Jackfic Archive Story

 

On a Slow Ride Through Molasses

by Flatkatsi

Disclaimer: Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. I have written this story for entertainment purposes only and no money whatsoever has exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author(s).


 



It was there, right in front of him. He could just reach out and. . .

Jack sat back, his muscles quivering just from the imagined movement. He eased himself back as far as he could, feeling the coolness of the plastic-like substance of the wall through his T-shirt. The corner was hard against his spine, but at least it gave him some support, support he sorely needed if he wasn't to slip sideways. If he went down he doubted he could get back up.

"Colonel - I'm sorry, sir." Ferretti's voice seemed to drift to him across a vast distance, echoing strangely, and Jack realised he had shut his eyes. He didn't bother opening them, just nodded and turned away. There was a rustling, then a grunt followed by noisy swallowing. He didn't need to see to know Lou was drinking from the large bowl set just a few short inches from Jack's position.

God, what he wouldn't give for just one mouthful. Without conscious thought his eyes snapped open and his gaze latched on to Lou's bent head. The major was kneeling, lapping at the water like an animal, his arm stretched backwards, the chain tethering it to the wall taut and pulled to its fullest extent.

Lou sat back on his heels, his gaze meeting Jack's briefly before he turned his head away, looking uncomfortable, but not before the drops of liquid beading on his lips caused Jack to swallow back a groan of frustration.

They had been here for three days - three interminable days forced to do nothing but sit and wish he was anywhere but in this surprisingly clean prison. The walls were painted a cheerful pale violet color, even the simple toilet facility partitioned off in one corner color co-ordinated - as was the bowl on the floor at his feet. There were blankets in a pleasantly contrasting shade of blue, and the small window set high in the far wall was curtained in a light gauze fabric patterned with soft swirls that looked to Jack like clouds in a summer sky.

He had plenty of time to contemplate the curtain while SG-2 and the rest of SG-1 were off on their daily exercise and bathing routine. The first time the other seven in the cell with him had been unhooked from their long leads and taken out he had panicked, thinking the worst, but they returned a couple of hours later none the worst for their experience, in fact way better off than he was. Apparently they had been allowed to wash, then were taken into a large fenced yard where they had been left out in the sunshine until they were once again brought back to the cell, their left hands cuffed to their tethers once more.

"O'Neill!"

He jerked awake, shifting his weight as he pushed back against the wall, and gave Teal'c a grateful nod. It wouldn't do to fall.

Yes, their captors had been more than generous to his men - it seemed it was only their leader they had a problem with.

Him.

"The guards change twice while we're in the exercise yard, sir." Carter spoke in a low voice - even though the locals didn't seem to speak any language they recognised it didn't do to assume they couldn't understand. "And they carried out the same ritual today as yesterday, so it could be some sort of religious observance."

"I think it must be, Jack. They faced the direction of the stargate each time and seemed to be praying. It's understandable if some Goa'uld has been visiting here."

"Probably praying the snake'll stay away."

Carter gave a small laugh at Ferretti's comment. "Whatever the reason, I think we can use that ritual to our advantage. Their attention is definitely less on us and more on praying."

Jack nodded, the strong leather gag chafing and sticking on his sweaty skin. He swallowed and straightened, unable to prevent a cough that rose from deep inside and pushed its way up. He rode it out, head down and eyes closed. It was several minutes before he was able to relax a little, raising his head to press it against the wall.

Whatever they were going to do to escape they'd have to do it quickly or do it without him. Three days with no food or water was taking a toll that soon would be beyond his ability from which to recover. The next time he drifted off, he would probably stay drifted.

Daniel seemed to think it was something he said, but Jack didn't think so. No - it was that huge cosmic joke that had painted a target on his back and stuck a 'kick me' sign over the bullseye. He had barely spoken two words, and he doubted they had even understood those. Nope - he was the leader of their intrepid band and that seemed to be more than enough.

Daniel's attempts at communication had been met with total indifference and a simple 'meet and greet' had degenerated into farce within minutes. Totally outnumbered and not wanting to provoke a bloodbath, the two SGC teams had been disarmed and marched off the short distance to this conveniently situated prison, nice and handy to entertain any unsuspecting travellers who walked uninvited on to their planet.

As prisons went, they could have, and frequently were, thrown into worse. The food was regular and while not gourmet cuisine it was a cut above the normal dry bread and thin soup - at least so he had been told. His hands were locked tight behind his back and fixed by a chain to the wall, while the others were just too far away to reach him, even if they could have done something.

As an exquisite refinement of his torture, the water and food were placed right beside him, close enough that it could be reached by his companions while he could do nothing but watch.

At first they had been reluctant to eat and Jack had grown frustrated at his inability to yell at them. What was the point in them starving themselves? Who would it help? If they had any chance of escape they had to be fit and ready. It was Teal'c who talked sense into them in Jack's place, giving them exactly the same talking to Jack would have if he'd been able, albeit without the shouting.

A wave of dizziness hit and Jack lifted his head, breathing hard. The dizziness was becoming almost a permanent condition, making it hard to concentrate. He opened his eyes, the cell blurring as it swayed, the walls surging in to meet him then receding in an undulating pattern that made his stomach rebel. He felt something rise within him, and the acid taste of bile filled his mouth.

Oh shit! His desperate swallows did little to help, just prolonging his panicking struggles as the gag blocked any chance he might have had to breathe.

"Colonel?"

He hear voices shouting and merging, chains rattled near him, but it all became nothing but background noise to the choking gurgles from his own throat as he succumbed to the darkness.

**********

"Help!"

Daniel joined his voice to the others already shouting for the guards, his horrified gaze fixed on Jack's convulsing body. He stretched as far as he could, feeling the metal of the chain tearing his skin, but ignoring it as he tried to find those extra inches that would allow him to reach his friend - extra inches that meant the difference between life and death. He was aware that beside him Teal'c was doing the same, loud grunts of exertion coming from the normally quiet Jaffa.

Jack's struggles had ceased and he lay still now, only a slight bubbling sound showing he still strained to breathe, but even as Daniel watched, the sound ceased and Jack's body went incredibly limp.

It had all happened so suddenly. After days of watching their commander die a slow death from dehydration, it seemed inconceivable that the end had come in just a few short minutes.

Hands grabbed him, pulling him back. He stayed where he fell for a second, breathing hard, then started to struggle up again, straining to see what was happening. One of the burley, yellow-clad, guards was removing the gag from Jack's mouth, while another was unlocking his hands. Then he was gone - hauled out, his arms dragging across the floor as their captors pulled him by his legs. Daniel winced at the sound of the hard thump of Jack's head hitting the side of the doorframe.

"Jack." He muttered the name softly as he stood staring at the still open door.

"Shit! They can't do that. Hey!" Lou's frustrated shouts finally brought Daniel's attention back to his fellow prisoners. "Was he breathing? He was, wasn't he?" Ferretti turned, imploring the others to answer in the affirmative.

"I don't know." Sam's eyes briefly met Daniel's then flittered away as she shook her head, looking down at her feet. Daniel could see the moment her training kicked back in - her shoulders stiffened and she lifted her head once more. "There's nothing we can do for the Colonel now. We have to get out of here and get him back home."

"And just how do you propose we do that?"

She glared fiercely back at him. "We've already found a weakness, now we just have to exploit it. I know it looks impossible at the moment, but I'm not prepared to give up." Her eyes gleamed with suppressed emotion. "Are you?"

"No. No, of course not. I'm just worried about Jack." Daniel gave Sam glare for glare. He wasn't suggesting just give up, and never had been, but he didn't want vague plans, he wanted action - now. He turned away, feeling the worry growing in the room. The two younger members of SG-2 both sat frowning, while Captain Jones was still staring at the doorway.

He shouldn't be bickering with Sam. It wasn't helping the situation one bit.

"I'm sorry, Sam." He watched as his teammate turned back to face him, and summoned up a slight smile. "You're right. Let's go over what we know about the prison. We may have missed something."

"Good idea." Lou sat back down, pulling his blanket over his legs. The temperature in the cell dropped at the same time each day, as the light grew dim in the small high window.

Teal'c was the first to move, beckoning them closer until they huddled together, keeping their voices low.

**********

Jack was only dimly aware of the efforts his captors took to revive him. He was turned on his side and something was stuck down his throat, clearing it out, then he was pulled up and it felt as if a rock was being pounded violently on his back. He was too weak to protest as his throat spasmed and filled with the acidic taste of bile.

He was laid back down and something was pressed against his lips. The sensation of liquid slipping into his mouth almost had him crying with pleasure, but it was over all too soon and his head spun, sending him back towards the darkness.

". . . died. We need to find . . ."

Jack tried to grasp onto consciousness, the deep voices impinging on the thoughts that flew chaotically through his mind.

"It is time . . . next stage . . . trust . . . "

He tried to make some sense out of what he was hearing, but he kept fading in and out. The few mouthfuls of water hadn't been enough to clear the awful taste from his mouth and he couldn't help it. He coughed.

The voices stopped.

Long seconds passed and Jack began to wonder if he had been left alone, when they began again.

" . . . awake. Did he hear?"

"If he did we must dispose of him."

Something sharp prodded him in the left thigh and he was unable to prevent his eyes from opening. He blinked at the sudden light, only able to see shadows and shapes looming over him. One shadow came closer, slowly coalescing into a face he didn't recognise. The man's brows moved together as he frowned down then abruptly pulled away, his place taken by other men.

"Get him up."

They obeyed the order immediately, yanking him by his still handcuffed arms and holding him upright. He tried to take some weight on his legs, but failed miserably, slumping in his captors' grasp. The sudden movement brought back the dizziness and Jack's eyes slammed shut.

"How is your Circle protected?"

Jack flinched back at the rush of breath in his face and opened his eyes to find the blurred face of the speaker thrust close into his. He shook his head, unable to speak even if he had been inclined to do so.

The man didn't raise his voice, but the words were edged with ice. "Tell me."

"Go...to...hell."

"Let him go."

The pressure on his arms was released and Jack found himself falling, only to have his throat grabbed by a large hand, its inhuman strength too much to struggle against.

"I will have your secrets. Lord Cronus will reward me well." The pressure began to increase and his already tender throat seemed to catch fire while the breath was forced from him.

"Stop!" The second voice brought the pressure to a halt as the grip was loosened. It was almost too late - his vision was filled with flashes of light, growing more violent by the minute. The men argued, their voices getting louder, but he couldn't make out the words through the noise of the blood rushing through his head.

Then he was flying across the room to land hard, the sharp corner of a metal table connecting with his forehead and bringing with it utter blackness and an all consuming silence.

**********

It was late when they brought Colonel O'Neill back, dropping him unceremoniously in his corner. The SGC members all leapt to their feet at the first sounds from the corridor and they watched in relief as their commander was returned to them.

The ever-present light was dimmed at night, but it gave Teal'c enough illumination to see the shallow rise and fall of O'Neill's chest, and he allowed himself a small lessening of the tension he had felt since their capture.

"He's free." Daniel Jackson spoke quietly, as if scared that merely pointing out the fact would bring the guards back to rectify their mistake, but Teal'c could see that his commander's gag had also been removed, and could only surmise he had been left unrestrained on purpose.

"Colonel." To one side, Major Carter was straining forward as if by sheer willpower she could make the strong chain stretch enough to reach the man. Major Ferretti was the nearest to his position, and he knelt, calling out softly, yet urgently.

"Colonel. Jack. Come on, buddy."

His voice must have registered, because O'Neill gave a small groan and rolled a little, bringing himself away from the wall.

"That's it. Come on, sir." Major Carter joined her voice to that of Major Ferretti. Teal'c caught the small flicker of O'Neill's lids as he moaned again. Three days with no sustenance had left his teammate hollow cheeked and pale. Then sunken eyes stared back at him, moisture gleaming in their corners.

"T?"

Teal'c echoed Major Ferretti's posture, kneeling on the slightly spongy floor covering and stretching as far forward as possible.

"There is water here, O'Neill, but we are still restrained and cannot help you. You must reach it on your own."

"Easy." The word was so quietly spoken that Teal'c almost missed it. He nodded, recognising the spark of defiance that still burnt within the man lying so broken in front of him.

***********

Water. Teal'c said there was water if only he could reach it.

So reach it he must.

Jack edged forward slowly, pushing himself along by sheer will power. He could see the large bowl set into the floor and knew it was almost within his reach, but he was so weak - so dangerously weak.

Now he could see the small ripples on the water's surface as the floor moved slightly beneath his body.

It was so close.

He reached a shaking hand out, the tips of his fingers touching the bowl's cool side and dropped his head, the blood pounding in his skull.

So close.

He groaned with frustration.

Large fingers clasped his wrist, pulling him forward and warm arms encircled him. He was held tightly as a cupped hand touched his cracked lips.

"Drink, O'Neill."

He opened his mouth and let the liquid in.

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

The others watched as Teal'c held the Colonel to him, scooping water from the bowl and slowly allowing O'Neill to drink.

"Not too much," Major Carter warned, and Teal'c nodded, acknowledging her words. He stopped after a few minutes. The Colonel lifted one arm, but dropped it again, giving a small nod and let his head fall to rest against the Jaffa's chest. The hair on his forehead was dark with moisture and Teal'c brushed it aside, exposing an ugly gash.

"It must have happened when they dragged him out. Do you feel any injuries other than the cut?" Sam leaned forward trying to see better, annoyed that she was the furthest of any of them from the injured man. She raised her voice. "Sir, you need to stay awake. You could have a concussion."

Teal'c's searching fingers, combined with her words, provoked an immediate reaction. The Colonel flinched, trying to pull his head from his teammate's reach - a fruitless exercise given his position in Teal'c's lap. He muttered something as he moved, but Sam wasn't able to make out the words. She did catch the momentary hurt that flared in Teal'c's face, before it was carefully masked. "I apologise if I caused you more pain, O'Neill. That was not my intention."

" . . .know." Colonel O'Neill twisted a little in Teal'c's grip, his eyes scanning the room, until they came to rest on her. She held his gaze and spoke as clearly as she could.

"Please try to stay awake, Colonel."

He nodded and winced, then the tip of his tongue came out to lick his lips.

"Water."

Teal'c bent forward again, bringing a cupped hand up to the parched lips, but this time they didn't open. The Colonel's head lolled to one side in the massive arms and Teal'c looked down in consternation.

"He is unconscious, Major Carter." He held his fingertips to the Colonel's throat. "His pulse is rapid."

Sam chewed her lip. The Colonel shouldn't be allowed to sleep with a head injury, but there was really no way he could be expected to stay conscious. Getting Teal'c to try and wake him would probably do more harm than good, so she contended herself with merely asking for more information.

Her heart sank as Teal'c gave his report. The cut on Colonel O'Neill's head was already surrounded by a livid bruise. In his weakened condition any injury was doubly serious.

They needed to get him back home.

**********

Daniel felt like he had barely gotten to sleep when he was shaken awake. He lifted his head, surprised to see Sam kneeling beside him. She put a finger to her lips in a gesture for silence, whispering.

"We have a visitor.

He sat up quickly, looking around as he grabbed for his glasses. The vague shape in the far corner of the room coalesced into the solid figure of a small thin man, dressed in the familiar yellow overalls of the guards.

"What's going on?"

"That's what we're about to find out, but he brought a present." She held out a key, gesturing to Daniel's hand. It took a few seconds of jiggling, but his wrist was soon released from the cuff. Sam lowered the now loose chain gently, careful to prevent any noise as it fell to the ground.

"How's Jack?"

"He's awake, but I don't think he's taking much in." Daniel looked towards the two figures, still on the floor where they had been when he fell asleep. Jack was wrapped in one of the blankets, the crude bandage made from a piece of Teal'c's shirt bound over the cut on his head. Sam continued, "Teal'c managed to get some more water into him though, so that's something."

Daniel made to move towards his teammates, but was stopped by Sam. She put a hand on his arm and shook her head. "We need you to help find out what's happening. He's . . . ," she gestured with her head towards the guard, ". . . a bit hard to understand."

"But . . . "

Daniel was about to protest, only to have his words cut off as Sam continued in a harsh whisper. "I know you want to be with the Colonel, so do I, but I need you to focus. This may be our best chance to get out of here."

Daniel nodded, knowing she was right, and moved as quietly as possible to the group huddled together on the far side of the cell. Lou looked up at their approach.

"Daniel, this is Jaahn Fegul. He says he wants to help us escape. Jaahn, this is Daniel Jackson."

Jaahn made a strange gesture with his left hand that Daniel took to be a greeting. "I was just explaining to Major Ferretti that we must leave immediately, or we will be discovered." His English was good, but spoken with a heavy accent. He repeated the gesture, and Daniel realized it wasn't a greeting, but instead indicated urgency.

Lou looked to Sam and Daniel knew they had reached some unspoken agreement when he nodded. "Alright - Bob, you help Teal'c with Colonel O'Neill." He turned away from Lieutenant Rutledge and back to the local man. "How do we get past the guards on the gate?"

Jaahn shook his head, frowning. "No, we cannot go through the Circle. It is much too heavily guarded. I will hide you in a house in the nearby town and lay a false trail into the hills."

"We need to get Jack."

Once again Daniel's protests were cut off, as the small man stood, his expression almost one of anger. "I have risked much to free you. If you continue to delay it will be for nothing. Come!"

There was nothing more to say, so Daniel nodded, hurrying to where Teal'c was already standing, one of Jack's arms over his shoulder, while Rutledge had the other one. Daniel understood why Ferretti had picked the Lieutenant for the job as his height was only an inch or so under Teal'c's, making the task of carrying Jack easier. Daniel gathered up the discarded blanket, along with two more, not sure what they would find at their destination, and followed the others out the door. He was near the back of the group, Captain Jones taking the rear position.

They hurried through the dimly lit corridors, pausing at each corner to wait for Jaahn to give the go ahead. Jaahn halted their progress only once, motioning for them to hide in an unoccupied cell, then beckoning them out. Not long after that, they reached the entrance to the jail. There Jaahn halted them again, and after a rapid consultation with Sam and Lou, disappeared into a side room. Daniel could hear voices and assumed their guide was distracting the guards, a supposition confirmed when Lou waved them forward. Daniel followed Sam down the narrow passage and out into the open. She took a sharp left turn and disappeared from view, followed closely by the rest of the group and Daniel hurried to catch up.

"Come on." Ferretti's voice had him staring in surprise, and he realized the major had stayed behind to make sure they were all out safely. His thoughts naturally turned to Jack and he began to run, soon coming alongside Teal'c. He didn't say anything, knowing silence was essential, but took a second to scan his friend's appearance quickly. Jack's head was down and he seemed to have lost consciousness once more - not surprising considering his weakened state.

Footsteps sounded from behind them and Lou spun, stepping in front of the others, but relaxed a little at the sight of the local man hurrying toward them.

"This way." He pushed his way to the front and led the way towards the cluster of buildings a short distance from the large jail building. Soon they were traveling through winding streets, moving further into the city. Tall buildings brushed shoulders with smaller ones, empty stalls lining the sides of the wider roads. It was at least half an hour before they came to a large house surrounded by a high stone wall. Trees thickly blanketed the windows, and the whole property had an air of neglect. Jaahn pushed the heavy gate open.

Sam entered first, followed by Captain Jones. A few minutes later the captain beckoned them in and they stumbled up a short graveled path lined on each side by overgrown bushes until they reached the open door of the house.

A short hall led to a large room, empty except for a rickety table. The room looked as if it hadn't been used in months, thick dust covering every surface. Daniel spotted a small fireplace in the centre of the wall to the left of the door and went to it. He laid one of the blankets he carried down and called Teal'c and Rutledge over. They carefully placed Jack on the blanket and Daniel covered him while Teal'c folded the third into a makeshift pillow.

"Is he dead?"

Daniel glared up at their benefactor, annoyed by the cool tone in his voice.

"No. Is there any water or food?"

Jaahn pointed towards the door. "The kitchen is through there. The water should still be running, but I will have to bring you food."

"Colin, go check out this kitchen. Take Van with you." Captain Jones and Lieutenant Nguyen quickly followed Ferretti's orders.

"Now maybe someone will tell me what's going on," said Daniel. "I'm beginning to feel like I've fallen asleep half way through a movie and missed most of the plot."

Lou shrugged. "There's not much to tell. Jaahn approached me when he did the regular check just after you fell asleep. When he said he'd help us escape and showed us the keys, we just ran with it. There didn't seem much to lose under the circumstances." His gaze moved to Jack's position and then back to Daniel.

"Did he say why he was helping us?"

"Nope," Lou shook his head, "but then we haven't exactly had time to chat. What say we go find out?" Lou gave Sam a nod and she joined them.

Jaahn was staring down at Jack, a look on his face that Daniel found impossible to interpret. He turned at their approach and took a few steps away from the fireplace, perching his hip on the table.

"I suppose you want to know why I'm helping you." He didn't wait for them to reply, continuing without pause. "Our country has been under the domination of the Goa'uld for centuries. Only a few question our obedience. I am one of them." He smiled crookedly, as if slightly embarrassed. "I was supervising the prisoners serving refreshments at a meeting of the Governor and his council when I heard them discussing you. The Tau'ri's fame has reached even here and the Governor has already told the Goa'uld we serve he has you."

"What Goa'uld?" Sam interjected, exchanging worried looks with the others.

"Lord Cronus."

"Hell!" Lou's exclamation summed it up neatly. Daniel heard a grunt from Teal'c and looked over to see his teammate standing and coming to join them.

"Cronus is coming here?" His face was impassive, but Daniel could hear the edge in his voice.

Jaahn gave the Jaffa a startled glance before turning back to Lou, answering as if it had been the major who answered the question. "Lord Cronus is indeed coming in person. The Governor was quite excited by that. Cronus hasn't visited our country personally for many generations. That was why I had to move quickly. If I had waited one more day Cronus would have removed you from our planet."

"And why exactly did you do that?" Sam questioned. "What's in it for you?"

The man gave her a confused look before once again turning to Lou. "If you're asking what reward I gain from my actions, I hope you will be allies in our fight. Without help we will never be free of the Goa'uld."

"A noble cause." Teal'c's gruff voice pulled Daniel's attention to his friend. "May I ask how many are of like-mind?"

This time Jaahn answered him directly, albeit with a look of distaste on his face as if he'd just swallowed something that disagreed with him. "We are many, however our number is spread amongst several cities and towns. Here in Jagoitvic I lead more than one hundred."

"How do you plan to get us past the guard on the Gate?" Daniel brought the conversation back to the point, mindful of Jack's condition.

"We must wait for the right moment. I will contact some of my men and they will watch the Circle. When they have reported the situation we can make plans. It is getting light - I will have to hurry so as not be been seen. Hopefully your escape will not be noticed for some time."

"I'll come with you." Lou straightened, ready to leave. "We need supplies as well." He looked towards Jack. "Especially food."

"And something to carry water in." Captain Jones's voice came from the door. "There's nothing here at all. The water is fine, but I don't know how we'll get it to the Colonel."

"No!" Jaahn almost shouted, his tone emphatic, "You cannot come with me, you would be too conspicuous and your presence would endanger my men." He raised a hand at Lou's protest. "No. I do not have time to argue. Stay here and keep as quiet as possible. I shall bring food when I return." He was already half out the door before they could protest, then turned with a last comment. "Do not use the fireplace. This house has been empty for months and any smoke would attract notice."

Lou made as if to follow, but obviously thought better of it. He eyed the others, one eyebrow raised in a quizzical look. "Opinions?"

"I don't see that we have much choice but to do as Jaahn suggested." Sam moved towards Jack as she spoke, lowering her voice slightly as she approached the injured man.

Daniel snorted as he followed. "Ordered more like."

"You have to remember, he risked his life to free us." She turned back to Lou. "Are you planning on sending someone out to reconnoiter?

"I'll get Jones and Rutledge to take a look around the grounds, but I don't want them going into the city - it's too risky." The two members of SG-2 nodded in response. "Find the best place to observe what's going on outside, Colin, maybe in one of those trees near the wall, just be careful you're not seen. Send Bob back to report."

"What about us?"

Daniel replied before Lou could, knowing he'd spotted the same thing. "I don't think it would be a good idea if either you or Teal'c were seen. Jaahn's attitude reflected what little I've observed of this culture since our capture. It appears to be a white, male dominated society. It's best if you both kept your heads down until we know more."

"I agree. I also think the same applies to Van." Lou gave the young Lieutenant a half smile of apology. "But could you both give the house a thorough check? You know what to look for - especially the most defendable room if we need it."

Sam grimaced. "I'm really looking forward to finding a society where it's the white males who are treated as second rate citizens. I think I'd be tempted to move there." She knelt, her knees knocking dust into the air. Teal'c had already resumed his position beside Jack and didn't look like he was willing to move any time soon. "He looks a little better."

Teal'c nodded in agreement. "We should attempt to give him more water."

"We'll make finding something to carry it in our first priority." Sam stood, brushing off her knees, and with a gesture for Van to accompany her, left to carry out the tasks assigned her.

Daniel took her place beside Jack, noting the unnatural pallor of his skin, but Sam was right - he did look a little better. Just as he was thinking that, his friend's eyes opened and he squinted up at him as if the light hurt them, before moving his gaze off his face to look around the room.

"Hey." Daniel spoke softly.

"Dan . . ." Jack swallowed and tried again, his voice hoarse from long disuse. "Where?"

Lou moved from his position near the door and was with them in a few short strides. "Hi, Colonel. We've escaped. We're holed up in a house in the city. Don't worry, we'll have you back home in no time."

"Water?" The word was accompanied by the licking of his lips.

Daniel reached out and touched Jack's shoulder. "We're working on that."

"Good." And Jack fell asleep once more.

***********

Jack was unable to restrain a groan as Teal'c raised his head, the movement pulling at the gash and sending spikes of pain to join the ones already seemingly taken up permanent residence in his skull. He sipped at the water gratefully, cursing the weakness that prevented him from sitting on his own.

Apparently they'd been in the house for almost three days, not that he remembered much of it. Food had been delivered by their mysterious benefactor, including some soft porridge-like glug that tasted remarkably good - but then anything would taste good after so long without food. And it certainly slipped down his parched throat easily. He could feel his strength returning slowly, but he was still unable to concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time. Carter's explanation of a severe concussion from having his head thumped seemed to fit the symptoms he was experiencing, symptoms he was unfortunately all too familiar with.

From what he could gather, they were holed up in a house, waiting for the opportunity to slip through the stargate. The guard who'd helped them escape wasn't there, having left before light, apparently to meet with his contacts and find out what was going on. He hated lying helplessly while others did all the work, but Ferretti and Carter seemed to think it was all under control. He wondered just how under control it could be with Cronus now on the scene and apparently fully aware who the escapees were.

He stretched his legs, the muscles clenching as he did so. Just getting to the bathroom was difficult, impossible without Teal'c or Daniel's help. The dizziness that plagued him didn't seem to be getting any better, and he had the unfortunate tendency to black out without warning. He knew Carter was worried, but there wasn't anything they could do until they got him back through the gate and into Frasier's hands.

"Jack?"

He started, surprised to find Daniel looming over him. Where had Teal'c gone? And when?

Oh, crap!

"Um?" That was all he could manage as his stomach roiled and he fought to control it. If only Daniel would stop swaying backwards and forwards. He couldn't take it any more, uttering a desperate, "Stand still." It was more of a plea that an order and he knew it came out with a touch of a whimper.

The other man dropped down to sit beside him on the wooden floor. The movement had him shutting his eyes, swallowing convulsively.

"Here."

The familiar shape of a cup was pushed against his hand, but he shook his head, regretting the action as soon as he made it, and waved it away.

"Colonel?"

Oh, good. Now Lou felt the need to join it. If they would just leave him alone, he'd be able to get himself back under control.

"I don't think he's with us properly yet. He blacked out again before and just woke."

Why didn't they shut the hell up? Each word was like a hammer blow to his skull.

"Jaahn's back. He's got a couple of his men with him, and some more supplies - Bob and Colin are helping to bring them into the house."

"Do they need a hand?"

"Nah - leave them to it. It would take a lot less time if Teal'c and Van could help, but they can barely stand to be in the same house as them, let alone the same room."

"Idiots. What about weapons?"

Jack grasped on to the only word of paramount interest to him. "Weapons?"

"No, sir." Ferretti must have knelt, because a hand was placed gently on his shoulder. "It seems they're in short supply and not even every member of the resistance group has one. They're reluctant to give any to us."

He opened his eyes but didn't try looking up, contenting himself with focussing on his own hands. "Let me talk to them."

"I don't think that's a good idea, Jack."

"Did I ask your opinion, Daniel?" He lifted his head, finding the swimming sensation going at last. "Bring Jaahn here."

"Yes, sir." Ferretti obviously knew an order when he heard one, immediately standing.

Jack pushed himself up, slowly manoeuvring himself into a sitting position against the wall. He grunted as Daniel bent to help, but he had to admit it was only his teammate's strong arm that supported him enough to finally get semi-vertical.

"Are you sure you should be doing this?"

"I'm fine, don't worry about it."

There was a short silence, before Daniel spoke again. "Sam won't be happy."

"She'll get over it." But Jack couldn't help a tiny inward cringe at the thought of Carter's reaction when she found him sitting up. "I'll have that water now, thanks."

Daniel picked the cup up from the floor and lifted it to Jack's lips. Jack instinctively took it in both hands, but their trembling soon had him relinquishing it to Daniel's steadier ones. He winched a little as the liquid touched his still cracked lips, but swallowed as much as he could down in the one go and then sat back, already exhausted.

"Where's Carter?"

"She's at the wall, on watch with Teal'c."

Jack contented himself with a nod as the sound of footsteps had him twisting his head. This was his first real chance to meet the man that had rescued them, having been basically unconscious for most of the last few days and finding almost all of the period before that in the prison, a total blank.

The person walking next to Ferretti was short, white haired, skinny and rather inconsequential in appearance, the sort of man you'd pass by on the street without a second glance. Following him were three men of a completely different type - tall, broad and bulky. They looked like they could give Teal'c a run for his money in a fight. They were staring at him with unconcealed interest and a hint of distain, and he gave each a long look, pleased to see their eyes drop.

"It is good to see you looking better, Colonel. I was about to come check on you when Lou told me you were awake."

Jack contented himself with a small nod. There was something that he didn't like about this man, apart from the use of Ferretti's first name.

"About the weapons..." Out the corner of his eye he saw Daniel shift uncomfortably and was stunned to hear his teammate's voice interrupting him.

"Jack was just saying how grateful he was for your help. He was wondering if we could be provided with weapons to defend ourselves if our position is discovered."

Jack didn't try to disguise his growl of annoyance. "Daniel..."

Once again he found himself being interrupted.

"I really do not have the extra weapons to give you, but I can see your point." Jaahn said as he smiled benignly down. "I'll see what I can do. Maybe one of our hand weapons?" He gestured to the men with him. "These are some of my group - Hans, Kelvin, and Steffen." As he said each name the corresponding head nodded slightly and Jack found himself wincing as his ever-present headache made itself known again. He shut his eyes momentarily, and blinked in shock to find Jaahn already sitting cross-legged next to him. Damn, he thought, this man could move fast.

"Do you feel up to talking, Colonel? I would like to learn more of your world and perhaps I can tell you more of mine."

He could only nod, mindful that they were relying on the man's help to get home. He was pleased to see Daniel also sink to the floor beside him, but less pleased when Jaahn's three companions completed the circle. With a glance to Jack for confirmation, Lou moved off, heading out the room to check the grounds.

"Are they still searching for us?"

Jaahn gave a short laugh at his question. "Indeed they are. Lord Cronus's Jaffa are scouring the countryside, while the guard on the gate has been tripled. The Governor has punished the men on duty the night you escaped - including me." He grimaced. "It wasn't pleasant, but I survived."

"What did they do?" Daniel asked, his tone sympathetic.

"I will not receive any pay for the next three periods and I have been suspended until they conduct an investigation." He smiled smugly. "The investigation is to be held after your recapture."

Daniel looked puzzled. "It seems unusual that Cronus didn't carry out the punishments himself and they seem rather lenient - not the standard Goa'uld reaction."

"That I can explain." Jaahn gave a deep belly laugh and continued. "It seems Lord Cronus had a meeting to attend and couldn't stay, although he has left a large contingent of his men to assure the search is being carried out with thoroughness. From what I was told, the Governor has been given very firm orders that you are to be in custody when he returns."

"No going to happen." Jack grunted the words, feeling the urgent need to fall asleep where he sat. He tried to get the conversation back on track. "The weapons..."

"Daniel tells me your world contains many cities larger than this one. Does each have a Circle?"

"No, we only..."

"How do you plan to get us back through the gate?"

For a moment Jaahn looked annoyed at Jack's cutting off of Daniel's reply, but his face immediately resumed its pleasant smile. "Don't worry - we have it all under control. You can let us handle everything. Just rest and regain your strength."

Jack shook his head. "What exactly do you want from us in return? This world is controlled by Cronus. You should know we can't just free your people from his rule. He's not just a minor Goa'uld, he's one of the System Lords."

"From what I've heard you have freed worlds from Goa'uld rule before. And your SGC is impervious to attack. Perhaps we could make our Circle protected as you have yours."

"We have a special code that prevents..."

"Daniel." This time Jack's voice brooked no argument and Daniel stopped, throwing a startled look in his direction.

Jaahn gave another of his irritating smiles. "I understand. You do not trust us yet, even though we risk our life for you."

"I don't know you." Jack didn't feel the need to mince words - something about the whole situation seemed 'off' and he didn't like it at all. He turned away from Jaahn and back to his teammate. "Go get Major Ferretti."

"Ah, okay, Jack." Daniel threw a quick, apologetic look at the others and stood, hurrying from the room, leaving Jack alone with the four strangers.

Maybe he was overreacting, maybe it was just that he hadn't had a chance to get to know Jaahn. He felt the man's deep blue eyes on him and tried to control the anger that rose without warning.

"Your experience of our world has not been good, I fear. Unfortunately, as the leader, you were singled out for harsh punishment. I think it is good you escaped when you did."

"Thank you." Jack decided a little fence mending wouldn't go astray. "We're grateful for your help." He found his attention drawn to the middle of the three large men. Steffen? There was something vaguely familiar about him. A sudden jolt of pain shot through his head and he sat back, resting his head against the wall once more. "Do you all work in the prison?"

Jaahn shook his head and Jack realised he was yet to hear the others speak a single word. "No, my friends each do different work here in the city. Kelvin is a shopkeeper, Hans is a seller of targam, and Steffen works at the hospital. I am the only one of our group to work in the prison. It was very fortunate that I was assigned as your guard."

"Yes, very fortunate." Jack shut his eyes, willing the dizziness to leave.

"You do not look well, Colonel. There is water here. Would you like some?"

It was a deep voice, and one he thought he should know. He looked at the speaker, only to have the image before him blur as the edge of his vision fogged. Steffen had the water cup and was pouring something into it from a flask, his large hands dwarfing the small container. "Here, drink."

He tried to shake his head, but found the effort too much, unable to keep his eyes open.

"He needs a healer."

For a moment Jack thought Jaahn was talking to him, until Lou's voice replied.

"Yes. He doesn't seem to be getting any better."

"I tried to give him some water, but he refused it."

"Here, sir, you need to drink." The cup was once again put to his lips.

"No, he put...." But his words were soft, and almost impossible for even himself to perceive as he drifted away, the sweet tasting liquid slipping down his throat.

The last thing he heard were merely memories, floating up from a mind growing more confused by the second.

" . . . awake. Did he hear?" Angry voices raised in fierce argument and black agony.

**********

"Am I drunk?"

"Sorry, sir, I didn't hear that?" Sam leaned forward, getting closer to the colonel in an effort to catch his whispered words. She frowned as she realised his speech was slightly slurred.

"Drunk. Am I?" This time his words were clear, but accompanied by a snicker and a small upward twitch of his lips, his eyes remaining closed. "Yoda, sound like I do."

Her frown deepened and she reached out a hand, placing it on his forehead. His lack of reaction to her touch was even more worrying than his peculiar words.

Colonel O'Neill didn't feel hot and the cut on his head seemed to have healed without infection. Jaahn had provided them with some basic medical supplies, including antiseptic with which she had cleaned the wound. She had refused the medicine, including the painkillers Steffen had obtained from the hospital he worked at. He'd insisted at first, but as soon as she explained that their effects might not be the same for them as for the locals he acquiesced.

The bruising was still vivid against the colonel's pale skin, but his face seemed to be losing some of its gauntness. She jumped back a little as she shifted her gaze to find deep brown eyes staring up at her.

"So why do I feel like this?"

"Like what, sir?"

His face twisted as if in pain before he answered. "Like I've spent the weekend getting friendly with several bottles of Jack Daniels."

"Dizzy?"

He nodded. "Yes, and distant - you know, that sort of strange fuzzy feeling that you're not really there."

"What about your vision?" She raised a hand in front of his face, holding up three fingers. "How many fingers, sir?"

O'Neill squinted his eyes, peering intently, then relaxed back into the pillow, his face a mixture of emotions. "Can I plead the Fifth?"

"Colonel..."

He sighed in resignation. "Okay, I don't know - some number between one and four I'd guess. It's all a blur." He shifted on the thin mattress that now served as a bed. "Here, help me up."

Sam knew better that to protest, and to be truthful, could understand the colonel's desire to be upright as people moved around him. She took his forearm in a firm grip and pulled, and he was soon leaning against the wall, panting from the exertion. She waited patiently as he got himself back under control.

"So, Carter? Diagnosis?"

"I have to be honest, sir, I don't know. Your head injury may be worse than we first thought - perhaps even a hairline skull fracture."

"So, getting up not a good idea?"

She smiled. "No, sir, probably not."

"Ah." Her smile broadened as the Colonel gave her one of his trademark smirks. "But seeing I'm up, I may as well stay up - right?"

"Yes, sir."

"Sweet." He turned, frowning, as one of Jaahn's men walked past, offering a grunted greeting. "What's going on?" His eyes narrowed and Sam recognised the commander coming to the fore.

"Jaahn's set up a headquarters here. He and his men have been very helpful."

"Weapons?"

She shook her head at his question. "No, sir, but they've given us food and medical supplies and he's pledged his help in an assault on the gate." She looked closer to make sure her CO was still taking in her words and felt reassured at his annoyed nod to continue. "It's still closely guarded, although the search for us in the city seems to have been scaled down. Jaahn and Major Ferretti have agreed that only a full assault would succeed."

"Isn't that risky given we have no weapons? What's the number of guards? Have you seen the situation at the gate for yourself?" She had to shake her head and his frown deepened. "I want Ferretti to report to me with full details of his observations and recommendations." He snapped his orders, and she pulled back a little, startled.

"He's with Jaahn now, going over some plans. I'll get him." Sam hesitated, but continued regardless. "But, I have to say, sir, that you're in no condition to be making decisions."

The colonel's eyes grew cold, immediately making her dismiss any lingering worries that he wasn't fully aware. "I'm fine, Major."

She steeled herself to reply. "I'm sorry, sir, but you aren't fine. You've been barely awake for most of the past four days."

Sam waited, seeing the colonel's eyes drop from hers as the reality of his injury finally sunk in.

**********

Four days? He hadn't been asleep for four days.

O'Neill struggled to dispute the major's words, sifting through his memory for anything he could remember, but coming up with only vague images. He was only dimly aware that Carter had left, and it came as a surprise when Lou slid down the wall to sit beside him.

"You wanted to see me, sir?"

He nodded, taking a quick glance around to check they couldn't be overheard. "I hear you've been making plans."

"Yes, sir. I reconnoitred with Jaahn last night and confirmed that the gate was heavily guarded. It looks like the best plan is to attack just before dawn. With Jaahn's men we have the numbers to succeed."

"And when exactly is this attack to take place?"

"According to Jaahn, there's a religious festival in three days time. We're hoping the guard will be reduced, at least of locals anyway."

Jack shrugged, an uncomfortable feeling moving down his back as if something was brushing across his spine. "You seem to be placing a lot of reliance on Jaahn's information."

Ferretti gave him a quick, searching look, then turned away to watch one of the local men walk past the doorway on the far side of the room. "He's been very helpful. Without him we'd still be in prison and you'd..." His words trailed off.

Jack heard the continuation of Lou's sentence as if it had been spoken aloud.

And he'd be dead.

Perhaps true, but he wasn't.

"I obviously don't trust quite as easily as you do. What about his men? What do they think about risking their lives so we can run home?" His words caught in his throat and he coughed painfully.

Lou leaned over, picking up a flask and pouring some water into a mug. "Here."

Jack nodded his thanks, sipping the liquid slowly, glad to see his hand was steady enough to hold the cup, as Lou answered his question.

"I haven't spoken to Jaahn's men. He's the only one who speaks English - the others speak the same language as the guards in the prison and Daniel can't get a handle on that at all. Apparently English is only spoken on the Western Continent. Jaahn's mother came from there."

Something was nagging at Jack's mind, but he couldn't put his finger on it. He took another sip of the slightly sweet water. "What happens after we go home? They're going to have to eliminate everyone near the gate or their cover will be blown. Is that possible?"

Ferretti shifted again, the major's eyes sliding away from his as Jack waited for a reply. Several moments passed without an answer. "What aren't you telling me?"

"I've agreed to take Jaahn and his men with us. We can send them to an unoccupied planet."

So many questions whirled through Jack's brain that he didn't know where to start. He contented himself with an incredulous exclamation.

"You've done what!?"

"It isn't like we haven't done it before, sir. And they've ..."

Jack interrupted, his voice sharp. "We've taken groups of defenceless civilians, including women and children, through the gate. Not a well-armed militia group."

"Well..." Again Lou hesitated and warning bells started ringing in Jack's head. "Their families are coming with us."

"Just how many people are we talking about, Major?"

"Approximately one hundred and fifty, sir. Some of the single men have opted to remain behind and defend the gate."

Jack took a breath, his carefully maintained air of normality slowly becoming submerged in the rising tide of pain and dizziness. He forced his next words out through clenched teeth, aware of Lou's worried stare.

"You're prepared to allow one hundred and fifty potential hostiles into the SGC. I don't think so, Major."

Lou dropped forward, getting to his knees and moving around to look Jack straight in the face. He shook his head vehemently. "That's just it, Colonel - they aren't hostiles, they're allies. We've had more than a week to get to know these people and they are worth saving. They hate the Goa'uld as much as we do, and deserve the chance to live a peaceful life with their families without fear of oppression. Isn't that what we want?"

Was it?

Jack blinked, trying to clear the fog from his eyes. Why was he so against Jaahn and his people? Was he being irrational? He could only repeat what he had already said.

"I don't trust them."

It was a gut feeling, but he had found his gut feelings were usually right. Maybe if he spoke to Jaahn and his men he could pinpoint exactly what it was that was causing him so much worry. But he couldn't - hadn't Lou told him Jaahn was the only one who spoke English?

He shook his head, straightening his body and feeling the room lurch sickeningly sideways.

That wasn't right.

"Jaahn was talking to that Steffen. I remember that. Steffen was arguing with him."

"They have been arguing about the details a little. Steffen is Jaahn's second. I asked what the problem was and Jaahn said it was that Steffen insisted on being one of the ones to remain behind." Lou looked pained. "It's basically a suicide mission."

Jack ran a hand over his head, feeling the greasy stickiness of hair left too long without a wash. "No, that wasn't it. It was about overhearing something . . . " He let his voice trail off as he became less sure of his recollection. He shut his eyes, trying to pull the memory forward and failing.

"Jack," Lou's words were almost whispered, and Jack felt the touch of a hand on his arm. "You couldn't have known what the argument was about. Steffen doesn't speak English."

He shook his head again, slipping sideways, the mug falling from suddenly slack hands.

***********

Lou wasn't having a good day - hell, none of them were. They had been locked up in this house for more than a week now, relying on the local resistance for everything, and tempers were beginning to fray.

It didn't help that they were all worried about the colonel. One minute he was acting like himself-taking charge, questioning, and issuing orders. The next. . . It was almost as if he was drunk. Lou had seen him in deep conversation with Teal'c just before lunch, and he had gone over to join in, only to find Jack discussing the merits of hotdogs over hamburgers. Teal'c had looked as bewildered as Lou had felt when the colonel suddenly stopped dead halfway through a sentence, glanced around and then asked, in all seriousness, why there were so many people in his lounge room.

His erratic behavior was beginning to cause problems with Jaahn as well. O'Neill was suspicious of every move the locals made, insisting they were hiding something. Lou and Sam couldn't get a straight answer out of him as to why this was, except for some fairly incoherent mutterings about them understanding more than they let on. Jaahn had been remarkably patient, considering the last time he had attempted to talk to the colonel, O'Neill told him in pretty graphic terms to stay the hell away from him.

Lou took a sip of the thick liquid that was the local equivalent of coffee and looked over at the corner they had set up as the colonel's bedroom, the floor piled high with cushions and blankets in an effort to make him as comfortable as possible. Daniel was with him this time, taking his "Jack-watching" shift. Sam had warned them that the injured man should be kept as still and quiet as possible. The only explanation she could come up with for his irrational behavior was a more serious head injury than they first suspected.

Of course, keeping Jack O'Neill still was hard enough at the best of times, let alone while he was acting this way. He had already tried to get up earlier today when Steffen was checking his head wound, pushing the local medic over in the process. Even now, the only mattress the resistance had been able to smuggle in was soaked with water and completely unusable.

Lou sighed. It was obvious the colonel wasn't in his right mind, but it was becoming increasingly harder to placate him without insulting the very people they were relying on to help them get home.

He walked slowly towards Jack's corner, going over in his mind what he was about to say. However he phrased it, he knew how the colonel would react.

***********

Jack was barely listening to Daniel's words, letting the low murmur waft over him, relaxing for the first time in days. His teammate had a remarkable repertoire of memorized poems and passages from literature, ranging from Shakespeare and Homer to modern comedy. Jack had no idea what it was Daniel was quoting to him now, he wasn't really listening - he just knew it was soothing.

It took Jack a few moments to realize Daniel's words had ceased and he opened his eyes, looking up inquiringly. The answer wasn't hard to discover as the sound of approaching footsteps on the hard wooden floor had him shifting on the cushions, his back twinging slightly in protest.

"Hey, sir. How are you feeling?"

"Better." And it was true. Today was the first time in quite a while that he felt almost normal.

"That's good." For some reason Lou looked almost disappointed in his answer. He paused and Jack took a quick look around, seeing that for once they were alone.

"Where is everyone?" he asked, before Lou could continue.

"Teal'c and Nguyen are on guard duty and Carter, Rutledge, and Jones are helping Jaahn and the others with preparations for the attack on the gate.

"About that. . . " Jack pushed himself up on his elbows, pulling at the cushions to pile them behind his back and looking up at the other officer. "I still. . ."

To his surprise, instead of kneeling beside him, Lou straightened, his hands clasped behind his back. "Jack, I'm sorry, but I'm relieving you of command. It's important that there be no question in anyone's mind whose orders should be followed during this operation, and SG-1 naturally looks to you. Given your recent injury, it isn't appropriate for you to be taking part in the decision making process involved in the assault on the gate."

Daniel unfolded his legs and stood, facing Ferretti, looking distressed. "Surely this isn't necessary?"

Lou nodded. "Yes, it is. I have to know I have everyone's full support and that isn't going to happen if they're conflicted about who is in command."

"You're not doing this!" Jack pushed himself up, using the wall to support his shaky legs, and towered over Ferretti, his anger growing as his headache reestablished itself. He ignored Daniel's frantic motions to lie back down. "I'm fine. The only problem I have is that I don't believe every word our so-called allies have said."

Lou raised his arms in exasperation, his voice rising. "I'm basing my trust in them on the fact they rescued us, hid us, fed us, and are prepared to leave everything they know behind because they trust us as well. Just what are you basing your suspicions on? Dreams and feelings?"

"It's more than a feeling, Lou. I know we shouldn't trust Jaahn and his men, I just can't prove it." He saw Ferretti's face harden, his lips thinning to a grim line and knew he wasn't getting through. "You've always trusted me, Lou. What's so different about this time? Think about it. Jaahn's been lying to you from the first moment you met him. If you go along with his plans you'll be leading our people into a trap."

"A trap, Colonel O'Neill?"

Jack twisted to face the speaker, finding the resistance leader standing, arms folded, as he leaned against the doorframe, his face expressionless. Jack could make out the shapes of several other people clustered behind him in the narrow hallway.

"You heard me." He pushed off the wall, taking two long strides towards the other man, shrugging off Daniel's restraining arm. "It's all been so very convenient, hasn't it? You just happen to overhear the Governor's plans for us. You have a man in every important meeting and seem to know exactly what Cronus's movements are. Your group is incredibly well organized, and yet you can't even spare us, the only experienced soldiers in the whole equation, a few weapons. Care to explain that?"

"Ah. . . actually, sir . . ." Carter pushed her way through the watching men. Jack's eyes fixed on the shape in her hand, knowing exactly what she was going to say. "Jaahn has provided four of their handguns."

Jack raised a hand, rubbing it across his eyes. "Well, isn't that just special, Major? Four? I don't suppose one of those is for me?"

"No, Colonel O'Neill, we only arm people we trust." Jaahn's words were spat out as he stepped further into the room. "I have no reason to trust you either, Colonel. You've shown us nothing but contempt, for no reason that has any basis in fact."

The large figure of Steffen separated from the group behind their leader. He came to stand beside him, speaking quickly in the guttural native language. Jaahn nodded, then turned back to Jack.

"Steffen has reminded me that you are not in your right mind and suggests I be patient." Daniel began to speak, but Jaahn ignored him, carrying straight on. "However, my patience is not inexhaustible. I am beginning to question why we should risk everything for people who do not trust us. Perhaps we shouldn't. I will have to think on this."

And with that, he turned and left, his men swiftly following.

**********

The stunned silence that followed Jaahn's departure was broken by a low groan from Colonel O'Neill. Daniel jumped forward, Sam following a fraction of a second later, and together they managed to prevent the shaking man from taking a nose dive to the floor.

"Here - I'll help." Ferretti stepped in, taking Jack's arm from Daniel's grip. "You go after Jaahn and see if you can persuade him to change his mind."

"You sure?"

"Yes. Quick, get to him before he leaves the grounds."

The colonel's head lifted and Sam watched as comprehension came back into his pain filled eyes.

"Daniel, don't. We don't need him. We're better off without them."

Daniel paused, but shook his head, muttering "sorry" before hurrying from the room.

"Come on, sir, you shouldn't be up." Sam tugged a little on the colonel's arm, feeling more of his weight settle on to her as he slumped. She changed her stance, steadying him more. Lou took a few steps back towards the cushions, and after a slight hesitation O'Neill followed.

They eased him down and Sam reached for the nearby flask, holding it out. She waited until the colonel took it before opening the small jar she removed from her pocket, shaking two bright yellow tablets into her hand.

"Here." She held them out.

The colonel eyed them with obvious suspicion. "What are they?"

"Very mild pain killers."

"Where did you get them?"

"Steffen thought they might help." She hurried on before O'Neill had a chance to protest. "I know I said we shouldn't use their medicine, but your headaches don't seem to be getting any better. I tested them myself, sir, last night. As far as I can tell they have the same effect as ibuprofen."

She could tell as soon as she spoke that she was fighting a losing battle. O'Neill gave the stubborn frown she knew so well. "No way, Major. I can't believe you took them." The knuckles of the hand he had on the water container whitened and he grimaced, lifting his other hand to cradle his head.

"Sir?" Lou asked, leaning in.

"Don't feel..." The colonel gulped and his eyes shifted frantically, searching.

Sam realized what was about to happen and managed to jump up and grab a bowl from the table just in time to hold it as he vomited. Lou supported him as the colonel heaved, his face becoming even paler, beads of sweat forming in the short time it took to expel what little he had in his stomach.

When he had finished, she held the discarded water flask out to him and he gave her a grateful nod of thanks as he took a few deep swallows. When he had finished, she held his wrist lightly, feeling his pulse racing. He didn't protest as she urged him to lie back by giving him a gentle push, and his compliance had her worrying even more.

"Lou, please." Colonel O'Neill plainly wasn't prepared to let the subject of their allies drop. His eyes were unnaturally bright, pupils just pin pricks in the deep brown. But his voice, although hoarse, was clear. "Listen. Don't do it. There must be some other way to get through the gate. At least let Teal'c scout out the area."

Sam saw Lou's reaction to the almost pleading tone in O'Neill's voice. He paused for a minute, looking decidedly uncomfortable, before answering.

"You don't know what it's like out in the city, Jack. Teal'c wouldn't stand a chance of not being spotted, regardless of how careful he is. There are too many people on the streets - all white males. Even the local women and children seem to stay indoors unless accompanying their men. And before you suggest it, they don't wear anything with hats or hoods, so there isn't any way to disguise the color of his skin. He'd be caught almost as soon as he set a foot out of the grounds of this house. I only just managed to pass as a local because I was with Jaahn and Kelvin. As it was, I had some pretty suspicious looks sent my way." He shifted his weight on his heels as he crouched down. "I know you find it hard to trust Jaahn, but without any concrete reason not to, we'll have to go with his plan. It's our best chance of getting home. As it is, he risked his life to get us a GDO. If he had been caught everything would have been lost."

"I don't suppose he managed to 'liberate' my P-90?"

Lou gave a wry smile as he shook his head. "He said the obvious weapons have already been moved from the prison. We're lucky the GDOs weren't recognized for what they are and taken as well."

"Yeah - lucky."

Sam heard the resignation in the colonel's voice, his sarcastic words lacking the joking undertones they normally held. Lou must have picked up on O'Neill's despondency as well. He gave the colonel a quick pat on the shoulder, almost apologetically, and stood, gesturing to Sam with a nod of his head.

They moved away from the sick man, over to the far side of the room, Lou gesturing for Rutledge and Jones to keep watch at the door.

"We're going to have to move pretty quickly when the time comes and the colonel's not looking too good as it is." Ferretti cast another worried glance over to the still form on the cushions.

Sam nodded, seeing O'Neill's eyes were shut and he looked to be already asleep. "I know, Lou, but what choice do we have? We have to move him. If I'm right and he does have a skull fracture... " She didn't complete the sentence, knowing Lou was aware of the risks.

"It could all be academic anyway. Daniel isn't back yet."

Almost as if he had heard Ferretti's words, Daniel appeared in the doorway, looking flustered, but smiling slightly. He strode over to them, beginning to speak before they could ask any questions.

"I convinced Jaahn to carry on with the plan. It wasn't easy, but he finally agreed on the condition that Jack doesn't cause any more problems."

"And how are we going to stop him? We didn't bring the gag from the prison with us." Lou threw another frustrated look over at the sleeping man." He really doesn't trust them, and I have to say that it goes against the grain to ignore his suspicions. I've never known him to be wrong when it comes to things like this."

Sam frowned. "I know what you mean, but there's no evidence to support anything he says. You said it yourself - this is our best chance to get home. Cronus could return at any time, and you know how much he would love to capture us - especially Teal'c. We have to be gone before he gets back."

"So, it's agreed. We go with the escape plan as set for tomorrow night?"

Daniel and Sam both nodded.

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

The bustle around them was organized but tense. Teal'c felt totally isolated from it, sitting with Colonel O'Neill, waiting to leave their refuge. His commander was barely conscious, a state he had been in for the past day. He was sitting up, leaning against Teal'c's shoulder, staring with hooded eyes at the activity around them. Every so often he would move, shifting position slightly, giving a small grunt of discomfort as he did so. Teal'c knew he was still feeling the effects of his head injury, and he could feel the bones on his teammate's shoulder and upper arm sharp against his own biceps. What little weight O'Neill had regained in the first few days after their escape from the prison had slowly been eroded, leaving his clothes hanging loose on his gaunt frame.

Daniel Jackson entered the room, still in the process of pulling a long coat on over his grubby BDU's. They had each been given some clothes that hid their uniforms. Teal'c had put the too small jacket on already, knowing it did little to conceal either the color of his skin or his size. O'Neill was similarly dressed, with a blanket also wrapped around his shoulders. Despite the extra covering the other man was shivering in the cool night air.

"We're almost ready." Daniel Jackson held out one of the native hand weapons and Teal'c took it, slipping it into the waistband of his trousers, making sure it could be easily removed.

"Were more weapons provided?"

His enquiry was replied to with a shake of his teammate's head. "No, we still only have four. Lou, Sam and Colin have the others. Van, Bob and I have knives."

"You should take this one. I will be unable to use it while carrying Colonel O'Neill." Teal'c made to pull the weapon out but was stopped as the other man shook his head in protest.

"We agreed you should have it. I know it's not likely, but if anything should happen..." His eyes moved to the colonel. "You need to get Jack back home."

Teal'c nodded in understanding. For once he would not take his customary place in the forefront of the coming battle. His was the more important task - making sure O'Neill reached the safety of the SGC.

"Carter." O'Neill's low voice alerted Teal'c to the presence of the major. She crossed the short distance to their side, bending to speak to the colonel.

"Sir? You ready?"

"I don't suppose I can get you to change your mind?"

The woman offered only a slight smile in reply before turning, her worried eyes looking into his. "Remember, try not to jar him if at all possible."

Teal'c inclined his head slowly, acknowledging the major's words. "I shall ensure Colonel O'Neill is safe, Major Carter." He was not annoyed at her reminder, knowing how concerned she was about the effects of the coming journey on O'Neill's injuries.

"I know you will."

"Hey, still here you know. Not dead yet." O'Neill shifted again, pushing up. "I don't need to be carried. I can walk."

"You cannot. Nor will you." Teal'c had only to rest his hand on O'Neill's arm to stop his movements, and once again he was reminded just how frail the other man was. "I shall carry you and you will keep quiet and still, otherwise Major Carter will get annoyed."

O'Neill's eyes opened wider as he glared up at them. "At least give me some sort of weapon. I know I'm going to need it."

Teal'c exchanged a glance with the major before nodding. "Very well. I shall obtain a knife for you."

There was a muttered 'thanks' from the colonel, barely audible as Teal'c rose and strode over to where Steffen stood, checking a well-filled backpack.

Teal'c had found Steffen to be the most approachable of the local men, and despite their lack of common language, had developed something of a rapport with the medic. The care the man had exhibited towards Colonel O'Neill was seemingly at odds with his gruff appearance and massive size, and Teal'c couldn't help but compare others' reactions to his own solicitous nature when it came to dealing with his injured teammate.

Steffen nodded a greeting, looking up from his preparations. It only took a few gestures before he understood Teal'c request and produced a small, but sharp, dagger. He handed it to Teal'c with clear signs that he was to keep the fact Teal'c was giving it to the colonel a secret from Jaahn.

Teal'c returned to his waiting teammates, only to find O'Neill once again asleep.

"He tried to stay awake, but only lasted a couple of minutes. Are you going to give him that?" Major Carter indicted the knife with a slight wave of her hand, "He won't be able to use it."

"If he wakes before we leave I shall give it to O'Neill." Teal'c did not add that he was sure that if it was warranted, O'Neill would have no problem in finding a use for the weapon, regardless of his infirmity. He concealed the knife in one of large pockets of his jacket and once again settled down to wait beside his commander.

O'Neill showed no sign of waking, even when Teal'c lifted him into his arms and joined the others at the door. It was a moonless night and he struggled not to stumble as they made their way down the path to the gate of the property. Tree roots from the overgrown garden snagged his feet a couple of times, but he managed to stay upright, once only with the assistance of Lieutenant Nguyen's steadying hand.

Majors Carter and Ferretti were at the head of the small group, along with Jaahn. Eight other members of the resistance accompanied them, with Captain Jones and Lieutenant Rutledge flanked by Hans and Kelvin in the middle of the pack. Daniel Jackson, along with Steffen had taken rear positions behind him. The rest of the group were to rendezvous with them closer to the Chaapa'ai while the women and children stayed in hiding until the last minute. The hope was that a swift attack would overpower the guards, allowing the Chaapa'ai to be dialed and the non-combatants to be helped through before the alarm was raised. Teal'c was to be the first through the Gate, fulfilling the joint tasks of getting O'Neill medical help and warning of the impending visitors.

Although the distance to the Chaapa'ai was not long, Teal'c was soon feeling the effects of carrying a fully grown man awkwardly in his arms like a child. The option of a stretcher arrangement had been mooted, but Jaahn had vetoed it, insisting they needed to have as many men as possible ready to fight if need be. The darkness didn't help matters either, but when they reached a main road the journey became easier, the smooth surface no longer hiding any hazards he could trip over.

"T?" O'Neill's voice drifted up to him out of the darkness, and he paused, carefully repositioning the man. The movement was enough to elicit a small moan, and several of the nearby rebels turned to glare at them.

Teal'c lifted O'Neill slightly, bringing his head as close to his own mouth as possible, whispering in response. "You must be still. We are near the Stargate."

O'Neill's hand briefly gripped his arm and Teal'c took that as an acknowledgment of his warning. He relaxed a little, knowing the veteran warrior he carried would be aware of the need for stealth. The lieutenant at his side moved closer and he could see the concerned expression on his face despite the darkness. He gave the young man a reassuring nod.

Just at that moment the moon appeared from behind the dense concealing clouds, allowing Teal'c to take a better look at their surroundings. The Chaapa'ai was a lot closer than he expected, and he could feel the anticipation in the movements of the people around him. Daniel Jackson moved past him, pausing for a moment to meet his eyes in a look that spoke of their mutual pact to make sure O'Neill was brought to safety by their actions this night, before continuing to the front of the group. Daniel Jackson had the task of dialing the gate and sending their IDC through, using the GDO Jaahn had managed to obtain from their belongings still in storage at the prison.

They halted in the shadow of a stand of trees just beyond the last of the city's buildings and Teal'c gratefully set his burden down, kneeling beside O'Neill. The moonlight filtered through the leaves, giving the other man's face an ethereal quality, almost translucent in its paleness. His eyes were open, and he looked a little bewildered, staring around as if trying to make out where they were. Teal'c put a finger to his lips, and waited until he was sure O'Neill's wandering gaze had seen the Tau'ri gesture for silence, before standing.

Over to one side Teal'c caught a glimpse of more figures and assumed they were the rest of the rebels. He looking around, peering into the gloom, but was unable to see the women and children. Perhaps they were hiding in the shelter of the closest buildings, although it did mean a longer run to the Chaapa'ai than he would have expected.

An uneasy feeling ran up the Jaffa's spine. Something did not seem right, but just what he could not decide. He took a few steps into the trees, moving silently towards the nearest group of men. As he got closer, he recognized Hans and Kelvin in whispered conversation with some of their men. Unable to hear the words, Teal'c once again crept closer. Despite his straining to hear, their words remained inaudible, but he did see one thing that sent him hurrying back to where he had left O'Neill.

A flash of metal as Kelvin turned, his jacket moving from his side, and the glimpse of the unmistakable shape of a P-90.

**********

The whistled signal came much sooner than Daniel expected, and he hesitated for a moment before collecting himself and making a run for the Gate. His task was clear - dial and send the IDC through. All around him there were energy weapons firing and bodies falling. He knew Sam and Lou were with him, but where was Teal'c? He was meant to be the first one through.

Thoughts raced through his mind as he ran, reaching the DHD without a hitch. Sam and Lou took up positions on either side of him as he frantically dialed, tapping in the IDC code as the wormhole formed.

"Go! You must go through. The Jaffa is coming, but you need to tell your people to hold the Circle open." Jaahn urged him forward, practically pushing him into the vortex.

Lou turned for a moment, giving a quick nod. "Go on. We'll hold the Gate and send the women and children as soon as they arrive."

Daniel took one last quick look around at the confused scene, still unable to see either Teal'c or Jack, and stepped into the shimmering surface of the wormhole.

**********

"Where are the women and children?"

Sam shouted the question to Jaahn, looking out into the darkness from her position on the Stargate's platform. To her surprise his response was to lower his weapon and utter another piercing whistle.

All movement ceased and for a moment there was silence, broken by Ferretti's voice.

"What's going on?"

The smile that drifted across the face of the man in front of them was chilling. He raised his gun once more, taking a step forward and placing it hard up against the side of Sam's head. She felt the heat of the barrel scorching her hair.

Lou's weapon snapped up, pointing straight at the other man. "Put it down."

The barrel pressed harder into Sam's skull and she couldn't help a wince of discomfort.

"Your weapon is disabled, Major. Mine however is not." Sam couldn't see the smile on Jaahn's face anymore, but she could hear it in his triumphant words.

Sam spun as his grip loosened, only to be pulled short by an inhumanly strong tug on her arm. She found herself pressed up against Steffen's massive chest, his large hands positioned across her breasts. She struggled as the hands kneaded her viciously, Steffen's breath ghosting across the top of her head.

"This is very enjoyable, Major. Please continue to struggle. I like my women to have a little spirit."

Sam gasped as she realized Steffen was speaking perfect English.

"Shit. Jack was right." Lou spat out the words in disgust.

She could only groan as Jaahn laughed. "Yes, you should have listened to your colonel."

The little man gestured to one of his men and Sam was released from Steffen's grasp. Her relief was short lived however, as her hands were handcuffed tightly behind her. Beside her Lou was suffering the same fate. Jones and Rutledge were pushed forward from the mass of men standing at the foot of the Gate, Bob's face already discoloring where he had obviously taken a punch to the jaw. The only positive Sam saw was that there was no sign of O'Neill, Teal'c or Nguyen.

"Where are the others?" Jaahn's smile dissolved into a grimace of anger when Kelvin answered.

"We cannot find them. They must have escaped into the forest."

Sam sighed in relief. At least the colonel was safe for the moment.

Jaahn's next words had her heart sinking in her chest.

"No matter. Without the antidote to the drug Steffen has been administering to him O'Neill is dead anyway. The other two will be easy to recapture without his leadership. I will deal with them when we return." He turned his attention back to Sam and the others, once again smiling broadly. With a wide gesture, he motioned towards the still open wormhole.

"Come. We have a world to conquer for Lord Cronus."

**********

Daniel stepped from the vortex and onto the metal of the gateroom ramp.

"We need a medical team!" He shouted the words urgently up at the figure of General Hammond standing in the control room window.

"Where is the rest of your team, Doctor Jackson?"

"Following. Jack's hurt, and we need to keep the gate open." Daniel hurried to get as much information out as possible. "There are refugees on the way."

He spun on his heels, waiting impatiently for Jack and Teal'c's appearance behind him, barely aware of a firm hand on his shoulder until it shook him slightly. He turned back to find the frowning face of Hammond beside him.

"Please explain what's going on, Doctor. Why are you so many days overdue?"

Daniel nodded, still unable to keep his eyes from flicking back to the gate as he spoke. "We were imprisoned as soon as we arrived on the planet, but the local resistance rescued us. Their world is under the control of Cronus, so we offered them sanctuary here until we find them a suitable planet to relocate to."

"Just how many people are we talking about?"

"Only a little over one hundred, General. Mainly women and children. They're good people, sir. Without them Jack would be dead by now."

"You say the colonel is injured? How badly?"

Janet hurried up to them, reaching their side just as Daniel replied. "Sam thinks he has a skull fracture. Teal'c should have brought him through by now."

"A skull fracture? He shouldn't be moved." Janet's eyes also turned to the gate as if willing her patient to arrive.

"We didn't have a choice. Cronus knew we were on the planet."

Hammond nodded. "Very well. We can debrief properly later." He raised his voice. "Prepare to receive refugees."

The SF's relaxed slightly, although their weapons were still at the ready, while the medical team took its place at the foot of the ramp.

The slurp of the wormhole was a welcome sound for Daniel, but his expression shifted from one of anticipation to surprise as the first figures appeared. Jaahn led them, his weapon firmly pressed to Sam's head, with Steffen hard on his heels, his beefy arm locked around Lou's neck.

The SF's weapons snapped up as Jaahn paused at the top of the ramp.

Jaahn's voice was raised enough for everyone in the room to hear. "Put your weapons down. I don't really need to tell you the consequences if you don't, do I?"

The words were so unexpected that Daniel was unable to understand what he meant. "What's going on? Where's Jack?"

Several more figures walked through the gate, each carrying a weapon. Daniel gave General Hammond a quick glance and saw his eyes fixed on the edge of the large circle. He followed the direction of the general's gaze and gasped as he realized Lou's left side was still in the vortex, being held there by Steffen, He was shivering, his lips tinged blue by the cold.

"Release my people and you won't be harmed." The general's voice was firm, but Daniel could see the tell-tale signs of deep concern in his face. "I'm told you want to leave your planet. We will have no problem finding you a suitable world. There is no need for violence."

"Where is this place?" Jaahn ignored Hammond's words as he walked down the ramp. He was looking around, his face reddening with anger. "Where is your city?" He turned furious eyes back to Daniel and Hammond, Sam wincing as the weapon was pushed harder against her head. "I say again. Have your soldiers stand down. For every time I need to ask this, I will execute one of your men, beginning with Major Carter." He smiled coldly. "Major Ferretti will be last."

Hammond nodded. "Very well." He gestured to the SF's. "Stand down." He then raised his voice. "Colonel Dixon?"

"Sir? Colonel Dixon's voice came through the speakers.

"Lower the blast screen and seal the base. Inform the President and go to threat level foxtrot alpha six"

**********

Teal'c watched the activity around the Chaapa'ai, noting the number of guards, before returning to their hiding place.

So far they had managed to elude the searchers easily, especially after the rain began and the men hunting them showed even less enthusiasm for the task than they had before.

"Lieutenant Nguyen." He spoke the words softly, knowing they were sufficient warning for the young man of his return. Ducking his head, he squeezed his body through the narrow opening in the hillside and into the small space between the rocky outcrops. Once out of the rain, he shook himself, brushing as much of the water from his arms and legs as he could before going any further.

He peered into the gloom, just able to make out the two figures huddled against the back of the tiny cave.

"How is O'Neill?"

"He hasn't woken." Nguyen lightly touched the colonel's forehead as he spoke. "But his temperature seems to be down a little."

"That is good." Teal'c reached into a pocket, pulling out a container of water and two of the yellow colored fruits that reminded him somewhat of the Tau'ri's apples. "The guards at the gate are not vigilant. We should be able to make our escape within a few hours."

The young man gave a tentative nod. "That's good, sir, but where will we go? We can't gate straight home, not when we don't know what's happening there."

Teal'c nodded. "I am aware of that, and have another destination in mind - one where we will be able to receive assistance not just for O'Neill, but also against Jaahn."

"And where might that be?"

Hooded eyes starred up at him out of the darkness.

"If I told you the planet's designation, O'Neill, would it be of any use to you?"

"Might be. You'd be surprised what I know."

"P4G-625"

There was a gleam of teeth in the blackness. "Okay, I'll give you that one. Give me a clue."

"Indeed, Human."

"Oh for cryin' out loud!"

Teal'c allowed himself a wide grin, knowing it was hidden from his companions.

**********

Janet glanced anxiously towards Lou Ferretti. He had been pulled from the vortex only after all the men had arrived. He was leaning against the edge of the ramp, shivering constantly, the side of his uniform that had been in the wormhole covered in a thick layer of ice.

General Hammond was in fierce discussion with the man who was clearly in charge. Their words occasionally drifted over to where she was standing, still with her medical team and surrounded by the gateroom guards. Even without their weapons they were a reassuring barrier against the invaders.

Janet caught Sam's eye and gave her a small smile. Her friend was now being held in the grip of the massive man who had used Ferretti to ensure they didn't close the gate. The doctor's glance turned to his face and she was startled to find her eyes meet those of the man. He gave her a mocking grin and a half nod. Janet returned it with an angry glare.

The general had reluctantly given the order to his men to hand over their weapons and at least the SG teams no longer appeared to be in immediate danger.

The rest of SG-3, their hands cuffed, were corralled over in the far corner of the room, kneeling in a posture which reminded Janet frighteningly of hostages she had seen on television. Daniel had been pushed over to join them, and had made a remark that Janet didn't understand - something about the cuffs being familiar. The comment had earned him a backhanded blow across his face and a thin line of blood was even now dripping from his split lip. Every so often he raised his shoulder and turned his head to wipe the blood away, only managing to smear it across his mouth.

"Doctor Fraiser." Janet's attention was drawn towards Hammond as his voice carried across the room. "You may treat Major Ferretti. Take one of your staff with you and whatever supplies you need."

She didn't hesitate, grabbing a medical kit and gesturing to her head nurse to accompany her. She was about to go to the major when a hand stopped her as one of the men grabbed the kit, rifling through it and removing any sharp instruments before pushing it back into her arms. She didn't bother to protest, just started walking, Captain Milligan following hard on her heels. They wove their way between the groups of alien men, avoiding eye contact wherever possible. The crawling sensation Janet felt up her spine grew as she caught some of the muttering that was clearly aimed at them. Some words didn't need to be in a familiar language to be understood by a woman.

She didn't like these people, not one little bit.

Finally they reached Ferretti's side and each took an arm, guiding him down to rest awkwardly on his side on the cold floor.

Janet looked up at the leader, attempting to keep her tone unemotional. "I need you to uncuff his arms."

He answered quickly and emphatically. "No." Before she could protest he had already turned away, clearly dismissing her from his thoughts.

She glared at the man's back then looked at the man standing beside him holding Sam as a deep bodied laugh rose from him. Their eyes met once more and she shuddered at the contempt she saw in them.

Lou's shivering had increased. She quickly took his vitals, worried at how low his temperature was. He was bordering on hypothermia. Without removing the cuffs they couldn't take off his damp outer jacket, so they did the best they could. Janet wrapped a survival blanket around his chest while Captain Milligan took another and cocooned his head and neck in it.

Janet rolled Lou's left sleeve up, exposing the pale skin of his arms, and she gave a sigh of relief. She had been concerned the extreme cold had caused frostbite, but it looked like the thick outer coat, plus his uniform jacket, had been enough to prevent it. He was lucky - a few more minutes and frostbite would have been a certainty.

"How are you feeling, Major?"

"Damn cold." Lou raised his head a little, looking around as much as possible given his position on the floor. "Did Jack come through?"

"No, neither have Teal'c or Lieutenant Nguyen, and the gate's shut down."

Captain Milligan repositioned the blanket around Lou's head as his head slumped back to the floor.

"Hell." The word was softly spoken, but Janet heard the depth of feeling behind it.

"Daniel said he had a head injury?"

The major nodded. "Yes, but that's not all. Daniel didn't know - he had already come through when Jaahn told us." His voice rose as he spat out the next words. "Those bastards were giving the colonel some drug the whole time. He'll die unless he gets treatment."

"What!" Janet's voice rose to match Ferretti's. "How soon?"

"I've no idea. That's all he told us." Lou paused, thinking. "He did say there was an antidote."

The doctor stood, anger rushing through her and subduing her natural caution. "Stay with Major Ferretti." She ignored Lou's hurried protests and turned, moving rapidly through the crowd until she reached General Hammond's side.

The man they called Jaahn had clearly been aware of her progress across the room. Janet straightened as much as possible, pleased to see there wasn't much difference in their height.

"Where is Colonel O'Neill?"

She waited, her arms crossed over her chest, while Jaahn stared at her. Just when she thought he wasn't going to answer her, he spoke, his voice filled with malice.

"The colonel won't be joining us. He chose to remain on my world."

"He was injured and drugged. I doubt he chose to do anything."

"Drugged?"

Janet turned to the general. "Yes, sir. Major Ferretti just told me, and I want to know exactly where the colonel is, what he's been drugged with, and what effects it has." She spun back to Jaahn as she spoke, taking another step closer to him. The rebel leader involuntarily took a step back before standing firm, a frown replacing the smirk that had been the predominant expression on his face up until now.

"You are in no position to question me, Doctor." He gestured to another of his men. "Kelvin will escort you back to your place, or if you so chose, you may join the others." He indicated Jones, Rutledge and Daniel, kneeling in their uncomfortable position, their hands behind their backs. "The general will accompany you. Major Carter will remain here."

"And I will remind you, that you have limited supplies and no exit from this room except back the way you came." Hammond gave a pointed look at the heavy trinium strengthened iris. "And there is no way on God's Earth that barrier will be removed from the gate without authorization from my superiors. Threatening me or my men will not make any difference. It was out of my hands the moment I locked down the base."

"There is more than one way out of this room, General." Jaahn nodded towards the door. "I did not come here to turn around and run home with my tail between my legs. I wish to speak to these superiors of yours."

Janet watched as the general stiffened. "Our government does not negotiate with terrorists and I will not arrange a meeting while you hold my people hostage."

The other man nodded slowly, his eyes roaming the room, coming to a halt back on General Hammond.

"Very well. If you refuse to assist, you are of no use to me, and as you so rightly pointed out, our supplies are limited."

He raised his weapon and shot it pointblank at the general. The energy blast was loud in the confined space of the gateroom, its echoes reverberating for long seconds after he fired.

There was a collective gasp from the SGC personnel as their CO fell backwards, his limbs splayed haphazardly on the cement floor.

"One less month to feed." Jaahn grinned and turned to Sam. "Now, shall we begin again?"

**********

"So, we have two knives and a useless handgun?"

"That is correct."

Jack couldn't help rolling his eyes at Teal'c's calm reply. It wasn't like he'd really been asking about the weapons - he'd just been making a point. One Teal'c didn't seem to get, so he tried again, keeping his voice to a low whisper.

"Some of Cronus's Jaffa are still guarding the gate? Along with several locals?"

"Indeed. The gate is guarded."

"And we have two knives and a gun that is masquerading as a blunt weapon?"

"Yes."

Jack raised his left hand to cradle his throbbing head and continued whispering. "Work with me here, T. Take pity on a sick man. I know you have a plan."

His teammate nodded. "We shall wait until just before the change of guards, when their vigilance is at its lowest. You and I shall eliminate the ones nearest the gate, whilst Lieutenant Nguyen dials out."

Jack waited, but the Jaffa had clearly stopped speaking. He broke the silence. "That's it?"

"It is."

He caught the young lieutenant looking at him, but the man's gaze shifted almost immediately back to Teal'c. Jack looked down at the large knife he held. It was sharp and deadly in the correct hands, but he wasn't sure his hands were the right ones just now. He lifted it slightly, lowering it back to his lap as his hand trembled. He looked up again, once more catching Nguyen's gaze on him. The young man was frowning, but then he had reason to be worried.

"I'm not one hundred percent confident in your plan. There seems to be two large problems with it."

Teal'c paused in the act of folding the blanket that up until a few short minutes ago had been around Jack's shoulders. "What would they be, O'Neill?"

"The first is that we are up against Jaffa. They don't tend to lower their guard. And the other is that, and I'm being completely honest here, I don't know that I'm capable of taking out a fluffy bunny right now, let alone a Jaffa."

"I have no such concerns. When the time comes, you will fight as a warrior must."

Jack shut his eyes, leaning back against the rock. "Oh, well, that's all right then."

There was a further period of silence, punctuated by the quiet movements of the other two men and Jack's own harsh breaths. He tried to relax, and was succeeding, although he had to admit it was more akin to controlled unconsciousness. He jumped a little when Teal'c suddenly spoke again.

"There is a factor of which you are unaware."

Okay. He'd hoped as much, because it wasn't looking good otherwise.

"The guards are not Cronus's Jaffa."

Trying to work out what Teal'c meant was like pushing his brain up hill through molasses. His stomach was rebelling again, even without anything in it, and he really wasn't in the mood for twenty questions. Despite his attempt to seem calm, he feared his tone reflected his frustration. "Then whose Jaffa are they?"

"They are not Jaffa at all. I believe Cronus has not visited this planet for several years and is unaware of our presence here."

"What do you mean, sir?"

Jack was very glad for Nguyen's timely question, because he couldn't summon up the energy to ask it himself.

"I believe Jaahn was lying when he said Cronus was told of our presence. It appears to be a ruse to gain our trust and allow him and his men access to the SGC."

"It worked." Jack couldn't prevent the bitter comment.

"Indeed. You were the only one not taken in by the deception." Teal'c inclined his head in a half bow. "I apologize for not trusting you, O'Neill."

"Yeah, well, I wasn't exactly making complete sense there for most of the time, T. I doubt I would have believed me either."

Teal'c frowned. "That is perhaps why they drugged you. You said you remembered hearing them plotting. It may have been that knowledge they wished to discredit, whilst using your injury as an excuse to keep us from investigating the situation in the city too closely."

"Umm."

"O'Neill, you must stay alert. The hour fast approaches when we should leave for the gate."

Jack opened eyes he didn't know he'd closed. "Sorry." He reached out for the small container of water Teal'c had brought back with him, but a sudden wave of dizziness sent him reeling, his back pressed hard against the rock in an effort to keep from falling sideways.

"Here, sir."

The strangely squat bottle was pressed into his hand. He managed a few sips before giving it back. "Thanks, Van."

"You're welcome, sir."

"There is something more I must tell you before we leave."

Teal'c's voice was even more somber than usual, making Jack cautiously open his eyes. The Jaffa's face blurred and moved for a moment, but he concentrated on his friend's features, finding his vision sharpening after a minute or so.

"Why do I get the feeling I'm not going to like this?"

Teal'c nodded. "You are correct in your supposition, O'Neill, but I must explain what I have learned in case I fall in our battle for the gate."

"Not goin..."

Teal'c held up a hand. "Let me continue. We have little time. I overheard Jaahn speaking of this. You know you have been drugged. What you don't know is that the drug was also a poison and you will die unless you receive the antidote."

There was a sound from where Nguyen stood, a sudden inhale of breath.

Jack swallowed down the bile that suddenly rose in his throat. "How long?"

"I do not know, O'Neill. That was all I was able to ascertain before our enemy left for Earth."

"Then all the more reason to get back to the SGC and make the bastards give us the cure before we beat the crap out of them." Jack held an arm out. "Help me up, Lieutenant. Time's a wastin'"

**********

"Let me help him!"

Daniel was aware of Janet's shouted words, but most of his attention was fixed on General Hammond. The general hadn't moved since being shot and still lay where he had fallen, face up on the gateroom floor. There was a large stain on his light blue shirt where blood had oozed for the barely perceivable wound over his breastbone. Daniel couldn't tell if he was breathing or not.

Apart from the doctor, the rest of the SGC personnel seemed to have been stunned into silence.

"Let me go!" Daniel turned his head, watching as Janet squirmed and kicked at the two men holding her. Her foot connected with the ankle of the man to her left and he stepped back, wincing, before letting loose with a hard slap to her face. The doctor fell back, only held up by the hands of the men, her mouth open in a surprised gasp.

Daniel half rose to his feet, aware that Rutledge and Jones had also begun to stand, only to have weapons thrust into their faces. He sank to his knees again.

Jaahn moved forwarded, taking up a position in the center of the room, a few steps from Janet.

"The old man - your general." He spoke the words with contempt in his voice. "Is either dead, or will be soon. I am not a cruel man, but I am a realistic one. I know my words are being listened to by those outside this room. The injury from our energy weapon can be treated. Leave it too long, however and your general will most certainly die. I leave it to you to decide whether you will allow that to happen." He swung back to face Janet. "Put her with the others. If she protests, shoot her."

"At least let me see if he's alive or dead."

"What purpose would that serve? I will not allow you to treat him if he is alive, and if he is dead I will have to choose another of you to prove to your superiors that I mean what I say." He reached his hand out and cupped her chin, raising it so that she stared him in the eyes. "Perhaps you would like to choose the next person for me?" Janet's eyes shifted from his face and he dropped her chin and stepped back. "No? I thought not."

He gestured with his head towards the other medical staff and his men pulled the unresisting woman over to join them, throwing her, with unnecessary force, into their midst. Daniel muttered to himself as the doctor was helped up by Captain Milligan and one of the SF's, clearly shaken. Her left cheek was red where the slap had connected and she looked dazed.

"Ah..." Daniel raised his hand, waving it a little to get Jaahn's attention. "May I speak with you?"

"Daniel." Jaahn smiled. "Of course. We have always been able to talk together, have we not?" He walked over, but Daniel saw that he stopped a few feet short of his position, his men still between him and the cuffed members of the SG teams. "What is it?"

Daniel collected his thoughts, knowing he had to make the man listen to him. He kept his tone as even as possible. "You must see your position here is untenable. You don't have the full facts. Even if you got out of this room, we are hundreds of feet under a mountain. Rather than allowing you and your men to reach the surface our leaders would destroy this base. There is no way they would let an invading army onto the surface of our planet - a planet with billions of people and vastly superior weaponry than your own. I am sure, if you will let me, that I can persuade them to let you return to your own world before anyone else needs to be hurt."

"And you don't have the full facts, Daniel. Even if what you say is true, I don't need to reach the surface to conquer your world. You see, once I have the code to open the barrier across your gate, I will contact the Lord Cronus and he will lead his armies through the Circle. None will be able to withstand him."

"Cronus?"

"Did you truly believe I would forsake my god? Everyone on my planet is loyal to Lord Cronus. Many of our finest young men have become Jaffa in his service. It is the greatest honor one can achieve. I was deemed unworthy of the honor, but when I tell my god how he can defeat the Tau'ri, he will be pleased and reward me well."

"So, all this was just an elaborate plan to betray us to the Goa'uld?" Daniel wondered how he could have been so wrong about the man. Standing there, a fanatical gleam in his eyes, Jaahn looked nothing like the pleasant man he had begun to think of as a friend.

Jaahn nodded. "One that wouldn't have been necessary if O'Neill could have been made to talk back in the prison. He was weakened to the point of death, but refused to give us the answer to the one simple question we asked. The code. It is he you should blame for the situation you find yourself in now."

"Where is Jack?"

Jaahn didn't answer. He frowned and turned away, going to sit at the foot of the ramp.

Daniel sank back on his heels. The events of the past days played over and over in his head and he looked at them now with the full knowledge of what had been behind Jaahn's actions. Jack had been right all along. He had resisted questioning after being kept without food or water for days, questioning that had probably resulted in his head injury. The worst part was that Daniel hadn't believed him. After so many years of trusting his life to his friend, Daniel had so easily turned away. He should have known better and he only hoped he would have a chance to make it up to Jack.

He sighed, resigning himself to an uncomfortable few hours on the cold gateroom floor. The sight of Hammond's slumped body, still unmoving, reminded him just how much worse off he could be. He just hoped Jaahn would soon see how impossible his position was.

He thought about Jack and Teal'c. Captain Jones had explained that his teammates had managed to somehow elude Jaahn's men back on the planet, but his pleasure at the news was tempered with worry. Colin had also told him one other piece of news.

Jack had been poisoned.

But Jack and Teal'c were out there somewhere. There was still hope.

**********

Teal'c kept a close watch on his commander as they made their way to the Chaapa'ai. O'Neill seemed to have recovered his equilibrium somewhat, but it was still necessary to make frequent pauses as the walk clearly exhausted the man. Twice he had turned away and expelled the contents of his stomach at the side of the narrow trail.

Teal'c lifted a fist, pleased to see both his companions stop immediately. He pointed to the right, using hand movements to indicate the position of the enemy. O'Neill nodded, his pale face fixed in determined lines, and slipped sideways into the trees with his customary silence. Teal'c turned to Nguyen, again silently indicating his orders. The lieutenant held his gaze for a moment then turned to carry out his mission.

The guard Teal'c had targeted during his earlier reconnaissance was close to the tree line, standing with his back to the forest. Teal'c felt a flash of annoyance at the man's lapse, knowing it was to his advantage but feeling an almost personal affront nonetheless. It was the matter of a few moments to dispatch him and drag the body back into the cover of the foliage.

His part of the mission had been carried out much more swiftly than he had anticipated, giving him time to assist O'Neill.

Teal'c hurried through the trees, listening for any signs of struggle but hearing none. He was so intent on reaching the other guard's position that he almost stumbled over his teammate where he knelt in the undergrowth, a hand held tightly over his abdomen.

O'Neill looked up, the tenseness in his face relaxing slightly as Teal'c whispered a question.

"Are you injured, O'Neill?"

He shook his head, and muttering a single word of explanation, "Sick", managed to stand. Teal'c leaned down to help and O'Neill swayed in his grip, almost falling again before he steadied. The Jaffa felt a warm stickiness where his hand held the colonel's arm.

"You are bleeding."

O'Neill shook his head once again. "No...isn't mine...forgot to get out of the way."

Teal'c's gaze shifted to the body lying nearby. The dead guard was on his back, O'Neill's knife still lodged in his throat. He could see scuff marks in the soil where the body had been dragged out of the open and a wide trail of blood leading off into the darkness.

"Come. We must leave before they are missed." He stepped around the body, bearing much of O'Neill weight as the other man struggled to keep up. Teal'c felt O'Neill stiffen as the thud of the chevrons locking into place sounded loud in the stillness of the night.

They left the shelter of the trees and approached the Chaapa'ai. Lieutenant Nguyen beckoned them on, his head turning as he scanned their surroundings, holding the useless energy weapon in one hand whilst the other hovered over the center of the DHD.

"Now!" Teal'c shouted the command and saw Nguyen slap his hand on the red circle before running to take O'Neill's other arm, pulling it over his shoulder. Together they raced up the steps and, without hesitation, jumped into the shimmering event horizon.

**********

"It's a long time since I've done that." Colonel O'Neill spat, then wiped the back of his hand across his mouth. "Actually, I don't think I ever did that."

Van's thought went involuntarily back to his first trips through the stargate. He had been sick every time, to the point when he had thought he wouldn't be suited to gate travel. Fortunately his stomach had miraculously settled on the fifth journey, to his profound relief.

He helped the Colonel to stand, giving him a sympathetic smile of understanding.

"Help Colonel O'Neill to that shade, Lieutenant, and I shall seek help."

Van looked in the direction Teal'c had pointed, nodding as he spotted the tall tree and small mound of rocks. "Yes, sir. How long will you be?"

"I do not know, Lieutenant, but I hope to return in less than two hours." He handed Van the blanket he carried around his waist. "I shall be as quick as possible."

"Don't hurry on my account. Go visit. Sit a while."

Teal'c contented himself with a raised eyebrow in response to the Colonel's attempt at humor.

"Be vigilant." The order was delivered with a piercing look to Van. He nodded and watched as the Jaffa gave the Colonel's arm a quick squeeze before turning and moving off at a fast pace. He was headed for the low hills Van could see in the distance.

"Sir?" Van didn't quite know what to do next. He could hardly order the colonel to move, so he gave a little tug on his arm, hoping to start him off in the right direction. O'Neill looked around, frowning, as if he wasn't sure where he was, but he started walked. With Van's help he made it to the shade. Van propped him up against the tree, hoping he won't fall, while he cleared a patch of ground of rocks and spread the blanket over it. It didn't take much to get the other man to lie down - he virtually fell onto the blanket as soon as Van indicated he had finished.

Van tucked the blanket around the colonel as much as possible, seeing the way he was shivering. He didn't look good at all. Before long O'Neill's eyes were closed.

Van sat, his back against the tree trunk, the knife ready beside him. He had no idea where Teal'c had gone. To get help he had said. But where?

The sun rose higher in the sky, making the day far too warm for comfort, but the colonel was still shivering, his body twitching occasionally as he slept.

Van was almost drifting off to sleep himself when he saw the first sign of activity from the direction Teal'c in which had gone. It only took a few minutes for the shapes to sharpen into those of several men. Van rose as soon as he spotted them, staying as still as possible. Squinting his eyes against the glare he was relieved to make out Teal'c leading the group, another older man, dressed in distinctive Jaffa armor, beside him.

"What have you done this time, human?" Van tensed as the Jaffa knelt at the colonel's side, but relaxed a little when he saw the worried expression on the craggy face. "Can you never keep yourself out of trouble?"

"Sorry...I'll try harder...next time."

"See that you do." The Jaffa did not smile as he spoke. He placed a hand on the colonel's forehead, frowning as the man tried to move away, and addressed his next words to Teal'c. "Perhaps it would be best to leave O'Neill here. I do not think he will be of much help to us."

"You're not leaving me anywhere, old man. I'm fine."

Van stepped forward, taking the colonel's arm as he struggled to rise. "You shouldn't..." He had barely begun to speak before he felt O'Neill push against him and straighten.

"Thank you, Lieutenant."

Van decided it was prudent to keep the rest of his thoughts to himself, contenting himself with staying close, ready to catch stubborn superior officers when they fell on their butts.

"So, what's the plan? As I see it we need some other means of getting to Earth given the fact that the SGC is probably compromised. You got a spaceship handy?"

"We are too far from Earth to reach it by spacecraft within the available time, O'Neill. However, Master Bra'tac has a suggestion."

The old Jaffa nodded, indicating a low rock. "Sit with me, human, before you fall." He didn't wait for an answer, gathering his cloak around him and seating himself on the ground in an easy cross-legged pose that belied his age.

Colonel O'Neill shook his head, leaning heavily against the tree. "I'll stand. Go on...your suggestion." Van heard the fatigue returning to the other man's voice.

"We gate to a planet nearer Earth. I know of a ship we can use and it will take us no longer than a few hours to reach your planet. Once there, my men and I will recapture the SGC."

"Ah..." The colonel gave a small gesture with his left hand, his right pressed hard against the trunk. "Don't think so. My government might have some objection to that - space ships landing on Cheyenne Mountain, alien armies attacking a US military base...stuff like that."

A smile flickered across Teal'c's face. "I had already informed Master Bra'tac that you would not be happy with his plan."

Van was sure he heard a slight 'wuff' of indignation from the seated man, but outwardly there was no sign of his displeasure. "You have a better plan, O'Neill?"

Colonel O'Neill nodded. "Perhaps I do."

**********

"This was a crap plan."

"It is your plan, O'Neill."

"And your point is?"

"I will refrain from reminding you of my reservations as to the feasibility of this part of it."

"Good. Do refrain."

Jack clung to the thin metal rungs of the ladder with one hand, while trying to wipe the moisture off his other onto his trouser leg. Every muscle in his body was quivering with exhaustion and he decided that right this moment a self destruct countdown could begin and he still wouldn't have the energy to move.

"We are two-thirds of the way down."

Jack placed his hand back on the ladder, took a firm grip, and looked at the yawning chasm that stretched beneath his feet.

Whoooo! Head rush.

He felt himself being pressed back against the rungs, his cheek mushed into the hard metal, but didn't complain.

"Thanks, T."

"You are welcome, O'Neill." Teal'c hand remained on the small of his back - something he was thankful for as the wave of vertigo gradually receded. It was several minutes before he felt ready to start climbing again.

"Okay." He tried to give his voice an extra note of certainty, but felt it was sadly lacking, an assumption confirmed by his teammate's next words.

"You are sure, O'Neill?"

"Indeed."

Teal'c gave a small laugh. "Very well." The hand withdrew from his back and the Jaffa began his slow descent once more.

Jack let his mind wander, the process of climbing becoming quickly mechanical again, even after the break he'd just taken.

He was almost surprised everything had gone without a hitch so far and was waiting for the other shoe to drop - in the form of an earthquake perhaps, or some other joke on fate's part to stop the plan in its tracks. Hell, it didn't need an earthquake, the slightest jerk of the ladder would be enough to throw him off and down into the void below. He shivered at the thought and made extra sure of his next grip.

They had ringed onto the top of the mountain, their Jaffa pilot heading back into space to await their signal. Then they had begun the long descent down the access tube that ran parallel to the old missile silo through which the gate had been originally dropped. The sweat beading on his brow and rolling down into his eyes had Jack again questioning his decision not to contact Washington. He wiped the moisture off on his sleeve and kept going. There was no way of knowing what the situation was here on Earth. For all he knew the gate could have been compromised and Cronus could be already on the planet.

No - best to handle it themselves.

He took another step, his eyes now resolutely closed against the dizziness.

Yeap - no problem.

They could handle it.

**********

George Hammond noticed it first, and fixed his eyes on the puzzling sight. He had been conscious for some time now, and surprisingly pain free, although he knew that should perhaps be a concern rather than a blessing.

His memories of the events leading up to this moment were crystal clear. He had been shot point-blank with some sort of weapon and he appeared to be still where he fell, on his back in a corner of the gateroom. A quick look through his lashes had confirmed what he suspected - no one was aware he had woken, and he decided to keep it that way, given that he could barely twitch his little finger, let alone leap up and disarm the small army of men who had invaded his base.

So he was lying on his back, facing up, and in a perfect position to see the small hatch in the ceiling open and his 2IC and resident Jaffa abseil out and straight down into the midst of everything, where they were promptly surrounded by startled and very angry enemies.

He sure hoped there was more to the rescue than there appeared to be, because if there wasn't he was going to give Colonel O'Neill a firm talking to when this was all over.

**********

Jack smiled. Deliberately. "Hey there. Hope you don't mind us dropping in?" As he spoke he did a quick survey of the room, looking for signs that anyone other than SGC personnel or Jaahn's men were present. He gave an inward sign of relief at the notable absence of Jaffa. Then his eyes fixed on the crumpled figure of George Hammond, a dull dried red stain darkening his shirt front, and he forgot any attempt at light hearted banter.

"What's the situation, Major?"

"The base is locked down and the enemy is contained in this room, sir." Carter managed the quick response before Steffen clasp a large hand over her mouth, his fingers digging cruelly into her cheek.

"I see Daniel lied when he told me your world only had one Circle. I wonder in what other respects he has been less than truthful." The enemy leader, Jaahn pushed his way to the front of his men, their ranks parting easily to let him through. "The question now is, why would you give yourself up in this way?" He stopped in front of Jack, one hand on his hip, the other holding a weapon that was distressingly familiar - a standard issue Berretta. "Search them."

Jack stood as still as possible as he was roughly patted down by a man he recognized as Kelvin. Alongside him, Teal'c suffered the same attention from another man. Kelvin gave his commander a quick shake of his head when his search had no results and Jack caught the brief nod he got in return. The look on Kelvin's face gave his intention away, but even with the warning Jack could do nothing to prevent the sudden blow to his groin as Kelvin jerked his knee up sharply, dropping him where he stood.

"Crap!" For what seemed like the hundredth time in the last couple of days Jack emptied his stomach over the floor of the gateroom, rolling weakly to avoid the resulting mess. He didn't even have the luxury of cradling his injured body parts, groaning as his arms were grasped and he was pulled upright once more.

"Now, we shall begin." Jaahn smiled and gave another slight nod.

Jack tensed then tried to double over as Kelvin's fist buried itself in his stomach. His legs, already weakened by sickness and the long climb down from the surface, refused to hold him any longer and he sagged, his chin dropping to his chest.

"Why have you come here in this way?"

He wanted to answer. There was no secret about it, but he couldn't get the breath to form words. Another blow to his stomach had him gasping, unable to even summon up a moan.

He could hear Teal'c's shouts as if through water as his head filled with pain. The words were muffled and indistinct, but he could guess their intention. Now, if only they'd listen to him and stop for a second, they would get the answers they wanted.

This part of the plan was going down hill fast.

His head exploded.

**********

"Give him time to answer!" Daniel shouted, struggling fruitlessly against his bounds as he surged to his feet. "He can't answer!"

His words seemed to do what Teal'c's had not. Jaahn looked over to him, his lips curved in a triumphant smirk. His answer was chillingly clear even over the sound of the blows.

"But you see, Daniel, I don't care. I don't actually need him to answer. Your colonel is dead anyway. All Kelvin is doing is hastening his departure. Of course, if the Jaffa decides to give me the information I require I will allow O'Neill the dignity of a few relatively pain free hours." He paused for a moment, twisting his head to give Teal'c a stare. "You will cooperate?"

Daniel fully expected his teammate to refuse and was taken completely by surprise by his nod of acceptance.

"I will."

"You will explain how you escaped my planet? And how you came here? And why?" Each question was punctuated by the sound of a hard fist connecting with Jack's soft flesh.

"I will."

"Very well." Jaahn nodded once more to Kelvin and the big man took one final, devastating swing, this time connecting squarely with Jack's head. Blood peppered his clothes as he was released, falling unconscious to the floor with a thump.

"Bastard!"

Jaahn swung back to him, frowning. "Why? He is no longer in pain. I don't see the problem."

"You didn't need to do that."

The smirk was back. "No, true. But it was very pleasurable."

Daniel leaned forward, trying to see his friend but finding his view blocked by several of Jaahn's men. "At least let Doctor Frasier help him."

"I wouldn't let the good doctor help your general, why would you think I would let her treat the colonel? O'Neill is much more of a nuisance to me. The quicker he dies the better." He turned his back, facing Teal'c again. "But I've been distracted. Please, explain."

Teal'c's voice was unemotional, as if he was giving a report. "We came to offer you a trade. You cannot leave this mountain. You are trapped here and soon will run out of water, am I not correct?"

Jaahn merely nodded. "Go on."

"If you agree to take Colonel O'Neill and myself as hostages, we will order the iris opened. You and your men can return to your own world."

"And why would I want to do that?"

"Cronus will reward you well for our capture. You cannot take this world, and he is uninterested in the other Tau'ri. It is O'Neill and myself that he wants."

Jaahn's eyes narrowed. "You know this, how?"

"We contacted him before coming here and presented him with this proposal. He was very interested to hear you hadn't informed him of our presence on your planet and had allowed us to escape once already."

Daniel saw Jaahn's face go visibly pale. A soft mutter of conversation rose from his men as they listened as Teal'c continued.

"Rather than die here, I suggest you take our offer. Cronus's Jaffa are already on your world awaiting our arrival. In case of treachery on your part we have left our companion, Lieutenant Nguyen, concealed near your gate with orders to shut it immediately with a remote device should anyone other than your men and the colonel and myself exit it."

Daniel kept his face impassive, trying to fathom Teal'c intentions.

"What would Lord Cronus want with a dead man?" Jaahn gestured to Jack and Daniel couldn't help a gasp at his words. Was Jack already dead?

"He has a sarcophagus on his ship, does he not?"

Jaahn nodded slowly. He was about to speak again when Steffen shoved Sam to one side as if discarding a piece of rubbish, and walked up to him. Daniel couldn't understand what was being said, but it was obvious from the tone and the faces of the men standing around the room, that it wasn't complementary. Daniel felt a measure of satisfaction at the clear indication of mutiny in the ranks. What had been intended as a fast strike had turned into a siege with no prospect of victory and Jaahn's men had clearly had enough.

At least if they took Teal'c's offer, something could be gained from the debacle.

God, what was he thinking? If Jaahn agreed, Jack and Teal'c would be placing themselves in the hands of a Goa'uld with a more than normal interest in them.

**********

Jack blinked away the wetness covering his eyes in red spots and found his eyes locked on those of his commanding officer. Hammond was lying with his head turned a little to the side and Jack clung to the image like a lifeline tethering him to consciousness.

He was going to see the end of this.

He was...

But he could feel his grip on the lifeline slipping as agony flared into life in the back of his skull. It seemed it was a race to see which one killed him first, the poison or the now obviously serious head injury.

A motion caught his attention and his gaze shifted to the general's hand, raised slightly as if in salute.

Jack did the only thing he could - he blinked in acknowledgement.

Then he bit back a scream, as he was lifted, feeling the metallic taste of blood in his mouth as his tongue caught between his clenched teeth.

Bitter cold hit the back of his head and he shivered violently, his body convulsing as he was carried into the wormhole.

**********

Teal'c held back the fierce anger he felt at his commander's treatment and kept himself as passive as possible. The grip on his arm was strong, but while Steffen may be a match for him in strength, there was no way he could match Teal'c's over one hundred years of training. If they touched O'Neill again, he was ready.

His head was already turning as he stepped from the Chaapa'ai. The blue liquid-like ripple tossed out a few more men before the one he was looking for appeared. O'Neill was limp between Kelvin and Hans, but he wasn't unconscious. He was shaking and pale, but he was aware.

Teal'c concealed a grim smile, one made harder to hide as the men approached his position.

Kelvin's tunic was covered in frozen vomit, pieces dropping off as he walked. His face was twisted in an expression of disgust - an expression that worsened as Steffen caught sight of him and began laughing loudly.

"The bastard puked on me." Kelvin dropped O'Neill's arm, leaving Hans to take his weight, and started brushing off the offending matter. He wiped his hand down the length of his chest then stopped and stared in distaste at the now melting substance dripping from it. "Shit!"

"No, but I could . . . arrange that . . . if you come . . . closer." O'Neill raised his head and grinned, his gaunt features managing to look surprisingly menacing despite the circumstances.

Kelvin took a step closer and Teal'c tensed, ready to take action. "You. .. ." The big man's hand clenched into a fist.

"Kree!"

Kelvin froze in position, his hand still raised, but his face showing obvious fear. Teal'c watched as a Jaffa warrior strode towards the small group, several other warriors following him closely. The small figure of Jaahn could just be seen in their midst, dwarfed by the tall men in their imposing armor.

"Bring him." The leader waved an imperious hand towards Teal'c's position. Steffen grunted an acknowledgement despite the fact the Jaffa had immediately turned away, and led his captive over to O'Neill's position at the foot of the steps leading up to the Chaapa'ai. Teal'c took a moment to survey his commander. The man was shivering even more, his limbs twitching. His head was hanging once again and there was no sign he was aware of his surroundings at all. As Teal'c watched O'Neill slumped even more. Hans grimaced and Teal'c saw the enemy's grip tighten on O'Neill's arm as if he was afraid the colonel would slip from his grasp.

The Jaffa leader climbed the steps and stood looking down at the crowd of men. Jaahn attempted to follow him, but was prevented from doing so by the stern faced warriors between himself and their master. The Jaffa raised his voice only slightly, but it was enough to carry his words to everyone listening.

"Hear me. I bring greetings from our Lord, Cronus. He gives thanks for your service in his honor. Many of you will join the ranks of his trusted Jaffa after this day." A murmur rose from the crowd and Teal'c saw the expression on the faces near him change from fear to joy. "He orders you to return to your homes, rest and replenish yourselves. Return here at this same hour tomorrow to welcome your Lord's arrival on his world." He waved his hands and his voice rose a little, causing the crowd to fall silent again. "Be assured that your leaders will be properly rewarded for their actions. Now - go." He descended the stone steps, his cloak swirling around his heels.

Jaahn's men had already begun to disperse before he reached the ground, leaving only the upper echelons of his group standing with the Jaffa troops.

The Jaffa came to a halt in front of the colonel.

"So, this is the great Tau'ri warrior, O'Neill." He put out a hand and took hold of O'Neill's chin, raising it to look into his eyes - eyes that were now open and staring back in defiance. "He does not look worth the effort, but I do not question My Lord's will." His tone stayed unemotional, but the intent was clear. "You will be a welcome guest. One My Lord Cronus will take pleasure in entertaining."

*********

Janet Fraiser was at General Hammond's side the minute the wormhole shut down behind the last of Jaahn's men, Captain Milligan at her heels.

"I need a medical team here - Now!" She knew the activity in the gateroom would have been closely monitored, but there was no time to waste waiting for whoever was in charge out there to decide the threat was over - she needed help and she needed it immediately.

The General was awake, his eyes bright and focused, but he was yet to speak.

Janet had no idea what the effects of the alien energy weapon were - all she could do was carry out standard emergency first aid until she could get him to the infirmary and run some tests. "Sir, can you hear me?" She was pulling his shirt aside as she spoke, exposing the small wound in the upper right of his chest.

"O'Neill?"

She paused in her examination and glanced down, meeting Hammond's gaze. "The colonel and Teal'c were taken through the wormhole, sir."

"Alive?"

She nodded and took his hand gently in hers. "Yes." She carried straight on, unwilling to let her own thoughts stray to the fate of her two friends. "How are you feeling?"

Hammond frowned, his hand clenching slightly in her grip. "Numb. I can't feel anything properly except for my left arm. Haven't been able to since I woke up and it's not getting any better.

Janet was spared the need to answer by the arrival of a gurney, pushed by her own staff. She took a moment to scan the room as the general was lifted carefully onto it. Major Ferretti was installed on a similar gurney, his still blanket wrapped form already moving towards the exit. Sam was issuing commands in crisp tones, restoring order to the chaos.

"Janet, how is he?" Daniel hurried towards her, rubbing his wrists, the worry almost visibly radiating from him.

She shook her head, turning back to her patient. "Ask me later, Daniel. I don't know."

Hammond's eyes meet hers once again. For a second they held a flicker of fear.

"Jack."

And she realized she had been wrong in her assumption. It wasn't his own fate Hammond was concerned about.

It was the fate of his men.

**********

Jack moaned, the sound escalating into a shrill scream as pain engulfed him once more sending him trashing in his captor's arms. He grabbed at the man's shirt, taking fistfuls of fabric as he fought the muscle spasms. All dignity deserted him as he buried his face in the sweaty material, ignoring Han's attempt to push him off, blood dripping from his mouth.

His stomach cramped again and his world narrowed down as he concentrated all his energy on the most basic of needs - staying alive.

**********

At least he would have the pleasure of seeing O'Neill die. The sight of the Tau'ri leader whimpering and crying into Han's chest was some small recompense for what Jaahn knew was to come. The Jaffa had made it clear Lord Cronus was displeased with him and that any small hopes he may have held for his own reward were nothing but the dreams of a fool. Steffen had forced him to this - his own friend, his partner in all things, the man he thought would follow him anywhere - had spoken no words of love in his ear back in the strange featureless room that was all they had seen of the Tau'ri's world. Instead, the words had been viciously spoken orders.

All Jaahn had left now was the knowledge the colonel and his tame Jaffa would meet their doom at the hands of his God. And that for O'Neill, the path leading to that doom would be paved with the broken glass of agony.

O'Neill screamed, his dying muffled by rough cloth, and Jaahn smiled.

**********

"This poison - it can be neutralized, can it not?"

Steffen nodded, reluctantly turning his attention away from the arousing sounds of his enemy's death.

"Then do so. Lord Cronus wishes to take his own revenge on this human."

"But he can revive him in his sarcophagus," Jaahn protested, his face flushed.

The Jaffa commander raised an eyebrow at the comment. "Lord Cronus does not arrive until tomorrow and even the sarcophagus cannot revive someone after such a length of time. Administer the antidote now!" His last words were snapped out and Steffen leaped to do his bidding.

He pulled a small vial of blue liquid from his tunic pocket and approached the colonel, roughly grabbing his face and twisting it to pour the fluid into his mouth. The man was in no condition to argue and merely swallowed convulsively before doubling over. The sudden pull made Hans release his grip and O'Neill slumped in a heap to the ground.

"Lord Cronus would be most upset if he died." The Jaffa's words were softly spoken but Steffen could hear a hint of concern in them. If an experienced warrior so high in Cronus's service was worried. . .

Steffen started and shouted out an order. "Get him up! He needs to stay conscious and moving to get the antidote working as quickly as possible." He neglected to mention that he thought the poison had done its work too well and that their efforts were fruitless.

To Steffen's surprise it was Jaahn that jumped to do his biding, pulling O'Neill up and putting his arm over his shoulder.

But it wasn't to help.

Steffen recognised the light in his partner's eyes and cried out a warning - one that was much too late to do any good.

**********

If O'Neill had just given him what he wanted in the first place - just answered his questions - he would have been sitting victoriously at the feet of his God. But now he would never be rewarded for his actions. It had all been for nothing. His God was angry and when a god is angry with you it meant an eternity of punishment.

He may be disgraced. He may be defeated. But he would be sure that there was no way his enemy could survive to laugh at him.

Jaahn twisted, his hands going out to grip each side of O'Neill's head. A quick snap and it would be over - much too quick for anyone to prevent. He may be seen as physically small and weak, but he knew how to kill.

Heat burnt in his abdomen, searing upwards and he looked down, his hands dropping. The handle of Han's knife, held by the colonel's gore covered fist, protruded from his stomach, ripping upwards as he fell.

The last thing Jaahn saw were O'Neill's eyes. Triumph shone out of them as the two men slowly sank to the ground together.

**********

"Take them!"

Teal'c leaped forward, ignoring the commotion around him as the Jaffa jumped to restrain Jaahn's remaining men. His attention was focused on the two figures lying on the ground.

"O'Neill."

There was no answer.

It was almost as if the two men were embracing, they lay so close together. Teal'c knelt and took his commander's arm, gently turning him onto his back. As he did so, O'Neill's hand slid from its grip on the bloody knife and Jaahn's body, turning with him, flopped back down.

"No!"

The shout was loud and anguished and had barely registered on Teal'c's consciousness before it was cut off. He twisted, moving quickly into a defensive position in time to see Steffen fall to a staff weapon blast.

"Well done, young one." Master Bra'tac gave Lieutenant Nguyen a firm pat on his back, rocking the man where he stood, the staff weapon still held open and ready for a second, unneeded, shot.

The Lieutenant smiled grimly, his face a little pale as he looked down at his handiwork.

Teal'c turned back to the colonel.

"How is he, sir?" Nguyen asked, kneeling beside him. "He got the antidote, didn't he? I couldn't see properly from where I was."

"He did, Lieutenant. It remains to be seen how effective it is." Teal'c held his fingers lightly on O'Neill's neck, feeling the rapid fluttering of his pulse. "We shall return to the SGC immediately. Dial the gate."

"Use my signal code, human. Yours will be no longer valid." Nguyen nodded acknowledgement of Master Bra'tac's order and began entering the symbols into the DHD.

"Hey." To Teal'c's surprise O'Neill was awake, his eyes now open, but dull. "Did good?"

"Indeed you did."

"Didn't . . . scare you?"

"Scare me, O'Neill?" Teal'c frowned, trying to comprehend his teammate's words.

"Act. . . scream. . .got his knife. Just an act."

"Ah." Teal'c exchanged a look of understanding with the hovering Lieutenant. "It was an excellent act." But the colonel wasn't listening.

Taking a firm grip on the now unconscious man, Teal'c began lifting him, only to find the burden lightened by the assistance of two of his fellow Jaffa.

"Take care of him, Teal'c. We will deal with what needs to be done here." Bra'tac smiled grimly at the prisoners and Teal'c was left with no doubt that the cleanup could be left safely in the warrior's hands.

He bowed his head slightly in respect.

"My thanks, Master Bra'tac, to you and your men. I am in your debt."

He received a nod in response. "As we have been in yours. Friend's should help each other, should they not? And brothers, more so?" Bra'tac turned his attention to the man in Teal'c's arms, his expression showing his concern. He glanced over to the Chaapa'ai as the distinctive sound of the wormhole establishing reached them. "Contact me when you have word."

"I shall. Again, my thanks." And Teal'c stepped into shimmering blue.

**********

The cold woke him this time and his eyes were open when they exited the gate. Not that he could really look around, or quite understood what he was seeing, but it was enough to know he was home.

Now, if only he could muster up the energy to stay awake.

He shut his eyes and surrendered to the dreams.

***********

At first the words were fleeting, racing past before he could latch on to them.

"no. . . sir. . .dammit. . .don't."

". . . critical . . ."

"God, Jack. . .so sorry. . ."

At times he thought he almost caught them.

"You have to stay still, colonel. Please. The doctor is coming."

But they dropped away again.

He needed to escape, but no one believed him. No one knew he was there to rescue.

"We are with. . .won't leave. . ."

But he didn't believe them. Why should he?

**********

"I know you won't believe me, but he is on the mend." Janet Fraiser gave the three worried members of SG-1 a reassuring smile.

Sam craned her neck to look over the doctor's shoulder and into the room where Colonel O'Neill lay. "Can we see him?"

Janet shook her head. "Maybe tomorrow, okay?"

"You'll call us if there's any change?"

"Of course." Janet gave Daniel a small push. "Now go get out of here before I find a bed for you as well." She stared up at Teal'c. "And I mean all of you."

Sam lead the way down the corridor, heading without conscious thought to Daniel's office - the place where they were least likely to be disturbed. It wasn't until she was seated on the rather uncomfortable spare chair across the desk from Daniel that the silence was broken, surprisingly by Teal'c.

"O'Neill is not himself. He is confused."

Daniel looked down at his hands, rubbing his knuckles. "He almost died. Of course he's confused."

"He had a skull fracture." Sam shuddered to think how easily the injury could have been made worse at any time while they were on the planet.

"Janet said it wasn't too bad," Daniel frowned as he paused. "Although how a skull fracture can be something to not worry about is beyond me."

"Compared to the poison. . . "

"Yes, I know, Sam."

They lapsed into silence once more, each lost in their own memories of how close they had come to losing their friend.

Sam had made her own attempt to apologise for her actions on the planet and knew that Daniel had done the same, but she doubted the colonel had even been aware of their visits, let alone their stumbling words. That had been before, when they thought he could die at any time. It had been selfish - she knew that. An effort to appease their own guilty consciences while they had the chance.

Then he had rallied. And it looked like they would get the chance to say the words again, and that this time he would understand.

But it hadn't worked the way that they'd wanted. The poison had been left too long untreated to let him off that easily. Janet had said he was experiencing something similar to withdrawal symptoms and that they should not listen to what he was saying.

But that was just it.

They hadn't listened before and this time they had to. They couldn't help it. They had listened as he asked them to help him and begged them to believe him.

They did believe him.

They were sorry.

But this time it was the colonel who wasn't listening.

**********

"Colonel, you awake?"

Jack wrenched one eye open, blinking against the bright light of the infirmary. "No, you idiot."

"Sounds like you are."

"Sharp as a bowling ball."

Van Nguyen smiled at the indignant expression on his CO's face, but had already schooled his features into an impassive expression by the time Major Ferretti glanced over at him. His time spent with Teal'c had clearly taught him some very valuable lessons. Jack couldn't help the small upward twitch of his lips at the thought.

"Well, now you've woken me up, what do you want?" He shifted uneasily in the bed, feeling the muscles in his leg beginning to spasm - a sensation he had become all too familiar with over the last week or so. Next it would be the stomach cramps and the thought of anyone other than the nursing staff being a witness to the results of those made him snap out the next words before he could stop himself. "No, don't bother telling me. I'm not interested."

"Jack. . . "

"That's colonel, Major. Something you seemed to have forgotten lately." Oh god, he was really losing it this time. He just wanted them out of here. "Go away."

"Sorry, sir. We'll come back another time."

As soon as the door shut behind them, he was pressing the call button, knowing it was already too late. He curled up in the bed as the pain hit.

**********

Teal'c waited while the nurses tended to O'Neill. It was some time before they left, carrying soiled linen and covered basins. Captain Milligan gave him a tentative smile and nod of encouragement.

"You can go in, but don't stay too long. I've just given him a sedative, plus he's not in the best of moods."

He nodded and pushed the door open, making sure it was shut behind him before crossing the room to approach the bed. Its occupant was on his side, facing away, but he turned as Teal'c came close. The scowl on his face cleared.

"T."

"O'Neill." Instead of pulling out a chair and sitting, Teal'c remained standing, his hands clasped behind his back. "I was speaking with Lieutenant Nguyen. He tells me he attempted to visit you earlier, but you ordered him from the room."

The colonel frowned, sitting up a little and reaching for the glass of water on the bedside cabinet. "For heaven's sake, I just wanted a little privacy. Does everything I do have to be analysed? Tell Van to get his ass back in here. I'd be happy to have him visit."

"And Major Ferretti?"

O'Neill began to speak, but only managed a wide yawn instead. He put the half-drunk water back on the cabinet. It was a few seconds before he continued. "What about Lou?"

"Would he be welcome also?"

"Why wouldn't he be?" The colonel yawned again, his eyes closing. Teal'c could see he was barely awake.

Teal'c gave a slight shake of his head. "Do not concern yourself, O'Neill. I shall convey your invitation to Lieutenant Nguyen and the major."

"Tell Ferretti to bring pizza." The words were barely audible.

"I do not believe Doctor Fraiser will allow pizza." He waited, but got no response from the other man. He leaned down and untwisted the IV tubing, tucking the sheets more securely around his friend. "Sleep well, O'Neill."

**********

Jack woke to the sound of someone opening the door, accompanied by loud clattering in the corridor.

"Sorry, sir, I'm afraid you've lost your private room." Doctor Fraiser bent to hook the door open, ignoring Jack completely.

"What the hell, doc?" Jack took his wristwatch from the cabinet and peered at it, trying to get his eyes to focus. "It's the middle of the night."

"SGs eight and twelve ran into some trouble. I need all the space I can get."

"Trouble? What sort of trouble? Is anyone seriously hurt?"

Janet threw him an exasperated look. "I don't want you to worry, Colonel. There's nothing too bad, mainly just some broken bones and a concussion. Sergeant Nicol is the most serious - he's in surgery at the moment." Her explanation was interrupted by the appearance of an infirmary bed being wheeled in by two airmen. Janet immediately turned to her other patient. "We'll get you settled in no time, sir. I'm sorry we had to do this, but it was a lot easier to move you than the colonel." She gestured at the various tubes tethering Jack to the bed.

"That's all right, doctor. I understand. Colonel O'Neill and I can keep each other company. We'll be fine."

Janet smiled. "I'm sure you will, General." She waited until the bed was properly positioned alongside Jack's. "Now, try to get back to sleep."

"Keep me informed, doctor."

"Of course, sir"

She switched the light out and closed the door behind her.

Jack could just see Hammond's face in the dim gleam of the night light. "Well, son, I hope you don't snore."

"I'll try not to, sir." Jack could feel the tug of sleep as he spoke, and settled back into the pillows. He just managed a mumbled 'Night," before he drifted away.

**********

"I have something I want explained, Colonel."

Jack was surprised by how much authority the general could convey even while lying flat on his back in bed. He tried to sit up straighter, but today wasn't one of his good days. He grimaced as another headache took hold.

"Sir?" He thought he managed a fairly creditable tone of normality, but the look in his CO's eyes told him otherwise.

"Bad? Headache, or something else? Doctor Fraiser told me about your other symptoms."

Jack squirmed a little in embarrassment. That wasn't a topic he wanted to discuss with Hammond - or anyone else for that matter. "It's just a headache, sir. What were you saying?"

"It can wait."

"No," Jack said firmly. "I'd rather talk if that's okay with you, sir. It'll take my mind off things." He meant every word. Just thinking about it had his stomach churning. He swallowed hard. "That's assuming you weren't going to put me on report or something, General."

"It did cross my mind." Jack sobered quickly at Hammond's words, but relaxed again when the general smiled. "I thought I was hallucinating when you fell out of the ceiling. What were you thinking?"

"Ah . . . well, there was a method to our madness, sir." He grinned proudly. "We had a Plan." He emphasised the word, giving it the capital letter it deserved. "It was the only way we could think off to get them out of the base and get me the antidote. Unfortunately Jaahn didn't react exactly the way we had hoped, but it all turned out okay in the end."

Hammond gestured to the equipment, tubing, and other paraphernalia surrounding his second-in-command's bed. "You have a strange definition of 'okay', Jack."

The colonel smiled ruefully. "Could have been worse."

"Yes, I suppose it could have. Things are almost back to normal. I should be back on my feet in a few days now the paralysis is wearing off. The scientists over at Area 51 are itching to get their hands on one of those weapons."

"I can imagine."

"And now Major Ferretti is cleared for light duties he has taken a lot of the load from Colonel Dixon while we are both out of commission."

Jack was quiet for a few minutes, thinking back over the events of the past few days. Ferretti had visited him, but it couldn't have been at a worse time and Jack knew he'd been less than friendly towards the other officer. He shook his head in confusion.

"I didn't know the major had been injured, sir."

Hammond nodded, moving on his bed, his face contorting briefly as he struggled to shift his uncooperative body. "The enemy used him as a doorstop. He was made to stand at the gate, keeping it open while Jaahn's men came through. He was lucky to escape with mild frostbite."

"Why didn't anyone tell me?" Jack felt annoyance tinged with a touch of guilt at Hammond's explanation.

"Exactly how much do you remember since Jaahn's death, son?"

"Not a lot, to be honest."

Hammond nodded sympathetically. "That's understandable. We thought you weren't going to make it for a while there. Even Master Bra'tac was worried."

Vague memories of the old Jaffa's wrinkled face flashed through Jack. "He was here."

"Yes. He wanted to make sure you were alive. Said he doubted you would be and that he expected to be asked to the funeral."

"Sounds like Bra'tac." Jack laughed. "Bet he was disappointed to find me still alive and kicking."

"No, not disappointed - far from it."

The general's sombre tone had Jack frowning.

"We were all worried, Jack. Still are."

"You don't need. . . " Jack's words came to an abrupt halt as what he had been dreading since General Hammond had been installed as his roommate happened. He folded himself over, hugging his knees, and willing the pains to leave. "Go away. Go away." He wasn't aware he had spoken the words aloud until he heard the general.

"I'm not going anywhere, son."

**********

Janet rung the cloth out and applied it to the colonel's forehead again, wiping it gently. He moaned and moved into her touch. She stilled and wasn't surprised when his eyelids opened and a pair of blurry brown eyes stared up at her.

"Doc?"

"Hey, sir." She continued to hold the cool cloth on his head, feeling the heat radiating from his skin. "You've got a slight temperature. Nothing to worry about normally, but you're still very weak so you're probably feeling pretty sick at the moment."

"Um."

Janet took that as agreement. She put the cloth back in the basin.

"Crap." The colonel had lifted his head and was staring down at his naked torso. "I did it again, didn't I."

Janet kept her tone matter-a-fact. "If you mean you had a bout of vomiting and diarrhea - yes. I've changed your medication so hopefully it won't happen again, but we're dealing with an alien drug here so I'm working in the dark at the moment."

He turned his head, looking towards the general's empty bed. "Was . . . ?" His voice petered out and he turned back to her, looking almost afraid to speak the question.

Janet knew what he was asking. "General Hammond was here. And he'll be back in a short while - he's down at physiotherapy." For the first time in the years she had known him Colonel O'Neill was flushed with embarrassment. She gave an annoyed sigh. "You are suffering from withdrawal from an alien drug that almost killed you You're physically weak and you barely know where you are half the time - a state I gather was the norm for you rather than the exception while you were offworld and has only improved marginally since you got home." She halted at O'Neill's look of astonishment. At least he wasn't looking embarrassed - more like stunned. She took a breath and hurried on before she lost courage. "Why do you think everyone is treading on eggshells around you? They're feeling guilty, sir - guilty, and the fact you don't want to see them is only making them convinced you hold them to blame."

"That's not why I don't want them here." He gestured down at himself. "I don't want them to see me like this. It's bad enough that you and the nurses have to. I know you'll say it's your job, but that doesn't make it any easier." He frowned in puzzlement. "Why would I blame them? It was Steffen who gave me the poison, not them."

Janet wondered how a man as obviously intelligent as the colonel could be so thick. "They were with you the whole time since you were first brought back from the planet by Teal'c." She paused at the perplexed look on his face. "You don't remember, do you?"

"No. Remember what?"

Janet put the basin down and pulled a chair over, sitting in it and leaning closer to the colonel. "You were hallucinating - probably a combination of the head injury and the poison. You kept asking for them to believe you - pleading with them."

"And Daniel and Carter were there?" His eyes begged her to say no.

"Yes. Teal'c too. And you wouldn't listen when they tried to apologise for what happened on the planet."

"Crap."

"Then it looked like you were getting better, but the withdrawal hit. Whenever they came to see you, you ordered them out."

"But, that wasn't the reason. . ."

"I know that, Jack, but they don't." General Hammond's voice had Janet turning. He was in the doorway, an airman pushing his wheelchair forward into the room.

"You're back sooner than I expected, sir." Janet stood and pulled back the covers on the general's bed. "How are you feeling?"

"Tired, but in a good way." He stood shakily, the airman's hand supporting him, and was soon settled back in bed again.

They waited until the door shut behind the young man before resuming their conversation. Hammond nodded to Janet to take a seat and she did so, staying quiet, but pleased she had been given unspoken permission to stay.

"We need to get this sorted out, son. The doctor here tells me you are well on your way to recovery." Janet wasn't the only one that heard the small snort of disbelief from the other man as he continued. "I know it doesn't seem like it, but take my word, you're a lot better than you were just a few days ago." Janet found the general's gaze resting on her for a second and she gave a small nod of agreement. She doubted the colonel understood just how worried they had all been. Hammond turned his attention back to the colonel. "I've had full reports from everyone involved in the mission. Both Major Ferretti and Doctor Jackson feel the blame for what happened rests with them."

"That's bullshit, sir. I probably would have done exactly the same thing as Ferretti. I wasn't in any condition to be leading the mission and certainly wasn't coherent enough to be making decisions. Major Ferretti made the right call in relieving me of command."

"That isn't what he thinks."

"Maybe not now, General, but given the information he had he couldn't have done otherwise. Jaahn had it all planned. Everything he and his men did was working towards getting our people to trust him. The fact I didn't was more luck than judgement, sir."

"And instinct."

O'Neill nodded. "Yes, sure, but you can't rely on instinct alone." His voice rose a second and Janet saw the line of pain between his eyes that indicated another headache. "I came back from being tortured for information with a skull fracture that I assume resulted in a concussion - would I be right, Doc?" Janet nodded and he continued. "I was already weak and disoriented by hunger and thirst - of course they were right to mistrust my judgment. Then Jaahn had me drugged. I was lucky I could string two words together by the end."

"But you managed to put together a plan - one that worked."

Colonel O'Neill raised a hand, stopping the general's words. "Excuse me for being blunt here, sir, but that was just dumb luck. Without Bra'tac's help it wouldn't have succeeded." He smiled slightly. "Plus, I had Teal'c on my side and that's always good."

"So, you do not hold Majors Ferretti or Carter to blame in any way for what happened."

"No, General, I don't and I'm willing to go on record to that effect." He raised a hand to massage the bridge of his nose. "Everyone involved with the mission carried out their duties in a manner they should be proud of."

"What about Doctor Jackson?"

The colonel was silent for a while, long enough for Janet to worry about his answer. "It's no different to what happened with Daniel and Ma'chello's trap. I was acting irrationally - he had no reason to believe me. I have no problem with that. At least I haven't had to see McKenzie."

"Yet, Colonel, yet."

"Sir. . . "

"Sorry, son. Regulations."

The expression on the colonel's face was priceless and Janet barely restrained herself from bursting out in a loud laugh. Then she sobered, taking in the increasing paleness of her patient's face and his pinched expression.

She stood and approached his bed, adjusted the IV. "You need to relax now, sir. Try and sleep"

When he didn't protest she knew she had made the right call.

They waited a few minutes, until they were sure he was asleep.

"That was unexpected."

General Hammond shook his head, his gaze fixed on the colonel. "No, not really. He's right and I wouldn't have expected any other response from him."

"Daniel and Sam don't think so, sir."

"They will, Doctor, they will. I'm certain Colonel O'Neill will see to that."

**********

"Come on in, kids." Jack beckoned his visitors in. "Find yourself a seat. The general has gone back to his own room so that bed is free if you want to use it. Can't say I'm sorry. God, but that man can snore."

"Thank you, sir." Carter gave him a formal nod and took his offer, sitting rather stiffly at the end of the empty bed.

Jack waited until they were seated - Ferretti in one chair and Daniel in the other. He knew better than to insist Teal'c sat. The Jaffa stood comfortably at the foot of Jack's bed. He gave him a quick smile and received a nod in return.

"Where's the pizzas, Lou? I thought I told you to bring pizzas." He hurried on before anyone could speak. "Listen guys, we need to talk. . . "

**********

The End

 


 

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