Suicidium


Part 3

Jack followed the boy toward a modest, wood building. A man exited, carrying a pack over his shoulder. Jack wouldn’t have given the guy a second thought, not with the unkempt hair and too-thin frame, but his eyes focused on the SGC-issue backpack slung over the man’s shoulders.

Glancing at Carter and Teal’c, Jack raised an eyebrow. Taking a breath, he moved quickly but quietly up to the man, pacing him, then tapped his shoulder.

“Oh, Daniel.”

Daniel turned. “Jack?” he asked in that oh-so familiar tone, as though they’d bumped into one another in the halls of the SGC.

Jack’s breath caught in his throat as he took in Daniel’s too-thin face and bloodshot eyes. The kid looked like he hadn’t slept in a week.

“Jack!” Familiarity shifted to alarm, and Daniel staggered back a step as his eyes darted to Sam and Teal’c, hovering momentarily on the staff weapon, before returning to Jack and, more specifically, the P-90 hanging at his side.

“Daniel-“

Jack didn’t get another word out. Daniel spun and broke into a frantic run.

“Damnit! Daniel! Wait!” Jack took off after the archeologist, vaguely aware of Carter and Teal’c following closely behind.

Daniel moved faster than he should have been able to, weaving through the villagers and other obstacles in his path. Minutes later, they were outside the village, heading toward a cluster of trees.

“Daniel! Stop!” Jack panted as he ran. “We’re here as friends!” He doubted Daniel could hear him. He was already nearly fifty feet ahead of SG-1.

Moments later, Jack saw Daniel drop suddenly out of sight. His rattling heart skipped a beat, and he skidded to a halt at the top of a hill. Carter almost sailed straight past him, and he grabbed her arm to stop her from falling.

“Damn.” With a glance at his teammates, Jack began his hurried but careful descent down the hill.

He kept his eyes on Daniel, who rolled violently below, bouncing off the bumps in the land. Daniel landed hard at the bottom and lay still for several seconds.

“Daniel?” Jack yelled. “You okay?” God, please let the kid be okay.

Before Jack could reach him, Daniel pushed himself up and staggered away, finally breaking once again into a run.

The chase lasted several more minutes, but Daniel was limping, his pace slowing. He was obviously growing fatigued. Unfortunately, so was Jack. Teal’c, however, seemed unaffected, and with a wave from Jack, he overshot them and barreled quickly toward Daniel.

They approached a cliff up ahead, and the roar of running water filled the air.

Jack’s stomach took a nose-dive, and he eased his pace. “Stop, damnit! Are you crazy?”

Daniel slid to a halt at the edge of the cliff, his arms waving wildly as he spun around. His pack swung in front of him and landed hard on the ground. In his right hand, he held a zat aimed squarely at Teal’c.

Teal’c stopped in his tracks.

Jack trotted to a halt next to the Jaffa and raised his hands. “Whoa. Easy, Daniel.”

Daniel squinted at them, his glasses gone, but the lines around his eyes looked like they resulted from pain rather than blurry vision. “Stop.” He jabbed with the zat. “Just stop.” The plea was tinged with desperation, and he brought his free hand up and rubbed at his temple.

“You’re not going to kill any of us, Daniel.”

“No.” He swallowed, taking a breath. “But one shot’ll be good enough.”

“Okay.” Moving slowly, Jack lifted the strap of his P-90 and set the weapon on the ground. “It’s okay.” He straightened and raised his hands again. “We’re not here to hurt you or force you to come back. We’ve got good news. We went over your apartment again and found evidence to support your story. The President has authorized your reinstatement to the SGC.” His throat grew suspiciously tight, and he swallowed hard. “You can come home, Daniel.”

Daniel shook his head, then winced. “No.” He rubbed his forehead, and the hand holding the zat trembled. “You’re lying! You’re lying so I’ll put this down.” The weapon rose higher. “I’m not going back, Jack. I can’t. I-”

“I’m not lying, Daniel. I swear to you, I’m not lying.”

Uncertainty flickered over Daniel’s face.

Teal’c took the opportunity and stepped forward. “Daniel Jackson, it is because of me that you lost Sha’re, and my debt to you is larger than any duty I owe to the SGC. I would not lie to you. I would not seek to do you harm. O’Neill speaks the truth. It is time for you to come home.” He bowed his head slightly. “Please.”

“It’s true, Daniel,” Sam added. “Please, put the zat down.”

Daniel frowned, his brow furrowing, and shook his head, then glanced over the cliff.

“Daniel,” Jack warned. He didn’t dare make a move with Daniel so close to the edge.

“I-” Daniel winced, then cried out, and the zat dropped from his fingers as he staggered back.

“No!” Jack lunged forward just as Daniel slipped over the edge.

~~~~~~~~~~

Teal’c reacted faster than Jack, diving forward, practically falling over the edge himself as he reached for Daniel. His hand caught the left sleeve of Daniel’s shirt, and he held it in a tight fist as Daniel jerked to a stop, his momentum carrying him into a swing. His weight, although more insubstantial than Teal’c expected, threatened to pull Teal’c forward.

“Daniel!” Jack yelled, his voice loud in Teal’c’s right ear as he teetered over the cliff above the raging waters passing swiftly below. “Hold him, Teal’c!”

“I am attempting to.”

Teal’c felt Jack’s arms around his legs, pulling. Now that he was secured. Teal’c reached forward with his free hand and wrapped it around Daniel’s extended left arm. He felt Daniel flinch and heard a strangled gasp, but he didn’t dare ease his grip.

“Pull, O’Neill!”

“Gotcha,” Jack grunted, tugging.

More hands joined the colonel’s, and he heard Carter shout something. Then he felt himself sliding back, Daniel rising with him, until finally, they were all lying in a heap on the ground, safely away from the edge. Teal’c released Daniel’s arm, and the young man immediately scampered away, crawling, awkwardly clutching his left arm with his right hand.

“Carter! Teal’c!” Jack waved to them and, needing no further prodding, Teal’c coordinated his position with the others to form a circle around Daniel.

“Daniel?” Jack crouched in front of the young man. “You with me?”

Daniel squinted up at Jack, a sheen of perspiration on his brow. He released his arm and brought his fingers to his head. Groaning softly, he closed his eyes and fell to his side, then curled into a ball.

“I wish this would stop,” Daniel muttered. “God, just stop.”

Jack frowned. “What, Danny?”

Daniel opened his eyes, his expression suddenly wary once again. “Headache. Flashbacks…. From Nem’s machine.”

Taking a breath, Jack put his weight on his knees and leaned back. “Doctor Fraiser has an infirmary full of good drugs to help you with that headache. The flashbacks, too, I’ll bet.”

Daniel pushed himself to a sitting position, his hand once again going to his left arm. He chewed his bottom lip, his gaze darting over the three of them.

“Come on, Daniel.” Jack’s voice was gentle. “We’re not forcing you. We could’ve had you restrained and heading back to the gate by now if that’s what we wanted to do. I told you the truth. It’s all taken care of back home. The SGC wants you back, and I promise we’ll help you look for Kheb.”

Daniel’s chin jerked up, a challenge sparking in his eyes. “And if I refuse?”

Jack glanced at Teal’c, his dark eyes heavy, and sighed. Looking back at Daniel, he said, “I won’t force you to come back with us.”

The fight died from Daniel’s expression. His shoulders slumped, and the hand clutching his arm dropped to his lap. A hint of moisture touched his eyes, and he blinked. “I have my job back?”

Jack gave a tiny smile. “Yeah, if you want it.”

Chewing his bottom lip again, Daniel nodded slowly, almost hesitantly. “Okay.” He gave a brief chuckle that sounded more like a choked sob.

Jack’s smile brightened, his eyes soft. “Okay, then.” He scooted forward and placed a hand on the back of Daniel's neck. “How ‘bout you let us take a look at that arm?”

Daniel looked down at his left arm and shrugged. “It’s okay. Practically healed. Just a bit tender.”

“What happened to it?”

Daniel looked up, glancing at Teal’c and Sam before locking eyes with Jack. “It happened when I left the SGC. One of the bullets found its mark.”

“Damn,” Jack muttered. “I figured as much. We found blood near the tower on Thor’s planet.”

Sam crouched next to Daniel. “Let me see.”

“It’s nothing. Nem fixed it up.”

“Humor her,” Jack said, moving aside to give Carter room to work.

With a sigh, Daniel untied the front of his shirt and slipped out of the left sleeve. An angry red wound in the shape of a circle marred the skin. Teal’c took a step forward to get a better look at the wound, concerned that he may have further damaged the tissue when he’d grabbed Daniel Jackson. The wound was closed, almost a scar by now, and by the looks of it, the flesh beneath would still be tender, but the injury appeared suitably healed.

“Looks okay.” Sam’s fingers probed the area. “This hurt?”

“A little.”

“Okay.” She smiled reassuringly at him and pulled her fingers away. “We’ll let Janet take a look at it, but it seems fine to me. Nem did a good job.”

Slipping back into his shirt, Daniel turned his attention back to Jack. The edges of his eyes flared red suddenly, and he swallowed, blinking hard. “I, uh… I missed you guys.”

Jack placed his hand on Daniel’s right shoulder and gave a brief squeeze.

“We missed you, too,” Sam said, then rose to her feet.

“Come on.” Jack’s hand slid to Daniel’s arm, and he started to rise as he tugged.

“Uh… Just a…. I, uh…” Daniel waved his fingers toward Jack. “Your pack?”

“Yeah?” Jack crouched again, raising his eyebrows.

“I, uh…” Daniel swallowed and licked his lips. “Got any extra water? Even an MRE.” A faint, shy mile touched his lips. “Never thought I’d say this, but I’d kill for one of those right now.”

“Christ, of course.” Jack slipped out of his pack and grabbed the canteen fastened to his belt. He unscrewed the top, and handed it to Daniel. “Take this for starter’s.”

“Thanks.” Daniel’s fingers closed around the container, and he brought it slowly to his lips. He took a first, tentative sip, then raised the canteen higher and gulped greedily, tilting his head back farther and farther until, apparently, there was nothing left for him to swallow. “Thanks,” he sighed, handing the empty canteen back to Jack.

Jack eyed Daniel silently for a moment, his eyes dark, then took the canteen with one hand while he held out an unwrapped MRE with the other. “Go slow, okay? We want it to stay down.”

Daniel nodded and took the offering. He took a bite and closed his eyes, chewing slowly, a soft moan rumbling from the back of his throat. Jack sat on his rump and looked up at Teal’c and Carter, his expression betraying an inner turmoil.

Daniel’s second bite was more voracious, and despite his promise, he devoured the rest of the MRE in what had to be record time. With a sigh, Jack reached into his pack and pulled out a powerbar. Unwrapping it quickly, he held it up just as Daniel finished the last bite of theMRE.

“Thanks.” Daniel snatched it without hesitation and leaned forward, consuming the entire thing in two, greedy bites. That finished, he looked up at them again, almost expectantly.

“That’s all for now.” Jack slapped Daniel gently on the knee. “There’s plenty back at the SGC. All you can eat.”

Daniel’s face darkened with disappointment, his eyes lingering hungrily on Jack’s pack. Finally, he nodded and rose with Jack. A deep grumble came from his stomach, and he wrapped an arm around his torso.

Giving them a smile, he shrugged. “I guess I woke it up. I’m twice as hungry now as I was before.”

Jack pursed his lips. He stooped and picked up both his pack and Daniel’s, then leaned close to the archeologist. “I’ll treat you to the biggest juiciest steak you can eat once we get back home. Okay?”

“Okay.” Daniel offered a small smile, then took his pack from Jack and slipped it over his shoulders. “Thanks.”

With a nod, Jack took a step back and eyed Daniel critically. “So, it’s a bit of a hike back to the gate,” His gaze dropped to Daniel’s leg, then swept back up. “You up to it?”

“Yeah. I hurt my ankle a bit on that hill, but I can walk.”

“All right, but if you need a rest, speak up. Got it?”

Daniel nodded. “Let’s go. I, uh, I’m dying for some real food and a warm bed.”

“And a shave,” Jack observed, giving Daniel a pat on the shoulder. “Good to have you back.”

 ~~~~~~~~~

Jack kept a watchful eye on Daniel as the young man limped ahead of them. The hike back was made in relative silence, and every time Jack glanced at Sam or Teal’c, he saw their eyes on Daniel. He couldn’t blame them. He was doing the same thing himself.

He just couldn’t get over the physical changes in the archeologist. Daniel’s once solid, lean frame had dwindled. He was thinner -- not exactly gaunt, but it was obvious he'd had a rough time traveling the Stargate system on his own.

How the hell could one man lose so much weight in only twelve days?

There were also other changes to hold Jack’s attention. Daniel walked slightly in front of them, so Jack couldn’t see the thin beard, but that alone had been a shock. It gave the kid an almost jaded appearance. Or maybe that had just been his eyes. When Daniel had first turned back at the village, he’d looked at Jack with that familiar, curious gaze, but it had quickly melted to one of fear and suspicion. Those weren’t emotions Jack was used to seeing directed at him from those particular eyes.

None of that mattered now, Jack told himself. They had Daniel back. With a little rest and a lot of food, Daniel would be back to his old self in time.

He hoped.

Daniel stopped, and Jack looked up, realizing they had approached the hill where Daniel had taken a spill. It towered formidably above them, and he frowned, glancing at Daniel. Going up would no doubt be a lot harder than going down.

With a sigh, Daniel started forward.

“Hey.” Jack grabbed Daniel’s right elbow. “Wait up.”

Silently, Daniel turned and blinked at Jack, his eyes somewhat glazed.

Yep. Jack took a breath. The kid was about to hit a great, big wall. “We can take a breather before heading up.”

Daniel tilted his head and blinked again, then looked back at the hill. “Okay.” He started forward again, but Jack’s grip on his elbow stopped him.

“Daniel.” Jack moved in front of the young man and grabbed both his arms gently, then steered him to a tree at the base of the hill. “Sit.” He pushed down gently, and Daniel folded, collapsing against the trunk.

“Okay.”

“Here.” Carter knelt in front of Daniel, a canteen in her hand. “More water?”

Daniel stared at the container for a few seconds, then took it and downed a few large gulps. He handed it back to her, then eyed the hill again. “We should go now. Resting now will only make it harder.”

“Okay.” Jack wasn’t sure he agreed with that logic. “You sure?”

“Yeah.” Daniel reached up, and Jack grabbed his arm, pulling Daniel to his feet.

“Let’s go then.”

Jack took off toward the hill. He stopped at the base and placed a light hand on Daniel’s back, urging him to go ahead. If Daniel stumbled, Jack wanted to be close behind to prevent him from taking another spill courtesy of gravity.

“Here. Wait a minute.” Reaching up, Jack slid the pack off Daniel’s shoulders. The hike would be easier without a twenty-pound weight on his back.

“No, it’s okay. I got it,” Daniel muttered and continued forward, apparently oblivious to the fact that he was no longer carrying the pack.

Rolling his eyes, Jack glanced at Teal’c and swung the pack over to him. With a nod, the Jaffa took the pack and started up the hill.

The hike wasn’t so bad, and the hill wasn’t that high or that steep. Jack had climbed worse. Much worse. Daniel, however, practically wheezed with each step. Three quarters of the way up, he wavered and staggered back, almost stumbling. Jack reached out and placed his palms on Daniel’s back, steadying him, then moved to the young man’s side and guided him forward.

“Come on. Almost there.” Jack gave a reassuring smile, but his chest tightened when he saw the blank look in Daniel’s eyes.

Damn. Jackson was running on fumes. He must have drained whatever he had left on his mad dash from the village, and how he’d found the energy for that when the fatigue in his face indicated he hadn’t slept for a long while, Jack couldn’t figure, not to mention the obvious lack of food and water. Sometimes Daniel’s single-minded determination amazed him.

Daniel stumbled, and Jack steadied him again, realizing they’d reached the top of the hill. He gave a relieved sigh, then tightened his grip when he suddenly felt Daniel topple forward.

“Daniel?” He eased the young man into a controlled descent.

Daniel curled on to his side and closed his eyes. “Five minutes,” he mumbled, waving a hand in the air that promptly dropped to the ground. He lay there, limp, his breathing steady and shallow.

“Shit.” Jack felt along Daniel’s neck for a pulse, and his shoulders slumped when he found the steady, strong rhythm.

He glanced up, seeing Carter kneeling on the other side of Daniel. Teal’c stood behind her, Daniel’s pack dangling in his hand.

Carter grabbed Daniel’s shoulder and carefully rolled him on to his back. His arm flopped to his side, and she straightened his limbs. “He passed out.”

“Ya think?” Jack leaned back and scrubbed a hand over his face.

Sam lifted Daniel’s eyelids one by one, then took his pulse. “I can’t be sure, but I think he’s just sleeping.”

“Sleeping passed out, you mean.” Jack looked heavenward. “Okay, I guess this means we’re making camp.”

“It is not that far to the village,” Teal’c observed. “I can carry Daniel Jackson that distance, and he can sleep the night there.”

“All right.” Jack nodded. “We’ll get Daniel settled, then two of us will head back to the gate to let Hammond know we’ve reeled in one archeologist and will be spending the night.”

Carter smiled softly. “I’m sure the general will be happy to hear that, sir. Teal’c and I can go.”

“Okay” Jack conceded. “It’s a plan. Teal’c,” he gestured to Daniel, “hand me that pack. You get to do the honors with sleeping beauty here.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

// They were coming. He kept firing, desperate to hold them off. He saw the ball of fire heading toward him, and then it slammed into his chest. He stumbled backward, his lungs tight, trying to breathe through the crushing pain in his chest while maintaining his grip on his weapon.

Then, he was falling… //

He slammed into something hard, blinking. The dark corridor of Apophis’ ship morphed into a dim room with soft, warm light that flickered against the walls. He was on the floor, clutching his chest and panting, with Jack kneeling over him.

“You with me now?” Jack asked, waving a hand in the air.

Daniel followed the fingers moving in front of his face until they dropped from sight.

“Daniel?”

He swallowed. “Yeah, Jack.” His voice trembled ever-so slightly. “I’m with you.”

“What the hell was that?”

Daniel felt Jack’s arms slide beneath his back, and suddenly he was supported, sitting upright. The warm scent of cooked meat tickled his nose, and his stomach grumbled. He looked up, searching for the source, and saw a platter a few feet away, standing between a bed and a wooden bench, several feet across from a table that supported a large lantern.

“A dream,” Daniel said absently, eyeing the platter. Whatever was on the tray looked vaguely like turkey.

“Some dream. C’mon.” Jack’s hand wrapped around Daniel’s arm and tugged upward.

Daniel pushed himself to his feet and let Jack guide him to the bed. He sat on the edge of the mattress and pulled his gaze away from the food. He glanced down at his chest, feeling a hint of pain on the left side, and almost expected to find a gaping hole there.

“Here.”

Daniel blinked and looked up to see Jack holding a plate of meat and fruit in front of him. Giving a shallow smile, he took the dish and set it on his lap, stifling a yawn. He was still way too damned tired.

A hint of steam moistened his face, and his stomach churned more insistently. He pulled off a chunk of meat and stuffed it into his mouth. Juice dribbled down his chin, and he wiped it on his sleeve as he chewed the mouthful.

God, it was delicious.

Looking around the sparse room, he realized they were alone. “Whew’re Sam ‘n T’lc?” he asked while he chewed.

“Hiking back to the gate to let Hammond know we’re staying the night.” He glanced at his watch. “They should be back soon.” With a sigh, he sank on to the mattress next to Daniel. “You were passed out pretty good. I thought you’d sleep straight through ‘til morning.”

Daniel swallowed and looked down at his plate. “I’ve been having a bit of trouble sleeping.” He tore off another section of the cooked flesh and popped it into his mouth. “This is unbelievable. What is it?”

“Don’t ask. Don’t tell.” Jack shrugged. “Hanno brought it in a little while ago. Eat as much of it as you can. You look like you’ve lost at least fifteen pounds, maybe twenty.”

Daniel shrugged a shoulder, chewing. “Nowh’re near that, m’sure.” He swallowed. “It hasn’t even been two weeks.” His nose tingled, and he raised his hand just in time to catch the sneeze.

“Out of allergy medication?”

“Didn’t bring it.”

“Well, now,” Jack leaned forward and grabbed his pack from the floor, “you’re going to be glad we found you.” Reaching into the front flap, he pulled out a blue bottle of antihistamines. “Brought it along, just in case.”

Daniel gazed wide-eyed at the bottle, a surprised smile taking shape on his face. “Thank you.” He took the bottle.

“I’ll swap you.”

“Swap me?”

Jack dropped his pack and grabbed Daniel’s from the floor. He rifled through it for a few seconds, then retrieved a baggie containing two medication bottles, one green, the other red. Opening the ziplock, Jack withdrew the red one and eyed the label. He frowned, his eyes narrowing with a hint of anger, then stuffed the container into a pocket on his vest and looked back up.

Daniel met Jack’s solid gaze. “It was a precaution,” he explained softly.

“I know.” Lifting the baggie, he eyed the remaining bottle, then slid it back into Daniel’s pack.

Daniel frowned, then pursed his lips, his eyes narrowing infinitesimally. “I don’t have any intention of using it, now.”

“I know that, too.” Jack patted his vest pocket. “I just feel better with it here. That stuff’s too dangerous to leave lying around in a pack, anyway.”

“You’re clear on the fact that I didn’t actually try to kill myself in my apartment, right?”

Jack sighed. “Yes, Daniel. I know. I just… Fine!” He reached into the pocket and yanked out the bottle, thrusting it toward Daniel. “Here. Happy?”

Daniel’s lips twitched. “You can keep it. Thanks.”

“Thank you,” Jack said with exaggerated sarcasm.

Daniel took another bite of the meat. He chewed it quickly, then swallowed hard. “Speaking of, uh… What happened to Maybourne? Has he been arrested?”

“Uh, well,” Jack’s gaze dropped to Daniel’s plate, “not exactly.” He looked back up.

Daniel took a breath. “You said you found evidence?” He kept his voice carefully neutral.

“We did. We did,” Jack nodded quickly, “we found some blood in your apartment. It’s not yours, but… Well, we haven’t matched it yet.”

“You’re telling me a forensics team missed blood before?”

“It was on the glass you threw, not visible. I remembered what you’d said, and I had them go over the glass. They used some chemical on it, and voila!”

“Oh.” Daniel tore off another piece of meat. “I guess that’s something.”

“We’re still working on it, though,” Jack added. “We’ll get the son of a bitch. I promise.”

Daniel’s chin came up a fraction, and a shadow of a sad smile touched his lips. “Don’t make promises you can’t keep, Jack.”

A pained look twisted Jack’s face briefly, quickly replaced by something more neutral. He leaned closer to Daniel. “I’m sorry about Sha’re.”

Daniel nodded, his eyes drifting to the subtle patterns flickering across the walls. He missed candlelight. Inside his tent with Sha’re, it always felt warm and comforting.

“Hey?”

Daniel’s eyes darted back to Jack.

“You okay?” the older man asked.

Daniel took a deep breath, his head dropping forward, tugging at the muscles between his shoulder blades. “I’m tired. Very tired.”

He felt a warm palm on the back of his neck, pulling him forward until his forehead came to rest against solid flesh.

“I know,” Jack whispered. “So rest.”

~~~~~~

Jack came awake with a jerk, his hand snapping to his sidearm just as his brain identified the source of the noise. His eyes darted to the door as it closed behind Carter and Teal’c.

“Shhh!” Jack straightened in the chair, wincing at the twinge of pain in his neck. He pointed with one hand to the sleeping archeologist curled on the bed and rubbed the back of his neck with the other.

“Ah,” Carter whispered, stepping softly to the second, unoccupied bed and sinking on to the edge of the mattress.

Teal’c stopped at the foot of Daniel’s bed and assumed his customary, rigid stance. “We informed General Hammond that we have recovered Daniel Jackson and will be returning to the SGC tomorrow,” Teal’c reported, his voice soft.

“So,” Jack whispered, “I guess this means we’d better eat and get our beauty sleep while we can.” He gestured to the now cold meat perched on the tray. “Courtesy of Hanno. Help yourselves.”

“No thanks, sir.” Carter leaned back and yawned. “I think I’ll just turn in.” She glanced around the room, her lips pursed. Her eyes finally settled on a spot on the floor beyond Daniel’s bed. “I’ll take the floor-“

“Nah!” Jack rose from the chair. “You did the hike to the gate and back, you get the bed.”

She raised an eyebrow. “What about Teal’c?”

“I am accustomed to sleeping on hard surfaces,” the Jaffa answered.

“Okay. I won’t argue. Thanks.” She leaned forward and slid off her boots, her eyes drifting to Daniel. “How is he, sir?”

Jack shook his head wearily. “I’m not sure. Nem’s machine screwed with his brain. He’s having flashbacks, trouble sleeping, vivid -“

Daniel suddenly sprang out of his curled position with the speed of a rattlesnake uncoiling. Sam jumped, and Jack stumbled back as Daniel lunged off the mattress and dived toward his backpack on the floor.

“Hey! Hey!” Jack hurried forward, crouching next to Daniel and grabbing his arm. Daniel had only been asleep a few minutes before Carter and Teal’c arrived. Could he be having another flashback so soon? Hell, no wonder the kid was exhausted. “Take it easy.”

Daniel pulled his arm out of Jack’s grip and started mumbling incoherently as he yanked open the backpack and dumped its contents on the floor. His fingers plucked the leather journal from the pile, then dove into the front flap and withdrew a pen.

“Daniel?” Jack straightened slowly, frowning as he glanced at Carter and then Teal’c. He gave a shrug in response to their bewildered expressions, then looked back down.

Daniel was now sitting cross-legged on the floor, the journal lying open on his lap. The pen danced in the air as he scribbled on one of the pages.

“Daniel,” Jack repeated. “Hey. Yoo-hoo!” He crouched again and waved his fingers in front of Daniel’s downturned-face. “Anyone home?”

The pen dropped from Daniel’s fingers, landing in the crevice between the pages, and the young man looked up, a tiny crease between his eyes.

“The fourth symbol.” He blinked, then looked back down at the thing he’d drawn.

Jack leaned forward to study the picture. There were some illegible notes above a familiar-looking stargate symbol. “The fourth symbol to what? Or should I say, ‘to where?’”

“Kheb.” Daniel looked back up, the crease of his brow more pronounced. “With the aid of Nem’s memory device, I was able to remember three symbols to Kheb’s address. Amounnet knew the address, and when Sha’re communicated with me through the ribbon device, some of the Goa’uld’s knowledge came along with the message. I just couldn’t consciously remember it.”

“Daniel,” Carter began, “we can’t be sure that -“

Daniel’s head snapped toward her. “I’m sure.”

Jack waved a frustrated hand in the air to silence Carter, then rubbed his forehead. Nem’s machine again. He itched to grab Daniel and shake the hell out of him for agreeing to such a stupid stunt, but he repressed the urge. Daniel was flightier than a wild cat and about as hard to catch. Jack didn’t want to risk damaging the trust they’d managed to re-establish over the past few hours.

“Okay.” Jack took a deep, calming breath. “So you now have four symbols to Kheb?”

“Yes.” His eyes widened and a tiny smile brightened his face. “It just came to me.”

“In a dream?” Both of Jack’s eyebrows rose.

‘Yes,” Daniel nodded. “Which means the other two might present themselves. All I need to do is get some sleep.” He closed his eyes and lowered his head, then pressed his palm against his brow. “Some real sleep. It’s there, I’m sure. I just need to access it.”

“Now, sleep sounds like a good idea.” Jack reached out slowly and plucked the journal from Daniel’s lap. “Why don’t you start working on that right away?”

Daniel dropped his hand and looked up at Jack. “Stop patronizing me.”

“I’m not. I’m telling you to get some sleep. You need it.” Jack glanced down at the journal, about to close it around the pen, when his eyes caught a few words at the top of the left page.

‘…but that’s not enough. It’s never enough. No matter what I do.’ He frowned and snapped the book shut.

“I know I need it,” Daniel snapped, “but I seem to have a problem getting it.”

“Okay.” Jack gently placed the journal on top of the messy pile on the floor. “Why don’t you try again? Try taking some of those antihistamines. They might help knock you out for a while.”

“Yeah, okay,” Daniel sighed, rubbing his hands over his face. “First, though, I, uh,” he dropped his arms and looked up. “I really have to go to the bathroom.”

Jack gave a small smile. “Take Teal’c. It’s right outside. An outhouse.”

“I don’t need to -“

“Take Teal’c,” Jack stressed more deliberately. Although this was a friendly planet, he didn’t want to take any chances.

Daniel tilted his head, his eyes betraying a hint of disapproval. “Afraid I’m going to take off?”

Jack sighed. “For crying out loud, Daniel. You’re free to go whenever you want. You want to take off, go!” He flung his hand toward the door, then immediately forced himself calm. The object was to keep Daniel with them, not drive him off. “I’d kind of like you back on SG-1, though,” he added, more softly. “So if you’re inclined to stay, take Teal’c with you to the potty.” A tiny smile flickered on his lips. “This planet is still on the Goa’uld’s host list, and Jaffa can reach this village from the gate.”

“Right.” Daniel bit his bottom lip and dipped his head a fraction, giving Jack a wide-eyed, contrite look. “Sorry.”

“Don’t worry. You’re tired and grouchy. Happens to me all the time.” He smiled softly and waved a dismissive hand in the air. “Now go.”

~~~~~~

Daniel squinted, trying to make his way in the darkness. It was a moonless night, and the sky was speckled with the light from myriads of distant stars. As he walked carefully over the unsteady terrain, he remained acutely aware of Teal’c’s presence immediately behind him and to the left. The Jaffa marched along, silent except for the solid thud of his footsteps, and Daniel suddenly felt like a prisoner being herded along the corridor of Apophis’ ship.

A shiver traveled down his spine, giving him goose bumps.

Teal’c increased his pace, moving in front of Daniel. He swung around, and Daniel came to an abrupt halt to avoid a collision. He looked up, facing his friend, and tilted his head.

“Teal’c?” He had a momentary sense of foreboding, suddenly aware that he was standing in the darkness on an alien planet, alone with a Jaffa carrying a staff weapon.

For the briefest of moments, he felt like a man about to face his own execution. He blinked, and pushed the feeling aside. It was immediately replaced by guilt. Despite everything that had happened, Teal’c was his friend and had proven his loyalty countless times.

Teal’c bowed his head slightly. “There is a matter we must discuss.”

Daniel swallowed, his stomach dropping. The heaviness of Teal’c’s tone told him the matter wasn’t going to be a pleasant one. Was this the real reason why Jack had insisted Teal’c come along? Was there something they hadn’t told him? Some agenda they had? Orders? Or maybe Teal’c was on his side, taking this opportunity to warn him about something? Is that what he had been hinting at back at the cliff’s edge when he mentioned his duty?

He took a step back. “What is it, Teal’c?” He held his breath as soon as the question left his mouth.

A hint of a crease marred Teal’c’s brow. After a moment, his eyes widened ever-so-slightly, and Daniel saw the exact moment Teal’c sensed his fear.

“Do not be alarmed. I simply mean to ask your forgiveness. The time has more than passed. I was reluctant to discuss the matter with you while you were so freshly grieving Sha’re’s passing. Events then transpired which prevented me from my duty, but now I must take this opportunity to beg your forgiveness.” He bowed his head again. “I have done you great harm, Daniel Jackson.”

Daniel started breathing again, his shoulders slouching. “I told you. You did the right thing.”

“I do not regret saving your life. I regret that I had to kill Sha’re to do so. I regret the blame I share in her becoming a host to a Goa’uld. Also, I have replayed the moment of Sha’re’s death in my mind many times. I have developed several alternative scenarios that would have saved both your lives.” He hesitated a moment, his eyes darting away. “Had I acted differently, you would not be grieving Sha’re today. Maybourne would not have been able to use Sha’re’s death to plot your murder, you would not have been forced to flee the SGC, and we would not be standing here right now. I can offer you nothing to equal that which I have taken from you, but I pledge myself in service to you and your quest for Sha’re’s son.”

Teal’c words hit Daniel square in the gut, and his knees suddenly felt weak. A vision of what his life might be like now flashed through his mind, and he idly wondered if there were some alternate reality where he and Sha’re were together, living a happy life. Sam, in that alternate reality he’d visited, said it was possible. Each variation became reality somewhere. Somewhere, Sha’re had never been taken by a Goa’uld. Somewhere, she had, but Teal’c never fired his staff weapon….

Somewhere, but not here. He just happened to be living in one of the realities where Sha’re died.

He opened his mouth to repeat the words he’d told Teal’c earlier, but no sound came out, and his tongue refused to work. Why? What was wrong with him?

Teal’c’s image wavered before him, rippling as though it were a reflection in a pond, and he blinked, surprised to feel the weight of tears in his eyes.

Damn. His emotions were all over the place. He hadn’t slept in far too long, and he had no control. No control over anything.

Teal’c stepped forward. His face seemed pale somehow, despite his dark complexion. “I apologize.” He bowed his head and stepped aside, indicating the outhouse a few feet behind him.

Daniel swallowed hard. He had to say something. Teal’c deserved an answer.

But Daniel wasn’t sure what answer he could give. He didn’t even know himself whether he’d really forgiven Teal’c. Everything was too fresh, too raw, for him to know anything for sure other than the fact that it hurt.

God, it hurt.

“I’m sorry.” He closed his eyes, going back to that moment when he’d heard the staff blast loud and clear, even above the screaming pain in his head. “I know you aren’t to blame, not since you turned your weapon on your fellow Jaffa and saved our lives. I know that, but…” He swallowed, opening his eyes to see the stoic mask fall in to place on Teal’c’s face in preparation for rejection. That wasn’t right. None of this was right. At the very least, Teal’c needed to know the truth. “Sha’re forgave you. She thought you did the right thing. She told me. She asked me to forgive you, too. Over and over again.” He took a breath, and a sad smile touched his lips. “I always had a hard time saying ‘no’ to her.” He paused and looked up at the infinite sky. “It’s just going to take some time, Teal’c.”

Teal’c nodded once, solemnly.

Daniel moved forward, then stopped again. “You, uh…. You believe me about Kheb?”

“You believe it. That is all that matters.”

Daniel gave a half-smile. “So you don’t believe me, but you’ll help me, anyway.”

“You have often proclaimed the unbelievable before, and you have been correct.”

“If I were to refuse to return to the SGC, would you still help me find Kheb?”

Teal’c nodded again. “I have given you my word.”

“You’d come with me?”

“If you wished it, yes.”

Tingly warmth spread through Daniel’s chest, easing the ache inside him. “Thank you.”

~~~~~~~

Carter sat against the headboard of the bed, her legs stretched out on the mattress, undressed down to her socks, pants, and T-shirt.

“So,” she began, her face carefully neutral as she eyed Jack seated on the edge of the other mattress, “have you told him about the psych requirement?”

He scowled at her. “No, we didn’t get to it.”

“You’re going to tell him before we go through the gate, aren’t you?”

“Of course, I am.” He pursed his lips, then took a breath. “I’m not sure how he’ll take the news, though.”

Sam shrugged. “I don’t think it’ll change his mind about returning with us, if that’s what you’re worried about.” A hint of sadness flickered over her features. “Just look at him. He hasn’t had it easy, and he needs us and the resources of the SGC to find Kheb.”

“A planet that may not exist,” Jack reminded her.

She nodded slowly. “That’s true, sir, but I’ve been thinking -“

He rolled his eyes, “Oh, c’mon. Not you, too?”

“It’s not as far-fetched as it sounds, sir. We don’t know how the ribbon device works, and it does utilize a connection with the mind.”

“Okay…but telepathy?

She shrugged again. “We’ve already seen Goa’uld technology that can access a person’s thoughts and memories and convey that information externally.”

“Right.” Jack winced, raising his hand to rub at his temple. He could almost feel Hathor’s implant in his skull, even though it had long been removed.

He still couldn’t quite let himself believe that Sha’re had communicated with Daniel and, conveniently, told him the location of her son…and, of course, that location just happened to be some mythical place no one had any clue where to find.

On the other hand, Daniel had been right about the impossible many times before.

His shoulders slumped, and his expression softened. “I promised him we’d help him look for it, Carter. I wasn’t lying.”

She gave a small smile. “I know, sir.”

The door opened, and Daniel entered, followed by Teal’c. Daniel looked at Jack, snapped a sloppy salute, and offered a faint smile. “Mission accomplished, Colonel.”

Jack raised his eyebrows. “Smartass.”

Daniel dropped to the mattress next to Jack. “I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted.” He glanced at the pillow behind Jack. “I’d offer you the bed, but I, uh, haven’t slept in one for a while, and although I like you, I like the bed better.” The smile lingered on his lips.

Jack grinned and pushed himself to his feet. It was good to see Daniel finally lightening up. Carter cleared her throat. Jack glanced at her, his grin fading. Damn, he hated to spoil the good mood.

“You can have the bed,” he said softly, sinking back to the edge of the mattress, “but there’s something I have to tell you first.”

Daniel’s smile vanished, his expression instantly skeptical. “What? Bad news?”

Jack sighed. “Well, not really, but I don’t think you’re going to like it all that much.”

Daniel nodded, his face going lax and his eyes flat. “Okay, so what is it?” He was obviously preparing himself for whatever he imagined to be the worst.

“You have to go through a psychiatric evaluation before they’ll let you return to duty.”

The only indication Daniel gave that he’d heard Jack was a tiny narrowing of his eyes. “You said the evidence supports my story about the staged suicide?”

Jack nodded.

“So they know I didn’t try to kill myself, right?” Daniel continued.

Jack tilted his head. “Yeah, pretty much. It’s not conclusive proof, of course, and it doesn’t implicate Maybourne, but the higher ups think that… Well…” How should he put it? “You’ve gone through some rough times lately. Your, uh, unauthorized departure from the SGC also concerns them.”

“And if I don’t pass?” Daniel asked, his voice low and completely monotone.

“You’ll pass.”

“If I don’t?”

“It’s not really about passing or failing, Daniel. It’s an evaluation. You know what they say. There are no right answers.”

“Maybe not, but there are certainly wrong answers. I have enough familiarity with SGC’s mental health system to know that much.”

Jack grimaced. “Right.” God, he wished he could erase anything and everything having to do with MacKenzie and padded, white rooms. “What if I could guarantee you that MacKenzie wouldn’t be the one doing the evaluating?”

Daniel tilted his head. “Actually, I’d prefer MacKenzie.”

“What?” Jack’s mouth dropped open. That was the last thing he’d expected to hear.

“He called you when I asked. Granted, he did need some convincing. The point is, he didn’t even know that Teal’c was sick, but he checked. He could have written me off as completely delusional and done nothing. Besides,” Daniel shrugged, “I don’t think he’ll be as quick this time to write me off as crazy. He was proven wrong the last time, and I doubt he’ll want to repeat his mistake, especially since there’s evidence to support my story. And,” a tiny spark lit his eyes, “I know MacKenzie.”

Jack sat in awe. Damn, the kid was good. Of course, MacKenzie was the best choice. Daniel had become intimately familiar with the doctor. He knew what to say and, more importantly, what not to say.

Jack gave into a faint smile. “You got it. MacKenzie it is. I’ll do what I can.” He breathed a sigh of relief. The conversation had gone so much better than he thought it would. He leaned forward and patted Daniel’s leg. “Now, I think it’s time to say goodnight.”

~~~~~~

Sitting at his desk in the Oval Office, the President eyed the large, yellow envelope in front of him. The words “TOP SECRET” were stamped in red, capital letters on the top. Sighing, he picked up the envelope and dumped out the contents.

Papers and photographs slid on to his desk. He raised his eyebrows, frowning. His first impression was that one of his aides had decided to play a rather inappropriate joke, and if someone saw him looking at sexually explicit photographs…. Well, it was best to stay away from the subject of sex and the White House.

But when he saw the glowing eyes on the woman, he knew it wasn’t a joke. Squinting, he recognized the man beneath her on the bed as Daniel Jackson. The picture quality was grainy, so he couldn’t be sure, but he’d had enough recent exposure to the workings of the SGC and, in particular, its premiere civilian archeologist to recognize the doctor on sight.

Picking up the picture, he flipped it onto its face. The next photograph revealed a sweat-soaked Doctor Jackson with a gun, obviously running down a hallway in the Cheyenne Mountain complex. The glare from an alarm claxon reflected off the walls.

The President’s frown deepened. He turned to the next photograph, not surprised to see Doctor Jackson again. This time, the archeologist was in a room with Colonel O’Neill - another man the President recognized on sight - his hands outstretched. Was Jackson attacking O’Neill? That was certainly what it looked like.

Shaking his head, he moved to the next picture. This one depicted Jackson in the gate room with the Tollans, standing between the gate and a line of armed guards. With a sigh, the President dropped the photograph and picked up the thick, paper report.

He scanned the contents, flipping through the pages. The circumstances surrounding each photograph were explained in concise, detached language. Time and date stamps for the security cameras taking each picture were provided.

He flipped back to the beginning of the report and began reading more carefully. He’d been briefed on these incidents before, but Doctor Jackson had only been mentioned peripherally in most of them, except for the Tollan incident. Maybourne had tried to have Jackson kicked off the program after that one, but Hammond had gone to bat for the kid.

And slavery made bad policy. If that ever got out…. Well, all things considered, keeping the spotlight off of that particular incident was best for everyone all around.

But when he’d first read the report on Hathor’s infiltration of the SGC, he remembered only a brief reference to Doctor Jackson. He had no idea the young man had actually slept with her and attempted to create a bunch of alien babies to take over the planet. That was…disturbing, to say the least.

He moved to the next report. It again discussed a woman, Shyla, and explained Doctor Jackson’s attempt to escape the SGC. He’d beaten a guard severely, stolen the soldier’s gun, and shot at Colonel O’Neill. None of that information had made it into the initial incident report that he’d read way back when. If his memory served, the report had primarily discussed the addictive effects of the sarcophagus and Daniel Jackson’s falling victim to it. The young man had made a full recovery, however.

The report had failed to mention Doctor Jackson’s escape attempt and violent behavior.

Taking a breath, the President turned the page. The next report detailed Doctor Jackson’s hallucinations and, again, violent behavior - also allegedly caused by an alien influence. Apparently, Doctor Jackson had failed to report the symptoms until after his initial collapse, putting the entire base at risk for contamination.

The President rubbed his temples and turned the page. He read faster, fighting the growing headache behind his eyes. Incident after incident described Daniel Jackson’s prior exploits. The archeologist had defied orders on several occasions and had made a total of four escape attempts from the SGC, including his latest unauthorized departure and his assistance to the Tollans. He’d been deemed medically delusional on at least three separate occasions. And, of course, there was the lingering issue of his “faked death” on Abydos.

The President turned to the final page, his eyes dropping to the signature. Colonel Harold Maybourne. He sighed. Why wasn’t he surprised?

He started reading from the top. The Colonel made a good case against Doctor Jackson. The civilian had engaged in numerous treasonous acts and regularly defied orders. His self-professed motive for remaining a part of the SGC had been to find his wife, and now that that goal was unattainable, Maybourne argued, Doctor Jackson was likely to become more unpredictable.

He presented a Level 5 security risk.

The President drummed his fingers on the smooth wood surface of his desk as he read the final paragraph that urged him to reconsider his decision to allow Doctor Jackson to return to the SGC.

He picked up the phone. “Cynthia, get me General Hammond at Cheyenne Mountain.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Rise and shine.” Jack swung his hat, hitting Daniel’s leg. The archeologist was curled beneath the covers, sleeping like a baby…and drooling like one, too. “Come on.” Another swat.

Daniel groaned and rolled to his other side, twisting most of the covers around himself in the process. Jack eyed Carter, who was crouched next to the small stove-fireplace thingie - it was pretty much a brick barbeque grill set into the wall. He waved his hand toward the metal pot.

“You got that coffee heated up?”

She glanced up at him. “Yep.”

“Good.” He grinned. Daniel would be awake and worshipping him in about two seconds. “Pour some in a cup for me.”

She smiled and dipped the large spoon into the black liquid, then poured the coffee into a thermos mug.

“Thank you.” Jack walked over to her, took the cup, and moved back to Daniel. He sat on the edge of the mattress and reached over Daniel’s shoulder to wave the steaming cup around the young man’s face.

Daniel’s eyes opened slowly. His head moved back, and he blinked at the mug inches away. “What?” He blinked. “Oh, God, coffee.” He struggled to sit up and extricate his arms from the blanket, but found himself trapped.

Jack chuckled and set the mug carefully on the floor, then helped unwind the covers. When Daniel was free, he rolled over and dove for the cup, then sat up and raised the mug to his lips. He closed his eyes, inhaled a deep breath, then took a long, slow sip.

“God, I’ve missed coffee.” Daniel opened his eyes, a smile brightening his face. “Thank you.”

Jack raised his eyebrows. “What? Starbucks hasn’t completely taken over the universe yet?”

Daniel’s eyes danced with amusement. “No, but I’m sure if the Stargate program ever goes public, they’ll be the first corporation through the gate.” He shrugged. “Well, either them or,” he glanced heavenward, “Pepsi, Coke, or McDonald’s.”

“I’m putting twenty bucks on Ronald McDonald. You can’t beat a clown and fast food.”

“Pepsi or Coke,” Carter spoke up, dropping on to the empty bed. “They had at it a few years back about which of them would be the first soda in space.”

“Who won?” Jack asked.

She gave a tiny smile. “I’d prefer to stay away from inadvertent corporate sponsorship, sir.”

“Oh, please.” Jack rolled his eyes and looked at Daniel. His jaw went slack. The kid had his head tilted back and was practically giving tongue to the mug.

“Okaaay.” Jack reached up and gently grabbed the empty cup. “Let’s keep this G-rated.”

Daniel ducked his head sheepishly. “I’m thirsty.”

“Uh-huh.” Jack tossed the empty mug to the backpacks lying on the floor a few feet away. “You ready to get dressed and head out?”

Daniel nodded and threw the covers off. “More than ready.” Another subtle smile graced his face. “Let’s go home, Jack.”

~~~~~~~~~~~

Daniel glanced upward at the clear, blue sky. The sun hung high, and the temperature had steadily risen since morning. The weather bordered on uncomfortably hot, and he wiped the sweat from his brow.

Jack, Sam, and Teal’c surrounded him, with Jack taking the lead and Teal’c bringing up the rear. Sam stayed to Daniel’s right. They’d kept a modest pace for the past hour, and he knew the Stargate was close.

Soon, he’d be back at the SGC. He’d have to look for a new apartment. What had happened to his fish? And his books? All his stuff? Were they in storage somewhere, in a military lock-down?

It’d probably be a headache for him to get it all back.

“Here.”

Daniel stopped, surprised by the sound of Sam’s voice and the sudden appearance of a canteen in front of his face. He took the offering and glanced over at her. “Thanks.”

She smiled. “We’re almost there.”

He nodded. He could see the Stargate in the distance, its top arching above the uneven terrain.

“Home sweet home,” Jack commented.

Daniel took a long sip from the canteen, relishing the feeling of the cool liquid as it slid down his throat. He wiped his mouth on his sleeve and handed the container back to Sam. “Thanks,” he said again, then looked at Jack and gave a small smile. “You think I could get that steak dinner from you tonight?”

Jack shrugged. “Doc Fraiser’s probably gonna wanna keep you a bit longer than that, but if you can convince her to let you walk, yeah, sure.” Jack reached out a hand and gestured toward Daniel’s face. “You’re gonna shave first, right?”

Daniel gave into a tired smile. He hadn’t seen his reflection since he’d grown the beard. He wondered if facial hair suited him. “Maybe.” One thing was for sure, though. The beard made him itch, especially in the hot weather. “Probably.” But if he cleaned it up to a heavy five O’clock shadow, it might look good. It would certainly be a change. “I don’t know.”

He remembered Sha’re telling him how she loved the smooth skin on his face. Many of the adult Abydonian men had beards, and she’d told him a smooth face was nicer to kiss. Then, she’d provided a demonstration.

“Yeah. Definitely.”

Jack looked confused. “Okay.

“Come on.” Sam’s soft voice interrupted. “If we keep moving, we’ll reach the gate in about ten minutes. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I really want to get home and take a shower.”

Daniel smiled, imagining the feel of the hot spray against his back. He nodded and resumed walking. “A shower sounds really nice.”

True to Sam’s estimation, they reached the gate about ten minutes later. Jack stopped a couple of feet away from the DHD, then turned to Daniel.

“You wanna do the honors?”

Daniel ducked his head as he moved past Jack to stand in front of the DHD. His throat suddenly went tight. “Yeah, sure.”

In a few minutes, he would home.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Incoming wormhole!”

Hammond barely listened to the tech or the blaring sirens. He stood stiffly near the base of the ramp, out of the line of fire of the guards, his eyes held steady on the flickering event horizon.

Damn. There were times, like now, when he felt old and worn-out.

Two figures emerged from the wormhole, one large, the other tall and lean. Teal’c and Major Carter. Carter was grinning, and she hurried down the ramp, then stopped halfway, still poised next to Teal’c, and turned to look at the wormhole.

Hammond held his breath. Two more figures emerged from the wormhole’s glistening surface. Jack was immediately recognizable; his shock of graying hair and cocky swagger gave him away even before Hammond looked at his face.

The other figure took Hammond a moment longer to recognize. He knew logically that it had to be Doctor Jackson, but the sunken eyes, unkempt beard, and almost lanky frame took Hammond off-guard. He didn’t know what condition he’d expected to find Jackson in, but this…Well, he should’ve expected this, he supposed. Still, it was a shock.

Jack slapped an arm on Daniel’s shoulder and gave him a gentle push down the ramp. “Hello, General, sir. Look what we brought back. Can we keep him?”

Hammond couldn’t help the smile that touched his face, but it weighed heavy with sadness…and guilt. He hated having his strings yanked. “Welcome home, Doctor Jackson.” He swallowed. The unpleasantness could wait a little bit.

Daniel gave a shy smile. “Thank you, General.”

Jack tilted his head, his brow creasing. “Everything okay, sir?”

Hammond shifted his gaze to the wormhole as it disengaged. “Report to the infirmary, SG-1. You too, Doctor Jackson.”

Jack frowned. “Yes, sir.” Slowly, he walked past Hammond, his eyes searching.

Hammond kept his expression neutral. Right now, he was the only person at the SGC privy to the President’s recent orders, and he saw no reason to change that at the moment. SG-1 deserved some time together first.

Slowly, SG-1 and Daniel Jackson headed toward the corridor. Daniel had just reached the doorway when the sound of a solitary pair of hands clapping rose softly. Daniel turned, and other hands joined the clapping. Surprise danced in his eyes, and his smile brightened as his looked over the guards standing at attention, their weapons hanging at their sides.

Jack grinned softly, pushing Daniel through the doorway. “Okay, Big Shot, let’s pay the Doc a visit.”

~~~~~~~~~~

“Achoo!” Daniel grabbed a handful of tissues from the box on the table next to the bed and raised it to his face just in time to catch the second sneeze.

Fraiser raised her eyebrows and glanced at the IV bag hanging above him. “I think I’ll be adding antihistamines to your cocktail.”

Daniel sniffled and tossed the used tissue into the trashcan a few feet away. “I’m not going to complain.”

He rubbed his arms, mindful of the catheter line. Janet had him undressed down to his pants, and the infirmary felt unusually chilly.

“Here you go, Doctor Jackson.” A nurse arrived with a plate of food. She swung the bed tray in front of Daniel, then set the plate on top of it. “Fresh from the commissary.”

The steam from the food tickled his nose, and the odor sent his stomach grumbling. Mashed potatoes and chicken never looked so good. All things considered, though, he’d still prefer that steak Jack promised.

Looking up at Fraiser and the nurse, he offered a faint smile. “Uh, Doctor, I was hoping I could leave soon. Jack offered to treat me to dinner, and, uh,” he waved down at his plate, “I can guarantee you it’ll be better than this. No offense.”

Fraiser crossed her arms and leaned forward. “Eat the potatoes at least. The carbohydrates will do you good.” Her eyes traveled up and down, scanning him. “Your body needs the food…now.”

He nodded and grabbed the plastic fork from the plate. “So,” his smile grew, “does that mean I can leave the base?”

She hesitated a moment, then nodded. “You can leave the infirmary in a couple of hours, but no driving because of your flashbacks, and I’m going to put you on some strong allergy medication, but I want to see you --“

“Hey, Doc, how’s the doc?”

Daniel’s head snapped up. “Jack!” He gave a subtle smile. “It looks like you’re gonna have to pay up on that dinner offer. Fraiser says I can leave in a couple of hours.”

Fraiser turned to face the colonel, now standing at the foot of Daniel’s bed. “Yes, but I was just about to tell him I want to see him back here first thing in the morning.”

“So he’s okay?” Jack asked.

“He’s dehydrated, undernourished, sleep-deprived, and suffering from allergy complications, but other than that, I think he’s fine.”

“What about…” Jack waved a hand near his temple, “the memory thing.”

She sighed. “His test results are similar to those I received on you and Major Carter when you were both exposed to the device. Daniel’s readings are more acute, however. There’s nothing I can do for him here. He’s just going to have to ride them out, and if his progression follows similarly to yours and Sam’s, his symptoms should dissipate on their own.”

“How long?” Daniel asked.

She turned to him. “I’m sorry, but I don’t know. Your symptoms have already gone on longer than the colonel’s or Major Carter’s. I’m assuming that’s because you received a more intense exposure. I can find no patent evidence of brain damage, so all I can do right now is monitor your progress. Since it would be impractical for me to keep you confined to the infirmary for days or weeks, I’ll release you, but no driving.”

“That’s good news,” a deep voice intruded.

Daniel’s eyes darted to Hammond standing in the doorway. He stiffened when he saw Maybourne standing behind the general.

Hammond nodded at him. “It’s good to see you, Doctor Jackson.”

“Yes,” Maybourne stepped forward, “we’re all very happy to see you here, Doctor.”

Jack positioned himself between Maybourne and the bed. “What are you doing here, Harry?”

“I’ll let the general explain.”

Jack’s eyes narrowed. “Okay. General, sir, with all due respect, what the hell is he doing here?”

Hammond sighed heavily. “We need to talk, Colonel.”

“What’s going on?” Daniel asked, swinging the bed tray away from him. He sat up, eyeing Maybourne. His right wrist began to itch, and he rubbed the skin absently, feeling the slight deformity of the thin scar.

Maybourne’s eyes dropped to Daniel’s wrist, watching. He took a breath that seemed almost sorrowful as he looked up at Fraiser. “Doctor, are you certain Doctor Jackson no longer presents a danger to himself?”

Jack stepped forward. “You son of a bitch--“

“Not now!” Hammond moved in between the two men. He threw a glare at Maybourne. “I gave you orders not to discuss the matter here.” He looked at Jack. “In my office.”

“Wait!” Daniel slid off the bed, the IV line tugging behind him as he staggered forward. “What’s going on? If this is about me, I think I have a right to know.”

Jack walked back to Daniel and placed his arm on the young man’s shoulder. “Easy, big guy. Back in the bed.”

Daniel looked pointedly at Jack. “Don’t patronize me.” He turned his gaze again to the General. “Sir?”

“Now is not a good time, son.”

“With all due respect, General,” Maybourne began, “Doctor Jackson is correct. He does have a right to know, and he’s going to find out soon enough, anyway. I fail to see the point in keeping this news from him, and in fact, the President indicated--“

“I’m well aware of what the President indicated,” Hammond interrupted. He looked back at Daniel. “Listen to the Colonel, Doctor. Right now, that bed is the best place for you.”

Daniel didn’t relent. “Is this about that psychiatric evaluation I’m required to go through?”

“There’s no psychiatric evaluation,” Maybourne answered.

“Colonel!” The General warned. “That’s enough.”

“Sir, you and I take our orders from the same person, and that’s the President. His orders supercede yours.” Maybourne turned back to Daniel. “I don’t know what Colonel O’Neill has led you to believe, Doctor Jackson, but you have taken some very serious actions that have proven your mental instability. You’ve demonstrated that you’re unpredictable and a security risk.”

Daniel took a step back, then went very still. “What are you saying?”

“I’m authorized to take you into custody as soon as Doctor Fraiser says you’re fit to be released.”

“What?” Daniel swallowed and turned to Jack. His knees felt weak, and he leaned against the edge of the mattress. “You lied?” He leveled a narrow gaze at Jack. “Damn you, Jack--“

“No!” Jack shook his head and grabbed Daniel’s arm. “I didn’t lie, Daniel. I told you the truth, but I have no idea what’s happened since SG-1 has been gone.”

Daniel studied the genuine shock on Jack’s face. He wanted to believe him, but God… He turned back to Hammond. “Sir, you can’t let Maybourne take me into custody. He tried to kill me. He wants me out of the way, and -”

“I know, Doctor Jackson.” Hammond moved in front of Maybourne. “Stay here and let us handle this situation. All you need to worry about right now is following the good doctor’s orders.”

“I didn’t try to kill you, Doctor Jackson,” Maybourne protested. “I don’t know what kind of delusions--”

“All right! Out!” Jack flung himself into Maybourne’s personal space. “Now.”

Maybourne took a step back, “Colonel, you’re in no position to give me orders.”

“I am,” Hammond spoke up. “You’ve disobeyed my direct orders, Colonel Maybourne. I want you out of this infirmary now. I’ll meet you in my office in a few minutes. Is that understood?”

Maybourne stiffened. “Yes, sir.” With a final, lingering stare at Daniel, he turned and walked toward the exit. When he reached the doorway, he hesitated. “I suggest, General, that you post guards here. The President won’t be very understanding if Doctor Jackson manages a second escape.”

Finally, Maybourne left, and Jack faced Hammond. “General, is what that slimeball says true?”

Hammond nodded. “I’m afraid so.”

Daniel almost laughed. Heat stung his eyes. “God, I’m such an idiot.”

“No, you’re not.” Jack spun to face Daniel. “We’ll fix this. Just…” He swallowed and looked at the general. “We’re gonna fix this, right, sir?”

Hammond sighed. “I’ll do my best, Colonel.”

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

“Oh, for crying out loud!” Jack tossed the report on Hammond’s desk and shot a glare at Maybourne. “Those are outright lies. I can’t believe--"

Maybourne looked unperturbed. "Everything in that report is true."

"Is not!" Jack shot back, then winced inwardly when he realized he was dangerously close to sounding like a two year-old. He took a breath. "You slapped together a bunch of facts to make it look like Daniel's some kind of liability. You left out a whole lot of other, way more important stuff, like how Daniel's the reason this Stargate is even working, or how he sacrificed his life to save Earth even though nobody believed him until it was almost too late. Or how about the fact that he's the reason we even have a relationship with the Tollans? You wanted to try to force them into slave labor. Not only would that not have worked, considering they are, like, way smarter than us, but I'm guessing it wouldn't look too good to the Tok'ra or the Asgard. We'd be shit out of luck and facing the Goa'uld on our own right now if Daniel hadn't done his thing."

Maybourne stiffened. "I had full authority from the President to take custody of the Tollans. Doctor Jackson committed an act of treason when he helped them escape, and he jeopardized this planet by depriving us of the opportunity to gain knowledge of the Tollan's advanced technologies."

"Oh really?" Jack crossed his arms. He took another deep breath and attempted to calm himself. Right now, if he was going to be any help to Daniel, he needed to keep a level head. He turned to Hammond. "Permission to speak with you privately, sir?"

Hammond nodded, then gestured to the door. "Colonel Maybourne, please wait outside."

Maybourne pursed his lips. He looked like he was about to protest but turned and walked out of the office.

"Okay, Colonel," Hammond turned back to Jack and gestured to the empty chair near the desk. "Sit down."

Jack complied, almost flinging himself into the seat. "General, there's only one way to get past all this political crap."

“And what’s that, Colonel? I’m all ears.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“No.”

Janet held the syringe near the IV line. “Daniel, this should alleviate many of your symptoms.”

“No.” Daniel sat propped at an angle in his bed. “I don't want anything that will make me drowsy.”

Sam and Teal'c, each seated on a chair to the left of Daniel's bed, observed the exchange. Daniel ignored them.

With a sigh, Fraiser lowered the needle. “You need sleep.”

“I slept last night.” He shifted his gaze to the doorway. He could just see the left arm of one of the guards.

Sam leaned forward. “Why are you being like this, Daniel?”

He turned his head toward her. “I'm sorry I don't make a very cooperative prisoner.”

“General Hammond and Colonel O'Neill will straighten this out,” Sam replied. “Just give them a chance.”

Daniel returned his gaze to the doorway. “Why are you even here? Don't they think two armed guards are enough to keep me under lock and key?”

“You know that's not why we're here, Daniel, and I think you know we're as surprised by this as you are.”

“Of course.” He swallowed. “It's not like you and Jack are soldiers who have to follow orders whether you like it or not.” He turned to look at her again. “Right?”

“We weren't ordered to lie, Daniel.”

“Were you ordered to bring me back?”

She took a breath. “Yes, but... ”

“And I suppose if I'd said ‘No thanks,’ you'd have just let me go like you said?”

Sam sighed. “I don't know, Daniel. That would have been the Colonel's decision. You have to believe me, though. We just wanted you back…as a member of SG-1. We didn't know about any of this.” She gestured to the doorway.

Teal'c spoke up. “I did not and would not lie to you, Daniel Jackson, and you must also know that I will not allow Colonel Maybourne to cause you further harm.” He raised his chin a fraction, and his eyes grew hard. “I have pledged this to you on my honor and my life.”

“Oh yeah, that pledge and honor stuff.” Daniel kept his gaze on the guard's arm outside the doorway. “If I remember correctly, you also pledged to help me get Sha're back. I didn't realize that entailed shooting her.”

Teal'c stiffened almost imperceptibly.

“Daniel!” Sam shot out of her chair. “That's a low blow, and you know it.”

Daniel closed his eyes, and his shoulders sagged. He scrubbed his hands over his face and sighed. “Please just go. I'm no good to be around right now.” He dropped his hands and looked up at her. “Please, Sam.” He gestured to the door.

“Why don't you two let him try to rest?” Janet spoke up. She moved around the bed and gently grabbed Sam's arm, then nodded at Teal'c. “You can both come back later.”

Sam nodded. Teal’c rose, his head slightly bowed as he turned away from Daniel. They were just about to leave when heavy footsteps sounded in the area near the guards.

Seconds later, Maybourne flew into the room. “Doctor Fraiser, is Doctor Jackson fit to be released?”

Fraiser shot a wide-eyed look at Sam before returning her attention to Maybourne. “As a matter of fact, he's not, Colonel, and I find your presence here without General Hammond or Colonel O'Neill highly inappropriate.”

“I have my orders, Doctor, and they don't require Hammond's approval. As for Colonel O'Neill, if you'll look at my uniform, you'll see I equal him in rank. I don't need to ask his permission for anything.”

Teal'c moved swiftly and quietly in front of Maybourne, causing the shorter man to take a step back. The Jaffa peered down at the colonel. “You will leave, now.”

Maybourne held his ground. “I don't think so." He stepped sideways to look past Teal'c. “Doctor Fraiser, I have a right to know the medical reasons for keeping Doctor Jackson here.”

Fraiser straightened. “Doctor Jackson is dehydrated, malnourished, and suffering from a crudely treated gunshot wound as well as serious ill effects from an alien device. I need to keep him under close observation.”

“You're sure of your medical justifications?”

She nodded. “Yes, I am.”

“Then you won't feel threatened if I get a second opinion.”

Surprise flashed over her face. “What? From whom?”

“A doctor with the appropriate security clearance, I assure you.” Maybourne's lips twitched upward. “I intend to transfer Doctor Jackson to the care of another military physician.”

“Absolutely not!” Janet rushed toward the phone on the wall.

Maybourne turned to the door. “Guards, please assist me.”

“Wait a minute!” Daniel eased off the bed, raising his hands.

Teal'c stepped in front of the two large guards who were now moving toward Daniel. “Do not come further.”

The guards hesitated and glanced back at Maybourne.

Maybourne looked past Teal'c to Daniel. “Doctor Jackson, will you come with me peacefully, or will I be forced to order the guards to use force? Your friends might get hurt.”

Sam stepped forward. “I think you'll find it's a lot harder to hurt us than you think.”

Teal'c stood his ground firmly. “Indeed, many Goa'uld have tried and failed, and you are not so worthy an opponent.”

“Wait.” Daniel carefully tugged the catheter out of his vein and clamped his hand over the wound. He moved forward and attempted to slide past Teal'c, but the Jaffa shifted his position to block Daniel.

“Teal'c, please,” Daniel sighed, sounding far too weary. “It's too late, now. There's nothing you can do. I doubt he's going to kill me.” He glanced at Maybourne. “It'd look too suspicious. He just wants me out of the way. He'll keep me in a nice, secure cell where I'm sure no harm will come to me, at least not for a while.”

“Doctor Jackson, please,” Maybourne sounded almost amused, “I have no interest in hurting you, and need I remind you it's not me doing this? I'm just following orders.”

“That you orchestrated,” Sam shot back.

Maybourne shrugged. “The President is astute enough to take my advice. That's all.”

Teal'c placed a hand on Daniel's shoulder. “You are not leaving this infirmary with Colonel Maybourne.” His spoke softly, his tone unusually gentle. “Do not concern yourself about the safety of Major Carter and myself.”

“We can take care of ourselves,” Sam agreed.

“Stand down!” A voice boomed.

The guards spun toward the door. Hammond stood near the entrance with Jack beside him.

“You slimy bastard,” Jack stepped forward. "If you ever pull a stunt like this again--"

“This wasn't a stunt," Maybourne protested, turning his attention to Hammond. "General, I am simply trying to follow my orders.”

“You are to implement those orders under my direction. This is my base, Colonel. I am hereby ordering you to stay away from this infirmary. If you come within thirty feet of Doctor Jackson without my express permission, I'll have you put behind bars. Understood?”

Maybourne walked stiffly toward the door. “I intend to make the President aware of your bias toward Doctor Jackson and your unwarranted interference in the President's orders.”

“You do that,” Jack yelled after him.

Hammond turned to the guards. “You are only to take orders from me, Colonel O'Neill, or Doctor Fraiser regarding Doctor Jackson. Is that understood?”

The two men nodded. “Yes, sir!” they said in unison.

“Dismissed.”

Daniel sighed heavily and leaned against the mattress. “Maybourne’s a real piece of work.”

Jack approached Daniel. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” Daniel nodded. “I’m - ”

“No bruises. Make it look like a suicide.”

Daniel shook his head. The room tilted, and his knees hit something hard.

“N-” A hand clamped over his mouth.

A pressure gripped his left arm, and he barely registered the flare of pain from the healing wound.

“Daniel?” Jack's voice sounded muffled and distant. “Doc, what's going on here?”

He bucked, trying to break free. The hand slid away, only to be replaced by a cloth that covered his nose and mouth, smelling sickly-sweet. His head felt instantly lighter. The room swayed, rocking gently, then swirling.

“I don't know, Colonel. Doctor Jackson? Can you hear me?”

He went limp, barely hanging on to consciousness.

“Help me get him to the bed.”

He felt himself being carried. Heard running water. Hands stripped him of his clothes. He thought he struggled, but every movement sent the room into a tailspin.

“Is he having some kind of flashback, Doc?”

“I'm not sure. Nurse!”

He looked into a pair of soft, blue eyes. “This'll make it easier on you.”

The blue eyes turned brown. Daniel blinked at the familiar face inches from his own. “Jack?” He winced as pain flared at the base of his skull.

“That's it, Danny.” Relief flashed in Jack's eyes. “What's going on here?”

“Blue eyes.”

“Huh?”

“One of the guys had red hair and blue eyes. I can give you an approximate age and build. Red hair's not that common. It might be enough…”

Jack smiled, “For you to start going through the mugshots and ID the guy. With any luck, he'll be the one you hit with the cup, and we can match him to the blood.”

Daniel closed his eyes. His head throbbed. “Yeah.” He felt a prick in his hand near where the catheter had been, then everything faded.

~~~~

Propped up in bed in the infirmary with a laptop perched on the swing tray and plugged into the network, Daniel sighed and rubbed his eyes, glancing at Teal'c. The Jaffa had remained a silent sentry at his bedside since Maybourne had been ordered out of the infirmary. Daniel had tried to convince Teal'c to leave, but nothing he said had an effect, and Teal'c was being more stoic than usual. Daniel knew he should apologize for his earlier hurtful words, but every time he opened his mouth to say the words, his throat clammed shut.

He really was trying to come to grips with his anger...and grief. Sometimes he wasn't sure which was which. He knew he had to forgive Teal'c. Sha're had asked him to, and he knew in his head if not his heart that Teal'c had done what he thought he had to at the time. Maybe there had been another way. Maybe not. But it wasn't exactly fair to blame Teal'c for a decision he had less than a couple of seconds to make.

Still, things could be so much different now, if….

He swallowed and took a breath, pushing that thought to the far back of his mind. He just wished Teal'c would leave. His heavy silence was interfering with Daniel's concentration, and whenever Daniel looked at the screen, he could still see the big Jaffa in the corner of his eye, sitting rigidly in the chair next to the bed. Sooner or later, Daniel supposed, Teal'c would have to leave to perform his Kel Noreem.

Turning his attention back to the computer, Daniel blinked at the red-headed captain on the screen. Nope. Clicking the track mouse, he moved to the next man -- Number 56 of one-hundred and eighty.

He really needed his glasses. Fraiser said he'd have another pair by the end of the day, but his time was running short, and he needed to do this now.

They were all beginning to look the same. It was entirely possible he'd already passed the guy. All the men were about the same age and build, with short red hair and blue eyes. To make matters worse, Daniel could no longer remember the man's face as clearly as he had in the flashback. Looking at dozens and dozens of men with similar appearances only served to blur his recollection further.

He studied Number 56, Lieutenant Jonathan Carty. Nope. Not him, either. At least, he didn't think so.

Click. Number 57. Nope. Click. Nope.

~~~~~

“I think two armed guards are sufficient, Colonel Maybourne.” The President's voice rang hollow from the speaker phone on General Hammond’s desk.

Colonel Maybourne stood close to the phone while Hammond relaxed in his chair, a tiny smile on his face. Jack leaned against the wall, his arms crossed.

“Yes, sir, but those guards have been ordered by the general to do nothing to Doctor Jackson without his or Colonel O'Neill's permission. He's not being held securely, and he presents too great a security risk to allow him the opportunity to escape again.”

Hammond leaned forward. “I assure you, Mr. President, those guards will keep Doctor Jackson contained in the infirmary. Furthermore, security around the gate itself is tighter, and all exits from the base have been alerted that Doctor Jackson is not allowed to leave.”

“Colonel Maybourne,” the President replied, “General Hammond’s assurances are good enough for me. That's his base, and you are to follow his orders so long as they do not directly conflict with mine.”

Maybourne eyed Jack, frowning at the man's smug smile. “Yes, sir.”

~~~~~~~

Number 62. Nope. Click. 63. Nope. Click. 64. No--

Wait.

Daniel hesitated and leaned forward. He blinked at the image on the screen, a crease forming in his brow. Yes. Maybe. He was pretty sure....

“Teal'c,” Daniel looked at the Jaffa, “can you get Fraiser? I think this is the guy.”

Teal'c raised an eyebrow, then rose from the chair and bowed his head before turning and heading to the phone on the wall.

~~~~~~~~

Hammond had no sooner ended the connection with the White House when the black phone on his desk rang. Snatching up the receiver, he glanced at Maybourne. “Hammond.”

Doctor Fraiser's voice came over the line. Listening to her, Hammond felt relief blossom in his chest. “Thank you, Doctor.” Things were starting to look up again. “I'll send Colonel O'Neill right over. If you’ll get the appropriate paperwork to me, I'll sign off on it immediately. Goodbye, Doctor.” He hung up the phone and leaned back in his chair. “Doctor Jackson thinks he's identified one of the men who broke into his apartment and attacked him.”

Maybourne straightened. “Really? Well, this should be interesting. I hope the next innocent man Doctor Jackson accuses of trying to kill him is as understanding as I've been.”

Jack pushed off the wall. “Oh, did I mention we isolated some blood from the glass Daniel threw at his attackers?” A slow smile formed on his face, and he snapped his fingers. “Dang, I knew there was something I wanted to tell you.”

Maybourne glanced to Hammond and fidgeted on the balls of his feet. “Doctor Jackson told you he threw the cup at his attacker, I'm sure. Isn't it more likely he just cut himself?”

“Nope.” Jack moved toward the door. “Struck out again, Harry. The blood doesn't match Daniel's.” He turned to Hammond before leaving the office. “Sir, I respectfully request that you keep Maybourne under guard to prohibit him communicating with anyone until we can round up the man Daniel has identified.”

“Now, wait a minute,” Maybourne began to protest, “I don't - ”

“I'm already on it,” Hammond said, picking up the phone and dialing. He looked at Maybourne. “Have a seat, Colonel.”

Jack jabbed his thumb over his shoulder toward the hall. “Sir?”

Hammond waved a hand in the air. “Dismissed.”

Jack lingered a moment longer. “Oh, and about that other thing...?”

“Taken care of, Colonel, but we might not need to bother, after all.”

Jack grinned and straightened. “Thank you.” He shot a smirk at Maybourne, then hurried out of the office.

~~~~~~~~~~

Jack glanced at his watch as he entered the infirmary. Moving swiftly to the back room, he saw Daniel lying in bed with his eyes closed, propped at an angle. The swing tray had been pushed to the side, and the computer's screen was dark. Teal'c sat in a chair, his back rigid, staring at a point on the far wall.

Jack frowned. "Hey, Teal'c."

Teal'c turned his dark eyes to Jack.

"Uh," Jack stopped next to the computer. "You doing the Kel Noreem thing?"

"I am not."

"Okay. Watching the paint dry...even more?"

"No."

"Okay." Jack took a breath. "Nice talkin' to ya."

Jack shrugged and moved the track mouse on the laptop. The screen flared to life, revealing the image of a red-haired man. The dossier beside the picture declared the man to be Major Montgomery Freser.

Jack perched himself on the edge of the mattress. "Oh, Danny...."

Daniel cracked his eyes open. "Yeah, Jack?"

"This our guy on the screen?"

"I think so."

"Good." Jack nodded. "You should have seen Maybourne's face when he found out you may have ID'd one of his goons."

Daniel pushed himself up in the bed. "You told him, but...?"

"Ah-ah." Jack raised a finger. "Hammond's got him under wraps. He won't be alerting anybody."

Daniel's posture relaxed slightly, but a frown hovered on his face.

"So," Jack tapped his hand on his knee, "how're you feeling?"

Daniel shrugged. "I'm okay."

He raised his eyebrows. "Hungry?"

"Not really. When it became apparent I was stuck here, Fraiser made me eat a full meal."

"Oh." Jack frowned, glancing at his watch again. "You sure you're not even a little hungry?"

Daniel's eyes narrowed. "Uh, yeah. Why?"

The thud of footsteps preceded the entrance of a young marine. "Colonel O'Neill, sir." The man stopped near the bed, two large bags clutched in his hands. The words 'O'Malley's' decorated the front of each in bold letters.

"Thank you, Lieutenant." Jack snatched the bags and set them on Daniel's legs. "You're dismissed."

"Yes, sir."

Daniel leaned forward. "What's that?"

With a smile, Jack reached into one of the bags and pulled out a large, white take-out box. He popped the lid, revealing a thick steak and a foil-wrapped baked potato.

The aroma sent Jack's stomach grumbling, and Daniel seemed to perk up.

"You know," Jack began, eyeing Daniel critically as he waved the box of food in front of the young man, "you really do need to put some more meat on those bones." He smiled. "Pun intended, of course."

"Of course." Daniel accepted the box with a tiny smile. "Thank you."

"So, I guess this means you're a little hungry?" Jack handed Daniel a plastic knife and fork.

"It means I've been really wanting steak." He closed his eyes and inhaled the steam dancing off of the food. "And it beats the commissary's food."

"Good." He watched as Daniel moved the swing tray in front of him, then set the box on it and set to work carving the tender steak. "So, Teal'c," Jack looked at the Jaffa, "I got plenty for everyone." He gestured to the bags on the bed. "Want some?"

"Thank you, O'Neill, but I am not yet in need of nourishment."

"Suit yourself." Jack frowned when he caught Daniel's fleeting, somewhat shy glance at Teal'c. Something had obviously happened. He'd find out soon enough. "Where's Carter?"

Daniel shrugged. "I guess in her lab."

Jack pushed off the bed and strolled to the phone on the wall, snatching it up. He dialed Carter's lab, and she picked up on the second ring.

"Major, there's an O'Malley's steak and baked potato waiting for you in the infirmary. Come on down."

He could almost here her smile. "Yes, sir. Did you do the honors?"

"Yes, I did."

"That was very nice of you. I'm impressed."

He scowled. "I am capable of a good deed now and then."

"I know, sir. I'll be right down."

Jack hung up the phone and turned. He leaned against the wall and stuffed his hands in his pockets. He watched Daniel eat for a few seconds and wondered how long it would take the kid to gain back the weight he'd lost. The same amount of time it had taken him to lose it?

"So, Danny."

Daniel swallowed and looked up. "Yeah?"

"So, uh, about this whole Maybourne thing?"

Daniel lowered his head and eyed Jack skeptically. "Yeeeah?"

"You know I didn't…. You know."

Daniel dropped his gaze to his food. "Yeah. I know."

"I wouldn't have lied to you about that."

"Even if they ordered you to?" Daniel stabbed another piece of his steak.

Jack pursed his lips. That was a fair question. "I was under orders when I left you on Abydos and came back to Earth. I didn't exactly follow those orders to the letter."

Daniel looked up, a distant sadness in his eyes. "No, you didn't."

"So," Carter's voice interrupted as she strolled into the infirmary, "where's dinner?"

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Major Montgomery Freser. Maybourne cursed inwardly as he entered the VIP room. The guard closed the door, sealing Maybourne inside.

Straightening his rumpled uniform jacket, he eyed the phone on the small table next to the bed. The guard had searched him and confiscated his phone and watch. Not that it mattered much. Cellular reception wasn't much of a possibility this deep inside the mountain.

Hurrying to the table, he picked up the receiver. There was no dial-tone. With a sigh, he hung the phone back up. He hadn't expected the connection to be live, but it had been worth a shot.

Dropping to the edge of the mattress, he ran a hand over his face. Things were getting too messy. He only hoped that the contingency plan went off without a hitch. As soon as Hammond started on the procedures to get Freser, things would be set into motion and, hopefully, Colonel Parker would handle the situation with his usual speed and efficiency.

And all this because Maybourne was doing his duty. He was protecting Earth, and that included getting rid of a man who had already proven himself a liability. What sense did it make having a civilian remain a part of the most secret government project in world history? A civilian couldn't be court-martialed. A civilian could quit at any time.

And civilians, as Jackson had proved when he'd interfered with Maybourne's capture of the Tollans, tended to not care about orders.

There was only one way to get out of this disaster. Maybourne took a breath and glanced at the defunct phone. He needed to prove, without a doubt, that Jackson was a traitor, and then he needed to get rid of the guy for good. The contingency plan should take care of all those objectives in one shot. He didn't particularly relish the idea of killing Jackson, not even when he'd made the first attempt. The archeologist wasn't evil. He was just a huge threat to Earth's security, and in the battle with the Goa'uld, Earth couldn't afford such risks.

In the overall tally of human lives, Maybourne would kill Jackson in a heartbeat to save the nearly six billion lives on Earth. That's what being a military man was all about -- making the tough, unpleasant decisions for the benefit of the greater good. An old pain churned inside Maybourne's chest, but he pushed it down.

Civilians like Jackson, unfortunately, let their emotions influence their judgment. Emotions had no place in a war for survival. Maybourne knew that better than anybody.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Daniel blinked at his reflection in the mirror. His hands gripped the edges of the sink, and he leaned forward. He barely recognized himself. A shallow beard covered the lower half of his face, and sunken, tired eyes stared back at him, blinking when he blinked. His cheeks barely had any substance to them, and he now knew why everyone was so insistent that he continuously shovel food into his mouth.

What a difference two weeks could make. He'd only lost -- what had Janet said? -- a little over ten pounds, and yet he'd have guessed fifteen, maybe twenty.

Of course, being exhausted, dehydrated, and under constant stress during those past two weeks hadn't helped maintain his healthy glow. He almost smirked.

Shaking his head, he looked down and grabbed the shaving cream from the ledge above the sink. He filled his palm full of the white, foamy material and smeared it over the lower half of his face, grinning slightly. He looked kind of like Machello, an old, tired man. His grin faded.

With a sigh, he picked up the disposable razor in the basin and raised it to his face. He hated cheap blades, but the military was nothing if not cost-conscience. Carefully, he set to work clearing his beard.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

On To The Conclusion