Jackfic Fiction Archive Story

 

Darkness Hides the Hunter

by Flatkatsi




Darkness Hides the Hunter - Part One

Morning

Jack's hands grabbed frantically at the thing clinging to his face, desperately trying to tug it off. The foul smell coming from it filled his nostrils, making him gag, and choke, completely unable to draw a breath. Instinctively, he opened his mouth to shout for help, only to have it filled with legs, slime, and claws. Two of his nails broke as he clawed at the creature, managing to grasp its thin neck. Leathery wings beat against his head, the hooks on the ends of the spiny limbs scratching deep cuts into his scalp as his assailant fought for its own life. The noise of thousands of similar wings filled the dark and roared in his ears. His last thoughts as his oxygen starved system shut down were of birds and blue sky

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Night - Hunted

He stood in the still silence of the winter night, waiting. He once thought he was able to detect a presence without effort - that his senses, fine honed from years of training and experience, would warn him if he was not alone. But he knew better now. It was with a sudden revelation, one that drained the blood from his face, that he understood there would be no warning, no moment to prepare. So he stood, waiting. Desperately straining for anything, any sign his pursuer was near.

The branches hung limp in the trees where once the evening breeze had lifted and shaken them. It was as if the forest was listening as well, holding its breath along with the tall figure in its midst.

Finally he edged forward, cautiously placing one foot in front of the other, careful to tread only on firm soil that would muffle his steps. The trees closed in tighter until he was forced to move branches aside, seeking a clearer path. In one sense he was glad of this as if he could not move swiftly, neither could his pursuer, but he also felt a deep concern that he was unable to return speedily enough to his companions, was unable to warn them that his quarry had turned the tables, making the hunter into the hunted.

How this had happened was the question he kept asking himself. He was use to having the upper hand, to being the expert at such deadly games as these. Now he found himself pursued by a shadow that disappeared whenever he turned, that skipped from his peripheral vision, leaving only a brief after image of no substance.

Once again he paused, listening. Almost he thought he had imagined it. Almost.

Then, once again, as if teasing, it was gone, and he knew he was being taunted, played with.

His blood pounded in his ears and the unfamiliar sensation of fear wrapped itself around his heart.

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Morning

Jack woke some time later, still in the dark, still gasping for breath, still sore and bleeding, but alive. The darkness was absolute, and he reached out, trying to get a tactile sense of his surroundings. His hands recoiled from the touch of the body beside him on the floor of the cave, the slime no less repellent now it was dead, its neck broken. Quiet sounds of sharp nails on rock and movement of bodies above him had him sitting up quickly, his head spinning. The feeling of being watched was spine chilling in its intensity, and he reached around, thankful for the familiar weight of his pack still on his back. He didn't need to see to find what he wanted, his flashlight was soon in his hand, the beam lighting up gloom, reflecting hundreds of small bright eyes, hot and red. Scrabbling scrapings and high pitched squeals echoed in the vast space, followed by beating wings and the rushing of displaced air as hundreds of the creatures fled out past him and into the tunnels that branched out in all directions.

He ducked instinctively, the sheer numbers causing some to brush past him, touching him in the darkness, and he put his arms over his head, tucking it down into his chest and rolling into as tight a ball as possible. It seemed like hours, but he knew it was only minutes before the last creature left the cavern with a short defiant cry, leaving him huddled on the sharp rocks.

After a few moments, he uncoiled, stretching out his legs as he lifted the flashlight once again. He rolled to his knees, wincing when the multitude of scratches on his hands connected with the slippery, guano encrusted rock. Warm blood trickled down his face and into his eyes and mouth from the cuts on his scalp and he brushed it away, blinking to clear his vision.

"Colonel?" The suddenness of the voice in the silence had him reaching for his radio.

"Receiving you, Carter."

"We're at the rendezvous point, sir. How long will you be?"

"I'll be late, Carter. I have a little problem here." O'Neill shone the flashlight across the walls, confirming his initial suspicions.

"Sir?"

"I'm in a cave about one kilometre due east of your position. There are plenty of exits, just none I can reach. Bring a rope."

"Bring a rope. Yes, sir."

There was a pause and the sound of another voice. "Are you alright, Jack?"

"I'm fine, Daniel. Now give the radio back to Carter." Jack couldn't help smiling at the anxiety he heard in his teammate's voice.

"Sir." Jack almost see the glare the major was giving Daniel.

"You'll find a large stand of trees near a cliff face. Careful. There's only a thin layer of stone, and it crumbles easily, as I found out. You should see my P90 near the hole. I'll be waiting."

"Yes, sir. We'll check in again as we get closer. Carter out."

Jack switched the radio off, putting it back in his vest pocket. Holding the flashlight carefully in one hand he shrugged the pack from his back and placed it on the ground beside him, taking the first aid kit from it. A quick wipe over with some antiseptic and the cuts were as clean as he could get them. None seemed serious enough for a bandage, although it was difficult to tell with the ones on his scalp.

Then he settled down to wait.

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Night - Hunter

The forest held him close, protecting him, concealing him. His swiftness belied his care, each movement soft, calculated, and planned. His training had prepared him for this, instilling in him a determination to succeed, to prevail, and there was nothing in this situation to hold him back from his objective. He was silence within silence, his blade held so there was no chance of light reflecting off it and betraying him, his eyes well adjusted to the darkness with an almost preternatural ability.

He had a task to do, and he would do it, with no qualms, no thought of wrong. He was sure in the rightness of his action and certain in its conclusion. He stalked his prey as he had done so many times before, knowing exactly when the other stood, when the other froze, stopping as well, then echoing his movements. Twice he allowed his shadow to cross a dull patch of light, moonlight forced through branches to lie upon the ground. Twice his quarry stilled, head up. He was close enough to see the nostrils flare, to see the eyes straining to see in the blackness.

It was a game. A game he knew he would win, because he always had. This opponent was smarter than most, thinking at first that he was the one with the upper hand, but he knew better now. The scent of his sweat was a betrayal, both of his position and of his fear, as were his eyes, constantly shifting.

Watching, he licked his lips, knowing the taste of victory and blood.

As always.

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Morning

"They don't look too bad, sir."

Jack winced just a little as Carter wiped antiseptic across his scalp, parting the hair as she did so in order to get right into the cuts.

"I'm sure you're right, Carter. It could have been a lot worse. I was lucky not to break my neck falling into that hole." He shook his head. "Damn stupid thing to do."

"Come on, Jack. If you hadn't warned us we'd have been right in there with you. There was no way you could have know the stone was so thin there."

The Colonel frowned as he stood, tentatively touching his head as he did so. "I should have been more careful, Daniel. One of the first things I learnt was not to assume that just because something looks safe that it is safe. I put myself in danger with my carelessness, and then endangered the rest of you by having to be rescued. That ground was unstable. You could have just have easily fallen when you pulled me out."

"You're too hard on yourself, Jack. It all turned out okay, with nothing more to show for it than a couple of scratches."

"O'Neill is correct, Daniel Jackson. By not taking due care, he jeopardized himself and others." Teal'c continued, ignoring the younger man's protests. "He has been trained to be aware of such dangers, as have I."

"And I suppose you wouldn't have fallen in that hole if you'd come in this direction?" The bit of sarcasm was not lost on the Jaffa, but he chose to ignore it.

"No, Daniel Jackson, I would not have."

Jack put up a hand, stopping Daniel's words. "Come on, guys. There's no point squabbling over spilt milk. My little escapade has set us back several hours and we need to get moving if we're going to make it back to the SGC on time." He shouldered his pack. "We'll get as far as we can before we make camp for the night. Then an early start in the morning, and we should be back on schedule. Carter, watch our six. Teal'c, you take point, I think that he would agree I should be in the middle of our little conga line after my adventure. Am I right, T?"

"Indeed, O'Neill."

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Night - Hunted

He dropped, falling in a fluid motion to the ground then rolled into the protection of the fallen log. All he needed was a chance to regain ground, to put himself back on an equal footing. He slowed his breath instinctively, such control second nature, and let his eyelids close until only slits of white showed, not enough to be seen. All around the night crept in and enveloped him, hiding him.

So he waited.

He would not be defeated in this, too much was at stake. He must protect. He could do nothing else, and to protect he must win.

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Afternoon

"I thought you said there were no signs of anyone else on this planet, Carter?"

They had stopped for a quick lunch, and to take a breather. Never one to sit when he could be active Jack had wandered up to the top of the hill behind where they sat, canteen in one hand, energy bar in the other.

"There wasn't, sir." Sam raised her voice, making sure he could hear her clearly. "Why?"

"Come see what I've found."

His teammates soon joined him on the rise, and stared down at the tumbled stone remains of a small town.

"Care to explain this, Carter?"

Sam gave him an irritated glance, then looked away in an obvious attempt to cover her lapse. Her voice when she spoke was carefully controlled.

"The UAV didn't fly over here sir. I program it to fly a grid pattern that gives the best chance of picking up anything we may be interested in, but it can't survey everything."

"Can we have a quick look, Jack?" asked Daniel. From his tone it was obvious what answer he expected to get.

The Colonel looked at his watch and then smiled back at the archaeologist.

"We've made good time, in fact we're a little ahead of schedule. What say we allow thirty minutes for a quick recon, and if we find anything interesting we ask Hammond to put this planet on the schedule for revisiting?" He was rewarded by a beaming smile.

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Night - Hunter

He watched the log, saw the care the other took to show no movement, not knowing it was much too late for that. Laughter had no place in such a contest, so he crushed it down and allowed it no escape. He had time now to rest, time now to plan exactly what he would do, and how. The other was a true warrior, his experience obvious, but he was still no match. Time and time again in this conflict he had met men who thought they were better than he, time and time again he had proven them wrong.

He was the best at what he did. Tonight was no exception.

When he judged sufficient time had passed, he came forward, moving without conscious thought across the space between, until the other lay just a few short steps away.

He stilled as the head came up.

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Afternoon

"Well that was a bust" Jack patted the despondent man beside him on the shoulder. "Don't worry, the next planet we gate to may hold the answer to all the questions of the universe, and I don't mean forty-two."

His attempt at humour was met with a small smile as they reached the top of the hill.

"It's just so frustrating, having so little time to really look at things." Daniel took a final look at the ruins before turning and following Teal'c and Sam down the slope.

The town had been totally empty of anything of interest, at least what they could see in such a short time. It seemed to have been abandoned to the elements, only a few pieces of paint on the interior walls of some houses giving a tantalizing glimpse of ruined frescoes. There had been no reason to linger, even Daniel admitting that such a quick survey could give no clue as to the whereabouts of the inhabitants.

"Maybe this planet isn't as deserted as we thought, Jack. I really think we need to come back." He tried to inject a little enthusiasm into his speech, knowing the chance of SG-1 being sent to do it was very slim.

Jack nodded sympathetically.

"I'll see what I can do."

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Night - Hunted

He didn't know what made him turn, just an instinct that kicked in now it was too late, but turn he did. He had time to reach up, grab an arm and pull, using his weight against the other. They rolled, twigs snapping beneath them, breathing reduced to a panting, but making no other sound. He needed all his energy to win this battle and for a moment it looked as if he had the upper hand, regaining his feet. The other followed him up, shifting and weaving. Lightning fast, a hand lashed out, hard and stabbing and leaving no defence, then a twist and he was spun, straight into the knife, flashing through the air, the moonlight finally revealing the one who wielded it.

And that one momentary glimpse was enough to freeze his motion and leave him open, enough to fix him where he was.

He felt the blade dig deep into his flesh, and knew despair.

His last thoughts as the darkness rushed in were for his companions. They would have no chance against his killer.

No chance at all.

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Evening

They had walked until the light began to fade, then, finding a suitable clearing in the depths of the thick forest they needed to cross, made camp as far from the trees as possible. An early start in the morning should see them at the gate for their scheduled departure, so they wasted no time eating and making ready for bed.

"Let me check those cuts, sir." Carter didn't wait for a reply - already digging into her pack for a medical kit.

The Colonel submitted to the examination gracefully, wondering why it was always the smallest cuts that hurt the most. He flinched a little, the cold air hitting his head as soon as his hat was off.

"They're no worse than paper cuts, Carter. They'll probably be almost gone by the morning."

She smiled back, packing the kit away. "You're right, sir. You'll live. They look fine."

"You were very lucky, O'Neill. Your injuries could have been much worse, given the fall."

Jack gave Teal'c a rueful look. "You're right there, T. Guess someone was watching out for me today." He stood and stretched, yawning. "Okay, kids. Daniel, first watch, Carter next, and Teal'c you get the dubious pleasure of waking me for the last watch. I'll have coffee ready when you wake up."

The order was obvious, even if it wasn't spoken aloud, and within a few minutes the camp was quiet, only Daniel left to finish his coffee, staring into the darkness.

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Night - Hunter

The dull thud as the body fell broke the quiet, and he looked around, checking. Then off once more without a second glance, because he knew there were more to find.

They would be easier. He had heard their whispers, darting back to watch and delight in their vulnerability before returning to the chase.

He felt the thrill of the hunt diminish, but allowed himself only a moment to rest, needing to finish it. He had to finish it. To not do so was unthinkable, especially now. So close to the end.

They called to him out of the night, luring him with their weakness, no longer just a task to complete, but now a prize waiting to be collected. Each victory strengthened him, sent him further towards true mastery.

His blood sang within him.

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Darkness Hides the Hunter - Part Two

Night

Teal'c rose, lifting his staff weapon from where it lay across his knees. He just had time for another perimeter sweep before waking O'Neill for his watch.

The breeze that had risen earlier in the evening had died, leaving the forest still and silent. He walked to the far side of the tents, hearing the soft snore of Daniel Jackson as he passed. Here, the trees loomed only a few metres away and he stopped, peering into the foliage, before entering the undergrowth.

Something felt wrong.

The movement was fleeting, but it was enough to turn his head and see the figure swiftly disappearing into the forest. Without thought, he hurried after it, pressing the button on his radio as he did so, calling his CO for backup.

"O'Neill." He kept his voice to the barest whisper.

No answer.

Dropping his hand to brush aside a bush, he just managed to glimpse the dark shape vanish behind the thick trunk of a tree. He moved on, trying to keep it in sight, but finding it more and more difficult as he got deeper into the blackness under the trees.

He tried the radio again. "O'Neill."

"Teal'c?" Major Carter's voice came clearly from the instrument.

He spoke quietly, falling back a little as he did so. "I am following someone in the forest to the south west of our camp."

"A native?"

"It is hard to tell in the dark. Where is O'Neill?"

"Daniel's checking."

"Understood."

In the pause that followed, Teal'c took the chance to try and gain some ground on the figure. The other person was moving at a rate that spoke of some familiarity with the terrain, and the Jaffa was hard pressed to match it.

The blow came as a complete surprise, the large branch hitting Teal'c on the head, and causing him to drop to the ground with its force. Almost as soon as he felt the soil under his knees he was rolling, pushing the hard wood off himself and twisting to one side. He lay still, listening.

It was the click that warned him, just enough to fling his body to the left. The stone hissed past him to bury itself in the earth less than an inch from his head. He was up and moving just as the next stone hit where he had been.

Ducking into the cover of a clump of bushes, he knew the tables had been turned.

He was no longer the hunter.

He had become the prey.

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Night - The Hunter

As he moved away, the sound of his prey's hissing breath receded into the distance, and once again the forest was silent. He liked it that way.

It meant he was alone.

There had been no need to finish his victim. He would be dead soon enough, and not only would it have wasted time, deep inside he enjoyed hearing the sound of death approaching.

He took a moment to wipe his knife, tucking it back clean into its sheath, before he moved on.

He knew where to find the others.

Then the fun would begin.

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Night

"Teal'c?" Only a hiss from her radio greeted Sam's attempts at communication. "Damn! I can't reach him."

"Sam!" Daniel's worried voice called out to her, and she hurried over to where he stood. "Jack's not in his tent. There are signs of a struggle." He looked up at her, as if suddenly realising that the missing Colonel wasn't their only problem. "Teal'c?"

"He's not answering." She refused to give any credibility to any of the scenarios that were popping up in her head. She brushed past Daniel, and made her own inspection of her commanding officer's tent. The contents of the Colonel's pack were strewn across the ripped sleeping bag, everything pointing to a struggle.

Damn.

"Do you think whoever Teal'c's chasing has Jack?" Daniel's worried tone echoed her own, and grated on her nerves.

"I'm sure if he had, Teal'c would have said something, Daniel." Sam frowned as she tucked her radio back in its pocket. "But whoever he's following may not have been alone."

"Surely we would have heard something? Jack must have been woken up. Look at his tent." Daniel waved his hand in the air in frustration. "I'd say he put up a fight. I don't understand how we didn't hear anything."

Sam nodded, already starting back to put out the fire. "Whatever happened must have been very sudden to have taken the Colonel by surprise." She gave the radio another try, without success, the same static sounding across the airwaves. "Come on, let's get packed up. We'll go in the direction Teal'c reported he was heading." She was calm, controlled. She couldn't afford to be anything else.

It didn't take long to mobilise, years of practise making their movements almost instinctive. Daniel took a quick look around as they left the camp, checking they had everything they needed. They had already agreed to leave the tents behind, opting to travel quickly without any extra weight.

"Hopefully Teal'c will have an answer for us when we reach him." Sam gave her friend a reassuring smile. "Let's go."

Together they entered the forest.

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Night - The Hunter

They were there, right in front of him, totally oblivious to his presence. It was almost a pity, no thrill of the chase here. Much too simple.

The woman was the more dangerous of the two, holding her weapon ready, and moving relatively quietly. Her eyes flashed back and forth, watching for any movement.

The man was tall and well built, but it was obvious from his actions that he was not a soldier. He did not do as the woman did, check behind them, he kept his eyes fixed ahead as if searching for something.

They halted, the woman talking softly into her radio, and he took his chance. The man turned away again, peering into the darkness, and he moved, his arm around the woman's neck, pulling her back and into the undergrowth. A slight increase in pressure and her body flopped. He let it fall.

It had been the work of seconds, and he was back to the other man before the woman was even missed. He used the handle of his knife as a club, rendering the man unconscious with no effort at all.

It was too quick.

Where was the fun in that?

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Night

Daniel groaned his way to consciousness, every muscle screaming in protest. He was tied up, his arms behind his back and his ankles bound tightly. He could feel every stone and twig pressing into the side on which he lay, tiny pin pricks of pain that added up to one giant hurt. He blinked his eyes, trying to clear his vision, then realised his glasses were gone and the fuzzy view he had was as good as it was going to get.

He was in the process of raising his head to look around, when he was jerked violently backward by his arms. He cried out.

"Hey!" He gasped out another breath, scrabbling with his bound feet and trying to stop his progress across the ground. "Wait. What are you doing?"

As suddenly as it had began, his motion stopped, his back slammed against the trunk of a tree. He twisted, trying to see his assailant but got no more than a blurred glimpse of a hand before the pressure on his arms made him shut his eyes in pain. A few swift movements, and Daniel found himself crouching, unable to raise or lower his arms from their excruciatingly painful position, wrists tied together hard up against rough bark. They were held too high to let him kneel, too low to allow him to stand completely, and he hunched, bent at the waist, trying to relieve the pressure on his shoulder blades.

"Can't we talk about this?" He tried the only thing left to him. "I'm Daniel Jackson. We are peaceful explorers. Please release me so we can talk."

The soft laugh was unexpected, coming as it did from so close to his left ear. He turned his head, and gasped. The moonlight showed Sam lying on the ground near him, unmoving. He barely had time to take in the sight before his legs were tugged out from under him, another rope looped around his ankles and his body stretched out diagonally towards another tree. As his feet were pulled and the ropes around them tightened, his arms were stretched back until the agony from his shoulders made him scream. It seemed ages before the pressure was released and he found he could stand, albeit uncomfortably. His arms were now extended back like wings, and with his feet held tight by the rope to the other tree, he had no way of moving back to ease them.

He shifted on his feet, peering around, straining to see what was going on. The blurred figure of a man was bending over Sam.

"Hey, leave her alone!" He knew it was a pointless thing to say, but he couldn't help it. He was completely ignored, and could do nothing but watch as an obviously awakening Sam struggled in the other's arms. Her efforts didn't seem to bother the man at all, and she was soon tied to a tree beside him. Her bindings were the same as his, with the addition of a taut rope dangling from a branch above her head and tied noose like around her neck. Even without his glasses, Daniel could see that she would have to remain as still as possible to avoid strangulation.

"Sam?" There had been no sign of their captor for several minutes, and Daniel took a chance. "Are you okay?"

"What...um.." mumbled Sam. "Damn, what's going on?"

Daniel was glad to hear her voice regaining its strength. "I don't know what happened to you, but I was knocked out before I had a chance to fight back. Are you sure you're okay?"

Her voice came much clearer now. "Yes, I'm fine Daniel. What can you tell me about our captors? Who are they? What do they want?" Then he saw her try to turn her head. "And do they have the Colonel?"

"I don't know, Sam. I've only enough of a glimpse to know there only seems to be one man. Other than that I don't know anything. I tried talking to him, but he didn't say anything. Maybe he doesn't understand English. If he said something I might be able to work out his language. This could all be a misunderstanding."

Sam interrupted his words, an air of irritation in her voice. "What about the Colonel, Daniel? Have you seen him?"

`Ah, no, Sam. Sorry."

"Well we can only hope that he's out there somewhere with Teal'c. They'll find us."

Daniel couldn't help the sigh that escaped him. His shoulders felt like they were dislocating inch by painful inch. "I hope they don't take too long."

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Night - The Hunter

He listened, standing in the shadow of the trees, as they talked. So much information. So much he now knew about them and their companions. Their tongues were as loose as their brains, giving away secrets they should have known better than to speak.

There were two others. He knew that now.

One he had dealt with.

The other could wait.

He needed to know more, and they were going to tell him everything.

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Dawn

"I should kill you, you begin to bore me."

He walked around to stand in front of them, arms folded, his stance relaxed. The dawn's dim glow gave his features a reddish tinge as if he burnt from within. The light didn't reach his eyes. They were lifeless.

"Perhaps you can think of a way to keep me interested in keeping you alive?" He lifted his knife. "You could try talking to me. Although it may be more pleasurable if you don't"

"Colonel?"

It was as if he hadn't heard.

"I know about the other two, so why don't you tell me how many more I need to deal with, and where they are."

Daniel strained to see - to be sure of what his ears were telling him. It couldn't be. Sam must be wrong.

But there was something so familiar about the assured stance of the other man. Then he came closer.

Oh god! His friend's face stared at him from out of the gloom, his eyes hooded into mere slits.

"Well? I'm waiting. Where are the rest of your troops?"

This couldn't be happening. It was a joke. It couldn't be real. It had to be a bad joke.

He couldn't help the indignant tone that crept into his voice. He squinted again. "Jack? What the-? Jack, what are you talking about? What...let us go."

Jack's eyes narrowed even more, and he stepped forward, stopping only a foot from Daniel. "I'm talking about you giving me information. I thought I'd made that clear." The knife flicked up, cutting a long scratch into the other's exposed neck. "As for letting you go - not going to happen."

Daniel let out a yelp, unable to believe his friend had so cold bloodedly hurt him. It sounded so much like Jack, and yet was so different. His familiar voice had none of the warmth Daniel was use to, none of the humour. It was cold and unemotional.

"Jack - it's me, Daniel. Sam and I are your friends." He tried reasoning once again, still unable to believe what was happening.

The knife slashed again, this time ripping his uniform at the shoulder, leaving a shallow gash several inches long.

"Oh shit!" Daniel jerked forward, trying to pull away, only to have the pain in his arms bring him back to reality. "Jack, what the hell are you doing? You don't want to do this."

"Oh, but I do. It's been a while since I had two playmates at once."

"Look at him, Daniel." Sam's voice broke into his words. "It's no good. He doesn't know who we are."

Jack straightened, a smile coming to his lips. Very slowly he turned and moved over to Sam, leaning in to her and whispering.

"You're wrong. I know as much about you as I need to. You're the enemy and as such I can do what I want with you." His smile got broader as his whisper got softer. "And I can think of lots of things I'd like to do to you."

"Sir, stop! Look at me. You know me. I don't know what's wrong, but let us help you." Sam's voice was desperate, and for a moment Daniel thought she had gotten through. Jack stepped back.

Then the knife came up once more, and Sam cried out as it sliced a line down the side of her neck identical to the one dripping blood onto Daniel's collar. Jack took a long step forward, pressing his body against hers.

He put his lips to her ear, and Daniel could just make out the softly spoken words. "Nothing's wrong, except you aren't saying anything I want to hear." Then Sam's head jerked, held in place by the noose around her neck, as he bent into her neck and stayed there for a long moment.

When Jack straightened, Daniel felt like throwing up. His friend's lips were smeared with Sam's blood. He smiled as he licked them.

"Sweet!" He turned, including Daniel in his grin. "See, I knew we could have fun together."

Daniel pulled his gaze away from the smiling man and caught Sam's eyes. She turned, facing away as much as the ropes holding her would allow, and he saw a slight shudder run down her frame.

Then she turned back, her gaze filled with determination as she once more looked at Jack. And Daniel shivered at the steel in her eyes.

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She could still feel the moisture tingling on her skin, the trail left by his tongue still warm.

Her gaze caught his eyes, and their darkness, bracketed by a cold sneer, told her, that this man, this soldier, was not the Colonel she knew.

And her determination turned to fear.

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Darkness Hides the Hunter - Part Three

Dawn

He watched the woman, saw her legs trembling with fatigue. He almost felt sorry for her. Almost. But she was the enemy and he couldn't allow himself to feel sympathy - too many lives depended on the information he could gain from them.

She had been careful to hide the look of revulsion by turning away, but he knew his actions had disconcerted her. The man had looked ready to throw up, a few convulsive gulps all that stopped him. All the better - keep them guessing, stay unpredictable. He had already discovered weaknesses he could use.

He raised the mug to his lips, savouring the bitter taste of coffee after so long without. Their packs had been a treasure-trove, replacing his lost supplies, even the energy bars tasting good.

The man sagged, his knees buckling, and with a cry of pain, he pulled himself upright again, shaking his head as if to clear it. The cut on his neck had begun bleeding again, slowly turning his uniform collar dark with moisture.

"Sir, please, he can't stay like that. Please, you could keep him tied, just let him put his arms down." The woman pleaded. "Please, Colonel. It's Daniel. You don't really want to hurt him."

Once, long ago, she might have been right, but now all had changed. He had changed as he did whatever he had to do to get the job done. He had taught himself not to listen, and with each mission, lost more of himself, until now he knew he was so close to the darkness that it almost engulfed him.

He tossed the remains of the coffee into the fire, and took another step away from the light.

He ignored her words, concentrating instead on the man. His eyes were wide and staring, as if straining to see, his breath laboured.

The weakest link.

He swung his open hand, the slap loud in the dawn quiet. The man's head jerked sideways with the impact and a thin trickle of blood ran from his bottom lip where his teeth had cut into it. He didn't give the man time to recover, following the slap with a punch to the stomach. The man gasped, his breath forced out of his lungs. He took two deep, shuddering gulps of air.

"Jack..." His eyes were squeezed shut.

"What is your objective here?"

"God, Jack, please. I don't know what you want me to say." The voice was weak and strained.

"Wrong answer." He stepped back. "I'll have to ask your friend here instead."

The reaction was all he could have hoped for. The head came up. "No...don't. I'll tell you everything you want to know, just leave Sam alone."

So predictable. So easy.

"What are your objectives here?"

"We were exploring. Remember...General Hammond sent us here...from the SGC.....through the stargate."

A flash of anger raced through him at the other's obstinacy, but he quickly dismissed it from his mind. He couldn't afford anger, it could cause mistakes.

"Very well." He didn't raise his voice, just walked away, to stand facing away from them.

"Think about it, Colonel. How did you get here? Try and remember. You came here with us...from Earth...the SGC." The woman's anxious voice intruded into his thoughts, but she wasn't saying anything worth listening to.

Nothing worth listening to at all.

It was the work of a moment to turn, takes the few steps necessary to reach her side, and sweep her feet out from under her with a swift kick.

He turned away again, the gurgling sounds of slow strangulation a discordant counterpoint to the tune he was humming.

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When the Colonel turned towards her, Sam had steeled herself for a blow. Nothing in his expression warned her just how much she had underestimated his ruthlessness. She was down, the rope tight around her neck, before she even felt the kick against her legs.

She gulped convulsively for air, desperately struggling to find solid ground beneath her bound feet. Dimly she heard Daniel's voice shouting, but the pounding in her ears overwhelmed any other sound until all she knew was the need for oxygen as she began to fade out, her eyes staring into nothingness.

She had no idea how long it was before she was able to push a breath past the hard obstruction in her throat, the noose gone from her neck. She managed one breath, then another, pulling oxygen into her lungs, the effort agonisingly painful, as she swayed on her feet.

Finally she opened her eyes, to confront what she knew she would find.

He was standing in front of her, his hands still half raised from loosening the rope, the half smile on his lips not reaching his dead, cold eyes.

The Colonel. Her Colonel.

The man she would trust with her life.

The man who had almost killed her.

"You upset me." His voice was emotionless, despite his words. "You should try not to do that again."

He stepped in, reaching out to cup her face with his hand, and she couldn't help the flinch as he traced along her jaw line with his thumb.

"Sam! Leave her alone, Jack." Sam could hear the desperation in Daniel's voice.

A long finger ran down the still bleeding cut on her neck and she turned her head to the side.

"Damn it, Jack, leave her alone!" Daniel's angry voice broke the silence once more, and the hand dropped.

Even in the dim light, Sam could see the moment when the Colonel changed, the last spark of life dying from his eyes, leaving only darkness. As he turned way from her, his knife out once more, Sam knew she had only seconds in which to act, only seconds to prevent the death of her friend.

"Wait...I'll tell you everything...anything you want...stop." She screamed the words into the sudden silence.

He paused.

"What is your mission?" He was back, standing beside her.

She struggled to think of something, anything to distract him, to keep him busy and give Teal'c time to rescue them.

"We were sent ahead to scout...check for any signs of the enemy...we hadn't found anything." She tried not to babble, to keep it as convincing as possible, and hurried on. "We were just heading back when you caught us."

"How many of you are there?"

"Just the two of us. We are several miles ahead of the main force."

The Colonel smiled, a smug, satisfied smile.

"Excellent."

She breathed a sigh of relief. It was working.

He stepped forward, until she could feel his breath on her face. "You deserve a reward for that." The knife was out and the ropes holding her hands to the tree were cut in one swift move. Sam's arms fell to her sides, the sudden return of circulation causing pain to shoot through her limbs. "Yes, you certainly deserve a reward" The knife flashed upwards, slicing through her shirt, and biting into her T-shirt, parting them and leaving her clothes hanging loose. "A reward for such fine acting."

Sam's arms barely twitched as she attempted to bring her hands up to shield herself. The Colonel hadn't stopped smiling, his voice was calm and controlled, but every instinct she had screamed to her of danger. She took a deep breath and matched his calmness, keeping her tone as matter-a-fact as possible.

"Daniel and I were alone, sir."

What she saw then shocked her almost as much as anything that had happened in the last few hours. The Colonel's left eye twitched. It was a tiny involuntary motion, but it was so unlike him that for a moment she was stunned into speechlessness.

Suddenly she understood. She hurried to speak, her tongue almost tripping over itself as she realised her mistake.

"There were three of us, but our companion went on ahead to report."

She caught movement out of the corner of her eye, as Daniel straightened, but she ignored him.

The Colonel knew. She saw it in his eyes. He knew she hadn't been alone with Daniel. Her mind spun with the possibilities. Did he have some memory of their camp? She swallowed, remembering the Colonel's ruined pack.

Oh god! There had been no native. There had only ever been the members of SG-1 here on the planet.

That meant ...

Sam looked into the smiling face just a few inches from her own and saw the answer waiting for her. As she watched, he nodded and turned, seating himself again, holding his knife loosely in his right hand. He casually flipped it in the air, end over end, catching it again, and repeating the move as he spoke.

"Shall we try it again?"

Sam shut her eyes, and asked, not knowing if she really wanted to hear the answer.

"Sir, what have you done?"

"Sam?" She heard Daniel's puzzled voice, but spoke over the beginning of his question.

"Daniel - he knows. He knows we weren't alone. Think about it." She kept her eyes shut, her heart suddenly cold. "Sir. You are Colonel Jack O'Neill. You are the leader of SG-1. There are three other members of your team - myself, Major Samantha Carter, Doctor Daniel Jackson - tied to the tree next to me, and Teal'c." On the last word she opened her eyes and stared straight at the man, the so familiar figure of the man she no longer knew. "Sir - what have you done with Teal'c?"

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Teal'c? Daniel pushed himself upright once more. What did Sam mean? Why was she telling Jack about Teal'c?

Then, with a flash, he understood.

Jack knew about Teal'c. He looked at his friend, sitting so calmly watching them, his head half cocked to one side, his eye twitching. Perhaps this was some other Jack? Some alternate Colonel O'Neill who had walked through the mirror and ended up, through a bizarre coincidence, on the same planet as them? Maybe their Jack was just waiting for a chance to rescue them?

The alternative was too horrifying to contemplate. Jack couldn't have turned into this cruel, hard person, willing to hurt his friends for the sake of some meaningless information about an imaginary enemy. Willing to kill to get it.

But that was the flaw in his argument, and Daniel knew it, because he understood, deep down, that Colonel Jack O'Neill was perfectly capable of doing all those things, and more. And he looked over at Sam, and saw her eyes open, saw the despair in them as they caught his gaze.

If he was able, Teal'c would have stopped Jack by now.

"God, Jack, what have you done?" He strained forward, trying to get the other man's attention. "You're sick....please...let us go. We'll find Teal'c and get you back to the SGC...find out what's wrong. It'll be okay once we get home." There was no reaction, but he kept talking. "Listen to Sam...she's telling the truth."

But as Daniel searched for a way to reach his friend, to make him understand, he hoped that what he was thinking was wrong, because, if Jack had done something to their teammate...if he had done the unthinkable...when all this was over, Daniel knew without a shadow of a doubt, that Jack would never forgive himself.

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Their words were less than useless.

He didn't want questions. He wanted answers.

He had accounted for three of them - that left one more. One that could be anywhere, could be already warning the enemy of his presence. Jeopardising his mission.

He tossed his knife one last time, seeing the sun gleaming off the blade. It was time to be moving on. It didn't do to stay in one place for too long. He had to keep on the move, keep hidden.

The fourth member of their team - they had said so little about him, but behind their worried eyes, and frightened stares, there had still been hope. At least until a few minutes ago.

What had changed?

He had seen the moment the woman had realised that the man they called Teal'c would not be coming to save them, but there was still another to be accounted for. Why were they dismissing him as a rescuer? Had he already gone back to report? Had the enemy been warned of his presence?

He stood, his decision made.

He needed to be gone from here, before he was found. But before he left, he had to be sure there would be no one to give away any information about him to the enemy.

He concealed a shudder. This was the part of his job that he hated. It was one thing to kill in the heat of battle, but to do it in cold blood was something he could never get use to.

Still, it had to be done.

Their words washed over him, beating against him, their tone becoming more and more urgent. One part of him wanted to listen, another knew that to do so would be a fatal error.

The woman was shouting now, the man pulling against his ropes, the veins standing out on his forehead as his struggled.

He lifted his knife, already at the woman's side. Always eliminate the most dangerous threat first.

It was then that it happened.

Just for a second it was as if he had split in two. One part of him only concerned with the need to complete his mission, the other screaming for attention as he looked into the terrified gaze of his second in command.

For that split second, he paused, his knife raised.

And something hit him between the shoulder blades, the explosion of pain throwing him to the ground and sending him straight back into the so familiar darkness.

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Darkness Hides the Hunter - Part Four

Jack collapsed with only the barest grunt of a sound.

Daniel's gaze followed his body down to the ground, before dragging it back up again to where Teal'c stood, wavering, blood dried in a long slick stream down his stomach and legs, his staff weapon still raised as if he was unsure if the sweeping blow had been sufficient to halt the Colonel.

Time seemed to stand still.

"Quickly!" Sam's cry broke the impasse, and before Daniel could work out what she meant, Teal'c had fallen to his knees, grabbing the discarded ropes at the base of her tree. Still without speaking, he shuffled the short way to where Jack lay, dropping his staff weapon as he did so. With a few practised twists he had the unconscious man's hands tied behind his back and his feet bound together, before climbing laboriously to his feet once more, Jack's knife in his hand. Daniel held his breath as his teammate staggered, but sighed in relief as he righted himself again. He reached the Major's side, thrusting the weapon into her waiting hands.

It was the work of a second for Sam to cut the bonds holding her feet, and she stepped away from the tree trunk just as Teal'c began sliding slowly to the soft soil of the forest floor. She gave him a quick, concerned glance before heading straight to Daniel, knife in hand, her intention obvious. Daniel was both thankful and worried at Sam's urgency to release him, though not a little unnerved by her almost complete disregard for Jack, and the stumbling Teal'c.

"Sam?"

She glanced up at him, and he saw the soldier in her eyes. "Daniel, watch the Colonel while I untie you and see to Teal'c."

She moved closer, hesitating for a second and picking up something from near the log Jack had used as a seat. Daniel understood as soon as he felt the familiar touch of his glasses on his face. Blinking, his eyes slowly focused. The relief he felt after so long in the blurry half-light was immense.

The ropes were soon cut and Sam left him to return to their injured colleague. Ignoring his painfully numb arms, Daniel hurried to Jack's side, thankful to see the steady rise and fall of his shoulders.

"Daniel - be careful! Don't go too close."

"He's tied up, Sam." He couldn't help feeling irritated at her words.

"Major Carter is correct. We must not underestimate O'Neill's skill." Teal'c's normally dark face was pale, a frown the only sign of his distress.

"Teal'c." Sam knelt beside him, ignoring her own state of undress as she carefully lifted his blood soaked T-shirt. "What happened?"

"I made the error of underestimating O'Neill and almost paid for it with my life."

"So it was the Colonel that injured you." Sam didn't pause as she spoke, and Daniel felt his own face pale in response to the sight of the deep wound in Teal'c's stomach.

"Indeed. I must admit to surprise at the ease at which O'Neill ambushed me." He grimaced slightly as Sam moved the stiff cloth from his skin. "We must be vigilant. It is obvious O'Neill is not himself, but that does not make him a less dangerous adversary."

Then his large hands pushed her away. "See to O'Neill, Major Carter." The concern was evident in his voice.

Sam gave a quick glance to where the Jack lay, unmoving. "He's okay, Teal'c, and it's obvious that you aren't. Let me check your injury." Her voice was raspy, the result, Daniel surmised, of her near strangulation.

Daniel saw the way Sam's eyes skidded across her CO's form, without really looking at him.

Jack looked so uncomfortable, face down. Daniel leaned nearer, seeing the gash where the head of the staff weapon had connected with the base of his skull. Already the area around it was clearly bruising. He reached out a hand, only to snatch it back at Sam's annoyed shout.

"Don't go any closer, Daniel. Weren't you listening to what Teal'c just said?" He rocked back on his heels, glaring at her. "Why don't you see if you can find our packs and weapons? They might be around here somewhere and I need the medical kit to treat Teal'c's wound."

"And what about Jack's wound, Sam? How are we going to treat that if you won't go near him?" Daniel pushed himself off the ground, suppressing a moan as his awakening arm muscles cried a protest. "I'll look for the packs, but then I'm going to check Jack properly."

Sam nodded, already turning back to the Jaffa.

The packs were neatly stacked just within the tree line, along with their weapons. Daniel hauled them back into the clearing and found the medical supplies, handing them to Sam. For a moment he watched as she began binding the ugly wound, before returning to his friend.

Jack hadn't moved. If anything he seemed even paler than Teal'c now, beads of sweat slowly edging their way down his forehead.

"Be careful, Daniel Jackson."

"For god's sake, Teal'c!" Daniel couldn't hold his anger back any longer. "This is Jack here. There was something wrong with him before, making him act that way, and now he looks like he has a serious injury on top of that. What do you want me to do? Just leave him?"

Surprisingly, it was Sam who answered.

"No, Daniel. Let me look at him, just wait a moment until I finish here." She gave Daniel a tremulous smile. "I'm sorry. I guess I was a bit more shaken up by all this than I thought."

Daniel looked at the dark line around her neck where the rope had cut in, intersected by the thin scratch, and the way her clothes were cut. He knew he couldn't really blame her for being upset. She had a right to be.

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Sam turned back to her task, winding the long bandage around Teal'c's body. The wound was a serious one, in fact she realised that if the Jaffa had still had his symbiote it would probably have been killed by the slash of the knife and Teal'c along with it. As it was, the site of Teal'c's pouch was probably one of the few places in which he could have sustained an injury of this magnitude and survived. It was obvious to her that the Colonel had struck to kill, only luck saving their friend's life.

Daniel was right. She would check Colonel O'Neill thoroughly as soon as she was able, but at the moment Teal'c took priority. There was no way she was going to allow Daniel anywhere close to their commander. Of course she knew the Colonel would never have done these things if he had been in his right mind, but that was just it - he wasn't. Maybe it was a posttraumatic stress, but she doubted that. There had been no warning, no sign that there was something wrong.

Tying off the bandage, she sat back again, only to find Teal'c's dark eyes staring straight at her.

"Thank you, Major Carter." Before she could stop him, he was up, listing to one side like an ancient sailing ship, but on his feet none-the-less. With a short grunt he bent and took up a zat, moving to stand over the unconscious man.

"You may check O'Neill now."

"What are you going to do if he tries anything?" Daniel indignantly asked. "Zat him?"

"Indeed." The weapon didn't waver. "He is awake and listening to us even now."

She jumped back as the Colonel's eyes snapped open, and suppressed a shudder at the derision she saw in them. With a supreme effort of will, she came forward, bending, and carefully turning down the collar of his jacket to expose the now livid bruising. As her hand touched his bare skin she felt a shiver run through him, a glimmer of pain showing momentarily in his face before it was quickly concealed.

"Sorry, sir, but there isn't much I can do about this until we get back to the SGC." She kept her voice as normal as possible, looking up at the others. "I don't like moving him, but we really don't have a choice. With you injured, Teal'c, I'm not prepared to risk someone going back for help." She shook her head, making the decision as she spoke. "We go together."

"I concur." Teal'c inclined his head slightly. "We should travel together. We should be able to reach the gate by tomorrow afternoon."

"But what about Jack?" Daniel protested.

Sam took another look at the supine man. "He'll just have to walk."

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Afternoon

He took another step, the dull throb in his head pounding in counterpoint with his movements. There was no way he would let his captors see any weakness. It was bad enough that he hadn't made sure of the big man when he had the chance, but to let him sneak up on him like that...there was no excuse.

They were heading for the enemy's main force, getting nearer by the hour if what he overheard was true. There would be an opportunity to escape. There had to be. He could not allow himself to be interrogated.

He raised his head and looked behind, to see the large dark man watching him, his weapon unwavering despite his obvious injury.

Teal'c.

He was wounded.

How had that happened? It looked bad, the tell tale signs of distress plain for someone who knew where to look, and after so many years together as friends and teammates, Jack knew how to interpret every small nuance.

But he knew how it had happened.

He had done it. Stabbed his friend and left him to die alone.

He should have made sure of him. There was no excuse.

The pain in his neck was matched by the itchiness of the scratches across his scalp, like small creatures burrowing into his skull. He shrugged and rotated his shoulders as much as possible given his tightly bound hands, attempting to ease the muscles.

"Jack? You okay?" That was the younger man. Daniel.

"Hurts." He hung his head slightly, peering up sideways, keeping his eyes half closed.

"Sam. We should take a break. Jack doesn't look too good."

The woman stopped and turned back, her weapon raised.

"Colonel?"

With a groan, he fell to his knees, shutting his eyes against the stab of pain that washed over him.

"Sir?"

Cold fingers clutched his wrist, and he just lay there, savouring the delicate touch.

Antarctica.

Carter's hands had been freezing, but he hadn't said anything, more concerned with pushing down the pain inside himself than complaining. She hadn't been able to stop the pain there either.

Bitch.

He groaned, willing her to come closer.

The big man was the only real threat. If it weren't for him, Jack would have been back with his own men by now.

Crap, but it hurt!

That's it - just a little closer.

He tensed his legs, feeling the slight pull from the old injury to his knee.

She was almost there.

"Major Carter! Step back."

This time his moan was more from frustration than pain, as the blond woman rocked back on her heels, letting his wrist go with a jerking motion. The big man was glaring down, his face close up to him, his intention clear, and Jack knew he had seen the signs, had known what he had planned.

Just a few seconds more and the woman would have been dead, her neck crushed, and he would have been gone.

His cry of agony was unforced as the large hand came down and pulled him to his feet once more. A push against his back sent him moving up the trail and further away from freedom.

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Evening

He was bone weary. It was hard to remember a time when he had felt so exhausted, and the lack of the restoring powers of his symbiote more keenly felt.

Teal'c bit into the ration bar Daniel Jackson had handed him moments before, making himself swallow. He needed to be alert, and to be alert he needed food - or at least what the Tau'ri called food on off world expeditions. He could never understand how a race that seemed so concerned with the welfare of each individual warrior saw dry, barely digestible bars, more suited to feeding cattle, as edible.

O'Neill was resting, propped up uncomfortably against a rock, his eyes shut.

Teal'c watched him carefully, not positive his commander was asleep. Several times during their trek to the chap'pai Teal'c had been aware of O'Neill's calculating gaze upon him. The man was not himself, that much was obvious, but despite their efforts at reasoning with him, he still saw them as the enemy. Teal'c had known that O'Neill was a formidable warrior, but just how formidable he had not before appreciated. He berated himself for his complacency, for his easy dismissal of the experience of this man. The knowledge of the years he had spent training and fighting as a Jaffa in the service of Apophis had given him a false sense of his own worth when placed beside the short lived Tau'ri. Now he knew better, and that knowledge had almost cost the life of not only himself, but also those of his companions.

O'Neill's chest was rising and falling in a steady rhythm. Teal'c could feel his own eyes shutting, fatigue and his injury catching up with him, and he sat straighter trying to bring himself back to full alertness.

"Teal'c?" Daniel Jackson's soft whisper came as a shock. The fact he had not heard the other man approach spoke volumes. "How are you feeling?"

The situation warranted complete honesty. "I fear I am not well." He placed a tentative hand on his abdomen, feeling a tightness as he did so.

"Should I get Sam?"

Teal'c looked to where the woman was curled up next to the fire. "No, let her sleep. There is nothing more she can do, and we will be back at the SGC tomorrow." He looked at the young man in front of him. "I fear I will not be able to stay awake. It is up to you, Daniel Jackson, to guard Colonel O'Neill." Daniel nodded, his face serious, but Teal'c felt compelled to speak again. "You must remember that you can no longer consider this man your friend. Until he is back at the SGC he is a dangerous enemy. He has already shown that he is prepared to kill to escape us."

Daniel's eyes flickered over to the apparently sleeping man. "I just wish we knew what was wrong with Jack."

Teal'c felt for his teammate. Despite his experience over the last seven years, nothing had prepared him for this. But they needed to focus. It was imperative they reached the SGC as soon as possible, and Teal'c knew he was on the edge of sleep.

He spoke firmly, dragging the other's attention back again. "Are you prepared to do what you must to prevent Colonel O'Neill from escaping?" He held out the zat.

"Yes." The one word answer was accompanied by a look of determination.

He nodded, and closed his eyes, his hand clasped protectively over his wound.

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Finally.

He didn't allow any sign of satisfaction to cross his features, but inwardly he was elated.

The next hour was spent feigning sleep. A couple of times the young man walked around their tiny campsite, coming close, and he was careful to keep his eyes closed and his breathing even. When sufficient time had passed, he let out a soft groan. Although he couldn't see the result, he heard a rustle as the other stood up, and the quiet footsteps as he came nearer.

Jack stayed still. After a while the footsteps retreated.

Thirty minutes later he turned his head, gasping as he did so.

Again the footsteps approached. This time he let his eyes open slightly before shutting them again.

He ignored the softly whispered "Jack?"

His next move came more quickly. He lifted his bound hands to his head, moaning. He felt the other man kneel beside him, a hand on his shoulder.

"Jack?"

Another moan. He opened his eyes, the pain in them not completely acted. He saw the worry in the other's eyes, and for a moment wondered at it.

Then he struck.

He stabbed outwards with his clenched hands, catching the other across his nose, and followed through with an elbow to the stomach. The man dropped as if he had been poleaxed. No time for finesse here. No time for a final, and fatal blow. He had to get away.

He was almost into the cover of the trees when the blue light engulfed him, his cry of agony echoing through the night.

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Darkness Hides the Hunter - Part Five

Dawn

His first instinct was to run to where his friend lay writhing on the ground, but he didn't. Instead, he stayed where he was, his weight supported by one hand, while with the other he held the zat, still trained on the figure.

"What the hell just happened?"

He didn't look around at the sound of Sam's voice, all his attention fixed on Jack.

She repeated her question as she hurried forward. "Daniel? What happened?"

To Daniel it seemed like hours before Jack slumped unconscious, the tremors still coursing through his body even as his limbs relaxed and his staring eyes closed. Sam was at Jack's side now, her hands pressing him down, searching for a pulse.

"Daniel Jackson?" This time it was Teal'c, and he let his white knuckled grip relax as the weapon was gently removed from his hand. "Are you injured?"

Sam's body blocked his view of Jack, and at last he found he was able to speak. Was he hurt? He took a moment to consider his answer, not sure of anything except the ache from his nose and stomach where his friend had hit him. Nothing seemed too serious. Probably just some bruises and maybe a black eye or two, nothing worth adding to the long list of injuries he had sustained over the years.

"I'm okay. How's Jack?"

Sam turned to look at him, her expression worried. "His pulse is extremely rapid, and the effects of the zat seem to be lasting much longer than usual. Why didn't you wake us? Goodness knows what this might have done to him."

Daniel cringed at the obvious censure in her voice. Why had he let Jack lure him close? Sam was right - he should have woken them. What if Jack died? It would be his fault.

"I'm sorry, Sam. I thought he was sick. He was moaning and looked like he was in pain. I didn't think." But he knew there was no excuse for what he had done, the stupidity of it made clear by the consequences.

"We should proceed to the gate as quickly as possible." Teal'c's deep voice interrupted Sam's reply. "It is almost dawn and Colonel O'Neill needs urgent medical assistance."

"Yes." Sam stood, brushing the dirt from the clean BDU's she had exchanged for the ones ripped by Jack. "Daniel and I will carry him." She put up a hand to forestall the Jaffa's protest. "You're not in any condition to be carrying him, Teal'c. Daniel and I will manage."

Teal'c nodded, and Daniel could clearly see that he was unable to argue with her reasoning. After a momentary pause, he reached a hand out to help Daniel to his feet.

"Oh, crap!" He had barely left the ground, when a sharp spike of pain shot up his leg, almost throwing him back into the dirt. Teal'c caught him, a simple wince his only reaction to suddenly becoming the sole support of the other man's weight. Daniel staggered, levering himself onto one foot.

"What is it?" Sam came over and grabbed an arm, helping to hold Daniel up.

"My ankle. Damnit, I must have twisted it when I fell." He touched it back down again, gingerly, only to yelp again as fire shot up his leg.

Suddenly, realisation of what this meant hit him. "Damn." He swore under his breath. This was all his stupid fault. Now how the hell were they supposed to carry Jack?

Daniel stared at his unconscious friend as Sam and Teal'c manoeuvred him into a comfortable sitting position. Jack had finally stopped shaking and his body was at rest, but his skin was almost translucent in the light of dawn, pale, lines of pain furrowing his brow. Almost wincing in guilt, Daniel shut his eyes against the sight.

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Morning

What had he done to himself this time? There wasn't a single part of his body that didn't hurt - from the nail on his little toe to the tip of the hair on his scalp. He couldn't help the groan that escaped him, hoping that wherever he was there was no need for silence.

"Colonel?"

"Carter? That you?" He knew it was, he would recognise her voice anywhere, but somehow the ability to open his eyes or speak in full sentences had deserted him when his brains had leaked out his ears.

He wondered why she didn't answer. He managed to wrestle his eyelids into submission, the resulting slit of vision enough to show him that he was outside.

He tried again, his voice little more than a whisper. "Carter? You there?"

"I'm here, sir. So are Daniel and Teal'c."

Good - his team was safe. But there was something in Carter's tone. Something off. He tried to sit up, but only succeeded in a weak twitch of his shoulders that sent him straight back down again. He tentatively tried to pull his hands apart, recognising the telltale tug of ropes on his wrists.

He shut his eyes again, thinking. Maybe they had been captured. He wished he could remember. A blow to the head perhaps?

A scrabbling sound nearby had his eyes open again, this time almost completely, and he was pleased to see Daniel's face frowning down at him, a spectacular black eye peering out from above a painfully swollen nose.

"Jack. You're awake."

Good old Daniel. He could always be relied on to say that, be it in the infirmary, at home in front of the television, or in some Goa'uld cell somewhere.

Jack grimaced. "Seems that way. What's going on? Why am I tied up? And what happened to you?"

There was that silence again.

"For crying out loud! Will someone get me out of these ropes and tell me what's going on!"

"I am afraid we cannot do that, O'Neill." Teal'c wasn't looking too hot either. In fact, he looked like Jack felt. "You have not been yourself, and we have bound you for your protection, as well as our own.

"And just what is that suppose to mean?" Jack tried again to sit, but gave up just as quickly as before as the world tipped sideways on its axis. "Carter!" He searched for her, feeling his pulse beginning to race. "Report. And that's an order!"

"Calm down, sir." There she was, at last. Now he would get some answers.

"If you aren't going to untie me, at least sit me up." He instinctively struggled against the ropes, and was shocked to see her flinch away. "Carter?"

"What do you remember, sir?"

He searched his mind, the sound of wings in the darkness vying for dominance with images of the forest at night.

"Well, to be honest, not much. I seem to recall falling down some sort of hole, but that's about it."

"That was two days ago, Jack. You went completely darkside on us."

He stared up at the archaeologist, unbidden thoughts nibbling at the edge of his consciousness.

The look of fear in those eyes.

Digging his knife into the warm flesh of his opponent. Watching him as he bled on the forest floor, his dark face leeching of colour as his life drained away.

Oh god!

He flung himself sideways, ignoring Daniel's squawk, and emptied the contents of his stomach onto the grass.

It slapped him in the face. The feeling. The sensation. God. He had enjoyed it. The feeling as the knife parted the skin. Pushing past the resistance of muscle, blood spurting.

Warm liquid on his fingers.

Yes, he had enjoyed it, and he would do it again in a heartbeat. One moment of distraction was all he needed. They were weaker now, the younger man also injured. That would make it harder for them to get him back to their base. He would take advantage of that weakness.

Jack looked up at his enemies and smiled.

xxxxxxxxxx

Afternoon

"How much longer?"

Sam looked at her watch, calculating distances, and frowned. It had taken far too long to reach this point, and if they didn't pick up the pace they would be faced with another night on the planet. She looked over to Colonel O'Neill, seeing the thin line of his lips, the one twitching eye. The prospect of guarding him after dark filled her with dread, but she didn't allow any of what she was thinking to show on her face.

"At least four more hours, Daniel. How are you holding up?" She could see that he was tired, the makeshift crutch not much help in walking on what had proved to be a badly sprained ankle. Teal'c wasn't faring any better. She had insisted on several rest stops, despite his protests, and at each one he had needed to be woken and helped to his feet. He wouldn't let her check his wound again, saying it was fine, but Sam knew that it was anything but fine, dark stains on his shirt in places he thought she couldn't see belying his claim.

And through it all, the Colonel slipped between episodes of lucidity and paranoia.

"Carter?"

She shut her eyes momentarily, before opening them to meet his.

"Sir?"

"What's going on?"

"We're heading back to the gate, sir."

"Why?"

"You aren't well, sir."

She wasn't sure how much more she could take of this. His next words took her by surprise.

"I need to sit down."

She didn't have time to catch him before he hit the ground. Even if she had, she wouldn't have.

She was too scared to go near him.

She held her breath as Daniel hurried to the Colonel's side, her P-90 ready. She didn't need to look to see Teal'c had his staff weapon primed, the sound of the tip opening had been enough warning.

"Daniel."

"I know. Sam, I know." Her teammate was approaching cautiously, zat in hand. They had all learnt their lessons.

"I don't like the look of the injury to his neck." Out of the corner of her eye Sam saw Teal'c flinch slightly at Daniel's words. "It's badly swollen."

She came in closer. Daniel was right, the spot where the staff weapon had hit was red and inflamed. She carefully placed her weapon on the ground near Teal'c, before gesturing Daniel back.

"Colonel, I'm going to check your injuries. Don't try anything. If you do Daniel is under orders to zat us both."

There was no response to her words, and he remained still as she carefully lifted the black T-shirt, wincing at the livid bruise running in a diagonal line from the base of the Colonel's skull, between his shoulder blades, and across his back. It must have been agony for him walking all this way. Then she looked to where Teal'c stood, and with a quick motion pulled the shirt back down. The Colonel wasn't the only one with injuries from this experience.

She took the opportunity to check for further damage, some small cuts to his scalp and hands all she could find.

He would have to do.

"Seen enough, bitch? Done groping?"

She leapt back, standing and wiping her hands on her trouser legs. The eyes that looked up at her were dead and soulless.

"Why don't you come back down here, and untie me? See what a real man is like."

Teal'c's outraged voice came sharply across to them. "Desist, O'Neill, or I will be compelled to gag you."

The only reply was a low laugh.

xxxxxxxxxx

They were leading him like a dog now, a rope from his hands, tied in front of him after the last break, to those of that blond bitch. He had tried falling, pulling her off balance, but it hadn't worked. That big bastard was watching him like a hawk.

Now he was concentrating on words to get them off guard. Make them angry. If he could get Teal'c to come over here, he could take him on. He was weak. Daniel wasn't a threat to him, he could barely limp. And Carter - okay he shouldn't underestimate Carter. He thought of the many times she had saved his butt. Couldn't ask for a better teammate.

The ache in his back was killing him. He'd call a rest break, ask Carter to have a look at it. He might have pulled a muscle. He'd get Doc to give him something when they got home.

"Hey, guys, time for a break. Let's take five."

"No, sir,"

He looked at Carter walking in front of him. "Hu'h? What do you mean `no', Major?"

She stopped and turned, glaring at him. "We can't stop, sir."

It was then that he realised he was tied up like some sort of animal.

"What's going on?"

"Oh shit! Not again!" Something suspiciously like a sob came from Carter's throat, and he stared in consternation.

"Come on, Sam. We have to keep moving." Daniel had come up and placed an arm around Carter's shoulders. He seemed to be limping.

What was happening?

He staggered as the rope was pulled tight once more, dizzy, and completely bewildered.

xxxxxxxxxx

Evening

They had had to stop, none of them able to travel the few miles left to the gate. Their nerves were stretched to breaking point. Sam had stopped reacting to Jack, ignoring him completely, her face set into an emotionless mask.

Jack had been weaving drunkenly, slipping, the occasional groan punctuating each near fall. When they agreed to camp, Daniel had helped him down, trying to make sure he was comfortable, totally disconcerted by his whispered thanks.

That had been an hour ago.

"I won't tell you anything. You might as well kill me."

Daniel wrenched his eyes open.

He felt the eyes of the stranger in Jack's body staring at him from out of the darkness.

"You know I'll hunt you down for what you've done to me. I don't forgive easily."

He could hear the truth in the words.

"You aren't a soldier. Why don't you untie me and I'll let you live. You could come with me. You'd be well treated."

He stood, turning his back on the fire and staring into the blackness, the whispers following him.

"Surely you don't want to die? Because I can guarantee that is what will happen if you don't free me now."

"Ignore him Daniel Jackson."

Daniel shot Teal'c a grateful look. He could see that both his companions were awake.

"I am, but it's hard. I know it's Jack, but it's hard to remember that sometimes."

"Guys." Sam gestured for them to move away, and he followed to the opposite side of the fire. "We have a problem." She kept her voice as low as possible, making Daniel strain to hear. "We can't stay awake all night. Daniel had no sleep last night and I only got a few hours. None of us are in any condition to stay awake, but we need to constantly watch Colonel O'Neill. Any suggestions?"

"We cannot zat him again. The effects of the last blast were very severe."

"No, Teal'c we can't do that." Daniel thought for a moment, mentally running through their supplies. "What about the medical kit? Is there something we could use in that?"

"Morphine."

"But he's sick, Sam. We don't know what effect it would have on him."

"I know that, but what other choice do we have? Can you think of anything else? I'll give him a half ampoule now and another when we start again in the morning. That should keep him drugged enough to be docile, but still allow him to walk."

Daniel shook his head. "I don't like it. We could make whatever he has worse."

Her answer was clipped. "I don't like it either, Daniel, but I'll ask you again - what other choice do we have?"

When he had no answer, she stood, getting out the kit and taking the morphine from it. "Okay, let's do this."

They approached him together, Teal'c and Daniel taking an arm each. He bucked against them, his sudden strength almost too much. Daniel ignored the shouted obscenities, surprised at the variety of languages spewing from his friend's mouth, and held on grimly.

"Done." Sam stepped back, the empty needle in her hand.

"You fucking bitch. I'm kill you slowly and enjoy every second of it." Jack shook his head, his shoulders slumping, his words spat out at them. "I'll kill you all..." His voice trailed off into silence.

Teal'c bent forward, examining his bonds. "He had almost freed himself." He held up the now limp hands, showing them the frayed ropes and equally frayed skin. "We have done the right thing."

The soft voice took them by surprise.

"I hurt you. I hurt you all. Oh God! What have I done?" Daniel leaned forward, taking the long body in his arms and felt it shudder against him. "I'm so sorry." Slowly Jack's eyes shut, his last words loud in the silence, a pray as well as a plea. "I don't know what's happening to me. Oh God, help me, please!"

Daniel waited, his two teammates beside him, as Jack slipped into a drugged sleep.

He knew they had done the right thing.

But why did it feel so wrong?

xxxxxxxxxx

Darkness Hides the Hunter - Part Six

Morning

Teal'c watched the stumbling man with concern as they approached the slight rise that concealed the chap'pai from view. O'Neill's eyes were unfocused, staring into the distance. Throughout their journey this morning he had appeared to be unaware of their surrounding, off in some internal world of his own.

Teal'c wondered at the wisdom of administering the second portion of morphine, given his commander's condition, but he had not voiced his doubts. As Major Carter had stated as she had injected the drug into the unresponsive man's arm, they had no choice in the matter. O'Neill was much too formidable an enemy for them to handle given their current state of health.

"Teal'c!" Daniel Jackson's cry of warning brought him back from his thoughts, but he was unable to prevent O'Neill from falling face forward into the high grass.

The Major dropped to her knees. "Damnit! His pulse is racing. Give me a hand here, Daniel."

They turned Colonel O'Neill onto his back, and Teal'c was surprised to see his eyes were wide open.

"Hey, guys." It was only a hoarse whisper, but they were the first words that their friend had uttered since the night before and Teal'c couldn't help the sense of relief he felt. His relief was short lived however, dispelled by the next words. "I don't feel so good."

"Just rest for a minute, Jack. We're almost home." Daniel Jackson brushed a strand of sweaty grey hair from the other's eyes. "Janet will fix you up, don't worry."

The nod was so slight that Teal'c almost missed it. "K", and the lids shut over the glazed eyes.

The remaining members of SG-1 exchanged worried looks. It was obvious to them all that Colonel O'Neill's condition was deteriorating rapidly, the only positive note as far as Teal'c was concerned, being that there had been no sign of the cold blooded warrior that had so easily bettered him.

He rested his weight on his staff weapon, reluctant to sit for fear of not being able to stand again. His companions slumped on the ground beside O'Neill, Daniel Jackson rubbing at his damaged ankle, his face set in a frown of anxiety. Major Carter remained alert, as he would have expected, her gaze fixed on the unconscious man.

"He's a lot worse."

Teal'c felt compelled to reply, the guilt heavy on his soul. "Indeed. I fear the injury from my staff weapon is to blame."

The other man was quick to answer. "You don't know that. It could just as easily be the effects of the zat blast."

He wasn't the only one with a burden of guilt.

"There is no point to this. For all we know it could be the original illness." Major Carter spoke firmly. "Or even the effects of the morphine, and it was my decision to give him that. Let's not try and second-guess Janet, okay. Whatever the problem is with the Colonel, she'll figure it out. We need to concentrate on getting him home."

"Indeed." Teal'c bowed his head to the woman, acknowledging the wisdom of her words. "However, it will be difficult given his current condition."

xxxxxxxxxx

They had given him something, that much was obvious, drugged him to keep him docile while they took him back to their base. He had been walking for what seemed like hours, unable to protest, unable to fight. The drug had sapped his will.

He didn't remember much of the last hours, but now, as he lay there, he knew he was coming back to himself. His hands were still tied, but the journey had loosened the bonds slightly, giving him some degree of movement in his hands.

He heard them talking, discussing options. They were close to their goal now.

Might as well make it easy for them.

With a supreme effort of will, he threw off the ache between his shoulders, forced his brain back into some semblance of normal activity, and pushed down the intruder in his mind that was clamouring for attention.

He opened his eyes.

"Colonel?"

"Carter? Where are we?" He kept his voice low, and the woman leaned in.

So close. So tempting. His hands itched to act, but he restrained himself. Now was not the time.

"We're almost at the gate. How are you feeling?"

He allowed his lips to turn up slightly in a small smile. "Better."

"Do you think you can walk?"

He waited a beat before speaking, careful to slur his reply. "Try."

The stumble wasn't feigned, and he knew the drug was still coursing through his veins, twisting his thoughts. Once again he forced it back.

The younger man took his arm, supporting him, and he let his weight rest against the other. Together they set off up the slight incline.

They were still watching him, but not as closely. This time he didn't moan, just stayed silent and kept his head down. He would only have one opportunity and he must not waste it.

There it was. The gateway to their base. He could tell the moment when they thought they were home safely. When they thought they had won.

They still hadn't learnt their lesson.

He allowed his face to show a small tremor of pain as he was lowered to the stone steps. The young man they called Daniel looked at him with concern in his eyes, then moved to press at the locking device. The big man was behind them, and Jack could see the woman's attention was on him as he staggered, fresh blood gleaming on his clothing.

Now was the time.

He leapt - throwing himself at Daniel, pushing him forward, his arms locked around the other's neck, his loosely bound hands clenched in front.

The sudden surge of sound at his back took him completely by surprise, and he turned to see a blue liquid shoot out from the circle.

He felt rather than saw it. The large body connected with his back, bringing with it sharp agony as he staggered and fell.

Straight into the doorway, his last thought one of despair.

They had won.

xxxxxxxxxx

Home

"It's SG-1's IDC, sir."

General Hammond nodded in acknowledgement of Sergeant Davis' words. He didn't allow his concern to show, but they all knew that Colonel O'Neill's team wasn't due back from PX5-23F for several hours, and the General could feel the eyes of the Control Room staff on him.

"Open the iris." As he gave the command Hammond pondered whether to alert a medical team. Perhaps there had just been nothing of interest on the planet. Maybe they needed some extra supplies. The weather could have turned bad. There were any number of reasons for SG-1 to return ahead of schedule.

"Medical team to the Gateroom." Yeah right, and Texas wasn't the finest state in the union.

The words were barely out of his mouth when the first bodies hit the ramp. There was a jumble of green and black, and the figures of Teal'c and Colonel O'Neill rolled together down the incline, coming to a halt at the bottom. To the General's horror, he could see blood covering the front of the now motionless Jaffa's uniform.

He leant into the microphone. "Colonel?"

With relief he watched the long limbs of his second in command uncurl. He stood, albeit wavering on his feet.

A guard hurried forward to support O'Neill, as the medical team entered the room, Janet rushing immediately to Teal'c side.

Hammond looked towards the still open wormhole as the sound of two more people existing caught his attention. Thank God! There were Major Carter and Doctor Jackson; looking a little the worst for wear, but nowhere near as badly off as Teal'c.

It was then that everything turned into a crazy kaleidoscope of action.

"Sir!"

"Jack!"

The shouts from both throats coincided with a grunt as Doctor Jackson flung himself at his CO, taking him to the ground, along with the confused guard. The fight didn't last long, several other guards joining the fray to pull the antagonists apart.

"Hold him! General, there's something wrong with the Colonel." Major Carter's frantic voice came clearly to him.

"Colonel O'Neill?" The General turned puzzled eyes to his officer, finally noting the ropes around his wrists. "What's going on?" He bellowed his question through the mike, demanding immediate answers.

Then the Colonel turned his face up, as if searching for the source of the voice. The dark eyes fixed on his, and he shivered at the other man's smile.

"You may as well kill me now, I won't tell you anything"

The words made no sense.

xxxxxxxxxx

Doctor Fraiser knelt at the side of SG-1's fallen team member, trying to make some sense of what was happening. While one part of her brain was dealing with his obvious injuries as best she could, the other was analysing the Colonel. His eyes were slightly glazed and his words were definitely slurred, as if he had been drugged. Could that be it?

Had he been captured on the planet?

Whatever the cause, it was clear that the Colonel was not himself. His defiant words were echoed by his rigidly held posture, as if he was holding himself up by sheer will alone.

"Jack. We're home." Daniel shook himself against the hold of the two guards on each side of him. He looked up at the General, and Janet caught the nod of acknowledgement from Hammond.

"Release him."

The doctor in her diagnosed an injured ankle as the dirty, dishevelled man limped forward to stand in front of his friend.

"Jack. Look at me. We're home."

The hooded eyes shifted, holding the younger man's. For a second there was a flash of something in them so violent and primeval that Janet shuddered, but in the space of a fraction of a second it was gone, replaced by a look of puzzlement.

"Daniel?"

With the single word, the eyes turned up until only the whites showed, and the tall form crumpled in the guards' arms.

xxxxxxxxxx

"Come on, Janet, it's obvious we're okay."

The voice of the CMO came to her through the microphone set into the isolation room's wall. "I'm sorry, Sam, you know I can't risk it. Just another ten hours, then if you're still clear of any symptoms I'll release you."

Sam turned to sit back on the single bed, and glared around herself at the sterile surroundings. Ten more hours in here and she'd be showing symptoms alright. She'd be stark raving mad.

She gave a resigned sigh. "I know, Janet. It's just so frustrating. How are the Colonel and Teal'c?"

She saw her friend through the observation window, bending forward to speak. "Teal'c is fine. The surgery to repair the stab wound was relatively straight forward, and once we replaced his lost blood volume, he was in no danger. He'll make a full recovery."

"Thank God!" Sam felt some part of the stress of the last few days slip away at the news. "And the Colonel?"

"The news isn't quite as good there, I'm afraid. Colonel O'Neill has had bouts of extreme violence and has had to be restrained."

"What's causing it? Have your tests revealed anything?"

Janet shook her head. "Not yet, but we're probably dealing with an off world illness, and it will take some time to run a full series of tests and study the results. His aggression isn't helping any either. I don't want to risk giving him any medication without knowing what's going on."

Sam swallowed, her mind racing ahead of Janet's words and reaching a conclusion she really didn't like. "Did the morphine make it worse?"

"No. No, Sam, don't even think that." Janet shook her head emphatically. "From what you reported, you didn't have a choice."

"That's what I kept telling myself back on the planet, Janet, but somehow I didn't find any comfort in it then either. I should have been able to think of some other way to get the Colonel to the gate. He wasn't well. Even when he was acting out of character it was obvious he was hurting. I shouldn't have drugged him."

Sam pulled her knees up to her chest, feeling cold in the flimsy hospital gown. "What about the injury from the staff weapon? And the zat? He seemed to be really sick after those."

She saw Janet hesitate.

"What is it, Janet? What aren't you telling me? It can't be any worse, surely."

The doctor bent into the microphone once more. "Promise you won't get upset."

"For god's sake, just tell me." Sam finally let her anger and frustration show plainly.

"Okay. X-rays revealed that the Colonel has a hairline fracture of the left scapula - probably from the staff weapon blow."

Sam felt faint. She shut her eyes, tightening her arms' grip on her legs. "You're telling me that I dragged a man with a broken shoulder around on a rope?"

"You see! That's exactly what I meant by not getting upset." Janet paused for a second as if considering her next words. "Answer me truthfully. If you hadn't tied him, would you have gotten him home?"

Sam thought about it. The Colonel had almost escaped several times despite his injury. She had to be honest with herself - there was no way, with Teal'c wounded, that she and Daniel could have stopped him. She looked back through the glass at the other woman and shook her head.

"No."

"There you are. The main thing is that you did get him home. And when he's better, he'll thank you for it." Janet smiled in at the Major. "You know that, don't you, Sam."

Sam gave a tiny smile in return in answer to her friend's optimism. "Yes, you're right." She sighed. "As soon as he's better the Colonel will probably be making jokes about it."

As soon as he was better.

She wondered when that would be.

xxxxxxxxxx

There were two parts to him.

One part was the ruthless killer of the past, the other was the man he had since become. The killer knew he existed in unreality, but he also knew he was the truth. It was as if he was split in half, each half leading a separate existence, yet knowing that his hold on that existence was tenuous at best.

Jack O'Neill walked in a dream from which he couldn't wake.

xxxxxxxxxx

Darkness Hides the Hunter - Part Seven

In the room's subdued lighting, the man's face showed only as a shadow above the stark whiteness of the single sheet.

Was he awake? Daniel peered closer, his nose almost touching the glass.

"Are you sure he's okay, Janet?" he asked worriedly. Jack seemed abnormally still.

Doctor Fraiser nodded, giving him an understanding look. "He's asleep at last." She sighed. "I was beginning to think I'd have to sedate him to make him rest." She touched Daniel's arm, giving it a slight squeeze. "Come on now. I did say only a quick visit and you've been here for almost thirty minutes. You should get off that foot."

Until she mentioned it, he hadn't been aware of the throbbing in his ankle, but now he found it hard to ignore. He allowed the doctor to lead him away, accepting a steadying hand as he prepared to manoeuvre himself down the short flight of stairs to the corridor. He gave one last glance over his shoulder as he followed her, the sight of the thick straps anchoring his friend to the bed as horrifying now as they had been when he had first entered. He knew it was necessary, but he also knew how much Jack would hate them.

The corridors were almost deserted; testimony to the lateness of the hour, the hard sound of his crutches on the cement floor the only noise.

There had been no progress in the search for the cause of Jack's illness, and now, two days after arriving home, frustration was starting to eat at Daniel.

His thoughts were interrupted by the soft tones of the woman walking alongside him.

"I've started a new series of tests. From what you and the others told me in the briefing, the Colonel was fine until the evening after his accident. Could you describe the creatures in the cavern to me again? Everything you can remember."

Daniel frowned, forcing his mind to recall as much as possible.

"I only caught a glimpse of them, Janet. From what Jack said there were hundreds of them, but most of them had flown away by the time we got there. They looked similar to bats, but more insect like. Jack did say they had spines on their legs and wingtips." He looked down at the small woman. "We told you all this before. I don't think there's anything we left out."

"I know, Daniel, but it's the only unusual thing that happened before the night Colonel O'Neill changed and I can't help thinking that it's significant, so bear with me - okay? Was there anything else?"

Daniel thought even harder. Janet was right. They needed as much information as possible if they were to find a cure.

"Anything that the Colonel might have touched?" Janet prompted him.

"Wait! Yes. Jack said they felt slimy."

"And there must have been droppings of some sort in the cavern." The doctor's eyes lit up with excitement. "Think. Did he have anything on his clothes?"

Daniel stopped in his tracks. "Of course! He changed clothes as soon as we stopped that night."

"What happened to his old uniform?"

"I'm not sure. I think it must have been with the rest of the things in his tent. Most of it was ruined so we didn't pack it. Sam and I were travelling light."

"So it may still be there?"

Daniel nodded. "Yes, it should."

Janet began walking again, her steps hurrying so much that Daniel found it difficult to keep up, despite their difference in height. "I'll ask the General to send a team back to the planet to retrieve the uniform, and get some samples from the cave. There shouldn't be a problem if they wear Hazmat suits. And in the meantime I have a couple of other leads I'll follow up." They stopped at the elevator, Janet pressing the button on Daniel's behalf. "Now you go to your quarters and get some rest. I'll be sure to let you know if there is any change in the Colonel's condition."

She turned away as soon as the warning ping of the doors opening sounded, and Daniel was left staring at her retreating back.

He got into the car, feeling a little more optimistic for the first time in days.

xxxxxxxxxx

He knew he was home. He knew he was at the SGC. He had no problem recognising the dull sounds of the mountain echoing above him, shifting and groaning.

He knew exactly where he was.

And why he was restrained.

He should be restrained.

He should be locked up in a padded cell, the key thrown into a deep hole, never to be found.

He remembered it all now. How long this moment of clarity would last, he didn't know, but he almost wished he could return to the haziness of before, when he watched his actions and walked apart from them, along a parallel and untouching path.

His eyes flickered frantically beneath their lids as he replayed the last few days in his mind.

What he had done to his team.

He had almost killed them. Wanted to kill them. Tried his damnedest to kill them.

He remembered the pleasure of the hunt, the blood lust. He could have excused his own actions if it wasn't for that memory. He had been on a mission, behind enemy lines, or at least he had thought he was. There had been plenty of times in the past when he had done things he wasn't proud of, but always with a clear objective in mind. He had been carrying out orders, the only way he was able.

Yes - there was some excuse. If he didn't remember the feeling of elation when he pressed the knife into Teal'c. If he didn't remember the total dismissal of Sam's suffering as she slowly strangled - as if she were beneath his notice. If he didn't remember Daniel's trust in him and the way he had turned it to his advantage.

He had betrayed them.

He should be hidden away where he could never hurt anyone again.

The pain surged through him in waves, almost unbearable, the ache in his shoulder a mere annoyance hovering in the background.

He didn't call out, didn't ask for help.

The pain kept him grounded in the here and now. Kept the other at bay.

His eyes flickered frantically beneath their lids while he clung to his memories with the determination of a damned soul.

xxxxxxxxxx

"Is there anything I can do, Janet?"

Janet swivelled the laboratory chair to face the other woman, noting the dark rings under her eyes. The other staff looked up at the voice, but turned immediately back to their tasks.

Janet gestured her friend over, getting up as she did so, knowing that she needed to help. "Come and have a look at these slides, Sam." She waited until the blond head was bent over the microscope before speaking again. "They're samples from the scratches on Colonel O'Neill's hands and scalp. I'm assuming that the majority of these injuries were from the creatures in the cavern, rather than the woods."

Sam didn't lift her head as she asked a question in a puzzled voice. "What am I looking at here, Janet?"

"That's just it. I don't know. It isn't like anything I've encountered before." Janet allowed some of her frustration to show as she frowned accusingly down at the neat array of slides on the table. "I'm waiting for the team to get back from the planet with more samples to confirm that the source of this is the cave. At least then we'll have a starting point."

"Do you think this could be the cause of the Colonel's behaviour?" Sam straightened, the seat squeaking as she turned. "Surely that's good, isn't it?" She coloured slightly at Janet's quizzical look. "I mean, that we know it isn't psychological."

"You mean something like Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome? A flashback, perhaps?" The doctor raised an eyebrow. "Did the Colonel exhibit any warning signs that you noticed? "

Sam shifted uncomfortably. "No, but given Colonel O'Neill's background, I thought that it could be a possibility."

Janet decided to let her friend off the hook. It was just that General Hammond had asked her the same thing, and despite it being a logical question, it had irked her. The Colonel was one of the most stable people she knew. Even after his torture at the hands of Ba'al he had shown no signs of stress - or at least not to her or Doctor McKenzie. His reactions had been those of the well balanced individual that he had always shown himself to be since his posting to the SGC, upset - yes, angry - naturally, but unbalanced - never.

"You're right, Sam. It could have been a possibility, even if a remote one. Hopefully the tests will discover a physical agent and prove any fears in that regard to be unfounded."

"And once we do, we should be able to find a cure." The look on Sam's face implored the doctor to agree with her statement.

Janet was unable to meet Sam's eyes, the hope in them plain. She looked down, busying herself with pulling some test tubes closer towards her. "It's always possible that we won't, Sam. You know that. There may not be a cure."

"I know. It's just..."

The doctor signed at the despondency in the other woman's voice. "Why don't you go check on Daniel and make sure he's eaten? I'll call you if I find anything."

As Sam left the room, Janet mentally added her to the list of people she had said that to in the last few hours. The General, Daniel, now Sam. All she needed was Teal'c to complete the set.

xxxxxxxxxx

Teal'c watched through the window as the nurse deftly checked the sling holding O'Neill's injured shoulder in place, before changing the various attachments hidden below the bed.

He knew it was necessary. They couldn't risk letting him free. He just hoped that the fiercely proud man was unaware of the indignity.

Unfortunately Teal'c had the sneaking suspicion that O'Neill was awake and in his own mind. He had seen the signs. The slight twitch as the nurse entered the room, the heightened colour as the young woman saw to his needs. Teal'c had watched over his commander too many times in the infirmary to not know when he was faking sleep.

He waited until the nurse had left the room, nodding to her as she moved past him and down the corridor.

Then, as silently as possible, he opened the door of the isolation room, shutting it equally quietly behind him.

"O'Neill." He waited for a moment, expecting no answer, and getting none. After a few beats, he continued. "I have come to ask your forgiveness. Although I had no choice but to stop you by any means available, I fear I struck harder than necessary." He took a breath, steeling himself for the confession he knew he must make to atone, in some small way, for his actions. "My pride was wounded and I wounded you in return." He watched for some reaction, but the other man remained still. "I know you are awake, O'Neill. I understand if you do not wish to speak to me."

"I tried to kill you." The croaky voice was soft.

Teal'c crouched beside the bed, bringing his head level with that of his friend. "Yes, but you did not succeed, and for that I am grateful." Teal'c smiled ruefully, as the Colonel's eyes opened in surprise. "You were not yourself, and have no blame in this matter. I, however, knew what I was doing. Once again I ask your forgiveness."

"There is nothing to forgive. You did what you had to do. What I would have expected you to do. You saved Carter and Daniel's life." The dark eyes blinked as if he was trying to clear them, his lips barely whispering the words. "I would have killed them, you know."

"Yes. But you did not." Teal'c reached the short distance to the hand, balled into a fist and held by the strong leather bands. He lightly rested his own large hand on the others, feeling a small burst of pleasure as the fist opened and the long fingers touched his.

"What's happening to me, Teal'c?" This time there was no mistaking the doubt and confusion in the voice of the man on the bed.

"Do you not remember Doctor Fraiser talking to you yesterday?"

O'Neill shook his head. "I remember a lot of things about the last few days, but not that." A fleeting look of pain crossed his face, but was quickly hidden.

It seemed that the vagueness O'Neill had exhibited on the planet had returned.

"You are unwell. It is probably an illness you contracted on the planet. It has affected your behaviour, hence the restraints. Doctor Fraiser is hopeful of soon finding a cure."

O'Neill frowned. "If it's an illness, and I'm in an isolation room, should you be in here? Is it contagious?" Teal'c felt the hand retract as his friend tried to move away as much as the straps would allow.

"I do not believe I am in any danger of contracting the illness, O'Neill. I was in close contact with you on the planet and show no signs of it."

"Even so, you shouldn't be in here." The Colonel raised worried eyes to the door, and for a moment Teal'c thought he was going to call out. He spoke firmly, taking the other's hand once more.

"Do not fear for me, O'Neill." He fixed his eyes on the one man he would name brother. "You need not face this alone." He knew O'Neill would be blaming himself for what had happened, and he couldn't allow it.

The long nails suddenly dug cruelly into his palm, as Teal'c saw the moment his adversary returned. The expression on the Colonel's face flickered and wavered, the frown lines clearing, leaving it confident and relaxed, only the narrowing of his abruptly cold eyes betraying the merciless mind behind the mask.

"The only thing I blame myself for is not doing the job properly. After I gutted you I should have left you dead on the forest floor for the scavengers to find."

Teal'c pulled his hand from the other's grasp.

He stood, backed off a few paces, and gave a slow dignified nod of his head.

"I will leave you now, O'Neill and return when you are yourself once more. If you remember one thing from my visit, let it be these words. You are not to blame."

He turned, ignoring the glob of spittle that hit his leg, and left, to the sound of laughter.

xxxxxxxxxx

Darkness Hides the Hunter - Part Eight

"Well, Doctor?" General Hammond sat forward in his chair and steepled his hands in front of him, his elbows resting on the polished surface of his desk. "Were the samples SG-8 brought back of any help?"

Janet Fraiser nodded, opening the file she was holding as she leaned back, resting herself more comfortably on the padded cushion of the visitor's chair. "Yes, sir. SG-8 collected samples from the cavern Colonel O'Neill fell into, and retrieved his uniform from the campsite. They also tried to capture one of the creatures from the cave, but they weren't successful."

"Is that a problem?" The General interrupted, "Should I send a team to make another attempt."

"No, sir. I don't think it will be necessary." Janet pointed at the pages of data in front of her. "I have everything I need here." She rubbed her hand over the back of her neck, before straightening. When she spoke it was in the crisp tone she used when presenting a report. "The lab results confirm my suspicions that the Colonel's condition is a direct result of his contact with the flying creatures. His blood work shows signs of something similar, but not identical, to bat lyssavirus - a rabies like infection found in bats in Australia. It's contracted through contact with saliva, especially if it gets into the eyes, nose or mouth or into scratches on the hands. Unfortunately, given what Colonel O'Neill told his team about the creature clinging to his face, and the scratches on his hands and scalp, it appears that the virus had plenty of opportunities to take hold."

"And the treatment?"

"That's just it, sir." The doctor's hand came up again, but she stopped it before it made contact, instead concentrating her gaze on the General. "Normally I would administer the rabies vaccine, but this is an off world virus. The symptoms are dissimilar and I'm not sure the vaccine will work, so I'm reluctant to try it except as a last resort."

"What do you suggest then, Doctor?"

Hammond could see the tiredness he felt reflected in the Doctor Fraiser's face, as she paused, once again looking down at the report as if drawing inspiration from it.

"I'd like to run some tests using variations of the rabies vaccine, sir, before trying them on the Colonel. At the moment his physical condition seems stable, although he does appear to be in some discomfort, whether it's from his fractured shoulder, or from the virus itself, it's hard to say." She smiled ruefully. "And he certainly isn't telling."

The General shifted uncomfortably. "What about his mental state?"

Janet sighed. "The periods of normality are getting longer." She stopped, finally looking up into his eyes. "But it's very hard to tell what his mental state is, sir. The only time he speaks is when the other personality surfaces, and then I wish he wouldn't." She visibly shuddered.

Hammond thought for a moment. "Is the virus contagious, as we first feared?"

"No, sir. Not if normal protection against contact with bodily fluids is taken. There is certainly nothing physical to prevent anyone visiting the Colonel. But.." She paused once again, "...I don't feel that it would be in Colonel O'Neill's or his team's best interests to have them exposed to the alternate personality, especially after their experience on the planet. I also recommend that he be kept in isolation to minimise his contact with other members of the SGC"

Hammond nodded his agreement. "I agree, but it wasn't his team I had in mind, Doctor." He stood, waiting for the woman to get to her feet, and then gestured her ahead of him. "I'll go see him now. It's about time I found out exactly what we are dealing with here - and I don't mean the virus."

xxxxxxxxxx

"I realised that we haven't been introduced. I'm General Hammond. I'm in command of this facility."

His suspicion that it was the other personality in control was confirmed as soon as the dark eyes opened. There was no surprise in them. It was obvious that the other man had been aware of his presence from the very moment George entered the room. He looked up to the observation window and nodded at the watching doctor, getting an answering nod in return.

He waited, then continued. "And you are?"

"Jack." The voice was dry from disuse.

"That's it? Just Jack?"

"That's all you'll ever need to know." This time the distain was obvious.

Hammond watched as a small bead of sweat rolled slowly down the man's face to soak into the pillow.

"Do you know where you are?"

"Only that I'm in the hands of the enemy." Another drop began to make its way along the same path as the first. "There's no point in this. I'm not going to tell you anything."

Hammond leaned in and spoke softly. "Well that's where you're wrong, son. You see, I happen to know exactly who you are, and somewhere inside, I think that you know too."

"I don't know what sort of mind game you're trying to play, but it isn't going to work." The Colonel looked like he was going to speak again when his face suddenly twisted, and he gave a low cry.

"Doctor?" Hammond turned to the window, only to find the woman had already gone. He wasn't surprised when, a very short few seconds later, the door to the isolation room opened, and she entered. He stepped back to allow her better access to her patient.

She gave the monitors a puzzled look as she placed a hand on the Colonel's forehead, ignoring the shake he gave to try and toss it off.

"His temperature is up." She turned her eyes to the supine man. "How are you feeling, sir?"

The answer was ground out. "Fine. Now leave me the hell alone."

"It's obvious that you aren't okay, and it would help if you told me if you're in any pain," Janet replied in an exasperated tone.

"You're the doctor. You tell me."

Hammond could see the anger rising in the other man, the telltale signs of tension as the deceptively lanky body tensed like a coiled spring. "Now, Jack." The general pushed forward, putting himself between the Doctor and the Colonel.

"I just want you to..."

He felt the hard stab into his throat before the sentence was completed, the blood rushing to his head as he struggled for air.

He could hear his own gasps and over it, coldly spoken words, each one firmly and clearly emphasised.

"...To. Go. Away."

He reeled back, clutching at his throat, sucking gulps of air into his lungs. Hands lead him a few steps and he felt the familiar shape of a chair behind his knees and sat, still panting and attempting to work out what had just happened.

A moan of pain finally pulled his attention to the nearby bed. Two guards were trying to hold the thrashing form of his second. One of his hands was free of its restraint and the SF guards were struggling to hold it, despite the Colonel's injury. George could see the pain the other man was in as the guards put pressure on him, holding him down.

"Hold him still," Doctor Fraiser ordered. She held a needle high, waiting, and leapt in as soon as an opportunity allowed, pressing it home.

Hammond stood, shaking off the hands of the nurse next to him, and watched as Jack finally slumped into a drug-induced sleep.

He rubbed a hand across his throat and swallowed a few times before speaking. "Would someone care to explain what just happened?' He looked at the thick straps anchoring the man to his bed. "How in God's name did he get loose?"

Janet disposed of the needle and hurried over, sitting him down again. "Let me look at that, sir." Her gentle hands started examining the aching spot on his throat where Jack had hit him. "Are you having any difficulty breathing?"

"No, it's just a bit sore." He shook his head. "I'm surprised. I don't doubt that he struck to kill."

"I want you to have an x-ray though, General. Just to be on the safe side." She gestured to the nurse that had helped him.

"Wait." Hammond held up a hand. "How is Colonel O'Neill?"

Even as his words hit the air, she was already moving towards the bed. Bending forward she gave a small gasp of astonishment before she turned and held up Colonel O'Neill's right hand. "He dislocated his thumb, sir."

Hammond stared at the misshapen thumb, grimacing. Although he had heard that technique could be used for escaping from handcuffs and other bonds, he had never seen it used before. No wonder Jack's blow to his throat had been weak.

George allowed himself to be led off as Janet's staff reattached the straps. He shook his head. Even sick and hurting, Jack had almost managed to escape.

The sheer willpower and determination of the man was amazing.

xxxxxxxxxx

He woke slowly, his head filled with images. Dreams.

Not dreams!

His eyes snapped open, and he struggled to sit up, turning his head, searching.

"Jack...Jack...calm down."

Daniel's voice came from across the room, but he couldn't see him, he couldn't lift his head high enough. Something was across his throat.

He still struggled, straining against whatever was holding him down, but there was no give in the thick band around his neck.

"Sir. Try to relax." Janet's voice, bringing with a rush of warmth through his veins.

He saw his hand stab out. Saw the General fall.

Oh god!

Not dreams.

xxxxxxxxxx

The three members of SG-1 met, without their leader, in Daniel's office five days after their return to the SGC. The ritual of making coffee completed, they each sat in thought, sipping the strong brew.

Sam finally broke the silence, putting her mug down on the edge of the cluttered desk and sighing deeply.

"It is good news."

Daniel cupped both hands around the oversized mug that he had claimed as his own years before, and stared at the surface of the liquid.

"Yes. It is." He couldn't raise the energy to pretend to be enthusiastic. The General had been only bruised by Jack's attack. He was already out of the infirmary and back in his office, sipping a homemade honey laced concoction that he swore would be better for his throat than any of Janet's medicine. It was good news, but it wasn't enough. Daniel wanted someone to come tell them that Jack had woken up in his right mind, all traces of the fever and vomiting that now wracked his body completely gone. Daniel wanted a Jack that wasn't confused, and when he wasn't asleep, a Jack that didn't spit evil words at them.

Daniel wanted his Jack back.

Janet had warned them all that the symptoms were settling into a more recognisable pattern now. Encephalitis. She was confident that a cure was just around the corner, but, Daniel thought, it better not be too far around the corner, because Janet had then proceeded to tell them just how seriously ill Jack was.

Daniel lifted his head from his perusal of the coffee as Teal'c stood. The big man paced the few short steps to the closed office door and stood there, an uncharacteristic frown of uncertainty on his face.

"I need to be with O'Neill." There was a questioning note in the words, as if Teal'c was unsure of exactly what he was saying.

It was Sam who answered, her quick mind understanding well before Daniel could drag his tired brain into logical thought processes.

"I know, but Janet is right. We can't do anything, and we should try and rest."

"So why aren't we resting?" Daniel gave a quick laugh, unable to keep the cynicism from his voice.

Teal'c turned back, sat down again, and picked up his discarded mug.

"I need to be with O'Neill."

Daniel looked down at his coffee.

xxxxxxxxxx

He felt like he had run the marathon.

Twice.

His muscles aches, his bones ached, hell - even his face ached. And the headache - least said about that the better.

"Doc?"

Was that his voice? What had happened to it? Had he died and been reincarnated as a strip of sandpaper?

"Colonel?"

Not the doc, but she was coming. He'd recognise those footsteps anywhere.

He wrenched his eyes open, catching a quick glimpse of the familiar figure, before slamming them shut again.

Crap! When had the infirmary got aircraft landing lights installed? His stomach rolled, and Jack knew that if Janet shone that damn penlight of hers into his eyes, he'd throw up all over her.

"Don't try to open your eyes again, sir, until I've had the infirmary lights turned down."

Maybe she was telepathic?

Jack could just pick out the softly spoken orders to a nurse, before the Doc's voice came closer, as if she was leaning over him.

"I know it's hard, Colonel, but I want you to try and stay awake for me. Can you do that?"

He nodded, the movement setting off the percussion band in his head, and he couldn't help the low groan. A hand gently squeezed his arm.

"Stay still, and open your eyes very slowly. Don't rush it."

The word `rush' definitely wasn't in his vocabulary at the moment. He opened his eyelids a fraction of an inch at a time.

The lights were turned down, but even so, he winched at the brightness.

"Do you know where you are, Colonel?"

He could answer that one.

"Infirmary."

Janet smiled down at him. "Yes, sir. Now, I'll give you something to help with the headache in a minute, but first there are some visitors who want to see you."

"Hey, Jack." That was Daniel. He must know about the headache too, because he was almost whispering.

"Sir." Carter, standing next to Daniel.

And the third one of the trio. Teal'c, his taller form behind the others. "It is good to see you awake, O'Neill."

"Okay?" Already he felt the tug of sleep.

"We're fine, sir. We're on stand down until you get better."

Get better? He must have been sick.

That was odd. He didn't remember.

Jack felt the slight pull as the IV was adjusted, and knew Janet had made good on her promise.

He snuggled his head into the pillow, sighing in contentment as the headache drifted away. He heard the sound of quiet footsteps leaving as he fell back asleep again.

xxxxxxxxxx

Darkness Hides the Hunter - Part Nine

They had murdered him.

Tied him to the bed, given him some drug, and killed him.

Put him down like an animal.

His last conscious thought was the regret that they had won.

xxxxxxxxxx

They had finally been allowed to visit the Colonel, days after his fight for life had begun in earnest. He had been awake several times before, but Janet had refused to let them in, saying that he needed absolute rest.

This time she had relented and now they were waiting.

Sam could see the toll the illness had taken on the normally strong, healthy man. He looked even thinner than usual, his eyes sunken into his face.

But at least they were his eyes. There had been no sign of their enemy from the forest since his attack on the General. Janet was hopeful that the combination of traditional rabies vaccine and other medications that she had administered had not only saved the Colonel's life, but had brought him back to normal. Although the Colonel's symptoms had been very similar to those of someone with encephalitis due to lyssavirus, they hadn't been identical, and no one was quite sure what the long-term effects might be.

The straps had been removed during treatment, and Janet had made the decision not to reapply them. The General had agreed, on the condition that a guard be stationed inside the Colonel's room at all times.

The sleeping man eventually began to stir, his head tossing restlessly on the pillow. Sam watched as Janet moved to stand next to him, speaking softly.

"Colonel O'Neill. Time to wake up."

The lids seemed to open in slow motion and his eyes tracked as if searching, until they fixed on Daniel. After a moment they began the search again, finding Teal'c and finally Sam herself.

"Hey, kids."

She couldn't help an internal sigh of relief at the weary voice.

"How are you feeling, sir? And I need the truth." Janet smiled gently at her patient.

"Like crap, Doc."

Daniel bent in. "Well that's appropriate, because you do look like crap, Jack."

A small smile twisted the corner of the Colonel's lips. "Thanks, Daniel."

"Headache?"

The Colonel turned his attention back to the doctor. "Yeap."

"Nausea?"

"No."

Janet nodded, making notes on the chart. She lowered the pen and looked up again. "Do you remember why you're in the infirmary?"

This time the answer was longer in coming, as the Colonel's brow furrowed in thought. "No. Why?"

Sam exchanged a glance with Daniel, waiting for Janet's response.

"We'll talk about that later, sir. For now I want you to concentrate on getting better."

A flash of the old Colonel O'Neill suddenly surfaced. "Tell me now." His voice held an echo of command despite its weakness. "Was I injured?"

He moved to sit up, but was stopped as the doctor placed a hand on his chest.

"Sir, you've been very ill, plus you have a fractured shoulder." The Colonel's eyes flickered to the bandages and sling holding his left arm against his body. "I promise you that I will explain, but for the moment I want you to rest. Will you do that?" Although the frown of annoyance stayed on his face, he nodded, albeit reluctantly. Janet nodded in return and clipped the chart back to the foot of the bed. She turned to the other members of SG-1, including them all in her next words. "You can stay for a few more minutes, but then I want the Colonel to rest."

The obviously drowsy man had shut his eyes again as she was speaking, but opened them as soon as she left the room.

"Well?"

"Well what, sir?" Sam hedged as best she could, avoiding his eyes.

"What happened?"

She was grateful when Teal'c's words directed her commander to transfer his attention to the Jaffa. "I do not believe that Doctor Fraiser wishes us to discuss it with you, O'Neill."

The frown turned into a full grimace. "What if I ordered you to tell me?"

"I do not believe you would do that, O'Neill."

The Colonel nodded in defeat. He lifted his head slightly, once more surveying the room. At the sight of the guard standing quietly in the corner, he turned startled eyes back to his team.

"What's going on?"

"Ah... you were having some pretty violent nightmares, Jack."

"And?" The dry voice was becoming more irritated by the second. "Daniel?" He reached out, his hand grasping at the other man's arm. "Tell me what's going on."

Sam knew that Daniel couldn't help it. As soon as the Colonel's hand touched the archaeologist, he flinched, stumbling back. She stepped forward, but stopped, frozen by the look in the Colonel's eyes. A mixture of hurt, speculation, and confusion flickered across his face almost too quickly to be seen.

Then the shutters came down.

xxxxxxxxxx

"That was awkward."

Teal'c nodded, acknowledging the Major's words. "Indeed."

"Do you really think Jack doesn't remember anything?" Daniel lowered his voice, aware of the interested glances being cast at them from all corners of the cafeteria.

"Janet did say that memory loss was a possible result of viral encephalitis." She picked up her sandwich, staring at it as if it was an alien being. "It could have been much worse. He could have lost his sight, or hearing, or even his speech."

"Is not O'Neill's inability to remember what occurred a positive result?"

Daniel thought about what Teal'c had just said. "You know, you're right. Just think how Jack would feel, knowing what he did. This way we can all get back to normal as soon as he's well."

"It'll be hard to avoid his questions. He knows there's something going on."

Daniel thought guiltily of his instinctive reaction to his friend's touch. It had been obvious that Jack noticed it, and he had remained silent for the rest of their short visit, drifting off to sleep within a few minutes.

He nodded. "I know, and I didn't help." He looked up, feeling his face reddening with embarrassment. "But we'll just have to put what happened on the planet behind us. It wasn't Jack who did those things. Janet explained the effect the alien virus had on him, causing his personality to change, and she's sure the effects have completely gone."

They sat in silence as they continued their meal, then Sam spoke.

"I can't help wondering whether that person we were with on the planet was completely the product of the Colonel's illness." Her fingers played with the edge of her plate, turning it on the table as she spoke. "I mean, how much of that was the real Jack O'Neill, the Jack O'Neill that is hidden below the surface."

God! Daniel stood, unable to stay seated any longer. He leaned both his hands on the table and spoke with as much force as possible, but making sure that only his friends could hear what he was about to say.

"I cannot, and will not, believe that there was one iota of the man we know in that cold blooded killer. I know that Jack has had to do some difficult things in his past, especially when he was in Special Ops, but the man I know is honourable and good. And I also know that he would be horrified if he ever found out the details of our last mission." He straightened. "And I for one will do everything I can to make sure he never does."

He was answered by two firm nods of agreement from his teammates.

xxxxxxxxxx

Jack blinked, not sure for a moment where he was, the sound of wind in tree branches and soft rustling of leaves underfoot slowly melting away as he came properly awake. The familiar feeling of his own bed brought him back from where he had travelled in his dream, back from that alien world to the safe confines of his house.

He had been home on medical leave for two weeks now, after his extended stay in the infirmary. The twinges whenever he moved his left arm had almost gone, and he was religiously following the exercise regime designed to strengthen his weakened muscles. In fact he had been following the Doc's orders to the letter for once, his boredom compelling him to get back to duty as soon as possible.

He lay still, reaching out with all his senses, trying to work out what had woken him.

Finally he relaxed, shutting his eyes again, drifting back to sleep and welcoming his return to the forest, his blood singing in his veins.

And the hunter hid once more in the darkness.

xxxxxxxxxx

General Hammond watched from the Control Room as his premier team finished their final preparations before their mission.

Major Carter was smiling at the antics of Doctor Jackson, as he argued with his team leader, the bone of contention seeming to be the rather large sheaf of papers he was trying to fit into an already overfilled pack.

Hammond leaned into the microphone. "Is there a problem, Colonel?" He couldn't help smiling at the long-suffering look on his second's face as he answered, lifting his eyes as if in supplication.

"No, sir. No problem."

The General barely concealed his laugh when the Colonel's words were accompanied by his grabbing the offending papers, opening his own pack, and fitting them inside.

This was the first mission SG-1 had been on since the Colonel had been taken ill so many weeks ago, and he had made sure that it was as safe as possible. Not that any mission could be guaranteed safe, but this was as close as he could get to a milk run. Jack hadn't even argued about it when he had read the report, obviously just grateful to be back on full duties and heading out through the gate.

It had been touch and go for a while there, but Doctor Fraiser's report that the illness was completely gone, leaving no residual effects, plus the Colonel's obvious lack of memory of the events leading up to his awakening in the infirmary, combined with his own recommendations, had convinced Washington to declare the file on the whole matter sealed. The Colonel's team had attended several sessions with Doctor Mackenzie, with a positive report from the psychiatrist, and all in all, it seemed that the whole affair had ended with the best possible outcome for all concerned.

It was back to business as usual for SG-1.

They hadn't lost one of their most experienced officers.

Thank God.

The General turned to the clock, checking that they were on schedule, noticing the pleased looks on the faces of the Control Room staff as he did so.

Yes, they were all glad to have things back to normal.

Down in the Gate Room, Colonel O'Neill was repositioning his own gear, having finalised the issue with the papers and the irate archaeologist. He picked up his knife, but suddenly hesitated before placing it into its position at his waist. As the Colonel's long fingers stroked over the blade, almost caressing it, Hammond felt the air become chill, fine hairs rising on the back of his neck.

But then the moment snapped, and the same Colonel looked up at him, smiling.

He smiled grimly back.

"SG-1, you have a go."

As they disappeared into the rippling blue surface, he shivered.

Jack was back.

But then he had never really left.

The End