froze, his heart skipping a few beats. The squeal sounded again, and Daniel forced himself to turn around slowly.
He came eye-to-eye with a Goa'uld parasite. The serpent-like creature writhed on the ground and snapped at him. Daniel scrambled back, putting as much distance as he could between himself and the creature.
The Goa'uld flung itself at his chest, and faster than Daniel would have thought possible, the creature snaked around his neck and sunk something sharp into the back of his neck.
Daniel screamed, his hands grabbing the creature, trying to pull it off, but its grip remained firm. It slipped out of his hands, burying deeper into his flesh, carving a path of pain straight to his spinal cord.
The pain seared all conscious thought from Daniel's mind. He screamed, writhing, feeling its body moving all the way from the base of his brain to the middle of his spinal column. Then a sharp burst of renewed pain flared in the base of his skull, and he blacked out completely.
Colonel Jack O'Neill pointed west. "You and Sam go that way, I'll go this way. He couldn't have gotten far."
With a nod, Teal'c headed off toward the west while Jack walked east, his eyes and ears on alert. The chaos had died. No more screaming natives ravished the bushes, but the bodies of a few dead ones littered the ground. He ignored the corpses as he searched for his friend, hoping he wouldn't find Daniel Jackson among the dead.
Seconds later, he heard Daniel's scream. "Jack!"
The scream itself told Jack everything. Daniel was in trouble. Daniel was terrified.
Daniel had never screamed like that before.
"Daniel!" Jack burst into a run, flying over the rocks and the brush toward what he hoped was Daniel's location.
Daniel screamed again. And again. And again... until his screams ran together like a siren's song, turning the forest silent with its intensity.
Oh God. Jack pumped his legs faster, breaking through a crowd of bushes to see Daniel on the ground, his body spasming with a final twitch as his screams died.
No! Jack dropped next to his friend, immediately feeling for a pulse. He closed his eyes when he felt the fast, steady rhythm.
Opening his eyes again, he scanned his friend for signs of injury. All he saw was a small cut on Daniel's forehead and a trickle of blood along the side of his neck. Not wanting to move the young man, Jack leaned over Daniel and tried to get a better look at the wound causing the bleeding. He saw nothing obvious, but from the angle, it looked like the injury was located at the back of Daniel's neck...
Oh no. Realization turned his insides cold.
"Daniel." It was a whisper. A prayer. A denial. "No. Oh, Daniel, no."
He pulled back, his hand wrapping around the weapon hanging at his side. A set of running footsteps from behind -- one heavy, the other light -- told Jack that Teal'c and Sam had heard Daniel's screams.
The footsteps slid to a halt just as Daniel's eyes flew open.
"Colonel?" Sam sounded breathless. "What...?"
"Back, Carter!" Jack shot to his feet and trained his gun on Daniel. "Don't move."
"Colonel O'Neill, why are you pointing your weapon at Daniel Jackson?" Teal'c asked.
Jack opened his mouth to answer, but his reply was made unnecessary when Daniel's eyes glowed briefly, then returned to their usual calm blue.
"Oh God," Carter choked out. "Daniel..."
Daniel's lips curved in a subtle smile, and he lifted an eyebrow, appraising the three soldiers. His eyes glowed briefly again, and when he spoke, his voice rang with the deep, unnatural timber characteristic of the Goa'uld. "I am Solizar. Lower your weapon now, Tauri."
Jack's grip on his gun tightened. "You've got three seconds to leave that host before I pull this trigger." It was a bluff, of course, but he had to at least try. He had to do something. The thought of losing Daniel to a Goa'uld was one he couldn't deal with.
Not to mention all the knowledge that's in your head, Danny boy. Don't worry. It's not over yet, kid. I know you're still in there. We'll get you back.
The smile on Daniel's face grew wider, and his chin rose, his expression one of arrogance. "You will not kill this host. You care too much for him, and you even believe you can get him back. You are wrong. His body is mine now. Your friend is no more." His smile faded, darkness falling like a veil over his face. "Lower your weapon or you will die."
Jack swallowed. "I don't think so." His chest tight, he released his hold on the automatic weapon hanging from his shoulder and grabbed the smaller zat gun at his waist, aiming it at Daniel. His finger squeezed the trigger, releasing a blast of energy from the zat gun.
The beam hit Daniel point blank, the energy sizzling around his body, making him jerk, then vanishing. He breathed a single word, "Jack," then crumpled bonelessly to the ground and lay still.
Jack closed his eyes briefly, took a deep breath, then moved close to Daniel and dropped to his knees. Please be alive. Once again, he checked for a pulse and found the weak rhythm immediately.
"He's alive." Jack glanced back at Carter and Teal'c. "Let's get the hell out of here." He jerked his chin at Carter. "You got anything in your pack we can use to tie his hands in case he comes out of it before we can get him secured back at base?"
Carter nodded. "I've got some rope." She shrugged out of her pack and knelt to the ground, rifling through the contents. "Here it is, sir." Looking up, she handed the rope to Jack, her eyes wide and tinged with red. Her gaze darted to Daniel, and she looked away quickly, obviously struggling to control her emotions.
Jack nodded. "Thanks, Carter," he said gently, then turned to Daniel.
Carefully, he turned the young man onto his stomach, pulled his arms behind his back, and fastened his wrists securely with the rope. The bindings were likely tight enough to cut off the circulation in Daniel's arms, but he had to play it safe, knowing just how much strength an adult Goa'uld could invest in its host.
That accomplished, he looked up at his two teammates. "Teal'c, help me with him, will ya?"
Teal gave a subtle nod. "Daniel Jackson is light enough for me to carry without difficulty. I do not require assistance."
"Thanks, Teal'c." Jack rose to his feet, deliberately keeping his gaze off of his still friend laying unconscious on the ground. If he looked too much at Daniel, he'd be unable to keep the air of detachment he needed to get through whatever was to come next.
Teal'c leaned down, and in one smooth motion, lifted Daniel up and over his shoulders. "We must hurry to the stargate. The Goa'uld will revive Daniel Jackson's body shortly."
Jack gave a curt nod. "Then we hurry."
Rocking. Daniel came awake to motion. His head hurt, and something hard was pressed into his abdomen. He opened his eyes and saw the ground tilted at an odd angle. It took him a moment of dizzying disorientation before he realized he was being carried over someone's shoulders. He tried to lift his head, but pain flared in his skull, threatening to thrust him back into unconsciousness. A shallow groan escaped him, and he closed his eyes, too tired and in too much pain to care who was carrying him or where they were taking him.
"Colonel O'Neill, I believe Daniel Jackson is waking up."
Teal'c? Daniel forced his eyelids back open. He tried to ignore the pain in his head and focused on his surroundings. The ground below him was rocky and uneven, and the person carrying him was definitely large. Daniel shifted his gaze a fraction, giving another groan at the resulting pain, and saw a dark, muscular arm.
Okay, one questioned answered. Teal'c was carrying him. But why?
The memory came to him suddenly. Staring at the Goa'uld. Pain in his neck, in his skull. Darkness. More pain. Agony. A vague sense of waking, but foggy. His body was awake and moving, but it was like viewing himself in a dream. No control. Helpless.
The motion stopped as Teal'c came to a halt.
Jack's face came into view, his eyes angry. "I'll give you one more chance. You leave this host now, we let you go. You don't, we're taking you back and forcing you out."
Daniel squinted at Jack, deciphering his words. It took him several moments to figure out what Jack had said, and it took him even longer to figure out how to respond, or even whether he was capable of speech.
Swallowing hard, he tried to form one, simple word. "Jack?"
Surprise flickered over the older man's face. He opened his mouth, hesitating. "Daniel?"
The pain in Daniel's head flared to an almost unbearable level, and a wave of nausea washed over him. He closed his eyes and tried to focus his dwindling energy on not throwing up all over Teal'c.
"Daniel? That you?"
Daniel swallowed again, keeping his eyes closed. "Uh-huh." It's me. Why is it me? Why not the Goa'uld? "It still inside me?"
"Yeah. Don't worry, we're taking you back to SGC. We'll get it out."
Daniel knew what the odds were of evicting the Goa'uld from his body without killing him, and he knew his present conscious control was very likely not going to last long. He had to take advantage of it while he could. "Jack..."
"We're almost there, Daniel. Carter's dialing."
No, Jack. Listen. Please... Daniel took a deep breath, but the pressure of Teal'c's shoulder against his gut inhibited his intake. His words came out as little more than a gasp. "Kill me... If... If you need to, kill me, please."
Silence met his plea.
"It won't come to that Daniel. We've got you secured."
Daniel felt his consciousness fading, and it became harder to focus his thoughts, but he fought against the darkness, needing desperately for Jack to understand. "No... Don't let... me hurt anybody. Don't let me stay... stay like this. Please, Jack."
"Daniel..." Jack's voice was drowned out by the sound of the stargate engaging and the subsequent event horizon.
Teal'c started walking again, then they were inside the wormhole, and coldness shot through Daniel as reality twisted and warped. He felt a jerk of motion along with a return to normal consciousness, and he realized they had come through the other side of the wormhole.
Apparently, so had the Goa'uld because he felt the Other stir inside him.
No. He focused on his own thoughts, his own consciousness as the Goa'uld consciousness rose inside him.
You can sleep now, young one.
Daniel felt the Goa'uld asserting dominance, taking over. He screamed in silent denial. No! No, I won't let you.
You have no choice. Sleep, and you will feel no pain.
Get out of my head!
The Goa'uld laughed. Ah, yes, of course, if you say so.
Daniel's anger flared. I will fight you.
I am Solizar. You cannot fight me. I am Goa'uld.
I am Daniel Jackson.
I know. You have acquired much knowledge for such a young one -- knowledge I will now use to my own advantage.
They won't let you. You're a prisoner here.
More laughter. Not for much longer, young one. Watch and learn.
"Daniel?" Jack's voice again. "You still with us?"
You may answer him if you wish, young one.
Daniel caught a glimpse of the Goa'uld's intentions. No. I won't let you use me to hurt them.
Their concern for you will be my escape.
That's why you hid before? Why I had control?
Tauri are easily manipulated.
Not so easily.
Shau'ri is one of us. You are one of us, now. You are like Shau'ri. Does this not please you?
The image of Shau'ri, smiling, her eyes bright, sprang to mind, and he suspected it had been prompted by Solizar. She has not joined you. You invaded her. My wife... You have no right.
We are Goa'uld. We need no permission. Now you will know what it is to be powerful. Let go, Tauri. See what it means to be Goa'uld. What it means to be feared. To be worshipped. No longer ridiculed. No longer dismissed. No longer taking orders. You are Goa'uld with me now. Relax, young one. Enjoy the ride.
"What happened?" General Hammond's voice now.
"A Goa'uld has infested Daniel, sir." Carter.
"Daniel?" Jack again. "Are you still with us?"
"Yes." The word left Daniel's mouth before he was even aware that he'd spoken. No.
Now watch, young one. Learn. They care for their own. They will yield.
Daniel felt his arms jerk, and he was suddenly free from the ropes. He opened his eyes, but it was like seeing underwater. His body moved, but he had no control.
Agony exploded inside his skull, and he screamed, but no sound came from his throat. The pain hammered at him, driving him to silent tears and quivering exhaustion until he begged and begged for release. Just make it stop. Please... stop oh God oh God stop...
He got his wish. The pain stopped, and he realized he was now facing off a line of men with guns. His arms were wrapped around a woman, a soldier. Lieutenant Airwick? His hands gripped her head. No... He knew the woman's life was about to be snuffed out with a single twist of his wrists.
Daniel felt his lips moving, and the Goa'uld within him spoke in that deep, unnatural voice. "Open the stargate. Allow me to return or I will snap her neck."
Jack was standing in front of him, his face stone. "You hurt her, you're dead."
"You will not harm the young one. Therefore, I am safe." His lips twisted into a smile seemingly of their own volition.
"Daniel understands. He asked me to kill him rather than let you hurt anybody."
"Such a noble one, isn't he?" Daniel felt his arms tense, the horror of realization settling over him like a cloud. "You will not harm him. Fortunately, I have no qualms about taking life." His wrists twisted. Bone crunched. The women jerked, then went limp, falling from his arms and landing in a crumpled heap on the floor.
Guns shifted, and a sudden silence blanketed the room as everyone stopped breathing.
"Hold your fire!" O'Neill raised a hand to punctuate the command, deliberately keeping his gaze off the fallen officer. She was beyond help now.
"Open the stargate," the Goa'uld inside Daniel commanded, "or I will destroy you."
"We've heard that line before," O'Neill took a half-step closer to the Goa'uld, "but we're still here, and Apophis and Ra are not. What does that tell you?"
Daniel's mouth twisted with a smile. "That you are all fools, and Apophis and Ra were weak."
O'Neill raised his gun and aimed it squarely at Daniel's chest. "Release the host unharmed and we will allow you to pass through the stargate. Fight us, and I will kill you."
"And kill your friend, too?"
"Yes. If you know what Jackson knows, then you know I'm not bluffing. Jackson would rather die than serve the Goa'uld."
The smile became more vicious. "Are you so sure? This young one has known only ridicule and loss. He now knows what it means to be powerful and feared." Solizar took a step closer to O'Neill, his eyes challenging. "He likes it."
"He doesn't." Jack jerked his gun for emphasis. "Now release him."
"No." Solizar tilted his head. "If you do not open the gate, I will make this host suffer greatly."
O'Neill raised his gun a fraction higher -- the only response needed.
Solizar raised an eyebrow. "A demonstration perhaps? Be warned. If you attempt to sedate this body during the demonstration, I will destroy what remains of Daniel Jackson."
Jack tensed. "Don't..."
The smile vanished from Daniel's face, and he blinked, his eyes flickering over the group, then lowering slowly to the woman's crumpled body. "I'm... Oh God, I'm sorry."
Jack lowered his weapon. "Daniel?"
Daniel flinched, his gaze locking with Jack's. Then his eyes went wide and body rigid, and he screamed.
"Daniel!" Jack slung his weapon behind his back just in time to free his arms as Daniel convulsed once and toppled forward.
"Move aside!" a woman's voice ordered.
Jack held his arms around Daniel as the young man bucked and screamed, writhing as though he were on fire.
Jack looked up to see Dr. Frasier on her knees, a syringe held in her hands.
"No!" He had to shout to be heard over Daniel. "No sedative."
"He's infested with a Goa'uld. It said it'll kill him if you try to sedate him."
Her eyes widened, and she lowered the syringe. "My God..." She looked down at Daniel, pain flickering over her face as she witnessed his torment. "But if it kills Daniel..."
"I know, but I'm not taking a chance on Daniel's life!" Jack tightened his hold on Daniel. He didn't know how much longer he could stand to listen to those screams. How much agony could one man take?
"Enough!" He shook Daniel, hoping that Solizar got the message. "Stop it! You made your point, goddamnit!"
Immediately, Daniel's screams broke to tears, and he went limp in Jack's arms, his body shuddering as gasps for breath mixed with sobs.
Jack's arms relaxed, his hold becoming comforting instead of restraining. "It's okay. It's okay." He spoke in a near-whisper, his lips close to Daniel's right ear. "You rode it out. It's over now."
"No. No." Daniel shook his head violently, his body trembling. "No. No. No. No. I'm sorry... I tried... Jack, I tried."
"Shhh. I know." Jack allowed himself a brief glance at the body of Lieutenant Airwick as medics gently lifted it onto a stretcher. "It wasn't you, Daniel. We know it wasn't you."
"Get it out of me... Please... Kill me. Just... get... it... "
Daniel's broken pleas cut off abruptly, and his body went momentarily rigid, then he relaxed against Jack, and slowly, his gasps for breath turned to chuckles.
"This young one is so noble." Solizar's voice echoed from Daniel. "Did you find the demonstration interesting?"
Immediately, the guards around Jack sprang to action, converging on him. Daniel was ripped from Jack's grip by several men, and within a few seconds, his hands and feet were restrained with thick, steel shackles. The Goa'uld wouldn't be able to break out of those... he hoped.
Jack rose to his feet, rising to face Daniel, who was held vertical between two guards. "The deal is still on the table."
Daniel's blue eyes narrowed with anger. "I do not deal! You will yield or be destroyed."
"You and what army?" Jack took a step closer to the Goa'uld. "You're trapped here in our custody. We will study you like a lab rat, and if Daniel dies in the process, well, it's a better fate than being trapped in his own body. You know he feels that way, and you know I know he feels that way. Your only hope out of this mess is to leave him -- unharmed -- and we will allow you to pass through the stargate."
Daniel's lips twisted into a mockery of a smile. "And let me leave with all of the host's knowledge? Codes? Protocol? The layout of this installation?" His smile faded, and his eyes turned hard. "Do not think me a fool. You will not allow me to leave."
Jack took a deep breath. "It's true you've gained sensitive information," he met Solizar's gaze steadily, "but codes can be changed. Protocol adjusted. And as for the layout of this installation, we can do a bit of redecorating. By the time you're able to do anything about the knowledge you've gained from Daniel Jackson, it'll be obsolete."
A hint of uncertainty flickered in Solizar's gaze.
Jack capitalized on the weakness he perceived. "And if you do know what Jackson knows, then you know my word is good. I am offering you this one chance for freedom."
Solizar held Jack's gaze. "You are not the commander of this facility."
General Hammond spoke from some point behind Jack. "You have my word as well, and Dr. Jackson knows I keep my word."
"You would give up such a strategic advantage for one man? You would give up the opportunity to study a live Goa'uld?"
Hammond answered. "There's always a next time. Make no mistake, Solizar, if we meet again, there will be no deals."
Daniel's lips turned upward in another arrogant smile. "If we meet again, I will destroy you."
A spark of hope flared in Jack. It sounded as though Solizar was going to take the deal. "You accept?"
Solizar turned his gaze back to Jack. "It is possible for me to leave a host and the host continue to live, but I could die."
"It's your choice," Jack said, his voice flat. "Remain our prisoner and guinea pig, or take your chance at freedom."
"And, when I leave this host's body, you will allow me to go through the stargate immediately?"
Jack nodded. "As soon as we confirm that Daniel will live and that his mind is intact, yes."
"And where would you allow me to go?" Solizar tilted Daniel's head in a gesture of curiosity. "This host does not believe it right that you would allow me to escape to take another host."
Teal'c stepped forward. "We will send you to Chulak. My people are already enslaved by the Goa'uld, and you can do no more harm there than has already been done by your kind."
"But don't come back here," Jack added, his voice hard. His gut churned at the thought of what he was doing -- setting a Goa'uld free to save Daniel -- but... but he had to. Daniel was too important to the SGC to lose.
And he couldn't -- he absolutely could not -- stand the thought of Daniel trapped in his own body, slave to a Goa'uld. Not Daniel. Not like Kawalsky. Not this time. No way.
Solizar's deep, echoing voice pulled Jack from his thoughts. "If I leave this host and you do not uphold your end of the bargain..."
"You know we aren't in the business of double crosses. Daniel knows that."
Solizar smiled. "Yes, he does. You are all so naive. Like children. I do not see how you defeated Ra and Apophis."
"We're just full of surprises." Jack took another step forward, stopping inches from Daniel's face. His gaze was unwavering. "You're going to let him go immediately."
"As soon as we, uh... prepare," Janet added, stepping forward to get Jack's attention. "We'll need to get Daniel into the infirmary, prepare to revive him if necessary, and, of course," she glanced at Daniel, "prepare to take Solizar into temporary custody until we can determine whether Dr. Jackson has made it through the process okay."
Jack nodded. "Of course." He looked back at Solizar. "Daniel had better make it through. Got it?"
Solizar shrugged. "With the benefit of your medicine, he will likely survive... physically." He smiled again. "I cannot vouch for his mental stability, however."
Jack shook his head. "We want him back whole -- physically and mentally -- or no deal."
"Then no deal." Solizar's smile vanished. "I have no control over this host's psychological state after I leave the body. He is already damaged."
Jack stiffened. "What do you mean, he's 'damaged?'"
"Your minds are so fragile, so malleable. It is one reason why we prefer you as hosts. This host has found the blending quite..." Solizar paused and tilted his head, "traumatic." His smile returned. "I find his reaction to snapping the neck of that woman most amusing."
Son of a bitch! "You just make sure you leave him unharmed." Jack's voice was a dangerous whisper. "If he's coherent enough to answer a few basic questions and Janet finds no evidence of physical brain damage, you'll be free to go. We'll worry about putting the rest of him back together. Think you can manage that much?"
Solizar chuckled. "You really are quite an amusing species. A Goa'uld would never show such weakness."
Teal'c stepped beside Jack. "The Goa'uld know no honor. Sons turn against fathers. Loyalty and courage are alien to you."
Solizar turned his gaze on Teal'c. "Teal'c the traitor. What do you know of loyalty or honor? You betrayed Apophis and turned your weapon on your fellow Jaffa."
Teal'c stiffened. "I turned against a false god and refused his command to slaughter innocents. There is no dishonor in such an action."
"Enough." Hammond stepped forward and glanced at Janet. "Doctor, please prepare immediately." He looked at the guards holding Daniel. "Take him to the infirmary. Make sure he stays securely restrained."
"Yes, sir," the guards acknowledged in unison, following Janet out of the embarkation room, Daniel held rigidly between them.
Jack hesitated before walking through the doorway to the infirmary. He took a deep breath, glanced over his shoulder at Teal'c and saw the subtle concern in his friend's eyes, then squared his shoulders and walked into the infirmary.
Janet, Hammond, two men in white lab jackets, and three armed guards clustered around a table. Jack had just gotten the call from Hammond that Janet had finished the preparations, so he knew the General must have just arrived himself at the infirmary. Carter had been present the whole time, having been recruited by Janet because of her experiences with Jolinar. She was the best person in the SGC to know how to help Daniel during this... process.
"So what's the plan?" Jack came to a halt behind Janet, who, like Carter and the rest of the med staff, wore protective biohazard gear -- goggles, gloves, long sleeves, and an air filter.
He wondered whether he and the guards should also be wearing such protection, but figured Janet would tell him if it was required. Probably only the hands-on medics needed to take such precautions. He wasn't sure why they needed biohazard protection since, as far as he knew, Goa'uld weren't like Eboli, or something contagious that could infect the whole base. Perhaps Janet was just being particularly cautious. Better safe than sorry, he supposed.
Daniel lay strapped on his stomach to the bed, wearing only hospital pajama bottoms. Thick restraints were fastened to his arms, legs, and wrists, with a large one slung tightly across his back. His head was turned away from Jack, so Jack had no idea whether Daniel's eyes were open or closed.
Janet turned to face him. "As you can see, we've got Daniel secured. We've got a containment unit prepared to house the Goa'uld once it leaves Daniel." Her voice, slightly muffled by the mask, was professional, but her eyes betrayed her anxiety. "As soon as the Goa'uld is out, we'll assess Dr. Jackson's condition, perform an MRI and, hopefully, all will be well and you can allow Solizar to go through the gate."
Jack nodded. "Do you think this will work?"
Janet shrugged. "Frankly, I have no idea. We just have to trust that Solizar wants his freedom badly enough to... be careful."
"It is possible, Colonel." Sam stood on the other side of the bed, fiddling with one of the machines as she talked. "I know from Jolinar that a Goa'uld can leave a host, but the process is dangerous. The blending takes some time, however, and because Daniel was so recently infected, it's likely the blending has not been completed. If that's the case, Daniel's and Solizar's chances of getting through this intact are much better."
"How long does blending take?"
Sam pursed her lips. "Hours. The process starts immediately, but exactly how long it takes depends on the individual Goa'uld and the host."
Jack swallowed hard, but his face remained impassive as he turned his gaze to Janet. "We ready?"
She nodded. "Yes."
"Good." Jack looked at Daniel, wincing inwardly as his eyes once again took in the restraints, and his imagination conjured up an image of the Goa'uld coming out of the back of Daniel's neck. He took another deep breath. God, he hoped this worked. "Let's do it, then. Solizar?"
The Goa'uld answered in that familiar, deep voice. "One final reassurance is required."
Jack clenched his fists. "What is it?"
"This host trusts your word, of course, but I am not the host. However, I have learned from this host about that which you hold sacred. Swear to me on your son's grave -- I believe his name is Charlie? -- that you will allow me to pass unharmed through the stargate to Chulak if the host survives."
Hearing Charlie's name spoken in that frightening, unnatural Goa'uld voice turned Jack's stomach and ignited a brief, blinding flare of rage within him. It was several seconds before he could muster enough control to form a relatively calm response. "I give you my word... on my son's grave."
"Very well. It begins then. Prepare, Doctor. It will not take long."
Daniel's body went rigid beneath the restraints, and the serpent-like body of the Goa'uld could be seen moving beneath the skin at the back of Daniel's neck. Jack's face twisted with disgust as he watched the snake-like form writhing beneath Daniel's flesh. Seconds later, a small portion of skin at the base of Daniel's skull swelled, and the Goa'uld's head ripped through the near-healed wound.
God! It was all Jack could do not to turn his head away as the creature wiggled its way out. Daniel made distressed, gurgling sounds, his body remaining rigid, his fists clenched. The beeping of the heart monitor grew frantic, almost screaming, then the Goa'uld was free, and Janet grabbed the writhing creature with an instrument that looked something like a pair of menacing salad tongs and quickly stuffed it in the transparent, aquarium-like prison standing ready on a table next to the bed.
"Okay, got it!" Janet slammed the lid on the prison.
The beeping of the heart monitor took a nosedive.
"He's crashing!" a voice yelled.
"Damn." Janet flung herself toward her patient. "Get these restraints off!"
Jack rushed to help, moving to Daniel's left leg. Janet worked at Daniel's right arm and wrist, while Carter unfastened the restraints around Daniel's left arm. Teal'c freed Daniel's right leg, and, finally, one of the men in white lab jackets unbuckled the strap around Daniel's back.
Once Daniel was free, hands grabbed him and flipped him onto his back. The heart monitor flat-lined, and Janet swore violently under her breath, reaching for the cardiac paddles on the nearby row of equipment.
"Two hundred! Charging!" She held the paddles up. "Clear!" All hands immediately let go of Daniel, and Janet brought the paddles down on his chest.
Daniel's body convulsed once, and the line on the heart monitor gave a momentary beep, then flattened.
"Again! Clear!" Janet brought the paddles down once more.
Again, Daniel's body spasmed. The heart monitor beeped, then flattened, then the line fluttered, beeping frantically, and, finally, it caught a steady rhythm.
Jack's chest ached, and he realized he'd stopped breathing. He released the air in his lungs, his shoulders sagging.
"We got him." Janet returned the paddles to the machine and leaned over Daniel. "He's breathing!" She lifted his eyelids one by one and shone her pen light in each eye. "Daniel, can you hear me?"
Daniel remained unresponsive, his eyelids closing as she released them. His chest rose and fell with a shallow rhythm, but the beeping of the heart monitor indicated a pulse holding steady at 62 beats per minute.
Janet looked up at one of the white-clad men nearby. "Make sure the MRI is ready."
He nodded and spun on his heels, quickly leaving the room. Janet glanced briefly at Jack. "He seems stable at the moment, but I need to get him conscious to assess his condition."
Jack nodded, but remained silent, watching as Janet turned her full attention back to Daniel. "Dr. Jackson?" She gave his arm a quick pinch. "Dr. Jackson, can you open your eyes for me?"
No response. Janet looked up at her other white-clad helper. "Five cc's of epi."
"Yes, Doctor." The man hurried to a supply cabinet against the wall and prepared a vial, bringing it back to her.
Janet took the syringe and inserted it into the vein in the back of Daniel's left hand, then pressed the plunger, emptied the vial, and withdrew the needle, setting it on a tray laying on the nearby table.
Less than two seconds passed until the drug exerted an effect. A violent tremor shook Daniel's body, and Jack tensed, wondering whether Janet had just made a mistake. Then the tremor subsided, and Daniel groaned, his eyelids fluttering open.
"Daniel?" Janet leaned over her patient. "You with me?"
Daniel blinked up at her, his face corpse-white and his expression blank. He looked exhausted and worn, as though he'd aged thirty years in the span of a few minutes.
"Daniel? Do you know where you are?"
Daniel blinked again, giving no indication that he even understood the question. Jack stopped breathing again, waiting... praying... that Daniel would say something -- anything -- and let them know he was still there.
Then, without warning, Daniel sprang to life violently, a scream ripping from his throat as he flung himself off the table. The electrodes monitoring his heart tore from his chest and dangled above the floor. Daniel's hands shot to the back of his neck, and he scrambled toward the wall, taking everyone by surprise, as he clawed desperately at the back of his neck.
"Daniel!" Janet lunged forward, waving at the guards. "Some help here!"
The medic and one of the guards converged on Daniel as he came to an abrupt stop against the wall, half-laying on the floor as he continued to scream and claw at his neck.
"No don't!" Carter yelled.
Jack glanced at Carter, catching her eye, and knew from her expression that having a team descend upon and restrain Daniel wasn't the right thing to do. "Wait a minute! Just wait!" Jack shouted, and the two men froze.
Janet stopped in mid-crouch in front of Daniel and looked over her shoulder at Jack. "What are you doing, Colonel?"
"Just wait." Jack moved forward, crouching next to Janet, inches from an hysterical Daniel. Quickly, he grabbed Daniel's hands, stopping their motion easily. Contrary to the violence of Daniel's movements, there wasn't a lot of strength behind them.
"Daniel." Jack spoke softly, his grip on Daniel's wrists firm.
Daniel attempted to squirm out of Jack's hands, but Jack kept a tight hold.
"Daniel, calm down. You're okay. It's out of you. You're okay. Shhhh."
Daniel's struggles faded as he exhausted himself and collapsed, spent, against the wall.
"Daniel?" Jack shifted to his knees and, slowly, released Daniel's wrists.
Daniel pulled his arms close and hugged himself, curling into a protective ball, half supported by the wall
"Daniel?" Jack kept his voice steady. "Say something. We need to know that you're... We just need to hear you say something, okay?"
Daniel curled more tightly into himself, shivering. His shoulders began to shake, and because Daniel's face was turned to the wall, Jack didn't realize the young man was crying until he heard the soft sobs.
Something twisted in Jack's chest, and he winced from the physical ache that shot through him. "Danny..." He leaned forward, placing a hand on Daniel's shoulder. "C'mere."
Jack's grip tightened, and he pulled Daniel away from the wall.
"Jack..." The broken whisper was so soft it was almost swallowed by the low background hum of the machines. Daniel yielded to the tug, falling into Jack and muffling his sobs against Jack's shoulder. "S-Sorry. I'm sorry..."
"Shhh." Jack wrapped his arms around Daniel. "There's nothing to be sorry for."
"I killed her! God... I... I couldn't stop...."
"It wasn't you, Danny." Jack tightened his hold on Daniel. "It wasn't you."
Daniel said something, but the words were swallowed by his sobs and muffled against Jack's shoulder.
Janet cleared her throat and, when she spoke, her voice was low and soft. "Colonel, I really need to assess him."
Jack shot her a warning glance and shook his head.
"His heart stopped," she whispered. "He's stressed. I have to."
She waited a moment and, finally, Jack loosened his hold on Daniel but didn't release him.
Janet leaned forward, placing her palm lightly on Daniel's back. "Daniel, I need to check you out now, okay?"
Seconds passed, and Daniel's tears quieted, the tension draining from his body. Jack tightened his hold suddenly to keep Daniel from sliding to the floor, then adjusted his grip and, carefully, guided Daniel's shoulders to the floor, laying him on his back.
Daniel's eyes were open, and he stared blankly up at the ceiling, tears drying on his cheeks.
"Daniel?" Janet leaned over him, sliding the stethoscope off of her shoulders and placing the earpieces in her ears. "Please... I need you to look at me."
Daniel's gaze slid slowly to her, slack resignation on his face.
"I need you to answer a few questions for me, okay?"
He gave no response.
Janet glanced anxiously at Jack, then looked back down at her patient. "Can you tell me your full name?"
Daniel closed his eyes and swallowed. "Daniel Jackson," he whispered.
"Good." She smiled, relief washing across her face, and placed the stethoscope over Daniel's chest. "That's good." She glanced up at the ceiling, listening. "Do you know where you are?"
"Who am I?"
"Doctor Janet Fraiser."
"Very good. Take a deep breath for me." She adjusted the position of the stethoscope as Daniel inhaled deeply. "Sounds good."
Quickly, she slung the stethoscope back over her shoulder and looked up at Jack. "I think he's okay. The MRI should give us a better idea, though."
Jack nodded, not trusting himself to speak, and looked up at the faces crowded around. Hammond stood back, observing the scene quietly, his face giving no clue to his thoughts. In contrast, Sam's large blue eyes swam with tears, her face revealing the depths of her emotions as she gazed down at Daniel. Teal'c stood rigidly next to Carter, his shoulders squared and his expression stone. Only his dark eyes betrayed his turmoil.
Jack looked back down. Daniel's eyes were still closed, and his breathing had steadied out, indicating sleep.
"Come on, Bailey." Janet glanced up at her medic. "Help me get him on the gurney. We'll do the MRI now."
They sat around the table. Hammond held his customary seat at one end. Janet and Sam sat on one side, and Jack and Teal'c sat on the other.
"The results of the MRI are reassuring." A hint of a smile touched Janet's lips. "There's absolutely no sign of any neurological damage. His bloodwork is a little less reassuring." Her face darkened. "His white blood cell count is very low, probably a result of the Goa'uld blending. His system is recovering, however, and his count is rising. I tested for the protein marker that Jolinar left in Sam, but found nothing. Since Solizar didn't die inside Dr. Jackson, that's not surprising. I didn't expect to find it, but I tested for it just in case."
"How about psychologically?" Sam asked.
Janet gave into a low sigh, her mask of professionalism slipping for an instant to reveal her fatigue. "Daniel suffered a trauma. Right now, he's minimally responsive but withdrawn and depressed. He won't eat, so I've got him on a feed. If asked a question, he may or may not answer, but if he does give an answer, it's very curt. When he sleeps, he dreams, and it's evident he's having nightmares. Several times he's talked in his sleep, speaking in a language I don't recognize. It could be Abydonian, but I'm not sure. He often awakes disoriented and disturbed, sometimes near hysteria. I've been keeping him on a mild sedative to minimize the stress on his system, particularly his heart."
"What's the prognosis?" Hammond asked.
Janet hesitated a moment. "Well, sir... Right now it's only a guess. Based on what happened with Sam," she glanced at the woman next to her, "I believe Daniel's in shock both physically and psychologically. With time, he'll improve."
Jack leaned forward in his chair. "So, what you're saying is, Solizar fulfilled his side of the bargain?"
Janet nodded. "Yes. Physically, Daniel will recover. He has no detectable brain damage. As for his mental and emotional state, we'll just have to wait and see."
"In that case, I suppose there's no reason to delay in sending Solizar through the gate." Hammond looked at Jack. "We'll dial Chulak and send him through."
"Yes, sir." Jack nodded an acknowledgment. "I must admit, sir... I'm a bit surprised you agreed to the deal so readily. I didn't exactly ask you first, I know..."
Hammond shook his head. "That's quite all right, Colonel. I initially had a mind to object, but I didn't. You were right. While Daniel Jackson has a great deal of sensitive information, since we know that information has been compromised, we can act accordingly. Dr. Jackson is a valuable member of the SGC team, and while we can always change our computer and security codes and adjust our protocols, we can't exactly get another Daniel Jackson." A smile played at the general's eyes. "He's a unique young man."
Gratitude flooded Jack's eyes. "Yes, sir, he is."
The twin moons. The stars. Sand beneath his feet. Between his toes. The night air. Cold and crisp. Clean and Salty. A warm hand in his. Her sweet scent. Looking at her, framed by the ocean. Backlit by the moons' light, one full, the other quarter.
Their last night together. The warriors came the next day with sticks that shot fire. They struck her down. He could only watch. Then the thing forced its way inside him...
No! Daniel gasped awake, the darkness of his nightmare replaced by the bright fluorescent lights above. He clenched his eyes shut against their glare, his breathing rapid and his heart pounding in his chest. A trickle of sweat snaked down his temple and carved a path along his scalp to the base of his skull.
Every time he closed his eyes... Every time he fell asleep... The dreams came. Other lives. Other souls destroyed. Other hosts... Solizar knew all those memories, and he had left some of them with Daniel. Glimpses, merely. Flashes of images that rose in his dreams.
None of them were pleasant. Even those that began with happiness ended with the pain and horror of an invasion so intimate and merciless there weren't words in any of the 23 languages he knew to describe it.
When he wasn't dreaming of other lives lost, he thought of Shau'ri. Now he knew what it felt like to be taken by a Goa'uld, and he couldn't imagine it for his sweet, gentle wife. He screamed inside at the thought of the creature burying inside of her, cried for the pain he knew she endured... and apologized silently a thousand times for letting them get to her.
And, when he wasn't dreaming of other lives or imagining the horrors Shau'ri endured, he remembered... The feel of the lieutenant's head in his hands. The crunch of bone as his wrists twisted. The soft thud as her body hit the floor...
"Daniel? Are you okay?"
Daniel opened his eyes a crack and saw the face of Janet Fraiser hovering over him, her brow creased with concern.
"Yes." He closed his eyes and turned his head away from her. Speech took so much effort.
"How's our favorite anthropologist?" Jack's voice.
Daniel didn't bother opening his eyes. He focused on just breathing... In and out... But not sleeping... Not that. Not again.
"Not much change," Janet answered. "Are things, uh, taken care of with Solizar?"
"Yes." A pause. "We sent him through the gate. Carter and Davis and a team are working on changing all the codes now... Another team is evaluating the base layout and deciding what's sensitive enough to change. They'll probably just play musical rooms with the armory and stuff."
Daniel clenched his eyes. How could you, Jack? Let him go... You let him go. How could you? You should've just killed me... You don't know what he is... What he's done. What he will do... On me. All on me. You should've just killed me and studied him. Dissected him. Destroyed him. Obliterated... How could you?
"Daniel?" Jack again. "How 'bout opening your eyes?"
No, I don't think I wanna do that. He kept his eyes closed and his face turned away from them. He just didn't have anything left... It took too much energy to answer questions... and looking in eyes that looked at him... he couldn't do it. He could only imagine what those eyes had seen... How those eyes had seen him. What had he looked like when he'd snapped Lieutenant Airwick's neck? What expression had been on her face?
Oh God, no, don't think about it. Don't think about it. Don't think about it. Don't. Don't. Don't... He clenched his eyes tighter, holding back the tears that threatened to burst from beneath his lids.
Sam hovered in the doorway to the infirmary, listening in silence as Jack prodded Daniel to open his eyes. Daniel didn't respond, just kept his face turned away. She waited a few moments longer, then took a deep breath and stepped further inside, stopping at the foot of Daniel's bed.
"Colonel." She nodded at her commanding officer, then glanced at Janet. "How is he?"
"The same," Janet answered. "Not very responsive. Depressed. Withdrawn."
"Same as I was," she whispered, looking back at Daniel. He lay on his back, his head turned to the side. "Can I have a minute guys?"
There was a moment of silence, then Janet nodded. "Sure. I'll just be in my office."
"Thanks, Janet." Sam looked to Jack. "Sir?"
He met her gaze, his face grim. "Yeah... Okay." He looked back to Daniel and stood in stiff silence for several seconds, his eyes distant. Then he turned slowly and, with only a brief, anxious glance her way, walked out of the infirmary.
Sam took a deep breath and moved to the side of the bed so she could see Daniel's face. She pulled a chair close and sank into it, leaning forward and placing a gentle palm on Daniel's forehead. She began light strokes, her fingers brushing through his hair and drifting softly over his scalp. She remembered when she'd been where he was right now. Everything had taken too much energy, and she couldn't muster the strength to take any interest in anything around her... Even though she'd felt more alone than she ever had before, she'd wanted no one near her. No one could understand what was going on inside her, and she couldn't even try to explain it to them.
Then Cassie had come, crawled up behind her, touched her, and told her she would be okay.
Daniel's experience wasn't exactly like the one she'd had, of course. Jolinar had been Tok'ra and had tried to make the blending easy on her. Her symbiote had had no interest in harming her. Solizar, on the other hand, was Goa'uld. He had delighted in tormenting Daniel. He had killed using Daniel's hands. And, of course, the big difference was that, whereas she had felt Jolinar die inside of her and found herself mourning the loss of a noble life, Daniel had had to suffer through the pain of Solizar burrowing his way back out of him, ripping the neural connections, breaking flesh once again...
Sam closed her eyes briefly and took another slow, deep breath. "Daniel..." She opened her eyes and studied his face. His eyes were clenched, his brow furrowed. A hint of wetness rimmed his closed eyelids. He was definitely awake.
"Daniel," she said again, continuing to stroke his head. "I know some of what you're going through right now. You'll get through this. You'll be okay."
He turned his head away from her.
"You can try to pull away, Daniel. That's okay. We'll still be here."
He rolled on his side, his back to her.
She continued to stroke his head, but leaned forward even further and draped her other arm over his chest. Then she rested her chin on his shoulder. Sam knew Daniel needed human contact, even if he didn't want it... He needed to know he wasn't alone, that he still had friends... real flesh-and-blood friends... People to touch. People he could reach out to. He wasn't trapped in his body, anymore. He wasn't off-limits. He wasn't separated or restrained. The choice was his...
"You will be okay, Daniel. You'll get through this." She felt him tense beneath her touch. Still, she continued to stroke his head and whisper softly. "I know what you're feeling right now... at least some of it. None of it was your fault, Daniel. It was all the Goa'uld. You tried. You couldn't stop what it did."
He began to tremble. She continued to stroke his hair softly.
"It's over now. You're you again, and we need you, Daniel. We need you. But take your time. It's okay. There's no rush. We'll still be here when you're ready."
Daniel's shoulder's began to shake, and although it was obvious he was trying hard to hold them inside, strangled sobs escaped.
Sam tightened her one-armed embrace and continued to stroke Daniel's head, tears swelling in her own eyes and spilling onto her cheeks. "It's okay to let it out." Her voice shook, but she continued. "You're entitled... You made it through, Daniel, but you're not the same inside, I know. You hurt. You'll hurt for a long time. You will move past it, though. I promise. But you have to move through it first. You have to let yourself cry."
And he did. His sobs burst forth, no longer restrained, and his whole body shook with the release. He lay there crying for a long time with Sam holding him and stroking his head. She stopped her soft reassurances, however, and simply let her silence and warm touch comfort him.
Tap. Tap. Tap. Jack's toes drummed a random beat on the floor outside of the infirmary. He'd been sitting on the bench for almost an hour, waiting for Sam to come out. He'd heard crying, but the sobs had quieted a few minutes ago.
Footsteps beat on the tile, and he looked up just as Sam emerged, her eyes bloodshot, her nose red, and her cheeks flushed. It was obvious she'd been crying, and Jack wondered whether the sobs he'd heard had been hers or Daniel's.
She locked eyes with him, looking very tired. "He's there, sir. All there. He'll be okay. It'll just take time."
"Are you okay?"
She smiled softly. "Yeah. I'm okay."
More footsteps sounded, and Janet emerged, her eyes darting from Jack to Sam. "He's sleeping, now." She sighed and leaned against the frame. "Physically, the only reason I'm keeping him here is because he shows no interest in eating or drinking. Frankly, though, I think he needs to get out. He's been here almost a week. His immune system is back to normal, and now all he's doing is wallowing in depression. I hope that, if he's put into familiar, safe surroundings other than the infirmary, he might start to take more interest in his environment. Plus, he needs to start moving around, doing things for himself, or his muscles will atrophy."
Jack gave her a wide-eyed look. "My place?"
She smiled. "If you insist."
"You know, Doc, subtlety is not one of your strong points."
"Home sweet home." Jack flashed a smile and gestured for Daniel to precede him into the house.
Daniel walked as though in a daze, his expression blank as he moved inside. He hadn't uttered a word during the drive from the base to the house, and Jack's concern rose with every passing minute of silence. Daniel had gone from minimally responsive in the infirmary to completely unresponsive in the car. He'd simply sat and stared out the window, steadfastly ignoring every attempt Jack made at conversation.
"Make yourself comfortable on the couch. I'll get you some juice. Okay?" Jack moved into the kitchen, watching Daniel out of the corner of his eye. He saw the younger man sink into the corner of the sofa, his arms resting limp at his side. He stared at the dim television screen, his gaze distant.
What's going through your head, Danny? Jack wondered as he poured grape juice into a cup. Janet had released Daniel into his custody with strict orders that Jack was to bring him straight back to the SGC infirmary if he didn't eat or drink within twelve hours.
Jack was determined to get food and liquid into the kid.
He closed the refrigerator door and walked into the living room, standing over Daniel and holding the cup out to him. "Here, take this. Drink."
To his relief, Daniel raised his arm and wrapped his hand around the cup. With a bit of trepidation, Jack released the cup and gave into an audible sigh when Daniel tightened his grip and brought the cup to his lips, taking a few tentative sips of the liquid.
"Thank you," Daniel muttered, glancing briefly at Jack before returning his gaze to the blank television screen as he continued to sip absently at the drink.
Jack raised his eyebrows in surprised delight. Two words. Daniel had just said two words to him. That was progress, at least. And he was drinking on his own. Yep, definitely progress.
"If I make some food, will you eat?" Jack asked.
Daniel shrugged one shoulder. "Sure."
Yep, progress. "Great. Be back in a jiff."
Jack reached down, grabbed the remote from the coffee table, and turned on the television to give Daniel something to watch. He didn't care what was on the tube. Anything was better than having Daniel sitting on the couch staring at a dark screen. That was just too damn eerie.
Dropping the remote back to the table, Jack hurried to the kitchen and opened one of the cabinets, taking out a can of vegetable soup. It was something he could cook relatively quickly and pour into a cup for Daniel to sip. Minimal effort to make. Minimal effort to eat. Perfect for one barely-responsive archeologist.
A few minutes later, the soup came to a slow boil. Jack turned off the flame, grabbed a mug from another cabinet, and returned to the living room. Daniel was still seated on the couch, clutching the half-empty cup of juice in both hands, his gaze fixed on the flickering images on the television.
"Here ya go. Hot soup." Jack took the cup of juice from Daniel's hands and replaced it with the warm mug. "Don't spill it. You got it?"
Daniel nodded, his eyes never leaving the television, and wrapped his hands around the mug. "Thanks."
"Don't mention it."
Jack stood there a moment longer, just watching Daniel as he raised the mug to his lips and took a cautious sip. Satisfied that Daniel was indeed going to ingest at least some of the soup, Jack dropped to the cushion next to the young man, careful not to jostle Daniel and risk a spill of the hot liquid.
"So, what's this?" Jack looked at the television, frowning when he realized he was watching an infomercial about an exercise machine. "Hmmm. Don't think I can stand the suspense. Will she lose weight? Does it fold to fit under the bed? Too exciting for me." He leaned forward and snatched up the remote, quickly flipping the channel.
He stopped at a movie. Jumpin' Jack Flash. Should be safe enough. A comedy. No real violence. Overall, nothing that should upset a recently traumatized archeologist.
He'd seen the movie before, so he realized it was only twenty minutes into the story. Sneaking a sidelong glance at Daniel, Jack saw the young man was still watching the screen and sipping idly at the soup.
At least he's still working the soup. Suppressing a sigh, Jack turned his attention to the movie, but he remained all-too aware of the silent figure seated next to him.
For the next half an hour, Jack kept darting glances at Daniel, so he spotted the mug tipping as Daniel's grip loosened. He acted quickly, taking the mug before its now-cold contents could spill and setting it on the coffee table. Then he looked back at Daniel. The young man was asleep, his head tilted back, his arms now resting limply at his sides.
Daniel slept a lot lately.
Quietly, Jack rose from the couch. He placed his hands on Daniel's shoulders and carefully moved the sleeping man onto his side. Daniel's legs were still dangling over the edge of the cushion, but he was situated too close to the arm of the sofa to be laid out straight. So, Jack simply grabbed Daniel's legs and draped them over the arm. Then, he hurried to the hall closet, grabbed a blanket, and trotted back to the living room.
No bad dreams this time, Jack prayed silently as he tucked the heavy blanket over his friend. Reaching down, he grabbed the remote and flicked off the television, bathing the room in silence.
A loud, throat-scorching scream ripped through the night, shattering Jack's sleep and thrusting him instantly awake. He was on his feet before he even realized what had awakened him, his hand reaching instinctively for his sidearm and finding only air.
The scream died, and it was then that Jack realized what was happening. He was home, unarmed and dressed in his pajamas, with one very special house guest.
Jack broke into a run. Seconds later, he slid to a halt in front of the couch. Daniel was on the floor, shivering, drenched in sweat and curled in a ball.
"Daniel." Jack dropped to his knees next to his friend and placed a hand on Daniel's shoulder, giving a firm shake. "Wake up, Danny. You're okay. It's only a dream."
Daniel came awake with a gasp, springing out of his fetal ball and jerking to a sitting position, his hands grabbing Jack's arms and squeezing tight as though he were a drowning man clutching salvation.
"It's okay. It's okay," Jack reassured him quickly, his own hands grabbing Daniel's forearms. "You're okay. It's just a dream."
"J-Jack?" Daniel was still shaking, his face pale and his eyes wide. "Whu... Wh'happened?"
"You had a dream," Jack said slowly, deliberately. "A bad dream, I take it."
Daniel blinked and looked around, taking in his surroundings. "I'm... I'm at your place?"
"Yeah. You were sleeping on the couch." He loosened his grip on Daniel's arms and slid his hands up to the young man's shoulders. "You okay now? Wanna tell me about it?"
"Fire." Daniel looked back at Jack. "I... I was burning. I think... that's how one of Solizar's hosts died. In fire. He left the host just in time."
Shit. Jack gave Daniel's shoulders a quick squeeze, pushing back his own haunting, artificial memories of Daniel dying in fire. What a dream. How many others like that have you had, Danny boy?
At least Daniel was talking about it. Finally. Maybe this was a good thing. More progress.
"Jack." Daniel's shaking subsided, but he still looked much too pale. His grip on Jack's arms remained firm. "I'm sorry..."
"Being such a basket case." Finally, he let go of Jack and scrubbed his hands over his face. "I'm sorry. I'm t-trying to get past this. I... I just wanna sleep, Jack, but every time I close my eyes, I'm someone else. Somewhere else. So much pain. Every life he touched he brought pain. Every host suffered. I can't even make sense out of it." He took a deep, shuddering breath. "And I think about Shau'ri. She's suffering like I suffered. Right now. Like all the others. Trapped in her own body. Such pain... Watching herself do things... Like.... Oh God..." He brought his legs up and dropped his forehead to his knees. "I killed her. I killed her. Oh God, Jack, I killed her. I tried to fight him, but I couldn't. There was nothing I could do. I tried." He was crying now, rocking himself back and forth. "Oh God, I tried..."
"Shhh." Jack wrapped an arm around Daniel's shoulders and pulled him close. "I know. It wasn't your fault." How many times would he and Daniel go through this? "You didn't kill Lieutenant Airwick. That was Solizar."
"I know." Daniel looked up finally and pulled away from Jack, his cheeks wet and the edges of his eyes red. "I know that... I just can't get past it. My hands... My hands twisted her head... Snapped her neck." He held out his hands, palms up, and stared at them as though they were an alien artifact. "I felt it. Saw it. Heard it. My hands... I can't forget." He closed his eyes and wrapped his arms around his legs, dropping his forehead back to his knees. "God, I just wish I could forget."
"I know." Jack's voice was a whisper. "Believe me, I know what it's like to have things in your head you wish to God you could forget. It seems too much, I know, but if you just take it one day at a time, you'll get through it."
Daniel didn't respond, didn't look up, remaining silent with his arms wrapped around his legs and his face hidden.
"Hey." Jack grabbed Daniel's shoulders and gave him a shake. "Look at me, Daniel."
Slowly, Daniel raised his head, but didn't quite meet Jack's gaze.
"Daniel," Jack said again, waiting until Daniel's eyes locked with his. "One day at a time. Say it."
When Daniel didn't immediately respond, Jack gave him another firm shake. "Say it."
"One day at a time." Daniel whispered with a nod. "I know, Jack."
"You think maybe you wanna get up off the floor now?"
Jack got to his feet, grabbing Daniel's arm and helping him up. Once the young man was vertical, Jack gave him a gentle push toward the hallway. "How 'bout we relocate you to the guest bedroom? The bed's more comfortable than the couch. I guarantee it."
Sunlight. It penetrated his eyelids and prodded him from his slumber. Daniel opened his eyes to whiteness. He blinked, and realized he was looking at a ceiling.
What day was it? What did he have to do? He rolled onto his right side to look at his alarm clock, but there was no nightstand there, just a wall with a bureau a few feet away.
A brief, terrifying wave of disorientation washed over him before the residual fog of sleep cleared, and he remembered that he was at Jack's place, sleeping in the guest bedroom.
Last night's events sprang to the forefront of his mind, and his cheeks grew hot at the memory.
He must really think I'm a mess. I AM a mess. With a sigh, Daniel threw off the covers and pushed himself to his feet, glancing down at himself. He was wearing a pair of gray sweat pants that Jack had tossed him. The legs were a fraction too long, but the elastic band at the end of each one kept them comfortably situated at his ankles. He wasn't wearing a shirt, but the house was relatively warm, and the blankets had kept him more than warm enough while he'd slept.
Faint voices reached his ears, and he glanced at the door. It hung a crack open, and he walked quietly to it, listening. He heard Sam's voice. She was saying something about coffee.
Then Jack answered her, his voice a bit too loud in the otherwise quiet house. "No, I just have regular, old-fashioned milk. You'll live, Carter. I promise."
"Yes, sir, but I won't enjoy it as much."
"If you wish, I will gladly go in search of the half milk that you seek."
"No, you stay right there in that chair, Teal'c, and eat your eggs. And quit stalling."
"Would it not be polite to wait for Daniel Jackson to awaken?"
"Staaallling, Teal'c. They're good eggs. Trust me. And Daniel needs as much sleep as he can get."
"Has he not been sleeping more than usual? Did not Doctor Fraiser instruct you to make sure he ingests sufficient nutrients?"
"Yes, and he had half a mug of soup last night and some grape juice. He'll live for another few hours without a meal. I'll save him a plate for when he wakes up. Happy?"
"I would be happy if you would remove this plate from in front of me."
"I cooked it. You're eating it."
"If these are eggs, why do they not look like the eggs served at the SGC?"
"The SGC only serves scrambled eggs. Those are over-easy."
"They appear undercooked."
"They aren't. Trust me."
"And this is an embryo of a bird you call a chicken?"
"Yes.... uh, sort of."
"Either it is, or it is not."
"It's not really. Look, Teal'c. They have farms with a lot of chickens that lay eggs. To make more chickens, you need a chicken and a rooster. They... oh never mind. Just eat the damn eggs, will ya?"
Daniel couldn't help the smile that sprang to his lips. Listening to Jack and Teal'c bicker, he was struck with a sudden, overwhelming sense of normality, and for the first time in over a week, he felt like himself again. He wasn't even thinking about...
No, don't go there.
Pushing the dark thoughts away, he swung the door open and shuffled toward the kitchen, determined to hold onto the sense of normality he'd woken to. Jack stood over a frying pan at the stove, Sam was leaning against the counter by the coffee pot, and Teal'c was seated at the table, a plate of eggs, bacon, and toast in front of him. Two other plates -- one empty, the other full -- sat in front of empty chairs. The entire scene appeared slightly out of focus, and he blinked, wondering what he'd done with his glasses.
The three heads turned to look at him, and Sam broke into a smile, setting her mug on the counter and walking up to him. "Daniel, good morning." She gave him a quick hug, slid her hand to his back, and prodded him gently toward the table. "Sit. The colonel will make you a plate. You want juice or coffee?"
"Carter, we're off-duty," Jack said, casting a glance over his shoulder. "You don't have to call me 'sir' or 'colonel.'"
"Sorry... Jack." Sam slid one of the chairs out from beneath the table and gestured to it. "Here you go. Juice or coffee?"
"Coffee. Thanks." Daniel sank into the seat and looked across at Teal'c, who was doing an excellent job of appearing completely unconcerned... if one didn't know him very well. Daniel, however, could easily read the silent question in his friend's dark eyes. "Morning, Teal'c. How are you?"
"I am well, Daniel Jackson. How are you?"
Daniel rubbed absently at the bandaged, still-healing wound on the back of his neck. "I am well."
"I am pleased to hear that."
"Are the eggs good?" Daniel suppressed a smile at the sudden change in Teal'c's expression.
"The eggs are.... " Teal'c glanced apprehensively down at his plate, "undercooked, I believe."
Jack spun around and waved the spatula at Teal'c. "They are not undercooked... Oh, for crying out loud." He set the spatula on the stove, moved to the table, and slid Teal'c's plate over to Daniel. "Here, you eat them." He threw a glare at Teal'c. "I'll make you some scrambled eggs. Okay?"
"That will be acceptable, O'Neill. Thank you."
Daniel found himself staring at the two golden globs on his plate with something close to horror. The greasy bacon laying next to them didn't help much, either. "Uh.... You know, Jack. I don't think my stomach's quite up to this." He looked up at Jack, who was standing there with a dark look in his eyes. "Can I, uh, have some cereal, or something?"
"Cereal?" Jack's expression brightened in an instant. "Coming right up. Fruit loops? Captain crunch? Granola?"
"Granola." Daniel pushed the plate back to Teal'c, offering an apologetic smile. "Here. Just try it, Teal'c." He tried to don a more serious expression. "Your symbiot should protect you from any ill-effects, right?"
Teal'c raised an eyebrow. "That is correct." After a brief hesitation, he looked down at his plate, slowly lifted his fork from the table, and prodded the yoke experimentally. It broke, and the yellowish goo oozed over the surrounding white. Teal'c looked up, a hint of disgust on his face. "O'Neill, I apologize. I have compromised the integrity of this... thing."
Jack looked heavenward. "Why me?" With an exaggerated sigh, he pointed to Teal'c's toast. "You dip the bread in the yoke and eat it. It's good that way."
"Are you not going to scramble the embryos for me?"
"All right! And they're eggs, Teal'c! Geez, you're going to spoil everyone's appetite with that kind of talk." Jack snatched the plate from in front of the Jaffa. "I'll eat these." He set the plate on top of the empty one already at the table and turned back to the stove. "But, so help me God, Teal'c, you'd better eat the scrambled eggs. No more complaints, or you can starve."
Daniel smiled, then flinched in surprise when an arm came from behind him and set a mug filled with dark, steaming liquid on the table.
"Sorry, Daniel." Sam whispered behind him. "Coffee."
He glanced over his shoulder at her, offering a smile. "Thanks."
Jack grabbed a bowl from the strainer, then retrieved the box of cereal from a low cabinet. He filled the bowl half-way, got a carton from the fridge, poured the milk until the cereal rose to the rim, and with a faint smile, set the bowl, complete with spoon, in front of Daniel. "Sugar?"
Daniel grabbed the spoon's handle. "No thanks."
"Now, your scrambled eggs are coming right up," Jack told Teal'c, turning back to the stove.
Daniel dropped his gaze to the bowl, studying the cereal. Grains of granola peeked out from the murky white liquid, spattered with dark, wrinkled raisins and slivers of almonds. He scooped up a spoonful and took a bite. It was good. His stomach grumbled as he swallowed, and he suddenly realized that he was, in fact, very, very hungry.
He took several more generous bites, then the pungent, inviting smell of the steaming coffee pulled at him, and he set his spoon back in the bowl and reached for the mug. His hand just closed around the warm ceramic when a brush against the back of his neck threw him into stark, violent terror.
Phantom pain snaked along his neck, exploding at the base of his skull, and he shot out of his chair, barely aware of the hot wetness on his thighs, and clawed at the thing he felt burying into his skull, but his fingers found only the softness of the bandage.
A touch on his shoulder. He batted the thing away and leapt back, slamming into something hard, his hand shooting back to his neck.
"Daniel, it's okay!"
This time the voice penetrated Daniel's panic, and he sucked in a deep, greedy lungful of air and blinked at the slightly blurry figure in front of him.
Jack. Jack O'Neill. He was standing in Jack's kitchen.
There wasn't a Goa'uld trying to burrow into his neck. His fingers, still hovering at the base of his skull, snatched at the cottony material hanging from a piece of tape and removed it. He glanced at the off-white bandage. His hand trembled, and suddenly angry, he threw the bandage hard to the floor.
God, he was shaking and he couldn't stop. Stupid! Stupid! How could he be relaxed and happy one moment and in a wild panic the next? All because of a light brush on the back of his neck.
"Daniel?" Sam this time. She was standing next to Jack, her wide blue eyes staring at him with something close to pity.
"S-Sorry." He became aware of the painful heat on his legs and looked down to see a dark wetness soaking the front of his sweat pants. "I... gotta change. Be back."
He didn't hesitate another minute, just turned away from his friends and broke into a run for the guest bedroom, vaguely aware of the frantic thud of pursuing footsteps and Jack's voice calling his name.
He reached his sanctuary and slammed the door, probably right in Jack's face, and quickly turned the lock on the doorknob. The knob jiggled, seemingly on its own, and a pounding vibrated through the wood.
Jack's voice rang deep with authority from the other side. "Daniel, open up!"
Daniel didn't bother answering, not trusting his voice. Instead, he yanked off the sweats and hurried to the bureau, but he spotted his clothes folded neatly on a chair next to the window and all but lunged for them.
He had to get out of the house. He couldn't deal with people at the moment, especially not Jack, Teal'c, and Sam. Not when he had to work with them... Be with them almost every day. Of all the people he didn't want seeing him like this, they were top on his list.
He dressed quickly in his jeans and sweater, then slipped into his jacket, feeling the subtle weight of his wallet in the right pocket. His shoes and socks were laying on the floor next to the chair, and he dropped into the now-empty seat and slipped them on, tying his laces with shaking fingers that were barely coordinated enough to complete the task.
Jack continued to pound on the door, his voice angry now. "Daniel, I swear, if you don't open this door right now..."
Daniel shot out of his chair and, taking a deep breath, unlocked the knob and swung the door open. Jack stopped mid-sentence, surprise flickering over his face.
"Oh." Jack seemed suddenly more subdued. "You okay?"
Daniel shoved past his friend, ignoring the question. "I've gotta get out of here. Sorry."
"Wait a minute." A hand grabbed his elbow, yanking him back around. "Where are you --?"
He jerked his arm out of Jack's grip and resumed his hurried pace to the door, ignoring Teal'c and Sam in the kitchen. They were staring at him, and he turned his head so they were no longer visible in his peripheral vision.
Jack was suddenly in front of him, blocking his escape through the door. "Will you just wait a minute? You don't even have your car here."
"I just need to go for a walk. I'll be back." In a few hours... maybe.
"Fine. I'll come with you."
Daniel focused on a point on the door just to the left of Jack's head. "I'd rather be alone."
"Look, what just happened isn't something you need to be embarrassed about. It's my fault, anyway. I wasn't thinking. It was an accident. I'm so --"
"It's okay. Not your fault. I'm okay." He took a steadying breath. "I just want to be alone for a bit." He shifted his gaze, forcing himself to look Jack in the eye. "Please, Jack. Get out of my way."
"Daniel," Jack took a breath, "Fraiser--"
The anger overcame him so suddenly, his hands shot out before he was even aware of what he was doing. "Out of my way!" He grabbed Jack's collar, yanked the man aside, and was out the door, the crisp, Colorado breeze slapping against his cheeks.
He just started walking, then running -- as fast as his legs could move -- his chest heaving as his lungs worked to fulfill his muscles' increased oxygen demands. A horn blared, a car whizzing past him, displacing the air behind him hard enough to make him stumble, and he didn't even realize he was in the street until he was at the other side, leaping over the curb, running over grass, bursting through shrubbery into a cluster of trees. His legs gave out finally, sending him crashing forward, but he caught himself on a tree, leaning like the Tower of Italy, his arms wrapped around the trunk, gasping for air, almost, but not quite, sobbing.
What the hell was wrong with him? He closed his eyes and slid down the trunk, barely feeling the scrape of the bark through his jacket. He sat there for several seconds, leaning against the tree, his eyes closed. Gradually, his pounding heart and frantic breathing faded to calmer, steadier rhythms, and the terror he felt moments ago melted like butter over a flame.
A twig snapped somewhere nearby, and a second later Daniel heard the sound of hard breathing. Someone had just arrived, out of breath. He opened his eyes and saw Jack lowering himself to the ground, his breathing already evening out, to sit casually to Daniel's right, his legs bent and his arms draped over his knees. Jack didn't look at Daniel, his gaze hovering somewhere in the distance, and long seconds of silence passed before he spoke.
Daniel blinked, looking around, his eyes scanning the terrain. He had no idea where he was, but it looked like some kind of a park, only he'd stumbled into a cluster of trees and shrubbery that provided a good deal of privacy.
"You took about ten years off my life back there," Jack commented, his gaze still distant. "Scared the hell out of that driver."
Daniel didn't know what to say to that, so he kept quiet, content to let Jack carry on a one-sided conversation.
"So, uh, you finished with your morning run?"
Daniel cracked a smile at that, but didn't give an answer. The question didn't merit one.
Silence reigned for nearly a minute until Jack spoke again. "You really want me to leave you alone?"
Daniel looked at his friend, the question bringing him to a surprising realization. "No."
Jack nodded and leaned against the tree trunk, his arm brushing against Daniel's. "Okay."
They sat that way for a while, listening to the sound of the wind through the leaves and the chirping of birds in the branches above, and for the first time since his release from Solizar, Daniel knew without a doubt that he'd be okay.
Because Jack O'Neill wouldn't let him end up any other way.
This story did not write itself J
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