Jackfic Fiction Archive Story

 

Screams In the Silence

by Flatkatsi




Category: Hurt/Comfort, Angst

Pairings: None

Spoilers: Small one for The Fifth Race

Season: Any after 4

Content Level: 13+

Content Warnings: Violence, Severe Jack whumping

File Size: 135kb

Archive: Incoming Wormhole, Jackfic

Summary: SG-1 meet a Goa'uld and this time the cost is almost too high Disclaimer: Stargate Sg-1 and its characters are the property of Stargate (II) Productions, Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. This story is 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. This story may not be posted elsewhere without the consent of the author.

Author's Note: Many thanks to Gummy, my Nutty beta.

Screams In the Silence

He lifted his arm with an effort that was almost beyond him.

Threw the dirt in.

Watched as it fell.

Bent.

Took another deep shovel load.

Lifted.

Threw.

Watched

Bent.

Each movement the same. Mechanical. Unthinking. He wouldn't think.

Threw.

Covered.

Watched.

Saw.

Daniel's hand reaching out, hand curled. Carter's hair covered with dirt. Teal'c's eyes, unblinking, staring, unseeing.

He had dug the hole. Not as large as he had wanted, but he couldn't do more. He couldn't.

Couldn't.

Threw them in. Carter was heavier than she looked.

Sam.

He could call her Sam now.

Now that she is dead.

Bent.

Lifted.

Covered.

He knew that he must dig another hole tomorrow. Smaller this time. Room only for one.

Himself.

This was all that he had been saved to do.

His final act.

Bent.

Lift.

Cover.

He was dead already.

*********************

Jack O'Neill let himself slide down the cell wall, until he was sitting, knees bent, on the hard earth floor. The light was fading rapidly, only a dull glow showing through the small window set high in the wall opposite. In the gloom he could see a small cup of water on the floor, just to the left of where he sat, but he ignored it, choosing instead to shut his eyes, and try to calm his rapidly beating heart.

When had he given up? When had it become too much for him to cope with?

He shook his head slightly and took a few deep breaths.

He knew the answer. The old saying "Where there's life, there's hope" sprang to mind, and he smiled bitterly. That was it. There wasn't life and there wasn't hope. It was over. His team was dead and he was as good as. Tomorrow he was going to join them, but he didn't really care.

He thought back to this morning.

**********************

It all happened so quickly; SG-1 walked out of the gate, alert as ever, to be greeted by blasts of some sort of energy weapon. They had no chance to defend themselves, to even get off a shot.

Jack woke to find himself, hands and feet chained painfully together, lying face down in the dirt, the hot sun beating down on him. Without meaning to, he groaned, his tongue swollen in his mouth, his thirst all he could think of.

"Up." The command was barked harshly from somewhere near his feet. "Your god awaits."

For a moment he just lay there, and then, with a feeling of resignation, he rolled and pulled his feet under him, finally managing to kneel and look around. Teal'c was already kneeling several feet away, seemingly unhurt, and after a frantic glance about him, he saw Daniel and Carter still obviously unconscious nearby, surrounded by Jaffa.

His dazed brain hardly had time to process the information before a hard blow to his side knocked him down again, leaving him gasping.

"You are to only look forward. Now get up."

"Getting, getting." He choked the words through parched lips.

"Silence." This time it was a heavy boot connecting with the small of his back, making him arch in pain. "Up."

"It would help if you didn't keep knocking me down."

A sudden jerk on the chains pulled him upright and a face leered into his from only a couple of inches distance. "You will be silent." The command was spat out, and he was slammed into the ground, his knees protesting vehemently.

"Human." The resonant voice of a Goa'uld made him look up to be greeted by the sight of a slight young man simply dressed in white robes. "I would suggest that you obey my First Prime's orders. He can be easily upset."

A movement at the edge of his vision made Jack turn his head. Daniel was stirring, moving his head from side to side. Carter still seemed to be out for the count.

Crap!

Jack found himself measuring his length in the dirt once more with the added bonus of a sharp pain in his rib cage.

A tiny plume of dust tickled his nose as two black booted feet blocked his vision. A hand reached down and lifted his chin from the ground. Two blue eyes looked down at him from a smiling face.

"I did tell you that Yeas'r had a quick temper. You would do well to heed my warnings." The Goa'uld's powerful hands brought him to his knees once more, gasping as the pain from his injuries registered.

"Now tell me why you have come to one of my planets. We don't often have visitors here." The Goa'uld's voice remained pleasant.

"Sorry - can't answer that, you told me not to speak. If you don't remember ask Yes Sir, he'll tell you that I'm right." Jack steeled himself for the expected blow, and was surprised to see the Goa'uld give a quick shake of his head, stopping the Jaffa.

"I find your bravado quite amusing. Perhaps you will find it amusing when I allow my Jaffa to play with your companions. We shall be amused together."

There was the sound of scuffling and muffled shouts. Jack swung his torso around, taking in the sight of his three teammates being pulled upright, their mouths gagged. Carter must have just regained consciousness, he realised, because she was staring at him with a terrified look in her eyes as she was gripped tightly by two large Jaffa.

"You just won't learn, will you." The Goa'uld's emotionless voice brought his attention back to the watching figure. "I told you not to turn."

Jack heard the solid thump of a staff weapon before the crushing blow to the side of his head registered in his brain. He rocked back, but was prevented from falling by several hands gripping him from behind. The coppery taste of blood filled his mouth, and ran down the back of his throat causing him to cough, splattering red drops on the ground in front of him.

"Now tell me what you are doing here." This time the Goa'uld's voice was firm.

"Go to hell!" Jack spat again, realizing several of his teeth had been loosened by the blow.

The Goa'uld knelt once more, ignoring the wet patches on the dirt, his face grim. "You will only speak to tell me what I wish to know. Any other answer will be punished. I repeat - what are you doing here?"

Jack pressed his tongue to his front tooth, trying to hold it in place. He knew that his team was struggling against their captors by the sounds, even if he couldn't see them.

"I don't speak to anyone unless I've been formally introduced." This time it was the Goa'uld who reacted, striking Jack across the mouth with the back of his hand. It was then that Jack realised that ribbon devices had other means of inflicting harm on the human body. The sharp edges of the metal cut deep shreds from his cheek, baring it to the bone. The tooth gave up the battle and was spat out to lie at Jack's feet.

If Jack had been able to, he would have brought his hands up to his face, but as it was he could barely manage to stay upright, defiantly glaring at the creature in front of him. The Goa'uld's formerly impassive features were now contorted with rage, his face flushed.

"It does not matter who I am. All that matters is that you answer my questions. Why are you here, and where did you come from? My patience is not inexhaustible." He gestured to the guards holding the rest of Jack's team. "Bring them forward so that they can see what happens when I am not obeyed."

Carter, Daniel and Teal'c were pulled into sight, their eyes large above the sodden material of their gags, their movements stiff with defiance.

"Now. I will explain the rules one last time." The young man had got his emotions under control, and was smiling once again. "You will only speak to answer my questions. If you disobey you will be punished." His eyes glowed hotly. "What are you doing here?"

Colonel Jack O'Neill managed to direct one swift lopsided smile towards his teammates before answering, ignoring the blood running down his face.

"We heard that the climate was good here, thought that we could get a tan, maybe do a little fishing."

The Goa'uld's angry roar was deafening.

"You know, getting that angry isn't good for your blood pressure."

Jack could only tense himself for what he knew would follow.

Hands grabbed him from behind, pulling his head sharply back, making him gasp.

"You have been warned. Now you will be punished, and I will then ask your companions the same questions. Perhaps they will be more cooperative after they have seen your fate."

Unable to see his enemy, Jack struggled against his captors. His efforts were fruitless, the hold on his head too strong.

"Yeas'r - deal with it." The dismissive words caused Jack's pulse to race.

"Gladly, my lord." The Jaffa's face leered down at him. Jack watched as, with slow deliberate movements, he raised a large knife and held it before the kneeling man's eyes. Then he lowered it, holding Jack's gaze all the while.

The blade was cold against Jack's throat. Everything seemed to slow down. The sound of his friends faded into the distance, his heartbeat all that he could hear.

When it came, Jack almost felt a sense of relief. He felt the skin part, the blade slicing deeply, cutting its way through the arteries, and the jugular. He felt the blood gush forth, pulsing up through the opening. He felt his breath falter.

He felt himself die.

The hands released him to fall forward, and he lay, the pain finally registering as his body struggled for oxygen that it could not reach.

The last thing that he saw was the horrified looks on the faces of his friends.

**********************

Jack lowered his face to where his arms rested on his bent knees. He would remember those looks; remember the agony of his choking breaths, knowing that his team was forced to watch.

He would remember them.

His reawakening had been brutal. Awareness had come at a price, as he was pulled from what he knew must be a sarcophagus. His vision was blurry, vague shapes all that he could make out, but he had had no trouble feeling the slaps making his head spin.

"Time to wake up, dog. You have a job to do." Jack recognised the voice - Yes Sir, a man who really seemed to enjoy his work. As his vision cleared, he began to take in more details. The First Prime was only accompanied by one Jaffa, but Jack knew that he was no match for either of them in his current state. His head was swimming, and he could barely keep himself upright by leaning against the edge of the coffin-like box. He didn't seem to be able to take more than shallow breaths, his frantic panting loud in his own ears.

"My Lord Rast'ur has ordered that you be made useful before we dispose of you. Come!" The command was accompanied by a hard push in the direction of the nearby door. Unable to do anything but obey, Jack stumbled forward, helped along by the other Jaffa's painful grip.

It took only a short walk to reach another door, and it was then that Jack realised they were on a Goa'uld vessel. For a moment his heart sank with the thought that they had been taken off the planet, and could now be anywhere, unable to gate home, then the next door opened to reveal a ring platform. He was held upright between the two men and, with the familiar feeling of disorientation, Jack was soon blinking in the harsh sunlight. His sense of relief was almost palatable when he recognised his surroundings. He was back on the planet again - a chance to escape still possible.

His relief was short lived.

The Goa'uld's camp was in the process of being dismantled, loads of equipment being carried to the rings and transported up to the ship. Soon all that would be left was the featureless flat expanse on which it had sat, hidden from the UAV by the tall cliff surrounding it. Jack looked around, expecting to see his team being made to help, as he expected to be. All he needed to do was get some time with them, and he was sure that, despite obviously being taken out of the sarcophagus too soon, he would be able to plan an escape.

He was pulled along, stumbling across the hard packed ground, his feet catching on even the smallest rocks. He felt the eyes of the watching warriors on him, laughter echoing in his head. The walk took him nearer to the stargate; he looked up at it with longing. The doorway to home was so near, but it may have well been a million miles away for all the chance that he had to reach it.

And he had to find his team first. He would leave with them, or not at all.

"Here." His attention was forcibly brought back to Yeas'r by a heavy cuff to the side of his head that left his ears ringing. A shovel was thrust into his hands. He held it loosely, staring down and letting his sluggish thoughts process the information.

Dig.

He must have to dig.

A hard push almost caused him to lose his grip on the shovel and he staggered forward. The First Prime was pointing.

"There. Go on. They must be buried before night fall."

Jack lifted one hand and rubbed at his eyes, trying to clear his still partially blurred vision. Suddenly the shapes on the ground made a terrible sense.

He dropped to his knees beside them, finally releasing the shovel, and letting it fall. His hands reached out, trembling, touching, searching.

Nothing.

No signs of life.

They were dead.

His team was dead. His friends were dead.

And in that moment he despaired.

The hours of digging the hard earth, preparing the grave, passed without thought. The taunts of the Jaffa warriors, the pain in his weary body, all submerged by a sea of grief.

Yeas'r had tried to goad him, detailing the final moments of his friends, their refusal to answer questions. He had said that they wept for mercy.

Jack knew that he lied.

Their deaths had been glorious, their bravery an example to any watching.

He didn't need to have seen to know the truth.

He greeted the knowledge that he would join them tomorrow with a smile.

*********************

The long hours of the night made no impact on Jack O'Neill. His body was beginning to stiffen after being held in the same pose for so long, but he ignored it.

He was thinking.

Those times when he had laughed with Daniel. Trading smiles with Teal'c. Encouraging Sam to work her miracles.

After hours he came to the only conclusion that he could.

They would want him to live.

He had every intention of doing so. What would happen when he got back home was something else altogether. Something to be dealt with when the time came, but not now.

Now he had to find a way out of here.

Forcing his body to obey, he came shakily to his feet and began a careful search of his prison. It didn't take long to find that he had nothing but a small dirty cup of water to work with.

He refused to give up. He wouldn't give up.

Such was his certainty of a solution that the whisper at the door came as no surprise.

Its words were.

"They aren't dead." A pause. "You must save them." There was the sound of metal on metal, and the door slid open. "Quick, we must stay silent, many sleep nearby."

A tall, heavily built Jaffa beckoned Jack forward.

Jack stayed where he was.

The whisper became more urgent. "I sympathise with the cause of the rebels, and have contact with them. As soon as I saw you, I knew who you were, and that you must be saved. Our battle against the Goa'uld depends on it. Now come quickly, we must waste no more time. I will explain as we go."

They left the small building that housed the cell along with several storerooms. The night was dark, the only light coming from the waning moon low on the horizon. Jack followed as best he could, although his vision was now back to normal, he was still hampered by a shortness of breath causing him to tire almost to the point of collapse before they made it to the nearby gravesite.

"Rast'ur has a stasis weapon. He uses it often to completely paralyse his victims. It was this weapon that he used on your companions." The Jaffa hurried on, quietly explaining as he went. "He has done this many times before, taking pleasure in the anguish that those left behind suffer. The stasis field only lasts for a few hours, before wearing off. I believe that he relishes the thought of his victims waking up to find they have been buried alive. Their terror must be unimaginable."

By this time they were nearing the freshly dug grave.

"I will help you uncover them. We must hurry, the nights are short here."

Jack took the offered shovel, and dug, exhaustion forgotten. The newly turned soil was still loose, and it wasn't long before the bodies of his teammates began to emerge. Looking at them Jack found it hard to believe that they were still alive - that this wasn't some cruel joke perpetrated by the man digging beside him.

Daniel was the first uncovered, his face relaxed as if in sleep. Teal'c and Carter followed soon after, and, pulling them from the ground, he had to test once more for life. He couldn't help himself and finding none, he looked up at his companion accusingly.

"They are not dead. You must believe me." The Jaffa placed a reassuring hand on Jack's shoulder. "I will help you move them into the trees, but then I must return to camp. Your friends will begin to revive shortly. You have to have patience."

Jack was exhausted by the time his teammates were hidden, finding it harder and harder to stay on his feet. He would have fallen if the Jaffa had not guided him to a log, helping him to sit. His eyes reflected his sympathy as he squatted down and spoke quietly.

"Do not worry. Rest. I will fill in the grave. Rast'ur and Yeas'r have returned by ship to our home world and have left me in charge of completing the clean up. I will tell any who ask that I disposed of you by zat during the night. They will not question. Wait until we have departed through the gate. Then you will be safe. Here, you will need this." With relief Jack saw that the object he held out was a GDO.

The Jaffa stood and despite his fatigue, Jack followed him up.

He spoke one final time. "I am Un'tak. I wish you well."

Jack clasped the other's arm, nodding briefly before the man faded into the night.

Jack sat back down. He was terribly tired, but he could not shut his eyes. They darted compulsively, scanning each of his friends for any sign of movement.

He waited in silence, his heart straining in his chest.

*********************

It was still dark when Jack heard the first indications that his teammates were reviving. The deep cough could only have come from Teal'c.

Jack was by his side in an instant. For the past half hour there had been sounds close by as the Jaffa in the camp awoke and prepared to depart. They must be planning to leave soon after dawn; he could see why his rescuer had been anxious to get himself and the others hidden. He waited until Teal'c blinked his eyes, obviously coming to terms with his own close brush with death. When the other man finally turned his gaze towards him, he leaned in close and placed a finger against his lips in the universal sign for silence. With a gesture, Jack indicated the cause of the need for quiet and although Teal'c's eyes widened at the sight of him, Jack could see that he understood. He gave a slow nod, barely able to be seen in the gloom.

Before long Sam and Daniel were also groaning their way to consciousness, both instinctively brushing dirt from their clothing and hair. The joy was evident in their expressions when they had recovered enough to fully understand that the Colonel was alive. Although they too immediately understood that there could be no noise, they satisfied their need to express their happiness by small touches on their leader's arms. Jack finally found that he could smile, the trauma of the past day beginning to ease.

Only a short time passed before the watching team saw the first of the Jaffa dial the gate and walk through, carrying armloads of equipment. Soon all that was left was the small building that had housed Jack, and one lone figure. The last Jaffa turned towards their position and, raising one hand in farewell, Jack's rescuer left through the open wormhole.

Even before the wormhole had shut itself down, O'Neill was on his feet and running. He had already dialled, and was keying in the code on the GDO, when they caught up to him. A quick look to see that they were all present and accounted for and he motioned them through, following fast behind.

*********************

The world spun and spat him out, his feet hitting the ramp, his eyes catching his first sight of home.

Thank God.

As the sullen pop of the wormhole shutting itself down behind him echoed through the room, he slowly made his way down the ramp, his eyes tracking his teammates, watching their movements.

A luxury he had nearly lost on that dusty piece of hell.

There was the clunk and soft grind of the gateroom door opening as he reached the end of the ramp. Knowing the General was the most likely candidate to come through that door, Jack took a moment to collect his thoughts, preparing for what was to come.

"Colonel, you're back early. You weren't supposed to return for another four days. Was there a problem?"

He knew it was coming.

He couldn't avoid it, no matter how he tried.

The silence after the General's question told all.

Carter looked up at him. He simply looked back, seeing a sudden realisation in her eyes.

I'm sorry, Sam. He couldn't say it, but he could think it.

Her eyes suddenly reflected his own, and she called out to the General. "Sir, I think we need a medical team here."

Jack found his breath caught in his throat, and he gasped, his stance wavering. Carter's voice went up in pitch, and she reached out a hand to him, helping him to sit. Jack found himself surrounded by his concerned teammates. It was Daniel that spotted it, and Jack saw the look of horror transmit itself along the line as the focus of Daniel's shocked stare registered.

He felt the line of pain across his throat, the pull every time he tried to take a normal breath. He lifted his fingers and felt the now familiar raised bar of livid tissue ringing his neck, legacy of the partially completed healing.

"Colonel O'Neill?" Doctor Fraiser reached forward and took his hand gently in hers, lowering it. "What happened?"

He wanted to explain, he really did. He would give almost anything to tell them all what had happened to him. How he had woken with the knowledge that he couldn't speak, could barely breathe. That the Goa'uld had done it deliberately, timed it so that he lived, but only just.

He would have given anything to be able to explain.

But he couldn't.

*********************

"Are you certain, Doctor?" General Hammond was not normally given to questioning his CMO when it came to medical matters, but in this case he couldn't help himself, her diagnosis had been so uncompromising.

"Yes, sir, I am." Janet hadn't taken offence at the General's question, she completely understood. She had repeated the tests several times herself, unwilling to accept the results. "The damage to Colonel O'Neill's throat is severe. His oesophagus, larynx, trachea, and jugular all show signs of only partial healing. It is a wonder that he can breathe at all and his vocal cords are almost severed."

"What is your prognosis, Doctor?' The General's distress was evident as he ran a weary hand over his face.

"Not good, sir. I'd like to get a second opinion, but it looks like the Colonel's breathing is already compromised. I may have to intubate if it gets any worse. To be honest, I'm not sure if such extensive damage can be repaired."

"Have you told him?"

"Yes sir. It was hard to know how he took the news. He didn't react at all, almost as if he expected it. I administered a sedative and he is sleeping at the moment."

Hammond rose, determination on his face. "You have my permission to call in any specialist that you think necessary. I take it that the Colonel's team are in the infirmary?"

"Yes. They appear to be none the worse for their ordeal. I want to keep them in the infirmary for twenty-four hours for observation in case there are any hidden effects from the weapon that was used on them. Also, they seem shaken by the whole experience, even Teal'c. I'd rather have them where I can see them."

They moved together towards the door of Hammond's office, the General stepping aside to let the Doctor go first.

"I'll debrief the Colonel's team informally now, Doctor. Perhaps it will help them to tell me exactly what happened. Please keep me informed regarding Colonel O'Neill."

Janet nodded, her mind already paging through possible specialists that she could contact.

********************

General Hammond found the members of SG-1 exactly where he expected to find them, perched in various beds in the infirmary, anxiously watching their leader sleep. Ironically, Jack looked the most peaceful of the four, his face relaxed and his breathing, although shallow, not as laboured as it had been. The General noticed an IV running into the back of his hand and remembered Doctor Fraiser saying that the Colonel had been dehydrated. He shivered. The logical extension of that thought was that Jack hadn't been able to drink at all. Did that mean that he would have to be fed through an IV as well? Damn! He couldn't imagine how someone like the Colonel would stand that for any length of time. In some way, he hoped that the Doctor would need to intubate her patient - it would stop him from trying to run off. Then he smiled to himself. Knowing Jack O'Neill, it probably wouldn't stop him.

He decided on a matter of fact approach, immediately pulling up a chair between Doctor Jackson and Major Carter's beds.

"I gather from Doctor Fraiser that you all seem to be suffering no ill effects from your experience. I'd like to know exactly what happened on the planet to you, and to the Colonel. We will have the formal debriefing when the Colonel is able to report."

At his words, he saw all three pairs of eyes turn towards the sleeping man, the terrible evidence of his ordeal there for all to see.

"Major?" His voice pulled their attention back.

Major Carter stiffened up slightly and began to describe their experiences. It didn't take her long to get to the questioning, it had all happened so quickly, from the minute that they stepped from the gate to the killing of their colonel." The Goa'uld was getting angrier and angrier as the Colonel refused to answer." Her eyes flickered back to O'Neill. "Then his First Prime grabbed..." She stopped and her whole body shuddered.

"It was then that the Goa'uld ordered that O'Neill's throat be cut." Teal'c's matter of fact voice took over the report. Sam flashed him a grateful look before shutting her eyes and leaning back against the pillows of her bed. "We were unable to help him."

"He died at our feet, General." Daniel interrupted, jumping off his bed. "We had to watch as he choked his life away, drowning in his own blood. We were made to watch." His voice dropped away until it became almost a whisper. "It took a long time. He had his eyes open until just before the end. Watching us." He had reached Jack's bed and now stood, looking at him as if he couldn't believe that his friend was really there. He echoed Teal'c's words, "We couldn't help."

"There was nothing that we could do, Daniel Jackson, The Goa'uld made us watch to cause us pain. Do not allow him to win."

General Hammond saw the effect of Teal'c's words on Daniel. He stayed beside the Colonel's bed, but he nodded, acknowledging the truth. Sam sat silently, her face pale as the sheets. The General could only imagine what it must have been like for these people, the strongest and closest team that he had, to watch their leader die in such terrible circumstances.

He wondered what effect it must have on the mind of the Colonel. He knew that Jack was a master at hiding his emotions. In this case it would be even easier if he chose to do so, being unable to speak and answer questions directly.

It was a while before Major Carter continued. "After that, he asked us the same questions that he had asked the Colonel." She gave a grim smile, "We weren't in the mood to talk. I don't really know what happened next, it's all a little vague. He fired some sort of large weapon at us, then everything went blank until I woke up in the woods."

"It must have knocked us out, General. Perhaps it was some sort of zat." Daniel frowned, obviously trying to remember the events of that day.

"Teal'c?"

"I also have no memory of the events leading up to our rescue by Colonel O'Neill."

"And Jack can't tell us." Daniel's simple statement conveyed all their pain.

"General." Doctor Fraiser appeared at the door. "May I speak with you?"

Hammond almost welcomed the interruption.

"Certainly Doctor." He turned back to the others. "We will continue this later. Try to get some rest, people." He gestured towards the other bed. "He would want you to."

*********************

"Colonel." Jack heard the familiar sound of the Doc's voice close beside his ear. "Time to wake up."

He opened his eyes, his head still filled with the images from his nightmares. Filling his friends' open mouths with dirt and watching as they fought to breathe. Watching as they died.

"Colonel?"

He fought to take a deep breath, to clear his head, but he couldn't seem to get enough air into his lungs. Despite his best intentions he felt himself beginning to panic as his head started to spin. He shut his eyes, putting all his energy into calming himself down, trying to relax.

"Damn it! Get a intubation kit here, stat!"

His eyes snapped open at the doctor's words. He didn't need that cursed tube down his throat; it felt bad enough as it was. Tight and hard and ugly.

Janet was bending over him, so he grabbed her wrist, reducing his panting as he did so.

"Sir?"

He shook his head. There was no need for speech. Janet would know exactly what he meant.

She did.

She put her free hand over his and squeezed lightly. "Alright, but I'm afraid that we are only delaying the inevitable, your breathing is compromised and soon you won't be able to take in enough oxygen. Do you understand?"

This time it was his turn to agree, giving a nod, and as much of a smile as he could raise.

"I have someone to see you, sir." Jack was surprised to see a short, dark haired man standing beside her. He hadn't even realised that there was anyone else there. "This is Doctor Hamilton. He's an otolaryngology specialist and has dealt with these sorts of injuries before."

Idly Jack wondered how often the specialist had needed to deal with someone who had had their throat cut and stuck back together again like a jigsaw with a few of the pieces missing.

"Colonel O'Neill, Doctor Fraiser has explained some of the circumstances surrounding your injury." Jack caught Janet's eye, and lifted one eyebrow in a perfect imitation of Teal'c. She stifled a laugh and gave a quick wink. "I've looked at the tests and x-rays, but I am afraid that I will have to make a physical examination as well. I'll be as quick as possible, but it will be painful."

*********************

The Doctor was right, Jack thought as he struggled to control his reactions, it was painful. Almost as painful as having his throat cut in the first place.

"It won't be much longer, sir." Janet had obviously seen the signs that he was trying so hard to hide, if her anxious look was anything to go by. He clenched his hands tightly under the sheets as Doctor Hamilton pressed his fingers hard into the back of his neck and muttered one of those annoying noises that doctor's seem wont to make to avoid communicating in any intelligible way.

"Doctor." Janet's warning tone made it through the buzz of agony and Jack opened his eyes to find both doctors looking over at the various monitors attached to him. Even he could tell that they weren't happy with what they saw.

Well, hallelujah, they had finally worked it out. Stop now or your patient will either kill you or die, one or the other. At the moment, he felt like it was the dying option that was the easiest, and he had already done that once this week. He didn't want it to become a habit.

"That will be sufficient, I think, Doctor Fraiser. I have enough information for the moment." Jack was startled when Hamilton patted him awkwardly on his shoulder. "I'm sorry, Colonel. It isn't often that I examine someone with these injuries who is still alive. I hope that I didn't distress you too much. I'll discuss my findings with Doctor Fraiser, and have my report prepared as soon as possible."

Jack would have liked to have said that he appreciated the Doctor's dilemma, but he couldn't, and had to content himself with a brief nod. He shut his eyes, busy trying to breathe again, and felt himself slipping slowly into the dark.

*********************

Jack really wasn't surprised to find his throat filled with tube when he woke again. The constant nightmare of choking and struggling for breath that had plagued him for hours had given him fair warning of what to expect.

But he didn't have to like it. He raised his head a little and looked around, knowing that the Doc would be hovering somewhere close.

"Jack?"

Daniel came into view. He must have been sitting next to the bed.

"Janet's gone to talk to the General. She'll be back soon." The archaeologist looked like he hadn't slept in days, his face lined with fatigue. "How are you feeling?"

Just peachy, Daniel. How do you think I'm feeling?

Jack's knew that his frustration at the question must have been obvious because Daniel flushed slightly and stammered out an apology.

"Hell! I'm sorry, Jack. I wasn't thinking." He hurried on. "I'm sure that the Doctor that Janet called in will be able to do something. Don't worry."

Jack saw how much emotion was expressed in those few words. For Daniel the thought of not being able to speak must be dreadful; his love of language and communication such an integral part of his life. Of course, for himself, it meant the end of his career - the Air Force would hardly be anxious to keep on a senior officer already coming to the end of his active service if he couldn't speak. Not a good advertisement for a career in the military.

Of course it was probably all academic anyway. Without this damned tube and the IV he couldn't even breathe or feed himself.

He couldn't live like this.

The Goa'uld had managed to kill him after all.

The silence stretched uncomfortably, until Daniel stood up and touched him on the arm.

"It will be okay, Jack. You have to believe that. It will be."

All Jack could do was shut his eyes.

He heard his friend sigh softly and the rustle as he sat again.

*********************

"Jack. Janet is here." Daniel gently woke the Colonel as Janet entered the room. She waited until she was sure that he was fully awake before she spoke.

"Daniel would you mind stepping out for a while? Why don't you go get something to eat and come back in about half an hour?" Janet saw reluctance cross Daniel's face and took him by the arm, leading him towards the door. "I need to examine the Colonel and I'm sure that he would rather have some privacy. You understand." She smiled as he nodded and slowly walked out, looking back twice before he had even reached the elevators.

"Now Colonel." Janet tried for a matter of fact tone as she approached her patient's bed. "I have the report from Doctor Hamilton." She spotted the apprehensive look before Jack's face blanked of all emotion, and perched herself on the edge of the bed, trying to look relaxed. She was anything but relaxed, but the last thing the Colonel needed right now was to pick up on her concern.

"He has suggested that we operate and attempt to repair the damage. He is fairly confident that he can restore your trachea and oesophagus."

Jack raised his right hand and gestured to his mouth.

"Yes, " Janet smiled, "That would mean that we could remove the tube as soon as you have recovered from the operation, probably in just a few days."

He shook his head, his frustration clearly showing, and once again gestured at his mouth.

Her heart sank a little, but she answered honestly. Jack O'Neill wasn't the sort of person to need bad news sugar coated.

"Doctor Hamilton is of the opinion that the damage to your vocal cords is too extensive to repair." She saw the blankness beginning to return to his eyes and hurried on. "However he did say that he couldn't be sure. We will know more when he operates."

She waited for a response.

All she got was a slow blink of his eyes. It was hard to read the Colonel at the best of times.

"I've scheduled the surgery for tomorrow morning. Would you like me to explain the situation to your team?"

This time the response immediate. The Colonel shook his head emphatically and pointed at himself. He then made writing motions, obviously requesting pen and paper.

Janet handed him a clipboard with some blank paper, her experience telling her that trying to write while lying down was much easier against a hard surface. The pencil that she found would also be simpler to use than a pen.

The Colonel's hand shook slightly, making his normally neat handwriting a little untidy, but it was still clear enough to be easily read.

Ask my team to come. I will tell them.

"Okay, sir. I'll pass the message along and then report to the General. Is there anything that you need before I go?"

The only answer she received was a headshake. The Colonel put the clipboard alongside him on the bed and shut his eyes, dismissing her.

*********************

Jack waited for the Doc to leave the room before allowing himself to really think about what she had said. It hadn't come as a complete surprise; he had been mentally preparing himself for news like this since he returned to the SGC.

He knew that he only had two options - wallow in self pity, or cope with it, if and when it happened. After all the things that had happened to him over the last years, he knew that nothing was set in stone, and he had had enough of self pity back on the planet. There was only one way to deal with this.

As the door to his room opened, Jack formed as much of a smile on his lips as he could.

*********************

The room was quiet when Jack woke up from the anesthetic. He felt remarkably alert considering the pain medication that he knew must have been administered. The tube was down his throat, helping him to breathe, but he had expected that. The Doc had explained that it would be at least three days before it could be removed.

He lay waiting, half fearing the answer, but desperately needing to know. Would he be able to speak?

His team had been stunned by the news. He had tried to convey to them that he would be glad to get back his ability to breathe and eat, but the limitations of having to write everything down hampered him. He had known what he wanted to say, and not being able to say it was very frustrating. In the end he stopped attempting to explain, and let himself drift off to sleep, the stress of the last days having exhausted him. The last thing that he remembered had been the sounds of his friends quietly leaving, whispered farewells lingering in the air.

"Colonel O'Neill." Jack recognised the voice as Doctor Hamilton's. He opened his eyes slowly, squinting a little against the bright lights. Janet was standing next to the specialist, her eyes fixed on his. He knew what they were going to say before they spoke. Confirmation that the damage to his vocal cords was too severe to repair. He had run out of reactions, nodding, smiling, shutting his eyes - he had used them all in the past days, so he just kept his eyes open and stared straight at them, willing them to leave before he lost it completely.

*********************

There was no paperwork in Jack O'Neill's office. There was no mess in Jack O'Neill's office. The only thing left in Jack O'Neill's office was Jack O'Neill.

It wasn't that he was hiding out, it was just that there were only so many things that he could do. He could sit in on briefings, but by the time that he managed to write a comment down, the moment had passed and it had become irrelevant. He could work out in the gym, trying to regain his strength, but the morbid fascination attracted by the huge scar on his neck, made even worse by the operation, had quickly become grating. He couldn't go off world. Couldn't even enjoy a meal - he may be able to eat properly again, but it was a painful and slow process, making him take small frequent snacks of soft, easy on the throat food. He was beginning to hate the sight of jello.

So, here he was, in his office.

It had been two weeks since he had been released from the infirmary. He had refused to go and vegetate at home while his fate was being decided. He didn't feel sick.

His debriefing had taken longer than the whole incident. In the end he had been allowed to type up a report, which the General had read over. It had been brief and to the point. He had died. He had been revived. He had escaped with the help of a Jaffa. He had found his team unconscious. He had hidden them. They had woken. They had escaped.

He knew what would happen if he told Hammond about the grave. He would never get out of MacKenzie's clutches. As it was, he had been made to endure two sessions with the psychiatrist, made even more annoying by having to write his answers down. He didn't know who was more pleased to be done, the doctor or himself.

So now he was marking time, feeling useless, waiting to learn his fate.

Medical retirement. There really wasn't anything else. All attempts to contact their allies had failed, the healing device had proved worse than useless - the only result being pain that lasted for hours. Carter had theorised that it hadn't worked because the initial healing had been begun by a sarcophagus; perhaps some sort of fail save designed to stop torture victims from being cured. No one knew for sure, the only certainty was that it hadn't worked.

So he had gotten on with life. At least he wasn't sprouting weird languages like he had when he had the Ancient's download in his brain. This time he knew exactly what he wanted to say. He just couldn't say it.

Somehow sarcasm just came out as rudeness when it was typed on a screen. His humour was all in the voice, the delivery. Every conversation had become a task to be avoided.

So, here he was, in his office.

Feeling sorry for himself.

Crap! He had promised himself not to let this happen. Back in that cell when he had thought that his team was dead he had taken charge of his fate again and decided to live. He hadn't given in and he wouldn't now.

Jack strode out of his office, determined to find something productive to do.

*********************

It had taken some persuasion on his part, but finally the General found him a job. A new instructor had been appointed to oversee the cadet training and Hammond had asked Jack to observe his methods. That was it - observe. See how things were going. Nothing more. The General had emphasised that, and had sighed as the Colonel had left, looking happier than he had in weeks.

Jack smiled as he drove, looking forward to getting some fresh air and being useful at the same time. He didn't know the Sergeant in charge of training very well, only that he was an ex-member of SG-10. Normally Jack would have had some input into his appointment, but he had been in the infirmary when the position had come up. He was looking forward to seeing Sergent Perry at work, his record showed extensive combat experience, and only a serious leg injury that had left him with a permanent limp had stopped him from continuing to be a part of the off world teams.

Jack handed his ID to the guard on the gate, and pulled in to the parking area of the training facility. He could already see the small group of cadets clustered around the sandy haired sergeant, watching as he demonstrated a staff weapon. He must have just started this part of the training, as four or five weapons were sitting propped up against the fence behind the young airmen.

"The staff weapon can be used in several ways." Perry was demonstrating basic moves to the clearly unimpressed group. He swung it several times in the air, using it as if it were a club. "It is a formidable weapon in the hands of an experienced warrior."

"So is a hammer, and a lot easier to carry." The muttered words were clear from where Jack stood. One of the cadets, a skinny olive skinned young man leaned towards his shorter companion and sniggered.

"I can't see that we'd have any trouble with these Jaffa people if this is the best weapon that they have," his friend answered, keeping his voice low. "Just blast them with a P90 and see how far they get."

Jack saw the Sergeant become aware of his presence as he looked over to locate the source of the whispering. He gave the trainer a quick shake of his head, and received an almost unperceivable nod in return, the two experienced soldiers communicating easily without words.

The two cadets still hadn't noticed that they were being watched. Jack quietly took a staff weapon from the pile and stepped forward. With one fluid motion he bent and swept the feet out from under both the men, following through with a swift jab to the stomach of the shorter one, leaving him down in the dirt. He ended the move with one foot on the other's chest and the base of the weapon pointed at his head.

He took a second to mentally congratulate himself, all those lessons with Teal'c and Bra'tac at the Alpha site had paid off.

"What the hell?!" The olive skinned cadet glowered at the man standing over him. Jack could feel his anger growing as he realised that his classmates were all staring in stunned amazement at the confrontation. The young man's face began to redden in humiliation.

He stepped back, letting the cadet come to his feet, and waited.

For a moment he thought that the man was going to use his brains instead of letting his anger take control, however he was disappointed. The cadet took a pace forward, his aggression plain. Jack spun the staff weapon, turning it so that its head was facing the man's body and twisted the mechanism, opening it. The sight of the glowing tip stopped the man in his tracks. The Colonel spun on his heels again, and fired three blasts in rapid succession, each taking a large chunk out of the nearby targets.

He turned back, the deactivated weapon at his side once again looking as harmless as a piece of wood.

There was no sound except for the agitated breathing of the cadet in front of him.

"I think that Colonel O'Neill has just demonstrated my point. The staff weapon can be deadly in the right hands." Sergeant Perry's calm voice broke the silence.

"Sir!" The young man snapped to attention. "I'm sorry, Colonel."

Jack saw the fear in the young man's face, the realisation dawning that he had almost struck a superior officer. It was a sobering lesson for all the cadets, and one that they had to learn. The ability to think clearly even in the heat of battle might someday save their lives.

There was more than one sobering lesson that these young soldiers could learn today.

He ignored the worried cadet, and moved forward through them to join Perry at the front of the class.

"Colonel O'Neill." As the sergeant's eyes flickered to his open collar, Jack pulled the prewritten note from his pocket, waiting while Perry read it. He had known that he couldn't just sit and observe, despite the General's intentions, and he had come prepared.

Perry gave him a long look as he finished reading, and then snapped out a command.

"Attention!"

He waited as his class straightened up, before continuing.

"This is Colonel O'Neill. He is second in charge of the SGC." Jack could feel all the eyes twist towards him, evaluating, "He has asked me to explain why he cannot speak to you himself. Several weeks ago he was captured by the Jaffa that you are training to fight. They cut his throat." Jack pulled his shirt collar open, exposing the still livid thick line of raised scar tissue. There were several gasps. "This is the sort of enemy that you will encounter if you posted to the SGC. This is the sort of danger that you may face. If you are not prepared to face such danger then you should speak up now." Perry waited for a few beats, then continued once more. "That being the case, I now expect your full attention for the rest of the day. Colonel O'Neill will be observing the class, and will be evaluating your performance."

Sergeant Perry finished speaking and turned to face Jack. He snapped off a textbook salute. Jack returned it, moved to one side, and finding a comfortable spot to sit, settled in to watch.

The training proceeded smoothly, the cadets giving their instructor their full attention. It was a hot and sweaty group that stopped for lunch, taking the food from the supplies brought to them from the main building. Jack looked at it in disgust, it seemed that indigestible mess hall food followed him everywhere. He regretted not bring his own supplies from the SGC.

Jack was happy with the progress of the training session. The class had thrown themselves into the lessons with renewed vigour, sideways glances at where he was sitting showing that they hadn't forgotten his presence. They may have been trying to impress, but all that Jack cared about was the end result, the method used to achieve it was unimportant.

"Colonel O'Neill, can I get you anything? Coffee?" Sergeant Perry joined him, carrying two folding chairs. "Here, sir. I figured that we were too old to sit on the ground and eat unless we have to. May as well be comfortable. Now, can I get you that coffee?"

Jack accepted his offer with a smile, and the two older men were soon sitting, watching the class eat.

Jack sipped the hot coffee cautiously; he still had to be very careful not to burn his still tender throat. Perry sat silently beside him.

*********************

Tom Perry took another bit of his sandwich, barely noticing the taste as he swallowed. One of the cadets, Nugyen if he remembered correctly, had brought the tray of sandwiches over and he had taken one gratefully, not realising how hungry he was until the food was in front of him. He noticed that Colonel O'Neill wasn't eating; he was taking slow sips of his coffee, and looking over at the youngsters, a thoughtful expression on his face.

Perry watched as the Colonel raised his hand to rub his neck, the terrible injury exposed as the collar of his shirt was pulled down. He understood how that felt - the pull of scarring on the skin. He found himself massaging his own knee in sympathy, the memory of the staff weapon blast still vivid in his mind.

The realization that despite the difference in rank, he did have a lot in common with the Colonel caused him to speak.

"What are your plans now, sir? Now that you are off the active duty roster perhaps you might consider coming down here on a regular basis. I could certainly use the help. The cadets obviously took your lesson to heart. I think that it helps to focus them when they see the reality of what they are training for rather than just being told. We still have a lot to offer, even if we can't go off world." He paused, remembering the weeks just after his injury, when he was sure that his career in the military had been cut short. "I know I wouldn't have been able to retire, and just sit around after the things that I've seen, knowing what is really going on out there. At least by doing this I'm still a part of it." With a start he realised what he had just said. "Sorry, sir, I didn't mean to imply that taking medical retirement was the wrong thing to do, if that's what you're planning. I just mean that it wouldn't have worked for me."

He hadn't really been looking at the other man as he spoke, so he was surprised when the Colonel abruptly stood, putting his coffee cup on the ground next to his chair. He stood as well, bringing his eyes level with the Colonel's. For one brief moment he caught a glimpse of coldness and pain, the echoes of a past that he didn't even want to contemplate, then the shutters came down, and his face became an unemotional mask.

Colonel O'Neill raised his hand as if he were about to speak, then shut his mouth with a sigh, and gave a nod of farewell. As he walked to his car, Perry couldn't help thinking about what he had seen it those few seconds, the soldier behind the face of the officer, a soldier that he wouldn't ever want to meet on the battlefield. Not the face of someone who would take retirement gracefully and slide away into obscurity without a fight.

He hoped for the Colonel's sake that things would work out; he would hate to imagine what would happen otherwise. The coldness in the Colonel's eyes seemed to settle around him, and he shuddered, before turning back to his watching class.

*********************

Jack sat in his truck, mind in turmoil. He knew that he shouldn't have left like that, but the Sergeant's words had affected him badly. The image of himself as a washed up old man, sitting on his balcony, waiting for the occasional call to come out and help train the kids, had shocked him to the core.

Was that his future? Sure, he couldn't deny that Perry did a valuable job, from what he had seen the man was an excellent instructor, but he couldn't be a part of that. Without speech all he could teach were the movements, he needed to be able to explain, tell those young people how important it was to be ready, talk to them.

Talk to them.

He had to face reality. This little excursion had been a wakeup call.

He leaned forward and put the key into the ignition, and grimaced in frustration when his cell phone beeped. He pulled it roughly from his pocket, reading the text message on its small screen.

What now? What could be so important that he had to return to the mountain immediately? What could they possibly want with him?

With his mind still lost in the silence, Jack O'Neill headed back to the SGC.

**********************

He hurried through the check ins, barely acknowledging the greetings of the guards. He knew that whatever the General wanted, it must be important, but he couldn't help feeling annoyed. The last thing he wanted to do right now was see people, he wanted to be alone for a while, think things over. Revaluate.

He reached Hammond's office, thankful to find the General alone.

"I'm sorry that I had to call you away, Jack, but something's come up." The General launched into an explanation as soon as he had entered, gesturing him to close the door, and waving him to a seat. "We had a call from the Asgard while you were gone."

Jack felt a sudden surge of hope. Asgard technology had helped him before, their medicine was far ahead of Earth's.

"Wait, son." Hammond must have seen the look on his face, because he hurried on, his voice sympathetic. "They weren't responding to our request for help, it didn't even seem as if they had received it. They want your help. The message was short, but it seems that they want you, and only you. I tried to respond, but it seemed to be a pre- recorded message. They said that you should be ready," he glanced at his watch "in twenty minutes."

Jack grabbed a pen from the desk and wrote on the waiting pad.

What possible use could I be?

He threw the pen down angrily, and gestured at his throat, not caring that his emotions had surfaced for the first time since he had returned to Earth. Not caring for once that Hammond could see exactly how he felt.

"I don't know the answer to that question, Jack, but I do know that this is the best chance that you have. Now you better go get ready, we don't really have a choice."

Jack acknowledged the order with a nod, and headed for the locker room to change, collecting his weapons on the way. He had no idea what he was going into, but he was going to be prepared for any eventuality.

"Jack, we just heard." Jack looked up to find Daniel and Teal'c. He would bet anything that Carter was waiting in the corridor, only the fact that he was changing stopping her from entering. "What do they want?"

He frowned at Daniel's question and shrugged, frustrated again by his friend's questions. Questions that he knew he couldn't answer. He just wanted to be out of there. Away from the sympathy and the pity. Away from well meaning friends.

He straightened up and began putting on his weapons, his face blank. Finally he slung his P90 over his arm and looked at his watch - only a minute or so to go.

"Is there some way that we may accompany you, O'Neill?" Teal'c's concern was clear. "Perhaps we can contact the Asgard and request that we be allowed to come?"

"Colonel?" Carter's head appeared around the door, and seeing that the coast was clear, she stepped inside.

The tingling sensation told Jack that the time for talking had passed. He raised his hand in farewell.

*********************

"Colonel O'Neill, thank you for agreeing to come."

Jack glared at the small figure in front of him, trying to convey without words just what he thought of the Asgard methods.

"I will take you to Commander Thor."

Jack felt his mood lighten considerably as he followed the alien through the ship's corridors. Thor owed him, plus he was a friend. Jack knew not to count on anything, but he couldn't help himself hoping.

The grey metal doors slid open and Jack found himself in a large room, set out with tables and chairs as if for a meeting. Thor stood at the head of the table.

"Colonel O'Neill, it is good to see you once again. I apologise for bringing you here with so little warning but the matter was urgent. May I present to you Rast'ur of the Goa'uld."

Jack turned slowly, his mind going into overdrive. The white robed figure stood on Thor's right, just out of his reach, a look of shock on his face. Yeas'r's expression mirrored his master's.

"The Colonel and I are already acquainted, Commander Thor. When he was my guest I had no idea that I had captured such a valuable prize." The Goa'uld spoke slowly as if weighing his words. "I must admit to being surprised to see him here. However, I don't think that he will be much use to you in these negotiations. I think that you will find that the good Colonel has been left with a permanent souvenir from his visit." Although Rast'ur only allowed a small smile to briefly cross his lips, his First Prime had no such compunction. His laugh was deep and full of malice.

"O'Neill?"

Jack tugged his collar open, exposing the scar, refusing to be baited.

"I do not understand." Thor's voice was puzzled.

"I had better explain then, Commander. I had Yeas'r cut the Colonel's throat. He won't be doing much talking in the near future, if ever."

Jack couldn't tell how Thor took the news, except for a slow blink of his large eyes his expression didn't change. "If that is the case, then I must delay these talks for a short while. You will remain here." He turned to Jack. "Colonel O'Neill, if you would accompany me?" Giving the Goa'uld no time to protest, he left the room, taking Jack with him.

They walked back the way that Jack had come when he arrived on the ship. Thor stopped in a side room and turned to face him, putting a thin, bony hand on Jack's arm.

"Do not worry, I will have my medics examine you. Although I cannot guarantee anything, we will do our best to repair the damage." Jack's joy was cut short by his next words. "However that will have to wait until after these negotiations, but do not worry, I have arranged for help."

Three flashes lit up the small room and the remaining members of SG-1 stood blinking in confusion in front of them.

Shit! Jack was glad that he couldn't speak because the words that he was thinking would severely damage their relations with the Asgard if he spoke them aloud.

"Commander Thor, what's going on?" Carter looked around her worriedly.

"I apologise for bringing you to my ship without warning, Major Carter, but I was unaware that Colonel O'Neill had been injured. We have been asked to negotiate with a minor system lord to allow one of the planets within his sphere of influence protected planet status. The natives of that planet asked to have Colonel O'Neill negotiate on their behalf, apparently you had contact with them several months ago." As he spoke Thor began leading them back towards the meeting room. "I am sure that they will understand that Colonel O'Neill can not attend these talks alone under the circumstances."

Jack could see the door of the meeting room just ahead. His mind was blank as he began to panic, his heart racing. With a lunge he stepped in front of the party, putting his arm out to stop them entering.

"Jack? What's wrong?"

Daniel - always with the questions that he couldn't answer. He didn't know what to do, couldn't think how to stop them.

"O'Neill, is there some reason that you do not wish us to meet with this Goa'uld?"

Jack could only nod in answer to Teal'c's question, hoping that it was enough. It wasn't.

"I am sorry, O'Neill, but if we do not return to the negotiations the Goa'uld will leave. We must do what we can to bring this planet into our treaty, for the sake of its inhabitants." Thor eyed him, patiently waiting for him to step aside. "Whatever issue you have with this Goa'uld must wait until after the meeting is finished."

He had no choice. He brought his arm down, and took as deep a breath as he could manage. With a nod, he moved to one side, allowing Thor to precede him, knowing that he could do nothing to prevent what was to come.

Rast'ur had moved to one of the seats near the door, his First Prime standing behind him. The Goa'uld didn't rise as they entered, he keep his face impassive and leaned forward.

Daniel came to an abrupt halt as he recognised the waiting man. The only sign of recognition Sam gave was a small gasp. As Jack had expected, Teal'c allowed nothing of his surprise to show.

"It appears that Colonel O'Neill wasn't the only one to be brought back from the dead. I imagine that he managed to dig you up before the stasis field dissipated." The Goa'uld's cold voice held only a note of curiosity. "This is very interesting. You were in no condition to unbury your friends without help, Colonel. I wonder which of my Jaffa is the traitor."

Jack managed to keep his face impassive. He could feel the stares of his team on him, see the shock in their faces without needing to look. There was nothing that he could do now except keep Rast'ur here until he was able to warn Un'tak. He walked to the side of the table opposite the Goa'uld and slowly and deliberately, took his seat, never taking his eyes from those of the other man.

Taking their cue for their leader, SG-1 followed, taking seats flanking him and reached for the information pads provided.

********************

"Colonel O'Neill." The Asgard's voice roused Jack from his daze. He looked up, his eyes unfocused to find everyone in the room staring at him, his team with concern, the Goa'uld and his Jaffa with amusement. "Are you unwell?"

"The Colonel is still not completely recovered from the operation carried out to reverse some of the effects of his injury." Teal'c's deep voice answered on Jack's behalf. "If you would provide him with somewhere to rest, I will escort him."

"Certainly, Teal'c." Thor peered up at Jack, concerned. "I will have my medics examine him."

"I must protest, Commander." Rast'ur stood up angrily. "These talks have gone on long enough, I will not condone any more delays."

"Then I suggest that you carry on without the Colonel." Thor cut across the Goa'uld's protests. "It is clear that Colonel O'Neill is unwell."

"Jack, do you need to see Janet?"

Jack shook his head in answer to Daniel's question. He reeled sideways as he stood, only Teal'c's firm grip preventing him from falling back into his seat.

"Sir, are you sure?" asked Carter, worried.

He nodded his head emphatically and gave her a tight smile. Following Thor, he slowly negotiated his way out of the room, helped by Teal'c. When he reached the door, he looked back to see Daniel and Carter still watching him, their faces lined with concern.

He waited until they had turned the corner of the corridor before straightening up and pulling his arm from Teal'c's grip. The Jaffa released him, his only reaction a raised eyebrow. Jack pulled out a pen and notepad from his jacket pocket and quickly wrote a short message, before handing it to Teal'c.

`We must warn Un'tak, the Jaffa that helped me.'.

"Indeed. I do not however know how we can accomplish this, O'Neill. We do not know the location of Rast'ur's home world."

"I do, O'Neill, and I would be only too happy to transport Teal'c down to a safe location. The Asgard have been keeping Rast'ur under observation for some time, since he began spreading out into territory nearer to several of our protected planets. His ambition has greatly concerned us."

Jack gave a relieved smile at Thor's words. Not all of his fatigue had been feigned, the stress of the day was finally catching up on him.

"O'Neill, although I guessed that you had an ulterior motive for you wanting to leave the meeting, I can see that you are not well. Perhaps it would be best if Commander Thor had his medics look you over." Teal'c asked, concerned.

He realised that he was rubbing the bridge of his nose, a headache hovering in the back of his head, his neck throbbing. In fact, he was starting to feel decidedly queasy; all that soft mush food must be catching up with him. He lowered his hand to his mouth and swayed, finding himself leaning against the Jaffa's strong body.

"Teal'c, please follow me. We will take Colonel O'Neill to my medical facility." Thor's tone allowed for no argument.

********************

Jack lay back and felt his body sink into the soft substance covering the bed. There wasn't anything else to do. To his disgust, Teal'c had just dumped him there and then left with Thor, merely stating that he "would warn Un'tak and return as quickly as possible." He made it sound like a walk in the park, a pleasant jaunt to get some fresh air. He had been here ever since. Not knowing what that damned snakehead was saying to Carter and Daniel, not knowing what was happening to Teal'c, not knowing where Thor was, not doing anything except lay there.

Totally useless.

The only interaction he had with the Asgard medics that were constantly coming in and out of the room, had been when one of then pressed something into his neck a short time ago, and admonished him when he tried to feel what it was. Now the area around the scar was feeling heavy and numb, which was an improvement on the constant dull throbbing that he had experienced for weeks now, and that had intensified over the last few hours into sharp pain.

Jack shifted restlessly. He couldn't even relax, there were bright lights playing over his body, lights, which constantly changed in colour and intensity. At the moment a blue beam was concentrated on his face, making it hard to do anything except close his eyes. It wasn't an unpleasant feeling, just a slightly warm glow on his skin.

Now, if only he could relax.

******************

His eyes felt heavy and his mouth tasted of blood and bad breath. Jack stayed still and took stock. Apart from a soft pounding in his head, he felt remarkably fine. He must have fallen asleep after all.

Crap! What about Teal'c? What about the meeting? Just how long had he been asleep?

He forced his eyes to open, rubbing them hard to clear the blurriness, and looked around. He was still in the Asgard infirmary, still laying on the bed. The only thing different was that he was naked and covered by only a thin blanket.

"Colonel O'Neill." An Asgard leaned over him, peering intently into his face. "Please stay still for a while longer, I must run some more tests." He then picked up a small metallic object from the tray beside the bed.

"Oh for cryin'out loud!" Jack reeled back as the instrument shone a beam of light straight into his eyes. "What is it with you doctors..." He stopped.

Stunned.

Speechless.

"Please do not attempt to speak again until I have completed my tests." The Asgard sounded annoyed. "It has taken much work to repair the injury and I do not want it to be damaged again."

Jack nodded and lay back, feeling just a little frightened. While the beams of light were once again passed over his body he stayed as still as possible, not wanting to jeopardise anything by doing the wrong thing. For once in his life he was going to obey orders. Janet would have been so proud of him. That little alien could shine all the lights in his eyes that he wanted to, and Jack wasn't going to say a word in protest. He was just going to stay quiet.

Because it was his choice to stay quiet.

Not because he couldn't speak, but because he choose not to.

So Jack just lay on the bed and waited.

It seemed like hours, but it was probably only about forty minutes before the medic spoke again.

"You can get up now. Here are your clothes. After you have dressed I would ask you to drink this" He handed the Colonel a beaker of green liquid. "It will clear your throat of the medications we administered, then you can speak."

Jack put his clothes on, uncaring that he was being watched by the Asgard. He picked up the glass and swallowed the bitter tasting green drink in three quick gulps, then stood, glass in hand. This was an occasion. He should have something profound to say.

"Sweet!" With a laugh he pumped his fist in the air. "Let's get this show on the road!"

"I take it that you are pleased to have the use of your voice back, O'Neill."

Jack spun, surprised that Thor could have approached so close without him hearing. With a whoop he grabbed the small figure and gave him a fierce hug.

"Thor buddy! Pleased is not the word. I don't think that even ecstatic covers it. I don't know how to thank you."

"There is no need for thanks, O'Neill. I could do no less." Thor almost sounded embarrassed. "The Asgard remember their friends, O'Neill."

Jack looked down into Thor's large eyes, and spoke quietly. "Thank you, Thor. Thank you for your friendship." He stretched his hand out and, after a slight hesitation, Thor took it.

*********************

Sam and Daniel had endured hours of posturing and boasting from the arrogant Goa'uld. They had expected Teal'c to return with news of the Colonel, and were very concerned that he hadn't. They tried to focus their attention on the details of the treaty, but their eyes kept wandering towards the door, waiting for it to open. Every so often one would catch the other's worried glace and would smile reassuringly.

Thor had re-entered the meeting only a short time after leaving it, but had ignored any attempts to find out how the Colonel was.

The treaty was almost completed when Thor was called from the meeting again. Rast'ur was almost beside himself with rage. Already angered by the Asgard agreeing with the natives' request to include their world in the Protected Planet Treaty, he had been trying to win as many concessions as possible in recompense.

Rast'ur's anger showed in the glow of his eyes as the Asgard left the meeting. Turning to the two humans, he looked them up and down as if inspecting every inch of them.

"I remember watching your Colonel as he dug your grave. The insects had landed on your lovely face, and he could not keep them off and dig at the same time." He smiled at Sam. "Every time he stopped to scare them away, one of my Jaffa `persuaded' him to keep digging. He did not take much persuasion. Soon the insects clustered over your mouth and eyes. Did you know that your eyes were open? Such pretty blue eyes."

Sam felt Daniel's hand grip hers under the table. She squeezed back, trying her hardest to show that the Goa'uld's words were not upsetting her.

"There is no nacquadah on the planet," Daniel's firm tone cut across the resonant one of the Goa'uld, "so I don't see that we need to spend any more time on discussion of recompense for mineral rights."

Sam threw Daniel a grateful glance smile and the negotiations continued, but they couldn't help thinking about the Goa'uld's words. In the forefront of their minds was the knowledge that the Colonel had kept this from them, that he had coped with the memories alone.

To Sam's horror, Rast'ur hadn't finished.

"Your Colonel had trouble getting you all in the hole, you know. He had given up and made it too small. It wasn't a very good job at all really. Not the sort of grave that I expected him to dig for his friends. It was as if he just wanted to get it over and done with as quickly as possible. He was a bit more enthusiastic about covering you all up. Do you still taste the dirt in your mouth?"

********************

Teal'c returned from Rast'ur's home world very satisfied with himself. He had been able to avoid the few Jaffa patrols that he had seen and had made contact with Un'tak without any trouble. The warrior had packed his belongings, and with his family and a few other dissatisfied friends, had left with Teal'c through the gate for the Alpha site, happy to finally be free of the Goa'uld. Teal'c knew that he would make a valuable addition to the rebel army.

He had been beamed up to Thor's ship within a few short hours of having left and now was happy to find Colonel O'Neill restored to full health. He had watched his leader fighting to take control of his life, struggling to find his sense of worth. He had wondered at the tenacity of the man. He had shown no sign of giving in despite the odds being stacked against him, but Teal'c had expected nothing less from his friend. His admiration had grown as he realised the secret that O'Neill had kept hidden from them - that he had thought them dead.

He could hardly bear to imagine what it must have been like.

Now as he approached the entrance to the meeting room with O'Neill and Thor, he could hear the voice of the Goa'uld clearly through the door. One glance at the thunderous look on O'Neill's face told him that he too could hear every word.

"Do you still taste the dirt in your mouth?"

Teal'c had never seen O'Neill move as fast as he did in that moment.

********************

Jack burst through the door, slamming aside the chairs in his way and vaulting the table. All he could see through the haze of rage was the sneering face of the Goa'uld that had almost taken everything from him. Time slowed and pressed itself into a tiny bubble, and left him alone with Rast'ur, isolated from the rest of the world. It gave him time to remember the long hours spent in the hot sun, unable to even cry out his anguish. To remember the blows whenever he paused for breath. To remember being pushed to fall across the lifeless bodies of his friends as the Goa'uld laughed. To have to watch as he stroked his fingers down Sam's cheek. He remembered despairing. He remembered being thankful that he would join his team in death.

He remembered wanting to die.

And he remembered the promise that he had made to himself.

Jack reached through the cloud around him, and pulled the snake forward into his arms. His movements were instinctive, the result of long hours of training and practice, and of experience. The crack was loud in the silence.

And time snapped back.

Teal'c dropped Yeas'r's body beside his master's, and the two warriors looked into each other's eyes, each acknowledging the other's skill.

"It appears that the negotiations have been concluded successfully, Colonel O'Neill." Thor looked calmly down at the bodies. "I will have someone clean the room."

Jack wiped his hands down the side of his trouser legs. He turned towards Sam and Daniel, almost afraid of what he would find.

"I think that it's time to go home, kids. The Asgard can take out the trash."

He was rewarded with two dazzling smiles.

********************

General Hammond jumped as the four figures materialised, without fanfare, in the middle of the control room.

"I'm back!"

The General groaned loudly as he took in the grinning face of Colonel Jack O'Neill. "I'd just gotten use to the peace and quiet." He strode forward and gripped the Colonel's hand in his. "It's good to have you back, son."

Jack shook Hammond's hand firmly. Sam's eyes were suspiciously moist, and Daniel looked like he had just won the lottery. Only Teal'c appeared detached from the general excitement that had swept the room when Jack had spoken. The two warrior's eyes met for the second time that day, and once again Jack nodded in acknowledgement of the Jaffa's unspoken words.

There were things that needed to be said. Secrets that needed to be spoken. Nightmares that needed to be put to rest.

Jack turned back to the General.

"Sir, I think that SG-1 has a debriefing to attend."

The End