Part One

Slash:  Jack and Daniel involved in a loving and committed relationship, which usually involves sex.
Rating: NC-17.
Category: First Time.  Angst.  Drama.  Hurt/Comfort.  Action/Adventure.
Season/Spoilers: Season 5 No Spoilers.
Synopsis: Desperate events evoke desperate emotions.
Warnings: Violence.  Extremely Intense emotional situation.
Length:  250  Kb  Originally completed and posted to the net 01 Jul 01

Notes:  Once again, thanks to Biblio for holding my hand through this thing.  And for helpig me to see what needed to be done to make it  (hopefully) come out right.  Oh, and I take NO responsibility for Jack's inspired extemporization on the subject of cuppage.  I just added Daniel's reaction.  The rest is all Biblio's fault.


Oh my God, I don't think we're going to make it this time.

I flinch back from the searing beam of light shearing past the side of my face.  It slams into the wall I've been crouching against and I barely manage to throw myself clear of the lethal shower of razor sharp stone fragments  erupting from the impact.  Jack doesn't look at me, doesn't even stop firing as he quickly reaches forward, grabs a fistful of my jacket and hauls me back against what's left of the wall we both managed to fling ourselves behind before all hell literally broke loose.

Sam's P-90 is angrily chattering from behind the tattered remnants of a badly crumbling building on the other side of the wide avenue to the gate.  Teal'c's staff weapon whooshes and the side of the truncated tower housing the energy weapon pinning us down and methodically decimating our cover with surgical, inexorable precision explodes, raining down huge chunks of rock on the knot of slowly shuffling soldiers far beneath.  Jack's jaw tightens momentarily at the sight and he briefly ceases firing, fumbling for a fresh magazine after discarding the spent one.  With a small shudder he pushes the horror away, slams in the magazine and squeezes off another burst of rapid fire as yet another wave of staring, uniformed human automatons comes surging toward us.  They move slowly and deliberately, firing their hand-held versions of the tower energy weapon at us, their eyes blank and staring, soulless pits in their young, expressionless faces. They march uncaringly forward, their movements so precise and co-ordinated they seem to have but one driving imperative between them as they step over the mangled, unmoving carpet of the corpses already littering the avenue and stride heedless, straight into our fire. They don't even blink as the bullets tear into them and they topple soundlessly upon all the bodies of their fallen fellows.

My God, they're children.  Somehow they've been changed into these mindless killing machines, but they look like children.  I haven't seen one blank face that looks any older than thirteen.  Maybe it's on purpose, their appearance is a deliberate psychological ploy devised by the architect of this abomination to gain a sick, tactical advantage; a cold calculation anyone encountering these 'mini-soldiers' would balk at the idea of shooting children. If that was the case, it's a damned effective tactic. When we did first see them, for an instant - we - we couldn't.  Couldn't bring ourselves to defend ourselves. Reticence which could have been fatal.  If our instincts for survival hadn't been so highly honed after four years together out here...  But we got past it - fast.  We had no choice. We opened fire.  God, what a choice! Even if it seems only the bodies are present and there is no independent mind residing in the 'machines', still, every time one of them falls...

Don't think about what they look like, they're not real, not really alive - can't be.... they're not crying, screaming, not struggling to get up - just walking, falling, dying without a sound.  Not so much as a whimper.  Real children cry... they only LOOK like children but they're not, we're not killing children.

I can't see Jack's eyes, but I don't need to. I know this has to be killing him - to have to be killing them.  It doesn't matter we don't have any choice.  It's them or us.  What we're having to do to defend ourselves - it's utterly horrifying.  We've got no choice.  They won't stop firing at us, they won't listen and they won't - they won't stop coming. No matter how many we kill, they just keep coming, and we have to keep on killing them.  Children.  We're slaughtering children.

We can't stay here much longer.  If that energy weapon in the tower keeps on whittling away the bits and pieces of the walls we're all trying to cover behind with such ruthless and alarmingly rapid efficiency we'll soon all be completely exposed and vulnerable.  Very, very soon. Easy pickings for the big gun.  Even if we somehow manage to avoid getting taken out by the aerial defences the relentless ground troops are just going to keep on coming until we run out of ammunition and then they will kill us.

We don't know why.  There was no indication of any danger when the MALP surveyed the area.  We had no idea the tower was a weapons platform defending the gate, or that there were transportation platforms all around it capable of delivering what seems to be an endless supply of zombie defenders.  We'd barely arrived here, had just started to walk toward the tower when suddenly the energy weapon on high started to fire at us and the first wave of troops 'appeared' and damned if they weren't all trying to kill us too.

It's only been minutes since we all dove for cover, barely in the nick of time, and already we've levelled dozens.  They keep on coming and they're going to completely overrun us soon if we don't get the hell out of here now.  That is if we don't run out of chunks of rock to cower behind and get vaporized by the laser fire first.

The DHD is several hundred yards behind us.  So far none of the blasts from the tower have gone anywhere near it so it could be beyond the range of the gun, but we don't know that for sure.  Not that knowing the range of the weapon is going to be much help.  What it can target and blast to pieces from here to the DHD is more the immediate issue, as in 'getting from point A to point B without getting pointillized'.

Someone has to make the trip from where we all are to where the DHD is.  By running down that nice, wide, completely exposed avenue, every inch of which is still well within frying range of the tower.  And they have to run the gauntlet and arrive at the DHD able to dial home and send the GDO code so all of us can haul ass.  There is zero margin for error here.  If that 'someone' doesn't make it, it's probably going to mean no one else will be making it home either.  The way the walls are being sliced away and we're expending our ammo holding the troops at bay there won't be time for another attempt.

I know darned well who that someone has to be.  Not only am I the fastest runner, but tactically I'm the least useful of all of us for defending our positions and providing cover for the others.  A 9-mm pistol versus two P-90s and a staff weapon?  No contest there.  It has to be me.  I know it, and Jack knows I know it.

The tower is all I have to worry about.  The advancing wave of automatons has been steadily firing as relentlessly as they've been moving forward, but we do know the range of their weapons. Firing from the point where Jack and Sam are managing to hold then back, their shots are striking just short of our current position.  Which means if we can hold that line just a little longer, as soon as I'm up and out of here the little guns won't be able to touch me.

That privilege will be solely reserved for the big one.  Peachy.

It's time to go.  Jack grabs a grenade, signals to Teal'c to concentrate his fire on the tower while he directs Sam to focus on the ground force shuffling inexorably toward us.  He's going to try and take out the transport platforms.  They've just delivered another batch of uniformed, dead-eyed children who start moving and firing as soon as they wink into existence. No mind, no will, no finesse.  Just literal walking cannon fodder.  They'll keep coming and dying, with more to replace them until we've got nothing left to kill them with, eventually overwhelming us through sheer, inevitable, cold-blooded logistics.

"Scoot as soon as it goes off," Jack grunts urgently at me as he pulls the pin and surges up to hurl the grenade.  He throws himself back down behind what's left of our wall, barely avoiding the blast from the tower almost taking his head off.   The first grenade hasn't even landed yet and he's already groping in his vest for another one.  Our eyes follow the small, arcing explosive, tracking, waiting for it to fall, for it to....

"GO!"  he hollers as the ground rocks beneath us with the force of the blast.  My heart is pounding, terror galvanizing my limbs as the adrenaline rush fires me out from behind the wall for the most desperate race I've ever had to run.  The roar of my teammate's covering fire rends the air behind me as I start to sprint madly for the DHD; a ground-heaving explosion behind me almost drops me in my tracks.  Jack's thrown another grenade, taken out the second platform. Two down, a lot more to go.

I don't dare look back, I just try to keep my head low and still attached to my shoulders while I run as if my life depended on it.  God, that's funny, Jackson. I'm doing my best imitation of the Flash, trying to cover what seems like miles between me and the DHD in the shortest time possible.  It's only a couple of hundred yards, but try running it with a bulls-eye painted on your back and your heart about to leap out of your throat waiting for the bolt from the blue that'll fry you on the spot.  My lungs are bursting, my legs aching with the speed I'm forcing out of them.  Stark, raving terror is a good motivator, I'm discovering.  There isn't an Olympic sprinter could touch my dust at the moment. I'm making tracks.  I've also become the main target of the big gun which means I'd better start ducking, dodging and weaving - like - like NOW!  Missed me!  Ooops, fake to the right, SHIT! I think that one parted my hair it was so close.  Hard left, go, go, GO!  Woah, good recovery time, wish it would give ME some!

The way that gun is popping off at me now it can't be bothering with the rest of the team.  I'd be a little happier for them but can't really spare the - busy, really busy right now!  Ass hanging out to dry here - moving it so I don't lose it.

I've done so much dodging I'm making myself seasick but somehow I'm managing to stay just one step ahead of the searing bolts impacting all around me.  Some of them have been so close I can feel the heat of them scoring across my skin as they knife through the air all around me.  Close.  Way too close.   If just one hits me I'm dead.  I wonder if I'll feel it, if I'll know when it gets me, if it'll hurt...for just that split second when it hits, before I...

There's the DHD, just a few more feet in front of me. Almost there! I don't know why, but all of a sudden I feel like I have to - DIVE!  I push off, launch myself into air, hurling my body at the DHD.  The bolt strikes the ground I was occupying a split second later. The concussion wave from the blast gives me some unexpected momentum and I smash into the ground beside the DHD a little more emphatically than I intended, sliding a fair piece across the flagstones.  Wow! There goes most of the skin from my left side.  NOT going to be pretty.  Smarts!  But not as much as it would have if that bolt had gotten me.  That - that would have really hurt!

Head is swimming, wind knocked out of me, side is screaming, get over it, get moving, get up, not out of the woods yet. I roll over, desperately gasping, frantically scrambling to my hands and knees, trying to crawl behind the DHD before the gun fires again. I try to suck some air into my bruised and battered chest as I draw myself up into a tight ball behind the base, frankly cowering behind its meagre protection. It's all I've got.  The DHD is completely exposed, out in the open.  There's nowhere else to hide, but it doesn't matter now.  I'm here.  I made it. Even better, all of me made it.  I'm gonna need a change of underwear, but I'm all in once piece. More or less. Hot damn.  I just need a second to catch my breath to stop - to stop shaking.  I can hear the big gun is still firing at me, but the sounds of its explosive strikes are all behind me.  None of the bolts seem to be reaching as far as the DHD. Hopefully that means I'm out of range, and they aren't just waiting for me to pop my head up so they can catch the one that got away and cook me in the middle of dialling.

I sneak a quick peek around the pedestal to visually confirm what my ears are telling me.  The energy bolts are futilely strafing the path in a precise line across the avenue three feet away from the DHD.  So near and yet so far.  It looks like they can't reach any further.  I guess whoever designed the defences didn't want to take the chance they'd damage the device they were trying to protect.  Lucky for us.  I hope.  God, I hope so.

Every instinct for self-preservation in my body is screaming at me not to move, to just stay huddled in this little ball behind the DHD, but I can't.  Have to, have to make myself get up.  I've got a job to do.  I made it.  I've got to open the gate.  The sound of gunfire and the answering whine of the energy weapons batters into my awareness, cutting through the numbness, bringing me back to the urgent need to MOVE.  Get up, do it.  Do it NOW.

My hand is slamming down on the centre crystal.  I'm hunched over the DHD and I have no idea how I got here. I have no memory of getting up, of dialling.  As the gate boils into life behind me I have to look down at the chevrons I've hit to verify I've actually dialled the correct address.  Wow.  I have.  I slump back down behind the DHD, fingers fumbling with my GDO.  Send the code, send the code.  Send the right one.  Oh God, don't screw this up.

Got it, sent it.  We can go home now.

"Jack!"  I yell at him.  His head whips around at the sound of my voice.  He sees the gate, sees I'm clear.  Sees the way home like a beacon of hope blazing for all of us.  His eyes are a terrible mixture of relief and anguish.  I shift my gaze away from him and gape back down the avenue I've just hotfooted it along.  It's a mess.  The flagstones are pitted and scarred with gaping impact craters and chunks of shattered stone are strewn all over the place.  When I see the actual number of pot shots that tower took at me I can't believe I'm still alive.  Talk about beating the odds.  But what all those misses have done to the avenue -  God, just look at it - you could drop Texas into the crater over there!  All those holes and heaps of erupted stone have turned the approach into an obstacle course.  I had a nice flat surface to negotiate, with room for manoeuvre -  how are the others supposed to move fast enough - over THIS?  This - isn't good.  This isn't good at all.

I look down a little further, trying to find out how the rest of my team is doing, and what I see makes me sick all over again. It's - it's absolute carnage.  The avenue between the platforms and the point where Jack, Sam and Teal'c are barely repelling the advance is knee deep with bloodied, unmoving bodies and they're still - they're still coming.  Jack has managed to destroy several of the platforms but not all of them.  And that fucking tower has taken a beating from Teal'c's staff weapon but the energy bolts are still spitting out of it with an unrelenting vengeance.  I don't know what the damned gun is made of, but whatever it is, we haven't managed to put a dent in it.

The infant army is proving to be not quite as invulnerable, however.  Which is the only reason why any of us are still alive.

So many bodies.  Oh God, so many of them.  And they're still coming.

"GO!"  Jack howls at me as he gestures across to Sam to make a run for the gate.  I'm in the clear.  I can go.  All I have to do is just get up and run.  Throw myself through the gate to safety.  I've done my part.  Jack's told me to go.

But - I can't.  I can't leave them.  They still all have to run that gauntlet.  It's not like I can help them while they do it.  There's nothing I can do to keep them safe.  I might as well throw my pistol at the troops for all the good it would do at this range, never mind the gun in the tower.  I should do what Jack told me.  Get my ass through the gate.  Then I'd be one less person for him to worry about.  But I can't - I can't just leave them.  They might need me yet, there might be SOMETHING I can still do to help.

"Daniel!    Get the hell out of here!  NOW!" Jack shrieks at me again.

No.  Sorry, Jack, I'm not leaving you behind. You can chew me out later, and I'm sure you will, but I'm staying.

Sam starts her run. Teal'c is doing his best to draw the fire from the tower and Jack's salvos continue to rip into the shuffling mass on the ground.  Probably exactly the same way they tried to cover me.  She's moving the same  way I did - side to side, not a straight line. Trying to confuse whatever targeting mechanism the weapon is using to get a bead on her.  While also trying to avoid falling into the holes and tripping over obstacles I didn't have to contend with. Slow, too slow, she's too fucking SLOW! The condition of the avenue is slowing her down.  SHIT!  Oh God, she's not as fast as I am to START with, she's not changing direction quickly enough, she can't move as freely, it's tracking her, the shots are coming closer, coming too close.

"SAM!  Move, move, MOVE!" I scream.  "SAM!"

Not going to make it she's not going to make it.  I'm on my feet, tearing toward her, waving my arms, I have to do something - anything - ME!  Look at me!  Another target here!  Not her!  Shoot at me! You missed me before - here's your chance to get me now!

Teal'c is desperately blasting away at the tower while Jack ceases firing at the ground force long enough to lob another grenade straight into the gaping hole in the side where the bolts are coming from. They're hitting it with everything they've got in a desperate attempt to take out the gun before.... A staff weapon blast and the exploding grenade chew through the stubborn structure almost at the same time but not soon enough. The gun fires again, the resulting flash is so close it almost blinds me when it hits. Sam makes a horrible grunting sound as the bolt slams into her back and flings her to the ground.  She thuds sickeningly into the hard stones right at my feet and doesn't move as I throw myself down beside her, grab her limp body and roll her roughly aside before the next bolt rips into her again.  The explosion throws both of us several feet back and showers us with stinging shards of rock.  I feel one slice across my cheek and my left shoulder is going to be a little shredded - hey it'll match my side, then - but I ignore it and throw myself on top of her managing to shield her from most of the shrapnel.  I actually welcome the pain, it distracts me from the sickening smell of seared flesh filling my mind with terror.

I have to get up, start running again. Somehow the gun is still firing, but Jack and Teal'c's last attack must have damaged it. Finally!  It seems to be taking longer between blasts and they're not as controlled. It's still firing, but the shots are erratic and they've lost some of their 'oomph'.  Geez, I think we finally caught a break, here.  Whatever, quit lying around here slacking off, Daniel, get up, get up, never mind anything else, team mate down, we're still exposed, in danger, out in the open. Get up, move, keep moving, don't stop. Get Sam to safety.  Have to keep her safe.  Have to get her home.  No one else here, only me. Have to do this. She's counting on me.

I scoop her into my arms and stagger to my feet. I know I should probably put her across my shoulders - she'd be easier to carry, I could move faster, but laying across my back she'd be vulnerable, more exposed to fire than me - a target.  I can't let her take another hit. Maybe keeping my body between her and the incoming fire will slow me down, but better it should hit me than her. That way I'll be able to protect her, even if I'm dead I'll be a shield until Jack or Teal'c...  An energy bolt whines past my arm so close it scorches my sleeve and sends me reeling off to the side.  I stumble drunkenly for several steps, almost dropping Sam and crashing to my knees before I get my balance again and resume running.  I have to get us past the DHD.  We'll be safe, then.

Okay, this running stuff, not so easy this time.  Not simply because of the extra weight I'm carrying.  Sprinting  across the lunar surface would be easier. I'm dodging and bounding and weaving and praying, thanking whoever's listening the gun's not as good as it used to be but trying to make myself go just a little bit faster all the same.  Oh, and to not fall down. My legs feel like lead, the muscles are screaming as I force them to serve me yet again.  Sam's head is banging limply against my chest.  I try not to look at her face, it's scaring me, it's so slack and pale, streaked with dirt and an alarming ribbon of red.  Blood. Hers or mine.  I don't know.  No time to check.  Can't stop.

My arms are trembling, lungs shrieking, my legs feel like rubber, my breath is harsh and rasping in my chest.  Which feels like it's about to explode.  I can barely breathe, I'm not quite sure how I'm managing to make my legs work, the gate is looming in front of me, wavering and flickering enticingly before my dancing vision.

What the hell is this?  I must have been in such a hurry to get to Sam before I just - got over it to get to her, but now I've got what looks like the Grand Canyon of a trench three feet in front of the DHD to hurdle.  Must have been dug by that last salvo that couldn't reach me. Super.  My body will hate me in the morning for what I'm about to force it to do, but I'm going to have to jump over this.  Somehow.

Hold on Sam, I'll try not to fall in.

Oh God, that hurt.  That really hurt.  Bad landing. Left knee.  Ow.  Felt something pop.  I'll worry about it later.  Have to keep moving.

Past the DHD.  Made it.  We made it.  I can - I can slow down a little.  Not stop.  I won't stop.  Keep moving.

I stumble forward, my knees almost on the point of buckling beneath me.  No.  Not yet. Can't fall down yet.  I still have to bring Sam through.  Help.  She needs help.  We're almost there.

I can't help it.  I have to look back.  Jack has stopped shooting, for just an instant.  Watching us, making sure we make it to the gate okay.  I can't see his face very well from here, but I know he's coming next, he'll be right behind us.  I know he will. Both him and Teal'c.  Whatever it takes, Jack will be right behind us.

I clutch Sam a little tighter to me and plunge into the event horizon.

Sam is a limp, lifeless weight in my arms as I stumble down the ramp.  I - I don't even know if she's still alive.  There wasn't time to check.  No time.  Someone is screaming for a doctor.  I don't realise it's me until I feel hands on me, trying to pry my hands off Sam, to take her out of my arms. Oh yeah.  I can let go now.  They'll look after her.  I can trust them to do that.

Alive.  She's alive.  Hurt, she's hurt bad, but she's alive.  Thank God.

More hands on me now, leading me down the ramp, trying to make me lie down on a stretcher.  I shrug them off.  Leave me alone! I don't want to go anywhere; don't take me away, not yet.  My eyes are riveted to the glowing event horizon.  Just leave me alone for a bit.  Don't make me leave before Jack comes through.  I have to wait for him, have to know he's okay.

It's taking too long, taking too long.  Where are they?  General Hammond is beside me.  He's talking to me, saying something, but I can't make it out, it all sounds like gibberish, I'm not really listening - they're coming, I try to tell him they're coming and I hope he understands me, but I sound like a babbling, hysterical lunatic.  Jack's right behind me, I know he is, just give them a minute, I know they're coming.  Leave me alone, I'm not in shock, I'm fine.  I'm not leaving - not going anywhere until....

God, oh God!  There they are!  Both of them!  Shooting out of the puddle at a dead run, screaming up at Davis to close the iris and shut down the gate.  Jack looks okay as he thunders down the ramp and grabs me by the shoulders.  "Get your ass in that stretcher NOW!"  he hollers at me as he shakes me and squeezes my arms so tightly it's starting to hurt a little.

That's okay.  I don't mind.  He's okay.  He's safe.  They can string me up by my heels naked and hang me from the top of the gate, I don't give a damn.  Whatever.  He's safe. He made it back.  We all made it back.  All of us.


Sam's been in surgery for...well, I don't know how long it's been.  I know what it feels like, though, it feels like forever.  No one is telling us anything, but as long as they're still working on her that's - that's good, right?  Means she's still alive.

She's still alive.

We're all of us here, in the infirmary, waiting.  We'll stay here as long as it takes - we're not going anywhere until we know Sam's okay. And she is - she is going to be okay.  Not if.  When.  When.

I'm still sitting in the first chair I found once the nurse had finished with me.  It was no big deal, barely even worth bothering about.  Just a few superficial cuts and scratches, a scrape or two - I've gotten worse from getting caught in a horde of demented shoppers in full Boxing Day feeding frenzy. She dug a few stone chips out of my arm, gave me a couple of stitches, cleaned the abrasions on my left side, then bandages, the usual rabies, distemper shots.  Whoop de do.

Jack and Teal'c have stuck to me like glue the whole time, and now they're right here, one on either side of me.  Taciturn bookends.  I'd say I feel like a rose between two thorns but that would be weird.

Teal'c is solemnly stationed on my right.  Jack is on my other side, slouched up against the examining table behind us.  He's staying pretty close.  If he was any closer we'd both be occupying the same space. It's very comforting, feeling him next to me.   He hasn't broken the contact since I sat down.  The warm, vital nearness of his hard thigh pressing against my shoulder and the length of my upper arm is incredibly reassuring.  I don't know how he knows how much - how much I need him so close right now.  It's been so long since he touched me this way.  He used to.  Used to touch me all the time.  Pats on the shoulder.  Slaps on the back.  Sometimes....hugs.  Used to, but he doesn't.  Not any more.  Not for a long time.

He's here now, though. With me. Arms folded across his chest, pressed up close to me.  It's all I can do to stop myself from leaning into him, letting go, letting him hold me up.  We almost didn't make it.  I still can't quite believe what happened today.  It was bad.  Neither Jack nor Teal'c have said a word about what they had to do to make it home.  We're not talking at all.  None of us.  Just sitting, waiting, trying to deal with having a walk in the park turn into a tour through a charnel house, just like that.  Waiting to find out if we all are going to walk away from this.  Eventually.

Jack shifts his weight slightly, pressing more firmly against me.  He's as taut as an over-taxed steel cable starting to fray from the stress of a too-heavy load.  Still he's here, letting me know he's alive.  I couldn't be more certain of his solid reality as his warm strength seeps into me.

I need to feel how substantial he is. How very alive.  I almost lost Jack today.  Lost Teal'c.  We still don't know about Sam.  Sam...while I was running all I could think about was getting her to safety and yet there was a part of me...I felt like I left a piece of myself with Jack, ripped out when I had to go without him, and I didn't get it back until I saw him hurtling through the event horizon.  I'm glad Teal'c made it too, but God help me, while I was waiting all I could think about was Jack.  What if he didn't - I'd done everything I could and yet, if he'd died out there, so far away...

Oh God, the whole mission was a nightmare from the word go. It all happened so fast.  We couldn't have been caught in that death trap any longer than ten minutes but it was ten minutes of the worst hell I can ever remember being in.  And I've been in a fair amount of hell over the past four years.  Too much.  But this.  This....this was bad.  I don't want to close my eyes and see those blank, staring little faces, hear the dull, dead thuds of the small bodies hitting the stones.  Smell the blood, the death, that sweet, sickening burning....  remember the sound Sam made - see her splayed on those stones like a fractured, lifeless doll.  Her face...God, her face....

Children.  Why did it have to be children?

Woah.  I'm shaking. Gotta come back, get a grip -

Oh no.  There's General Hammond.  With that 'I really hate to do this at a time like this' look on his face.  God.  We're going to have to talk about this now.  I don't want to - I'm not ready. Who am I kidding, I'll never be ready to talk about this. Don't want to remember, don't want to talk about it.  Shit. I know.  Have to.  We have to.  They have to know, it has to go down on record.

Why did it have to be Sam? If I'd been just a little faster, hadn't waited so long to start running toward her - maybe, maybe I could have pulled her out of the way before....before...

Jack's hand is on my shoulder, clutching it hard as the general starts to speak to us.

"Colonel, Teal'c, Doctor Jackson," he says in a soothing voice.  "I'm very sorry to have to ask at a time like this.  The formal debriefing is being postponed, of course, but still, I would appreciate - "

"You need to know what happened," Jack says in a tired, stilted voice.

"If you could give me a few details, Jack," Hammond continues, sympathetic but still determined.  "We're all deeply concerned about Major Carter's condition, and I know this isn't the best time..."

"Yes Sir," Jack mumbles in a barely audible voice, then takes a deep breath as he squeezes my shoulder again.  His hand is shaking, and I can feel anxiety spiking through his body.  Oh boy, here we go.

"You know what the MALP showed us," Jack starts speaking in startling harsh and rough tones.

I can't look at him.  Can't afford to see what's in his face, his eyes.  The sound of his voice is bad enough.

"Just the wide stone walkway and a lot of ruined buildings on either side.  The tower was the only thing that looked more or less intact.  That's where we were headed when... when it opened fire on us."

I feel him start to tremble, for just a fraction of a second.  I want to reach out to him - touch - back him up somehow but I can't move.  He doesn't seem to need it - me - though.  The tremors are gone almost as soon as they begin.  He starts speaking again.

I don't know how he's managing to utter a single syllable.  My mouth is so dry, my throat so closed up I can barely breathe.  Never mind try to speak.  I know I should say something, shouldn't lay this all on Jack. He shouldn't have to do this alone.  I should say something.  I should.

"There was some kind of laser doohickey in the tower,"  Jack intones in a weary voice.  "From the amount of pounding the building stood up to I'm thinking it wasn't made of the same stone as the rest of the ruins. It was  probably built much later, actually, and made to look like it was part of what was left of the original complex, although it wasn't. It was fronted by these transport platforms that also looked like they were part of the ruins, but they weren't and they were hell to blow up as well. It was quite a high-tech set-up camouflaged to look like it was nothing special.  No visible threat. The whole thing was a trap and we walked right into it."

"Do you have any idea why you were attacked without provocation, Colonel?"  the general asks Jack.

"Not a clue, Sir," Jack grimaces,  "There wasn't exactly a lot of talking going on.  Just shooting.  Lots of shooting. We don't even know who was shooting at us. If they thought we were Goa'ulds or they just don't like visitors period, but whatever - we never got the chance to find out, Sir.  We were too busy trying to get our asses out of there before we were charbroiled."

"I see," Hammond frowns unhappily.  "So you had no opportunity to conduct any sort of a dialogue with the inhabitants."

"No Sir," Jack shakes his head.  "I'm not so sure there was anyone there to talk to.  The firing pattern of the tower gun and its response time suggested computer control.  The assault troops were probably beamed in from wherever they were - hanging out - automatically as well, as soon as something tripped the alarm and activated the program.  I think it was a completely automated defence post. Set up specifically to blast whoever walked through the gate who wasn't supposed to."

"That is likely," Teal'c adds.  "When I was First Prime to Apophis we encountered several such installations on different worlds we attempted to invade.  They performed the same protective function as your iris, allowing the inhabitants to continue to use their own gate freely while deterring incursions from other unwanted travellers.  Authorised travellers would possess some sort of device, not unlike our GDO, to deactivate the sentry upon their return."

"Nice for them," Jack observes sourly.  "Not so good for us.  There was plenty of evidence they were way ahead of us in weapons technology anyway, and under different circumstances I'd say those transport thingees were rather nifty, but I wouldn't advise anyone to try to go back there.  Not a good idea," he finishes with a slight shudder.

"So, " Hammond prompts gently.  "The weapon in the tower opened fire on your team..."

"Yeah," Jack grates.  "We were forced to take cover, and then the tower weapon kept  concentrating its fire on our positions, pinning us down while systematically reducing our cover at the same time.  Once it had forced us to go to ground the transporters started zapping in..."

All of a sudden he stops talking.  I'm not going to make him face THIS part of it alone.

"Armed assault troops.  Also apparently on automatic," I tell Hammond quietly.  "They - they were human, but they weren't.  That is - I mean, the bodies were human, but they were wearing these suits, had these bands on their heads.  They were mobile, functional, technically alive, but they definitely moved and reacted as if they were programmed and they didn't display any indication they possessed any form of higher awareness whatsoever.  Their movements, actions, lack of reaction to being - shot - it was like they were walking corpses, sir.  And there's more."

I have to take a deep breath before I can go on.  Jack's fingers are almost burrowing right into my skin he's gripping my shoulder so tightly.

"The soldiers...  They - they were all children, sir," I tell Hammond without looking at him. "Around ten or eleven years old, most of them.  From what I could see.  The artificially animated bodies of children.  But no - no minds. No visible conscious will or volition.  They were like - biological machines, with one single purpose.  They were there to kill us.  And they would have, if we hadn't defended ourselves."

Hammond's face goes stark and grave as he looks at each of us.  He's starting to understand what he's been seeing in all of our faces and the knowledge is bringing him about as much joy as it brought us.

"We did what we had to do, Sir," Jack says grimly.  "Like Daniel says, we didn't have a choice.  It was us or them. They showed up, started firing at us and there was no way to communicate with them or reason with them. We tried, but it was a no go.  They were there to kill us.  End of story.  They just kept coming. No matter how many we....they just kept coming."

"I understand, Jack," Hammond says softly.  "I'm sure you did everything you could to avoid having to take such distasteful action.  You were in a terrible situation, but you got your team home safe."

"That's more due to Daniel than me," Jack grunts.  "While I was busy wasting kid-bots he got to the DHD. He had to run the entire length of the avenue, out in the open and under fire.  Put his ass on the line for all of us.  He went back for Carter too, when she didn't - didn't make it.  He kept her from getting hit again, got her out.  He did good, Sir,"

"I'm sure you all did, Jack," Hammond tells him gently.

I can't stand to see Jack like this.  Those faces will haunt him for the rest of his life - if he can stand to live with himself.  It wasn't his fault.  There was nothing he could do - nothing any of us could do - except what we did.

I don't know if this will help.  It's all I can think to offer him.  But I have to try.

"Jack," I tell him, "we don't know if they ever were really...children.  If they ever had minds or personalities.  We've seen other races - we know the Reetou have mastered cloning techniques. As well as Alar's people.  I noticed there wasn't much variation in the facial features or body types.  Maybe they just....grew the bodies. Without minds.  Maybe they never were 'real' -  were never anything more than mindless biological...robots  to begin with.  Mass produced specifically for - "

"This is possible," O'Neill," Teal'c adds in perhaps the gentlest tone I have ever heard him use. "There are many races which do indeed possess cloning technology.  The natives of a planet called Ardak create biological automatons of the type DanielJackson is hypothesising whose brains posses no higher cognitive functions whatsoever.  They employ them for slave labour."

"That still doesn't make it right," Jack mutters bleakly.

"No, it doesn't," Hammond sighs.  "But you didn't make the choice to create them or to use them as soldiers.  What were your options given the situation, Jack?"

"Kill them or be killed."  Jack hangs his head.  "So we did what we had to do.  After Daniel took Carter through the gate Teal'c and I were finally able to bring the tower down by concentrating our fire on the base," Jack continues in a mechanical tone.  "It came tumbling down,  destroying the gun and pretty much taking care of the rest of the ground force.  We got the hell out of there before the dust settled."

Whatever else Hammond might have wanted to ask us is interrupted as Janet walks into the room.  Her eyes are tired and marked with strain, but - she's smiling.  She's smiling.

"Major Carter is going to be okay,"  she beams at us.

I slump forward as relief crashes through me so violently I feel like I'm going to be sick.  Most of what Janet is saying is a blur.  I catch something about Sam's pack and vest absorbing most of the force of the blast and saving her life, internal injuries, intensive care, recovery, stable condition.  I'm really not listening to the medical stuff now that I've absorbed she's going to be fine.  That's all I need to know.

Sam is going to be okay.

Jack jumps up and starts moving restlessly around the room as soon as he hears the good news.  I feel the loss of him at my side as a wrenching shock, and I struggle to push away the resulting alarming sense of emptiness. It's hard to focus on what Janet is telling us when something inside me is screaming at how much it wants - needs him to be back.  Here.  Close.

Janet finishes making her report to the general and then turns her attention back to us.  She is assuring us Sam is fine, but she's also heavily sedated and sleeping, and now Janet is saying it's best to wait 'til morning before trying to see her. Jack reacts to that, but doesn't say anything, just keeps on pacing and shooting anxious glances back where Janet has just come from. Hammond is telling us to stand down, to get some rest, we'll deal with everything in a couple of days.  No hurry, no rush.  The gory details will still be there waiting to be reported about in a couple of days.

Jack isn't making a sound, not looking anyone in the eye, still restlessly pacing and even though we've all been basically politely told to fuck off, I've known him long enough to be able to tell he can't leave.  Not yet.  I know what he has to do and I know why.  What I don't know is why he isn't kicking up his usual fuss and basically insisting he be allowed to do what he needs to do.  At the top of his lungs if that's what it takes.

This is so not like him.  It's scaring me a little to see him like this.  We're all so far from fine about what we've just been through, and Jack's current behaviour is a very worrying indication he may be having a worse time of it then he's letting on.  I know what he needs right now to ease a little bit of the load and if he can't bring himself to insist, I'm more than happy to do so on his behalf.

It doesn't take much.  Janet is a much softer touch right now then I was expecting.  But then, she has eyes too.  She grumbles as she leads us to Sam's room, but her protest lacks real conviction.  As do her admonishments to us to be quiet and only be in there with Sam for a few minutes.

Teal'c takes one look at the both of us, then bows and tells us he will remain outside the door and watch to see we are not disturbed.

I actually hadn't intended to go in either.  I knew this was something Jack needed to do, but I hadn't wanted to intrude.  In case he had to be alone.  With Sam - for - for whatever reason.  I turn away from him as he opens the door, planning to wait with Teal'c,  but Jack's hand on my arm pulling me in along with him makes my plans to the contrary rather moot.

The room is eerily quiet.  That is, as quiet as it can be with all the beeping and chirping of the medical monitoring equipment Sam is hooked up to.  Jack lets go of my arm as soon as he sees her and I hang back, lingering at the foot of the bed, watching him as he drifts toward her cautiously like a man trying to swim through a bad dream.

She doesn't look so good.  If I hadn't just heard Janet say she was going to make it I'd be pretty alarmed by what I'm seeing.  From the stricken look on his face Jack has to be thinking pretty much the same thing.

She's almost as white as the sheets shrouding her, her skin bloodless and tightly hugging her skull. She's so still she doesn't look real and like me, Jack has to shoot a glance at the monitors to check she is in fact, still breathing.

She doesn't even look like Sam.  No colour, barely any signs of life, wires, tubes and leads all over her.  But she's alive, and no matter how scary this looks right now she's going to be fine.  Janet said so.

Jack just stands there and stares at her.  Doesn't move, doesn't even blink.  I wish I could understand what I'm seeing on his face right now.  I suddenly wish I wasn't here to see it.  It somehow feels wrong to me. Like I'm invading his privacy.  Or am about to be entrusted with a secret I don't want any part of.  I know - I know he seems to want me to be here, but - but...

I don't want to see - don't want to know why he's really here after all. I don't want to see something I've suspected for a long time suddenly confirmed.

And for the life of me - I don't know why.

Jack closes his eyes and expels a long, shuddering sigh. His face twists with a grimace of pain, then his head abruptly pivots and he shoots me a searing glance - for a harrowing second so ANGRY.  It's a fleeting, unguarded instant of boiling rage, gone as his eyes focus on me. Then they soften, seem so sad.  The changes in his mood are so extreme and are happening so quickly; I'm completely out to sea. Whatever is tearing him up inside it has something to do with Sam.  And me.  And - and Sam. What happened out there.  I don't know. I'm lost; I've got nothing. I thought the thing with the 'kid-bots' would be tearing him up inside, and somewhere I know it is, but this is something else.  Something worse.

"Crap," Jack murmurs softly as he shakes his head and then turns his attention back to Sam. He stares at her for a few minutes, a rough smile twisting his mouth, then reaches out a hand, he's going to - I avert my eyes, but can't quite completely look away. I don't want to know and yet - I HAVE to know.  This is insane, I'm losing my mind - I should just get the hell out of here right now.  What's the matter with me?  Why am I so scared?

Why do I feel like I'm about to lose something, lose...everything?

Jack's hand hovers over Sam's head. "She looks like hell, but she'll pull through," he observes calmly.  "She's tough. And almost as pig-headed as you."

Thanks, I think.

Then he pats the top of her head a couple of times.  Rather - clumsily.  Almost perfunctorily. I blink, confused.  It's not the sort of gesture I was expecting him to make.  Not by a long shot.

"You disobeyed orders today," he says to me while still looking down at Sam.

Oh God, Jack.  Not that.  Not now.  "Sorry,"  I mumble as I duck my head and stare at my boots.  I barely have time to start wishing the ground would open up and swallow me when the sudden vehemence of his next comment startles me into looking back up at him.

"Don't be," he grates, his voice rough and strained.  He's still staring at Sam.  Or is he just not looking at me?  "And don't stop doing it. You can handle yourself.  You made the right call.  You put the team first. I was only thinking about..." His voice falters, he violently clenches his fists.  "I was wrong, not you.  If you'd done what I told you to - she'd be dead right now."

"I don't understand," I blurt.   Jack sighs and finally turns to look at me.  There's so much sadness in his expression, and something in his eyes he's trying to hide from me.  Regret?  Guilt?  For - for what?

Now I know this isn't about the children, which makes me even more confused.  Sam is safe.  We all are.  And yet Jack looks like he knows he's done something wrong. But that's not right.  What could he possibly be feeling guilty about?  And why hasn't coming to see Sam made him feel better?

"I'm trying to tell you I trust you," he continues in a gentler voice.  "I don't always see things as clearly as you do out there.  I forget that sometimes.  I want you to be exactly what you are - to do whatever you know you have to do, even if it means - "

Jack breaks off; he flushes and shifts his focus back to Sam.  "I'll get a grip on it," he mutters.  "It won't happen again.  I'm sorry, Sam."

Jack scowls, jams his hands in his pockets, hunches his shoulders and starts to stride briskly toward the door. His face is bleak with determination.  He's buttoned down tight, booking with a vengeance and he looks like he means to walk right through me.  I rouse myself and try to clear out of his path before he flattens me, but I don't quite back-pedal fast enough.  He clips my shoulder with his as he pushes past me, pivoting me back and to the side, and for just a moment, the memory of a similar 'encounter' and the look on his face... the same look he's wearing now...  When he brushed by me on Abydos when he came back to get me like he was trying so hard to not see me and yet...

There's a sudden, sharp pain in my chest as if something is trying to burst free. Something once clearly known and quickly forgotten.  Something I need to remember.

Jack tried to walk away from me on Abydos.  Just like he's trying to walk away from me now.  He snubbed me then because he needed....and he didn't want to...

He didn't want me to know he cared.  What is he trying to keep from me now?

He's almost to the door.  In another second he'll be out of the room.  I don't know where the words are coming from but I have to say them. He needs me to say them.  He has to hear them.  Now, more than ever.

"Jack,"  I call to him.  He freezes, his hand on the doorknob.  It seems to take forever for him to turn around, but when he finally does, he has the oddest expression on his face.  Like he knows what's coming and there's nothing he can do to avoid his fate.

That's - that's crazy.  I'm still a little freaked, reading way too much into all of this.  Jack's going to take off now, and do his 'lone man avoiding' thing for a bit.  I wish he wouldn't.  I wish he'd just come home with me now and then we could sit around and get plastered and fart and scratch ourselves and do that whole macho 'sneaking up on the nightmare by taking the long way around' guys bonding over avoiding before getting down to it ritual that is the necessary prelude to the whole dealing process.  Getting to it in our own sweet time.

But he won't.  Not right away.  I'll let him know he can though, when he's ready.  I'll be there for him. Waiting. He - he knows, but sometimes it doesn't hurt to KNOW it, you know.

"Whatever you need," I tell him sincerely.

"Okay," he says quietly, his eyes dark and full of secrets.  "I - I'm gonna take off now.  I'll be by later.  If - if that's all right with you."

"You know where to find me."

That makes him smile a little.  "Always," he murmurs, and then slips out the door.

I stand there and stare at it for a long time. Something - odd - just happened there. I heard what we both just said, and I have a fair grasp of the English language as well as a few others so I know what the words meant, but still, there was something - odd - about the exchange.  Like there was more being said than I heard.

Okay, now I know I'm definitely losing it.  It doesn't matter what I did or didn't hear, I meant what I said. Whatever he needs.  We'll work out the details later.


Teal'c must have been standing outside the door all that time after Jack left, waiting for me to come out.  When I didn't, he came in.

We're standing side by side, looking down at Sam.  Not talking. Just doing what we need to do for one of our own.

Teal'c's standing pretty close, and once again, I'm aware of being enveloped in an aura of protective support.  Teal'c practically exudes infinite strength from every pore, and it's very difficult not to feel - bolstered - by his presence.

It feels very reassuring, like his unspoken support always does, but somehow, so soon after being with Jack, it's not the same.  It's not enough.  Doesn't quite do it for me.  Teal'c's 'I've got you covered', while it is great, and deeply appreciated, just doesn't have that all encompassing, completely reassuring 'safe' I get from Jack.  Teal'c feels like 'I will be here for you'.  Jack - Jack feels like...everything.

Jack feels like 'You are a part of me'.

I - I have to go now.  Sam is fine.  She's in the best of hands, couldn't ask for better, she'll be looked after, there's nothing more I can do for her while she's sleeping. Jack needs me.  I don't know where he is right now, but I should be where he'll be expecting to find me.

"I will remain with Major Carter," Teal'c's deep, quiet voice barely disrupts the stillness.

I nod, turn and start to shuffle toward the door.  I can feel his eyes on me with every step I take.  Before I leave I pause and look at him one last time.

"I'll do what I can for Jack," I tell him.

Teal'c gravely bows his head, his dark eyes glittering with understanding.  "Of that I am certain," he replies.

I'm barely twenty feet down the hall from the infirmary exit when I hear the general calling my name.  Nuts.  Now what?

"How are you feeling, Doctor Jackson?" he asks me as he reaches my side. His familiar, comforting presence is tempered by the deep concern he can't hide.

I can't blame him for feeling that way.  We shared a moment, a few months ago, when I got a unique opportunity to learn a little bit about what it means to be him.  What it feels like for him as he watches us go through that gate and then has to wait and hope we come back again.  All the while having to live with knowing if something happens to us - he's the one who sent us out there.

He carries an awful lot on his shoulders.  And he cares about all of us, probably a lot more than he should. But he's never ever become such a complete creature of duty it's caused him to lose sight of his own principles and convictions.  He's a good man, the right man for the job and I'm very proud to know him.

"I'm fine, Sir," I say to him.  "I'm more worried about Jack."

Crap, I didn't mean to say THAT to him.  But I can tell from the way he suddenly purses his lips I've brought up the very subject he was hoping to broach with me.

"What you all were forced to do out there - it couldn't have been very easy for any of you, especially the colonel." the general ventures cautiously, eyeing me carefully for my reaction.

Oh, I'd say that's a pretty accurate assessment.  What happened today was Jack's worst nightmare come to life.  He's a protector.  It's in his blood, bred right into the marrow of his bones.  He lives and breathes to look out for whoever needs him, to take care of the people who are important to him, to defend any and all who can't protect themselves.

He lives to save the innocent, not to...

Today he was faced with an impossible choice.  In order to save us he was forced to kill those which everything he is was telling him it was also his duty to protect. An utterly unsupportable conflict of principles.  It has to be tearing him to pieces.  Has to be.  Oh God, where is he?  What is he doing right now?  I wish he hadn't...but then, we're both too much alike that way.  We have to run a bit before we can finally stop and start dealing.

"I'll talk to him, Sir," I tell Hammond.  I don't want to discuss it any further.  I want to go.

The general's shoulders sag in a mixture of relief and understanding.  "I know you will, son," he says as he pats me lightly on the back.  "I just want you to know, if it's a little more than you can handle, we're here.  We'll help any way we can."

I know.  I do.  I know you mean well.  But I also know this isn't something anyone else can help either one of us with. Jack won't go to anyone else.  He won't talk to anyone else. I'm the only one who has the faintest hope of getting him to talk at all.

I'm the one he'll run to when he finds out he's got nowhere else to go.  He'll run - he's running right now, and then he'll come to me.  I'd better be ready for him, and prepared for whatever it's going to take to get him through this.

I won't let him down.


On to Part Two


PhoenixE, 2001-9.
Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Stargate Productions, Sci Fi Channel, 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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