In The Rough by Brionhet
Disconnected Part Two
Slash:  Jack and Daniel involved in a loving and committed relationship, which usually involves sex.
Rating: NC-17.
Category: Angst. Drama. Hurt/Comfort.
Season/Spoilers: Season 4.  No particular spoilers.
Synopsis: A piece of colossally bad luck leads to disaster for SG-1..
Warnings: The story contains a particularly nasty rape sequence. However, this scene is "off camera"; no part of it is graphically described.
Length:  231Kb

In The Rough by Brionhet

"Where the hell is Jackson?"

Sam winced at the harsh tone. Oh, boy. Obviously, whatever problem Daniel and the colonel were having, it hadn't improved.

"He is but four minutes late, O'Neill."

"Yes, Sir. He'll be here soon"

"I told him, if he's late today, there'll be consequences!"

Daniel chose that moment to walk quietly through the blast doors, fully equipped.

"I'm here."

"You're late, Mister! It's long past time you learned to toe the line. The minute we finish this mission, you can plan on spending a few weeks right here on planet Earth; you're grounded until you can show me that you understand your responsibility to this team!"

"Sir!"

"Carter, he's been earning this for the last four years. About time someone made him act like a professional!"

She looked a bit guiltily at Daniel, but was surprised to see his head down, lower lip caught between his teeth, gaze fixed on the base of the ramp. Not objecting. Now, that wasn't at all like their increasingly feisty archaeologist. Even back in the beginning, when Daniel had been so shy with most people, he'd never had a problem standing up to the colonel.

Sam exchanged a glance with Teal'c. His eyebrows were arched high over his kohled eyes; obviously, he'd also been surprised by Daniel's lack of response.

As the gate erupted into the gateroom, Sam moved over next to Daniel, leaving Colonel O'Neill and Teal'c to lead the way through the gate.

"Daniel? You OK?"

His little laugh sounded a bit hysterical. "Oh, yeah. I'm fine. Just fine."

Head still down, he moved up the ramp and through the gate. Sam stared after him for a moment, then shook her head and followed.

This place was beautiful. Sam smiled up into the golden foliage of the tree she was sampling, admiring the dappling sunlight filtering between the leaves.

As she slipped her sampling vials into their case, her eyes were drawn toward the open air structure that had so captivated Daniel. He'd shed his pensive mood virtually the instant he'd stepped through the gate, jaw dropping in stunned appreciation. In the two hours since they'd set up their campsite, he'd been totally absorbed in making an excruciatingly detailed videotape of the six carved and painted wall panels, muttering distractedly under his breath as he worked.

Unfortunately, happy as Daniel was, the general mood was soured by the colonel's foul temper. The deep crease between his brows seemed to have acquired a new permanence, and every time he looked at their archaeologist, it carved itself a micron further into his skull.

Sam sighed, realizing that she'd stretched this task as long as she could. Time to rejoin the happy group around the Stargate.

She hauled the now heavy case under the high arched roof of the structure, taking a moment to appreciate the incredible place. The building was a twelve-sided polygon. The sides alternated between the elaborately incised panels over which Daniel was obsessing and open archways to the outdoors. Apparently, seasonal variation in this region didn't extend to really rough weather, or the worshipers would have a pretty uncomfortable time of it. If Daniel was right, that is. He was convinced that the building was a religious structure. Certainly made sense. The Gate was centered under the vaulted roof; the DHD was set off to the side. And positioned a safe distance away in front of the gate was an oddly tilted, stained stone surface that looked irresistibly like some kind of altar. She'd made a point of not examining those stains too carefully.

Setting the sample case by the altar, Sam moved to watch over Daniel's shoulder, smiling at the half audible muttering. He'd gotten to the fourth panel. She figured his arms must be about ready to drop off-a rest would be a good idea.

"Hey, Daniel. Time for a break?"

He looked vaguely up from the eyepiece of the recorder, glancing at her without, she was sure, actually seeing her face.

"Uh, no. No, I don't need a break."

"Daniel, you've got two days. You don't have to do it all right now."

"No, no. Not ready to stop yet. Sam, look at this!" He was finally focusing on her. "Just look!" He ran his hand over the figures on the panel, just above the surface. "It's fantastic. The panels depict six seasonal festivals-this one's the summer solstice. Part of it's pictographic-" he swept his fingers above a sequence of pictures, obviously depicting a celebration or ceremony-people waving feathery displays, bowing and dancing around the Stargate. "-and part is text. This is similar to some of the ancient Mesoamerican written languages of Earth."

"Wow! Can you read this?"

"A lot of it, though I'm doing some guessing, since the language has obviously evolved since they diverged from Earth's parallel culture. But I'm making sense of it. See, here-" he pointed to a section of the pictographs, "-these three figures represent a triumvirate priesthood, and here-" shifting to a section of script, "-it describes the ceremony they perform to honor the solstice-the longest day of the year."

His excitement was definitely contagious, but she still needed to distract him long enough for him to take a brief rest. Noting a particular aspect of the pictograms, she grinned at him. "That's pretty fantastic. You know, there's something out here that might just relate to this stuff."

He looked at her suspiciously. "Out there? What?"

She laughed at his distrust; this was far from the first time she'd been responsible for prying him away from the tasks he loved. "Actually, yes. Come see..."

Reluctantly, he lowered the recorder and followed her out into the sunshine.

"So, see anything interesting?" She waited for him to figure it out. Puzzled, he walked a bit away from the temple, searching the large clearing for something other than grass and the border of trees. Then his brows went up, and he slowly pivoted around, looking at the tree line. His mouth rounded, then curved in a delighted smile.

"Three paths. There are three paths through the trees into the clearing. Just like..."

"Just like the picture on your wall-three priests leading three trains of people through the trees, to meet at the temple."

Delighted, they exchanged smug grins.

"So, come on. My reward for figuring that out before you did is that you put that video recorder down for half an hour and eat some late lunch, right?"

He shifted his head around to look at the camp, and at the man glowering at them from his boulder seat. Daniel's smile faded.

"You want to tell me what's going on, Daniel?"

He turned his gaze back to her, the happiness replaced by sorrow. "I... I can't, Sam."

"Daniel, you know there's not much I wouldn't understand, don't you?"

He choked out a little laugh that owed nothing to humor. "Not this. And even if you would, I couldn't tell you about it."

"You and the colonel... I've always figured there wasn't much that you couldn't work out between you."

He looked back at the man on the rock, mouth twisting slightly. He whispered, "Maybe not this time."

Worried, she watched him for a moment, then linked her arm with his, pulling him toward the camp.

"Lunch, Daniel. Then you can get back to your pretty pictures."

Accepting her unspoken offer to let it go, he acquiesced, allowing himself to be led to lunch.

Finally. That was the last of them. And just in time. She was about to lose her light to sunset.

Gratefully, Sam stood and stretched, then crouched down one more time to enter the last results from her preliminary, on-site analyses. Interesting... Amazing how consistent a lot of these things were from one end of the galaxy to another.

Hefting the repacked sample case, she moved back into the temple. She dropped the heavy case by the DHD, then went again to look over Daniel's shoulder. He was working on the last of his panels.

"Daniel?"

The expression on his face puzzled her. He had lowered the video camera, and was gazing at the wall, brow furrowed, mouth pursed.

"Sam... Um, take a look at this, Sam. This is the harvest festival. I... I don't think it's a very nice ritual."

Now that was surprising. Daniel tended to lean over backward to avoid passing judgment on the sometimes very bizarre cultures they encountered.

"Ugh. Are they doing what I think they're doing?"

"Ah... yes. At least, if you're seeing what I am. This is the only one of the festivals that has this... aspect. In fact, it's the only one that seems to involve sacrifice of any kind. That's kind of strange."

"It kind of looks like they're equal opportunity sacrificers. Sure doesn't look like a lot of fun for the sacrifice, though."

"No. And certainly not here at the end..."

Following his tracing finger, she felt her stomach jump. It looked like they were...

"Yuk! Why...?"

"This is a fertility festival, following the harvest. Variations of this kind of thing weren't all that uncommon among cultures on Earth, though I've never heard of anything quite this disturbing. The point was to ensure that the fields would come back after the winter, rich and fertile, ready to bear healthy crops. A lot of cultures drew parallels between human sexuality and the productivity of the fields. The symbolic mixing of the body of the sacrifice with the soil of the field would make really powerful magic."

"I'm not so sure I want to meet these people, Daniel."

"I..." He turned and looked out into the surrounding field. The lowering sun was reddening the sky, tracing the tops of the trees with hot fingers. "I think maybe you're right-at least right now."

He turned to face her, expression anxious. "Sam, the leaves. You tested them, didn't you? Let me guess-low amounts of chlorophyll, a lot of it partially degraded; lots of carotenoids, and anthocyanins in some, right?"

She felt her brows rise. "Ah, yes. Given some small sequence changes, yes."

"Soooo. What time of year would that make it?"

He knew; he was just hoping she would disagree. "Autumn."

"Autumn." He drew a deep breath, then turned his bleak gaze toward the man pacing around the field. She could see the dread in his expression. "I... I think I have to talk to Jack."

She followed him out into the deeply slanted sunlight. The colonel was standing with Teal'c, contemplating one of the three paths from the trees into the field.

"Jack?"

O'Neill turned sharply, fixing a cold gaze on the archaeologist.

"You finally finished, Jackson? Ready to set up for the night?"

"Ah... yes. No."

"Decisive."

Daniel lowered his eyes, locking his gaze on the toes of his boots. Then his spine seemed to stiffen spine, and he lifted his eyes back to meet the colonel's.

"Jack, I think we should go back to Earth."

"Oh, do you? And since when are you making mission decisions, Dr. Jackson?"

"I... I'm not. But, Jack..."

"This mission protocol was for two days; we've got a day to go."

"The last of the panels, it..."

"What, the stories too scary for you? You need to be home in your own little bed?"

"Sir!"

"Jack! Listen to me." The two of them spoke simultaneously.

Sam glanced at Daniel, then stepped back and let him fight his own battle.

"The last of the festivals-I think we're really close to the season..."

"So you get to invite yourself to the party. Isn't that the sort of thing you want?"

"No! I mean, not this time!"

Teal'c stiffened, bringing his staff weapon to ready position.

"O'Neill! Voices-many voices--through the trees."

The colonel lifted his head, listening for a second, then turned back to Daniel.

"There, see? Your natives are coming to greet you."

"Jack! Please, listen to me! This is not..."

"Look, Jackson, if this is some sort of ploy to get yourself another trip here, you can forget it! You wanted two days to obsess over those squiggles, and to meet and greet the natives. You do it now or you don't do it, got it?"

The voices, now clearly audible, were obviously chanting, singing, laughing. They sounded like an exuberant football crowd anticipating a big win.

Daniel grabbed Jack's wrist, shaking it slightly. "Jack, you don't understand! This festival..."

The colonel jerked his hand away, mouth twisting in fury. "Keep your goddamned hands to yourself, Jackson!"

Daniel stared helplessly at him, mouth silently opening and closing, eyes beginning to show a bit of panic. He turned his head, listening to the approaching voices.

"Jack..."

Abruptly, the volume of the chanting voices increased as three wide columns of celebrants flowed from the three paths, rapidly spreading into the clearing.

"Oh, God!" Daniel spun away from Jack and ran toward the temple and the DHD. He made it to the base of the dais before the crowd absorbed him.

Sam found herself mired in a flood of dancing, bounding natives, separated from the rest of her team, buffeted to and fro by the bodies of the revelers. She heard O'Neill yelling, Teal'c roaring. Desperately, she tried to break free of the mob, but hands came seemingly from nowhere, grabbing her rifle, her cap, her vest, her belt. And some of those hands gripped her arms, dragging her along with their dance.

A shrill voice rang over the crowd, and the movement gradually slowed. Roiling bodies sorted themselves out-the revelers drawing back to fill the clearing around the Stargate and the outer reaches of the temple, leaving a free space in the center. Here, the three supposed priests who had led the columns of revelers stood alone. One-apparently the leader-stood on the dais of the Stargate, his red-dyed girdle fluttering in the evening breeze. The other two-blue and green sashed and trimmed--stood to either side of him, on lower steps of the dais. Here, also, the four members of SG-1 found themselves firmly held in the grips of large celebrants, facing the priestly triumvirate. Their stripped belongings formed a nondescript, abandoned pile on the ground outside the temple.

The three priests smiled benevolently at the strangers. The one in the center was speaking completely unintelligible words. Unintelligible to her-maybe not to Daniel.

She turned to look at him. His face was pale, but he was concentrating hard on the gibberish coming from the priest, undoubtedly trying to work whatever magic it was that he did.

"Jackson, what the hell is he saying?"

"I don't know, Jack. I need to hear more."

"I thought this was what you did, Dr. Jackson."

Daniel's head jerked around, eyes slicing into O'Neill. "Shut up, Jack. If you'd listened to me in the first place, you bastard, we wouldn't be in this mess. And we are in one hell of a mess."

Sam's attention was shocked away from the two men by the hands of the two subordinate priests.

"Hey! Cut it out!"

They had moved to either side of her, and were busily making a very detailed inspection. They stroked over her hair, down her cheek. Tilted her head, ran their hands much too intimately down her body. All the while chattering away in excitement. She twisted and kicked, but the two men holding her were immovable.

The colonel and Teal'c shouted in outrage, but it was Daniel's voice, stumbling over two foreign syllables, that caught the attention of the priests. The red-sashed man strode down the steps of the dais and stood facing the archaeologist. A stream of words poured from his mouth.

Daniel was listening desperately. Then he shook his head, obviously not understanding enough to make sense of the man's words. He brought his intense gaze to meet the other man's, and carefully spoke a few more hesitant words.

The priest's eyebrows went up. Apparently confused, he looked over at Sam, letting his gaze roam over her body. Then he turned back to Daniel and said something else. Though she still couldn't understand a word, Sam would swear the meaning was pretty much, 'isn't it obvious?'

Daniel ventured a few more stumbling syllables. The priest said something that sounded like a question, again glancing at Sam. Daniel's reply apparently surprised him. He turned back to the archaeologist and stared at him in astonishment. The two traded several more ragged exchanges, the priest's surprise evolving into annoyance, Daniel's desperation becoming more and more obvious.

There was a long silence as the red-belted priest stared at Daniel. Then he stepped back, cocked his head, and slowly looked the other man down and up. He stepped close again, reaching out to stroke Daniel's cheek and finger his short hair. Then he leaned close, and said a few slow, carefully enunciated words.

Daniel's mouth sagged open; every scrap of color drained from his face. He stared at the holy man for a long, horrified moment, then snapped his mouth shut. He squeezed eyes closed, then finally spoke one whispered word-short, abrupt. And nodded his head sharply.

Oh, shit. "No, Daniel! No!" Oh, God, nononononono. Sam began to fight again, screaming her fury and denial.

The crowd erupted joyfully and began dancing and chanting again.

The priest spoke rapidly, gesturing toward the edge of the clearing.

The colonel was shouting again. He obviously hadn't understood a word, but it would have been impossible to miss the implications of the events of the last few minutes.

The men restraining Daniel jerked him forward, toward that horribly stained altar. The two minor priests began fussing with his clothing.

Daniel's hoarse voice cut through Sam's fury. "Jack... Th... they should... They'll l... let you go..."

The colonel was struggling against the hands forcing him away from the Stargate. "Daniel...! What the...!"

"Shut up and listen, Jack!" Daniel's voice was desperate, pitched high with terror. "Dawn... they'll let you go at dawn. J... just grab your stuff and go back through the gate. Just go!"

"We don't... Let go, you morons! Daniel!"

The priests were having trouble with Daniel's boots. Other than the clothing pooled around his feet, they had him stripped. Sam forced herself to look at him, to imprint his ashen, stunned face in her memory.

Sam could hear O'Neill kicking and fighting viciously, yelling in fury. But there were too many hands; too many bodies. The bruisers were dragging the rejected members of SG-1 back toward the tree line, as various celebrants scooped up their belongings and tossed them onto the ground under the trees. She resisted her own captors with all the strength and passion she could summon, but they were inexorable. And she could still hear Daniel's shrill, terrified voice.

"S... sam." He was gasping; hyperventilating. Oh, God. Those damned pictograms. He knew exactly...

"Daniel!"

"Please... p... please... D...don't leave my t... tapes."

"Daniel!"

Roaring, roaring between his ears. He knew it wasn't real sound-was just the outraged, explosive product of his own desperate helplessness.

O'Neill paused in his vicious battle against the ropes binding him to the rough trunk of an otherwise innocent tree, leaning against his inanimate captor as he panted in exhaustion; feeling the dribbling of warm blood from his abraded wrists.

Behind him, he heard Carter's hysterical battle against her own bindings. She'd shrieked herself hoarse, but apparently hadn't hit the end of her strength. And Teal'c. His bellows of anguished fury had ceased at least an hour ago; the sounds of his dogged wrestling against the ties around his wrists had not.

And then there was that other cacophony of sound-chanting, laughing, squealing-and occasionally screaming. Not so much of that now... not for quite a while.

O'Neill rolled his head over against the coarse bark, forcing himself to watch the dreadful celebration. The natives twirled and bounded deliriously, inexplicably flailing each other with sheaves of grasses and small clubs; apparently oblivious to the bruises and welts left by the implements. And spotlighted by the dozen torches now mounted on the inner walls of the temple, the three priests and their bulky assistants gyrated and danced, carrying out their part of the celebration. They also swung clubs and sheaves, occasionally wielding their devices against each other, but awarding the majority of their attention to their chosen sacrifice, sweeping the sticks and bundles about in a fine ecstasy of mindless joy. And taking their turns at anointing that sacrifice with their personal, very physical, demonstrations of fertility. The fronts of the three priests' white robes were now stained with blood from Daniel's violated body.

Oh, God. Daniel. By some grace of the universe, O'Neill rarely caught a glimpse of that battered, assaulted body, bound and stretched face down over the slanted altar. Those earlier cries echoed in the roaring between O'Neill's ears-screams finally forced from between bitten lips; Jack's own name drenched in agony and despair. Oh, God. Oh, God.

With a cry of animal fury, O'Neill wrenched his eyes away and returned to the hopeless battle against the ropes that kept him from stopping this impossible outrage.

A sudden wordless bellow of triumph behind him, then Teal'c's sweat streaked body bounded into his line of sight. The big Jaffa swooped onto the pile of their belongings, grasping his staff weapon in one hand, and O'Neill's big knife in the other. Two sweeping strokes of the knife, already stained with the blood trailing from Teal'c's lacerated wrists, and O'Neill and Carter were free.

The Jaffa was already firing furiously into the crowd of celebrants as the other two dove into the pile of equipment, each grabbing a weapon for each hand. Roaring their anguish, they followed their teammate, spreading mayhem among the intoxicated natives, who, screaming in shock and panic, scattered and fled before the three berserkers who assaulted them.

They forged through the terrified celebrants, vision focused on the temple in the center of the clearing. The crowd melted before them, running, squealing and mindless, into the trees. First to reach the base of the temple, Teal'c swept up the shallow stairs, blasting two of the muscular assistants before they realized how thoroughly their festival had been disrupted.

The two subordinate priests shrieked and turned to flee. O'Neill fired a long noisy stream of bullets into the blue one; he was vaguely aware of Carter cutting the other down. And, in his peripheral vision, saw the leader diving toward the altar, hands fisted on an upraised knife.

He roared in denial, spinning around in pursuit. Before he could bring his weapon to bear, Teal'c's big hand intercepted the priest's hurtling body, wrapping itself tightly around the man's neck and hoisting him to dangle a foot off the ground. Ripping the big knife from the man's hands, he used it to slash through the red sash girdling his waist. The strangling man choked a scream as the blade sliced the skin of his belly.

Tossing aside the knife, Teal'c gripped the priest's robe and ripped it from his body. Then, very deliberately, he tightened his fist, watching as the priest died in his hand.

Finally, the Jaffa flung the obviously lifeless body contemptuously aside, picked up the knife, and moved to the altar.

Two quick swipes, and Jackson's torn wrists were free. Two more freed his ankles. With infinite gentleness, Teal'c turned the blood-streaked body over, wrapped it in the priest's robe, and lifted it into his arms. Daniel didn't move; didn't utter a sound.

"Teal'c?" A tremor of fear shook Carter's hoarse voice.

"He lives."

"Carter, dial that goddamned thing and get us out of here!"

She dove for the DHD, punching the symbols with a furious violence. Then, as the 'Gate exploded into life, she twisted away and sprinted back toward the edge of the clearing.

"Carter! Get your ass back here!"

She ignored him. Dropping down beside the pathetic pile of their belongings, she began flinging objects in all directions.

"Carter!"

Finally finding what she was after, she ran back toward her teammates.

"What the..."

She had one of their packs held against her chest. She turned stark eyes toward him, clutching the pack-Jackson's-tightly. Daniel's video camera was clenched in her hand. O'Neill was stunned to see tears streaking down her cheeks.

"He... He w...wanted his tapes..."

They glared at each other for a breath, then he nodded sharply. And they turned to follow Teal'c, still cradling his still, bloody armful, through the 'Gate.

George Hammond started as the claxon jerked his attention away from the endless paperwork that defined his life. Damn.

Tossing his pen onto the stack of unfinished forms, he stood and hurried toward the control room, listening for the PA system to identify the emergency.

"Attention! Unscheduled off world activation! Unscheduled off world activation!"

Hammond moved up behind the technician just as the computer flashed its recognition. SG-1.

"They're early, sir."

"They are. Nearly a day early. Damn. Notify Fraiser's people."

The call for the medical staff coincided with the burst of the 'Gate's activation. For a frozen moment, they waited, the strident claxon the only sound.

First Teal'c's imposing form, then the stumbling bodies of O'Neill and Carter broke the rippling surface of the wormhole, Carter's voice already screaming hoarsely for the medics. No one needed to ask about the fourth member of the team. The bare, bloody feet dangling out of the bundle in the Jaffa's arms told enough of the story.

As Fraiser's team buzzed around Teal'c and his burden, Hammond stepped up the ramp and grasped O'Neill's shoulder.

"Colonel?"

The eyes that briefly met his weren't quite sane.

"Colonel O'Neill? What the hell happened out there?"

"I..." O'Neill swayed slightly, grabbing the ramp's rail with clumsy fingers. "Ah... A lotta bad shit, Sir. One hell of a lotta fuckin' bad shit!"

"Colonel!"

A shaky, hysterical laugh brought his attention to Carter. She had collapsed at the base of the ramp, arms wrapped tightly around the pack in her arms, body rocking rhythmically forward and back, forward and back.

"...lotta shit... ...lotta shit... ...lotta fuckin' bad shit..."

Hammond knew his mouth was gaping open. He tightened his grasp on O'Neill's shoulder, forcing the other man to look into his face.

Right.

He looked around to see the gurney carrying Dr. Jackson rolling from the gateroom, large shadow in close attendance.

"Dr. Fraiser?"

Fraiser, face pale and strained, turned from watching her team as they gently tended Dr. Jackson. With an effort, she shifted her attention to the remaining members of the team. A quick look into shocked eyes, a moment's survey of torn, bloody wrists, and she nodded decisively.

"All right. Colonel O'Neill, Major Carter, report to the infirmary. We've obviously got more than one casualty, here."

O'Neill moved stiffly down the ramp, pointedly not looking into anyone's eyes. Carter had to be gently coaxed to her feet; she refused to release her hold on the pack as she was led toward the elevator.

Hammond caught Fraiser's shoulder as she moved to follow.

"Dr. Fraiser?"

She looked up into his face, expression sad and shocked.

"This is a real mess, Sir. A real mess. Dr. Jackson is in pretty bad shape, and the others-even Teal'c-are... well, pretty shocked."

"What in heaven's name happened out there?"

"I'm afraid they're going to have to tell you that, Sir. But I wouldn't hope for it any time in the next hour or so."

The debriefing was a strange experience. The three present members of SG-1 had been processed through the infirmary, and had visited the showers. But the visible results of those experiences were their only vestiges of normality.

O'Neill's fists were clenched so tightly, Hammond half expected to hear the popping of his fingers dislocating. He was staring straight ahead, expression fiercely forbidding, mouth clenched tightly shut. His still-wet hair stuck up in spiky tufts, obviously uncombed.

Major Carter's hands were stretched out flat on the surface of the table, pressed down hard to still the shaking they displayed as soon as she relaxed. The bandaging encircling her wrists was starkly white. Her eyes were directed downward, though Hammond would have sworn that she wasn't seeing anything on the polished wood of the table, despite her concentrated gaze.

Teal'c was the most normal of the three-though 'normal' was a relative term when applied to the stoic Jaffa.

Hammond cleared his throat. "So, Colonel O'Neill. What happened?"

O'Neill's gaze remained fixed on the blank wall. "Natives weren't friendly."

Hammond waited, but O'Neill seemed to have no intention of elaborating.

"Major Carter?"

She lifted her eyes to his face. God damn.

"D...daniel taped the walls. I brought back his tapes..." Her anxiety was obvious.

He kept his voice as gentle as possible. "Yes, Major Carter. Dr. Heidepriem has them; they're safe."

O'Neill barked, "Jackson taped the walls; natives pranced out and grabbed us. They talked. Jackson talked. They jabbered. Jackson jabbered. Then he volunteered to join their celebration." The vicious fury in his shaking voice was shocking.

"Sir!" Carter's obvious distress made her voice shrill. "Sir, you know... he... They were going to take me. He stopped them from taking me!"

"They asked! He goddamn agreed! He said YES!"

"O'Neill! Daniel Jackson felt he had no alternative."

"No alternative? How about 'No,' for God's sake? How about turning their little invitation down?"

"Sir!"

"O'Neill!"

"Quiet!" Hammond's shouted command rang in the sudden silence.

He drew a deep breath, looking in turn at each of their faces.

"I can see we have a large number of unresolved issues, here! Colonel, I want your written report on this mission within the hour! All of you take 24 hours to get yourselves under control; we'll repeat this attempt at debriefing tomorrow at 1400 hours.

"Colonel, after you finish that report, I'd suggest you find some way to calm yourself down. I want to see a competent officer of the U.S. Air Force when we meet tomorrow!"

A low snarl was his only response.

"Major Carter... I really think you need to see Dr. MacKenzie..."

He lifted his hand at her incipient protest.

"At least talk to him, or talk to Dr. Fraiser when she's available. Unfortunately, my impression is that she is going to be tied up with Dr. Jackson for quite a while. But I want you to talk to someone. Your behavior is highly uncharacteristic!"

Biting her lips together, she turned her face away from him. But he knew she'd obey; no matter how great her distress, she was a first class officer.

"Teal'c..."

"General Hammond, I must spend some time in Kel No'reem; the events of this mission have been highly disturbing."

"Fine. I'm going to be counting on you to be a voice of sanity in tomorrow's briefing."

Shaking his head at the row of uncooperative faces, he dismissed them. And headed for the infirmary. He had a very sick boy to check on, and he wanted a few-make that a lot of-words with the good Dr. Fraiser.

"Sir! I didn't realize you were waiting for me."

Hammond looked up from the file he'd been perusing, quirking an eyebrow at the doctor.

"You were busy. And I rather appreciate the opportunity to hide away right now. Sit, Doctor. You look pretty tired."

In fact, she looked exhausted. And upset.

As she sank bonelessly into her desk chair, he leaned forward slightly, keeping his voice soft and private.

"Dr. Jackson?"

Her eyes closed tightly for a moment. "Not good, Sir. Nothing immediately life threatening, but he's going to be a long time bouncing back from this one."

"Permanent injuries?"

"Probably not." She gazed at her folded hands. "We're looking at significant injuries from at least three different sources." He watched her force her face to assume a facade of professional detachment, before she finally met his eyes.

"First, he's been beaten. His back, legs, and arms are all badly contused. Though none of the blows by itself would be of serious concern, the sheer number of lacerations and the amount of bruising add up to some potential trouble. Some of the weapons used on him were blunt; some were whip-like. The blunt trauma is worrying; there's some rib damage. We've done a scan to check for internal damage, and I'm watching his kidney function carefully. We've stitched up the worst of the lacerations.

"Then there's the injury he inflicted on himself. He fought, Sir. As he was tied face down, the front of his body is also bruised and abraded as a result of impacting against the stone... altar. That's where much of the bruising on his face comes from. His ankles and wrists are scraped raw from struggling against the restraints. Major joints are stressed from twisting and fighting to break free. His knees, shoulders, elbows... they're hot and swollen. I'm concerned... I'll be watching them for signs of deeper tissue damage as the swelling goes down."

She paused for a moment, drawing a deep breath.

"Doctor... what about the rest of it?"

"General Hammond, there's no comfortable way to say this. He's been sexually assaulted. Actually, he's been brutalized, by several men, over a period of several hours. We've just spent quite a bit of time repairing as much of the damage as we can. But he was badly injured. There's a lot of tearing, extensive bruising. There's a significant risk of infection with this type of injury; we're treating him prophylactically with broad spectrum antibiotics, and I've got my lab staff screening for the presence of possible alien organisms.

"He... there will be a great deal of pain. He's going to be extremely uncomfortable for quite a while. And... I'm concerned about the non-medical issues as well. Any rape is horrible; this situation is..."

"I agree." He felt the warmth of compassion, certainly for the young man whose life she'd been desperately trying to save, but for her as well. He'd always been proud of the day he'd selected her to join the SGC. "Has he said anything?"

"No; we've kept him sedated to minimize the trauma of the treatment. You need to understand, Sir. It makes no difference that Dr. Jackson is a man. Well, actually, it probably makes this worse. But the point is that the detail of his gender doesn't change the... the shock effect of this kind of assault." She ran her hand through her short hair, sucking in a deep breath. "After this kind of experience, every touch becomes a potential trauma.. Physical exams, even the treatments for his injuries-they're like fresh assaults."

Hammond felt a flood of sorrow rise through his heart. Things like this should never happen to anyone; certainly not to someone like Daniel Jackson.

"So... Are you recommending we enlist the psychological team?"

She grimaced. "Well, considering his history with Dr. MacKenzie, I'm not sure that's a very good idea. In fact, I don't think Dr. Jackson harbors a very complimentary opinion of therapy in general. But he would be a rare individual if he could handle this by himself. What are the chances we could engage the help of an outside therapist? Someone he doesn't associate with Dr. MacKenzie?"

"I might point out that he actually is a pretty rare individual, Dr. Fraiser. But I do agree. I'll see what I can arrange. You just take care of our boy."

Three and a half. Damn damn. Three and a half. Goddamn office was too fuckin' short! Three and a half. Three and a half paces from end to end.

The fury burned right from his gut. Unreasoning, unrelenting. It was devouring him from the inside out.

Three and a half. Damn damn.

How could he... ? What the fuck possessed the stupid... ? Just how could he?

With an incoherent roar, he kicked the wall; it provided no relief, so he did it again, bellowing louder. No help. Nothing could drown out that roaring in his head.

Three and a goddamned half.

Wrenching himself out of his pacing stalk, he attacked his desk, violently swiping everything off the top, flinging it across the too-short office space.

If only... If he'd just...

His coffee mug smashed against the wall, immediately followed by the stapler, tape dispenser and pen cup.

No! No! No! Not guilty; not his doing! Goddamn idiot fucking volunteered!

Goddamn it all to hell!

And back to three and a half, stamping furiously on the fallen papers, grinding his heavy boot into the shards of the mug. Just like some... fuckin'... artifact!

Three and a half. Damn damn damn.

The telephone rang. Rang and rang. He leaped across the tiny room, yelling as he grabbed the cord and pulled it bodily out of the wall.

"Leave me the hell alone!"

Wrapping his hand tightly around the silenced phone, he stalked to the door, jerked it open, and flung the offending instrument out into the hall. Its crash against the wall, and the echoing reverberation of the slammed door utterly failed to satisfy.

Three and a half. Three and a fuckin' god-damned half.

A half dozen more totally unsatisfying traverses of the small office, and he couldn't stand it any longer. Flinging the door violently open, he stalked into the hall and toward the gym, giving the forlorn telephone a vicious kick as he passed. One look at his face, and no person unfortunate enough to encounter him dared interfere.

Sometimes the face was the head priest's, other times it was Daniel's. He drove his fists furiously into the wavering images, feeling the bag absorb the impact of his unmanageable outrage.

Again. Again. And again. Punch, punch, punch. But the faces never changed. Smug lust on the one; sad reproach on the other.

Harder. Hit harder.

No good. No good. Couldn't wipe them out. No good.

If only... if only... if only...

NO! NONONONONO! Not his fault!

PunchpunchpunchpunchPUNCH!

Get the fuck out of my head! Roaring, roaring, roaring...

Punchpunchpunch...

The jangle of the telephone jerked Hammond once again from the mountain of paperwork.

"Sir? We've located Colonel O'Neill."

"Thank you, Corporal Davis. Where did you run him to ground?"

There was a pause before the young woman answered. "He... he's back in his office, Sir. He was in the gym."

"Like that, is it? Tell him I want to see him twenty minutes ago! Oh, and corporal... stay out of range when you deliver the message."

How the hell did he get back here? Pacing this stupid, worthless piece of territory.

This was unbearable. He had to... had to get away from this place and this thing that was tormenting him. Away from him, damn him.

How the hell could the stupid, inept bastard let this happen? How could he do this? Let them do... do... that to him?

The jealous fury rose again in his throat. He'd never... hadn't been allowed...

Shit! His brain was running in circles, getting nowhere, finding no escape. He was back to kicking the damned wall.

Gradually, it penetrated that part of the pounding was neither inside his head nor the reflection of his assault on the superstructure. Someone was rapping tentatively on his door.

The young corporal on the other side of the door gazed wide-eyed into O'Neill's livid face, looking like she wanted to transfer somewhere safer-like Chulak-right now.

"What the hell do you think you want?"

"Ah... Sir... General Hammond..."

"What? Spit it out, Airman!"

The young woman stiffened, snapping her eyes straight ahead. "General Hammond wants to see you in his office, Sir! Twenty minutes ago! ...Sir."

"Oh, yeah? So he sent a flunky instead of calling?"

"Yessir! He's been trying to call you, Sir."

O'Neill stared fiercely at the young woman, considering. This could be just what he needed.

"Fine. Dismissed."

"Yes, Sir!" The young corporal scuttled away as rapidly as she could.

Hammond. Just the man he needed to talk to.

At the sharp rap, Hammond took a deep breath, set his pen deliberately beside the stack of paperwork, and folded his hands on the table.

"Come."

O'Neill entered smartly, body at attention.

"You wanted to see me, Sir."

"Sit, Colonel O'Neill."

As the younger man lowered himself into the chair, Hammond got a good look at the expression in his eyes. A chill teased his spine; he saw the same madness he'd seen in the Gate room. And O'Neill's hands looked bruised and swollen beneath his white-wrapped wrists.

"Colonel... I've been reading your report about the mission to P2R 423. To be polite, it's... succinct. Considering the outcome, I'd appreciate a more detailed idea of just what it is we're going to need to know for Dr. Jackson's sake."

"Sorry, Sir; everything I consider significant is in my report."

Hammond felt the frown creasing his cheeks and brow.

"Colonel..."

"Sir, the only one of us who understood any of what was going on was Jackson. If you want to know more, you're going to have to get it from him!"

"Colonel O'Neill, I'm sure you know how unreasonable an expectation that will be, at least for a while."

"Doesn't change the fact that he's the only one who can explain. All I know is that they asked; he agreed; and we spent eight hours in hell, courtesy of his participation in their little ceremony!"

Nonplused, Hammond sat back and stared at his subordinate. This was so completely contrary to the concern he was used to seeing from the other man; the strongest criticism of O'Neill's command style had always been that he was too attached, too involved with the members of his team. And he'd reliably been extremely protective of his team's civilian specialist. Where was this coming from?

"My understanding, from the little information I've received, is that Dr. Jackson's choice wasn't precisely between 'yes' and 'no.' That he was intervening to protect Major Carter."

O'Neill's expression blanked for an instant, then hardened again. "He still agreed. Didn't talk them out of it. That's what he does-he talks and talks. There should have been a way that didn't involve him... them... There should have been a way!"

The fury in his eyes was astonishing. Hammond felt uncharacteristically ineffectual in the face of that irrational rage. "Colonel... I don't think..." He shook his head slowly, voice trailing away.

O'Neill tilted his chin, tightening his lips. "Long as I'm here, Sir, I have a request..."

"Go on."

The colonel took a deep breath. "General Hammond, I have more than five weeks of leave time accumulated. I'd like to take that time. I need to get away for a while; I've got a lot of unwinding to do."

Damn. Hammond's instincts were screaming that this was a very bad idea.

"Now? When one of your team is so badly injured?"

"The reason I've got all that leave built up is that we're never free. Now, while Jackson is out of action, is the perfect time."

"You don't want to wait to see if he's going to recover?"

"Not much I can do to help with that, is there? That's Fraiser's job. And... I've got a lot of things to work out. Personal things."

Worse and worse. Hammond's alarm bells were clamoring. He searched for alternatives, but could find no legitimate excuse to refuse O'Neill's request.

"You have a debriefing scheduled for 1400 hours tomorrow; don't you think you should stick around long enough to attend?"

"General Hammond, all that I would have to contribute to a debriefing is in that report. If any of us other than Dr. Jackson knows any more about what happened on that God forsaken planet, it's Carter. She and Jackson spent some time discussing the stuff on those walls. I don't know squat other than what I put in that report. Respectfully requesting five weeks' leave, Sir."

As he drew breath to reluctantly approve the request, the chime of the intercom interrupted. Keeping his gaze fixed on O'Neill, he grabbed the phone.

"Hammond!"

"General..." Fraiser. "Sir, Dr. Jackson is conscious. He's asking for Colonel O'Neill. I'm afraid he's getting rather agitated. Is the colonel with you?"

"Hmmm. Yes, he is. Is Dr. Jackson up to a conversation?"

"A very brief one. He's very weak, and in a great deal of pain. He's fighting the medication, but it's a battle he's going to lose pretty quickly."

"All right, Doctor. I'll take care of it."

Returning the phone to its cradle, he sat back and regarded the flint hard face across the desk.

"Dr. Jackson is conscious; he's asking for you."

O'Neill's face spasmed briefly, then hardened again.

"No."

"I'm sorry?"

"No. No, I don't want to see him."

"Colonel! That man has gone through a kind of hell that few of us can even imagine! He used his first conscious words to ask for you. Don't you think you owe it to him to go talk to him?"

"Is that an order? Because I don't agree that I owe him anything!"

Hammond felt his mouth drop open in astonishment.

"Colonel...!" He stopped, took a deep breath, and deliberately pulled himself back in line.

"Here's the deal, Colonel O'Neill. You want five weeks' leave. You can have your leave. Commencing immediately after you go visit that boy in the infirmary."

"That's coercion, Sir."

"No, colonel. That's a command decision. It's your choice."

Mouth tight with mutinous anger, O'Neill stared into Hammond's eyes. After a long moment's duel, he stood abruptly, body stiff with fury.

"Right. Sir."

O'Neill paused before entering, doing a short recon through the eye level glass panel set into the infirmary door. Viciously, he nurtured the fury still burning in his middle. There-there was the source, garnering the coddling attention of a flock of Fraiser's nurses. He clenched his teeth, feeling the throbbing pressure beating at his temples, the roaring in his head. Not his fault. Not not not.

Only one way to free himself from this internal turmoil. And he needed to make it fast and final.

He went through the door hard, wrenching the handle and shoving violently enough to bang the panel against the wall. Stalking up to the occupied bed, he jerked his head at the attending nurses. One look at his forbidding face sent them scurrying, leaving him to administer his own personal cauterization.

He gazed down at the man in the bed, angrily denying the compassion that tried to break through the rage. Not this time. Not ever this time.

Jackson was propped on his side, pillows holding his body in position, oximeter on his finger, I.V. tubing and monitoring wires connected to arms and chest, radiating out to an assortment of bags, machines and meters. More tubes emerged from beneath the sheet that covered his lower body. The skin of his face and upper body was chalk white in the few places it was free from the bruising discoloration; both eyes were blackened; his mouth was bruised and swollen.

Damn. Damn damn damn; how the hell could the stupid bastard have agreed to...!

"Well, I can see you had fun." He kept his voice even and cold. No way, no way was he giving in this time; enough... enough. "Heard you were asking for me."

Bruised eyelids fluttered; hazy blue eyes squinted up at him.

"...jack...?" The voice was small and unsteady.

Jack leaned down to look into the bruised face. Furiously, he blockaded the impression of pain and deep horror in those eyes, the traitorous upwelling of sorrow in his own chest. No, no, no. Not giving in.

"You certainly are showing us all some interesting hidden depths, Jackson." The words came out low and edgy.

Daniel winced, squeezing his eyes shut. "Jack... P...please..."

"Please? Please what? I thought I'd figured out the kinds of things you were liable to ask for. Guess I was mistaken. You should have told me how you liked it; I'm sure I could have found a few marines who would have liked to play."

Daniel's breathing was becoming more rapid and shaky. He shifted one of his wired, pillowed hands toward O'Neill.

"Jack! What are you...? Please, Jack!" The frantic, shaking voice fueled the burn in O'Neill's chest. He jerked his own hands behind his back, well out of range of the temptation of those trembling fingers. He strangled his voice down to a hissed whisper.

"You know, you really had me fooled with that sweet innocent routine. Who could have guessed there was such a whore hidden in there?"

Jackson choked out an incoherent sound, eloquent in its pain. His face crumpled, his teeth clenched so hard on his lower lip that fresh blood ran down onto the pristine white pillows.

Clamping furiously down on any traitorous compassionate impulses, Jack straightened and stepped away from the bed. Only then did he become aware of the beeping of some monitor somewhere in the midst of the clutter surrounding the bed.

The two nurses converged on the bed, followed almost immediately by the undisputed ruling force of the infirmary. Fraiser rapidly scanned the monitors surrounding Jackson's bed, then pinned O'Neill with eyes sparking with incandescent fury.

"What the hell have you been doing here, Colonel?" she spat.

Don't give in; don't weaken. Almost free. Almost. "Just airing a few home truths, Doctor."

"Get the hell out of my infirmary; this area is out of bounds for you until I say otherwise! Get your ass out that door and don't come back!" She was as livid as he'd ever seen her.

"No fear." His own fury had plunged from white-hot to frigid. Stiffly, he pivoted on his heel and marched back through the door he'd abused earlier.

His consuming anger survived the stalk through the corridors of the SGC. Once he was safely isolated in the elevator, he gave in to the urge to hit something, assaulting the metal cage walls with a fury that left them completely unmoved, and him with bruised, aching hands. When the doors swept open, he half ran through the corridor, out into the overcast gloom of the parking lot, leaving the guards staring, mouths agape. He didn't feel the tears streaking down his flushed cheeks.

The pain of his abused hands sustained him until he was in his jeep, half way down the mountain road. Vision inexplicably hazy, he was driving with desperate abandon, shaving the turns, spinning and skidding from switchback to switchback. But as the pain bled away, his brain gradually began to function again. Wrestling the steering wheel through a particularly wild turn, he finally realized what he was doing. Roughly, he jerked the wheel, sending the jeep staggering on to the shoulder; jammed on the brakes, felt the shudder in the vehicle's frame as it lurched to a stop.

For long moments, he sat frozen, gaze locked on the hands he'd wrapped desperately around the steering wheel, body stiffly braced against rigid arms.

Oh, God, God, what had he done? His mind replayed the vision of that battered, assaulted body, wired and tubed and pillowed. Those anguished eyes, stunned by the devastation he'd put there. Bright, bright blood wicking into a crisp white pillow-joining the tears already staining the cotton fabric.

Lifting his head, he sat still as stone, gripping the wheel with his bruised hands, staring blankly at the trees lining the road. If he probed the depths of his brain, he could still find the smoldering coals of harsh fury that had possessed him for the last two days; still feel that blackness grab at his consciousness, the roar in his ears. Still feel the jealous rage roil up and overshadow his perspective.

Flashes of that bizarre session with the punching bag teased the edges of his consciousness-seeing his gloved hands smash again and again into that defenseless face. The blackened eyes and swollen lip-how easily they could have been his own work.

Shaking, head swimming with confusion, he dropped his forehead to rest against the wheel. He needed to get this straightened out. But first, he needed to get himself on track; get this crap out of his head. Couldn't risk making things any worse than they already were. Oh, God. Couldn't risk causing any more of those hard-fought tears.

Clumsily, he fumbled for his cellular phone. Speed dial knew the correct number. Then he waited through the agonizing sequence of connection and verification.

"Infirmary." Finally!

"Frasier? This is..."

"Colonel O'Neill." The voice was so cold, he was surprised the phone didn't frost over.

"Listen, Doc... I have to... Let me talk to Daniel." Please, please.

"Dr. Jackson is sleeping."

"Please... I have to... Can't you wake him up?"

"Colonel, he's heavily sedated. And I don't think I'd wake him to speak to you even if he weren't."

He leaned his forehead back down against the steering wheel.

"Okay, look... I've really gotta get away... get my head straightened out. I... I'm so damned screwed up. But would you please-please-tell him I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

"And what am I to tell him you're sorry for?" No thawing in that frigid voice.

"For... just for everything. Please."

She was silent for a long moment.

"I'll tell him you called." And the line went dead.

Feeling a hundred years old, he painfully straightened his body, dropping the instrument onto the passenger seat. He put the jeep back in gear and continued down the mountain, now driving with exaggerated care. Peace. Quiet. Solitude. He needed to find somewhere to get himself back under control.

Deep inside, he ruthlessly squashed the whispering voice that told him he'd just made a disastrous choice.

He never moved. Not even those small, involuntary squirms typical of sleep. If it hadn't been for the machines, she could have convinced herself that he wasn't breathing at all. Just sedated; Janet swore it was just the drugs.

Sam hugged her knees closer to her chin, feeling the uncompromising edge of the chair's seat under the arches of her feet. Rocking herself slightly, she silently begged him to open his eyes, to allow himself to come back.

Ever since they'd come back through the Gate, her mind had teetered, suspended between guilty misery and helpless frustration. She'd followed orders; spent a useless hour with MacKenzie, whose considered opinion was that she was depressed. The prescription he'd given her had already had a meaningful encounter with her lab's paper shredder. She didn't need drugs; she needed Daniel to wake up, and to be all right.

"God, how selfish can I get." Biting her lip, she reached out to stroke his ashen cheek. "Oh, Daniel. I can't stand this. Please. Please, I need to talk to you."

"For him? Or for you?"

Her cramped body jerked at the rough voice, gaze snapping to the lifted curtain.

"Dr. Heidepriem?" She met fierce, muddy brown eyes for a moment, then shifted her own away.

"Major Carter." The archaeologist moved through the curtain, seating herself in the other chair. But her gaze was still fixed on Carter.

A long, uncomfortable silence grated against Sam's nerves.

"You know he should never have been out there, don't you?"

Startled, Sam forced herself to meet that uncompromising stare. "What? He... Daniel wanted to be on the team; he fought hard to be included!"

"He's passionate; impulsive. Never should have been allowed to risk his life that way. More level heads should have had the guts to tell him 'no'!"

"Look, you've only been here for a couple of years. What the hell do you think you know about what Daniel needs-what he needed back at the beginning?"

The other woman nodded sharply. "Well, that's a point, I guess. By the time I met him, he'd pretty much already realized that he was never going to get his wife back; I imagine he was a lot more desperate when that loss was fresh. And he's damned hard to refuse. But I've worked with him-his real work-for two years now. I know what he is; what he's got."

"What he's got? What he is? You've read our mission reports; you know that Daniel is just magic when it comes to first contact." Taking a deep breath, Sam forced herself to speak more quietly. "Daniel's the main reason we've formed so many alliances; that we've made so few enemies. What he's got and what he is goes so far beyond what he can do in a lab, or working in the field as an archaeologist! How can you say that what he does with you means more than what he does with us? Or that he doesn't have the right to choose which he wants?"

Heidepriem's expression hardened. "Oh, he's having a lovely time making friends across the galaxy. Of course, there's always 423."

Angrily, Sam cast a quick glance down at Daniel's still-oblivious face, then gestured at the other woman to lower her voice.

In a raspy whisper, Heidepriem continued, "I've read DJ's notes; watched his tapes. I know exactly what they did to him. And I've seen what being on SG-1 has done to him. And, Sister, it is not pretty! The three of you-how could you not protect him better? And O'Neill...!"

A tight knot gathered in Sam's throat. She reached out to gently stroke the top of Daniel's head, somehow comforted by the physical contact. "Look, Doctor, you're butting into something that's none of your business. The colonel and Daniel-they've been friends for years. Best friends!"

"You think so?" Heidepriem's voice was constricted into a near-hiss. "Maybe 'back at the beginning' that was true. But I'm a scientist, Sweety. Thought you were supposed to be one as well. I judge by evidence. The evidence I've seen tells me that O'Neill's been treating DJ like shit for nearly as long as I've known them. And this past few days, he's been a total ass. You call yourself Daniel's friend? Couldn't you see how unhappy he was?"

She would not cry. Not! "They've been having some trouble, lately. But the colonel thinks the world of Daniel!"

"Does he? That what you've been seeing?"

Sam dropped her head down on her knees. Oh, God.

"I... I don't know what's been going on between them-something really bad, I think. But..."

"But, nothing. Daniel Jackson is one of this world's precious possessions. His kind of mind comes along only a few times in each generation. For five years now, the SGC has been treating him like expendable cannon fodder."

'Not true! Not true,' her heart mourned. For a despairing moment, she allowed herself to review the years they'd spent as a team. Had they done that? Maybe sometimes they were guilty of forgetting that he wasn't really the soldier he'd come to be able to imitate so well. But...

"No!" She caught her breath in a gasp, then again forced her voice to a lower level. "Maybe you need to take a better look at the evidence, Doctor! Yes, Daniel risks his life every time he goes through that Gate. But it's worth it to him! He's had the kinds of experiences, done and seen the kinds of things that no other archaeologist in the world has ever done or seen! Things any real archaeologist should be panting to experience. For him, it's worth it--more than worth the danger. You've never even gone through the Gate. How can you justify that refusal? You're obsessed with what his life has taken away from Daniel. How can you completely fail to see what it's given to him?"

Heidepriem stared at her for a minute, brows furrowed. "DJ sometimes tries to explain all that to me. He's sure convinced. But I still say he belongs here. And I'd say this last mission kind of made my point for me."

Sam's head was shaking. "No. No, it didn't. I... Nobody's more upset over what happened to Daniel on 423 than I am." She paused to force the quiver out of her voice. "And it's a lot worse because he was hurt in my place. But you've fallen for his biggest trick, Dr. Heidepriem."

Heidepriem's fierce expression turned puzzled. "Trick? Major Carter, I've never met anyone as free of guile as DJ. He doesn't have any tricks to fall for."

Oh, Sam knew what was going on here. And she also knew that Heidepriem was as fooled as they'd all so often allowed themselves to be.

"You're wrong. It's completely unintentional, but we all fall for it. Daniel is honest and straightforward; in most situations, he's the worst liar I know. I mean, worst at it. He also tries as hard as he can to see everyone in as positive a light as he can. He's open, friendly, curious. And he's got that beautiful, guileless face-big blue eyes, soft, full mouth. This stuff mixes together and tricks us all-we think of Daniel as very young and innocent, needing to be babied and protected. All those characteristics-they're things we associate in our minds with children."

The tightness in her throat loosened; Daniel did have the right to direct his own life.

"But Daniel's no child. He's an adult, and a very strong one. All the military men and women I've known, all my life-not one of them can touch Daniel for courage. And we belittle him when we automatically assume that he needs to be shielded, or that he can't make important decisions for himself."

She laughed sadly, looking back at the still form in the bed, brushing her fingers carefully over his bruised cheek.

"It's one of the worst things the colonel does to him. Exactly the opposite of what you've been implying. It drives Daniel crazy when Colonel O'Neill treats him like a child." She returned her gaze to Heidepriem's now-thoughtful face. "And that's what you're doing. You're assuming that Daniel is too vague-too sweet and gentle, if you will-to know his own mind. Give him the respect he deserves-believe that he does know what he wants."

Heidepriem stared at her for a moment, mouth pursed. "And, Major Carter, can you do it? Can you respect him enough to recognize his right to make the decision he made on 423?"

The tears finally won, at least for a moment. "I don't know. Oh, God. I just don't know."

Grimly, the archaeologist watched her fight. The tears stopped after a meager two had meandered down Sam's cheeks. Leaning across Daniel's still body, she touched the other woman's wrist. When Sam lifted her head, Heidepriem held out her hand.

"My name's Adair; DJ calls me Dair."

Surprised, Sam stared at her for a moment, then gripped the hard, rough-skinned hand. "Sam."

Tiny movement pulled Janet's attention away from the readings and devices. Glancing down, she met confused, frightened blue eyes.

"Well, hello there, Dr. Jackson."

She reached to stroke his hair, then arrested the movement as he flinched, panic flaring in his eyes. Damn. She'd forgotten. She redirected the hand into her pocket and sank down into Sam's recently abandoned chair, glancing over the various monitors as she sat. Considering the circumstances, everything looked good.

She returned her gaze to his battered face, and kept her voice soft and gentle. "Do you know where you are, Dr. Jackson?"

His brows knitted slightly. His eyes flicked around, looking at the small area within view.

"...fir...mry?" His lips formed the words, though almost no sound emerged.

She reached for the cloth and water waiting at his bedside, soaking a corner and reaching slowly toward his face. "Can you let me help, here? Just a bit of water?"

He tensed, but didn't recoil, allowing her to brush the dampened fabric across his lips. His tongue flickered against the moisture. She watched as a touch of relief swept over his features.

"Okay, here's the hard part. I know you're uncomfortable. Want to tell me, on a scale of one to ten, with one being minor discomfort and ten being pretty awful, just how bad the pain is?"

His eyes squeezed tightly shut; his mouth twisted a bit. "F... fifteen."

"Ah, that bad. All right, I'm going to give you something to help with that, okay?

He gave a tiny nod, eyes still closed.

"Talk about bad timing." She kept her voice as soft and even as she could as she injected the analgesic into the I.V. tubing. "First time your watchdogs have left you alone in two days. And they only left because I threatened to sedate them and put them all on IV's of their own if they didn't go eat and get some sleep."

"...all...?" Lips and tongue formed the shape of the word, but no real sound emerged.

Hope bloomed momentarily across his bruised face. Unable to face the desperate anxiety in his eyes, she looked away. "Major Carter, Teal'c and Dr. Heidepriem. They've been here, cluttering up my infirmary, since..."

She forced herself to look back just in time to watch it happen. His teeth closed on his already lacerated lip, the light faded out of his eyes, and he turned his cheek down into the pillow. Checking out; shutting her away.

"Dr. Jackson? Daniel?" Other than a small flex of his neck, pushing his face more tightly into the pillow, she received no response. His eyes were open; he was conscious. He just wasn't tuning in.

"Janet? Is he awake?" Sam.

"I thought I told you to go sleep, Major Carter."

"I did. For a bit, at least. But..."

Janet sighed. "Yes, he's awake." She leaned over her patient, reaching, but not quite touching his hand. She looked into his stubbornly unresponsive eyes. "But I don't think he particularly wants to be right now."

Sam dropped down into the chair she'd claimed as her own, leaning forward, attempting to meet Daniel's eye.

"Daniel? You there? Won't you talk to me?"

No response. Alarmed, she turned back to Fraiser. "What's wrong with him?"

Janet straightened, cast one last look over the indicators, then wordlessly beckoned Sam to follow her. She eased her office door closed behind them.

"Well, there are a few tests I'd better run, but if you want my preliminary opinion... nothing. At least, nothing beyond the problems we were already dealing with. I just think he needs some time to... to work some things out; come to terms with some of the things that have happened to him."

"So... he's with us; he's just choosing to be..." Sam shuddered, then leaned her head back against the office wall. "I wish... Sometimes I think I'd like to just go away somewhere, all alone. To work things out."

Janet nodded sympathetically; this was nearly as painful for Sam as it was for Daniel. "I understand; I think that's exactly what he's doing."

"Janet..." Sam straightened to look into the other woman's eyes.. "Janet, what happened between Daniel and the colonel? Just before the colonel left, I mean."

Janet's pretty mouth tightened; she turned her head to look through the glass at the still figure in the bed.

"Tell me. Please."

"I... That's really something between them. If I knew, I couldn't tell you. But I don't know. I just know that, whatever it was, it was awful. It took a long time to get Dr. Jackson calmed down enough for the sedatives to really take hold and put him under."

Sam wrapped her arms around her torso in a gesture so reminiscent of Daniel Jackson that Janet felt her throat tighten. She'd tried hard to help with this, but somehow she hadn't been able to break through the shell of guilty shock that ensnared her friend.

"Sam..."

The other woman was rocking slightly-again, a mannerism she'd acquired from the archaeologist. "Janet, they... for the past few days, there's been something going on between them. I don't know... Can't figure out what started it. But the colonel..."

"Ah, well... I think most everyone here picked up on that part of it. When Colonel O'Neill is on a tear, all of the SGC notices."

"By the time we... Colonel O'Neill was... he was crazy. I think he would have ripped those priests into pieces with his bare hands. But then, when we got back... I didn't know that man, Janet. He was some... hard, soulless stranger. I just don't understand what's happened!" Tears threatened, but Sam fiercely swept the back of her hand across her eyes, refusing to let them fall.

Janet wavered, then pulled Sam into a gentle embrace, soothing and swaying. She wouldn't have been surprised to end up with a damp shoulder, but the tears remained at bay. After a long moment of accepting the offered comfort, Sam pulled away, smiling a bit shakily and gripping Janet's shoulder tightly.

"Thanks, Janet. I'm... I'm having a bit of trouble with this. Surprise-bet you couldn't tell."

Janet accepted the weak attempt at humor as what it was-an attempt to shore up a crumbling facade.

"Whatever Colonel O'Neill said to Dr. Jackson was devastating; Daniel was shattered. And the colonel I met when I broke it up was the man you described-not a shred of compassion showing anywhere. Very unlike what I expect from our colonel. Now, I imagine this is a bit of a breach of confidence, but you might feel better for knowing. About thirty minutes later, I received a very distraught phone call from him. He pleaded with me to let him talk to Dr. Jackson. Begged. When I refused, he begged me to tell Daniel how sorry he was. For everything. And he said that he was going somewhere to get himself put back together. I was pretty furious with him at the time, but... Well, I can't tell you anything about what the problem was before 423, but I do think that what happened there was nearly as hard on Colonel O'Neill as it was on Daniel. And you. That phone call suggests to me that there's light at the end of this tunnel, if we can just keep everything intact until we reach it."

Sam's smile was almost genuine. "Thanks, Janet. That does help. Makes me hope. Thanks."

She leaned in and wrapped Janet in one final hug, then left the office and returned to her chair at Daniel's side. As she sank down into its uncomfortable curves, Adair Heidepriem strode through the door, greeted Sam, and moved to the chair on the other side of the bed.

Janet lowered herself into her desk chair, watching the other two women as they chatted quietly across Dr. Jackson's motionless body. She was aware of an unworthy little twinge of jealousy. She'd tried hard to help Sam; to be sympathetic, to provide a shoulder when needed. And today was the first time she'd felt any margin of success. And then it had been due to the information about O'Neill, rather than to her efforts at comfort.

She also knew that Sam had seen MacKenzie. And that the visit had been completely pointless.

But for some contrary reason, the rough-edged, no-nonsense company of Dr. Heidepriem had accomplished what Janet's softer ministrations couldn't. For two days, she'd watched the two of them exchange spirited, though soft-voiced arguments, mostly about the care and comfort of a certain archaeologist. They'd traded scurrilous, affectionate Daniel-tales, each trying to one-up the other. They'd argued about whether Heidepriem's steadfast refusal to pass through the Stargate was justified.

And somehow, in the midst of all this verbal pugilism, Sam's hurts had begun to heal. Intellectually, Janet realized that at least part of it was that the effort to marshal arguments and counter-arguments put Sam into what was for her a very safe place-the intellectual battlefield. Like Daniel's little self-induced trance, this was a haven; someplace to go so that the battered parts of her psyche could scab over and begin to protect themselves.

But another part of her-the less professional part-wanted Janet to be the source of Sam's solace.

Two days later, Daniel Jackson returned to the SGC. Two days of fighting an internal battle with anguish, humiliation, and a profound sense of abandonment. Two days to rebuild a semblance of the emotional protection that he'd spent most of his life sheltering behind.

He heard them; heard Sam's pleas, Dair's orders, Teal'c's measured reassurances. Felt the brush of air as Janet and her nurses moved around him, tending to his body's needs, reading their dials and meters, doing things that were inevitably painful, always unwelcome; touching, touching. He didn't want to be touched.

But he needed to be safe before he went back.

Sam and Dair were arguing softly about the Tok'ra. Sam steadfastly defending what were now her father's people; Dair heaping scorn in her usual intemperate way. Daniel furled his brow. Now that he thought about it, there was a lot to be said for Dair's point of view. But she shouldn't be so impolite about Sam's father.

"Sh't up, Dair." Was that rusty scratch of a voice him?

"Daniel!" Sam's face appeared six inches in front of him.

He heard Teal'c calling Dr. Fraiser; saw the shadow of Dair's arm as she reached across him to hand Sam a cup of ice chips. But he didn't seem to be able to muster the energy to move.

Sam was back, gently brushing his lips with a piece of ice, catching the dribbles with a tissue as gravity's tyranny pulled them down his cheek toward the pillow. He flicked his tongue out to catch some of the moisture; the clean, refreshing feel of the water on his tongue and palette surprised him; he stuck the tongue out again, chasing the small pleasure.

Then Sam was gone, replaced by the fluster and flurry of Janet and her corps of accomplices. Touching. He didn't want to be touched.

But they gently deflected his croaked objections. So he tightened his grip on that protective shield and endured. He could handle this. He could handle anything.

As long as he didn't let his mind go to... No, no. Not ready for that. Just concentrate on surviving the ministrations of the nurses without dissolving into panicked screaming.

He could do this.

Sam watched Daniel pick at his food, eating a few bits, but mostly just shoving it around on the platter.

"Daniel Jackson, you must eat. You will not recover your strength if you persist in this behavior."

Daniel's small, fond smile looked forced. "I don't have much appetite yet, Teal'c. But I'll get better." The words sounded like a vow, or a set of instructions.

"Teal'c, I never suspected you harbored this maternal streak," she teased. Teal'c's elevated eyebrow indicated his disdain.

"Concern for one's friends is not confined to mothers, Major Carter."

She smiled at him, accepting the justice of the rebuke.

And the uncomfortable silence again enclosed them. Sam's fingernails began to dig into the palms of her hands. All of their 'conversations' were like this. Daniel was still in a lot of pain, but he was gradually gaining strength. The bruising on his face and body had bloomed to dreadful, swollen black and purple blotches, but some of the disfigurement was beginning to develop into lighter, rainbow colors.

But somehow their old camaraderie stubbornly escaped them. Daniel was distant; hurting a lot, but refusing any real comfort from his friends. He flinched at any touch, then obviously stiffened his resolve to accept the intrusion, and breathed a tiny sigh of relief when the offending hand was removed.

And Daniel wasn't the entire problem. She was morbidly self-conscious around the injured man. She had trouble meeting his eyes for more than a few seconds at a time. Was sure that, under his surface indifference, he must be harboring a raging resentment. She was virtually unscathed, he was destroyed in her name. How could he not hate her?

She welcomed the interruption of a soft tapping on the infirmary doorframe.

"Sir!" She stood as General Hammond approached the bed.

"Relax, Major. How are you doing, Son?"

Sam smiled at the paternal tone. Stood back so Hammond could sit in her chair. Listened as he exchanged a few soft words with their archaeologist. And noted that, though perfectly polite, Daniel didn't give him any more than he'd been giving the rest of them.

Finally, the General reached forward and patted Daniel's shoulder, apparently not taking note of the stiffening of the archaeologist's body, then stood and turned to the Jaffa standing guard at the foot of the bed.

"Teal'c, I don't mean to upset you, but we've received a message from the Land of Light; they've asked us to send you. The message isn't very informative, but it has something to do with your son."

"Ry'ac? I will come at once!" He stepped toward the infirmary door, then stopped and turned back to Daniel.

"Daniel Jackson..."

"Go, Teal'c."

Blue eyes locked with deep brown, then Teal'c lowered his head, a somehow courtly expression of respect, turned and followed the General from the infirmary.

O'Neill closed his eyes, tilting his head back to savor the cool breeze off the lake. His body sprawled bonelessly in the battered deck chair.

He'd needed this. Needed to unplug his mind for a few days; desperately needed to let the frantic anguish diffuse and mellow.

But the time had come to face down the demons.

Sighing, he leaned his body forward, bracing elbows on thighs and allowing his head to hang. The task seemed hopelessly vast. Insurmountable.

How the hell had so much gone so wrong? And so quickly...

He hadn't managed to close his eyes without being besieged by the images-Daniel's anger and sorrow; his desperate confrontation with the native priests; Carter's wild, frantic struggle against the cords that bound her to that tree; Teal'c's Herculean battle against the ritual-doped worshipers. And that final, awful scene in the infirmary. Blood. Red blood and tears staining that pillow. His doing.

He felt the shivering start, deep inside. Ruthlessly, he squashed it down. It didn't help. He needed to think this through.

Think. Well, that was the problem, wasn't it? Thinking was something he didn't much like to do. He was a lot better at just letting instinct and conditioning carry him along. In general, a pretty good way to function as the leader of a combat team, as long as your conditioning was sound.

But when it came to relating to other people-especially other people whose instincts and conditioning were different from his-it was a real recipe for disaster. At least if the relationship was something that mattered. And this one mattered. A hell of a lot more than he'd been willing to let himself realize.

He took a deep breath and forced himself to consider that one encounter he'd shared with Daniel. That's when things had started to crumble.

He'd had his share of fun and games with other guys. All wrestling and competition; light hearted rough and tumble, with no underlying issues to make things difficult or cloud his thinking. Just fun, no sticky ties.

And he'd easily picked up on Daniel's interest. Those shy, almost furtive looks in the locker room and the shower, the way he'd taken to compulsively holding his towel over his groin-hiding evidence of his attraction, the apparently inexplicable blushes at unexpected moments.

And he'd have to be brain-dead not to see what Daniel had to offer. Beautiful face, incredible eyes and mouth, fine, well-proportioned body, endlessly intriguing mind. Oh, yes-the mind was a big part of the package, even for a man like Jack.

So he'd just let his body and instinct lead. Hadn't thought. Couldn't have, or he'd never have been so blind-sided by the fallout. Because he knew Daniel. Knew him as well as he knew himself. How could he ever have imagined that his serious, passionate archaeologist could be interested in shallow, meaningless sex?

Daniel Jackson just didn't do casual--not about anything. And certainly not when it came to personal relationships. He would never go to bed with anyone 'just for the fun of it.'

And O'Neill had waltzed in and treated him to a good old-fashioned roll in the hay.

And yet... and yet, it had been different from any such encounter he'd ever had in his life. He hadn't even realized it. Hadn't even noticed until later how unique it had been. Not just Daniel-Jack had been different. Softer, gentler. There'd been no rough play, not even in fun. They'd shared a tenderness that had never before been part of male-male sex for him. He hadn't even thought about it at the time-it was just the right way to treat Daniel.

Maybe... just maybe he wasn't 'doing casual' himself.

He played the evening over in his mind, highlighting the moments when he'd diverted Daniel's attempts to move the tenderness in uncomfortable directions. He'd felt a brush of panic each time he'd seen those blue eyes lock onto his own lips, felt that lush mouth reaching for his.

And he'd run like a scalded dog the moment Daniel had put voice to that dreadful four-letter word. Left the other man lying cold on the floor.

Now he understood the aftermath-Daniel turning him down, the escalating tension and anger between them.

Oh, God. Damn, damn, damn. So Daniel had been right.

"You know, I don't think this has anything to do with me being a man; it has everything to do with you being a man."

All along, he'd been right. Jack had subconsciously seen those tender expressions as impugning his manhood. And with his usual resistance to actually thinking things through, he'd just reacted-protected himself by lashing out at the author of his unwelcome self-revelation.

And that long-ingrained, irrational impulse had precipitated all of this. All of the anger and pain between them, and even the horrible events on 423-because if he hadn't still been punishing Daniel, he would have listened. And they would have been through that Gate before those fucking insane priests had pranced out and smashed Daniel into a million pieces.

Oh, God.

She'd tried to minimize the invasiveness--make the examination as quick and gentle as she could. But it was impossible to miss the increasing tension in Daniel's body. Or the tiny sounds of pain and distress.

When she finally refastened the belt, folded the hospital gown back over his quivering buttocks and tugged the sheet and blanket up to tuck around his shoulders, his muscles were tight and shaking.

She moved around the bed and crouched to bring her face level with his. His eyes were squeezed shut; his jaw clenched hard enough to put his teeth at risk.

"All finished, Daniel." She kept her voice gentle, but professional. "I'm sorry; I know how unpleasant this is. But you are improving. The inflammation is decreasing, and there's no sign of infection. You're healing nicely."

His eyelids fluttered, lashes spiked with dampness.

"One to ten, Daniel. How bad?"

He blinked a couple of times, his panting breathing gradually easing, then finally met her eyes for a fleeting moment.

"Maybe five. But it gets better after... after you finish."

"You want something to help?" He gave his head a quick shake, as she knew he would.

"Makes my brain fuzzy; I'm okay."

"All right, but don't you be foolish." She tucked the self-medication device into his hand. "You use that if you need to."

Smiling fondly down at him, she swept the curtains back. He glanced up at her, then back down at his pillowed hands.

"H... how long..." His teeth closed on his lower lip, and color flooded his cheeks. "I'm getting really tired of lying here staring at the wall. When can I sit?"

"Well... I suspect that you won't like it much when you try it. But we can start letting you roll onto your back for a while each day." Carefully, she brushed his hair back from his forehead, ignoring his flinch. "But you have to promise that you'll use some sense. Be honest with yourself-and with us-about when you've had enough. Pain is a message; if you refuse to pay attention, it will not make your recovery go any faster. So you promise you'll be honest about how much you're hurting?"

His quick nod coincided with the clatter of the infirmary door suffering the stress of Dair Heidepriem's passage. Janet glanced up at the small archaeologist, then turned back to her patient.

"I want you to hold off another day or so, okay? Now, let me get you rolled over on your other side, then you've got company."

She signaled to Clark, and they carefully helped him shift his body over. One final pat on his shoulder, and she stepped away, nodding toward Dr. Heidepriem.

"Hey, D.J." The rough voice was strangely cheering. "Brought some stuff you might be interested in seeing..."

Janet smiled as she softly shut her office door. Abrasive and irritating she might be, but Adair Heidepriem knew the secret to distracting a bored and depressed Daniel Jackson. They'd be fine for a bit.

He tried hard to be interested in the rubbings and photos Dair had brought. She'd even been thoughtful enough to bring a video camera that could sit on the bedside table where he could see it. And the artifacts in the images and tapes were beguilingly curious. Dr. Lim had been with SG-4 when they'd stumbled into what looked like a small treasure room, and Major Garreth had been very understanding, giving him as much time with the find as he could.

And for a while it worked. Her rapid-fire catalogue of observations and speculations really did catch his interest, driving the ever-present pain and sorrow into the background.

But nothing succeeded for long. The shadows always crept slowly back, folding around his consciousness. The unrelenting pain, flaring at every move, refused to let him forget. Her voice and the images gradually retreated behind that protective curtain he'd built.

But Dair was his only real anchor to normality. Sam was so anxious, so self-conscious with him. The time she spent at his bedside was uncomfortable and tense. Teal'c was gone-taking care of a runaway son. And Ja...

No, he couldn't go there. He was fighting hard enough to keep hold of himself, to fight the pain, the humiliation and horror that threatened to crush him. Those thoughts would destroy him.

As his body gradually began the long trip back from the edge, and he'd been able to cut back a bit on the medication that muddled his mind, he'd begun to think again about the anguish with which he'd been wrestling before his world collapsed.

He'd made a decision. Oh, God... was it only eight days ago? A lot had changed in the last week, but not that. In fact, he knew he couldn't stay. He had to leave.

Soon. Not today. Not even in a week. But soon.

Daniel was sleeping restlessly, mouth, brows and lashes twitching slightly. Probably dreaming.

Sam shuddered. He'd had some hellish nightmares. She'd been witness to a few of the awakenings. The combination of the terror and disorientation from the nightmares and the high level of pain he still suffered made for a few minutes of anguished confusion. She wouldn't take on those dreams for complete access to every technological device the Tollan had to offer.

Gently touching his sporadically quivering fingers, she headed for Janet's small office.

"Hey, Sam." Janet's smile took the edge off her own agitation. "What did Han'tac have to say?"

Sam lowered herself into a chair, then grasped her hands tightly in her lap. She stared down at them for a moment, then lifted her face to meet Janet's inquiring gaze.

"The Tok'ra... They've asked that I come through and help them out with some project; something Anise is up to." She allowed her dislike of the Tok'ra scientist to color her voice. "I wouldn't even consider it, except that my Dad is involved as well, and he's sent a particular request that I come."

Janet's brows arched. "And...?"

Sam wrapped her arms around her torso, and directed her gaze through the glass wall of the office toward the man in the bed. "Oh, God, Janet. How can I go? How can I leave him alone? I'm the only one..."

"Sam... Sam, I agree that it would be a bit rough on him. But he's not the only one suffering, here. And he's not really alone."

"How can anything I feel compare to what he's going through!"

"Different; not necessarily less."

Sam took a deep breath and held it briefly. Then, calmer, she looked back up at the doctor.

"Frankly, I couldn't care less about their blasted project, whatever it is. But I... the..."

"I understand. This is your chance to go somewhere, all alone, and work things out. And you need that, Sam. Don't deny yourself the chance to heal because of the responsibility you feel for Daniel."

Sam tightened her grip on her body, squeezing her eyes tightly shut.

"I just feel like... If I go, somehow I'm abandoning him. But every time I'm with him, I just feel this overwhelming guilt! I can't talk to him about it, can't look him in the eye for more than a few seconds! And he notices. It hurts him."

Janet crouched beside her and slipped a hand around her waist, pulling her tense body forward until Sam's head rested on Janet's shoulder.

"I'm so sorry, Sam. So sorry. Sorry all this happened; sorry it's hit you so hard. Mostly sorry that I don't seem to be able to help you."

Sam lifted her head, meeting Janet's warm brown eyes. Her own lips curved into a small, sad smile.

"You help, Janet. You help."

Janet's gaze slid away. She shrugged slightly, looking a bit guilty. "Seems that Dr. Heidepriem has done you more good than I have."

Sam laughed softly, and moved her arms away from her own torso to wrap them around Janet, hugging tightly.

"Jealousy, Janet?"

A bit of a laugh tickled her ear. "Pretty unprofessional of me, isn't it?"

Sam pulled away, then slid to the floor, pulling Janet with her.

"Janet, you are the best friend I have in the universe. And that's not just an exaggeration from someone like me." They shared a chuckle. "But... sometimes I need a bit of a rough hand, you know? You're too soft with me. You don't have it in you to challenge me when I'm hurting. And sometimes that's what I need."

"I can yell! I yell at some people all the time!"

Sam grinned at the offended tone. "Yes-but not at me, and especially not when you think I'm in pain. You're a nurturer, Janet. You heal, you don't batter." She winked. "And I'm afraid that sometimes I need to be battered a bit, or I start feeling sorry for myself. Dair batters with the best."

For a few moments, they sat grinning self-consciously at each other. Then Janet obviously pulled herself firmly back into her on-duty persona.

"Like to explain to me why we're sitting on the floor? Considering that this office has three perfectly functional chairs?"

"Not the faintest idea."

Laughing, they crawled to their feet, brushing themselves off and straightening their clothes.

"So, Sam. What's it to be?"

She looked one last time at her stricken team mate, then sighed.

"You're right. I need some time. I'll go."

"We'll take good care of him, Sam. Even without you, he's surrounded by friends. He'll be all right."

As the Gate burst into life, Sam sighed. The first time through. First time since...

Enough. Past was past; time to start putting things back together again.

Han'tac was a quiet presence at her side. As the event horizon stabilized, he led the way up the ramp. Obediently, she followed, firmly putting the memory of her determinedly cheerful parting from Daniel out of her mind. He'd be okay. He'd be fine. She'd be back; Teal'c would be back. And he had Janet, Dair and the rest of the SGC.

He'd be fine.

Before she stepped through, Sam turned and looked up at the control room. There was the General, looking somber and introspective. There was Janet, smiling gently. And, off to the side, there was Dair Heidepriem. Scowling fiercely, accusation in every silent line of her tough little body.

Damn.

The tap on his door was a welcome distraction; the damned paperwork was unrelenting.

"Come."

"You wanted to see me, Sir?"

"Have a seat, Dr. Fraiser." He fussed a bit with the pens and pencils on his desk as she settled herself into a chair.

"So, Doctor... How's our boy doing?"

She gazed down at her folded hands for a moment before lifting her eyes to meet his. "He's doing better. The injuries are beginning to heal; we've had no particular complications. I'm slightly concerned that his knees seem to be a bit slower to respond than expected, but it's early days yet. He's still in a lot of pain, but he seems to be managing it pretty well. Being Daniel, he resists taking the pain meds, but as long as he continues to improve, I'm not going to insist. He takes them when the pain gets bad enough."

"But?"

"I'm not as sanguine about his emotional state. He seems to be doing fairly well, but I always get the sense that he's not really... plugged in. I feel that he's distanced himself from all of us; he's walling himself in. The only one he seems to occasionally engage is Dr. Heidepriem, and that's only over their shared professional interests."

"You brought Dr. Sanders in; has he been seeing her?"

"Yes. But... Frankly, Sir, extremely intelligent people are difficult in therapy. And very intuitive extremely intelligent people are even worse. Of course, much of what goes on between them is confidential, but she's indicated she's feeling a bit of frustration. He figures out the purpose behind her questions and suggestions almost before she makes them. It's almost as if he's looking at the therapy sessions as a kind of... game, his manipulations versus hers. And I think he's winning."

"Perhaps, after all, Dr. MacKenzie...?"

"No. No, Sir. Even the suggestion disturbs him profoundly. Not only does he not trust Dr. MacKenzie, he actively dislikes him. Pretty understandable, I think. I still think having him continue to see Dr. Sanders is the best choice. Certainly a much better choice than Dr. MacKenzie. Give her a chance to get through to him."

He leaned back in his chair, crossing his hands over his belly. "Doctor, I'll be honest. I asked to see you because I wanted to know if Dr. Jackson is ready to be debriefed about the events on P2R 423. Is he well enough? And do you feel he'll be able to handle the stress of describing what happened to him? The reports filed by the other members of SG-1 were incomplete in some significant ways. Colonel O'Neill may have been a bit crude in his expression, but the truth is that there are aspects of that disaster that no one other than Dr. Jackson understood. I'd like to close that file, and I can't until I'm able to talk to him."

She bit her lower lip, frowning slightly. "He's still in quite a lot of pain. Unless you want to wait another week or so, you'll have to do your debriefing in the infirmary. And you'll have to watch him; he'll never give in and confess when he's had enough if he's in the middle of a meeting with you, Sir. In fact, would you object if I sat in on the debriefing? I'd really like to monitor his condition. And he's liable to react badly to recalling his experiences. I'd like to be there."

"I have no objections, Dr. Fraiser. In fact, I was going to ask you to do just that. I'll admit that I'm concerned about talking to him; he looks so... so damaged. I don't want to add to the burdens he's already fighting. And in the infirmary, under whatever conditions are most comfortable for him, will be just fine."

Her face relaxed in relief. "Thank you, Sir. He's usually at his most settled and alert in the later hours of the morning. How about 1000 hours tomorrow?"

Leaning forward, he gravely shook her hand. "Excellent, Dr. Fraiser. And I don't tell you this nearly often enough... I'm very glad I had the good sense to accept your transfer to this facility. You are an asset to the SGC. Nothing strains the compassion and professionalism of a medical staff worse than this kind of tragedy. Thank you for your excellent work."

The cool dampness of the bottle felt good against his forehead. Droplets of condensation tickled down the side of his nose, brushed the outside corner of his eye.

He clung to the tiny anchors to reality as he forced himself to consider those hours on 423.

Watching Daniel, so obviously happy with his beautiful building and its absorbing panels. Nursing his own anger and sense of being abused. Stubbornly fighting against the urge to drift over and make a start at mending the rift that was widening between them. He'd seen how sad Daniel had been at the separation.

He'd been irritated by the gentle, affectionate exchanges between Daniel and Carter. They were so... so comfortable together. He'd firmly refused to consider the possibility that his anger had been more than a little green around the edges. He should have been the one to share those cozy little chats; those confidences should have been his, not Carter's. Those smiles directed at him.

It had been the tail end of this fit of pique which had flung them all into disaster. Having internally reaffirmed the righteousness of his own damaged feelings, he'd been deliberately obstinate. Forced Daniel to take the time to make his case, and all the while, dreadful fate had been creeping up behind them.

He swallowed a chill mouthful of the beer, letting the memories of the consequences of his obduracy fill his mind.

The confrontation with the priests had completely set his teeth on edge. It was the worst kind of situation-he couldn't understand a word coming out of their mouths, and Daniel hadn't offered to enlighten him. Of course, the archaeologist had been a bit occupied at the time, but like a total jerk, O'Neill had insisted on prodding for information. He'd gotten it fast enough, without catching the meaning of a single syllable.

He'd been gripped by outrage when the bastards had started manhandling Carter, then pierced by a bolt of sheer terror when their attention had so obviously shifted to Daniel.

Those interminable hours tied to that tree formed the backdrop for every nightmare he suffered. Stretching from the surreal tunnel of their initial separation-Daniel, naked and desperately vulnerable, dragged toward that filthy altar, O'Neill and the others forced in the opposite direction, to the edge of the clearing. Like one of those stupid Chinese finger traps-connected through the tunnel, couldn't escape, no matter how hard you pulled. And the harder you pulled the tighter you were trapped.

O'Neill dropped his forehead onto the backs of his hands, beer bottle dangling from inattentive fingers. Shame swept over him, choking in its intensity. The reasoning part of his mind told him there had been no way through that tunnel other than surrendering one of the junior members of his team to the ecstatic frenzy of the mob. It was his personal burden that he couldn't help wishing they'd stuck with their first choice. He desperately wished it had been Sam, not Daniel.

He could rationalize that preference if he tried. She was the soldier; she was the one who'd been trained-as far as anyone could be-to deal with that kind of thing. And, frankly, she was a woman. And a vagina just was physically better designed to survive rough penetration than an anus was.

But he knew, reasonable as these justifications sounded, his reasons hadn't actually been nearly so objective. He would have raged and wept at Carter's violation, but his soul wouldn't have suffered this ripping destruction.

He'd lost his mind during those hours of restraint. He knew it; he'd lost all touch with sanity. Carter had yelled endlessly, in fury and anguish. He hadn't thought her capable of the level of frenzy with which she'd fought against her bonds. Her cries had blended into that horrifying roaring growing and growing in his mind's ear.

And the sounds from the clearing... As if the gut-tearing pain at being unable to do anything hadn't been enough, he'd been able to hear it all. The bizarre fusion of the revelers' almost drugged chants of joy and the cries Daniel finally could no longer restrain. He'd screamed; called desperately for help; called particularly for Jack, his voice increasingly hoarse, drowned in agony. And all the while, the ecstatic commotion of the celebrants. And the roaring, roaring, roaring in his head.

An incredible, overwhelming matrix of anguish.

And underlying the roiling confusion of helpless fury, an insidious flush, born of that thread of jealousy as he'd watched Sam and Daniel commune so happily together, married to the frustration of Daniel's refusal to give in to Jack's persuasions. Exploding into a slavering monster with the realization that Daniel had agreed to participate in the ritual; they'd asked, and he'd said yes.

No to Jack; yes to the insane lust of the priests. Jack loses to the lure of alien culture. Again.

He knew it was completely irrational; knew Daniel's acquiescence had owed nothing to archaeological zeal, even less to any faint desire to participate in the dissipated ritual. But the insane aren't expected to make sense. And by the time Teal'c had ripped himself free, Jack O'Neill had lost all connection he'd ever had to sanity.

For a brief, fiercely exhilarating time, he'd been able to vent the explosive corrosion of his rage on the hapless worshippers; had the satisfaction of personally destroying one of those filthy, fucking priests. But once they'd gone back through that gate, he'd been deprived of an outlet for the conflagration that still scorched his mind. There was no way to stuff the wild monster that had been Jack O'Neill back into the uniform; no chance of forcing him back into his officially circumscribed behavior.

His memories of those hours at the SGC were vague. A few moments burst out with agonizing clarity. Smashing a mug against the wall in his office, still gripped by the maelstrom of agony he'd carried home from 423; savaging a punching bag, the image of Daniel's face superimposed over the leather curve of the bag. And that scene in the infirmary.

He wished he could convince himself that it had felt like someone else had been operating his body. But there was no way he could avoid responsibility. His hands flinging that mug. His gloved fists smashing that phantom face. And his damned, out-of-control voice hissing those vile, flaying words.

The thud and splash of the bottle hitting the planks between his booted feet made no impression on the miasma of regret and pain that twisted around him.

Oh, Daniel. Blood and tears on the pillow. Jack's work.

And he hadn't even spared a thought for the anguish of the other damaged member of his team. Her frenzy during that interminable night had been shocking. Daniel had willingly given himself into their hands to save her from the fate he'd eventually suffered. And she'd known what he was doing. There was no way his gritty, courageous major would ever be able to accept that. She'd been wild with fury and sorrow. And guilt.

He remembered how she'd clutched that sorry backpack as they'd finally scraped the manure of the filthy planet from their boots. Daniel's legacy; the tapes he'd begged them to save.

And he'd never even really looked at her. Hadn't done a goddamned thing to help her.

Ignored her, and drove his own private little dagger into Daniel, right where it was bound to hurt him most.

Jack O'Neill. First class bastard.

Hammond took a deep breath before pushing through the infirmary door. This was not a task he was anticipating with pleasure.

Fraiser glanced up from her charts as he tapped on the glass. He moved into the office and dropped into one of the chairs facing her desk.

"Are we ready for this?"

She smiled ruefully. "I think as ready as is reasonable. He knows you're coming. I persuaded him to let me give him enough painkiller to make him relatively comfortable for a while. So... the sooner we get the debriefing underway, the more chance he'll make it all the way through." She stood. "Shall we?"

He was very aware of the anxious blue gaze that tracked every step he took. Dr. Jackson's face was serious and white, a bit pinched around the mouth.

"Good morning, Son." He pulled a chair close, then sat down, eyes level with Jackson's wary face. Dr. Fraiser slipped into a second chair on the other side of the bed.

"General."

"You know what we need to do, Dr. Jackson. There are some aspects of the mission to P2R 423 that I'm afraid the rest of your team couldn't really explain. I wish we didn't have to ask you to go back over experiences that were so stressful for you, but I'd like to close the book on this mission. So, do you think you're up to answering some questions?"

"Okay. I... I'd really like to get it over with."

"Very well. I'll try to make this as quick as possible. I'll be recording; is that acceptable?"

Dr. Jackson nodded solemnly. The fingers of his right hand dug into the pillow, creating deep depressions in the yielding fabric.

"All right... Colonel O'Neill and Major Carter gave me a pretty good account of the day's activities, and Dr. Heidepriem has reviewed your tapes and notes thoroughly. Your verbal and written notes give us a very complete idea of the nature of the inscriptions in the temple.

"However, once you encountered the native population, the other members of your team were only able to gather a partial understanding of events. So... can you tell me just what was discussed between you and the priest?"

"The p...priest..." The fingers tightened into the padding of the pillow. "He... Th...they were there for their harvest festival. Celebration of the cycle of fertility, year to year."

"Yes, Dr. Heidepriem described the festivals, based on the information in your tapes."

"Right." His gaze was fixed over the General's shoulder, eyes deliberately unfocused. "It was late afternoon-the sunset was amazing. Golden and orange. Everything was glowing-trees, temple, Stargate. Us."

He paused, took a deep breath.

"The Gate... is a big part of the symbology of their religious forms and concepts. We s...see that a lot.

"The p...priest, and the natives... they were obviously excited. It t...took me a while to really understand what he was saying." His explanation gradually picked up confidence and flow. "The language obviously shares roots with several modern Mesoamerican tongues here on Earth. I already knew that from the inscriptions. But I had to figure out the vagaries of pronunciation, the result of combining several root languages, and of thousands of years of evolution. Language evolves very rapidly..."

"Dr. Jackson," Hammond probed gently. "The priest?"

The rapid stream of information choked off instantly. Dr. Jackson took several deep breaths, then continued in an increasingly tense monotone.

"Th...they'd heard the 'Gate; knew someone had arrived. For them, the t...timing was prophetic. They have only one festival that in...involves s...sacrifice..." ...deep breath... "...and their s...sacred icon d...delivered right on schedule."

The knuckles of his clenched hand were white with tension. He paused to get his voice under better control.

"To them, it's an honor... to be the vessel by which the essence of life bypasses the...the harshness of winter, to nurture rebirth in spring. A glorious honor." His mouth twisted bitterly, his voice dropping to a whisper. "A glorious honor."

Hammond reached for the cup of water on the bedside table, offering the straw to the man in the bed.

"Dr. Jackson? Here... take a moment."

Jackson took a couple of sips of water, then pulled back and nodded. "S...sorry."

"No need to apologize; I hope you know how much I wish this weren't necessary."

Another nod.

"So...?"

"I'd been reading those panels all day; that festival was the last I studied. I... I translated it right about the same time Sam finished her tests. The autumn coloration, the weather, everything... it wasn't hard to figure out that we d...didn't want to meet the natives at just that p...point in time."

The pillow was again being punished. Jackson's breathing was quickening, developing a harsh edge.

"I t...tried t...to tell J... Colonel O'Neill. To explain, convince him that we n...needed to go home early. B...but he..."

"Are you telling me that Colonel O'Neill ignored your advice?"

Dr. Jackson's gaze was again fixed deliberately away from Hammond's.

"Sometimes I t... talk. A l...lot. I talk a lot. Jack gets kind of... of... imp...impatient." He was beginning to tremble a bit, voice shaking. "I... I... This time I r...r...really n...needed him... I needed him to listen!"

Gasping harshly, he turned his face down into the pillow, eyes squeezed shut, lip clamped between his teeth.

Fraiser leaned forward, concerned. "Daniel?"

Gradually the trembling eased, and his eyes slitted open. "Okay. I'm o...okay."

"Would you like to take a break, Son?"

He shook his head, shifting to resettle his shoulders and head. "No. No break. Please." Now he was meeting the General's eyes. "Please... I want to finish. Please don't make me do this again."

Unable to stand against that unhappy face, or the plaintive tone of that voice, Hammond acquiesced.

"Very well, but next time we won't ask, Dr. Jackson. The completeness of my files is certainly not worth a setback to your recovery."

Another deep breath. "Anyway, the p...priests-they thought... Like I said, the sunset was spectacular. And S...sam's hair-it... the sun lit it like a f...flame. Oh, God!" His face crumpled in anguish. "So beautiful... and awful! Th...they went to her like magnets. Sure she was the one sent for the festival."

His lashes were wet, but no tears fell. Once again, he fought to bring his voice under control.

"I... I still c...couldn't really make myself understood. I was fumbling-trying to argue-but I just didn't really have enough c...command of the words. I wanted to convince them to... that... that we hadn't been sent for th...them. But when he finally... The p...priest. When he listened, he f...figured that I... that I... that I wanted the honor f...for myself." Now he was shaking in earnest, eyes again clenched, tears now soaking into the pillow under his cheek. Whispered, "A glorious honor."

Alarmed, the General looked up at Fraiser, whose attention was on the monitors still attached to her patient.

"Daniel? I think this is enough, don't you? Let me give you something to calm you down, and we can finish this tomorrow, okay?"

"No." The muffled word emerged from the pillow's shelter.

"Dr. Jackson, I really don't want to..."

"Please!"

Reluctantly, Hammond nodded.

"Ummm... I... When the p...priest... I... I c... couldn't let them do that to Sam. I j...just couldn't! Sam... she... she's so fine, so strong and clean. I j... just couldn't let them do that to her!"

Hammond gently touched the tightly clenched fingers. This was intolerable. The young man's body was rocking slightly back and forth, his eyes squeezed shut.

"So you agreed." A deep well of sorrow opened in Hammond's heart. "All right, Son. You've had about enough of this. Is there anything else you need to tell me?"

Spiky lashes fluttered; damp blue eyes bored into his. The anguish in that gaze tore at his composure.

He tried. Twice, he opened his mouth, then closed it without saying anything. The shaking in his body increased, his eyes tightened shut again.

"I c...can't. I'm sorry. I j...just c...c...can't."

Fraiser rose to her feet and reached across her patient's body to grasp Hammond's forearm.

"General... I really think..."

"Yes. Yes, you're right. We really don't need to know any more than we already know. I'm sorry, Son. I'm so sorry."

Janet fussed with the monitors, tubes and wires, listening to General Hammond's heavy tread fading as he walked away from the infirmary. He'd been as shaken as she'd ever seen him.

She sank into the chair the General had occupied. Carefully, she reached over and stroked sweat-damp hair, waiting for Daniel to open his eyes and acknowledge her presence. Finally, his clenched hand relaxed, releasing the strangled pillow, and his eyes fluttered open. Oh, God. Such heartbreaking sorrow.

"Hey, Daniel." She spoke as gently as she could. "You want something to help you sleep?"

No response for a moment, then a tiny nod.

"Okay. Are you in pain? Do you need some pain medication?

No response.

"Daniel... Come on, Daniel. Talk to me. Tell me how you're feeling."

Eyes awash with tears connected with hers. His teeth tightened on an already bitten lower lip.

"Ruined," he whispered. "I feel ruined."

Then he closed his eyes and turned his head into the pillow.

What a total waste of time.

Sam Carter glared across the littered table at the woman whose serene, supercilious expression made her want to apply her fingernails in a decidedly non-scientific manner.

"Look, Anise, there is no damned way I can help you with this if you insist on playing hide-the-beanie with the information I need! I don't even know what this thing is supposed to do!"

"Major Carter, you are not..."

"Yeah, yeah. I know. I'm really not advanced enough. So why the hell did you want me here in the first place?"

An uncharacteristic flush of color swept over the other woman's coldly bland face. "I... The iboronizer wasn't... Well..."

Sam narrowed her eyes and braced her hands on the table, leaning aggressively toward the Tok'ra scientist.

"Oh, yeah. I get it. You can't figure out why it won't work, so you took a wild chance that one of the primitive, beastly Tau'ri would spark the brilliant innovative thought you were convinced was lurking just beyond your reach."

She felt her breath quickening; heard her voice rising. And she didn't give a damn.

"You know what, Annie? I don't think this piece of junk is going to work! I think it's just as useless as the other technological bits of trash you've foisted onto us! You know-the ones you couldn't or wouldn't test on the Tok'ra. The ones that have come so close to killing us... how many times is it?"

Anise's face tightened; she lifted her chin defiantly.

"Here's something else for you to process through that squamous brain of yours! You have pretty much single-handedly knocked the Tok'ra right off whatever elevated pedestal I might have built for them." A swell of exultation threatened to choke her. She'd wanted to scream at something for two weeks now. Anise was a perfect target. "Talk about feet of clay! Not only are you not nearly as bright as you think you are, you're also arrogant, petty, narrow minded, self-absorbed, cruel, and devious as hell!"

"Major Carter! This is most unseemly!"

"Unseemly! You want unseemly? The colonel told me about the sleazy little pass your alter ego made. Oh, nice! Then... then she told him that you-you've got designs on Daniel! Well, over the dead bodies of pretty much the entire SGC, you bitch! He's worth fifty of you! He's worth fifty of your whole species!"

She was gasping for breath, heart racing. Oh, God. She hadn't felt this good since...

Straightening, she stalked through the doorless archway, then paused to fling a final imprecation over her shoulder.

"Oh, one more thing. You have got to have pretty much the most putrid taste in clothing it's ever been my misery to encounter! Why the hell don't you get a mirror, Bubble Lips!"

"Well, the bruising is fading nicely, Dr. Jackson." Janet ran her hands carefully around the orbit of Daniel's right eye. "No signs of residual damage. You would tell me if you were having problems with your vision, wouldn't you." It wasn't a question.

The archaeologist shifted uncomfortably on the edge of the bed. His eyes flickered upward, meeting her gaze for a moment, then resumed the careful scrutiny of his own hands.

"No problems. I mean, other than the ones I've had since I was eleven. And the rest?"

"I think we're doing pretty well. The injuries on your back are healing well; you won't have much scarring. Are you uncomfortable sitting?" She knew he was, knew he'd been over-extending her permission to resume a somewhat normal routine.

The blue eyes continued their careful examination of his long fingers. "I'm fine."

"Are you? You promised me you'd go slowly. My spies tell me you've been spending an awful lot of hours at your desk."

His mouth twisted ruefully. "I... I've got a lot I need to get done."

"Hmmm. Well, I'll be keeping an eye on you. You won't rush this by overdoing!" She grinned at him. "Remember that I've got eyes everywhere." Accepting his jerky nod, she broached the subject she'd been avoiding. "You've been seeing Dr. Sanders, right?"

The full mouth tightened. "Yes." He didn't offer any elaboration.

"Do you think it's helping?"

He finally met her eyes in earnest. "What do you want me to say? That she's helping me 'deal' with all of this? Or the truth? That twice a week we spend a miserable, pointless hour fencing with each other-just as miserable for her as for me?"

"You have to give her a chance to help you, Daniel. Don't fence with her; don't treat her like the enemy. I know how..."

"You know? How could you know! How could she know? When was she... r... r... Dr. Fraiser, right now I don't think there's anyone on Earth who can help me with that part of this. I... I just have to w...work it out on my own!"

Damn. The ultimate unanswerable question.

"Just... just don't give up, Daniel. Don't give up. She's part of the machinery that can help you. But you have to be willing to give the therapy a chance."

He dropped his gaze back to his clenched hands. "Fine. Twice a week."

"Good. Now..." She sank down into the chair beside the bed. "Now, I've got a suggestion. You're moving around pretty well now. How about beginning a bit of very careful physical therapy?"

For the first time, she detected a flash of real interest in his face. She smiled up at him.

"Getting a bit bored, are we?"

He blushed, but returned her smile shyly.

"All right, Dr. Jackson, here's the deal. And I'll be calling Sgt. Streager to make certain that he understands the rules. You go very slowly, work very carefully. Your knees are still swollen, and don't think I didn't notice how carefully you were walking when you came in here today. I'm still a bit worried about them-especially the right one. They were pretty badly strained, and I really don't want to find you back in here because you've banged them up. So be careful-no twisting exercises. Careful, straightforward strengthening techniques. Got it?"

He nodded eagerly. "No twisting the knees. Got it. Can I go now?"

She smiled at his eagerness. He hadn't shown real interest in anything since he'd first opened his eyes all those days ago.

"All right. I'll call the sergeant."

He slid carefully off the bed. It didn't escape her notice that he shifted weight to his legs slowly and carefully. Definitely still hurting. Maybe this should wait a few days.

But she didn't have the heart to dampen this thread of enthusiasm. If a bit of gentle exercise helped his mood, it was worth it.

Smiling, she moved into her office and picked up the telephone. She definitely had to get to Sgt. Streager before her favorite archaeologist did.

Fraiser started at the tap on the frame of her office door. Glancing up, she smiled and stood to greet General Hammond.

"Sorry to interrupt you, Doctor."

She laughed. "Don't apologize, Sir. I'm just taking advantage of the peace and quiet to bring my paperwork up to date. I'm not used to this place being so unoccupied. A bit of distraction is very welcome."

He settled comfortably into the softer of her two visitors' chairs.

"It is a bit eerie, isn't it?"

"Well, with SG-1 grounded, I'm afraid my incoming business level has dropped fairly radically."

"Ah, yes. Actually, that's what I'm here to talk to you about. Now that Dr. Jackson is no longer in such a delicate position, I'd like to discuss the status of all four of them."

Settling back into her desk chair, she folded her hands on the paper-strewn desktop and raised her eyebrows at him. "Well, if you're thinking you're going to be sending them out in the field in the near future, I'm afraid I'm going to have to disappoint you. Not only is Dr. Jackson far from being back in top physical condition, but I'm also concerned about the emotional condition of all of them. Well, not so much Teal'c, though he was fairly upset over what happened on P2R 423. But I think Major Carter and Colonel O'Neill were seriously affected-much more seriously than is apparent. And Dr. Jackson is definitely not getting very far with coming to terms with all of this."

Hammond pursed his lips, frowning unhappily. "He seems to be doing much better."

"Yes, well, I'm pretty sure a lot of that is show-he's putting on a bold face. But I'm worried about him. I suppose I shouldn't confess this, but I've recruited several people to help me keep an eye on him since I let him out of here."

"A spy network, Doctor?" His lips twitched in amusement.

"Oh, yes. And they tell me that he spends hours in his office, with the door closed. He eats periodically, because he knows if he doesn't I'll grab him and put him right back in that bed. But he doesn't willingly talk to anyone except Adair Heidepriem. And she tells me that most of their conversation is business."

Hammond's brows lifted. "You recruited Dr. Heidepriem to spy on him?"

She treated him to a teasing little smile. "Don't tell me she's intimidated you, too, Sir!"

He wriggled slightly, embarrassed. "For such a tiny person, she's... formidable."

"She is, indeed. But she's very fond of Dr. Jackson, and just as worried about him as I am. So we've formed a kind of armed alliance. According to her, he's been putting his academic affairs in order. He's been entering thousands of pages into the SGC database, going through all of his files and finishing off projects he's been puttering away on for years. He's catalogued and discussed hundreds of artifacts with her, and he's gone over all of his mission logs, annotating and transcribing them. And he's been consigning dozens of boxes of documents and artifacts to the SGC storage facilities."

"Damn. I knew about some of that, of course, but... This sounds very much like he's planning..."

"To leave. And he's been giving his home the same treatment."

They exchanged a concerned look.

"I don't have to tell you, Dr. Fraiser, that the SGC just can't afford to lose that young man. Even if he never goes into the field again, his expertise and knowledge are among our most valuable resources."

"No, you don't, Sir. But... if he decides to go, there isn't much you can do about it."

His mouth tightened. "We'll see, Doctor. He may be a lot smarter than I am, but I'm a lot older and a lot sneakier. I do not intend to lose him."

Janet allowed herself a pleased, private smile. Looked like she had herself another recruit for Project Daniel.

"I've given him permission to begin some careful physical therapy. He seemed very happy about it; maybe it will be enough to keep him with us until he works through whatever it is he's not discussing with Dr. Sanders."

He nodded briskly. "Good, then... What about the others?"

Janet dropped her gaze back to her folded hands. "I've been pretty worried about Major Carter. She took all of this very badly, and she's been pretty consumed by guilt."

"Yes, I noticed. You approved of her helping the Tok'ra?"

She lifted her eyes to meet his. "Yes. Badly as she wanted to stay with Dr. Jackson, she desperately needed to get away-to reestablish a little personal balance. I hope I... I'm pretty sure that was the right choice."

He smiled at her. "Well, judging from the complaints I've been getting from the Tok'ra, she's doing something cathartic."

"Oh? Tell!"

"Apparently she's favored Anise with a few home truths."

Janet laughed aloud. "Oh, I do wish I could have been a fly on that wall! There are a few home truths I'd like to deliver to Anise myself."

"You're not alone, Doctor. A very annoying woman."

For a moment, he seemed to struggle with himself. Then he drew a deep breath and met her eyes, his own unusually somber.

"What about Colonel O'Neill?"

She grimaced. "I saw him only for a few minutes before he left. He seemed... badly stressed. Pretty much out of control."

"Yes. In retrospect, I think it might have been a mistake letting Colonel O'Neill leave the base."

Fraiser grimaced. "There was a very... nasty scene between the colonel and Dr. Jackson. I'm afraid I wasn't very professional in the way I treated Colonel O'Neill. We were all so fraught over Dr. Jackson's condition... Well, I should have seen. The colonel's behavior was very atypical."

"Yes, I saw that. Being in the same room with him was a bit like sitting next to an anti-personnel mine." He sighed and shook his head. "He's something of an irresistible force

"Where did he go?"

"He didn't say, but from what I know of him, I'd bet he went to cover somewhere wild and wooly. Probably that lake in Minnesota he loves so much. He hasn't been in touch since he left."

She leaned forward, meeting his eyes. "I think maybe we both messed up with him, Sir. Maybe it's time to..."

The rude clamor of the claxon cut her off.

"Dr. Fraiser to the gymnasium! Dr. Fraiser to the gymnasium!"

They exchanged an alarmed look. Neither of them had the slightest doubt.

Daniel.

When Fraiser ran into the gymnasium, she met a scene of bedlam.

"Stop that noise! And get back!"

Her authoritative tone brought an instant reduction in noise, and a parting of the swarm of bodies buzzing around the central event. Her heart sank at the sight revealed as the sweaty bodies moved back.

Daniel, flat on his back and writhing in pain, hands clamped on his right thigh. His face was chalk-white, clenched in agony, and tears streaked freely into his tousled hair. Sgt. Streager, horror eloquent in his face, was desperately trying to restrain the injured man's movement. His eyes met hers frantically.

"Oh, God, God, I swear... I didn't mean..."

Janet dropped to her knees beside the stricken man, making a quick preliminary assessment of the damage. Obviously the knee. Oh, damn, damn.

"Sgt. Streager, I thought I told you..."

"No!" Daniel's voice was high with stress. "No, n... not him! N... n... not his f... fault!"

"I just... He... When I..."

"My fault! M... me! Me!"

"All right, Daniel," she soothed. "We'll straighten all of this out later. I need you to calm down, okay? Look at me! Come on, look here!"

Terrified blue eyes finally focused on hers. He was beginning to shake violently, shock jerking at abused muscles.

"I need to check a few things, so stay with me, okay?"

She carried out her tasks as quickly and carefully as she could, letting Streager help her as she gently coaxed the events surrounding the injury out of him. One of the bystanding Marines provided a daunting knife that slit the leg of Daniel's sweat pants like butter.

Okay, bruising, but no breakage of the skin. Deformity below the knee. Looks like a high tib or fib fracture, possibly tib-fib dislocation.

"Sgt. Streager, can you tell me calmly and quietly just what happened?" She gently slipped the sock off Daniel's foot.

Streager drew a shaky breath. "He'd just come in... We hadn't started doing any work yet."

Color below the knee looks pretty good; ankle and foot warm. Arterial pulse points feel okay. Thank God; vascular damage could have been a lot worse.

"I j... just walked up behind him... wanted to get his attention so we could get started..."

"Daniel, I need you to tell me if you can feel this..."

Didn't like that much! Didn't realize Daniel used words like those!

"When I put my hand on his sh...shoulder, he... Well, he yelled. Like I'd hit him, but I never! I swear!"

"No, Sergeant; I can tell that. Daniel, pay attention for a moment!" He was hyperventilating. "Can you move your lower leg?"

No voluntary movement. Yep... looks a whole lot like a dislocation. You're headed for surgery, my young friend.

"J...Janet... Not Henry's fault!" His voice was high and jerky, forced through clenched teeth. "I t...twisted. I pulled away. My f...fault!"

"All right, Daniel," she soothed. "I understand." She heard the clatter of the gurney as it wobbled through the door, and got to her feet.

Looking around, she grabbed two sweaty, beefy Marines from the surrounding gawkers. "You two-carefully-carefully lift him onto the gurney. Do everything you can to avoid twisting or stretching that knee!"

Moving back to Daniel, she reached out to touch his clammy cheek. "Daniel, I think you've got a badly dislocated knee. I need X-rays to be sure. Then it's probably surgery to reduce the dislocation. You understand?"

Hazy. tear-flooded eyes met hers. After a moment, he nodded slightly.

"Okay, grit your teeth. These two gentlemen are going to lift you onto the gurney, and you are not going to enjoy the experience."

She moved aside, watching the two big men stoop to grasp the mat under Jackson's body. She winced at his cry as they lifted him. As the gurney rolled into the hall, she slipped her fingers into his blindly reaching hand.

Exhausted, Janet sank into her desk chair, resting her forehead on her hands, elbows braced against the desk. Just three minutes. Three minutes to gather the energy to get herself home. Her staff could monitor Dr. Jackson's recovery from the anaesthesia.

She was glad she didn't have to do many surgeries like this one. Fiddly, careful work... Not a particularly long procedure, but lots of opportunity to slip up and do additional damage.

She grimaced as the telephone's ring scraped nerves raw from hours of tense concentration.

"Fraiser."

"Doctor, I know you're tired, but I was hoping I could get a progress report before you headed for home."

She sighed tiredly. "The surgery went well. He'd dislocated the tibia and fibula at the knee. I don't think there was a lot of collateral damage; with good care and a bit of luck, he should eventually recover completely. But it's going to take a while."

"I'm not sure that's entirely good news. That young man doesn't do well in the 'luck' sweepstakes. How the hell did this happen?"

"An accident. From what I've pieced together, Sgt. Streager tapped him on the shoulder, and he had a bit of a flashback. He recoiled, pivoted around on his right foot, and Bob's-your-uncle. The sergeant is pretty upset, though Dr. Jackson was insistent that no one was at fault other than himself. I... I'm afraid some of the fault here is actually mine; it looks like the tendons and ligaments were in considerably worse shape than I realized. "

"Damn. But he's going to be all right?"

Another sigh. "Eventually. If everything goes well. He's going to be very uncomfortable, not to mention seriously hobbled, for quite a while. Hopefully he'll behave himself this time."

"Your lips to God's ears, Dr. Fraiser." She heard his own sigh. "Now you get yourself home and get some rest. Let your people mind the shop for a while. Take tomorrow... spend some time with that youngster. I don't want to see you back here for 36 hours."

She glanced toward the infirmary's recovery area, teeth worrying her bottom lip.

"Yes, Sir. I just..."

"No argument, Doctor. Get some rest. 36 hours."

"Yes, Sir. 36 hours."

"Janet?"

The shaky voice drew her attention away from her review of the monitors and dials.

"Well, hello there." Three days had allowed him to shake off the effects of the anaesthesia, though he was still sleeping a lot under the influence of pain medication. "Going to keep your eyes open for a while today?

"Try. Kind of hard." His tight mouth betrayed his discomfort.

"Mm hm. Not surprising. One to ten... how's the pain?"

He grimaced. "Déjà vu. About seven, I think."

"It's been long enough; want something to help with that?"

"N... not yet. Janet... I need to talk to General Hammond."

A shiver crept up her spine. She'd been expecting this. Strangling the urge to dissemble, she agreed.

"All right. I'll see if he's free to come visit you. Then you let me give you something for the pain, okay?"

"Not 'til after I t...talk to him. Makes me fuzzy."

Nodding, she slipped into her office and made the call.

"So this is it. You think he's ready to run?"

"I think he's been trying to find the right moment for this for quite a while. Have you been able to come up with something sneaky enough to head him off?"

"I think so. At least, to divert him. I'll be right there."

Five minutes later, Hammond greeted the injured man and lowered himself into a chair.

"How are you doing, Son?"

Jackson looked away, mouth twisting. "I... I guess I don't really know how to answer that, Sir."

"I understand. This is a pretty lousy thing to happen, just when you were starting to get back on your feet." He grimaced at the unintentional play on words.

Dr. Jackson broke the ensuing awkward silence. "General Hammond... I... I need t... I want... Damn!"

He bit his lips together, eyes squeezing closed as he groaned in frustration. "I d...don't know how... G...general, I need to resign. Need to leave!"

"Dr. Jackson, you're under a lot of stress, here. I doubt that you're in any condition to make such a big decision."

"Yes! Yes, I am. I m...mean. Sir, this isn't a s...sudden decision. I've been trying to tell you since before the... before P2R... since before."

"Dr. Fraiser says that, even with this most recent injury, you should make a full recovery. There's no reason for you to leave us, Dr. Jackson. Actually, even if you didn't make it back to field condition, I wouldn't want to let you go. You are immensely valuable to the SGC, Son, and I just don't want to lose you."

Jackson looked away for a moment. When he turned back and met the other man's eyes, Hammond was stunned by the desolation in those blue depths.

"Please..." His voice was low and shaky. "Please, I need to go. I c...can't stay any longer. I have to get away!"

"Son..."

"Please."

Hammond pursed his lips, weighing alternatives. Losses and gains; payoffs and tradeoffs. And he knew when he had no more options.

"Hmmm. All right, Son. How about a compromise?"

Surprise arched heavy brows. "C...compromise?"

"Compromise. Am I correct in assuming that it's this place you most want to escape?"

Color flooded Jackson's pallid cheeks; his gaze shifted away.

"Uh..."

"I thought so. As I said, I'm determined not to lose you altogether. So consider this. The combined armed services have recently established a top secret training facility in a small town in the Rocky Mountains, about two hours' drive from here."

Nothing. No spark of interest.

"The facility is being used to train personnel for some pretty specialized posts, including assignment to the SGC."

Ah, better.

"B...but what would they want with... well, with me?"

"Dr. Jackson, you know better than any of us how inadequate the typical military training regimen is for what we do here. Not to mention that the qualities needed to survive on an SG team are not always in line with typical military assessment of personnel."

Jackson's expressive face actually showed a touch of intrigue.

"But... How could I fit into a military training camp?"

"This academy isn't precisely a typical training facility. And to be honest, I'm not much interested in what the other services need. What I want is personnel fitted to our purposes. I've already been in contact with the administration of the academy. They've agreed that a bit of education in ancient history would fit into their curriculum."

"I... I could do that."

"Better than anyone on Earth, I imagine. That's not all, though. If you'd agree to this assignment, I'd hope that you'd keep your eyes open for good prospects for us. We lose too many new personnel because they turn out to be too narrow minded, too lacking in intellectual and emotional flexibility. Your insight could help us reduce that loss rate."

The sweep of hope over that anxious face was painful.

"I'll be honest with you, Dr. Jackson. One of the best aspects of this from my perspective is that, in order to teach at the Academy, you'd be required to maintain the clearance level you presently enjoy. Which means that, should you ever change your mind about us, you could easily rejoin the SGC."

Dr. Jackson caught his lip between his teeth, obviously wrestling with himself. Finally, he met Hammond's gaze.

"I... I think I'd like that. But I'm sorry, I d...don't think I'll be changing my mind. And..." His eyes shifted away again. "...you can't tell J... the others. They can't know where I've gone."

"But... Dr. Jackson, you know how concerned they'll be about you. And they'd be..."

"No! Promise me you won't tell them, or no deal!" His agitation was obvious.

Perplexed, Hammond stared at the other man for a long moment, then nodded. "If that's the way you want it, then I agree."

Jackson nodded silently, still staring at the wall.

"Now, Dr. Fraiser says you're not getting away from her for a while yet. As soon as she clears you for travel, we'll get you relocated. And we'll take care of any medical and home care requirements."

Another nod.

Shaking his head sadly, Hammond reached forward and gently gripped the other man's shoulder.

"I can't tell you how sorry I am things worked out like this, Son. Can't tell you. Now, let me get the Doctor."

He'd actually caught a fish. Something of a miracle, considering the amount of attention he'd given to the pole. He'd almost lost it along with the fish when the stupid thing had grabbed the hook and taken off across the lake. He'd ended up landing the fish while standing up to his waist in the lake, fishing hat merrily floating off into the distance, water running down his face from his drenched hair.

Then he'd turned around and let it go. Could have been having grilled fish for dinner instead of canned tuna sandwiches. But there had been something symbolic about that Danielish act-letting the doomed wriggle off to freedom.

It had taken a solid month of agonizing, but he'd finally begun to get himself sorted out. He'd spent more hours just thinking these last weeks than he'd probably spent in the last ten years. But it had been worth it.

He knew he'd behaved unbelievably badly. And he knew why. Now, he just had to figure out how to mend the damage he'd done.

Chewing on a bland mouthful of bread, tuna and mayonnaise, he nursed his most important personal revelation. He was in love.

He loved Daniel Jackson with a thoroughness that astounded his relatively conventional soul. He understood every minute of that wonderful/dreadful evening they'd spent together. Knew why Daniel had yielded so readily, and why Jack himself had behaved with such uncharacteristic tenderness. And why he'd run scared at the end.

All so bitterly unfair, particularly for Daniel. All he'd wanted was to be allowed to love Jack. And lo, all it turned out Jack really wanted was to love him back.

And it had been his failure to recognize that change in perspective that had catalyzed this whole goddamned mess. That, and his dogged resistance to putting any work into thinking about what he was feeling.

They'd wanted the same thing after all-but O'Neill's refusal to think about why he wanted to be with Daniel had doomed them. Nearly doomed them, he fervently hoped.

So. Having had his great revelation, what was he doing sitting on his butt, lazing around in the wilderness of Minnesota? Time to face up to the consequences of his detour into insanity.

Time to come to terms with Daniel. Time to begin trying to put things right.

The farewells were agonizing. Every gentle handshake, every pitying look, every awkward hug was horrible. The emotional anguish joined with the gnawing ache in his knee, creating a multidimensional haze of pain he'd surely never be able to escape.

'Please, please. I need to get away from here.'

Finally, he escaped from the building, chair pushed through the final interior checkpoint by General Hammond himself. They'd left behind all but the doctor and Adair. The requisitioned staff car was waiting, airman driver holding the door open, ready for its passenger.

As they paused beside the car, Adair squatted down next to the chair, work-roughened hand on his cheek. He was vaguely surprised to see tears in the corners of her muddy brown eyes.

"DJ, are you sure you have to do this? You and me-we're a great team. We could have years of fun with the stuff these yoyos bring back through that Gate. You'll be wasted as a teacher; bored to suicide in a week."

He managed a sad little smile, looking fondly into her weathered face. "I c... can't stay, Dair. I just can't. This place..."

"Yeah, I guess I really do understand. But you're still going to go tweety with nothing to do but grade bad papers written by half-witted military jerks."

He tried to match her mood. "Maybe they won't be so half-witted when I'm finished with them."

With a twisting grin, she leaned forward and kissed his cheek.

"Find yourself, Daniel. Don't just give up, OK?"

He dropped his gaze to his lap. "I'll try."

Fraiser now. She brushed her hand gently over his hair, then placed the bag of medications in his lap.

"You see the Academy doctor right away, okay? I've arranged for the home nursing care you're going to need until you can get on your feet; you behave yourself. And remember-you promised to continue seeing a therapist."

Keeping his eyes lowered, he nodded. "I promise."

"Use those pain killers when you need them. And eat-not to mention sleep."

He recognized that the brisk instructions were camouflage. There were tears in her eyes as well. He looked up at her, finding another smile.

"Yes, Mom."

With a broken little laugh, she leaned forward and hugged him tightly for a moment. Then she leaned back and stroked his hair again, and stood, stepping away to give the General and the airman space to carefully maneuver Daniel's casted leg into the back seat of the car. They positioned him sideways, with the leg elevated on the seat, using the pillows they'd brought to support the leg in its awkward position. The folded chair went into the trunk.

And then it was time. Finally, he could escape. Just one final farewell. The General leaned against the opposite door, looking at him through the opened window.

"We're going to miss you, Son. This facility will be a darker place without you. Not to mention more quiet." He smiled sadly. "I want you to understand that, if you ever decide that you want to come back, in any capacity, I'll be delighted to welcome you. You'll always have a place at the SGC."

Daniel could hardly speak. He choked, "Th... thank you, Sir. I... I've been happy here."

"Godspeed, Son." And he was gone.

The driver started the car, closing the tinted windows to allow the air conditioning to function. As the vehicle passed through the outer checkpoint, and began to wind down the mountain road, Daniel leaned back in the darkness of the back seat and finally allowed himself to think about the faces that hadn't been there. The people he'd thought of as family for most of the four years they'd been together. Sam... intellectual soul mate, sister. Something he'd never thought he'd have. Teal'c... spiritual guide, protector, good, good friend. And Jack. Oh, Jack.

And if a tear tracked down his cheek, silent in the dark... Well, there was no one there to see it.

Epilogue

The night was exquisite. The billions of stars of the Milky Way swept overhead like a path to the heavens.

Jack O'Neill noticed none of it. Sitting on the floor of his rooftop observatory, he stared blindly into the night sky, beer bottle dangling from inattentive fingers.

How had this happened? How had he let this happen?

He'd returned two days early from his leave-couldn't let it go any longer-to find that he was much, much too late. Daniel was gone. Left the SGC, no forwarding address.

At least, no forwarding address that anyone was willing to give to Colonel Jack 'Shithead' O'Neill.

Screams. Screams and Jack's own name, cried in desperate need. And shouting, chanting, obsessed fanatics reveling in the destruction of something fine and precious.

Bits and pieces of overheard conversation-abruptly choked off as soon as his own presence was noted-told him that Daniel had suffered some additional injury while his team was gone. But no one was ready to explain to him what had happened.

"Jack!" His name shouted at the height of ecstasy. A beautiful, eager body arching under his. A burst of joy in his own heart.

Fraiser was giving him the refrigerator treatment. He didn't know if she'd ever discovered just what he'd said to Daniel during that awful, desperately regretted little scene in the infirmary, but she certainly knew the damage he'd done. The terrible damage he'd done.

"...had fun ...hidden depths ... few marines ... whore ... whore … whore." And that little sound of such incredible pain. Tears and blood soaking into the pillow under his beautiful, bruised face.

Sam was walking around like a zombie, eaten up by guilt that didn't belong to her. Teal'c would probably never let himself off the hook. All wrong. Only one person carried this fault. Only one.

Warm, enervated glow of happiness; beautiful body stretched out beside him. A drowsy, tousled head resting on his chest, tucked perfectly under his chin.

Ruined. He'd ruined everything. Killed the gentle soul the universe had entrusted to him. Again.

He leaned back against the railing, staring bleakly up into a sky he didn't see.

And if a tear tracked down his cheek, silent in the dark... Well, there was no one there to see it.

FINIS

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Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Stargate (II) Productions, Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. These stories are for entertainment purposes only and no money exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author. These stories may not be posted elsewhere without the consent of the author. Copyright on images remains with the above named rightsholders.
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