SORRY SEEMS TO BE THE HARDEST WORD

BY: Lyn

 

DISCLAIMER: The characters of Stargate SG-1 belong to MGM, Double Secret Productions and World Gekko Corp. This fanfic has been written for my own and others' enjoyment. No money has been paid and no copyright infringement is intended.

CATEGORY: Missing Scene and epilogue.

RATING: G

SPOILERS: Need.

In the storeroom:

Daniel's body sagged against him, the uncontrollable weeping now silent, gulping sobs of torment and misery. Jack continued to crouch protectively over the distraught young man, rubbing soothing circles of comfort on Daniel's trembling back.

"Shh. It's going to be okay," the colonel whispered. "We're near the end, Daniel. Just be strong a little longer."

Daniel sighed and shifted his head so that it lay in the crook of Jack's neck and the colonel took the opportunity to shift back so that he was sitting and could pull Daniel into the shelter of his embrace. He let his arms wrap around Daniel's body and reached up to massage the fever-hot skull, feeling Daniel finally begin to calm.

"Colonel?" A soft voice made him look up in annoyance at the doctor who stood in the doorway of the storeroom, a plastic bowl containing a syringe and ampoules of medication in one hand.

"Give us a few minutes here, all right," Jack whispered curtly. He felt Daniel's muscles tense beneath his hands and waved Warner away brusquely then returned his attention to the quaking young man. "It's all right, Daniel. Just rest."

Jack wasn't sure how long he'd been sitting here now. Time had ceased to have meaning. Only the comfort and reassurance of his friend mattered. Daniel's body was limp and unresisting against Jack's, his breathing slow, a slight hitch now and then still remaining from the sobbing that had racked the young man's body and clenched Jack's heart. Carefully the colonel shifted Daniel back then cupped his lolling head in one hand and lowered the sleeping man to the ground. He rolled him onto his side and brushed his sweat-slick hair back from his face just as footsteps signaled the arrival of more personnel.

Doctor Warner knelt by Jack's side and felt for Daniel's carotid pulse, nodding in seeming satisfaction at what he found. "His pulse is bounding but regular. All right. Let's get him back to the infirmary."

Jack managed to get to his knees as two orderlies stepped forward and efficiently took charge. "Colonel? We've got him, sir."

Jack blinked and looked down, suddenly aware that he still had a tight grip on Daniel's swollen, bloodstained hand. He stroked his thumb gently over the split knuckles then looked up at Warner. "How's Frasier and the security guard?"

"Doctor Frasier's got a sprained shoulder but she'll be fine, the guardÖ" the doctor's voice trailed off. "They're prepping him for surgery now."

Jack nodded and lurched to his feet, his back protesting at the time spent huddled on the cold store room floor. He watched as Daniel was lifted onto a gurney, his limp arms and legs once more buckled into restraints. "Are they necessary?" he asked helplessly. "I mean, he's almost unconscious, for crying out loud."

Doctor Warner thought a moment then signaled to the orderlies. "I'll leave his hands free for now but at the first sign of violence, he's going back in them."

As he spoke, Daniel moaned suddenly and threw his head back, his spine arching upward in an impossible angle so that only the top of his head and his feet remained in contact with the mattress. He hovered there for a few seconds in a bone breaking spasm of agony before collapsing with a shuddering thump. Any thought that Jack had that the convulsion was over were dashed when Daniel's body started to jerk with increasingly violent tremors, white fluid frothing at his lips and spilling over onto his chin, turning pink as the archeologist's grinding teeth gashed his tongue.

Doctor Warner gave up trying to get another IV line into the young man and barked instructions at the medical team who grabbed the gurney and pushed it quickly up the corridor toward the infirmary. Jack ran along behind it, stopping only when the swinging doors slammed shut in his face.

"Colonel?"

He turned around at the summons and saw Sam Carter approach him with a tense-looking Teal'c at her side. Janet Frasier walked in from an office adjacent to the waiting room, her left arm in a sling. "How's he doing?" Sam asked.

Jack scrubbed a hand through his hair and shrugged. "I don't know. I got him calmed down and then he had a seizure. Warner rushed him in here." He looked at Janet. Her face was pale and drawn. "Are you sure you're all right?"

Janet nodded. "The security guard's not so lucky," she said. "Fractured jaw and nose, possible fractured larynx."

"Christ!" Jack swore.

Carter looked stunned. "Daniel did that? He was so weak, debilitated."

"You have to remember this is not a rational, coherent Daniel we're dealing with here," Janet replied.

Jack fingered the bruises on his neck from the archeologist's fingers. "I never knew he was that strong," he said. Slumping into a chair, he rested his aching head in his hands. "What now?"

"Now we keep him sedated and restrained until the addiction works its way through his body."

"Like before?" Jack replied tiredly.

Janet nodded. "Like before, Colonel. I think I'll try a regimen of sedative loading though. Try to keep a therapeutic level of sedation in his bloodstream. It'll help with his agitation and disorientation as well as the convulsions and I'll give him some Compazine for the nausea and cramps he's bound to get."

"I want to stay with him," Jack said, getting to his feet. Before the doctor could comment, he continued, "He needs to be securely guarded for now. I think I'm the best person for the job."

After a moment, Janet sighed and nodded. "You're probably right, Colonel. While we're waiting for them to get him settled, why don't you come with me and let me patch you up?"

"Huh?" Jack was puzzled by the comment until Sam pressed a finger to his cheek and he felt the sharp ache of bruising.

"Looks like he got in a good shot, sir."

Jack winced and pushed her hand away. "Lucky shot," he said, then shuddered at the thought of the injuries Daniel had inflicted on the security guard in his addiction-fueled rage. He followed Janet into the infirmary then stopped and looked back at the silent Jaffa. "Teal'c? You okay?"

Teal'c inclined his head. "I should have remained here to watch over Daniel Jackson," he said. "I will not leave again until the crisis is passed."

"You can spell me," Jack said, recognizing the need of the others to care for their teammate. "I'll call you in a couple of hours."

0~0~0~0~0

The lights had been lowered to a muted glow lending an atmosphere of peace to the small isolation room though that consideration was lost on the man lying in the bed. Danielís artificial sleep was far from restful. Jack watched solemnly from his post at the archeologistís bedside as the other man shifted weakly, his debilitated body in constant motion as he pulled against the restraints on his feet and tried futilely to curl up around the cramps assaulting his stomach.

Daniel's face was pale, sweat from his fever making it shiny, his eyes still red-edged and puffy, moving rapidly beneath lids gummed closed with unshed tears. An occasional, almost inaudible mutter passed his dry cracked lips and each time Jack would lean forward, push away the damp hair from Danielís forehead and whisper soothing words that once would have fallen so awkwardly from his lips but now came without conscious thought.

Jackís hand clasped around Danielís spasmodically clenching one, stroking the hot skin, attempting to ease away whatever pain and fear still racked his friend, his other hand massaging Daniel's belly, kneading away the pain. He did all this unconsciously, his own aches and exhaustion pushed aside into one small corner of his mind, to be dealt with later when Daniel no longer needed him.

The colonelís thoughts drifted back to his own battle with addiction in the terrible days and months following Charlieís death. He silently begged Sara for help, needing someone to share his pain for just a little while and knowing that she could not. Her own grief and loss was too overwhelming. She had never blamed him, never hated him for the events of that terrible day. Jack took that upon himself, wearing it like a cloak around shoulders bowed down with the weight of it and allowing it to consume him. He almost gagged now, remembering the sour taste of hard whiskey as it had burnt his throat and dulled his memories.

The first expedition to Abydos had given him a new direction and he had dragged himself back from the abyss of self-pity and guilt by his fingernails. Initially he had buried himself in his job, keeping his memories at bay, performing his duty on automatic pilot and keeping a distance from his team. Then Daniel had committed the ultimate act of sacrifice, throwing himself into the path of a staff blast meant for Jack and had died. He had been resurrected by the damnable sarcophagus that they knew now leached souls away in the same moment as it gave life back.

And a gentle young man named Skaara, eyes wide with wonder at all he discovered had managed to insinuate himself into Jack's heart and the colonel felt love take root once more. With Ra blown sky-high with the bomb Jack had at first intended to detonate on Abydos, Daniel had decided to stay behind on the planet with his new wife, Shaíuri and the Abydonians who had quickly taken him to their hearts, and Jack and his team returned to Earth.

Sara was gone too when he got back and the black thoughts returned. Jack spent countless nights up on the roof, a bottle in one hand, his eyes focused despairingly on the stars far above, bitter self-recriminations spilling from his lips as he took back the mantle of blame for the hell his life had become.

They'd returned to Abydos, seeking a Ra look-alike and discovered a new enemy, Apophis, only to have him steal Sha'uri and Skaara from under their noses. Skaara, a second son lost to him now as Sha'uri was to Daniel. The Gou'ald had a lot of heartache to answer for. The mission had gained them a new ally in Teal'c, former First Prime of Apophis and Jack's spirits had taken an upward turn.

"We'll find them," Jack told Daniel when they returned from Abydos and he believed it as much now as he did then because Daniel had taught him to believe in himself and to have faith that others would join the fight against the Gou'ald.

Jack realized in the days that followed Daniel's return to earth that while a small part of the man he had been had shriveled up and died with Charlie, it was time to move on. There was indeed a time to mourn and a time to celebrate the joy that being a father had given him and to trust in the love and support of friends.

0~0~0~0~0

Purposeful movements from Daniel forced Jackís drifting thoughts back to the present and he shifted closer, knowing what was needed. They'd already done this several times for the better part of eight hours.

Janet had said that Daniel was showing improvement when heíd first escaped from the infirmary, running like a terrified rabbit from his friends. This was, Doctor Warner now said, a common enough occurrence, spikes of alternating recovery could be interspersed with a downturn in the first days of withdrawal as the body alternately demanded what it craved then fought its poisonous effects. Withdrawal and rebound, heíd said. Jack shook his head now, clearing the cobwebs and medical mumbo-jumbo from it and concentrated on supporting and comforting Daniel.

"Mom?" Danielís voice was a cracked whisper of breath but Jack heard it easily enough and moved closer to his friend.

"Itís all right, Daniel. Just rest." Jack dipped a cloth in the bowl of water that had been left on the bedside table, then squeezed it out and ran it gently over Daniel's face, wiping away the sweat and tears. He stroked the cloth over Daniel's dry mouth as the other man turned his head fretfully in its direction and licked the moisture from his lips.

Daniel frowned suddenly, a sliver of blue showing through his swollen eyelids. "Dad? Want mom."

Jack stroked a hand across Danielís brow, smoothing away the frown there. "Daniel? Itís Jack. Do you know where you are?"

The frown deepened as Daniel struggled to open his heavy eyes then succeeded and blinked slowly as he tried to focus on his surroundings. "Jack?"

"Yeah." Jack breathed a sigh of relief. "How are you feeling?"

Legs made weak from the sedation shifted against the restraints, testing them then Danielís movements became agitated and choppy, his arms flailing wildly as he set up a panicked struggle. "Take them off! Please!"

"Daniel, calm down." When his words had no effect, Jack stood and moved to the bed, sitting on the edge and reaching quickly for the buckles of the restraints. His fingers fumbled with the catches as Danielís struggles quickened, his fear echoed by the trip-hammering of his heart, setting off a faintly chiming alarm on the heart monitor. Finally, Jack pressed a hand to Danielís heaving chest and cupped the frightened manís chin with the other, stilling his movements.

"Daniel, look at me," he demanded. When the other man continued to move weakly in his grasp, he spoke more firmly, his voice taking on the edge of command that even Daniel would not disobey. "Look at me."

Jackís tone had the desired effect and Daniel stilled immediately, his eyes opening wide now, their gaze still clouded and unfocused, his breath still panting from lungs constricted by fear. Jack softened his voice then and pasted a smile on his face that made his cheeks ache. "Thatís better. Okay, lie still and Iíll take the restraints off, all right?"

Daniel nodded wordlessly, a fat tear brimming from one eye and dribbling down his cheek. Jack reached up and brushed it away with his thumb then set to work on removing the restraints.

As soon as he was free, Daniel surged up into Jackís arms. Jack tensed initially, remembering the strength the demented man had possessed earlier when he had thrown Tealíc bodily away from him and then attacked Janet and the guard but Danielís arms wrapped around him seeking comfort as he had in the storeroom and Jack relaxed into the embrace.

"Iím sorry, Jack."

"Not your fault," Jack soothed as he rubbed along Danielís bony back, trying to soothe the shudders racking the young man's body.

Danielís head nodded against his chest. "My fault. Left you there to die. Selfish, so selfish."

"Shylaís the selfish one here, Daniel. She let her father lock us all up in the mines and didnít say a word about what had really happened." Feeling the exhausted slump of Danielís shoulders, Jack lowered him gently to the bed then looked at him. "Did it ever occur to you what might have happened if we hadnít tried to escape and you hadnít been hurt?"

Daniel looked away quickly but Jack had already caught the look of dismay that twisted the young manís features with grief once more as he realized the truth of Jackís words. "I think the idea of keeping you there with her only came to her after you got hurt. I think that originally she was more than happy just to give daddy a few more slaves for his mines. You said she told you that she hadnít used the sarcophagus, yeah?"

Daniel nodded but did not speak.

"Okay, Sam said she thought it was the effects of the sarcophagus that effected peopleís minds, made her father as bad as he was. So, if Shyla hadnít used the sarcophagus, what excuse did she have for condemning people to death in that hell-hole?"

"It was to protect her father and herself from the Gouíald. If they could keep up the supply of the naquada, the Gouíald might not suspect that they had defeated the system lord who ruled there before."

"All right," Jack said slowly, pleased to see that Danielís cognitive functioning was coming back but hating what he was about to say, "but wouldnít a good ruler try to get her people to work with her against the Gouíald? Did you see how old some of those kids were in that mine?"

Another tear slipped down Danielís cheek but this time he wiped it away himself with the heel of his hand then reached out and grasped Jackís wrist. "That was her father, Jack, not Shyla and she doesnít know any other way. If we can reach her now, prove to her there is a better way to do thisÖWe can help them all, Jack." He struggled to push himself up in the bed then sank back wearily against his pillows and his words drifted off as the sedation reclaimed him.

Jack sat back on the chair and scrubbed both hands over his face, fingers scratching through the bristles on his jaw. A touch on his shoulder startled him and he jumped then relaxed as he looked up into Tealícís solemn dark face.

"Hey, Tealíc." He looked quickly back at the bed as Daniel shifted beneath the covers and murmured quietly. "Heís sleeping again. I took the restraints off. I donít think he needs them any more."

"He is recovering then?" Tealícís voice was a low rumble but Jack could detect the hope that edged the words.

He nodded. "Yeah, I think heís over the worst." Jack closed his eyes briefly, shuttering out the images of Daniel trying to curl up in a ball on the bed, groaning in pain as stomach cramps and vomiting assailed him.

"Then it is my turn to take watch," Tealíc said.

Jack began to protest then saw the silent request in Tealícís dark eyes. He stood, massaging his back, stretching away the cramps. "Thanks. Iíll go get some coffee, something to eat. Iíll be back in a while." He lingered a moment, watching Danielís restless sleep. "If anything happensÖ"

"I will summon you immediately," Tealíc responded.

Jack nodded and walked out. He paused for a moment in the doorway and looked back. Tealíc stood sentry-like at the bedside, one hand resting on Danielís forehead in a silent benediction.

0~0~0~0~0

Jack woke suddenly, dragging himself up from the netherworld of dark dreams where he cradled Danielís battered, broken body to him in the mine while beside him, Samantha Carter lay dying. He sat up quickly and almost fell off the bed he was lying on. Gaining his balance, he looked around in some confusion before his memory returned.

He was in one of the bunkrooms. He remembered going to the commissary for coffee and a sandwich. Heíd eaten half before his head had drooped to the table and heíd succumbed to his exhaustion. Some indeterminate time later, heíd felt a hand under his elbow and had opened sleep-gritted eyes to find Carter wresting him to his feet. He came instantly awake, fearing the worst.

"What? Daniel? Whatís wrong?"

"Danielís fine, Colonel," Sam assured him. "Heís sleeping. Tealícís with him." She began to lead him toward the door. "You need to get some rest, sir."

Jack pulled his arm from her grasp. "I slept just now, Captain. Iím fine. Iíll go back and spell Tealíc."

"With respect, sir, youíre not fine. That mine took almost as much out of you as it did me. Youíve only slept for an hour. Doctor Warner said youíre not to go back in to see Daniel until 0600."

Jack looked at the clock on the wall. "Thatís four hours away."

Sam nodded. "Yes, sir, it is." She waved a regal hand toward the corridor. "Your bunk awaits."

Jack sighed and nodded, but not prepared to admit to the fatigue and concern weighing him, hunching his shoulders. "All right but I expect a wake-up call at 0600, Captain."

"Yes, sir."

"Some coffee would be nice too. I donít suppose we have any muffins, do we?"

0~0~0~0~0

Tealícís eyes went to the door immediately Sam pushed it open. She smiled at the Jaffa, seeing his stance relax infinitesimally. "Howís he doing?"

"He sleeps," Tealíc replied. He looked back at the bed. "Sometimes quietly, sometimesÖhe is still fighting the demons that possessed him and his conscience is heavy with guilt."

Sam nodded and moved to the bed, taking in Danielís pale face, his features lax with the deep sleep of exhaustion. The lines of pain that had framed his shadowed eyes before were gone now, and his breathing was slow and even. She cupped his cheek in her hand, feeling a dusting of beard and the heat from a mild fever.

"His temperature's down," she said, smiling at Teal'c. "I thought Iíd sit with him awhile. The colonelís sleeping soÖ"

Tealíc bowed his head in acquiescence. "Do not hesitate to call should you require my assistance," he said.

"Thanks."

Sam pulled over the chair and sat down. Reaching out, she stroked a stray lock of hair away from Danielís face and then took his bandaged hand in hers. "Poor Daniel," she whispered. "Youíre so intent on helping others that you forget about the consequences to yourself. You have a good heart, a beautiful soul."

"Shaíuri?"

"Itís Sam, Daniel." She scooted her chair closer to the bed, noticing thankfully that the restraints were gone from Danielís wrists and ankles. She smiled as sleepy blue eyes opened and blinked lazily at her. "How are you feeling?"

Daniel looked away. "Better, I think," he replied, his voice scratchy. "Sam, Iím sorry."

"It wasnít your fault, Daniel. It was the sarcophagus."

Daniel shook his head. "It wasnít enough for me to leave you there to die. I said terrible things to you, Sam and I was unfaithful to my wife, willing to toss her away like so much garbage for thatÖ"

"You couldnít help it, Daniel," Sam said but he was already shaking his head again.

"I told Shaíuri to be strong, to fight the Gouíald inside her until I can find her and take her home but I couldnít do it myself. Iím weak and stupid, a coward."

"Daniel, look at me." He hesitated then turned his face toward her. "Weíve forgiven you," she began. "Now you need to forgive yourself." She pressed a finger against his lips as he opened them to protest. "You can win Shaíuriís forgiveness by finding her, but you canít do that if youíre being eaten away by guilt and self-loathing. Shaíuri is out there somewhere, waiting for you to take her home."

0~0~0~0~0

One week later:

Jack walked into the infirmary and grinned as Daniel looked up from where he was perched on the side of the bed. The archeologist rolled his eyes as Sam Carter hovered and fussed over him like a big sister.

"Hey," Jack greeted them. "Doc tells me youíre ready to get out of here, big guy."

"Oh, yeah," Daniel replied. He pushed Samís hands away from his shirt. "Sam, I appreciate your help, I do but Iíve been buttoning my own shirts since I was about five." He smiled gently at her, erasing the sting of his comment and she grinned quickly then stepped back.

"Sorry. Habitís hard to break after bringing up my own little brother," she explained.

"Carter?" She looked up at Jack. "The Generalís waiting in the debriefing room. Can you tell him Iíll be there in a few minutes?"

"Yes, sir." She stepped back quickly to Daniel's side and kissed his cheek, squeezing his hand gently as she did so. "Iíll see you later. Weíre having lunch tomorrow, donít forget."

Daniel nodded. "I wonít."

Jack waited until she left before speaking again. "Tealíc said you wanted to talk to me before I go to the debrief?"

"Yes," Daniel paused for a moment, staring ahead vacantly. When he spoke, his voice trembled a little. "I need toÖ We need to go back to see Shyla." Before Jack could protest, he rushed on. "If we can reach her now before she starts using the sarcophagus herself, before it begins to change herÖWe can help them, Jack and itís one less place that the Gouíald will have conquered, another thorn in their side."

Jack stared at him in surprise, then his mouth firmed into a thin line. "Did that thing suck your brain out? You want to go back there, after everything we went through? Whatís to say she wonít just toss us all back in the mine and forget about us?" he exclaimed.

His heart clenched at the stricken look on Danielís face. Physically Daniel was getting stronger, the sarcophagus loosening its hold on him, but psychologically he was still brittle, fragile, his emotions spilling over at a word, a touch.

"Sorry," Jack said, bringing his hands up, backing off.

"We have to go back," Daniel said doggedly, his eyes bright with unshed tears, imploring Jackís trust. "We have to help them."

He pushed himself off the bed and wavered for a moment, his eyes closing briefly but he waved the other man away when he moved closer. "Iím fine," he insisted. His eyes opened. "I know what it felt like, Jack, to be consumed, overwhelmed by a need so great, it skews your thinking so badly that youíd do anything to experience it again. Even condemn your friends to death. In the beginning, I begged her to let you go. I promised to stay with her as long as you were freed."

"I know that," Jack interrupted. "We know that. Nobody's blaming you but yourself."

Daniel walked over to the adjacent bed and looked sadly at the young man sleeping there, bruises from his own fists still marring the security guardís face. "After a while, it became less important, youÖbecame less important as that thing possessed me." He turned and looked at Jack. "We have to go back. I canít let what happened to me happen to anyone else."

Jack nodded slowly. "Itís Hammondís decision, Daniel but Iíll back you up if thatís what you need."

0~0~0~0~0

Jack reached out a hand and steadied Daniel as he stumbled when they hit the ramp on their return from Shyla's planet. He eyed the other man critically, concerned with the returning pallor of Daniel's skin. "You all right?"

Daniel leaned forward and rested his hands on his knees, blowing out a couple of breaths before nodding. Slowly he straightened and smiled wanly at Jack. "No, not really. I'm kind of dizzy. I guess going from superman to superidiot will do that to you." He began to walk down the ramp but Jack grasped his arm and halted his progress. "What?"

"Want to come out to the cabin?" Jack asked, his gaze extending the invitation to Sam and Teal'c as well. "Hammond gave us a forty-eight hour leave and I think we could all do with some down time." Sam and Teal'c nodded their agreement. He looked at Daniel. "You in?"

Daniel looked around helplessly. "I've got some things here I should do."

"You stay here looking like you're about to fall on your face, you've got to know that Frasier is gonna have your ass in an infirmary bed."

Daniel sighed. "What time are we leaving?"

0~0~0~0~0

All four members of SG-1 were exhausted from their ordeal in the mines and then the vigil at Daniel's bedside. The first two days were spent in a daze of eating and sleeping, and lazy canoe rides on the sparkling lake. The latter brought out Sam and Jack's outlandish attempts to outdo the other with stories of the biggest fish that got away, words giving way to bouts of hysterical laughter borne of utter weariness and profound relief that Daniel was back with them.

Teal'c spent hours in deep meditation, smiling gently but quizzically at his friends' jokes. Daniel had remained distant, an occasional snort of laughter over Jack and Sam's antics catching him and them unawares. Then his eyes would fix back on the horizon, growing clouded, his brow furrowed as though in pain and no amount of cajoling by Sam or gentle teasing by Jack would coax more from him.

They were returning to the mountain tomorrow. Another new world to explore, new people to befriend, more Gou'ald to fight. The four walked now along the edge of the lake, each deep in their own thoughts, gearing themselves up for the days ahead.

"I've been thinking," Daniel finally said.

"Now there's a first," Jack interjected without conscious thought then withered under Sam's icy glare. "Sorry," he mouthed silently. She didn't look forgiving. Mentally, he shrugged and turned back to Daniel. "About what?"

"About whether I should resign," Daniel replied quietly.

"That's thinking?" Jack answered. "Why, for crying out loud?"

"Because I'm not a soldier, because I can't fight the enemy the way you guys can, because I'm a burden and I almost got you killed." Daniel's voice caught on the words and he crouched down on his haunches and studied the ground, brushing his fingers absently over the evening-cool earth.

"We can't do this without you," Sam said. "You're our voice of reason, Daniel, our conscience."

"I had no conscience when I condemned you to death," Daniel replied bitterly.

"DanielÖ"

Daniel looked up quickly at Jack. "What?"

"You already know what," Jack replied.

"Yeah, it wasn't my fault."

"You don't have ownership of the guilt department here, Daniel," Jack added. "That first night you were back on Earth after Sha'uri and Skaara were taken? I talked about Charlie. I told you then that I can forget but I can never forgive myself for what happened to him. Nothing really changes. Accept what happened and move on because you're doing no one any good like this. Leaving the SGC isn't going to absolve the guilt you feel. I think you already know that."

"You've done a good thing here, Daniel," Sam said. "You convinced Shyla to destroy the sarcophagus and free her people from slavery. It's a huge step in the right direction. Stop beating yourself up for making an error in judgement."

"Indeed. You have saved a great many people from a terrible fate, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c put in as he rested a hand on Daniel's shoulder. "I wish I was able to go back and free all those whom I have enslaved with the Gou'ald."

All four were silent for a long time, lost in their own thoughts and inner contemplation. Daniel picked up a stone and skimmed it over the surface of the lake. "What happened to Sha'uri and Skaara and the others wasn't your fault, Teal'c," Daniel finally said. "You didn't know the truth back then."

"As with you and Shyla, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c replied as he took the pebble Daniel offered him and sent it skipping along the surface of the moonlit lake. He smiled gently as he watched the ripples widen. "It would seem we both have some distance to go in fighting our demons."

"I won't let you down again," Daniel said, turning to face his friends. "I promise."

Teal'c inclined his head. "Nor I you."

"You call that skimming a rock, Daniel?" Jack's faintly sarcastic voice came from the water's edge. "Teal'c, get over here and let an expert show you how it's really done."

"An expert? And when did you become an expert on rock skimming, Jack. I'll have you know that on AbydosÖ"

Sam shook her head at the good-natured banter of her friends and tucking her jacket more closely around her shoulders continued her walk along the lake's edge. Life was indeed back to normal.

FIN