THE MAKING OF A MADMAN

by Charli Booker

 

"He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God." Aeschylus


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"Thus I became a madman.

"And I have found both freedom of loneliness and the safety from being understood, for those who understand us enslave something in us.

"But let me not be too proud of my safety. Even a Thief in a jail is safe from another thief."

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An optimist once said, 'Life sucks, and then you die.' Obviously, he was unaware of a little known phenomenon called a sarcophagus.

Most of those who know me – or think they do – would be surprised to learn that not only am I bombarded with revelations such as this one, their sheer number and duration appear to be growing exponentially along with the gray in my hair. Those same acquaintances might also be surprised to learn that oftentimes, it is alone thoughts such as these which violently awaken me from a dead sleep. Through trial and error, I have learned nightmares and flashbacks aren't the only spontaneous brain by-products which feed insomnia.

More and more of late, and at the oddest times, I find myself struck with strange notions. Pummeled by thoughts I can't voice; bludgeoned by ideas borne of me yet not my own. Struck as surely as if I'd failed to parry or duck or dodge a gloved, ham-sized, Jaffa fist during a routine sparring session with Teal'c. Like my alien friend, these silent opponents pull no punches.

Some days, I think I must have imagined that the day before I'd thought I was losing my mind. Some days, I wonder if I should worry or if I should just let nature take its course and see what happens. Allow my mind to unfurl until there is no space left inside my skull and words giving voice to the thoughts are forced out, exposing themselves. Or, perhaps my brain will simply curl in on itself, exposing me only to myself.

Some days, like today, are worse than others.

Once again, I re-read the passage from Kahlil's _The Madman_ before placing the small missive on the end table. As an afterthought, I compulsively align the book so it's an equal distance from a half-empty bottle of Pepto-Bismol and a lukewarm glass of 7-Up. I stare at the trio for a moment. Singly, they are minor things, but together they testify against me, against the sore madness which is apparently devouring me from the inside out.

Smiling to what I hope is an empty room, I shake my head in an effort to rid myself of a sudden, inexplicable sense of loneliness and freedom, and in the process manage to empty my mind of the strange thought processes which have birthed an ulcer stretching from my stomach to my head. And, beneath it all lurks the unsettling feeling I'm being watched.

*^*^*

"In the ancient days, when the first quiver of speech came to my lips, I ascended the holy mountain and spoke unto God, saying, 'Master, I am thy slave. Thy hidden will is my law and I shall obey thee for ever more.'

"But God made no answer, and like a mighty tempest passed away."

*^*^*

'_It's only a matter of time_.' How often had I heard my mother use that phrase with respect to my actions catching up with me? Or, referring to the fact that if just desserts were being served, one day I would have a child who would repay me in kind for all the grief I'd given her.

I like to think Mom had no idea how prophetic her words were. It would kill her, and perhaps me as well, to think she might have had a hand in wishing my life, such as it is, upon me. After all, giving me life did not necessitate thought or planning on the part of either of my parents, but to give me _this_ life would have required a conscious, malicious decision.

The matter of time had caught up with me the instant I'd laid eyes on Frank Cromwell standing within the darkened hallways of the SGC. I'd thought my mind or my eyes were deceiving me. Worse, I had a moment where it all came rushing back – the last time I'd seen him. It hadn't been the horrific sight of him jumping onboard a chopper in a whirlwind of dust intended, it seemed, to blind him to the fact he was leaving me behind to a fate worse than death. It hadn't been months later when I'd awakened from a nightmarish existence to find him sitting by my bedside calmly leafing through a tattered copy of _Sports Illustrated_. It was beyond my belief capacity – then and now – to grasp that while I and innumerable others were suffering atrocities at the hands of the enemy, magazines were being published and read, and baseball games were being played. While Frank had spent a quarter of a year following players' stats and wishing I was there to watch the game, I'd forgotten there were such things as Sundays at the park, escape from reality, and friends who kept their word.

No, what struck me as I'd watched Frank facing off against Janet Fraiser was a single moment at Charlie's funeral. I had pulled my grief around me like a shroud to insulate me from such things as good intentions and undeserved sympathy. I did not want relief. I ignored Sara's frantic throes of despair, managing only to show her the barest of my attentions in a rehearsal of a routine which would lead to our eventual demise. Instead, I desperately clung to my shroud, using it to protect the gaping hole in my chest through which my son, three days earlier, had ripped my beating heart. Somewhere, he carried it with him, and once more I found myself a prisoner – tortured, inhabiting an earth-bound Purgatory, always just in the process of dying.

A childless father, I was simply going through the motions of being a husband. My wife, the mother of the child whose empty shell lay encased in the coffin at the front of the room, had asked for tea. It was merely the habit of caring, not the caring itself, which had sent me on a mission. I was returning with a lukewarm cup of Lipton's finest when I saw Frank enter the small chapel. I stopped where I was and, unnoticed, I watched him cross the room and take my sobbing wife in his arms. I observed them speaking to one another. I was too far away to hear what was said, but it didn't matter. I didn't care about the words, and only marveled that they spoke at all. It seemed everyone had something to say about Charlie's death. Everyone but me. Like so many other things, words failed me, and I couldn't recall the last time I'd spoken – least of all to Frank.

As their conversation trailed off, I watched Sara turn and hesitantly point a finger at me. Only yesterday that fragile digit had curled in, forming a fraction of the fist with which my wife had pummeled my chest, railing against me for allowing this tragedy into our home and our lives. Like the guilty man I was, I'd silently endured my punishment until the funeral director and, belatedly, my own father-in-law had pulled her off me. Grief, it seems, not only affects our judgment – eating away at who we think we are – it lends strength. Under its influence, we are capable of enduring things which should kill us; like a curse, it allows us to tolerate the intolerable.

Zombie-like, I forcibly removed my empty gaze from my dead child's mother to the man who stood in front of her, a muscular arm wrapped familiarly around Sara's trim waist. For the first time in as long as I could remember, my eyes met those of the man who'd once been my friend. The man who'd betrayed me. The man who'd kept me from my wife and my son for over four months. Four months I could never get back. Four months away from a son I'd never see again.

And, as simple as that, it was over. The cancer which had been quietly eating away at me – the anger and the hate I'd harbored against Frank – reached vital proportions, and as I looked into his eyes, I felt the last vestige of hope for a reconciliation die. I stared at him and felt nothing but a burning resentment. This man had robbed me of something far more important than my dignity or my freedom or my sanity. He'd stolen my son away from me for four precious months. Silently, I set down the cup of tea, turned and left the room, and never looked back.

Despite what people think, my hatred for Frank has less to do with promises broken than it does with time, and the fact he had robbed me of it. Then, suddenly, when time was once again a valuable commodity, the son-of-a-bitch reappeared. Wanting my forgiveness. Still. All these years later.

'_I thought you were dead_,' he'd said. '_I was sick to my stomach when I found out you were still alive_.'

Yeah, well, he hadn't been the only one. '_You want me to forgive you. Is that it_?' But, I'd known when I'd first laid eyes on him that was his real purpose here. I'd also known he'd leave without getting what he wanted. Hating Frank was as ingrained as missing Charlie. The two went hand-in-hand.

We faced off in the bowels of the SGC. Time was being sucked from the room, and all I could see was a funeral home with ugly blue carpet and a copper-colored coffin far too small to be fair. I thought of the four months I'd spent trying to remember the sound of my son's voice when he called for me in the middle of the night, or the way my wife smelled when, fresh from the shower, she'd step behind me and nuzzle my back as I poured our morning coffee. Overwhelmed by the missing in action, I'd barely heard the ticking of the clock, or Frank's, '_Yeah, I guess I do_.'

I'd dismissed him. I'm good at that.

Later, as we'd dangled over the yawning vortex, I welcomed the pull of the black hole. It proved far less painful than being torn apart by the other unseen force which held Frank and me in its clutches. Like old times, we'd worked well together. The thought had crossed my mind, and his, too. Then, I remembered we were both capable of working as a team even with those we despised. I can't explain the sense of relief that thought brought me. My relief, however, was short-lived.

Life's defining moments are just that . . . moments. Snapshots. I can page through mine as surely as if they were stuffed chronologically in a photo album. Seeing Uncle Mike in full dress uniform, and immediately knowing what I wanted to be when I grew up. Being twelve years old and laying in my bed on a Thursday night, listening to my parents make love in the next room and dreading the next day because my mom would start crying long before my dad came home drunk. Hearing Frank say, 'Who's that?' and turning to lay eyes on Sara for the first time. Staring at Sara's belly while she slept, peacefully oblivious to me and to the life we'd made which was roiling within her. Holding my son while he was still red, blotchy and covered with gore, and seeing none of it – seeing only how miraculous and beautiful he was, and knowing his existence changed mine completely. Putting one final polish on the barrel of my pistol before I wrapped it in the soft piece of chamois, slipped it into the strongbox, and tucked the box on the shelf in my closet. Hearing a single shot in a place where there should be none. Feeling Frank's rope snap.

I grabbed his hand. And my life changed. Straining against the pull of the universe, I clung to the calloused hand which had handed me the ring at my wedding, the fist which had slugged me when I'd said Tony Pena was nothing but a stupid thug who couldn't catch a pop-up fly if it shot out of Dan Quisenberry's ass, and I suddenly saw myself through Frank's eyes.

I saw a man who was hurting. A man who could be a complete ass; a dangerous, funny, stubborn fool who'd been handed tragedy after tragedy he didn't deserve. I saw a man who'd devoted his life to his country, only to be abandoned by his commanding officer, his unit and worst of all, his best friend. I saw a man whose passions were stripped from him – first his son, then his wife. I saw a man who'd tried to protect his decency by burying it so deep inside he'd forgotten it still existed; a guy who no longer realized he was still a good man despite everything he'd endured.

I felt an overwhelming sense of regret and anger and guilt as Frank looked up at me and focused on the tiny scar on the underside of my chin. He'd first seen the neat row of stitches when he'd sat beside my hospital bed at Walter Reed. He'd known my captors had tortured me, beaten me, starved me . . . worse, but for some reason, unknown even to him, he'd become obsessed with that single, minor injury. He was obsessed with it even as he hung over a black hole emanating from a device which was impossible despite proof to the contrary. Frank knew his own life should have been passing before his eyes; instead, he remembered laying awake innumerable nights reenacting the various scenarios in which my injury might have occurred. Had it been the flick of a dirty blade as a knife was pressed menacingly against my throat? A fist slamming into my jaw, knocking my head back as a pinkie ring – obscenely out of place on the hand of my captor – sliced into tender flesh? The sharp sting of gravel as I was forced to the ground and raped? And, worse . . . what had _he_ been doing the instant it had happened? Watching a game, sleeping, making love to his wife?

For years, Frank had wanted to ask, but even if I would have told him – which he knew I wouldn't – he was afraid of the truth. Absolutely terrified to know the depths to which he'd plunged me. There was only one thing Frank wanted more than my forgiveness: he wanted it not to have happened. He wanted to go back to that hot, dusty hell, and he wanted to make that call again. Only this time, he'd go back for me. He'd risk them all just to drag me – limp and bloody – into the belly of the chopper.

He wanted to save me.

He wanted to take my place.

I was frightened, scared by what I saw through Frank's eyes, but even more . . . I was scared of the clarity, the certainty with which I saw and felt and heard.

"No!" I screamed, or thought I did, as I knew his intentions. A second later, his grasp loosened. Before I could tell him it wasn't his fault, before I could admit to myself and to him that I'd only needed someone safe to blame, he was gone.

*^*^*

"My friend, I am not what I seem. Seeming is but a garment I wear – a care-woven garment that protects me from thy questionings and thee from my negligence.

"The 'I' in me, my friend, dwells in the house of silence, and therein it shall remain for ever more, unperceived, unapproachable."

*^*^*

"Colonel?"

I flinch, tugging myself from the memory of where this started. I'm more than a little surprised to find Janet Fraiser standing directly in front of me. "Doc."

A small frown puckers her smooth forehead. "Are you okay, sir?" I blink, trying to buy time as I formulate the answer I think she wants to hear, but my plan backfires – my silence deepens the furrow between her dark eyebrows. "Colonel, I think you should sit down."

I suddenly realize I'm still standing at the foot of the exam table – the same table where five minutes ago, she'd declared me fine. Well . . . '_passable, especially considering your age and your knees and the fact that just a few hours ago you were Teal'c and Daniel_,' Fraiser had stated with an impish grin. But now, Machello is dead, and Daniel is Daniel, and Teal'c is Teal'c, and I'm my crotchety old self again. Aren't I? So, why am I here? What am I doing?

"Sir."

I glance down at her cool hand on my elbow, already dreading the painful flash I know will come. Sure enough, it hits as expected, only this time it's much stronger. Before, it was manageable – a harmless sputter like those little sparklers we used to give Charlie every night for a week leading up to the Fourth of July. But this – this is a sullen, burly thing with the potential for danger. It lacks the power to kill, but it has strength enough to scar, to disfigure: a bottle rocket, perhaps, or a cherry bomb. I stumble beneath the force of it, and momentarily blinded, I make a grab for the end of the bed.

"I need help here," I hear her yell. Or, maybe I don't.

I recover a little, and manage a semi-dignified lean against the bed. "I'm fine," I hear myself mumble.

"I don't think so, Colonel."

She's right, but something within me refuses to give her the satisfaction. "I'm just tired."

"Uh-huh."

And then, somehow, I'm on the floor, and I'm looking up at her as she leans over me, her face full of concern. She reaches out a hand toward me and I grab her wrist, stopping her and squeezing the delicate bone a little too hard. "She'll be fine," I gasp.

Her concern deepens. I don't need to see it on her face to know. "What? Who? Who'll be fine?"

I let go of her and drunkenly push myself to a sitting position. "Cassie."

Stunned, Doc sits back on her heels, paralyzed as she watches two nurses help me to stand. Without further protest, I sit on the edge of the bed – a testament to the weariness that's already pervading my system. I've come to expect it, and the deep, dull throbbing which follows on the heels of the sparklers. Like the harmless light show, this stage, too, has advanced and I feel sicker than I have in a long time. I lie back, closing my eyes against the overhead lights and the truth that I'm being overcome.

"Colonel?" Fraiser's voice is soft – she's worried and a little scared. I can relate. "Can you tell me what's going on?"

Swallowing bile, eyes still closed, I jerk my arm away from the hand I know is reaching for me. "Please . . . don't."

"Don't what?"

In answer, I look at her, squinting up past a pain that's becoming familiar. Doc is frowning and rubbing her bruised wrist with her free hand. The nurses hover.

"Sir," Fraiser's voice is hushed, "why did you say Cassie would be fine?"

I study her face, trying to figure out how to make her understand something I can't quite comprehend myself.

"You said she'd be fine," she prompts.

"She will."

Doc forces a grin and starts to rest a hand on my chest, but I flinch at the movement. She freezes, then out of habit, reaches up and uncoils the stethoscope from around the back of her neck. "That's wonderful. But, what made you say that?"

The cherry bomb has exploded. The damage is done, and all that remains is a pungent haze which saturates the air in the infirmary. There's a heavy pulsing inside my skull and an acidic sting in my gut. Not for the first time today, I regret emptying my last bottle of Pepto-Bismol.

"Sir?"

"I'm still me," I tell her.

Doc smiles kindly. "I'm sure it was strange. Being someone else. Being Teal'c."

As she slips the earpieces of the stethoscope into her ears, I feel sorry for her. She has no idea what I'm talking about. She has no idea that the school bus in which Cassie is riding has only narrowly avoided a five-car pile-up.

*^*^*

"Once, as I was burying one of my dead selves, the grave-digger came by and said to me, 'Of all those who come here to bury, you alone I like.'"

*^*^*

Mumbling my apologies for being late, I sink into the empty chair at the briefing room table between Hammond and Teal'c. As the General opens his mouth to speak, I force a smile. "Yes, sir, I'm fine. We're all fine." At his puzzled look, I shrug. "Sorry. You were going to ask if Doctor Fraiser had cleared SG1. And she has." I pick up the ink pen clipped to the folder on the table in front of me, and hesitantly glance around the table at my team before reluctantly returning my gaze to my commanding officer. "That was what you were going to ask," I belatedly add.

Hammond simply nods, his high forehead wrinkling slightly in a frown. "Yes. I was told you were back in the infirmary."

"Ah, yeah." I uncap the pen and open the folder, staring at the pad of crisp, lined paper. "Just a headache. Nothing . . .," I fumble the pen and haphazardly scribble a word. "Nothing significant." I stare down at my handiwork, and am struck that it has four syllables. Like my team. And, with the exception of the last one, none of the syllables hold any power or meaning on their own. Cant. A slope, a tilt. To set something on edge. Add an apostrophe and everything changes. Can't cant.

"Colonel O'Neill?"

Startled, I look over at my CO. "It was insignificant, sir." But, adding a syllable so there's now one for each occupant around the table doesn't change the fact I'm lying through my teeth. Because this thing inside me most definitely has weight and is exerting influence even as I speak. "So," I sigh, and resisting the urge to look behind me, I look at Carter instead. "How's Dad?"

She seems surprised. "What?"

Hammond must be a little off because he doesn't notice my slip-up. "That's why I called you here. We've had a message from what we believe is the Tok'ra."

"Really?" Daniel slowly turns his head and eyes me closely.

I shrug cluelessly and mouth 'What?' until he turns back toward the head of the table.

"Admittedly, the message is vague," Hammond continues, "but it originated from the former Tok'ra homeworld."

Carter sits up a little straighter. "What does the message say, sir?"

Hammond clears his throat, and I'm suddenly struck by what's bothering him. "Well . . ."

In an effort to ease the way for him, I calmly state, "Someone wants a meeting."

"Yes." Hammond looks down at the sheet of paper in his hands. "The message consists of a set of coordinates and a request for a meeting."

"Coordinates to where?" Carter says.

"I had Sergeant Harriman run the coordinates through our computer," the General drawls. "It's an unknown planet. Nowhere we've been before, but it was on the Abydos cartouche."

Daniel perks up. "When do they want to meet?"

"The message simply indicates the request is urgent."

I frown at Hammond, bothered by the one thing he hasn't yet mentioned. "But, why ask for SG-1, specifically?"

He nods. "That and the origination point of the message lend credence to the fact it's someone we know."

"With all due respect," I tap my pen on the tabletop, "we know a lot of people out there, General, some of whom I'd rather _not_ meet again."

"Then, you don't think it's the Tok'ra, sir?"

The skin on the back of my neck tingling, I smile at my second-in-command. "You're assuming I want to meet the Tok'ra again, Captain. You're also assuming I trust them."

"Which you don't," Daniel mumbled.

Unable to withstand the gnawing feeling of being watched, I swivel my chair and glance behind me before repositioning myself at the table. "You're right, Daniel. I don't." Carter opens her mouth to speak, but I silence her with a simple hand gesture. "No, I can't explain it, Carter, it's just a feeling. Although, it could possibly have something to do with the fact they were willing to hold my people captive last time we went calling."

"They were merely concerned about maintaining the secrecy of their new location."

I know her dad's a snake, but I find it irritating that she constantly defends them. "Sure. Whatever. But, they sure trusted us enough when it came time to find some new hosts for their disgusting little snakes."

"I don't think-"

Hammond silences Carter's protest with a firm, "Getting back to the matter at hand." He wags the paper in his hand. "I'm inclined to grant the request."

I run a hand through my spiky hair. He's right, of course. The need for allies and information far outweighs the risk to an expendable team of four. "When do we leave?"

"That depends. Before I'll even consider allowing SG-1 to go on any off-world mission, I want assurances from each of you – excluding Captain Carter, of course – that you're suffering no residual effects from the," he awkwardly clears his throat, "well, the body swapping."

"No," Daniel says a little too quickly. "Nothing. Well . . . of significance, anyway."

Hammond frowns.

"Don't worry, sir," I assure him. "All Daniel means is he's spending an inordinate amount of time in front of the mirror lately." I grin at my archaeologist. "Just checking, hey, Daniel?"

"How did-," but Daniel closes his mouth before the admission can breach the recycled air. And everyone thinks _I'm_ a closed book. Well, here's a challenge for you: tell me what you know of Daniel Jackson's personal history, multiply it by fifty, and if it doesn't fit on the back of a postcard, I'll kiss the next alien I meet. On the mouth – if he or she or it has one.

Before he even nods, I know Hammond is satisfied with the response. He next looks to our resident Jaffa. "Teal'c?"

"I am fine, General Hammond."

"Well, aside from that sudden, inexplicable feeling of . . .," I think for a moment, carefully choosing my next word, "inadequacy."

Teal'c cocks his head at me.

"Hey, T, listen, you have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of." I flash him what's meant to be a sympathetic smile – really. "It's a natural reaction. I mean, after all, how could you have known? You have only your own . . . species to compare to."

As Carter titters softly, Daniel and Hammond stare at Teal'c, who stiffens and studies me closely. Only two of us know I'm only half-kidding. Who would have thought . . . I mean, in all other respects, the guy is a freakin' giant.

"Colonel," Hammond says worriedly, "are you sure you're-"

"Yes, sir." Already tiring of this new game, I cut Hammond off at the pass. "I'm fine. Absolutely fine."

*^*^*

"Said I, 'You please me exceedingly, but why do you like me?'

"'Because,' said he, 'they come weeping and go weeping-you only come laughing and go laughing.'"

*^*^*

Standing beneath the scalding spray of the shower, trying without success to wash away the filthy remnants of the day, I realize that if I've learned one thing in all my years, it is this: We humans are far less evolved than we care to admit. It's a fact of which I was aware long before the Asgard pointed out that we had a ways to go. I'd always suspected; they merely confirmed it. But, newsflash – humans aren't the only juvenile delinquents in the galaxy, and we're by far not the worst offenders.

I study the Goa'uld, the cavalier manner in which they treat all other life, and I'm reminded of killer whales toying with seals. Not necessarily hungry, a whale will toss a seal into the air perhaps only to see how far it will go. Maybe just to see how many tosses it takes before the pathetic, mewling creature dies. The oceanic version of a pissing contest.

Speaking of which . . . it'd pissed me off. When I'd stared down at Apophis, obscenely sprawled like a busted puppet on the infirmary bed, I'd felt nothing for him but a hatred so vile I'd been in awe of it.

I'd surprised the others. Doc, in particular. For the first time – maybe because I'm suddenly acutely aware of our precariousness, our vulnerability – I'd allowed them, and her, to see a part of me I'd buried years ago. And, in that respect, I suppose I'd surprised no one more than myself – I had thought that after Charlie, I was incapable of resurrecting such depth of feeling. Obviously, I'd been wrong.

I know Apophis eventually died, but that doesn't change the fact I should have killed him. He died and we sent him back so another of his own kind could shove him into a sarcophagus and bring him back for another round. If I'd killed him on that planet . . . who knows. Maybe if I'd buried him deep enough, by the time Sokar had found him, it would have been too late to resurrect him.

Yep. I should have shot him. Then, for good measure, I should have picked up Apophis's broken body and slammed him into the dust of that unknown planet far from Earth. I should have done it again and again. I should have measured how far I could heave him. Counted how many times it took before he died a meager death. His passing should have gone unnoticed, unmourned.

By the time I'd realized my mistake, it'd been too late. To have killed him while he lay within Fraiser's clutches – with my trusty weapon safely locked away in the armory – it would have meant strangling him or snapping his snaky neck with my bare hands. Not that the thought hadn't appealed to me, but that would have meant touching him. And, I couldn't do that. At least, not when he was conscious. Not when our minds might have touched. I think to have touched him like that – to have seen his thoughts and intentions, to have woven my brain within and around the memories of his evil deeds – would have meant death to us both. So, I'd held myself back – not so much from fear of my own demise as from the thought of dying before the job could get thoroughly done. I'd held myself back and I'd watched him, my gaze darting longingly, repeatedly toward the weapons wielded by the guards at the door.

Dowsing my head once more under the hot stream, I place my palms on the damp tile of the large, communal shower and bow my head under the weight of what I've become. Of what I still am despite the passage of time. Beneath my fingertips, the tiles are gritty and I can feel layers of soap scum and filth that have built up like the rings of a tree through the mist of the years.

Despite having scrubbed, I feel dirty.

Despite having been given pre-mission clearance by Janet and her minions, I feel unwell.

Despite having had the Ancient's knowledge removed from me, I feel its presence.

"O'Neill."

The soft voice startles me. For the first time in weeks, I had sensed I was completely alone, and I am jolted from my wet isolation. I tilt my head, listening. Despite his size, Teal'c is faint, his 'voice' somehow comforting. In the beginning – in the days between when my madness first reared its ugly head and when I'd accepted that the things I was hearing were more than my own imagination – I'd thought Teal'c's reassuring presence was due to his being an alien. I have since changed my mind. Instead, I believe it has more to do with his composure, his self-assurance. I feel it now. It wafts toward me like the leisurely waves eternally lapping along the shores of Lake Winnibigoshish.

"Teal'c," I acknowledge without opening my eyes, warm water streaming past the throbbing in my temples and down my cheeks to drip silently from my lips. It has been weeks since my trip to Othalla, more since my team visited the room housing the Ancient device. And still, I feel inhuman hands relentlessly wrapping themselves around my head, forcing upon me an unwelcome gift. '_No. I can't accept it. It's too much_,' Sara had said when, on our six-month anniversary of dating, I'd presented her with my grandmother's favorite locket. Now, I find myself mouthing the same words my ex-wife had uttered decades ago.

"We are scheduled to depart in seven minutes," Teal'c quietly reminds me.

"Yes." I feel his concern deepen upon hearing my flat response, and I grimace at the corresponding, painful tightening inside my skull. "I'll be along shortly."

I sense his departure, but only when I am certain he is truly gone do I turn off the water and rouse myself. My head pounding, I towel myself dry and don the accoutrements of this other life.

*^*^*

"I have seen a face with a thousand countenances, and a face that was but a single countenance as if held in a mould.

"I have seen a face whose sheen I could look through to the ugliness beneath, and a face whose sheen I had to lift to see how beautiful it was.

"I have seen an old face much lined with nothing, and a smooth face in which all things were graven.

"I know faces, because I look through the fabric my own eye weaves, and behold the reality beneath."

*^*^*

Ignoring the feeling I'm being watched, I stare at the pale, naked alien who, after making a full recovery, is being escorted up the ramp and back through the Stargate to his homeworld. I smile at Daniel who is standing to my left, and he smiles back at me. Habit more than feeling compels me to proclaim, "Dimwit has left the building."

Daniel frowns. Like the rock David heaved at Goliath, my friend's disgust and disappointment hit their mark in the center of my forehead. My headache thrums alongside my guilt, and I inexplicably recall a line from _Alice in Wonderland_ – 'It's very rude of him to come and spoil the fun.' Then, I realize my recollection of the quote is inexplicable because it's _not_ my recollection. I've never read Lewis Carroll. But, Daniel has.

And, he's right. It was rude. And not only was it rude, it was inaccurate. Because, despite their lack of language, the aliens were not dimwits, and just because they didn't speak, it didn't mean they weren't communicating. They were . . . at least, with each other. Frustrated and in pain, unable to interpret their muddied thoughts, I'd tried without success to understand the incessant screeching of the alien minds. Barring that, I'd merely tried to stop it. Neither plan worked.

Even before Daniel had tugged on my sleeve and nodded in the direction of the single alien who'd been studying us, I'd known something was wrong. That feeling had only grown as we'd entered their village. Swarmed by them, the pain and noise inside my head had ratcheted to unbelievable, indescribable proportions.

Later, as Daniel and I had stepped through the gate and stumbled onto the ramp, I realized things were much worse than I'd feared, because the screeching of the aliens had widened the causeway opened by the Ancient download. The silent screams had paved the path first walked by Frank and later cleared by Machello's little body swapping trip. The mental ruckus had turned up the volume and increased the reception on every damn thought ricocheting within the hollow silo that was our home.

Now, hours later, standing in the gateroom surrounded by my team and the requisite security forces, I'm still trying to tune it down. I'm still trying to decide if this is real, and if it is – or even if it isn't – to whom should I confess? MacKenzie?

'_The man is a complete ass_.'

I squint at Daniel through a headache which is swelling rapidly, and I wonder if he, too, is afflicted. I wonder if he has read my mind. Then, he grins at me, and I realize he hasn't. The thought was directed not at the resident psychiatric quack, but at me, his so-called friend and commander. "Was that called for?"

"Excuse me?"

The entire room tilts slightly to the left, and I shift my stance to steady myself. "Don't play innocent with me. You know damned well what I'm talking about."

"Colonel?"

Ignoring Carter, I watch Daniel's forehead crinkle over the thought, '_I swear, he gets crazier every damned day_.' "I don't have the foggiest idea what you're talking about," he says instead.

"Bullshit."

"Nice mouth . . ." '_. . . you bloody ass_!'

Feeling eyes on me, I quickly turn and look behind me but the last of the security team is filing out into the hallway. An ear-shattering squelch in my head and a crisp touch on my left shoulder cause me to flinch and turn back to my team. They are watching me in earnest. I hear their fear, sense their concern, and shake my head in response, forcing a tight grin.

'_Something's wrong. He looks like he's seen a ghost_,' Carter thinks, and for once, she's only half right.

Daniel is suddenly scared. '_This is it. Jack's really losing it this time_."

Their worry is genuine, and not uncalled for. "No, I'm fine. It's okay." But, despite my protests to the contrary, gray walls turn fuzzy as dryer lint clinging to the edges of my vision.

"O'Neill, you are unwell."

Startled, I stumble and have to concentrate to keep my balance. "Teal'c," I mumble, glancing at him. How could I have forgotten he was here? Because the ungodly noise filling my head drowns him out?

"Sir, I think we should take you to the infirmary."

*^*^*

"In the shadow of the temple my friend and I saw a blind man sitting alone. And my friend said, 'Behold the wisest man of our land.'

"Then I left my friend and approached the blind man and greeted him. And we conversed.

"After a while I said, 'Forgive my question; but since when has thou been blind?'

"'From my birth,' he answered.

"Said I, 'And what path of wisdom followest thou?'

"Said he, 'I am an astronomer.'

"Then he placed his hand upon his breast saying, 'I watch all these suns and moons and stars.'"

*^*^*

Eyes closed, I'm sitting on an exam bed in the infirmary. Though they pretended they were leaving – headed back to their respective jobs – I sense the members of my team standing just outside the door. I appreciate the gesture, but their nearness pains me. And, the brittle, fleeting touch I had sensed in the gateroom is back. This time, it clasps my shoulder in a vice-like grip. I sense no malice. To the contrary, I believe the touch is meant to comfort me. But, intent doesn't lessen the pain.

"Sir?"

"A headache, Doc. A really bad headache."

"Okay. Well, can you tell me-"

"For several weeks. But, since . . ." I rub my forehead, searching for the answer hidden amongst the chaos, then snap my fingers at her. "Yeah. That's right. PJ2-445. Anyway, since then, it's gotten much worse." I look at her. Janet is pale, and she's clutching my chart like a lifeline. "Stop worrying. And, in answer to your question, I didn't mention it because, well . . . it's a long story."

"Uh, Colonel?"

"What?"

"I didn't ask the question."

Oops. I grin at her, but I'm afraid it more closely resembles a grimace. "Well then, long story short?"

Fraiser nods. "I'd appreciate it."

With my right hand, I brush at my left shoulder, but the phantom touch remains and I flinch as the squelch in my head surges into a cacophony so jarring my teeth ache.

"Sir?" Fraiser drops a gentle hand on my forearm, and I jerk away from her touch.

"Please . . . don't do that."

"Do what? Touch you?"

I nod then shut my eyes and swallow a hard knot of bile. Before she can ask it of me, I lie back on the bed, at long last dislodging the grip on my shoulder. It doesn't take eyesight or this weird, alien feeling in my bones to figure out that Janet is gathering herself and her equipment.

"Colonel, would you open your eyes for me?" My only response is to do as she asks. Stethoscope in hand, she leans near and watches me closely. "Why don't you want me to touch you?"

How do you explain something you don't understand, can't conceive of? "Would you ask them to go?"

"Who?"

"My team."

Janet throws a quick glance toward the door. "They left, sir. Remember?"

Okay, I haven't even gotten to the good part yet, and she already thinks I'm crazy. I clear my throat. "They're standing in the hall."

Frowning, Janet walks out the doorway, her heels clicking on the cement floor. I feel the low rumble of voices, and know the instant my teammates reluctantly leave. Seconds later, Janet reappears at my bedside.

"Okay?" she wants to know.

"Thanks."

"Now," she sighs deeply, "you want to tell me how you knew they were there? How you seem to know what I'm going to say before I even say it?"

If Kahlil's roadmap is correct, I am well on my way to becoming a madman. But, I wonder if even he could put this thing, this form of my life, into words.

"Colonel?"

Trying to single out the sound of her from all the others, I look at her and meet her brown eyes with my own. "I don't think they got it all."

Janet cocks her head. "Who didn't get all of what?"

"The Asgard. I don't think they got all that . . . stuff out of my head."

"The Ancient's knowledge? But, sir, we did tests after you returned from Othalla. Everything seemed normal." She's thinking, and the racket it creates makes me want to scream. I grit my teeth, but a groan escapes me nevertheless. "Colonel?" she says, leaning closer.

"Stop it. Just stop it," I manage.

"Sir, I don't know . . . stop what?"

Excruciating pain flashes inside my head, nearly deafening me. The more I protest, the more worried she gets. The more worried she gets, the more I feel I'll be killed with her kindness. Gutted by thoughts I should never know. "Get out!"

"Colonel, just calm down! You need to tell me what's going on."

"No!" Feeling sick and awkward, I roll away from her and lower my legs over the side of the bed. The floor tilts like the Gopher Hole Funhouse at the Minnesota amusement park I haunted as a child. Now, like then, I stagger and grab onto the wall. Clinging to the security of the inanimate, I squint around this life which has taken up residence inside my head. My vision is blurred and indistinct, but I'm able to make out Janet who is hurrying around the foot of the bed. I blink and she shifts into a strange, disjointed parody of herself. I blink again and she's a pale, fuzzy mass against a backdrop of grays and whites. She's nothing more than a hazy vision who is calling out to her staff for help.

I shake my head; I cannot endure them en masse. "You're killing me," I tell her.

"What? Colonel? I can't understand you."

I repeat it, but she's right. The words are not my own. Foreign syllables effortlessly glide off my tongue like slippery aliens.

"Get Doctor Jackson," she yells at someone.

As they surround me, lay hands on me, I slip to the floor. They and it are my undoing.

*^*^*

"Said a blade of grass to an autumn leaf, 'You make such a noise falling! You scatter all my winter dreams.'"

*^*^*

'I'm here.'

Startled by Her voice, I open drugged eyes and am surprised to find I am neatly tucked into a narrow bed in the infirmary and I am alone. But not completely – while rampaging voices are dimmed by narcotics, I strongly feel Her presence. I can't see Her; I don't even know how I know She _is_ a she, but She is. And, She's here and She's as real as the IV pumping chemicals into my veins. Like the drugs, I know Her purpose is to reassure me. Still, I stiffen at Her cold, hard touch on my aching head.

"Colonel O'Neill?" One of the nurses stands in the doorway. "Sir?" As she approaches, I feel the other one – Her – withdraw. The headache and the voices which had grown tolerable spike.

"Go away," I tell Her.

"I'm sorry, sir. I don't know what you're saying," the nurse says sadly, and reaches up to adjust the drip on the IV.

Gray clouds swirl about me, blurring the features of the familiar figure standing near my bedside; the unfamiliar presence who is our unseen companion stands back, watching and waiting.

*^*^*

"In the stillness of the night my sister murmurs in her sleep the fire-god's unknown name, and my brother calls afar upon the cool and distant goddess. But upon whom I call in my sleep I know not."

*^*^*

"Jack?" Daniel is here, standing by my bed and looking down on me with worry and confusion. "Help is on the way." I open my eyes, and am faced with his smile. "Jack," he says in relief.

I try to raise my hand and discover I'm in restraints. "What's happening?"

Frowning, my friend opens the small book he's holding in one hand and quickly thumbs through it, mumbling to himself. He stops and runs a calloused finger down one page, and I suddenly realize what he's doing. "Ah," he says, and smiles at me again. "What happened. . . . Do you remember being downloaded with the Ancient's knowledge?"

How could I forget? "What does that have to do with being tied down?" I tug against my bonds, fighting off a panic which threatens to overpower the drugs raging through my veins.

Daniel shakes his head. "Wait. Slow down, Jack. You're talking too fast."

Raising my head, I grunt and pull hard at my restraints. "Is that clear enough for you?"

"Calm down. It's okay." He rests a hand on my arm, and before I can stop myself, I yell at the brilliant streak of pain which burns its way through my brain. Dropping the book to the floor, Daniel jerks his hand away from me as if he, too, has been singed by the contact. "God, I'm sorry, Jack. It's just . . . I don't know if you can understand me, but it's going to be okay. Janet and Sam are working on this. We're going to fix it."

Panting, I squint up at him and try not to freak out. It wouldn't be polite. Besides, She's still here and I think She's pissed. The minute Daniel touched me, I felt Her draw closer as if She would protect me from him. Just in case She's real and not some figment of my currently distorted imagination, I wiggle my way through the drugs and force myself to calm down. I don't want Her hurting him.

"Good," Daniel smiles. "That's good, Jack. Just stay calm. Janet only put you in restraints because yesterday, you started having convulsions."

Yesterday? How long have I been here?

"You collapsed in the infirmary five days ago," he says, as if reading my thoughts. "Jack," Daniel frowns and I know it takes everything he has to not drop a reassuring hand on my arm, "when you went to Othalla, we thought the Asgard removed all the information the Ancient device had downloaded into your brain, but they didn't. It's still there. Some of it, anyway."

"I'm sorry," I mumble, and Daniel glances longingly at the book sprawled on the floor. I'm sorry I wish he was gone. I'm sorry I find his mere presence excruciating. Feeling the pull of sleep, I quietly reiterate my regret.

"What?" When I don't respond, Daniel shakes his head slightly and smiles. "We'll figure this out. Just hang in there." He leans closer, making sure to not touch me. "Jack? Jack, can you understand me?"

I understand you, Daniel. I'm just not sure I believe you.

*^*^*
"My soul and I went to the great sea to bathe. And when we reached the shore, we went about looking for a hidden and lonely place.
....
"'Let us go hence,' she said, 'For there is no lonely, hidden place where we can bathe. I would not have this wind lift my golden hair, or bare my white bosom in this air, or let the light disclose my sacred nakedness.'

"Then we left that sea to seek the Greater Sea."

*^*^*

"Jack O'Neill," she murmurs, her voice lilting and gentle and welcome.

When I open my eyes, I discover I've been moved and she is there, standing at the foot of my bed. Her ashen skin and strange hair are as familiar and reassuring as they are alien and out of place.

"Jack O'Neill," she repeats.

"Lya."

She smiles kindly at my cracked whisper, and I glance down at myself. Not only have I been moved, the restraints and the IV are missing. Wearing pale green, drawstring pants and a matching shirt, I lie barefoot and exposed in the middle of a brightly lit space filled with nothing but my narrow bed and the two of us. As incongruous as it sounds, when I look at Lya standing there like an ethereal fixture, I find myself wondering if she is the source of the light in this place.

"Why are you here?"

Her chin lifts at my question and she glances surreptitiously to her right before answering. "Why are any of us here?"

"Because they called you?"

She gently clasps her hands in front of her. "They?"

When I realize we're discussing different things, I grin and feebly push myself to a sitting position, closing my eyes as I do so. I let the room settle and send out mental feelers, searching for the horde which has been crowding out rational thought for weeks. With the exception of myself, Lya, and my constant, unseen companion, this room – if that's what it is – is unoccupied.

Startled by the revelation, I look at her. "Where are we? Where is everyone?"

Appearing to glide across the floor, Lya moves closer. "We are here. They are where they are."

"Don't." I raise a hand and shake my head in frustration. I love words, but other than the occasional crossword, I hate word games – even on a good day. Sighing, I force myself to relax. "Are we still at the SGC?"

She opens her mouth and I anticipate something cryptic. Something like, 'And where exactly is the SGC?' or 'You are where you think you are.' Instead, her grin widens as if I've said something funny. And, maybe I have. "Our physical bodies are at the SGC."

"But-," I start to protest then stop and, frowning, I poke my leg with my finger. "This _is_ my physical body. So, if it's at the SGC, then so am I. Wait!" I scrub my hands through my hair. "That doesn't even make sense," I grumble.

Lya merely stands, waiting for something. I wish I knew what it was.

I feel strangely empty and hollow; I'm exhausted and relieved. It's a lot like that feeling you get when you say goodbye and shut the door behind a houseful of uninvited guests who have overstayed their welcome by at least two days. Heaving a sigh, you look around at the cluttered remains of their visit, and you can't help but smile, because while you have a mess to clean, your home is finally your own again.

Marveling at the solitude of my thoughts, I want to ask Lya if Hammond contacted the Nox, or if they contacted us. Did we go begging for help, or did they just 'know' something was wrong? Instead, I say, "Where are they? The voices."

Gliding closer, she brushes against my bed. "They are still here. They are always here."

"You hear them?"

She shakes her head. "No."

"I don't, either."

"You will."

And even as she speaks it, I do. The distant rumbling of a thousand thoughts tugs at my sanity. But this time, instead of pain, I feel only panic. I stare at Lya, silently begging for her help.

"You listen," she calmly informs me, "only because you choose to."

I put my hands over my ears. "No. No, you don't understand. I can't help it."

"You have it within you, Jack O'Neill."

"No, I don't!" Glaring at Lya, I feel Her draw near. Even here – in this quiet place – She feeds on my anger and frustration, and instead of trying to dampen the flames of my fury, I stoke them. I allow Her full access if for no other reason than to see what will happen. What She will do.

Lya flinches, glances to her right, and takes one step back. I see fear on a face where anxiety has no place. Even when Apophis threatened their homeworld, the Nox had remained calm and unaffected.

Confused, I follow Lya's gaze and stare at nothing. Does this mean She is real? An angel? A demon? Or merely an aura of some sort – a reflection of my own flawed form?

"Twice in your lifetime." At the sound of her voice, I look back at Lya who is once again calm and self-assured.

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"You do." When I don't respond, she smiles at me, ignoring our worried companion. "Twice, you were completely alone. Surrounded. Overcome."

I shake my head. She's wrong. I have been alone, surrounded and overcome innumerable times. In the field. On missions no one but myself and my commander knew about and never will. If it's possible to grow accustomed to the notion you could die and no one would ever know what became of you, I have. When Daniel enthusiastically devours those stories of the discovery of mummified remains suddenly exposed after centuries of being buried under a thin layer of glacial ice, I have nothing to say. But, 'it could have been me' is what I'm thinking.

"A lost soul," Lya continues.

I feel myself falling, but when I put out my hands to brace myself, I'm still sitting in the middle of the bed. "What did you say?"

"Twice in your lifetime."

'_Maybe Doctor Perkins was right, Jack. Maybe you are just a lost soul. Ever since-_." Not needing to fill in the blank, Sara had slammed the door after repeating a frustrated psychiatrist's words. Both times, the phrase had been flung at me in anger. Both times, a parting shot provoked by my own inexcusable behavior following the two greatest tragedies in my life.

Iraq.

Charlie.

"Lya, how could you know that?"

"How could I not?"

She's right. Maybe, Perkins and Sara were, too. Rubbing tired eyes, I think about the voices which have haunted me, and I wonder if the reason the Ancient device picked me instead of Teal'c didn't have anything to do with him being a Jaffa. Maybe, it was simply a matter of Teal'c being who he is – a whole person – and me being who I am – a lost soul. Finding me lacking, missing something, maybe the Ancients merely filled me up with everything they thought I could hold.

"You survived," she says. "Both times."

Stunned, I stare at her. "Apparently."

*^*^*

"God of lost souls, thou who are lost amongst the gods, hear me:

"Gentle Destiny that watchest over us, mad, wandering spirits, hear me:

"I dwell in the midst of a perfect race, I the most imperfect.

"I, a human chaos, a nebula of confused elements, I move amongst finished worlds-peoples of complete laws and pure order, whose thoughts are assorted, whose dreams are arranged, and whose visions are enrolled and registered.
....
"But why should I be here, O God, I a green seed of unfulfilled passion, a mad tempest that seeketh neither east nor west, a bewildered fragment from a burnt planet?

"Why am I here, O God of lost souls, thou who art lost amongst the gods."

*^*^*

I set aside Kahlil's _The Madman_. I am finished with it. Just as I am finished with the Pepto-Bismol and the 7-Up.

It's funny . . . the ways in which we learn to cope. In Iraq – at Club Med – I'd counted and categorized things. My tormentors: Doctor Joint, who focused his blows on ankles, knees, elbows and shoulders; The Guilt Ridden, who managed to leave ghastly bruises while meticulously aiming his blows to minimize any real damage; Mister Harvard, who calmly spoke with a watered-down, Americanized accent and whose tastes in torture spawned my worst nightmares. Bugs: segmented versus unsegmented; biters versus stingers; 'yummy' versus 'tastes like crap.'

After Charlie died, I'd coped by deadening myself. Living without thought or senses. Literally. Refusing to think of anything; staring at walls, television screens, faces; hearing and feeling nothing; caring even less.

My cousin Tom is a gifted pianist. He has been since the age of five. But, he never plays. Says he hates it, and the only times I ever heard him perform were when Aunt Ruth or Grandma Pearl coerced or guilted him into it. People thought it was a shame, a waste. All that talent – never used.

Now, I know how Tom must feel.

It's not my fault I've been given this talent – this flair for survival. I didn't ask for it, and it's as inexplicable as a five year-old sitting down at a keyboard and flawlessly pounding out a concerto written by another prodigy centuries before. I suppose I've been using it all along, but I'd honestly forgotten I was any good at this. In the midst of the chaos created by opening the Ancient 'gift' I've been given, I'd forgotten my penchant for surviving things which would kill any sane man. Lya merely reminded me of it.

In the days since our visit, I've been practicing. Flexing my mental and emotional fingers as I try to hit upon the best way to cope with this alien thing that is now a part of me. The 'gift' is still there. Fraiser says maybe, with time, it will diminish. But, she's wrong. Don't ask me how I know. I just do.

Shaking out a trash bag with a loud snap, I hold the black plastic open at the edge of the end table and with my other arm, I sweep away Kahlil and the empty bottles. The only true evidence of my madness.

Looking around at my spotless living room, I study the newest addition – a recently constructed shelf housing my collection of every _Simpsons_ episode ever aired. The tapes are organized not by date, but by importance. In a corner of the spare bedroom, a matching shelf is home to what appears to be an eclectic assortment of magazines. At first glance, there is no method to my madness. _National Geographics_ sit alongside _Scientific American_ and even the occasional _Weekly World News_. But, a discerning eye will likely notice a theme, and the next time Daniel spends the night, I'm sure he'll find the articles intriguing – particularly the one regarding the mummified remains of an American World War II soldier found buried in the snow in the Swiss Alps. The reason for his being there died with him.

I knot the garbage bag, pick up my keys, and head for the garage and my first day back on duty. Carelessly tossing Kahlil into the garbage can, I back out of the drive and realize it's been a good ten hours since I imagined that the day before I'd thought I was losing my mind.

Some days – still – I wonder if I should worry. But, mostly, I just allow what began in the isolation ward with Lya to mellow into routine. I let nature take its course. I survive, I cope, and I wait to see what happens as I bury this thing inside my head alongside the memories of four months of hell and the image of my dead child. I patiently allow my mind to unfurl. And who knows, maybe someday, there'll be no space left inside my skull and words giving voice to my thoughts will be forced out. Maybe then, I'll let someone in. Maybe.

Stopping at a red light, I glance at the empty seat beside me and I wonder if – like the voices – She is still here, even though I refuse to allow my mind access to Her. I wonder if She is watching me even now, and I wonder what She thinks about this particular Madman.

Smiling, I honk the horn at the electric blue Focus in front of me which has failed to notice the light has turned green.

Some days, like today, are better than others.

*^*^*

PROLOGUE

Some people hear their own inner voices with great clearness. And they live by what they hear. Such people become crazy…or they become legend. Jim Harrison

*^*^*

Peering past the General and Carter, I watch as Fraiser completes her examination of the pale, bald child who is sitting on the edge of the infirmary bed. Despite the boy's sickly appearance, there had been a brief moment when he'd stepped through the Gate and onto the ramp when I'd considered lowering my guard. I'd wondered if the decision to power down what the Ancients had bequeathed me was a selfish one. Now, standing here off to the side, I'm still debating the issue.

"Well, as far as I can tell, he's human," Janet opines.

Yeah, well, I distinctly remember two other alien children. "No bomb in the chest, little biohazard in the tooth, maybe?"

"I checked for both. He's no threat to us, as far as I'm able to tell. But, he's pretty weak. I'm guessing he's malnourished."

"What's your name?" Carter says.

Instead of answering, the boy leans out and looks past my second-in-command and directly at me. "Your name is Colonel O'Neill."

Okay. That's . . . significant. "How'd you know that?"

"My mother told me," he says, and when he points at something unseen, my insides tighten in recognition.

<finis>

_______

Quoted material is from Kahlil Gibran's _The Madman_

ASSIGNMENT:
Time frame: Set after "The Fifth Race" but no later than "1969."

Pairings: No slash

Plot: Jack returns from Othalla and begins adjusting back to life as he knew it before. Things go fine for a little while until he starts to hear things. At first he thinks it's just his imagination, but after a time he realizes that he's hearing other people's thoughts. For a while it's fun and cool and he keeps it to himself, surprising the rest of SG-1/SGC by answering questions he shouldn't know the answers to. The ability begins to grow and grow and he can't turn it off, causing a cacophony in his head. Excruciating pain finally takes over and he's quarantined for his own safety. He ends up having to learn how to put up internal walls/doors/barriers (with or without help from others), but the ability never goes away or disappears. It turns out to be a leftover from the Ancients' database. When it opened up parts of his mind to use as storage, it gave him access to the ability. But it can't be turned off, it can only be blocked or barricaded if he can learn to build the protective walls he needs.

Notes: One off-world trip must be included, more if wanted or needed for plot advancement. The ability can hit before or during the required mission. SG-1 can be stuck off-world until the last possible minute to get him back or the local(s) can recognize what's going on and begin teaching him. If option 2 is used, the team doesn't have to return to Earth by the end of the story.

Again, no magical cure-all, band-aid type resolution. No machine to take the ability away, no Asgard to wave a highly advanced piece of technology to make it all better.
The longer it takes for the ability to develop, the more tie-ins to subsequent episodes should be used, i.e. if Jack begins "hearing things" after "Holiday" a brief mention of a moment during the ep to place the fic is sufficient; if Jack doesn't start consistently noticing the odd "thoughts" until "Show and Tell" then more background bits should be used to tie into preceding eps and to show the growing ability.