O'Neill Interrupted

by Flatkatsi

********

Jack O'Neill sat on the ground, his back against the rough hewn bench. One hand was holding a water bottle and the other a large, blackened piece of meat still attached to the bone. His toes curled, burying themselves into the soft soil beneath his feet.

"I don't mind telling you, Harry, but I'm feeling pretty damn pleased with myself right now." He brought the bone up to his mouth and gnawed at it, the juices running freely down his chin. "Who'd have thought you'd be right for once – breaking the habit of a lifetime, eh Harry."

He wiped at his face with the back of his hand then rubbed the now greasy appendage down his trouser leg.

"That trap idea of yours was good in principle, except that the grenade was a bit of an overkill. Pointy sticks worked much better, just like I thought they would. Damn thing put up a hell of a fight. Still, I got it in the end and voila – piggy sandwich." He stared ruefully at the bone. "Well, not sandwich I guess. God, what I wouldn't give for a slice of bread right now. And a beer – a beer would be nice."

Jack took a drink from the bottle and carefully replaced the cap.

"I figured I'd try drying the leftovers. That way it should last for a while, or at least until I find another source of meat – if there is one. Maybe Mister Piggy was stuck here like us, eh Harry. Maybe I shouldn't have killed him. Could have been an interesting mιnage a' trios. On second thoughts – ewww – so don't want to go there. Well, gotta go check the fishing lines, see if there's anything left in that lake. Not that I'm annoyed or anything, Harry, but that was a moronic thing to do."

He stood carefully, keeping his right leg as stiff as possible, but was unable to hold back a low groan.

"I'll admit one thing – you sure got me good. The infection is getting worse. Why the hell didn't you pack more antibiotics if you thought you were going offworld forever? And while I'm asking, would it have hurt to include some MRE's?"

Jack sucked the end of the bone, getting as much of the marrow out as possible before throwing it as far as he could across the field. He rubbed his hands once again on his trousers. The effort it had taken to dig the pit, sharpen numerous stakes, and use himself as bait to run the wild boar into the trap had been worth it, but only just. Skinning, gutting and butchering the animal had been exhausting work and he was totally wiped. He sighed – it wasn’t time to rest. There was still far too much work to do if he wanted to survive until rescue came.

"Well, Harry – nice chatting with you. Same time tomorrow, okay?"

He bent, straightening the makeshift cross on the mound of bare earth, stood and began his slow limp to the lake.

**********

"Sam!"

Jack sat blot upright, adrenaline pulsing through his veins.

The dream had been so vivid. Carter wreathed in sparkling light, suspended, twisting and in obvious pain. He had watched, the feeling of helplessness overwhelming, as she seemed to melt right before his eyes until all that was left was a puddle of water.

He wiped a shaking hand over his face.

Maybe the effects of the psychedelic lettuce hadn't worn off yet.

**********

"I found some paper in your stuff today, Harry. Okay, I admit, it wasn't just paper. A book. A nice thick book. You sure had your priorities right. Get in some quality reading. Forget about eating." Jack eased himself down until he was lying in the soft grass. "I thought I'd start a journal. Doesn't look like anyone's coming to find us anytime soon." He folded his hands across his chest and stared up at the planet dominating the sky. "I can hazard a pretty good guess where we are. Would have thought Carter could have worked it out by now. Must be some logical explanation…" He sighed and twisted over to prop himself up on an elbow and look down at the grave. "Anyway, I'm going to make sure they know what happened to us if they do come. Someone might care."

It was twelve days since Maybourne had died of his wound, despite Jack's best efforts to save him, and most of that time had been taken up with digging the grave, finding food and just basic survival, something made harder by the fact he had been injured as well.

He wiped the sweat off his forehead and grimaced at the greasy mark he left on his filthy BDU's when he rubbed his hand on them. The bandage around his thigh was stiff with dried blood he could no longer wash out.

"But before I start my career as a writer I'm going to take a swim and do some laundry. At least your shirts fit. I'll just have to go with the Robinson Crusoe look in trousers."

He pushed up then sunk back down again, his arms trembling.

"Then again, maybe I'll visit with you a bit longer."

**********

"Okay, I admit it – I'm not a journal writing sort of guy. I tried, Harry, I did. Wrote a couple of sentences down the pages of 'Ulysses'. Described how you were a rat bastard. Then I sort of ran out of steam. And while we're on the subject of rat bastards, why in God's name would you pick that book? I don't know anyone who's gotten past the first chapter, and that includes the people studying it at college."

Jack didn't sit. Instead he leaned crookedly on the thick stick he was using as a make- shift crutch.

"I have another confession to make, Harry. I'm not feeling too good at all. And I'm lonely, Harry. There are only so many conversations you can hold with a dead man, especially when he refuses to answer. It's ironic to think my punishment for killing you is to have no one to talk to. You do know I didn't mean to kill you, don't ya, Harry? I know I said I was thinking of it, but I did tell you it was a joke. My aim was off – probably something to do with the fact I was lopsided after you practically blew my leg apart."

He turned and pointed across the grass, changing the subject. "Did you see I put a roof on the new hut I had to move to after you blew up my last one? I used some of that cloth that's hanging around. Wasn’t easy climbing up to secure it, you know. Would have been much easier with two of us, but you always did go to extremes to get out of work, didn’t you, Harry. The cloth is pretty rotten, wouldn't keep much rain out, but so far it hasn't rained so it doesn't matter. Having said that, it'll probably hail later today just so I don't get too cocky. Anyway, look, I may not be able to visit you for a bit. I think I'll rest up a while. Now, don't worry about me, I promise I won't forget you. Okay?"

**********

"See, Harry – told you I'd be back, all better, and with a great scar to show for it. I ended up cutting the poison out. I know you're squeamish so I won't go into details about the yellowy-green, thick, oozing pus, or the revolting smell. Got a pretty big hole in my leg now. Look, I can push my finger right into it. Gross, isn't it?"

Jack stared ruefully at the gruesome scar.

"Well, can't stop. Places to do, people to be. Talk to you soon, okay?"

**********

"Bored, Harry, bored. I've decided there's no point in hanging around here waiting for rescue. I've done the vegetable garden thing, and I've just about fished out the lake. I think I was right about the pig – no luck finding another one. I've mapped and checked out all the ruined buildings in the area as well, and can I just mention that I haven't found a decent bar or restaurant in the lot. I doubt you would have enjoyed it here, Harry."

Jack paused, a confused look crossing his face for a moment. He looked around as if to check his surroundings, before continuing. "I really thought I'd lost it last night. I know this is going to sound stupid, but I woke up, in of all places, a fire station. Everyone was there, Teal'c, Carter, Jonas – even Bra'tac. The old man was sitting there, laughing at me, giving me that knowing look he has that so pisses me off. They were around a table, eating hamburgers – all except Bra'tac, he wasn't looking too hot. Looked sort of pale and sick. Then T got up, took a step towards me, and I saw he had Junior in his hands. He was holding the snake out as if he wanted me to take it. I turned and ran as if the devil was after me." He gave a rueful laugh. "Stupid, eh? Dreaming about hamburgers I can understand, but Junior?"

"Anyway - it's been over five months and I think they would have come if they were going to. So, now I'm properly back on my feet again, I'm off to explore a bit further. Thought I'd try and make it over the mountains – see if there's anything worth seeing. Maybe there was something you missed in the brochure on this place. But I'll come back, Harry. Promise. Now, don't go anywhere, ya hear?"

**********

Trek - Day One.

Decided I'd give this journal thing another go. That way I can read it to Harry when I get back and he won't have missed out on anything. Don't know about the title though. Sounds a bit science fictiony. I'm not exactly trekking here. My leg isn't up to much and I doubt it ever will be again. The infection almost killed me. I told Harry I'd go over the mountains, but I changed my mind. There's a nice level walk along the valley, with lots of grass and pretty yellow flowers. I don't even mind the trees as long as they aren't growing on slopes. I'll see how far I can get today. It won't be far, but hopefully the exercise will get a bit of movement back into my leg and I'll do better tomorrow.

Trek - Day Two.

So far all I've succeeded in doing is boring myself stupid. Maybe the mountains would have been better, seeing as I stopped appreciating meadows after the third one. There's plenty of water and the food I packed is lasting well. I should have enough for about fifteen days then I'll head home unless I find something else to eat. Home! Now that is sad. Only been on this piece of rock for a few months and already I'm calling it home.
Trek - Day Five.

Nothing but grass, flowers and trees. Trees unfortunately have roots for me to fall over. I can’t seem to lift my foot high enough to avoid the smallest of obstacles. This trip wasn’t the best idea I’ve ever had. Should have stayed with Maybourne.

Slow Trek - Day Ten.

I really don't know why I'm bothering writing anything – there's nothing to say and it's just a waste of paper.

Trek - Day Thirteen.

I've given myself another day or so. The weather is holding and I managed to trap some rabbit thingies so I have a fresh supply of meat. The valley is slopping upwards now and although I'm finding it harder to walk, it means I may get to higher ground without needing to climb. My leg is feeling a little better, but it still can't really hold my weight and the crutch is getting a bit worn. I should keep an eye out for a suitable branch.

Trek - Day Seventeen.

Finally something worth writing and to think I have my bum leg to blame for it. I was going up this hill and saw a clump of bushes with some branches that looked to be perfect for a new crutch. I pulled at a particularly good one and it suddenly came loose. Fell forward and almost broke my nose on this nifty little space ship hidden under the foliage. I'm grinning like a fool here. It will be dark soon and I've decided to wait until morning to check it out, no point in breaking my good leg falling over myself in the dark. Maybe it's my ticket out of here. Roll on daylight.

Why the Hell Did I Bother Trek - Day Eighteen.

Can't get the fucking door open.

Day Nineteen.

Kicking it doesn't help. Wish I had one of Maybourne's grenades. Running out of food.

Day Twenty. If I can't get into it today I'll have to head back. Not feeling good. Leg hurts like hell. Hot water and dried pork for breakfast.

**********

Jack stared down at the words he had written and sighed. It all seemed so pointless. Three days of prodding, poking, pushing and ultimately, kicking, had failed to make a dent in the ship's hatch, let alone open it.

He never had been the type to write a journal – he knew that. Report writing was something he only did because he had to, and a diary was just a glorified report. The most boring book on Earth, or any other planet, would have been better suited for toilet paper rather than his inane scribbling. Looking at them now, he could hardly read what he'd written anyway.

He rubbed his hand across his eyes. He very much doubted that he had more than a few days left before the renewed infection in his wound would stop him from going anywhere. He couldn't count the number of times he had fallen over on his travels and kicking the door like that hadn't helped either. The barely healed wound had reopened when he fell over a rock just before he found the spaceship. He had been monumentally stupid not to delay his explorations until his leg had properly healed. He admitted to himself that he had been so sick of sitting around doing nothing that he had pushed himself before he was ready. Well, the consequences of that action were now obvious. He sighed again, deeply. He wouldn't get back to the ruined settlement even if he set out immediately. Probably should have stayed there. At least he'd had Maybourne for company.

The question was – what to do now? Should he try and go on, in the hope of finding something else, or should he turn around and at least try to make it back? As he saw it, there were two other opinions – sit here and give up, or keep trying to open the hatch.

He took another sip of hot water, wishing for anything to flavour it. Maybe he should stick some dried pork in it – might give it some taste.

There really wasn't an option. The only scenario with any possibility of a positive outcome was to get into this damn ship.

No way would he give up.

He knew his team and the others back at the SGC wouldn't have forgotten him, even after all this time, and he was damned if they were going to find nothing but his skeleton when they did arrive.

Nope.

He closed the book with a determined snap and stood, reeling a little before he got his balance. The few steps to the craft had him panting, but once there he stood straighter and began a methodical investigation of the hull for any sign of an opening mechanism.

By noon, he had managed to pull the rest of the overgrown vines and bushes from the surface of the somewhat boxy shaped ship and sat back to take a breather. The temperature was the same pleasant one that seemed the norm for the planet and even the breeze wasn't too cold. In fact, so far, this place was the paradise Harry had said he'd discovered – at least if you didn't eat the lettuce. Nice weather, pretty scenery, good water supply, abundant game if you were sound enough in body to catch it. Yep – not a bad choice for retirement.

It was just a pity his permanent retirement seemed to be coming sooner than he thought it would.

He gave himself thirty minutes, struggling to swallow down some food, then started his search again – this time back at the hatch. Even though he'd been over it with a fine-toothed comb, there wasn't anywhere else to look and it was the most logical place for a mechanism.

It was pure luck that he finally found it. He'd felt a little dizzy and put his hand out to steady himself. Next thing he knew he was pitching forward, into the open door, his face kissing the dusty metal floor.

"Oooph!"

He lay there, wondering where he'd get the energy to stand from. It was the excitement of finally having succeeded that got him upright, albeit gingerly. Dust motes filled the air and he was grateful he was so close to the still wide open hatch as the stale air filled his lungs.

He reeled towards the opening. Several deep, chest-aching coughs later he was standing in the doorway breathing in great gulps of fresh air, his leg throbbing where he had hit it against something on his way out. But even though he was barely able to think, he still had the presence of mind to keep half his body in the entrance, using himself as a doorstop. There was no way he was going to let it shut again.

After the coughs subsided he looked around, and seeing no other solution, shrugged the pack from his back and placed it carefully in the doorway. Once that was done, he stepped out of the craft, on to the ramp that now lead down to the ground. A few agonised limps later and he was back with his feet buried in the discarded undergrowth. As quickly as he could, he hurried to grab a few of the larger branches and prop them into the aperture, taking his pack from the floor as he did so.

Then he stepped back and waited, the pack dangling from his right hand.

Ten minutes passed by Jack's watch before he re-entered the craft. The thick dust had settled somewhat – enough to be able to make out the various instrument panels and crew seating and for the stale air to have dissipated. He shuffled forward, careful not to catch his crutch on the edge of anything, not wanting to get up close and personal with the floor again.

He unslung his P-90 and put it and his pack on the floor, kneeling awkwardly to open the pack and rummage through it. Finding what he was looking for, he took out one of Harry's t-shirts, ripped it into several pieces, and dampened one with water from his bottle. It didn't take long to clear a portion of the panel at the front of the craft and soon instruments Jack took to be flight controls were exposed to the fresh air for the first time in heaven knew how long.

Nothing was recognisable.

In his disappointment he forgot where he was and slumped into the left hand seat. The cloud of dust that rose was thick and cloying and it was several minutes before it settled and he stopped coughing again long enough to be able to see anything. The feel of soft cushioning against his backside was heaven after so long sitting on logs, rocks or the hard ground and he shut his eyes, trying to imagine himself back in civilisation – back on Earth with his friends and teammates.

For the first time in weeks he let himself wonder what was happening at the SGC, what they were doing, and why they hadn't found him yet.

A sudden, overwhelming feeling of despair and loneliness rose up from where he had relentlessly kept it prisoner.

He hadn't meant to kill Harry. It wasn't the first time Jack had killed a man, far from it, but Harry was someone he had shared a meal with, discussed things with, joked and argued with. Despite Harry's faults, he had actually liked the bastard.

Shit.

And he'd killed him.

It hadn't been Harry's fault. It was that damned lettuce. If only Harry had listened when Jack tried to explain. There should have been something else Jack could have done – trapped him or something. He hadn't meant to kill him. If only someone had rescued them, with proper treatment Harry would probably have survived.

But they didn't, Harry hadn't, and now Jack was totally, utterly, and completely alone. He folded his arms onto the console, laid his head on them, and for the first time in over seven years, wept.

**********

"Crap!"

Jack's voice sounded loud in the silence.

He pushed himself off the surprisingly soft surface of the instrument panel and wiped a hand across his eyes, leaving his face streaked with dirt.

"Enough of this. Damned fool. Find a way off this hunk of rock and all you can do it feel sorry for yourself. Pull yourself together." He continued to mutter to himself, the sound of his own voice comforting after so long without contact with other people. "Maybe the ship's damaged, but you don't know how badly, so just get your act together and work something out." He thought for a second. "Come on, Jack, what would Carter do? Think."

He stood and looked around. "Doesn’t look damaged. Maybe it didn't crash here. Maybe it landed." He continued to think out loud. "Try everything. Can't hurt. Be systematic."

He turned back to the front console, deciding it was a logical place to start, and began pressing every surface. It had worked for the hatch, so perhaps it would here as well.

It was almost night before the first sign he was on the right track appeared. Pressing both his hands on the somewhat squashy controls on each side of the left hand seat, he felt a slight tingling run through his palms and up his arms. For a moment there was the hum of machinery and the glow of lights from various spots in the ship then it died, the hum fading down to nothing. The lights flickered off and the small space felt even darker than it had just a few minutes before.

Pressing down in the same spot again didn't work. Nothing happened – the ship stayed dead. It was becoming too dark to see anything clearly, so Jack decided to rest and try again in the morning. Picking up his equipment, he limped out of the dim interior, feeling a little more optimistic. Maybe the next day would see him getting the craft up and running.

He lit a large fire, the flames chasing away the shadows that pressed in on him, ate a meagre meal, and settled down for the night, tossing a little as an unaccustomed heat surrounded him.

**********

Jack writhed on ground, almost sobbing as he fought against the terrible images that consumed him. Jonas lay dead on an operating table, his brain cut open, and in the same room, forgotten in a corner, was the smouldering remains of Sam's corpse. Both lay with their eyes open, staring at him as if in accusation.

His legs twitched as if he was running and as the fever ate at him.

**********

It was well into the morning when Jack woke, his head throbbing in tune with his leg. He rolled over, biting back a cry of pain, and pulled the ragged cloth of his trousers away from his thigh. The wound was red and inflamed, with lines of obvious infection running from its centre.

He lay back again, his eyes closed, willing himself to get up – to do something. What, he didn't know, but it wasn't in his nature to just lie there, especially when the possible solution was right next to him. He needed to get the ship working.

Jack got to his feet slowly through a process of small movements; each one wrested from an uncooperative body, and moved carefully towards the craft. He shuffled like an old man, keeping his bad leg as protected as possible from jarring. It seemed like hours before he made it up the ramp and back into the craft's interior.

He stared at the instruments lining the sides for a few minutes, trying to decide what to do, but his thoughts tumbled in chaotic waves through his mind – the alien ship, the SGC, trees, his cabin, the lake at the village, all images that flashed past with the speed of a lightning strike. He couldn't concentrate, couldn't think straight. His mouth was dry and his tongue felt twice as large as it should.

He needed a drink.

Where was the water?

He had left it outside. He should go get it. Get a drink.

**********

Jack woke to the sounds of the forest at night. He was bitterly cold, yet he could feel sweat on his face, and in a moment of clarity he knew he was in serious trouble. He sat up, peering around, unable to recognise his surroundings. He was without his weapon, and his pack was nowhere in sight. Thick trees obscured his view, but he was obviously nowhere near the space ship. Somehow he seemed to have descended the slopes and made it back to the valley floor, but where he was in relation to anything he had no idea.

He looked up, trying to see the night sky. After so many months on the planet he was familiar with the stars and could use them to at least give him an idea of direction. He could only groan in frustration when all he saw were branches obstructing the view. What little he could discern was almost covered in clouds.

He gave a rueful laugh. Looked like rain at last.

So, here he was – totally lost and with a high probability of dying. Seemed par for the course. And he was so damned thirsty.

He needed to get back to Harry. He had promised Harry he would return. A promise was a promise.

**********

If it hadn't been for the small stream he literally stumbled into, Jack would have died out there in the wilderness, luck—such as it was—was with him. The sudden freezing cold bath woke him from his fevered meanderings for long enough to get him up and moving again, albeit in the opposite direction to the village.

He wandered for almost another day, barely able to move one minute, hurrying through the dense bushes the next, delirium cushioning the effects of his injury. His leg was grossly swollen now, but there was nothing he could do about it, even if he had realised the perilous position he was in.

As the hours passed he became more and more desperate to reach what he had come to think of as home. He began to mutter to himself, trying to hold conversations with the teammates now walking along with him. Teal'c was always on point, looking back only occasionally, without speaking, Daniel walked beside him, not touching even to prevent Jack from stumbling, and Carter had his six, but seemed to be lagging further behind with every passing minute. No matter how hard he tried, Jack couldn't get a response from them to anything he said. He had gone from joking, to ordering, to shouting without any reaction, and it was frankly beginning to piss him off. It was as if they didn't care about him. At this rate he might as well not be there.

He decided to ignore them.

He tripped more often as the hours passed and it was after one such fall, while he lay spread-eagled on the ground, he realised darkness had crept up on him without his noticing. He twisted slightly, just enough to look for his silent companions.

Teal'c and Carter were setting up tents. Jonas was standing looking rather forlorn, watching them. Of Daniel there was no sign.

Jack called out hoarsely. "Hey, guys. Could you give me a hand?" He waited, fully expecting them to come hurrying over once they saw he was sick, but they carried on with their tasks without even turning.

"They can't hear you, Jack. They aren't really there. But you know that, don't you."

Jack frowned, seeing Jonas turn and look at him but not make any move to approach. "Of course they're there." He waved a hand angrily towards his teammates. "They'll be over in a minute."

Daniel squatted down and stared intently into Jack's face, his expression serious. "There's just you, Jack. You have to do it yourself."

"You're here, and if you're here, then they must be too." Jack knew the logic of his statement wasn't sound, but he was quite pleased with his argument none the less. "They wouldn't have left me."

"Not deliberately, no." Daniel shook his head, the light glowing behind him allowing Jack to see the sadness in his eyes. "They tried, they really did. You have to remember that."

"Then why didn't they come? Why didn't they?" Jack attempted to keep his voice unemotional, but knew he hadn't succeeded. The hurt in his words was plain even to his own ears.

"Sam never worked out you were on the moon. Kinsey tried to have her brought up on charges of negligence."

"What! Why?"

"Maybourne took her by surprise. She let him escape and you were lost because of it."

"That's crap. It wasn't Carter's fault."

Daniel shook his head at Jack's exclamation of protest. "That's what happened, Jack. I know it wasn't fair, but it's done now. Sam was suspended, pending an investigation. By the time it was all over and the charges were dropped the tape showing the moon had been archived and forgotten." He paused as Jack's attention wandered back to the campsite. Teal'c was on watch now, Carter and Jonas sitting beside the fire, cradling coffee mugs and talking. "Jack! They aren't there. Believe me. You're on your own."

As Daniel spoke Jonas wavered out of sight. Jack turned back to his friend and glared.

"Stop that!"

"It isn't me, Jack."

Jack caught movement out of the corner of his eye and looked over just in time to see Carter and the tent vanish as if by magic.

He shouted as he began to push himself up."T, wait!"

For a second it looked like Teal'c had heard him. The Jaffa paused in his slow pacing of the camp perimeter and glanced over, but his eyes flickered, without stopping, across the spot where Jack was lying.

And then he too was gone.

Jack slumped back, his head thumping on the ground, and put a hand over his eyes, unable to bear the thought of being alone again.

"Come on – get up. You can't stay here."

"Why?"

"Because it's going to rain."

"You're an all-powerful, glowy weather forecaster now? Way to go – talk about putting those super powers to good use."

Daniel stood, crossing his arms and glaring down at where Jack lay on the ground. "Get up."

Jack shook his head stubbornly. "No, don't want to."

"You have to. You'll die if you stay here all night."

"Gonna' die anyway."

"You aren't going to die." Daniel raised both hands in a gesture of exasperation. "Not if I can help it." He tapped his foot impatiently.

"I thought you weren't meant to interfere?" Jack didn't give him a chance to answer, continuing on, "So why now? Why care now? You didn't help before."

Crouching beside him again, Daniel spoke softly, "I explained. I couldn't use my powers to rescue you. But it worked out in the end, didn't it?"

"Worked out!" Jack gave a cynical laugh. "Sure – in the end. My end. Over and over and over." He laughed again, this time louder. "All worked out. Yep. Not a problem. Ba'al and I agreed to disagree and we parted best of friends. Easy." He lifted his arm and glared. "Thanks for the help, Daniel. Now piss off."

Daniel rocked back on his heels as if struck. There were several minutes of silence with each man staring at the other before he spoke again. "I know you don't want to hear this, Jack, but you have to get up. Just try."

"Why? I asked you that before. Why?" The words were spat out. "Give me a reason."

"I can't."

"Can't or won't?"

"It's not allowed."

Jack shut his eyes again. "Then go away." When he opened them again, Daniel was gone.

***********

The rain had just started when Jack stood up, groaning at his own inability to just lie there and die as he had intended. Maybe if there hadn't been an annoying drip running down his cheek and into the soil beneath him he would have managed it, but there was a certain indignity to dying in a puddle of mud.

He threw a furious glare at the direction he assumed Daniel was watching from and imagined him smirking in a very unascended fashion.

It wasn't five minutes before the ruins came into view. Of course, Daniel couldn't have told him how close to shelter he had been – no. It would have contravened his glowy employment contract, had him drummed out of the Union of Intergalactic Ascended Know-it-alls. Jack sniggered at the thought as he reeled through the entrance of some large crumbling stone building. He didn't bother looking around – he couldn't have cared less if there had been a convention of Goa'uld System Lords going on inside.

He stumbled into the warm darkness.

And fell down.

**********

The steady drumming of rain on the roof finally roused Jack from his stupor. He blinked several times, remembering his conversation with Daniel with a half embarrassed surprise. Hallucinating dead teammates whilst on the brink of death was something he seemed to be making a habit of.

He sighed deeply. Even putting up with Daniel's smug Ascendedness was better than being alone. Thinking back on the conversation Jack was slightly annoyed Daniel hadn't seen fit to offer him the same deal as last time. Maybe you didn't get a second chance to ascend. He smiled cynically. Must be a once in a lifetime offer.

His head was clear, the fever he realised was the reason for his present predicament appearing to have abated for the time being. But he was experienced enough in these matters to know it was only a matter of time before it came back, worse than ever.

He'd had another weird-ass dream, a particularly strange one of Daniel looking like Friar Tuck. He had been with Jonas, Carter, and for some reason, Dixon. It had all passed in a blur, with just flashes of scenes - the pyramid on Abydos, Jaffa, and brief moments of battle, like a video tape on fast forward.

But there was one thing Jack did remember clearly. Just before he woke up, Jack had felt a soul-searing grief.

He titled his head sideways, wincing at the stiffness in his neck, and looked around.

The door he must have entered by was on his left. Through it he glimpsed dripping bushes and not much else. He twisted around and found the other side of the room opposite the door even less exciting – all he saw was a featureless wall.

At least he was dry.

He raised himself on his elbows to look straight ahead and gave a loud and heartfelt curse.

"Well, crap!"

The third wall was only four feet from his muddy toes. And there, sticking out from said wall was one of those Ancient head sucky thingies.

"Daniel!" Jack gave as loud a shout as he was capable of – not very loud, he knew, but he hoped his tone would convey what volume did not.

He was not amused.

"Don't you try and tell me you have nothing to do with this!"

Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on the point of view, his oh so clever glow boy friend refused to answer.

Jack flopped back down, wishing he had a pillow to rest his head on and gave serious thought to his situation.

The ship was probably of Furling or Ancient origin or something, given that this was, from what Maybourne had told him, an alien utopia set up by the Furlings amongst others. There was that whole superior races thing they had going – Nox, Asgard, Furlings, and Ancients. He'd take bets one of them was responsible for the craft, and he couldn't see it being Asgard or Nox – not their style. The ship didn't look too broken – just a little weathered. All he needed was to work out how to turn it on.

Ancient or Furling ship.

Ancient headsucky thingy.

Even in his current state of somewhat less than sound mind Jack could see where this was leading.

Hell, the damn thing wasn't even trying to hide behind a panel. It stuck out and virtually waved a hello at him.

He weighed the cons against the obvious pros. His leg would still be infected. He would go totally wacko within a few days. He would die unless he got the download removed. All of the above were a given. But there was at least a possibility of finding help if he got the ship working.

The question was – was he bloody-minded enough to not go along with the very obvious solution that had been handed to him on a plate?

Shit – he knew the answer to that.

Nope.

Jack rolled, put his hands on the floor and did a creditable push-up, managing to rise to his knees on the first attempt. He didn't bother trying to stand; sure his leg wouldn't hold him. Instead he shuffled forward on his knees until he reached the wall, and then, grasping an edge of the rather flowery looking protuberance that surrounded the device, he pulled himself up until his face was level with its center.

He stared into the hole. A chill ran up his spine and leaving him feeling like a kid playing hide and seek and waiting to be found.

"Well, come on. . . "

He didn't have time to complete the sentence. Big metal claws reached out and grabbed his head, gripping him tightly and pressing into the back of his neck. Even though he had expected it, Jack couldn't help struggling, pulling himself fruitlessly backwards. As lights exploded against his eyeballs the fleeting thought passed through his mind that he had completely forgotten how much the damn thing hurt!

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

Stiff. Sore. Hurting.

And feeling very sorry for himself.

What a wonderful idea that was.

How many hours he had been unconscious Jack had no idea, but if the pain in his body was anything to go by it was probably many, many, many, many. . .

Oy!

Oddly enough, his head felt clearer than it had in a while – almost as if the fever had gone. Which was strange, as an inspection of his leg showed it to be worse than ever. He put a hand on the wound, feeling the heat emanating from it, and sighed. It looked like nothing much had changed except he had added a pounding headache to his long list of woes. A wave of tiredness washed over him, and he shut his eyes, gritting his teeth and willing it to leave. There wasn't much time left and he wasn't going to spend it sitting here. He was going to find the ship again, see if he could get it going, and fly it back to Harry. He was damned if he was going to die alone.

He pushed himself over to rest his back against the wall near the door, and looked out at the steady rain. Trees were nothing but vague shapes looming out of the mist that rose from the sodden ground. The leaves of the nearby bushes glistened with moisture, making them appear an almost glossy black.

It wasn't sensible to leave shelter yet, despite his desire to get moving. He would have to wait until the rain eased.

Jack straightened his back and pressed in into the cold stone wall, shutting his eyes again, and listened to the drip of water. The hypnotic noise drummed in time with the movement of his right hand as he rhythmically kneed his leg, his long fingers flexing in the flesh around the wound. Then his hands stopped moved, just resting lightly on the overheated skin.

It was several minutes before Jack came back to himself, his eyes losing their unfocused look. He shook his head slightly, as if waking from an unexpected nap, and looked down at his leg.

He wasn't surprised at what he saw. One part of his brain – the part that had taken over as he rested – was expecting it. He stared at his healed leg, his complacence mingling strangely in his mind with just a little awe. He turned his head, cocking it a little to the side, and watched as the rain stopped.

**********

It took Jack less than an hour to make his way unerringly back to the spacecraft. His discarded crutch lay to one side of the door, along with his pack and P-90, and he stooped to pick them up before he pressed his palm to the access panel. There was a dull whirling noise and the hatch opened, narrow beams of sunlight illuminating the interior. Jack stepped inside and with a wave of his hand on the controls activated the lights. A trail of buzzes and flashes followed his progress across the metal floor as he headed to the front of the craft, the ship coming alive around him.

A puff of dust rose from the soft fabric of the pilot's seat as his weight settled on it. Jack pushed a button and the shutters retracted from the front window letting in even more daylight. Dust motes floated upwards as sun shone, lighting up the whole craft.

Jack shut his eyes, concentrating on what he needed to know and what he needed to do. Various readouts flashed across screens as systems long dead came back to life, the ship's own internal checklist beginning the minor repairs needed after so long inactive.

Several hours passed with Jack motionless except for the occasional wince of pain. Once and only once did he move – to reach a hand up and rub the bridge of his nose, before stilling again.

It finally happened without fanfare, without the loud hum of engines or the sound of metal straining. It happened effortlessly, and in silence.

The craft rose from the forest floor, hovered above the trees for a moment, then spun to face the opposite direction, and was off.

**********

Jack stepped through the stargate onto the Alpha site, fully expecting to have several weapons pointed at him. He half raised his hands in surrender before putting them down and reaching for the P-90 slung around his neck.

Walking forward cautiously, he scanned his surroundings. Everything he could see had an air of disuse about it, as if the buildings had been long abandoned. Here and there pieces of equipment lay discarded, but the overall impression was one of an orderly exit.

He pushed open the door to what had been the main command center, hoping for some clue as to what had happened. He was disappointed – the interior was completely bare, without even a scrap of paper on the floor.

Disappointment left a bitter taste in the Colonel's mouth. The trip to the planet that started the whole fiasco had been short. He had known it was stupid to expect an SGC presence still to be on the site, but he had been optimistic nonetheless. Finding nothing there, he left the Ancient spaceship concealed near the gate and dialed the Alpha site, hoping for a quick stop-over before being escorted with all due pomp and circumstance, home to Earth.

This desolate place wasn't what he expected at all.

What had happened to cause the SGC, Tok'ra and free Jaffa to pull out? Deciding to check some of the other buildings, Jack took two steps towards the open door, before dropping and crouching behind the meagre protection offered by the flimsy metal walls.

'What the f…!' Jack didn't bother completing the thought. The one glimpse he caught of the huge, black armoured monster heading straight for him was enough to tell him this wasn't someone he wanted to get up close and personal with. The thing was at least seven foot tall and looked like it could take Teal'c in a fight with one arm tied behind its back.
Jack cautiously peered around the corner of the door frame, just in time to see the creature extend its right arm outwards. A beam of light shot towards him and the hut exploded.

**********

"You're asking me?" Jack couldn't help laughing, despite his predicament. "Maybe they smelled your BO and left in a hurry. I could understand that."

The irony of being questioned about the deserted Alpha site hadn't escaped him, especially the fact that the first human voice he had heard for so long was that of a First Prime asking him questions he couldn't answer. It wasn't much better for the Jaffa, however - the first person from the SGC they capture and it has to be someone who's been out of the loop for months.

"You will not find things so amusing when my Master questions you." The Jaffa stared down at him and smiled grimly.

"And he would be…?" Jack waved a hand in the air, feigning disinterest. "I know we've met before, but we didn't really get a chance to sit and chat."

The man didn't answer, merely giving the two Jaffa standing to either side of Jack a short nod of command. They stooped, grabbing him by the arms, and hauled him upright. He was unable to conceal a grimace as the sudden move sent his head spinning, but he straightened, endeavouring to appear as dignified as possible.

The walk out into the open was carried out in silence, the presence of the large and ominously silent warrior stalking along behind them, enough to convince Jack that any attempt to escape would be futile.

They ringed into the middle of a large room, its plain walls giving no clue as to its location. Frog-marched to the doors, Jack gave an involuntary gasp of surprise when they carried on straight out into the open air, a long, narrow walkway stretching out across a void so deep the bottom could not be seen. Vertigo had him staggering, only the grip of the two Jaffa keeping him on his feet as the vast fires burning in the depths glowed beneath him.

"Come." The command was terse and the Jaffa wasted no time following their commander's directions. Fierce wind tugged at Jack's hair, blowing its now non- regulation strands across his eyes. He gave a quick shake, trying to dislodge it, but only succeeding in making the Jaffa tighten their already death-like grip on his arms.

So now he was dizzy, aching all over – probably from the big honking explosion when they caught him, about to have both his arms fall off from lack of circulation, beginning to feel rather distant and other-worldly, with, all the while, spiky little points of hair ends brushing across his eyeballs.

He raised his eyes to the heavens, ignoring the fact they were covered with swirling orange and red clouds, and implored God to give him a break.

**********

Jack prowled the confines of the tiny cell, his gaze nervously flittering to the door at every turn of direction. This wasn't quite the break he had prayed for.

Despite his earlier bravado, Jack remembered perfectly well who Herak was. And which Goa'uld he served.

Anubis – now big cheese of the snake pantheon.

It had been at least a week, by his rather imperfect method of calculation, that he'd been just sitting here, twiddling his thumbs, with the occasional and all too infrequent delivery of food and water the only break in the monotony. On one hand he was glad to have been left alone here for so long, but on the other, he was so bored he was almost looking forward to being tortured.

He finally stopped his obsessive pacing, sitting down on the floor in the corner furthest from the door, with his back against the wall. He tucked his knees up and rested his chin on them.

The distant feeling had grown, creeping up on him as each day passed, until sometimes he wondered if he was in the cell at all, or if it was just one of the dreams. The thing that scared him the most was that when he thought of his friends and colleagues back home, their faces were indistinct and he had to concentrate to remember the most basic of details about them. His life before the cell was fading away, replaced by images and ideas that were totally alien. Sometimes he found himself mumbling unintelligible gibberish, English replaced by Ancient. The process seemed different from the last time, less hurried – more leisurely – but it was a force that could not be halted, inexorably changing him.

If Anubis waited much longer, all he'd have left to question was a raving lunatic.

*********

Something was going on. The gap between meals was longer and when they did come the servers literally threw the meagre rations through the door and slammed it shut again, leaving Jack to scramble around, trying to scrape what he could up from the floor. Occasionally he heard shouts, angry voices and the sound of marching feet, but there was still no sign that he was of any interest to anyone except the very bad cook.

He would have thought, after so many months of being alone, that this non-existence, this limbo of a waiting room, would be easy to bear. He was being fed and watered and was inside, in relative comfort compared to Harry's moon. But that wasn't the case. The constant anticipation, and he had to admit it, fear, of what was to happen next, were slowly shattering his nerves and doing more to break him than the worst physical torture. He knew it was happening, but, as he wrestled with the changes going on in his mind, he could spare no extra energy to stopping the ever increasing depression he was falling into.

Instead of pacing, he now spent most of his time curled up on the simple mattress that was a poor substitute for a proper bed, lost in a world of dreams and delusions. The faces of his team mixed in with others, familiar yet out of place – Colonel Mitchell with Carter in the F-302, Dixon shooting at Jaffa. The last scene was the one that convinced Jack it was all just a product of his warped imagination, because both Daniel and Jonas were there, and Daniel sure didn't look glowy.

Everything was moving along without him. Even in his own dreams he wasn't needed.

He had been forgotten.

**********

The jolt from the staff blast had Jack doubled over in pain, clutching at his belly as if to stop his insides from cascading out onto the cell floor. He opened his eyes, staring up at the ceiling, and breathed in short, panting gasps, trying to understand what was happening to him. He lifted his hands reluctantly, almost afraid to look.

His stomach was unmarked, with no sign of the wound he knew had been there just a few minutes ago.

It was getting too hard to keep everything straight in his mind.

It wasn't working anymore.

**********

When they did come to get him, Jack was not prepared. He had to be physically wrenched from the cocoon of blankets he had created for himself, and carried bodily through the corridors. His legs seemed unable to take his weight, stiff and sore as if he had been frozen in one position for a very long time. His hair hung lankly, almost reaching his shoulders, and he felt a full beard hot and uncomfortable on his face.

How long had he been there?

As his mind woke, he tried to take some control of the situation, finally getting his feet underneath him instead of dragging behind, and took the next few steps on his own. The Jaffa holding him eased their grip slightly and slowed a little, as if acknowledging his efforts, or at least the fact they didn't have to carry as much of his weight.

It was a surprisingly quick journey – two or three turns of the corridor and they were in front of doors that looked more important than the others they had passed, if only by their size. A squish of motion, they parted, and he was dumped unceremoniously at the foot of a large throne.

Jack's dignity had deserted him along with his energy. He didn't make an effort to defiantly stand, instead staying on all fours, his head hanging. He did manage to raise a hand and give a rather dismissive wave of greeting to the Goa'uld he just knew had to be watching him.

"Colonel O'Neill. I apologise for not welcoming you earlier to my home, but I have been somewhat busy."

Jack raised his head and gave the black cloaked figure a smile. "Haud forsit." His voice rasped dryly in his throat from long disuse.

"Good, I am glad it was no problem. I hope our relationship will now continue on a more pleasant footing."

"Spero sic quoque. Magas victulus exsisto bono."

Anubis nodded, the cowl slipping a little from his face, revealing a dark void. "The question of food will depend on just how cooperative you are now we have a chance to talk." He paused, standing, his robes rippling around his feet as he strode towards Jack. He bent, taking Jack's chin in a firm grip and raised it, pulling it painfully up until O'Neill met his gaze, his neck bent at an awkward angle. "Why are you speaking in Ancient?"

Several things flashed through Jack's mind in the next moment. He hadn't every realised he was speaking in anything other than English until Anubis had mentioned it, but it was hardly surprising. What was surprising was that the Goa'uld had not only recognised the language, but appeared to understand it.

Jack may a conscious effort and managed to make the switch back to his native tongue. "Ancient? Moi? Not likely. School boy Latin – the product of a Catholic upbringing. Just messing with you a little." He grinned his best shit-eating grin. "It worked."

His chin was dropped, and he thankfully lowered his head again. The Goa'uld was silent, and Jack finally looked up, to find the horror-movie visage pointed directly at him.

"I think you will soon find little to joke about, O'Neill. I have questions I want answers to – answers I am sure you can provide."

Jack felt a strange relief at being back on familiar ground. Torture. He could do torture. It was mind games he had a problem with right now. What little mind he had left wasn't in any condition for games.

"Herak will prepare you. Do not be concerned – I have matters to attend to, but I shall return."

"Ophero non volito mehi." Jack gave himself a mental kick, annoyed at his slip back into Ancient.

Anubis paused in his steps and turned back. "This is interesting, but it can wait. As you say, I will not hurry on your account. I intend to take my time with you, O'Neill." He spun and exited the room, his entourage of hangers-on hurrying to follow, leaving only a grimly smiling First Prime.

"Oh, goody."

It seemed Ancient did not lend itself to sarcasm.

**********

At first it seemed to Jack that his interrogation would go along the standard lines. The usual high table, the straps – except in this case there was the interesting, but not unique, addition of a yoke across his neck which also held his hands securely in place, and the normal gloating attendants standing in the wings to observe.

Things started to go south when Herak brought out a spiky metal ball, holding it extended on the palm of his right hand so Jack could get a good look at it.

"We have recently used this on Jonas Quinn, with great success. My Lord Anubis was very pleased with the information we obtained from him."

Jonas? Jonas had been here? And recently? Jack tried to get his head around the information. Where was Jonas now and what about Teal'c and Carter? Had they been captured as well?

He knew better than to ask. He closed his eyes, fighting the sudden urge to struggle.

"I see you are ready, Colonel O'Neill. Good." Jack didn't need to look to recognise the echoing tones of the Goa'uld.

He felt, rather than saw, the snake approach, that weird hair rising on the back of the neck sensation growing as the seconds stretched on.

When it happened, it took him by surprise even though he had been expecting it. There was a sudden, sharp pressure against his skull then pain as the thing burrowed into his brain. He couldn't tell where the entry point was as agony engulfed his entire head. It moved quickly, tentacles seeming to reach down deep inside him, inching their way through his thoughts.

Jack could hear himself whimpering, a soft, low sound that did little to alleviate his distress, but he couldn't help it.

"The pain is severe, I have been told - a rather pleasing side-effect of the device. But you can end it swiftly by not fighting. Show me what I need to know and you can return to your cell. There is food waiting for you already."

"Peto Abyssus."

Anubis laughed, and Jack felt his breath against his cheek as he leaned closer and spoke softly into his ear.

"The only one going to Hell is you, Colonel. In fact, you are already there."

**********

Jack had never thought he would be happy to see a cell, but when he was tossed back through the door, he could only feel relief.

He rubbed at his neck, cringing at the stabbing pain that shot down and sent his spine spasming. The nasty metal ball was still imbedded somewhere inside his head, ready for the next session. Herak had taken great delight in telling him that when he had finally regained consciousness.

And all for what? The questions had seemed random and often quite meaningless. Anubis had wanted gate addresses – where the Alpha site had been moved to, the planets the Tok'ra used, planets with Ancient technology. That last one seemed of special interest.

Jack had resisted, feeling the snake pushing into his thoughts. He had tried to keep his Ancient knowledge from the Goa'uld at all costs, mentally spitting out gate addresses at random as a distraction. For once his ability to forget the details of missions and briefings unless important, was an advantage as he regurgitated the symbols without any actual information. At last the barrage of information had been too much and the Goa'uld had called a halt to the proceedings, with a promise of more to come.

Jack crawled his way to the bowl sitting in the center of the room, seeing Anubis had not been lying when he had said he had ordered food for him.

Food for his pet Tau'ri.

Jack took a few bites of the soft bread and promptly threw up.

**********

"This time we shall try something different, Colonel." Anubis stretched out a gloved hand and patted him gently on the shoulder. Jack couldn't help flinching. "You have done well." Another pat. "I am pleased. Already my men are investigating the planets you have given me, so we shall move on."

Jack could do nothing but shake his head. He was ill-prepared for another interrogation so soon after the last. If Anubis found out about the information Jack held in his brain, he would use it to destroy everything that stood in his path to total domination, including Earth.

"Tell me about yourself, Colonel. Tell me a little of your life at the SGC. What led you to be alone on the planet where you were captured?"

For a second an image of the alien ship flashed through Jack's brain, and he panicked, replacing it with the first thing that came into his head – with his strongest memory.

Charlie lay on the floor of the master bedroom, the hole in his chest pouring blood. Jack knelt beside him, sure his own heart would stop at any moment.

Sorrow engulfed him.

**********

Anubis had his memories. He had seen his most private moments of grief and had twisted them, taunting him as being weak and not worthy to be called a warrior. He had laughed as Jack cried silently, tears running down his face and on to the hard metal table. Jack couldn't even wipe them away.

Now, back once more in his cell, he scrubbed at his face in a futile attempt to hide the evidence of his weakness.

He had hidden the Ancient knowledge within him from the snake, but at what cost?

**********

The now regular meals were a means of working out the passing of time. Once a day they arrived, now in proper plates or bowls. Every two or three days Jack was taken back to the torture room and played with. And every three or four days he managed to keep some food down.

When asked about his use of Ancient – something that was happening more and more often as his will-power was eroded – he dredged up memories of his childhood that were so detailed he surprised even himself - Father Dooley, snapping the wooden ruler at any boy who couldn't repeat the declensions immediately when he shouted out a question, even in the middle of a science lesson. Jack's knuckles still had the scars, but it was amazing how much he had actually retained. It had come in handy when he and Teal'c had done the translation during the time loop. And he remembered his mother's pride when he received the school prize for Latin – a subject he had seen as totally pointless and a complete waste of time.

He had SO proved himself wrong.

It seemed to work. Now Anubis didn't even bother to attend most of the sessions, leaving Jack to the tender mercies of Herak and his Jaffa.

The First Prime told him they had no intention of removing the device, and that they were amazed he had lasted so long. Most, he said, died within a few days. Then he asked about Charlie again, and laughed as the memories flooded Jack's brain.

Was Jonas dead? How many others had been lost while Jack was in this living hell?

To complete his misery, the dreams were back. The last one featured Daniel, his face so twisted and contorted that he looked like a completely different person. He ranted at Jack, shouting accusations that he had been trapped, one moment demanding in a supercilious tone to be released and in another calling out for his father.

His voice sounded like Charlie's.

**********

"You intrigue me, O'Neill. I assumed you were like any other First Prime, loyal and clever, but merely a warrior, but our sessions have hinted at something more – something you hide." Anubis leaned forward on his throne, his hood nodding as he moved his head. "I grow weary of our games. It seems that for some reason my little toy cannot delve deep enough to truly uncover your secrets, so I have decided I must reluctantly resort to more primitive methods. Fortunately Herak is well practised in the art."

He waved a hand and Jack was pulled from his position on the floor. Just as he was almost to the door, Anubis spoke again, causing the guards to halt in their tracks.

"Do not be concerned that you are being damaged beyond repair. I keep a sarcophagus for just these occasions."

His laughter followed them out.

**********

Breaking bones is much harder than you think – unless of course, you are a Jaffa with over two hundred pounds of solid muscle with orders from his god. Then it's quite easy.

Jack's leg snapped as soon as he shook his head when the first question was asked. It seemed Anubis hadn't been taken in by his subterfuge after all. The words 'ancient' and 'secrets' merged into background noise as his attention was riveted on the sight of a piece of his tibia sticking through the skin.

It all seemed so unreal, like a dream sequence in a movie. Even the pain he knew he should be experiencing was dull and easily ignored.

But extreme pain can only be ignored for so long, even when you are losing your mind. Eventually, as a pain stick sent signals along his nerves and out his mouth and eyes, he collapsed, his limbs still twitching even as he lapsed into unconsciousness.

He woke in the sarcophagus, and for long horrifying moments thought he was back in the hands of Ba'al. When the lid split open and Herak's face stared down at him, the reality of his situation returned and he was somewhat relieved to know Ba'al didn't figure in the equation. Ba'al had his own brand of sadism that even Anubis and his goons couldn't aspire to.

He lay there, wondering why they didn't lift him out, but pleased at the same time to rest, even if it was likely to be short. What he didn't expect was the sharp poke of Herak's finger into his leg and the resulting excruciating pain.

"Well? What are you waiting for?"

"He is not healed, My Lord."

Jack could hear the anxiety in the First Prime's voice. It was clear Anubis didn't appreciate mistakes being made.

Within moments Herak was rudely pushed aside, replaced by the black hole that masqueraded as the snake's face. Jack's leg was grabbed in a gloved fist and moved, shoved backwards and forwards until he moaned in agony.

"Take him out." The order was terse and the resulting actions hurried, and Jack was soon dumped in a heap on the floor, blood splattering across the cold metal. He watched through eyes blurred with pain while the Goa'uld took a staff weapon and fired at the Jaffa standing next to Herak. The First Prime didn't flinch.

"Test it."

The resulting mess was scraped up off the floor and thrown unceremoniously into the golden box.

It looked like it may be a while, and it appeared everyone was quite prepared to wait.

"Could I get a little help? Bloodstains are so hard to get out of the rugs."

"There are no rugs."

Jack rolled his eyes at the Goa'uld. "Look, if you want to continue 'playing' with me, you'll have to do some old-fashioned doctoring." He gestured to his leg. "This isn't the soundest limb I have. It's been through a lot in the last year or so and it's almost out of warranty. You wouldn't want a one-legged Tau'ri with a very foul temper stomping around your palace, now would you? I get very tetchy when I have to limp."

Jack was sure that if the snake had any eyes he would be rolling them in return. "You are beginning to annoy me, O'Neill. Do not try my patience any longer." Anubis turned to Herak. "Have him returned to his cell and see to his injuries." With that he swept from the room, leaving behind a very apprehensive group of Jaffa.

From the corner of his eye, Jack caught movement. "Hey, guys, you may want to check your buddy."

They stared at him. He raised an eyebrow and pointed towards the sarcophagus. Finally understanding, they all watched as their recently deceased comrade sat up, looking rather disoriented.

Jack grimaced. So it worked. Just not on him. Oh well, he could live with that. Or die with it, as the case may be.

He raised a hand, waving it for attention. "Hello. Still bleeding here."

Once again they stared at him and he finally realised what the problem was.

Everything he had said since waking in the sarcophagus had been in Ancient.

Crap.

**********

The tall figure stalking towards them, its eyes glowing hotly in the semi-darkness of the corridor, had even the behemoth Jaffa ducking to get out of its way. Jack twisted his head to watch its progress until it turned the corner. The strange creatures, skulls or kulls or something, were certainly scary looking, but he wondered just how much use they would be in a real battle. They looked like typical cannon fodder. He had heard the Jaffa talking about them during his sojourns in the torture chamber and they didn't seem any more enamoured with the things than he was.

His thoughts were violently turned back to his own situation as he was pushed up against the wall inside his cell and told to stand.

Wasn't going to happen.

He slipped into an untidy slouched posture, his broken leg stuck out in front of him.

"We have no healers. Our symbiotes heal our injuries. Those that can't, die." One of the guards appeared in the doorway, holding a bundle out. The First Prime took it and flung it on the floor, where it broke open, revealing a few bandages and some lengths of wood that could be used as a splint. "Here. I shall see clean water is brought."

He turned to leave.

"Hey, Nuby isn't going to be happy you know."

Herak ignored him and left, the guards following and shutting the cell door behind them.

Jack couldn't resist a parting shot. "Bet you miss my dry wit."

He sighed and began the grim task of treating his own injuries. The broken leg was by far the worst, and it was a gruesome sight, one that had his already queasy stomach churning. But he pushed down the nausea and got on with the job, doing the best he could with no help. True to his word, Herak had a large container of water delivered, and he used that to carefully wash the wound, drying it with some cloth that was bundled in with the bandages. By the time he had finished splinting and wrapping his leg, Jack was shivering with cold.

He recognised the signs - he was going into shock. He pressed his hands on the limb, willing the healing power he had used back on Harry's moon to return, but only managing a minute or two of warm glow before losing consciousness.

**********

The pain stick had him thrashing, crying out against his captors as the electrodes shot current into his body. He strained against the chair he was tied to, begging over and over for it to stop. "Punto…por favour."

Except he had Daniel's face. And he was speaking Spanish.

**********

He was leaning against the wall again when the lights went out, having pulled himself up after lying down for far too long. He felt like all he'd done lately was lie down in his cell, get dragged through corridors, and lie down again on the torture slab.

He was sick of lying down.

Waking this time, he had found his mind clearer.

He couldn't pace – his leg was far from healed, although it wasn't as bad as it should have been, courtesy of the short burst of power he'd managed before blacking out. So, hours later, he was leaning against the wall and considering his options – not that there were many.

Then, the lights went out and the dull ever-present hum of machinery ceased.

The sudden darkness was accompanied by muffled explosions and running feet. Jack knew the cell intimately, having paced its length so often - he had no need to see. He eased himself up and made a lurching, almost-fall towards it and when there, leaned against the cool metal, listening intently.

The sarcophagus may not have healed Jack, but something had clicked in his brain and he seemed to have achieved some sort of clarity. How long it would last, he didn't know. Perhaps it was the final burst his mind gave before the end, like a dying fruit tree with its boughs laden while its heart was rotten. All he knew was that an opportunity had been handed to him, and he'd be damned if he wasn't going to take it.

One chance – one change in his luck – was all he was looking for.

Just one.

He waited until the shouts and hurrying footsteps ceased then pressed the door release – that small panel to the left of the entrance that had taunted him all these days, no more able to be opened than if it was sealed with an old-fashioned padlock.

There was a thud and a clunk, but nothing more.

From somewhere, deep inside, the idea that he could do more rose up, and he prised at the cover plate, heedless of the way his already broken fingernails cracked and split. The revealed mish-mash of tiny crystals gave out just enough light for his questing fingers to find the pattern he instinctively knew, and, moving with a sureness he took for granted, they rearranged the patterns. The middle green moved upwards, white taking its place while the red on the bottom row was discarded altogether, dropped to the floor and then trodden on by bare feet without even realising he had done so. With a final 'snick' the large orange crystal on the right was pushed inwards two notches and the door slid open.

Burning torches illuminated the corridor, sending flares of light into corner and then receding, leaving them dark once more. Jack slipped around the door, looked both ways, held his breath for a few seconds then crept forward. He bit back a groan as his injured leg protested, and forced himself to ignore it. He was experienced at limping. Maybe when he got back to the SGC he would get the Doc to cut the damn thing off and be done with it.

He passed through the maze of corridors like a shadow, waiting in alcoves while Jaffa ran past, and ducking into empty rooms to avoid Goa'uld and skull monsters.

The first massive black armoured creature that passed had almost caught him, only its slowness and single-mindedness giving him a chance to hide behind a metal protuberance sticking out from the wall. Not for the first time Jack gave a small thanks for the Goa'uld architects who designed their ships and bases with more thought to effect than practicality. He watched carefully as the thing stalked ponderously past, wondering if the helmet it wore acted like a blinker, making it impossible to see out the sides. Something worth remembering.

He had no idea what was going on, except that Anubis's base appeared to be under attack, shrill alarms sounding loud in the empty halls. At first he hoped to come across the attacking forces, figuring that throwing in his lot with them would be better than sticking around until his value as a plaything ran out. Then he had a sudden thought – maybe it was Ba'al trying a takeover bid. Did he really want to swap one torturer for another? At least Nuby had a reason for what he was doing. Ba'al might have pretended to be after information, but Jack had seen the light of sadism in his eyes and the way he licked his lips as each groan was rung from his victim. No – Ba'al was one sick bastard. Rather than letting himself fall into Ba'al's hands, Jack decided he would find a way to end things here, maybe taking out the high and mighty snakehead Anubis in the process. He hurried on, searching for something, anything, he could use to arm himself.

There! A movement down at the end of the hallway. Running figures.

Jack slunk back against the wall. Maybe he could catch one of the approaching soldiers off-guard as he went past – grab a weapon.

Pounding footsteps told him they were close, and he turned slightly, hiding his face, only lifting it as they ran by.

A flash of familiar green. Unruly blonde hair.

God! It was Carter.

For a second he froze, too stunned to move, then he stepped out into the middle of the corridor, his mouth already open to cry out.

A force flung him sideways, throwing him into the same wall detail he had hidden behind and leaving him to slip down onto the floor. Light shone on the black warrior's armour as it pursued the fleeing figures, its long strides eating up the gap between them. More joined it, running down the hall after their quarry.

As the last one passed, Jack didn't hesitate. He jumped up and took off in a limping run after them.

He couldn't bridge the gap.

Turning the corner, he saw Teal'c's face clearly for the first time, and realised the third person was Jacob, his hand on his daughter's arm, urging her on. They stopped at a door, Jacob pushing frantically at the control panel.

Then it happened. Teal'c's gaze caught his and Jack was sure he saw a flash of recognition.

He had been found. They would rescue him.

He would be going home.

He blinked as Teal'c turned and followed Carter and Jacob through the now open door.

No!

They would be waiting for him on the other side. Of course they had to get rid of the kull things that were chasing them first.

Jack made it to the opening, squeezing through the damaged panels and out onto the same walkway by which he had entered the base. For the first time in weeks he felt the rush of fresh air on his face as the wind buffered him, making him almost lose his already precarious footing. He ran, staggered, and ran as if his life depended on it.

Because it did.

Up ahead a tel'tac hovered, its bottom kissing the surface of the landing pad. One by one his friends jumped into the craft. He expected them to turn – to blast the pursuing warriors away and reach out a hand to haul him in.

His breath burnt in his throat. His heart beat wildly, as if about to burst.

His leg gave out and he toppled down.

And watched in disbelief as the ship – his salvation – lifted, turned, and left him there.

He didn't resist when kicked onto his back.

He didn't protest when dragged back to the torture chamber.

He didn't utter a sound as he was beaten.

But something inside him died.

**********

He woke with the taste of fear in his mouth and the knowledge that somewhere in amongst all the torture and the pain he had found his path.

**********

"Came to give me a pep-talk?"

He rolled, wincing when the light hit his eyes.

Carter was sitting on the cell floor, her back against the wall. He squinted, trying to get his battered lids to open wider. She looked pale, with a bruise on her temple already fading to yellow.

He didn't try to get up as he answered her. "I didn't come to give you anything. You came to me."

Her forehead creased into a frown and she cocked her head to one side. "Friends?"

His laugh was bitter. "Friends? I'd hardly call us that. Not now."

"So as long as I'm thinking about you…"

He cut her off. "Thinking about me? I doubt that. You've gotten on with your life because it's easier than admitting you forgot about me. I'm a complication – one you'd rather do without."

Her dark-ringed eyes stared back at him as if she hadn't heard. "One last thing…"

"There is no last thing, Major. We're done." He rolled back over, turning his back to her. "I said this to Daniel and I'll say it to you – fuck off."

**********

"You wanted to see me?"

"That was weeks ago."

"I was busy."

Jack straightened awkwardly. The damage that had been done to his leg had taken its toll, leaving it crooked and barely able to hold his weight. The fact Herak and his goons had taken a particular interest in that part of his anatomy hadn't helped either. The days since the attack on the base had been brutal and bitter ones for the colonel, but his new found determination had steeled him, despite making him feel as twisted as his malformed limb.

Now his request for an audience had been granted, he was briefly at a loss for words.

Anubis leaned forward, his hands gripping the arms of his throne. "Well?"

The time had come, but Jack couldn't bring himself to answer. He shook his head, his throat suddenly dry.

"Never mind. I ordered you brought to me for my own purpose." The Goa'uld seemed to really see him for the first time – he sat back slightly and turned to Herak, gesturing towards Jack. "Have him readied for the trip. See he is cleaned up, his appearance offends me."

The First Prime wrinkled his nose. "Yes, My Lord."

And so Jack found himself being bathed, shaved and given a haircut by a resentful Jaffa – one of his many torturers. The shaving may have been a trifle close at times, and the Jaffa hadn't been gentle, but Jack revelled in the feeling of being clean. He had almost forgotten what it was like to not have matted hair hanging into his eyes, to not smell his own putrid breath, and to have clothes that were more than rags.

At one point in the proceedings he caught sight of himself in a mirror. The glimpse was enough to turn his stomach as an emaciated wreck stared back at him through sunken eyes that seemed too large for a face crisscrossed with new lines and scars. His hair had more than a few white strands mingling amongst the gray.

He had become old.

He turned away, mourning the fit warrior he had once been.

And that he could have been again if he had been rescued.

**********

They ringed down together, into devastation. Jack stared around him, wondering why Anubis had brought him here. He could see nothing he recognised, just bare earth, debris, and in the distance, trees.

"I wanted to thank you, Colonel. I asked you for the new site of your world's base and you gave it to me. Without your information the search would have been long." The Goa'uld walked forward, Jack trailing slightly behind on his left side, one of the skulls flanking him. "Many Tok'ra and rebel Jaffa died here, along with your own people." They stepped over rocks, skirting the remains of equipment that was horribly familiar. The area they had ringed down into was dominated by the stargate, the huge ring lying flat on its back like some carelessly discarded giant toy. "The battle was short. My kull warriors saw to that."

"Enough with the cryptic comments. Where the hell are we?"

"I believe you call it the Alpha site." Anubis's Ancient had become more and more fluid each time he spoke to Jack, as if he hadn't used it for a very long time. "I'm surprised you don't recognise it. After all, you are the one who gave me the address."

He hadn't. He hadn't known anything about a new Alpha site.

He hadn't.

Jack turned and looked up at the mountains, his eyes recognising what his mind refused to.

He knew this place. It was one of the many sites he and his team had surveyed. It was a planet devoid of intelligent life, and of anything of interest at all. They had deemed it boring as hell.

He lowered his gaze back down to the area they were coming to, seeing the bodies scattered here and there, the dull red of dried blood mingling with the broken wood and fallen rocks.

Faces he recognised. Malcolms from SG-16. Slokav – he had been a new recruit, straight out of training and not assigned to a team last Jack knew. Kerr, barely recognisable, looking like he had been caught in the explosion that had left such destruction in its wake.

He even saw a face or two he knew among the Tok'ra and Jaffa lying dead, and he couldn't help but find himself looking for more faces – ones he was afraid to find.

His own team may have been here. Jonas, if he had escaped Anubis's clutches, Teal'c and Carter.

Did he hope they had been here?

Somewhere deep inside perhaps he did. They had left him. If he found their bodies, he could leave them as well.

Jack was barely aware of Anubis's voice, telling him how he planned to find some Ancient city. Something about weapons.

He had done this – caused these deaths. Careless words had been enough to destroy so many lives.

"One of your teammates, the woman, was here. She was in a building over there." Anubis nodded towards a space devoid of anything except pieces of debris no larger than small boulders. "She was with one of the Tok'ra – her father I believe. An interesting relationship and one I would have liked to explore more fully if given the chance. It is a pity they died."

Jack shook his head, half in denial and half trying to clear it. "No." Now it had been said he knew he did care. The fact that the bodies surrounding them were there because of him was bad enough, but the thought that Carter and Jacob were. . . "No."

The Goa'uld reached into a fold in his robes, bringing out a battered green cap. His face may have been missing but his voice conveyed his pleasure. "Major Samantha Carter."

He held the cap out and Jack found himself taking it without conscious effort. He twisted it in his hands, still staring at the snake, "Nunquamo," unable to look.

He knew the name tag would be there. He could feel it under his fingertips.

He twisted the hat, his fingers dancing on the rim, while his mind danced from emotion to emotion, each stranger than the last, until finally the alien consumed the normal and left him staring at the object in his hand in mute incomprehension.

Jack ignored the kull warrior, left to eliminate any survivors, and limped after Anubis, just one follower among many.

Just before they ringed back up to the ship he dropped the cap in the dust, leaving it and his past behind.

**********

"Why, O'Neill? Why, after all this time?" Anubis drummed his fingers. "I am suspicious of your motives."

Jack didn't answer immediately. The kneeling position he was in should have been agonising for his crippled leg, but he had found his physical body was now unimportant, pushed to the side while his mind spiralled down new paths.

With some difficulty, he brought his attention back to the Goa'uld. He spoke hesitatingly, almost stuttering. "I need to find. . . to complete. . . what is inside me must be used before it destroys me."

Anubis leaned forward. "What is it that is inside you, O'Neill?"

Jack's voice firmed. He finally looked directly into the Goa'uld's face. "Power, My Lord, vast power. And it is yours to command."

**********

Jack sat up, realising that the sense that had saved his life so often had been right to warn him of a presence in his room.

Things were looking up at last. He had been released from the cell and brought to this rather plain, but luxurious in comparison, bedroom. It even came with a closet of clothes and washing facilities. Sure, there was a guard posted at the door and he wasn't allowed out unless summoned, but he didn't care – he had a soft mattress and regular meals.

It was that same mattress he was lying on when he had been woken from his light doze by the feeling he was being watched.

"For crying out loud! What do you want? Can't a guy have a nap around here without someone floating in for a visit?"

Janet Fraiser shook her head, her eyes alight with anger. Jack couldn't help looking at her hands to make sure she wasn't holding any sharp pointy medical instruments.

"I can't believe you're doing this, sir, betraying your own planet and your friends. Why? Why are you doing it?"

Jack laughed, moving his feet onto the floor and standing. "Funny – that's exactly what Lord Anubis wanted to know."

"Lord? He's a snake – one of those Goa'uld you have been fighting so long – and now you are calling him Lord?"

"Yeah, well, at least he's looking after me." Jack rubbed his face, limping over to the jug of water on a small table. "You go without the most basic of comforts for over a year and then tell me what I should and shouldn't be doing." He poured a drink, and moved to sit in the single chair, holding the glass carefully in shaking hands. "As for betrayal – you're preaching to the wrong guy, Doc. I could write a book about betrayal and how it feels to be abandoned."

"No one has abandoned you, sir. They have never given up hope of finding you."

"That's where you're wrong! They did find me and they left me here." The glass shattered against the wall, flung by a man so angry he could barely speak.

"No! You can't believe that." Fraiser came closer, squatting down beside Jack's chair. "Teal'c didn't see you. You can't believe he would have left you if he had."

"Can't I?"

"No, in your heart you know you're wrong. Your team, General Hammond, everyone at the SGC have been searching for you all this time, but they've had other battles to fight. These kull warriors are unstoppable, that's what Sam and Jacob were working on at the new Alpha site."

He interrupted, his voice vibrating with fury. "They're busy fighting the kulls? That's rich. Those things are so big and slow they could be taken out with a well aimed slingshot. You'll have to come up with a better answer than that."

"You haven't seen them in action, Jack."

He raised an eyebrow. "It's Jack now, is it?"

"We're friends, aren't we?"

"I can't be friends with a figment of my imagination. I guess there's something inside me wants human companionship, so I conjure up someone I can talk to. You, Carter, Daniel. Probably going to be the pizza guy next."

"There is a lot more going on than you are aware of, sir, and you're giving Anubis what he wants because of a misguided sense of injustice? Is that all it is? A temper tantrum? A fit of pique?"

"No, I. . . " Jack stopped, giving her a calculating look. "How do I know you aren't something created by this thing in my head?" He tapped the spot that gave him the most pain, and where he assumed the implant to have been inserted. "Trying to find stuff out." He turned his head towards the door as if he expected it to open, then back to Janet. "I don't have to explain my motives. You are a figment – nothing more."

"No. You're not imagining me. I'm really here."

Jack's lips twisted into a smile. He extended his right hand and waved it through the doctor's face, waggling his fingers as he did so. "Yeah, right."

"Last time it was a shoe."

He gave Janet a startled look, thinking through the implication of her words, before asking softly, "Like Daniel?"

She nodded, her face sad. "Exactly like Daniel. I'm dead, Jack."

"Dead? How?"

"A team member was injured offworld – Simon Wells of SG-13. I went along with the rescue party. I didn't know what hit me. Alive one second, dead the next. Colonel Dixon was hit too and almost died, he's been leading SG-1 for over a year now, but Sam, Teal'c and Daniel were okay." She smiled, her expression relaxing. "And Simon made it. His wife gave birth to a little girl. They named her Janet, after me."

For a second Jack almost found himself being pulled into the delusion. His eyes began to water and he rubbed at them angrily, then he froze, his mind going into overdrive.

"Jack?"

When he spoke it was in a snarl, every word spat out from between bared teeth. "You almost had me going there with your sob story of heroic self-sacrifice. Almost. But you made two mistakes. Daniel and Carter are dead."

"No. Daniel came back to us months ago. Sam escaped the kull warrior and was rescued by Daniel and Dave Dixon. I'm the only dead person around here, Colonel."

"Dead. They're all dead. And now you are too. Dead." Jack began to chant, muttering the words over and over. "Morte, morte, morte, vos es mortuus."

"Nul desperandum."

His eyes flickered across her face at her words, but he continued to mutter. "Doc doesn't speak Ancient. She isn't real. Dead, all dead. Dead." He knew he was losing his mind and this was just more proof. Anubis had told him they encountered SGC troops on another of the planets he had given them, and this apparition was merely a manifestation of the guilt he felt. Janet's death as punishment for his transgressions. For what he was doing.

Mea culpa.

Nothing more.

Nothing more.

He shook his head and rocked backwards and forwards. His dream was telling him not to despair, but he had done so long ago.

Jack continued to rock far into the night as Janet kept watch over him.

**********

"Hoc est Proklarush Taonas"

Anubis pointed a glove encased figure at the pieces of paper strewn on the work bench. "Here, O'Neill? There is nothing on this planet but fire."

Jack could only nod, it was all he had left, that and the desire for vengeance – that burned brightly while his humanity died.

"My spies tell me your people have been searching for weapons capable of defeating me. We shall travel to your planet first." The Goa'uld turned to leave but paused, giving Jack one last long look. "If I find you are toying with me, you will become part of this planet of fire, but only after you watch your own world burn beneath your feet."

"Mei Dominus" Jack bowed low, waiting until Anubis left before straightening and returning to the pieces of equipment scattered around the large workroom. He ignored the watching Jaffa, hurrying to finish his work, driven to complete it before time ran out.

**********

Even Jack's addled brain could tell the Goa'uld was furious. He stormed across the bridge of his mothership, ignoring the cowering Jaffa around him.

"How dare he speak to me that way? I am his god. I will destroy this planet and everything on it, leaving nothing but bare rock. This Hayes will be the first to perish. I shall leave my fleet here, in the skies of your homeworld, O'Neill, as a reminder of just what they risk when they question their god."

Jack carried on, more interested in the ring transport he was building. He lost himself in the calculations flashing through his mind, finding some sense of peace in the formula.

His concentration was scattered as a hand pulled him to his feet, grabbing him by the collar of the black tunic he wore. He found himself breathing into the void that was the Goa'uld's face. He knew Anubis was speaking, but whatever he was saying was beyond Jack's comprehension. All he saw were lights flashing in the darkness and images of loneliness and fear. He leaned forward, staring, feeling himself being sucked into a morass of sensation, almost craving the emotion and, for a second, remembering what he had lost. Then he was flung aside like a rag doll as the Goa'uld gave an exasperated exclamation.

Jack scrambled up and went on with his work.

He surfaced slightly, hours later, if only long enough to rearrange the drive crystals. Getting a zat was difficult, but he managed it, taking his guard by surprise and using the weapon to activate the process he had initiated. As the massive ship lurched forward, going far beyond its normal top speed, he sat back, shaking his head in a vain attempt to dispel the fog that was rapidly filling it. He didn't even notice the hiss of three zat blasts as his unfortunate guard was punished for his neglect.

**********

The Goa'uld held the object carefully, its green and orange lights reflecting off the strangely metallic surface of his cloak.

"Explain."

Jack pointed up at the stars circling his head, no longer having the words. He hoped the Goa'uld got it, because there wasn't much time. Jack needed to get back to Earth. The pressure was building.

The image zoomed in, showing a planet with swirling clouds floating over blue and white.

"This is your own planet?"

Jack nodded, wishing he could rest.

"It is there we shall find the weapon?" When Jack nodded this time, Anubis gave one in return. "This power supply will enable us to use it?" It wasn't really a question, so Jack just shut his eyes. The Goa'uld knew what the thing in his hands was, he clearly recognised it. Jack could rest now – he needed his strength for what was to come.

He was dimly aware of being carried back to the rings and then of being deposited in his cramped quarters.

He snuggled his head into the somewhat solid Jaffa version of a pillow, and slept.

**********

The sky was filled with the sound of aircraft as F-302's raced over a landscape torn with ridges and crevasses of ice. They looked somehow triumphant, like teenagers eager to push themselves to the limit and sure of their invulnerability. With co- ordinated grace they formed into groups, each targeting one of the hovering Goa'uld ships, and then, with astonishing speed, leaped into the attack.

Arms of yellow fire spat from the pristine snow, hunted, found prey, and struck.

It was over in seconds. Earth's defence fell to the ground in burning heaps of molten metal.

The best was kept for last, as Earth's last hope, the Prometheus, turned and made a run towards the mothership looming above it. It had barely gone a few meters before it too was engulfed in flame.

And Anubis laughed aloud, one hand firmly gripping his shoulder in approval as Jack grinned and relaxed into the comforting surface of the Ancient chair.

He could rest.

As he always said, a job worth doing was worth doing well.

**********

"O'Neill, we are here." Herak roughly shook the sleeping man's shoulder. "Lord Anubis awaits you."

Jack nodded, pushing aside the dream images and rubbing the grit from his eyes. He stood, without even straightening his shirt, heedless of his ruffled appearance. The walk to the bridge wasn't long, but he was exhausted before they reached the end of the first corridor and for once he felt grateful for the protocol of kneeling before his god.

The Goa'uld stood over him silently for a time and when he spoke it was quietly, with almost a hint of amused affection. "Can you understand anything that I am saying, O'Neill?" He reached down, putting a hand on the kneeling man's head. "O'Neill, I wish for you to know you have served me well. You have your god's thanks. Once the battle is done, I shall see you are buried with full honors."

Jack opened his mouth, trying to think of the words, wanting to tell the Goa'uld what he thought of the honor, but shut it again within a couple of seconds, already having forgotten what he had been about to say and why. He began to move, awkwardly maneuvering so that his good leg took most of the strain.

Anubis stepped back, giving Jack room and allowing him to get to his feet. The Goa'uld followed him, watching carefully as he hurried to the modified ring transport device. Pieces of machinery littered the grey ring that took up much of the space on the floor in front of Anubis's throne. Jack pushed them away, clearing it while making last minute adjustments.

Before long it was ready. The Goa'uld stepped into the centre, Jack beside him, with a kull warrior in front and behind, their weapons ready.

Herak took up his position at the controls. "My Lord, please allow me to go in your place. This may be a trap. I do not trust this Tau'ri."

"Look at him." Anubis gestured to Jack. "What the mind control device and your torture could not do, the Ancient repository completed. Only instinct drives him now. I doubt he even knows he is betraying his own people. No, your place is here, at the head of my armies. With the weapon hidden below, I shall be unstoppable. The power of the Ancients is mine."

They turned as urgent words interrupted them. "We read numerous craft approaching, My Lord!" The Jaffa at the scanner controls pointed at the screen. "They appear to be small attack vessels. There is also a larger ship just entering the area, but our scanners show its weapons are inferior to our own."

The First Prime made a final plea. "My Lord, I beg you to remain here. It is too dangerous to ring to the planet until this threat is eliminated."

"I shall ring down as planned. See that you deal with this annoyance before I return."

"My Lord." With a bow, Herak activated the controls.

***********

The cavern was dimly lit, and Anubis gave orders for the two kull warriors to switch on the lights they had on their armament. Even with the extra illumination there were various alcoves and larger spaces the light didn't reach at all. Covering some entrance ways were decorations of fine tracery, delicate work seeming out of place in the darkness. The kulls' eyes glowed white as they stood, shining the lights over the large area.

Anubis allowed Jack to lead the way, following as the colonel walked towards a closet-like object, barely as high as the tall Tau'ri.

Jack leaned forward, resting both hands on either side of its doors.

"Dolmata."

"Sleep. Yes, O'Neill, you can sleep all you want soon." Anubis pushed Jack hard in the middle of his back, his patience at an end. "Show me the weapon."

Jack walked on, into a room containing a single chair, identical to the one at Proklarush Taonas. Getting down on his good knee, he held his hand over a spot on the edge of the dais, revealing a spent power core. The Goa'uld took the new one from under his cloak, handing it to Jack.

"Hurry." The single word was snapped out in a tone used to obedience.

Jack turned the core, clicking it into place and pushing down on it until it disappeared into the surface. He hesitated a moment, as if unsure of his next actions, then sat in the throne-like chair, resting his hand carefully on the arm controls, his long fingers playing over them as if they were a musical instrument.

The chair turned, and Anubis gave a disgruntled mutter, but before he could move around to see what Jack was doing, lights came on, bringing the cavern into clear view for the first time.

He hurried around the dais, coming to a halt in front of the seated man once more.

"Well?"

Jack stared at him, his face expressionless, his eyes vacant, but all the while his fingers danced on the control pad. He looked straight into the Goa'uld's face, shut his eyes and gave a small smile.

With a rumble of falling ice, creatures of yellow lava vomited forth from the hole that opened at his feet, shooting up and twisting into separate streams, each seemingly with a will of its own. The kull warriors raised their arms, completely unable to defend themselves against the seething onslaught, their bodies wreathed in fire as they fell to the floor.

"No!" Anubis took one step towards Jack, his outraged scream echoing in the chamber, before he put his arms over his face in a vain attempt to stave off the inevitable.

It was no use.

**********

There had never been much noise down in the caves under the ice.

No cries as Jack fed on the vast energy concealed within him. No holy dread from worshippers. Instead he sat there alone, a man with the powers of gods.

And as the last of the fountain of light was forced from the cavern at his feet, and the huge ship that hovered in the sky above him exploded into thousands of pieces, his head flopped to one side, a god no longer, not even a man - just a husk that had for a brief moment held the fate of worlds in his hands.

His heart fluttered in his chest as he gave himself up to all-consuming tiredness.

**********

The whump of a ring transport broke the silence. Flashlight beams pierced the darkness, coming to rest on the man in the chair.

Footsteps thudded dully on the ice covered floor, as four people ran to cluster around the figure, their faces reflecting their astonishment.

"Jack, god. . . how?" Daniel shook his head in amazement.

:"He must have been with Anubis all this time, otherwise how else could he have gotten here." Dixon turned his gaze shifting from corner to corner as if seeking out a hidden enemy. "What's his condition, Major?"

Carter let her weapon drop as she reached a tentative hand out to the colonel's neck, as if afraid he would vanish at her touch. "His pulse is erratic." She leaned in, speaking straight at him, her tone fierce. "Don't you dare leave us now. We've finally found you."

Her voice seemed to rouse him. His eyes opened, not fully, just slits but enough for them to see the familiar brown looking back at them. They moved, taking in each of them in turn, lingering longest over Daniel and Carter.

"Morte?"

None of them needed the whispered word translated. It was Teal'c who chose to answer, shaking his head emphatically. "No, O'Neill, you are not dead."

"Please, Jack."

He was able to give her only one word in response.

"Dolmata."

She shook her head, looking to her teammates for help. "I don't understand."

"Sleep. It means sleep."

Jack fought to raise a shaking hand, pointing towards the box, its call already loud in his head. "Dolmata."

"Check it out. Major," Dixon ordered, his eyes never leaving his fellow colonel's face. "Hang in there, Jack." There was no answer as Jack's eyes closed once again.

"He must have had another Ancient library of knowledge downloaded for him to be able to use this equipment." Daniel was looking around, but his hand remained firm on Jack's arm. "But how long ago? How much time do we have? We should contact the Asgard. They helped before." The words rushed out faster and faster as his agitation grew. "We have to do something."

Teal'c answered, a hint of moisture shining in the corner of his eyes, exposed by the beams of the lights. "Perhaps there is nothing we can do. O'Neill may have reached the end of his journey."

"No – I refuse to accept that. We just need some time to find a solution."

"And that device may be the answer." Carter came up to them, touching the fingertips of her left hand on Jack's arm as she spoke. "It seems to be similar to the cryogenic chambers on the 'Stromos'. Maybe that's what Colonel O'Neill wants – to be put into it until an answer can be found."

Dixon nodded, but raised an objection. "Do you think it will work? It doesn't look like this equipment has been used for a very long time."

"Something must be working. I assume it was Jack who activated the weapons that destroyed Anubis's fleet." Daniel blinked, his next words spoken more slowly. "Anyway, I don't think we have a choice."

Dave straightened, the decision made. "I agree. Teal'c?"

Teal'c reached down as the others stepped away, lifting Jack from the chair. He carried him the short distance to the chamber, the door opening as they approached. At first it looked like Jack would be unable to stand as he slumped bonelessly in Teal'c arms, but then his eyes opened and he stood, leaning slightly against the cold wall.

**********

He knew they were there – enough of him was still left to recognise the faces, with their mixed expressions of joy and sorrow.

He was dead. He must be, because Carter and Daniel were dead.

But they looked so real, so alive. Dim memories of his conversation with Doc Fraiser surfaced, and he struggled to put the pieces together.

If they hadn't died. . .

There were so many things he needed to say.

He needed to tell them about Harry. That he had made a promise to come back.

He needed to tell them about the alien craft he had found and where he had hidden it.

He needed them to get that damned machine out of his head, to let him think his own thoughts without them being twisted for a snake's evil whim.

He needed to tell them, to explain that he had never hated them, that even at his lowest he had kept fighting the Goa'uld, fighting to hold on long enough to ensure his world was safe.

He needed to tell them not to grieve. That he had always known they would never have given up looking for him.

And that he understood.

There were so many things he needed to say, but none of them would come. So, as the ice formed across his eyelids, he whispered the only thing he had left in him.

"Aveo. . . amacus."

Goodbye, friends.

And finally slept.

The End

Plot bunny assignment

Time frame: AU S6 "Paradise Lost"

Pairings: Gen; S/J UST, or Ship okay, but not central to the story Plot: What if the photos showing the moon in 'Paradise Lost' were misplaced for some reason and Sam never put it all together, so the Tok'Ra didn't send a ship and Jack and Maybourne weren't rescued? How would Jack get off the moon and back to Earth?

*********

There you have it, folks. But I have a confession. I think the 'bunny giver' may have wanted more about what was happening with the rest of SG-1 while Jack was lost, but, as you can see, this already turned into quite a long story. If I had added much more it would have become a novel, and in the time frame I had to write it – wasn't going to happen. I hope they are happy with the end result, even if it perhaps wasn't quite what they wanted.