The area he had to lie down in was tiny, barely enough room to curl up on one side,
his arms pressed hard into the unforgiving bars of the cage. He knew better than to let
any part of his body extend beyond the confines of the enclosure, his hands still
bearing the cuts from the first time.
He had gone beyond uncomfortable, his bare feet numbly balancing on the thin pieces
of metal, the gaps between them too wide for support and not wide enough for escape.
His shoulders ached from being hunched into such an unnatural position. In fact every
part of his body that could still feel ached.
They had thrown water on him yesterday, laughing as some of the filth washed away,
leaving him cold and shivering. Then they had brought their children. The first
tentative touches and prods had increased in confidence until he had endured hours of
pinches, each reaction from him eliciting gales of laughter. As night fell, and the room
was cleared, a parting poke with a stick had connected with his right eye. He still
couldn't see out of it.
They had given him a piece of some sort of bread, perhaps as a reward, and left him in
The other animals had been restless, unfamiliar growls and calls cutting through the
silence. Cries of despair.
He hadn't cried out once.
The third day had seen the games begin. The novelty must have worn off, and at first
he had been grateful. Fewer visitors meant less humiliation.
He should have known better.
He had some warning when the people started filing in, filling the room, their voices
eager with anticipation. None had any pity in their eyes, all they saw was an animal
waiting to entertain them. He had tried to crouch, get in some sort of defensive
position, but even if he had been able to move his cramped limbs, there was no room.
All he could do was wait and try to reason with them, even though he knew it was
most likely in vain. From the start it had seemed that all his attempts at
communication had done was amuse.
The keeper had been the last to enter, his old worn jacket replaced with one covered
in metal beads that shone and glittered in the torch light. He began his speech with a
flourish, quieting the crowd immediately. Jack didn't need to understand the language
to know he was the main attraction in this little show. A hand signal brought forward
two of the burly men who had first manhandled him, half conscious, into his cage.
The clank of keys and hiss of chains and the door was open, freedom as far away as
ever. He couldn't help the yelp that escaped him as he was grabbed and pulled out, his
long legs hanging uselessly, the muscles and tendons shouting their agony. From his
one good eye he saw faces staring at him, no pity, no common feeling, just something
he recognised as lust. He had seen looks like those before, on the faces of his
A wooden platform had been set up in the middle of the open area, complete with
metal restraints at each corner. He knew what was coming next as soon as he saw it,
and it was no surprise when he was placed on it, face up, his legs and arms stretched
up and out as far as possible, his wrists and ankles locked into place. For one brief
moment he thought of the irony of going from squashed like a pretzel to stretched out
like a rubber band about to snap. One brief moment only. Then the feeling of metal on
his skin brought his attention back to his surroundings with a start and he knew he had
been drifting, three days of no sleep and very little food pushing him to the edge.
The cold air on his skin as his ragged clothes were cut away revived him, the whispers
and giggles made him shut his eyes to try and distance himself. The keeper's loud
announcement and the clink of coins passing into nearby hands made what happened
next almost more unbearable. He held himself in, and, controlling his breathing as
much as possible, tried not to react as the hands groped and fondled, stroked and
pulled. Some were rough and calloused, others smaller and soft. The most disturbing
were the children's hands and he wondered what sick excuse for a civilisation could
expose their young to such a thing and make a show out of it. Only once did he open
his eyes, blinking away the moisture pooling in the corners. The hand had stroked his
hair, gently, and the face had shown compassion and pity, the old wrinkled fingers
lingering for a moment as if imparting strength. The moment was soon gone, and he
again shut his eyes, enduring what seemed like hours more as the customers continued
to pass around him and back to their seats. Just once his body betrayed him, the slight
twitch causing even more laughter, enough to put paid to any chance of that
happening again, despite the best attempts of those taunting him.
By the time it was over, he was a mass of pain, every touch agonising, making him
clench his teeth and bite his lip, the sharp, metallic taste of blood on his tongue.
They poured water into his mouth, forcing it open, holding his nose to make him
swallow, then left him there, the night air cold on his sensitised skin, the torches
smothered into darkness. Part way through the night he must have slipped into an
exhausted sleep, the uncomfortably stretched limbs an improvement on being
squashed for so long.
He woke to an involuntary bath, the water splashing down across his face and over his
body. By the time he realised his hands and feet were free he was turned, his face
forced roughly into the hard wooden surface, a cloth wiped across his buttocks and
yet more water poured over. This time he screamed as he was locked into place once
more, face down. This time it wasn't just hands. The coins clinked once more.
The only consolation he had was that there did not seem to be any children this time.
He didn't think he could have borne that.
Where was his team? He knew he hadn't been left behind. He knew they would come.
One vicious push, god knew what it was, an object - long and blunt - and he felt
himself rip and tear into darkness to the accompaniment of annoyed shouts from the
He didn't know how long he was out, only that he woke to hard slaps around his face.
He was on his back again, still held firmly down, still surrounded by spectators. At
least he seemed to have some vision in his injured eye, albeit blurred. Of course the
blurring could have been caused by the weakness he felt, the pain that lurked deep
within him, the steady loss of the blood that seeped slowly from inside. He had
experienced this feeling too many times before to not know what it was, and this time
there wasn't the cold of Antarctica to numb the sensation.
A face appeared, leering into his, the man crouching beside him. A nod, a smile, and
the keeper came into view, his latest attraction once more alert.
The show must go on.
The crowd seemed even larger than before, the murmuring more excited, the
anticipation palatable, and Jack felt his pulse begin to race. Every voice fell silent,
only the sound of footsteps approaching the bound figure broke the quiet. He jerked
his head, trying to see, to prepare himself.
The touch of fire on his upper leg broke his resolve and he shouted, writhing, pulling
away. A call and hands held him, uncaring where they gripped, holding him still as
the torch was run along the entire length of his left leg. A brief moment of reprieve, a
repositioning of the hands, and the heat seared his right arm from shoulder to
fingertips, only the wrist escaping the burning, raw as it was under the metal cuffs.
His chest was next, the smell of burning hair pungent in the air, mixing with the scent
of body fluids and the musk of the crowd's arousal. He didn't scream. He cursed,
damned them all to hell thrice over, their whole planet with them, wishing them an
eternity of pain and sorrow, even their children. He cursed until he sobbed, the flesh
At first he hadn't realised it was over, the burning sensation continuing long after the
torch was withdrawn, his pants loud in the still silent room.
Slowly he came to understand something. They hadn't finished. There was something
more to come.
He didn't know if he could take any more.
A quick glow of sunlight, quickly gone, and the keeper entered the room, holding the
leash of two creatures unlike any Jack had seen before. The closest he could come to
anything familiar was monkeys, but that wasn't quite right, their teeth and claws
almost catlike, their long fur white and clean, glowing with health and grooming. The
keeper smiled proudly and walked the creatures around the room, displaying them to
the onlookers like a proud father.
Jack watched warily, noting the orange eyes always turned in his direction, the noses
quivering. Finally the keeper lead them over, clipping the larger one's leash to the
manacle at Jack's right hand, the other to his left ankle.
A claw on his burnt shoulder, a tongue across his face.
Crap, what now?
A pull on his upper thigh, the sound of crunching, a licking of lips. The crackling of
burnt skin being peeled. Of swallowing.
Oh god! Dear god! They were eating him.
He screamed and the crowd cheered.
How long it went on for Jack was never to know, the horror overwhelming him, every
sound magnified a hundred fold. On the edge of his awareness he heard the happy
mutterings, the small sighs as the people were allowed a closer view, their cruelty an
almost concrete presence in the room, the keeper's jolly tones urging them to
approach the platform, money once again changing hands. But the closest sounds
were the ones that caught him up and held him, the loud rumbles of pleasure, the
lapping and licking, the brittle noise of skin crisp and broken and chewed.
Intermingled with the sounds were the feelings, every nerve tingling with awareness.
Wet tongues sweeping across him, finding the sweat, the blood, and lapping it up,
nibbling at him, grabbing in sharp teeth and ripping, ever so delicately at the places
perfectly cooked for their enjoyment. The slow peeling of flesh, eaten away bit by bit,
the claws digging in and holding him down, pressing hard on rawness. When one of
them found the blood around his eye, there was a tussle for possession, claws
scrabbling across his body, snarls of defiance, until the larger won out, its dry tongue
savouring the taste as Jack cringed back, feeling the teeth across the injury, fearing for
his sight if the creature slipped. The smaller of the two grabbed a mouthful of flesh as
if in protest, chewing and ripping it from his chest, pulling a long strip down his
stomach until, somewhere below his pelvis, it snagged and refused to let go. A jerk of
its head saw it release its tentative grip on his body, coming away accompanied by his
scream. A few gulps and it was gone, a part of him no longer.
He wished for anything to end the pain, and finally slipped into shocked oblivion to
the disappointed catcalls of the crowd, even the hardest slaps unable to rouse him. He
didn't hear the footsteps leave the room, the growls as the creatures were pulled from
their meal or see the torches extinguished.
He woke to darkness and hands upon him once again, but this time gentle touches
releasing his restraints. A cup at his mouth, a few sips of water and he was pulled
upright and thrown across broad shoulders. Out the door, and the night air made him
moan, a hand clenched over his mouth smothering his cries. His body was moved
frequently, different bodies, different hands on his skin, they blurred together into a
mass of pain. He didn't know how long it took, but it seemed hours of cold air, hours
of purgatory as his abused body was jolted with every movement, and the tang of
other people's sweat mingled with that of his own blood. Suddenly he was still, a
solid surface beneath him. A brief warmth appeared as a blanket was firmly wrapped
around him, a piece of bread placed in his hand, and they were gone. All he could
imagine was that the local version of the animal liberation movement had released
him back into the wild to sink or swim as he could.
He would have been thankful if he had been capable of coherent thought.
He shivered and shook, reaction setting in, vomiting the meagre contents of his
stomach onto the grass beside him, and then crawling a few feet away, tugging the
blanket after him. Dawn saw him huddled under it, the urge to tightly wrap it around
himself in conflict with the harshness of rough fabric on raw and bleeding skin. He
couldn't have hidden if he had tried, his total concentration taken up by sensory
overload, and he quivered and jerked hour after hour, the tenseness fighting with his
exhaustion, until finally the exhaustion won and he slept.
Rain beat hard on his bare body, each drop a gunshot, reawakening the burns, causing
them to sizzle deep under what little remained of his skin. His leg was the worst, the
burn on the upper thigh almost meeting the one extending down his front, only a thin
strip of untouched flesh dividing them. He couldn't feel his hands, the uninjured one
seemingly going out in sympathy for its partner, but he knew he would have to use
He couldn't stay here. There was no protection from the relentless fall of water, or the
chill wind that tossed the branches above him, releasing showers of icy needles even
in those brief moments when the drizzle eased. He was alone here, miles from the
town, that much he remembered from the night before, so he let his misery out,
knowing there was no one to hear. The groans were loud, wrenched from the core of
his soul, embarrassing in their sound, but he felt the better for them, despite the toll
they took on his energy. Finally he subsided into whimpers, the ache down and into
his hips sapping his strength along with the steady oozing of blood that dripped and
burnt across his thighs.
Time passed, and with it his grip on awareness. One thought remained, however, he
couldn't stay here.
He couldn't stay here. The piece of bread lay forgotten by his hand, now a soggy
mass, slowly washing away into the soil. No whimpers now, just harsh breaths,
struggling their way out, sometimes choked back before they escaped.
He couldn't stay here. He knew that.
His body might have been battered into submission, but his spirit wasn't. Crawling
like the wounded animal he was, he edged his way towards the rock wall a few feet
from him, seeking its meagre protection instinctively. There he stayed, until the rain
He came back to himself as the sun came out, his natural anger winning out over the
desire to just stop and give in. Those bastards weren't going to beat him. He was not
some mindless creature in a zoo, to be used however they wanted. Not once, from the
time he had been caught, separated from his team in the confusion of the battle, had
they shown the smallest iota of compassion. Thrown into some sort of medieval cross
between a zoo and a circus, he had been treated as an object of amusement, used and
humiliated in the worst possible ways - ways that even his fertile mind had never
imagined. If he could have, he would have burnt the town behind him, wiped out all
vestiges of their sick and putrid society.
Jack was as close to hatred as he had ever come. Normally some tiny spark within
him understood his enemies, even the Goa'uld, knew their motivations and kept him
focused on the fight. This time, the hatred overtook everything. His rage brought him
the strength to survive. He huddled against the cold rock, his eyes black with fury.
He was miles from the gate, any possibility of making his way there without help the
dream of a fool, and he was never that. His only hope was his team, the last glimpse
he had of them was their retreat into the forest across the clearing from him. He knew
they had escaped, because they must. They would be looking for him now, Teal'c
tracking, Daniel worrying, and Carter watching their backs.
He could hold out until they got here.
Jack sat, his back against the cliff, the blanket covering his legs, the raging thirst
competing with the hot wounds for his attention. He had already checked his injuries
as best he could, taken a mental inventory, and knew he hadn't much time. The burns
were crusting over, puss oozing in places as infection set in, the thick substance
coating his body in an eerie sheen of dirty yellow mixed nauseatingly with red and
black. He had been light headed before, the lack of food and water taking its toll on
his abused body, but now he was sinking slowly, his systems shutting down. With
glazed eyes he looked at his blackened fingers, curling in on themselves. Above them
his arm looked like skinned road kill, as if some demented hunter had taken only the
best parts and discarded the rest.
There was nothing he could do, except stay awake. He stubbornly refused to give in to
the weakness, and when he could hold his eyes open no longer, he continued to listen
to the noises around him, alert for any sign of company, friendly or hostile.
Hours wound down into night, as Jack slipped in unconsciousness, slumping over
until he came to rest on the damp ground, a lonely forgotten figure, waiting for nature
to reclaim him.
His own coughing woke him, shaking him and leaving him gasping like a fish out of
water. Each movement telegraphed pain to his nerves, and he cried out, the sound
sending birds aloft from the surrounding trees. Instinctively he pushed himself
upright, only to have his hand collapse, throwing him back to the ground with a force
that sent him spinning back into the dark.
The next time he surfaced it was to chaos. The trees seemed to reach their branches
towards him, although he could not feel the gales that must be moving them. For a
minute the last shreds of logic tried to find a reason behind the irrational and found
none. His vision tunnelled and wove, dancing colours sweeping across from the
edges, making him start in surprise and cringe back. He watched as they formed
rainbows, crazy lava lamp blobs and swirls and he giggled, his parched throat making
croaking noises that seemed the finest of songs. If he had been able, he would have
followed the waltzing lights off into the forest, but try though he might, he couldn't
get to his feet, his feeble efforts only rubbing dirt into the wounds to mix with the
fluid he was losing by the minute. The blanket, blood stained now, was crumpled
under him, and he pulled at it, sniggering at the thought of nudist colonies and
volleyball games, his fingers cracking.
The sight of his fingernails fascinated him and he stared with some dazed amazement
at them. The sight sent him into paroxysms of laughter, his body shaking with the
pain they caused. Some of the nails were gone already, and the one or two that
remained, hanging by a thread, he rubbed off across the ground. Then he watched
them, lying there, and waited for them to move, to grow, to turn into soldiers like
Itching. Sharp and raw. Unable to ignore it, he scratched at his chest, rivulets of red
and yellow sweeping over him with every movement of his hand. Nothing stopped the
itching. It became unbearable, all consuming. He dug deeper, wishing his dragon nails
back, crying in frustration. An edge caught and pulled, a thin strip of blackened skin
And the itch stopped. Just in that spot. Just where the hand had scratched.
A grin lighting up his haggard face, Jack lay on the ground and gouged pieces of
himself off, continuing the job the creatures had begun.
His laughter echoed among the trees.
Jack's laughter brought them. Betrayed him.
The trees moved for a reason this time, signalling the arrival of the very people he
least wanted to see. They held cudgels, and he put one arm across his face to protect it
from the blows, shutting his eyes as he was pulled from the rock face by his legs and
out into the open.
He fought the hands that held him as best he could, considering the circumstances, but
his best was pitiful, and clearly not enough.
Voices raised in anger cut through his head, making him tighten his already closed
eyes against the pain. Angry voices that made him struggle harder, not knowing
clearly why, but knowing on some instinctive level that he shouldn't go with them
willingly. All he got in return for his efforts was a chain passed over his head to settle
around his neck, then tugged, tightening in a strangle hold against his throat, cutting
off oxygen until he lurched forward on all fours to release the pressure. He
whimpered as a hand patted him hard, touching his bare flesh and leaving icy
imprints, before another tug urged him on.
Rocks cut into his knees, slicing his one good hand open as he struggled for purchase
on the wet and slippery leaves. He could have lain down then, let them pull until he
lost consciousness, but even with as little awareness as he had left, that would never
be his way, and so he crawled the few feet his captors wanted, before being lifted and
thrown up into something, the jolt making him groan. The chain was pulled tight once
more and his head swam from the pressure, the only way he could find relief was by
kneeling, his head down low, resting against a wooden board.
He had been placed on a short leash, a dangerous animal that had already escaped
once and was now given no latitude.
A sudden motion sent him careering down, hanging himself in the process, his weight
making the metal links cut deeply into his throat, his choking gurgles loud in his own
ears until rough hands pulled him to his knees again, the voice amused, and the chain
It was a voice he recognised, the voice of his keeper, and as the cart lurched and
swayed across the uneven ground, taking him back to his cage, he felt the surge of red
hot hatred rise again, pulling him back to himself, away from the pain wracked insane
depths he had sunk into in the forest. He raised his head as much as he could manage
and stared his tormentor straight in the eyes, deliberately communicating his defiance
as a threat.
He got laughter in return.
Laughter, and a blow across the face, rocking him backwards, followed by another pat
and a caress from a calloused hand running down his spine, lingering on his lower
back. He held back a protest, his voice lost with his humanity, and held himself as still
as possible, feeling the hand lightly exploring him, tracing the contours of his body.
He shivered involuntarily, eliciting a snort of pleasure from the keeper, and pulled
away, the leash tightening around him.
By the end of the journey, he was beyond miserable, shaking and trembling on knees
that had been barely able to hold him up before his recapture, and much less now.
Twice he had fallen, the second time he was yanked up by his hair, and the chain left
tight around his neck. He had managed to ease it loose with shaking fingers, feeling
wetness under the metal. He got another pat for his efforts.
When the cart stopped and the voice commanded, he could not respond, just kneel,
unthinking and not caring when his air was cut off once more. His keeper's voice
scolded him, but he could do nothing, nothing until he fell forward once again, the
sensation of dying an almost erotic experience.
Back in his cage, Jack woke to pain, hardly remembering a time when he had been
without it. On some level he welcomed it, because it meant he was still alive, although
perhaps not for much longer. His sight was going, the hypnotic colours of his fever
ridden mind giving way to greyness. The fire on his skin burnt duller now, the itch
merciless, and the ache deep inside had settled and become such a part of his
existence that he would have missed it if it had stopped.
He was left alone, thirst raging and gouging at his gut, sweat pouring down his face
and stinging the still oozing open wounds. He moved weakly, writhing and turning to
try and find a position that gave some relief from the constant agony, but nothing
helped, the movement only causing more pain, as his burns rubbed against the cage
bars. He couldn't stop himself, his need for comfort had become so desperate that he
cared about nothing else.
Moments of clarity became shorter. One came when the cage was opened and he was
pulled out. He was unable to stop himself crying out hoarse croaks of distress when
his body was sluiced with buckets of cold water, rubbed and polished, laid down flat,
instruments without name pressed into his forced open mouth, clamping it painfully
wide, a thick tube inserted in his throat and an endless stream of foul liquid poured
down until he could hold no more, his stomach pressed and kneaded violently until he
swallowed and swallowed and swallowed. When he began to gag and vomit the tube
was ripped out and the instrument removed. His mouth was pressed closed and
something wrapped around it, holding it firmly shut, leaving him with no choice but
to swallow back down the vomit laced with blood and bile, struggling to breathe
enough air through his nostrils, pressure forcing his regurgitation into those precious
airways. His stomach spasmed, clenching and unclenching, distended and desperate to
push the liquid out, and he felt wetness trickle between his legs. He retched and
swallowed, and retched again at the taste.
They waited until the spasms subsided before flipping him like a carcass in a
butcher's shop, and he felt fingers pulling at him, mutterings as the blood and muck
that had begun to dribble from him again was wiped away, cold metal spreading him
and yet more liquid forced inside, the pressure beyond description. A wad of
something hard did the same job as the gag, and the liquid was trapped. At least this
time he couldn't taste it and he could only guess that he was being treated with some
primitive form of doctoring, to be kept alive for a while longer.
Turned again, the gag stifled any protests when the burns were rubbed with something
moist, making them flair into life, the dried fluids coating them were scrapped off,
taking with it what little remained of the skin in those areas. Those animals wouldn't
be getting another meal anytime soon, that much was evident. Then the hand touched
the bottom of his stomach and he arched upwards, crying out against the obstruction
over his mouth. Lightening flashed inside his head. The pain was too much, and he
dropped back out of life and into the limbo where he was safe.
Bars beneath his body. Darkness all around. He couldn't raise his head, couldn't
move, couldn't even moan past the piece of vomit tasting cloth still firm around his
mouth. What he could do was feel and hear. Hear the voices of a crowd, eager with
anticipation. Feel the stares that went with the voices. Hear the footsteps walking
around his cage. Feel the hands on his bare flesh. Feel the pinches. Hear the tinkling
laughter of children. Feel pieces of flesh pulled away for no reason except to cause
pain. Hear his own moans.
Feel the hopelessness.
Feel the humiliation.
Feel the hatred.
Feel himself dying.
The fever boiled his blood, the tremors wracked his body, and bit by tiny bit he faded.
The sound of gunshots hardly registered. Shouting and yells. Screams. Running
footsteps. Furious voices laced with horror. The voice of his keeper accompanied by
the triple blast of zat fire.
He barely understood when he was freed from his prison and laid on the ground,
gentle hands holding him, pulling at the cloth on his mouth.
The only thing he knew was that the gag was gone and his head was turned, his mouth
cleared of muck and he could take a shallow breath. He didn't recognise the voices,
didn't hear the shocked tones, or the questions, didn't rouse enough to answer. He felt
something soft covering him, a prick in his arm and knew true comfort for the first
time in days. He surrendered to the drug induced oblivion, his pulse fluttering and
Motion. Floating. The tread of boots and quiet murmurs of worried voices.
So hot and yet cold enough to freeze his blood. Shaking.
Sharp, sharp daggers through his chest, spearing him.
They were back, his tormentors had him again. They were pushing on him, pounding
on his chest, thumping and screaming at him, pushing him this way and that.
Something was going down his throat again and he tried to reach a hand up to push it
away - better to be punished than be made to swallow more of that putrid liquid
sludge. He fought and gagged as the thing was pushed deep inside, another invasion.
His hand was grasped and held, he was held, captive and at the mercy of these people,
and his heart thudded until it burst within him.
"What in God's name happened out there, people?"
General Hammond frowned up at the faces around the briefing room table, faces that
were lined with tiredness and worry. Well, he was worried too, but that would have to
be set aside until he got some answers.
It was Major Carter who replied, one hand brushing freshly washed and still damp
hair from her eyes.
"I'm not sure, sir. We were several miles from the gate, heading for the town the
UAV had spotted when we were attacked."
"I didn't have time to try to talk to them, General." Daniel interrupted. "They came
out of nowhere."
"We had been crossing a clearing, sir, and managed to retreat to the tree line. The
Colonel had been separated from us almost as soon as the attack began. It was as if
they were targeting him." Sam glanced over at where Teal'c sat impassively. "Teal'c
tried to get to him, but by the time we managed to fight off our attackers, he was
"Yes, sir. The clearing was empty when we returned, even though it must have only
been a few minutes."
The General nodded his head, picturing the scene.
"We then radioed for SG-3 to follow us and started tracking the men. It didn't take
long to confirm that they were heading for the town."
"It was a good thing SG-3 accompanied you on this mission, or things may well have
turned out differently." Hammond glanced down at the report in front of him. "Major
Ferretti, you encountered a problem when rendezvousing with SG-1?"
The major sat up a little straighter in his seat, putting the pen he had been fiddling
with down. "Yes, sir. We had to avoid some large parties of locals. It was several
hours before we reached the coordinates Major Carter had given us, just at dusk. We
decided to wait until the morning before continuing to the town."
"The topography was very steep, sir. There was no point stumbling around in the dark
and risking injury. We wouldn't have done the Colonel any good that way." Sam and
Lou exchanged small nods, ignoring the mumble from Daniel.
"Do you have something to add, Doctor Jackson?"
Put on the spot, Daniel shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "Yes, General, I do." He
raised his voice, his distress obvious. "We shouldn't have waited. We should have
travelled through the night, and reached the town late the next day. Look what
happened when we delayed."
"We were delayed because of a storm, Daniel." Sam's voice was angry. "The river
rose and we had to find a way around. We had to wait for SG-3. We couldn't have
gone in without backup, it would have been suicide."
The General raised his hand, cutting off Daniel's retort. "I agree, Major. You made
the correct decision. It was just unfortunate circumstances that delayed Colonel
"A delay that could now cost O'Neill his life." The emotion in Teal'c's voice was
clear to anyone that knew him. "I should have followed O'Neill's captors
"No Teal'c." The General's voice was firm as he stared the Jaffa in the eyes. "The
decision to stay together was the correct one, as I have said. The Colonel was rescued
and brought home without any further injury to either team. From what I understand,
that may not have been the case if you had not been with your team mates during the
"If Teal'c hadn't been there I doubt we would have made it across." Major Ferretti
interjected, shooting a quick smile at the other man, and receiving a slow nod in reply.
"How is the Colonel doing, sir?" Lieutenant Foster of SG-3 spoke for the first time.
General Hammond rubbed a weary hand over his chin before answering. "Not good
I'm afraid. According to Doctor Fraiser the burns he sustained are badly infected. He
also has internal injuries and has been placed on full life support." He closed the file
and stood, followed quickly by the others. "I would suggest you all get some rest, but
I won't make that an order. Dismissed."
Daniel slumped back into his seat as soon as the General left. "Oh God." He put his
head down on the table, resting it on his folded arms. "I don't know what to do. Janet
won't let us near Jack. I know I won't be able to sleep, but I can barely keep my eyes
Lou Ferretti leaned on the table beside him, rubbing his hands over his eyes. "I know
what you mean, Daniel. It's been pretty intense these last few days, no wonder we're
all exhausted." With a sign he shut his eyes, sinking into the chair next to Daniel.
"Those damned animals. What the hell did they do to him?"
"God knows, Lou. God knows."
"Perhaps O'Neill will tell us when he recovers." Teal'c stood by the open door,
looking out into the corridor. The certainty in his voice made the others lift their
heads. A few tentative smiles and straightening of shoulders, and Daniel and Lou
"I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm going to get something to eat. Join me?"
Sam turned towards the door, briefly touching Teal'c's arm as she exited, followed
closely by the others.
Doctor Fraiser took another look at the readings from the monitors surrounding the
Colonel's bed, and sighed. She caught the eyes of the nurse sitting beside her patient,
and shook her head. He wasn't responding to treatment, the antibiotics doing nothing
to combat the infection that ravaged his body, the burns still raw and weeping. The
internal damage, and she didn't even want to think how that had happened, had been
repaired and wouldn't normally be a major concern, but he had gone into arrest in the
Gateroom, soon after being carried through the wormhole, succumbing to internal
bleeding, severe dehydration and shock.
There was something more to it than that, though, and Janet was waiting for the
results of the tests they had run on the substance found in the Colonel's body. It
appeared to have invaded his entire digestive system, starting with his throat and
following right through to his bowel. It had overflowed into his nasal passages and
despite their best efforts, was still present throughout his body in massive quantities.
They had had to intubate him, his lungs beginning to fail as if he had inhaled the thick
goo. But instead of stabilising, O'Neill's body was shutting down, piece by piece, and
now only the machines were keeping him alive.
She returned to her office, closing the door before pulling her chair out and sitting
down. For a moment she stared into space, then picked up her pen and began to write.
She had a report to make to General Hammond. She also had to decide just how much
to tell the Colonel's team.
After a few minutes she laid the pen down again.
She couldn't think of the words. No matter how many such reports she had written
they never got any easier, especially when the patient was a friend.
When she thought of the damage she had found on O'Neill's body she wanted to
weep, or at least hit something. There had been signs of animal bites and claws, even
marks of human teeth, as if he had been eaten alive. The burns were too localised to
be caused by an accident, and she could only imagine the agony he must have been in
with them left untreated for so long.
What had happened to him?
Maybe she didn't want to know.
They probably would never find out. The Colonel had been unconscious from the
time his team had rescued him, except for a brief moment in the Gateroom when he
had weakly fought the intubation.
A knock on the office door and the results of the tests were laid on her desk by a
technician. The lab must have worked overtime to finish them so quickly, and Janet
made a point of asking the young man to pass her thanks to his colleagues. Only when
the door was firmly closed once again did she turn the cover page and begin reading.
By the second page her tears were falling freely, staining the paper.
The liquid was toxic.
Even if the infection raging through Colonel O'Neill began to respond to the
antibiotics, the damage already done by the substance was irreversible, the poison
spreading as if it had a life of its own. They had never seen anything like it, had no
Janet took a tissue from the box on the desk, and blew her nose. Throwing it into the
bin she pulled out another and wiped her eyes, holding it wadded up in her left hand.
She stood, opened the door and walked across the infirmary to the small ICU room,
lifting herself up on her toes to look through the window in the door. The Colonel was
surrounded by machines, covered by dressings and pierced by needles. Tubes ran in
every direction, the machine pumping oxygen into him wheezing beside the head of
his bed. The skin on his face was so pale that it appeared translucent. Even as she
watched one of the monitors gave a small stutter, causing the nurse to look up, worry
etched into the lines of her face. The stutter settled again, and Janet saw the nurse sit
back, taking the Colonel's unbandaged hand lightly in her own, picking up the papers
she had been reading in the other.
The doctor lowered herself back down onto the soles of her feet and turned her back,
returning to her office and sitting again, the sodden tissue still clutched tightly in her
She picked up the pen again, pulled the barely started report from beneath the test
results, and began to write.
"Come in, Major."
"Thank you, sir." Sam moved into the General's office, taking a stand in front of his
"You asked to see me?" Hammond gestured at a chair. "Please sit down."
She shook her head. "No, thank you, sir. I'd rather stand." Standing straighter, her
black-rimmed eyes held him. "I would like to request permission to contact my
"I already have. Major." Hammond was just as tired as the woman in front of him,
and for a moment he let it show in the slump of his shoulders. He nodded to the chair
once more. "Sam, please sit down."
He gave a small, tight smile as the Major perched herself on the edge of the seat,
every line of her body screaming with barely concealed tension.
"I sent messages both to the Tok'ra and the Asgard as soon as I received Doctor
Fraiser's report on the Colonel's deteriorating condition. So far no reply has been
She nodded, her eyes on her clasped hands held in her lap. "I have another request,
"Under the circumstances, SG-1 would like permission to visit Colonel O'Neill?"
He nodded. "I'll arrange it with Doctor Fraiser." After a brief hesitation he continued.
"There may still be hope, Major. They are still analysing the toxin. They may yet
come up with a solution."
Sam raised her head and smiled a grim smile. "Yes, sir. They may."
They both heard the lie in the other's voice.
"You understand you can only stay for a few minutes and you have to go in one at a
Daniel gave an irritated nod.
"Yes Janet. We know. You've told us. We'll try not to upset Jack. After all he is
comatose. We wouldn't want to wake him."
"That is enough, Daniel Jackson. Doctor Fraiser is only concerned for her patient."
Teal'c turned from the window of the ICU and frowned at his colleague. "You may
"Does the nurse have to be there?"
"I'll stay myself, Daniel, but there has to be one of us in the room. I'm sorry."
With a curt nod, Daniel accepted Janet's words, waiting impatiently for the nurse to
leave and the doctor to take her place. He was inside the room the second Janet
nodded. His rage drained from him as soon as he was beside his friend's bed.
"Oh god, Janet. He really is dying, isn't he?" Daniel wrapped his arms around
himself, his hands gripping the folds of his jacket as he stared down at the still form.
His expression flickered between anger at himself and pure anguish. "We should
have gotten to him sooner. This should never have happened." He shook his head and
suddenly started to back away, his retreat only halted by the solidity of a wall. His
mouth opened to speak, his eyes glued to the form on the bed, but for a moment
nothing came out but a choked sound, and when he did finally get the words out, his
voice was only a whisper. "He wouldn't have waited if it had been one of us. He
always looks out for his team. I ... can't...I can't do this."
Daniel spun around, pressing down the nearby handle and throwing the door open. He
lurched out and kept going, his footsteps retreating rapidly.
"Janet?" Sam tentatively took a step into the room. "May I come in?"
"Sure, Sam. Is Daniel alright?"
Sam shut the door softly behind herself. "No, he isn't." Her voice was quiet, edged
with sadness. "But then none of us are." She approached the bed, and sunk into the
chair. "How's he doing?"
Janet instinctively looked up at the monitors in response to the other woman's
question, noting the erratic beat of the heart monitor. When she looked away, her eyes
caught her friend's, and both knew the answer to the question. She chose to answer it
"He hasn't long, Sam. If we don't find an answer it will only be a matter of days,
maybe even hours. I really don't know, the effects of the chemical are so
As she spoke, the monitor emitted a warning shriek, and she reached over, adjusting
the IV above the bed.
"I'm trying out a new combination of drugs the lab suggested. As you can see, it helps
to slow the fall in the Colonel's blood pressure. Unfortunately, each time it is
administered the period it is effective is shorter."
"I wish I could help."
"It isn't really your field, Sam. No one expects you to come up with the answer."
Janet put her arm around her friend. For a second Sam sat rigidly still, then she
dropped her head onto Janet's shoulder, and raised one hand to cover her mouth,
muffling the soft sobs.
They stayed that way for several minutes until Sam's tears subsided and she raised her
head, giving Janet and apologetic smile.
"There's no need to apologise, Sam." Janet stood, pulling her blouse straight. "It's
time Teal'c visited the Colonel. Are you ready?"
"Just give me a second." Sam stood as well, coming to attention. She raised her hand
and snapped off a quick salute. "It's been an honour serving with you, sir."
For a long moment she waited, as if expecting a reaction from her CO, then she turned
back to the doctor.
"I'll tell Teal'c he can come in."
Teal'c was already at the door when she opened it.
"Your turn, Teal'c."
He inclined his head. "Thank you, Major Carter." He nodded to Janet as he entered
the room, paused and then pulled the chair nearer the bed. He sat in it and bent
forward, taking Jack's hand in a firm grip.
"I am here with you, O'Neill." He spoke softly and yet forcefully, as if determined to
make the other man understand. "I have not come to say goodbye. I have come to tell
you that your friends are waiting for you. You are safe now." He lowered his voice
Janet sat watching as the Colonel's heartbeat slowed and steadied as Teal'c continued
to whisper into his ear, holding his hand tightly. She couldn't hear what he was
saying, but the effects were obvious. She felt a sob catch in her throat, and she
After about ten minutes she coughed, gaining Teal'c attention immediately.
"I understand, Doctor Fraiser. It is time I left. O'Neill knows now that he is home."
The door shut behind him.
Janet sat alone, reluctant to call the nurse to take her place just yet. She was surprised
by a soft knock on the door.
"May I come in, Doctor?" General Hammond's voice called quietly.
"Of course, sir." She stood as he came in, resuming her seat at his gesture.
"How is he?"
She had a different answer this time to when Sam had asked the same question.
"He seems to have rallied slightly, sir, but I don't expect to see any significant
"We are still waiting to hear from our allies."
"They'll have to hurry, General. At this rate I would give him thirty six hours at the
The General nodded, his face grave. After a minute, he spoke again, keeping his eyes
on the Colonel. "Despite all the trouble he's given me, he's a damn fine officer. I
couldn't have asked for a better 2IC." He paused again, before continuing. "Or a
better friend." He moved away, speaking as he did so. "Thank you, Doctor. Please
inform me if there is any change." With that he left Janet alone with her patient once
"Damn it, Colonel. You can't do this." Her angry voice hissed into his ear as she
lowered her face to within an inch of his. "There are people here that care for you.
Don't you dare leave them. Don't you dare!"
She jumped up, calling for the nurse, and walked rapidly towards the lab, her face set
into a mask of determination.
That night Colonel O'Neill died.
The struggle to bring him back was hard fought, and won only after it was thought
Only the General and the medical staff knew how close they had come to losing him,
the rest of the SGC, if not blissfully asleep, at least in their quarters. His team arrived
in the Mess Hall for breakfast to be met with whispers and glances from a group of
nurses in the corner. They had no need to confer, leaving their trays untouched and
making it to the infirmary within minutes.
Janet wouldn't let them anywhere near him.
In the middle of their argument, she was called back into the ICU, and through the
window SG-1 watched their CO struggle for life. A high-pitched shriek sounded loud
even on the other side of the closed door, and the activity became even more furious.
A glance, the recognition of the faces at the window, and the curtain was pulled,
blocking their view. They could still hear though. Hear the controlled panic, the firm
commands, and electrical thumps. They didn't look at each other. Daniel and Sam
both had their eyes closed, identical expressions on their faces. Teal'c watched
intently, as if trying to see through the curtain.
After what seemed like hours, Janet came out, wiping her hands on a towel. She threw
it into a nearby laundry basket before turning to face the waiting group.
"It's pointless saying you shouldn't be here, and I won't even ask how you knew. You
can't go in. There just isn't room. Every one of those machines is essential, they're all
that is keeping him alive."
"Probably anytime in the next two hours, Daniel. I'm sorry, but there isn't anything
more we can do for him." She pulled her hair back, rubbing the back of her neck, and
twisting her shoulders. "I have to get back in there. Sam, could you please ask the
General to come up? Did you have any breakfast?" After they shook their heads, she
continued. "I'll get someone to bring coffee and sandwiches."
Daniel waited until Sam and Janet had both gone in opposite directions before
commenting. "I doubt I'd be able to eat anything at the moment."
"I do believe that Doctor Fraiser is endeavouring to keep us occupied by providing us
with food." Teal'c stared towards the ICU. "Although I too do not feel like eating, I
shall attempt to do so, if only to keep her from worrying."
The food had arrived, and Daniel was into his second cup of coffee by the time Sam
returned, the General hard on her heels. A nurse fetched Janet and she was soon
conferring with Hammond in quiet tones.
Sam hurried over to her teammates.
"We just received a message from the Tok'ra. My father isn't available, but they are
sending someone else with a healing device. They should be here in about fifteen
"Why did they not come immediately, Major Carter?"
"I don't know, Teal'c. I wondered that myself, but at least they are coming." She
smiled weakly. "I just hope they are in time."
As one, they turned their eyes towards the ICU, seeing Janet going back in, her back a
little straighter. Hammond waited until the door was completely closed, watching the
activity inside, before walking towards them, his face lined with worry.
"I have to get back to the control room." He glanced once more at the ICU. "As soon
as the Tok'ra arrive I'll bring them up."
"Would you like me to come with you, sir?" Sam asked, but her reluctance to leave
the vicinity of the infirmary was plain and Hammond shook his head.
"No, Major. That won't be necessary."
Sam and Daniel perched themselves on the bed nearest the ICU, Teal'c standing next
to them, and stared at the closed door.
Long minutes passed. Once Janet poked her head out, looking at them enquiringly,
but disappeared back in almost immediately in response to a worried voice.
When it was broken the silence was shattered with a vengeance. The call for a
medical team to report to the gateroom was totally unexpected and had Sam and
Teal'c running for the elevators just ahead of the medics. Janet didn't leave the
Colonel's room, her failure to do so a measure of the battle waging inside.
Daniel couldn't help tapping his feet, his frustration growing by the second, until it
finally broke over him, and he strode to the door, pushing it open.
He stopped, dumbfounded by the sight of Jack, his top half uncovered, an IV needle
threaded straight into his chest, surrounded by medical staff. Even as Janet turned an
angry face towards him, the machines set up their awful caterwauling yet again.
He staggered back, letting the door slam shut, only to almost collide with a gurney
being pushed into the middle of the room. The figure on it was totally unexpected.
Anise was barely conscious, her eyes fluttering, a large gash across her head. For once
she didn't look perfect, her clothes torn and covered in dust. As he watched, she
reached into the folds of her dress and pulled out a healing device.
"I brought it." Her voice was barely audible in the confusion. "I fear I can be of little
help to the Colonel, concentration is needed and I..." She grimaced, her face
crumpling in pain, "I will try..." She made to get up, but immediately slumped back
with a low moan. "You will have to do it." She was looking past Daniel and he spun
to find Sam standing behind him, shaking her head.
"No. I can't. The last time I tried to use a healing device it just made things worse."
She glanced towards Daniel as she spoke, her tone showing her distress.
"Damn! Doctor!" Daniel turned back at the cry, seeing Anise's eyes close as she
succumbed to the effects of her injury. He watched as she was placed on a bed, the
healing device left on the gurney. Janet hurried out to examine her in response to the
calls of her staff, and the curtains were pulled around the bed for privacy.
"What's going on? How was Anise hurt?" Daniel turned back to his teammate, and
saw her walk reluctantly to the gurney, hesitating before picking up the alien device.
"We don't know. Anise came through the wormhole alone and already injured. She
hasn't managed to tell us anything, except for us to shut the iris behind her. Teal'c is
readying a team to go through if they can re-establish contact." Sam looked down at
the device with trepidation. "I don't know if I can do any good with this."
"That didn't look like too bad an injury, Sam. Anise should be able to heal herself,
and then she can help Jack." Daniel looked hopefully at the curtained off bed. With a
nod, Sam settled into a chair and tiredly shut her eyes.
Silence surrounded them for a while. At one point Janet crossed the room and entered
the ICU, but soon returned, going back to the Tok'ra. Sam opened her eyes at the
movement and exchanged worried looks with Daniel.
The quiet tick of the clock on the wall, and the low hum of voices soon had both
exhausted members of SG-1 dropping into a restless sleep.
The loud cry of a machine brought them both into stunned alertness within seconds.
Janet reappeared, running to push open the door of the Colonel's room, already
barking instructions to her staff. The door stayed open slightly, the voices clear and
seemingly echoing some old episode of `ER'. The long mournful cry of the machine
was broken several times, but returned within a few seconds, and as the minutes past,
the listeners outside could tell that the Colonel had lost the fight.
"Daniel!" Sam's voice broke through the sound. "Come on." She leapt up and strode
with rapid steps towards the ICU, the hand device clutched to her chest.
Daniel hurried after her, ignoring the attempts of the nursing staff to stop him.
They burst into the room, the opening of the door hardly noticed in the chaos, and
then Sam stopped, looking down at the object in her hands.
"What if it doesn't work? What if I can't do it?" Then she shook her head, answering
her own questions. She had to try.
Teal'c's strong voice answered her from the open doorway. "You are correct, Major
Carter. You have no choice. If you do not try, O'Neill will die. If you are unsuccessful
nothing will have changed and no more harm can be done."
With a nod of determination, Sam approached the Colonel's bed, the nurses moving
back to give her room. She inserted her right hand into the device and held it out a
little above the Colonel's chest. Taking a deep breath, she visibly calmed, and when a
warm glow began to flow downwards the people around her exchanged relieved
glances and small smiles.
The readings on the monitors began to even out, lines settling into recognisable
patterns, beeps steadying and becoming constant. Janet stayed silent, her eyes
flickering between the readings and her patient, everyone afraid of breaking the
It was five long minutes before Sam slumped sideways, Teal'c barely managing to
catch her before she hit the floor. She stayed awake long enough to register the
encouraging smiles of her two teammates and return them, before the Jaffa took her
out and placed her gently on a bed in the outer room, sound asleep, one of Janet's
nurses hovering over her.
"Janet?" Daniel couldn't take his eyes from Jack. His pallor was gone, replaced by a
healthy tinge of pink, the only physical sign of improvement. He watched as Janet
read the various screens scattered about the room.
"Give me a chance to run some tests, Daniel, but at the moment he seems to be
holding his own, which is more than I would have said ten minutes ago. Why don't
you wait with Teal'c and I'll be out as soon as I can?" She had already turned back to
her patient, her attention clearly focused on him alone.
Sam was covered with a blanket, her shoes removed, Teal'c watching over her.
"I thought you were going to the Tok'ra base?"
"We have been unable to establish a wormhole to those coordinates, Daniel Jackson.
General Hammond gave me permission to return to the infirmary when it was clear
we would not be taking a team through immediately."
"Do we have any idea what happened?"
"The only explanation seems that the base was already under attack when the Tok'ra
sent us the message. Other than that it would be purely speculation."
Daniel turned to the cold coffee on the nearby table, pouring himself a cup and
drinking it down, a look of distaste evident. With a shudder he poured a second cup
and drank that too, ignoring his friend's incredulous stare.
Long minutes became an hour. Sam still slept. Anise lay still, her eyes flickering
beneath their lids, and Daniel and Teal'c waited.
Finally a nurse approached with permission from the Doctor for them to visit the
Colonel. They found her standing at the head of Jack's bed, looking more tired than
even Daniel. She wavered on her feet for a moment, giving Teal'c a grateful smile
when his large hand reached out and steadied her. She nodded towards the door,
clearly indicating a wish to speak to the remaining members of SG-1 privately and
they followed her into her office.
As soon as she was in the privacy of the small room, her face softened into anguish
and she made a grab for the tissue box on the desk, dropping into her chair.
"We had lost him that time, you know. If Sam hadn't healed him he would be dead
now." She paused as if steeling herself, then looked at them both, her tone firm and
uncompromising. "I'm going to be brutally honest here. The tests show that although
Colonel O'Neill has stabilised, he really hasn't improved. I don't think the device did
enough. I'll have to wait for more results to confirm it, but it looks as if, although the
burns are completely healed, there are still signs of infection and it is already
beginning to spread again. The toxin is still present as well."
"What are you trying to say, Janet?" Daniel asked in dismay.
She glared at him impatiently, knowing that he had clearly understood her words, but
was refusing to believe them.
"I'm not trying to say anything, Daniel. I'm telling you. All Sam did was buy us some
time. Colonel O'Neill is still dying."
"But the healing device..."
"Wasn't enough. I don't know why..."
The Doctor's voice was interrupted by the echoing tones of a Tok'ra.
"I can give you the answer you seek, Doctor Jackson." Anise stood in the doorway,
her figure backlit by the infirmary lights. "Major Carter was unable to use the device
to its full potential. Being human, she lacks the concentration of will required to
"She controlled it well enough to save O'Neill's life." The censure was clear and
Anise bowed her head slightly towards the Jaffa.
"I did not mean to minimise Major Carter's achievement, just to explain why Colonel
O'Neill is not fully healed. Now I am sufficiently recovered I will complete the
Janet came to her feet, moving around the desk, a pen light already in her hand. "I'll
be the judge of that. You had a severe blow to the head."
The Tok'ra woman backed away. "No Doctor. If what you say if true, the quicker I
attend to the Colonel the better. I am fully healed. In fact my host is anxious to
complete the healing of Colonel O'Neill. Her concern for him is extremely distressing
to me." She spun on her heels, her next order tossed back over her shoulder. "Come."
This time the healing beam shone brightly enough to make the observers' eyes water,
its light steady and unwavering. The Tok'ra woman moved it up and across Jack's
chest, and down each of his limbs, concentrating on the areas where the burns had
once been. The now unbandaged skin was pink and new looking, still tender, but it
was restored and that was all they asked, the terrible gaps and rips freshly grown over
and repaired. The fingers, once curled and blackened, lay still on the white sheets as if
just waiting for the chance to dance their familiar rhythms of impatience. With awe
the humans watched the once broken body restored, the signs of its healing clearly
reflected by the monitors.
At last Anise stepped back, resting her hand momentarily on Jack's bed before taking
the only chair that remained in the room.
It was the sight of her that Jack's eyes focused on as they flickered open.
The Colonel's eyes had slammed shut at the sight of Anise, almost as if he didn't
believe his eyes, and despite the Doctor's attempt to rouse him, he had drifted quickly
They all tiptoed from the room, Janet whispering that she would join them shortly.
The two members of SG-1 headed straight for their remaining teammate to find Sam
yawning herself awake. She sat up and stepped down from the bed, rubbing her hands
through her hair, her attention focused on the shut door of the ICU.
"Did it work?"
"Do not worry, Major Carter, the healing you achieved gave me time to recover and
complete treating Colonel O'Neill. He is well." Anise came up behind the two men.
Daniel shot a grateful look at the Tok'ra, and hurried to follow up on her explanation.
"Janet's checking Jack out now, Sam, but it looks like the danger is past."
Sam nodded, a smile breaking over her face.
"How do you feel, Major Carter?"
"Actually, surprisingly good, Teal'c, especially now I've heard the good news." Then
she abruptly sobered, turning back to Anise. "What happened on your base? Were you
under attack? Was my father there?"
The other woman nodded. "You have reminded me. I should report to your General
Hammond and explain. Will you accompany me Major Carter? I have news of your
"I'll stay here, Sam. You go. If anything happens I'll contact you immediately."
"I also will accompany you, Major Carter." Teal'c bowed slightly towards the Tok'ra.
"We are in Anise's debt. Without her O'Neill would have died. Perhaps my assistance
can go some way towards the repayment of that debt."
Daniel watched them leave. With another glance towards the closed ICU, he
beckoned an orderly over. "Do you think you can arrange some coffee for me?" At
the man's nod and pleasant smile, he sighed gratefully and settled down in a chair to
wait, truly relaxed for the first time in days.
Janet Fraiser frowned at the results of the blood work she had carried out on the still
sleeping Colonel. His obvious injuries were healed, but there were still traces of the
toxin in his digestive system. Twice now he had opened his eyes, but only for a very
few seconds before closing them once more. The intubation tube was still in place, a
precautionary measure until he woke fully and she could be sure his breathing was not
The Colonel's team had asked to see him before Teal'c left with the SG teams being
sent through to the Tok'ra base to look for survivors of the Goa'uld attack that had
almost prevented Anise's arrival. Jacob Carter had led the evacuation, and was safe
and well, much to Sam's relief. Apparently, Anise had stayed behind, risking injury to
retrieve the healing device, and had barely made it through the gate to the SGC, Jaffa
close on her heels.
Janet knew she was with Teal'c, Daniel and Sam, and under the circumstances, given
what Anise had risked to save O'Neill's life, she could see no reason to prevent her or
the others from visiting, just a nagging worry that all was not right. With a sign and a
last look at her patient she went to fetch them.
It was as if the opening of the door had woken him at last. As they filed inside, the
Colonel began moving his head from side to side, and as Janet reached him, he looked
up at her, his eyes wide and staring. Anise hurried forward to stand on the opposite
side of the bed, the others close behind her.
Colonel O'Neill gestured desperately, pulling at the tube snaking down his throat. His
panic communicated itself clearly and Janet made quick work of removing the
She was just in time.
Projectile vomit is not normally the way you greet an ally, but it was clear the Colonel
couldn't avoid it. He folded in on himself, his whole body shuddering with the effort,
as he violently coated the bed and everything around it in a thick black substance.
Anise reeled back, her hand to her mouth, dripping. Janet lurched forward, grabbing a
large bowl and holding it to the distressed man's face.
When the spasms finally subsided, she eased him back onto the bed, taking the wet
sponge handed to her by a nurse, and wiped him down as best she could.
She was too soon.
He retched again, this time more weakly, struggling to breathe, his head turned on the
pillow. With Teal'c's help, Janet pulled him upright, only to see his eyes roll up in
their sockets, and feel him slump into unconsciousness.
"What the hell just happened? I thought you fixed him?" Daniel glared accusingly at
the shaken Tok'ra, as the medical staff hustled them out of the room.
"I did. His physical injuries are healed. There must be something more."
"The toxin. It must be the toxin." Sam turned to the other woman, grabbing her arm
urgently. "Can the healing device cure poisoning?"
"Only marginally. It is designed to augment our own healing powers, and poison is
easily eliminated by the symbiont part of our joining. The device is not designed to
deal with toxins. I was not aware that Colonel O'Neill had been poisoned."
"Shit!" Daniel's unaccustomed swearing surprised them into silence. "Don't stand
there arguing about reasons, Sam. Just work out what you can do to help Jack!"
Carter snapped back immediately. "I would, Daniel, but I'm an astrophysicist, not a
chemist or a medical doctor. I have no idea where to start."
"Oh hell, Sam, I'm sorry." Daniel leaned against the wall, his body screaming how
close to the edge he was. He had had virtually no sleep since their return from the
planet, and this last crisis was too much.
Teal'c approached him and guided Daniel to a chair, carefully making him sit, as if he
were made of glass. "Perhaps if we reviewed what we know of this substance, we
could assist Doctor Fraiser in finding a solution."
"You're right. Plus it can't hurt. Daniel, can you get a nurse to show Anise where the
showers are and have someone bring her some clean clothes? I'll go talk to Janet.
We'll see you back here." Sam began to walk towards the ICU with determined steps.
"I'll just do that then." Daniel's sarcasm was lost to the exiting woman.
"I shall remain here, Daniel Jackson." Teal'c raised an eyebrow, a smile edging up the
corners of his mouth, only to be extinguished as quickly as it had appeared.
"We have to find the solution soon. He can't go on like this." Janet watched
helplessly as the Colonel twisted weakly on the bed, his face flushed and sweating.
"Doc?" His voice was weak, but it was him, coherent for the first time since his
"I'm here, Colonel."
"We're here, sir." Sam answered for all of them "We're all okay." She smiled down at
"God!" He writhed on the bed, pulling his legs up into his stomach, and a nurse
hurried to untangle the many tubes and lines running into him.
"I'm sorry, sir. I've given you something to stop the nausea, but I can't do any more
than that until we know more about what's wrong." Janet placed a hand on Jack's
shoulder, feeling the tremors. "Do you remember anything about a chemical you were
given? Anything at all that could help?"
"Tasted foul." His shaky voice still managed to convey his disgust.
"Yes, sir, I'm sure it did." Janet replied sympathetically, "Anything else? Did they say
anything to you about it."
"You can't expect him to know anything, Janet. Look at him - he can barely stay
conscious, let alone think." Daniel frowned down at his friend, the frailness of the
man scaring him.
"I know, Daniel. You don't think I enjoy questioning him like this, do you? But any
tiny detail might help. I'm clutching at straws here."
Their attention was brought back to the Colonel by his words. He moaned, his hand
going to his head, pulling the IV lines with them, the delicate pink of freshly healed
skin stretching and becoming white. Teal'c gently stopped the movement, taking the
hand in his, allowing the long fingers to press into his palm.
With an effort, Jack turned his head and looked straight at the Doctor, swallowing
before repeating his words in a firmer voice. "They didn't talk to me. Animal. You
don't talk to animals."
"God!" Sam put a hand to her mouth, her eyes showing her anger.
"The General has locked the address out of the computer, hasn't he?" Daniel spat his
question out furiously, nodding when Teal'c answered with a tight "Indeed."
"Wait!" Surprised faces turned to Anise, quiet until now. "They treated him like an
animal. That could be our answer."
A "What do you mean?" from Daniel was interrupted by the excited voice of Janet.
"Of course! I understand." She looked up at Sam to find an answering comprehension
in her friend's eyes. "It could have been some sort of treatment designed for animals,
not meant for humans. No wonder it was toxic."
Daniel paled. "What, you mean something like a worm or flea treatment?"
"Exactly. It could have been something to rid the body of parasites. Parasites that the
Colonel didn't have. This gives us a starting point." Janet answered. "Sam, could you
contact the lab? Explain the possibility of an anti-parasitic agent or even a crude
antibiotic" She started ticking things off her fingers. "Check the toxins and chemical
register for something similar, this time focussing on those particular types and these
symptoms. With a bit of luck we might be able to find a parallel substance and an
accompanying treatment we can adapt. I'll be there as soon as I can to help." Sam left
in a hurry.
"I will go with Major Carter, Doctor. I may be able to assist."
Janet nodded to her gratefully. "Thank you Anise. Any help you can give will be
"I will remain with O'Neill." Teal'c still sat, the Colonel's hand clenched tightly
around his own.
"Alright, but I want you to get some sleep, Daniel, I don't need you in the infirmary
as well." At the rebellious look on the man's face, Janet continued firmly. "Do I have
to make it an order?"
"No." He gave a shrug, accepting her decision reluctantly. "You'll call me if there's
Soon the only people left in the Colonel's room were Janet, a nurse, and Teal'c. Jack
was still awake, but how aware they could not be sure. He hadn't spoken since his
explanation of his treatment at the hands of the people on the alien planet. Teal'c's
thumb rubbed soothingly across the back of his hand, and gradually the trembling
settled, and he fell into a restless sleep.
Teeth nibbled away at him until he could feel the coolness of air on his stomach as the
skin peeled back, burnt and blackened. Given easy access, the claws dug into his
insides, sharp shooting pains running across his organs and up and out the top of his
skull. He wanted to scream and yell, but he stayed quiet, holding in the agony,
keeping his body still.
Only the touch of warm fingers on his kept him sane.
"I told you, I'm fine." Colonel O'Neill's angry voice caused the nurse standing in
front of him to flinch. But she held her ground, and answered him in a low, controlled
"No, you are not, sir. Doctor Fraiser left clear instructions that you were not to even
sit up. Do I have to call her in?"
"No." With a sigh, he lay back on the pillows, his fingers scratching at the skin on the
back of his hand. "It's about time she had a break from this place."
"Yes, Colonel, it is. And, sir, please don't do that." The nurse gently pulled the
offending hand away.
"Alright! God, I can't even scratch myself without supervision." He folded his arms,
tucking his hands under them and out of sight, glaring up at the woman.
"I'm going on my lunch break, sir. Is there anything I can get you first?" She smiled
"How about a hotdog? Oh wait, it won't fit down the tube."
"No, sir." Her smile slipped slightly. "Just buzz if you need anything." She waited
until he acknowledged her answer with a small nod, and left, her footsteps moving
rapidly away down the corridor.
Jack slowly allowed his hands to unclench, sliding them down, and under the sheets.
He closed his eyes wearily, sinking back deeper into the pillows, careful not to disturb
the tube threaded into his stomach. If he was honest with himself, he knew there was
no way he could sit up properly in bed, the energy required to just move his head was
almost more than he had in his weakened body.
Doctor Fraiser, with the help of Carter, and he hated to admit it, the Tok'ra Anise, had
found the answer, identifying enough similarities in the toxin to a type of commonly
used sheep dip. The lab had taken it from there, devising a treatment that had been
almost as bad as the initial `dosing'. At least it had been administered while he was
anesthesiatised, he thought, shuddering as his mind brushed against a memory, he had
been under for most of it, totally unaware of the stomach tube pouring the mixture
into him, but he still felt the effects. He still had bouts of nausea, his arms trembled,
and his legs were too weak to hold any weight even if the Doc would let him try. His
stomach was too delicate to take any solid food, the tube feeding him liquids. God he
hated it! Why the hell couldn't he eat like a normal person? Janet said it was only to
be expected, that he would have to have patience, and to give himself time to get his
He didn't want to. He wanted to get out of here.
And his skin itched.
It even itched when he was asleep.
He found his fingers twitching across his chest, under the thin pyjamas he had finally
been allowed to substitute for a gown, and pulled them back. The skin tightened
across his prominent knuckles when he flexed his hand and he held it up, staring at it,
looking at every line, every indentation.
His fingers looked the same.
Even the fingernails were back, restored by the healing device.
They didn't look like his nails. His nails were back there in the soil of that planet.
That was one of the details he remembered, one of the few from his "freeing". Had
those people just thought he was a creature to be returned to the wild? Surely they had
known he couldn't survive in the state he was in without help?
His skin was so soft. Not like his own at all.
And so itchy.
There was a noise just outside his room.
He dragged his fingers away from his arm, concealing the slight scratches by hiding
them under the sheet, just as the handle finished moving and the door opened.
"Hey, Jack. How are you doing?"
"Great, Daniel, just great." Jack smiled. "I've sent Nurse Whatsit off to get me a
hotdog. And you? You had lunch? What did you have? How many cups of coffee
have you had today? I don't think I should have coffee. Might burn my stomach.
Wouldn't have time to cool on the way down. What do you think, Daniel?" He
cocked his head and beamed brightly up at the other man.
"Okaaaay. Do I get the feeling that you have food issues, Jack?"
Daniel pulled out a chair, sitting forward and leaning towards the bed. "You know the
tube is just temporary, so why act like this?"
The answer was immediate. "Because I don't like it. I don't want it stuck into me. I
want to get it out and get out of this room. That's why."
"Janet explained that the toxin did damage the healing device couldn't cure. You need
to give your body time to heal. It'll only be a few more days, Jack."
Jack shut his eyes, raising his hand to the bridge of his nose. "I know that, Daniel."
He spoke in a quieter voice, sounding exhausted. "I just want everyone to stop poking
around with my body. I want to be left alone for a bit."
"I can understand..." Daniel stopped, leaning further forward. "What have you done
to your arm?"
The Colonel pulled his sleeve down, "Nothing. I must have scratched it on something.
Maybe the bed, I don't know. It isn't anything."
"You should get a nurse to take a look at it. You should have a dressing put on it."
Daniel looked worried, as if he was about to jump up and go running for help.
Jack grabbed for the buzzer, forestalling his friend's actions. When the nurse hurried
in he held up his arm, pointing. "I need a bandaid here."
"How did this happen, Colonel?" The middle aged, grey haired woman held the arm
gently, turning in under the light.
"I don't know, how about sticking a bandaid on and forgetting about it?"
"Sorry, sir, I'll have to tell Doctor Fraiser about this. We have to be sure it doesn't get
"For crying out loud, it's only a scratch!"
"With your weakened system, Colonel, it's a potential problem."
"Crap!" Jack slumped back, his face a picture of chagrin.
"Could you come back in an hour, Doctor Jackson?" The nurse turned to Daniel. "Just
while I see to the Colonel." She flicked her eyes towards the site where the tube ran
into Jack's stomach.
"Oh, okay." Daniel nodded in understanding. "I'll be back soon, Jack."
"Yeah, I'll see you later then." Jack's dejected voice followed him from the room. As
the door closed the Colonel's voice could still be heard. "This is so much fun. Pump it
in, empty it out. Much easier than having to chew." There was silence for a moment.
The last comment Daniel heard as he hesitated in the corridor had him moving away,
grimacing. "Damn! I hate this!"
"Hey, Daniel, wait up." He turned to see Sam hurrying towards him. "I was just going
to visit the Colonel."
"Take my word for it, now is not a good time." Daniel touched her arm lightly,
moving them both to the side and out of people's way. "I was told to come back in an
"So you haven't seen him today?"
"No, I did visit him, briefly, before being kicked out." He lowered his voice and
began walking again, heading for the elevators, Sam following. "He had scratched his
arm. Said it was an accident, but I don't buy it."
"Well, healing skin does tend to get itchy." The elevator doors opened and they
stepped in, nodding to the three occupants. They stayed silent as it descended, waiting
until they were alone again before continuing.
"I know healing wounds are itchy at times, Sam, but given what happened to Jack, I
think we should keep an eye on him."
"But we really don't know what happened to the Colonel, do we, Daniel? He hasn't
exactly told us much. I know he made a report to the General, but he hasn't given us
any details at all." They moved into Sam's lab, and she waited for the door to close
before continuing. "Colonel O'Neill told us he was bitten by animals while in the
forest, now do you buy that? I certainly don't"
Daniel frowned in confusion. "What do you mean?"
"He wasn't just bitten, Daniel. Those wounds were caused over a period of time.
There is no way he would have just lain there and wait to be bitten, no matter how
badly injured he was."
"So what are you suggesting?"
She shook her head slowly. "I'm not sure. Think about it. Think about how we found
"Are you saying..." Daniel paled a little and leaned heavily against a table. "That
Jack was held down, burnt and..." He swallowed.
"That's exactly what I'm saying, Daniel. It's the only possible explanation. He
couldn't defend himself from them because he was restrained."
"Oh god!" Daniel folded himself into a chair, rocking slightly. "Oh god, Sam. I just
"What, Daniel? What is it?"
"Those people in the room where we found Jack. The way the chairs were set up.
They were an audience, Sam, a god damned audience!"
Sam stared at her teammate, disgust and panic warring for dominance on her face.
"They were watching him being eaten alive, being burnt? What sort of people could
do that? God, Daniel, what else did they do to him?"
Daniel stood up, wiping his hand across his mouth. "I don't know, Sam, and I doubt
he'll ever tell us, but I do know this." He straightened, looking her in the eyes. "We're
going to have to watch him."
Sam nodded. "We should tell General Hammond what we suspect."
"No, let's not jump into things too quickly." Daniel disagreed. "I'm going to speak to
Teal'c. Perhaps the three of us can keep an eye on him for the meantime."
Sam nodded again, carefully considering her next words. "This could be bad, Daniel.
Very, very bad."
"Hi there, T. What have you got there?" Jack greeted the other man, and tried to see
the parcel he was holding at the same time.
Teal'c smiled. "I was told that it is customary to bring a patient in hospital grapes. I
have done so. I must admit to not fully understanding this custom, as you are not able
to consume these fruit, or any other for that matter. I have come to the conclusion that
the gift of grapes allows the patient to enjoy the sight of the giver as they feast on the
gift." He took a small bunch of purple fruit from the bag, and began to eat. "These are
most pleasant. Thank you, O'Neill."
"Damn, Teal'c, did anyone ever tell you that you were truly evil?"
"No, O'Neill. At least no one who lived."
Jack began to laugh, snorting a little, holding his hand across his belly. "Don't. Oh
crap!" He started to breathe in short gasps, thumping his head on the pillow.
Teal'c pressed his hand into the Colonel's shoulder, holding him firmly. "Calm
"Easy for you to say." Jack's voice came in a breathless whisper, but he began to
relax. Within a few minutes he was breathing more easily, and the tremors that had
been running through him gradually subsided. Finally Teal'c released his hold and sat
"I am sorry I caused you distress, O'Neill."
"It wasn't your fault, Teal'c." He rubbed a shaking hand across his face. "I hate this. I
feel like I'm never going to get out of here."
Teal'c looked confused. "Did not Doctor Fraiser tell you she intended to remove the
stomach tube tomorrow? Within a few days you should be well enough to leave the
infirmary. Has something changed?"
Jack shook his head, shutting his eyes. "No. Nothing's changed. Except I don't feel
like I'm getting any better. I wouldn't be surprised if the Doc delays the removal
procedure and keeps me in here."
"Has she not examined you, O'Neill? Has she said anything to that effect?"
"She said that I should start to feel better when I'm able to eat properly again, and not
to worry." He gave a rueful half smile. "Not that I told her that I was."
"I am sure you didn't."
Jack opened his eyes and glared up at the other man. "Am I that obvious?"
"Only to your friends, O'Neill."
Teal'c met his teammates, as arranged, in Doctor Jackson's office. Once the
obligatory coffee was poured he began his report.
"I visited Colonel O'Neill as agreed. He appears depressed and is concerned that his
continued frailty will delay his being released from the infirmary."
"Did you see any signs of new scratches?"
"No, Major Carter, only those we have previously noted, on his arms. However, his
arms are bandaged and he does not have easy access to them. I am sure that the
medical staff would have noticed any other injuries and informed Doctor Fraiser."
The second set of scratches had appeared on the Colonel's other arm within a day of
the first. This time it had been the uninjured arm and it had taken some fast-talking on
the part of O'Neill to placate the Doctor. It had resulted in the bed in his small private
room being replaced, even though nothing sharp enough to scratch a sleeping patient
could be found. So far there had been no further incidents.
"Maybe it was the bed." Daniel suggested hopefully. "We might be worrying about
"Perhaps." Teal'c nodded slowly. "However I do not believe this is the case."
"Well, we can't say anything to the General, that's certain. If he thought that Jack was
harming himself deliberately, he'd never let him back on active service."
Sam began to pace, crossing the small space in a few short steps, before turning back
towards her friends. "What about Janet? What if I spoke to Janet privately about our
"She'd be obliged to tell the General, you know that." Daniel answered, balling his
hands into fists. "We're damned if we do and damned if we don't. Let's just keep
watching him, and be there if he wants to talk."
"I can not see that happening, Daniel Jackson."
Daniel looked down at the floor. "No, Teal'c, neither can I."
"It's good to see you out of bed, Colonel. Doctor Fraiser tells me you should be able
to go home within the week." General Hammond smiled at the man sitting, cocooned
in blankets, in a chair, a book on his lap.
"Yes, sir. I'll be out of her hair as soon as she gives the all clear. Then it's up and into
the fresh air. I feel like I've been breathing in this recycled crap for years." He
stopped, grinning. "Sorry, sir."
Hammond laughed, shaking his head. "No need to apologise, Jack. I know exactly
what you mean. But, I know you. A few weeks of sick leave and you'll be begging to
come back down here."
"For a while there I thought you might be staying here a little longer. Doctor Fraiser
had some concerns about your recovery." Hammond gave a quick look at the other
man's now healed arms, his glance obvious.
"There is no problem now, sir." Jack's tone was firm. "I'm fine. Hell, I'm even able
to eat jello without throwing up. Give me a few days and I'm sure I'll be sharing a
pizza with Teal'c."
"Mind if I sit down?" The General didn't wait for permission, pulling a chair over
closer to the other man and sitting, their knees almost touching. "Jack, we need to
"What about, sir?" The Colonel stared his CO defiantly in the eye.
"Your report to me on the events on P6B-145."
"Ah, Planet Human Shish-ke-bob. I don't suppose we can just forget I ever made that
report? Screw it up? I'll happily write a new one."
Hammond returned the Colonel's stare. "You know better than that, son. If you don't
talk to me, you'll have to have a few more sessions with McKenzie than I've already
scheduled." He frowned at the expression on Jack's face. "And there is no point
giving me that look. You know the regulations, psychiatric sessions are mandatory
after being tortured."
"I know that, sir." Jack spoke tonelessly.
"I know you do, son. Plus I know you've been through this procedure before, but this
time it's a little different, so let's try and make it as painless as possible."
Colonel O'Neill's fingers moved restlessly against the sleeves of his robe. "What do
you want to know?"
"You gave me the basics of what happened, Jack, and I have to say, it turned my
stomach. I want you to tell me how you feel about it, now that you've had time to
think on what they did and perhaps why they did it."
"How I feel about it?" The long fingers dug into the material, bunching it up. "A bit
pissed off to be honest, sir. I mean, couldn't they have just opened a can of cat food?"
Hammond sighed and began to stand. "If you aren't going to cooperate..."
"Wait, sir." Jack held out a hand, snagging the General's sleeve. "I'm sorry. It's just
not the most comfortable thing to remember, let along talk about."
Hammond resettled himself in the chair. "What do you remember?"
Jack's eyes flickered away, staring unfocused at the far wall. "Being stripped naked,
tied down, and examined like some strange animal."
"This isn't the first time this has happened to you, Jack. I've read your file."
The brown eyes stayed resolutely fixed on the wall. "They paid for the privilege. They
paid to touch me, to hurt me. They weren't doing it to get information. They weren't
interested in even trying to communicate with me. They just wanted to watch me
suffer as much as possible, like bullies hurting an animal that can't fight back. They
didn't see me as human at all. Even the people that freed me didn't see me as any
more than an animal. Once they let me go they didn't care if I lived or died. And
when I was recaptured and had lost novelty value, they would probably have just
finished feeding me to their pets, a convenient and amusing source of freshly cooked
meat if I hadn't been rescued." Jack's voice was completely without emotion.
"Son." Hammond gently touched the back of Jack's hand, making him flinch, the
hand quickly tucked into the robe's sleeves." Look at me."
"They did that." The Colonel kept his gaze on the wall, his eyes shadowed.
"They touched me. Some like that, gently, stroking. Some harder, roughly.
Some...laughed." Jack whispered the next words, making Hammond lean forward to
catch them. "There were children. What sort of parents would let their children do
Hammond didn't seem to have the words to answer.
But it didn't matter, because Jack didn't notice, his eyes vacant and staring at nothing.
He carried on, speaking even more quietly. "In the end, it wasn't just hands. They
paid. They used other things. Checking me out, seeing how much pain I could take. It
was so impersonal, like they were just experimenting, probing and pushing,
observing. It wasn't as bad as Iraq, not like that anyway, but at least in Iraq I knew
why they did it. At least they knew I was human."
He tore at his arm with his nails, dragging them down the skin.
"Jack!" General Hammond jumped up, grabbing his hand and forcing it away. "Stop
that! What are you doing?"
"I was just an animal. An animal with no feelings. But I do. See? I bleed just like they
do. They just needed to look me in the eyes once to see that." He shook violently, as
Hammond held him tight.
"Look at me, son. Look at me."
The eyes that gazed back at the General were filled with pain. Jack looked down at
the gouges in his arm. "Oh god, what am I going to do?"
Hammond gripped Jack's hands, waiting as he calmed, catching his eyes with his
own. "Don't you worry, son, you're home now, and we aren't about to give up on
you. No way am I going to lose my best officer to those bastards." His voice
softened. "We'll work this out together." He pulled away gently, slowly getting to his
feet. He looked down at O'Neill, his eyes determined.
"I'm not going to leave a member of my team behind, Colonel. Have no doubt of
The crows, black in dark feathers. Waiting. Watching. Observing every move.
Waiting for just one mistake. He wouldn't make one. He knew what not to do, at least
where someone watches. They watched him now and he was careful.
Jack O'Neill turned restlessly in the narrow bed, fingers flickering across white
bandages. Beneath the lids his eyes darted, watching.
A large hand took those wandering fingers and held them. The eyes froze.
"Teal'c?" Jack stared up into the dark face of the Jaffa.
"It is I, O'Neill."
"Ah...I can see that, and don't misinterpret what I'm about to ask here, it isn't that I
don't like you or anything...well not in that way of course, but...ah...why are you
holding my hands?"
"I think you know."
Jack's eyes stayed open, but shifted sideways, avoiding the other man's gaze. He
pulled his hands from the other's grasp and used them to push himself up.
"What time is it?" The lights were dim, sounds from the infirmary muted.
"It is three in the morning, O'Neill."
"Three! What are you doing here at this hour?"
"Watching you sleep, O'Neill."
Jack grimaced at the answer. "Doesn't sound very exciting, Teal'c. Why would you
want to do that?"
"On the contrary, it was extremely illuminating. As to why I would do it, because
General Hammond asked me to speak with you, and I was waiting for you to
It was obvious that Jack had recognised the significance of his friend's words. He
clenched his fists, folding his arms. "Well, you've managed to wake me up. What was
so important that it couldn't wait until morning?"
"Why do you do harm to yourself, O'Neill?"
The Colonel reacted violently, throwing himself off the bed and standing in one fluid
movement. He strode rapidly away, and for a moment it looked as if he was going to
leave the room, but as he reached the door, he faltered, and, his face closed, his eyes
black in the dim light, turned to face the Jaffa once again, his back coming up hard
against the wall behind him.
"What the hell are you talking about?"
Teal'c's actions were sudden, surprising, and equally rapid. He reached Jack's side
before the other man could react, grabbing his right arm and pushing the long sleeves
up, exposing the dressings.
"This, O'Neill." He let the arm drop, only to tug up the sleeve on the opposite one.
As Jack lurched sideways, Teal'c held him by the front of his pyjamas, pulling the
jacket apart. "And these." He released the Colonel, letting him slide slowly down the
wall until he was sitting on the floor, his knees up, concealing the bandages swathing
his chest. "I am sure there are more, O'Neill. Do I need to go on?"
The reply was muffled. "No, you don't. You've made your point. Now why don't you
get the fuck out of here."
"Because I wish to understand why you are doing this." He too sat on the floor,
gracefully folding his large body, and assuming a cross-legged position facing Jack.
The Colonel must have felt Teal'c's eyes upon him because he lifted his head from its
position resting on the arms clinging tightly to his knees, and spat out a furious reply.
"Because I'm crazy, perhaps? What do you think? Do you think a normal person
would do this to himself?" He waited for a moment, then scrabbled sideways, pushing
himself up with a grunt of effort, swaying slightly. "There, you've got your answer.
Teal'c stood, his arms out to steady the clearly tiring man. "No, I am not. O'Neill."
He took more of the Colonel's weight, supporting his flagging body. "Return to your
bed, you are weak."
"I don't need you to tell me that." Jack straightened, his expression stubborn, and
moved to the bed, pulling back the covers to lie down, turning onto his back to stare at
"You are weak in body only, O'Neill. Your spirit is still strong."
"Yeah, right. That's why I find myself with blood on my hands every morning. That's
why the nurses can't look me in the eyes anymore, and Janet has that worried frown
every time she examines me. That's why I see the disappointment on the General's
Teal'c stood above him, his figure blocking the light as he gazed down at his CO. His
voice was as impassive as it had been since the Colonel had woken, but it still
managed to convey a depth of meaning. "General Hammond is not disappointed in
you, O'Neill. However, he is worried. That is why he asked me to speak with you."
"And say what? I don't know why I'm doing this. Maybe next time I see McKenzie I
should ask him." He shut his eyes and continued, his words resigned. "Then I'd be
kicked out of the Air Force so fast your head would spin."
"Talking to Shrink McKenzie would be a bad move on your part. Not only will you
do yourself harm, you will put Doctor Fraiser, her staff and General Hammond in the
very awkward position of having to explain why they have not reported your injuries.
Do you want to abuse the trust they have placed in you by doing so?"
Jack's eyes snapped open, finally being held by Teal'c's gaze. He answered slowly.
"No, of course not."
"Surely you realised there was a conspiracy of silence about you. You are causing
great distress to Major Carter and Doctor Jackson. Major Carter is torn between the
desire to protect you and the knowledge that she should tell General Hammond what
"Oh crap, what am I going to do, Teal'c? Maybe it would be best for everyone if I
resigned." He lifted his arm, placing it across his eyes, the sleeve pushed up, exposing
Teal'c sighed, the sound startling Jack enough to make him peer out from hiding. He
watched as the other man sat in a nearby chair, his posture suddenly weary. "O'Neill,
no one wants you to resign. Can we not discuss what happened to you on the planet
and try to find a solution to this problem? We want to have you back with us."
"But I talked to the General, T. I thought it would help, but I still wake up with my
fingernails digging into my flesh." He held his arm out to be inspected. "Sometimes I
think I enjoy the pain, otherwise why would I do it?"
Teal'c laid his hand lightly on the shaking limb, pressing it down to the bed and
holding it there. "Because you need to feel that you are here. That you have escaped
from the torture and that you are back in control. You do it to yourself to show you
can." He waited until the arm stopped shaking. "O'Neill, General Hammond and I
spoke long into the night. He told me what you experienced on that planet."
When the anger flared in the hooded eyes, he carried on. "He did this because he
hoped I might be able to help you explain your actions. In my long years as First
Prime of Apophis I saw and did many things. I tortured men until all semblance of
humanity was stripped from them, until they became as animals." Jack glanced down
to where the Jaffa's hand rested, the brown skin contrasting starkly with the paleness
of his own skin.
"The few that survived were broken in spirit, no longer able to function as human
beings. We would leave them, taking bets on how long it would be before they took
their own life, or starved to death because they would not feed themselves. We
laughed at them, losing our own honour in the process. In all those years only one
man survived such torture and joined the ranks of my own Jaffa as reward. He never
once forgot that he was human, that ultimately he had control of his own destiny. His
spirit was strong, and despite everything we did, he defied us. He couldn't fight back,
but his eyes showed that he was unbowed."
He leaned forward, pulling Jack's eyes back to his. "I saw the same defiance in your
eyes when we found you, caged and bound as you were. And I saw the same marks
upon his body as I see on yours. He told me why he did such things, that he needed to
prove to himself that he was still himself, that he was the one in control. He carried
those marks with him until the day he died on the field of battle, defending my back.
They made him no less a man and we honoured him with a hero's funeral, Apophis
himself setting alight the pyre."
Teal'c waited, watching as Jack began to relax. For a few minutes there was silence as
neither man spoke, before Teal'c continued once more.
"I am not saying that what you experienced was the same, O'Neill, but I am saying
that I understand some of what you are going through. If you talk to me, tell me of
your experiences, I may be able to help you come to a similar understanding of your
The silence stretched on, the quiet footsteps and murmur of voices outside the room
barely registering. Far up on the mountain the first rays of sunlight must have been
touching the rocky soil, but here, far in the earth, there was only darkness. Darkness
that stretched into far corners, leaving plenty of places to hide.
At last the silence was broken by a quiet voice.
"I couldn't believe they intended to put me in that cage. I didn't make it easy for
them, and my struggles woke the other animals around me. They didn't like that.
There was no way to sit or stay, there was barely room to lie hunched up, unmoving.
Those first few hours I thought I would die from the cramps in my legs alone. I almost
wished I would..."
"Where are you going, Jack?"
Jack spun around at the unexpected sound of Daniel's voice.
"I didn't hear a knock."
"That's because I didn't. I've been leaving messages for two days now and haven't
gotten a reply, so I thought I'd come over."
The Colonel turned back to the open suitcase on his bed, placing a carefully folded
shirt into a corner of the case. "I gave you the spare key so you could look after the
place when I'm not here, not to come in uninvited."
"Jack, where are you going?"
The Colonel picked up a pile of socks and began tucking them into spare corners of
"And when were you planning on telling us?"
Jack put the remaining socks down with a sigh, facing the other man. "I was about to
call. Look, Daniel, I'm an adult. I do not need to explain every action to you, nor do I
need to be " He raised his fingers and waggled them in the air, "'looked after'. I'm
quite capable of looking after myself. I'm on sick leave. I'm going away for a few
days. I don't have any definite plans. I don't know when I'm coming back."
The words fell into the silence.
Jack's face hardened. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Do you think Sam and I are stupid? We know what was going on. Janet must have
known. And if Janet knew, General Hammond knew. Then one minute you're in the
infirmary with bandages all over fresh wounds, and no one talking about it, the next
you're gone and unable to be contacted. Like I said, Jack, we're not stupid." He
moved over and sat on the bed, gesturing at the case. "I came here not knowing what
to expect. Maybe to find you drunk, or lying dead in a pool of your own blood. But
not this. Not packing. Not when you're still barely capable of walking across a room
by yourself. So, what's going on, Jack?"
For a minute Jack just stood there, looking at Daniel. Then he turned on his heels and
walked out of the room. Daniel heard the question "Coffee?" shouted from the
kitchen. He sat for a minute or so, then got up and followed, finding a mug of
steaming black coffee on the counter top waiting for him, Jack sitting at the table, a
cup of what seemed to be tea in his hand.
Jack grimaced. "Yeah. I can't drink coffee yet. The stomach's still a little delicate."
The two men drank in silence. Daniel took the opportunity to have a proper look at his
friend. Jack still appeared pale and was obviously well under his normal weight, the
gauntness showing in his face. Bandages poked out from under his shirt, and he was
breathing deeply as if recovering from a long run. All in all, he looked like he should
be in bed, not packing to go on vacation.
"I'm sorry I worried you."
"Pardon?" The soft words had been almost too quiet for Daniel to hear. He looked up
from his cup to find Jack standing, going over to the sink.
"I said, I'm sorry if I worried you. You can tell Carter I'm okay now." Jack turned on
the water, running his cup under it.
"You don't look okay, Jack."
"Gee, thanks for your vote of confidence, Daniel." Jack frowned over at the table
"You finished with that?" Without waiting for a reply he picked up Daniel's mug and
turned back to the sink.
"For god's sake, Jack, will you just stop for a second and talk to me?" The younger
man thumped his hand down on the surface of the table, making the salt and pepper
shakers in the middle bounce across the polished wood.
The Colonel gave a resigned sigh, putting the mug down and turning off the water
before walking back to the table. He pulled out a chair and sat, resting his elbows on
the top. Before he began speaking he rubbed one hand through his short grey hair.
"Daniel, you've got to understand that I'm probably never going to talk to you about
what happened on our last mission." He held his hand out, stopping the other man
from speaking. "I won't deny that I had some problems after we got back." He looked
ruefully down at the bandages extending from one sleeve and across his hand. "But
they're sorted, done." He looked back up, his dark eyes holding Daniel's blue ones.
"I've talked, Daniel. I've talked to Hammond, I've talked to Fraiser. Hell, I've even
talked to McKenzie. More importantly, I've talked to Teal'c, and now I'm done
talking. I'm talked out."
At the hurt look on Daniel's face, he continued. "You have to accept that sometimes
you aren't the best person for me to talk to, Daniel. Sometimes things happen that are
totally outside your or Carter's experience, and, to be honest, I'm thankful that they
are." He smiled a little at the slight nod of the other man's head. "I know I'm not one
hundred percent fit. You can't expect me to be. But I'm going to go somewhere for a
few days, maybe a week or so, relax, take it easy, get some fresh air, think things
over. As to what happens after that, Daniel, we'll have to see. I'm not going to
promise anything, but whatever happens, I need you to know that it'll be the right
He pushed back his chair and stood. "Now I've got some packing to finish."
Daniel followed him up. "So, should I be saying goodbye, Jack?"
Jack shook his head. "No, Daniel, whatever happens it won't be a goodbye. How
about a `see you soon'?"
Daniel clasped the older man's hand in his. "See you soon, Jack."
The tiger paced restlessly across the short grass, passing by the glass of the window
without giving it a second glance. Its muscles rippled under the fur, its movements
tight and controlled. As it turned back towards the rear of the enclosure, it cocked its
head slightly, staring at the small door in the wall, waiting for feeding time.
It stopped, turned around and dropped, to sprawl lengthwise on the ground. Keeping
its eyes firmly on the keeper's entrance door, it opened its mouth in a huge yawn, long
white teeth gleaming. The yawn seemed to last for minutes, the tiger closing its mouth
only when movement was seen in the bamboo to its left. The big cat swivelled its
head to watch as another, smaller tiger approached. It too sat, alert and watchful. Both
heads turned back to watch the small metal door.
Jack O'Neill sat on the bench, his whole attention focused on the animals in the
enclosure. He watched as they were fed, watched as they tore the flesh from the large
hunks of meat, watched as they lapped from the small stream running through their
territory - the blood running from their massive jaws and into the water. He watched
as they washed themselves, licking each other with long, red tongues.
Finally he left, smiling.
Jack unwound the bandages around his arms and hand, dropping them to the floor of
his hotel room. He buttoned his shirt, placing it on the bed, and, twisting to reach the
beginning, unhooked the larger bandage across his chest. Soon it too was on the floor.
He examined himself in the long mirror, noting the lines scoring his skin. He turned
sideways, holding his stomach firmly in and studied his reflection. Then with a self-
deprecating laugh, he picked the shirt off the bed again and dressed.
He left the room, grinning.
The sunset wasn't the best he had ever seen, but it was certainly one of the most
memorable. Jack lay back, resting his head on his arms, and stared up at the sky. All
around him the trees tossed gently in the breeze, reaching far up, almost seeming to
touch the red, pink and orange of the clouds. Soft sounds disturbed the silence, the
rustling of birds settling for the night, the occasional beep and squeak of territorial
disputes over the best branch. If he listened carefully he could hear the hum of cars on
the distant road, but he preferred not to listen that closely. He just lay back and let the
peace waft over him.
After a while the temperature began to drop, the night air fast becoming cold. Jack
pushed himself up, moving a little stiffly, and brushed the dried leaves from his
clothes. With one last look around him, he left the forest.
"Hey there, kids. Miss me?"
Colonel O'Neill's voice echoed through the Control Room, making everyone turn.
"Good to see you back, Colonel."
"Thanks, Sergeant Davis. I thought it was about time I came back. I hear you and
Siler have been getting into all sorts of trouble while I've been gone."
He left the Sergeant spluttering with indignation, the concealed giggles of the other
Control Room staff following him down the corridor.
"Sir! You're back!"
"Your powers of observation never fail to amaze me, Carter." He smiled at his
teammate. "I was just coming to find you. General Hammond has scheduled us for an
off world mission on Tuesday. Briefing at 0900 tomorrow. I've left the details on your
desk. Have you seen Teal'c and Daniel around?"
"They were heading for the Mess Hall last I heard."
Jack grinned. "I should have guessed. Okay, I'll go find them and let them know." He
turned, then spun back. "Want to go get something to eat tonight? I though I'd ask
Ferretti and his team too. That's if you, Teal'c and Daniel can make it."
"Sounds great, sir." Sam nodded enthusiastically. She watched as the Colonel started
for the elevator, a spring in his step that she hadn't seen for weeks. Just as he got to
the door, she called out to him. "It's great to have you back, sir."
He turned, smiling broadly. "It's good to be back, Major. It's good to be back."