Daniel slept little that night, his attempts broken time and time again by the subconscious knowledge that Sam needed him, her slightest murmur bringing him back to awareness in much the same way as a parent responds to a child's cry in the night. He held her through it all, cradled against his chest, wiping the moisture from her face even as his own tears of frustration and anger began to form, his only reassurance the tiny puffs of air across his bare skin that signified she was still breathing.
The thought of losing her tore at him. Since that first day on Abydos, when Jack had brought a team to find him, Sam had been like a sister to him. They had been so immediately in tune that their whole relationship had been founded on that, even to the point that, like siblings, they could shift from co-operation to rivalry in the blink of an eye, laughing together one moment, squabbling the next but always ready to defend each other should the need arise. No wonder Jack so often referred to them as 'kids'.
Now that he had done all he could for Sam, he had time to sit and think about what had happened. Jack had been missing from the cell for half a day, ample time for him to be taken by the Goa'uld and for his body to adjust, but some of those who had ambushed them at the gate had been wearing SGC uniforms, or parts of them at least. Where had they come from? SG teams consisted of four people: Kovacek and Lansdown had been found amongst the dead, but there had been no time to look for the rest of the team before the attack began. Were they even there, or had they already been captured and turned into slaves of the Goa'uld?
And where had all those Earth-type weapons come from? Kovacek's team were negotiators, on a mission to finalise a treaty with the peaceful people of P2K-491. They would have been carrying minimum weapons, handguns and maybe one MP-5 between them: yet the attackers had been armed with several MP-5s and at least one M-16. It didn't make sense - unless there was more than one SG team involved here. He tried to recall which other teams had been off-world at the time of their departure but, apart from SG-9 and the missing SG-11, all other teams were accounted for. A thread of paranoia made him briefly wonder if the whole of the SGC had gone 'dark side' in the space of a morning and what might have caused them to do so because, whichever way he cut it, things were not adding up.
There was something else pressing at the back of his mind, something about Jack... He replayed the scene in the passage over and over again in his mind - and then the missing piece fell into place. It was Jack's voice. Why the hell hadn't he noticed it before? Jack's voice had changed, carrying the same distortion they had heard in Apophis and the other Goa'ulds they had encountered, but his speech patterns had remained the same. He still talked the way Jack always talked, with the same light, sarcastic tone, little flick of an eyebrow and the tilt of his head that together were so expressive. Okay, maybe it was just too soon after the Goa'uld had taken possession of him and some of the links were still being established but - couldn't it also mean that maybe Jack - his Jack - was fighting it, the way Skaara had fought, the way Sha're had tried so hard to fight. If so, then maybe there was still a chance to win him back.
He reached for the thread of hope and clung to it. If he could get free and find Teal'c... if they could somehow get Jack through the gate and take him to the Tok'ra, or even to Cimmeria... The Asgaard had restored Thor's Hammer and the Asgaard liked Jack, didn't they? There was a chance, surely. He had to hold onto that, had to keep telling himself that all was not lost, that he could so something to save Jack...
Time slowed as the night wore on. At first Sam grew more restless as the fever began to rage and ensnare her mind with hallucinations, leaving her body shaking and wracked with terrible sobs. Once or twice she even called Jack's name, her tears washing streaks into the dirt on her face. That hurt Daniel, reaffirming what he already knew, that she loved and wanted the colonel - as he himself did - without any hope that those desires would ever be fulfilled.
As the hours passed she grew quiet again and still, so still. He wanted to believe that it was a good thing, that the fever had broken and she would be fine again when she awakened, but he was only fooling himself. In reality he knew that if he didn't get help for her soon, she would not leave this cell alive.
There was one option left, one dark, forbidding path down which he feared to tread, knowing what awaited him at the end of it. He shuddered at the memory of the kiss and the thought of what the Goa'uld had planned for him but - what choice did he have? Weighed against Sam's life, his own dignity was of little consequence. If allowing his captor to use him in the way he had intimated was to be the price of Sam's survival, then he would pay it willingly.
Sometime during his interminable vigil the guards brought another meal of the rancid oatmeal, two bowls of it, lukewarm, though whether it was breakfast or supper he had no way of knowing now. In the first cell, with Jack, the passage of the sun had given them some scale against which to measure the passing of the day but here, underground, one hour seemed much like the last. It was disorientating, to say the least, not knowing what time of day it was, or -worse - what day. How long had they been here now? Long enough for Hammond to send a rescue party?
Jack had once told him that losing his sense of time had been one of the hardest parts of his captivity in Iraq. Things had been okay when he could tell himself that it had only been a day, or three, or a week, and at first he had kept careful track of each passing day, scratching the position of the sun on the wall with a bent nail he had picked up in the prison yard. Then they had moved him to another cell, one without windows and slowly, insidiously, he had slipped out of synch with the world. It was a vulnerability the guards had played on, waking him at odd hours, bringing food when he least expected it, stealing whole days away from him in tiny unseen fragments, until living became nothing more than physical existence from one beating to the next. Was that what awaited him? Visions of his confinement haunted his thoughts, sitting here, day after day, watching Sam die... watching her corpse rot away or become a feast for the rats, while he went slowly insane...
The porridge clung to the inside of his mouth in a thick paste that was impossible to swallow. He managed only one mouthful before he set the dish aside, unwilling to risk the water that remained in the bucket. Hungry, thirsty, despondent and with his friend and team-mate quite probably dying in his arms, Daniel silently surrendered himself to the inevitable.
"I want to see your - master," he told the guards, the title stalling on his lips. They stared at him blankly, continued to do so as he repeated the request in English, Goa'uld and Abydosian and he wondered if perhaps they were mute. Or deaf. Maybe both. A guard that was both deaf and mute would be far less open to bribery. He sighed. Twenty-three human languages plus an assortment of alien tongues and still he could not make them understand him.
Dammit! Why was this happening? What could he have possibly done to deserve this?
"Please..." The rasping entreaty echoed back to him from the uncaring rock. "Don't let her die like this. Tell Jack..." He drove the image of his friend's face from his thoughts and instead found and held the memory of Sokar. If he could just concentrate on that, the image of a Goa'uld parasite, and forget the host... "Tell you master I'll... do whatever he wants if he'll just... help her..."
They looked at him, they laughed at him, and then they left, the iron door tolling it's funereal knell as it slammed once more into place.
"Oh... God... NO!" The thunder of Daniel's voice rolled around them, a cry of desperation and heartfelt anguish. Through it, he distantly heard Sam speak his name. Her voice was weak, barely a whisper, her breath too hot across his bare chest. He lifted shaking fingers to brush back her hair, making soft 'shushing' noises to calm her. His only hope for her now that she would drift quietly away, unaware of the nightmare, finally at peace.
Mindful of her wound, he lifted her gently until her head rested against his shoulder and he could wrap his arms around her, giving her the last of his own body warmth and all of the love he had ever felt for her.
"Go to sleep, Sam," he urged. "It's okay."
"He'll be here soon," he lied. "He'll get us out of this..." Better for her not to know that Jack was lost to them, for her to carry only the sweet memories of their friendship into whatever awaited her. He should have known better. Making a sound somewhere between a cough and a laugh, she murmured "Lousy liar..."
"Yeah 52;" he confessed, his lips brushing her forehead "52; I suppose I am. I'm sorry, Sam..."
He heard her sigh - "Not your fault," - and then her full weight settled onto him as she slipped away into the clutches of fever again.
Not his fault... Jack had said the same thing, telling him it wasn't his fault he couldn't get to the DHD in time. Maybe it wasn't - but he couldn't help thinking that if he had moved a little faster, reacted a little more quickly, they might even now be back at the SGC, planning their next mission instead of waiting to die.
He must have drifted back into sleep because the next he knew, there were voices outside the cell - loud, angry voices - and the sound of a key being turned, of rusted hinges protesting so much unaccustomed activity.
Two guards entered, not the inarticulate hulks that had dragged him here but humans this time, dressed in military fatigues. One carried an MP-5, the other a zat and a flaming torch, and he wondered for a moment if this was 'it', time to face the inevitable. In a strange way, he hoped that it was.
A third guard entered deep into the chamber, this one also carrying a lit torch, the flames stabbing yellowish light into all but the furthest corners, so bright that Daniel was forced to look away until his eyes adjusted to it. He anticipated the worst and his arms tightened defensively around Sam's quivering body, yet none of the guards made any move towards the huddled pair but instead positioned themselves at attention either side of the door... almost like an honour guard for 52;
Daniel could not stop himself, the name falling from his lips with a spontaneity born of years of familiarity as the man in question stepped into the cell. He looked 52; as Jack always looked in such situations: uncomfortable, out of place, his hands thrust defensively into his pants' pockets, eyes darting nervously over the scene laid out before him.
"They said you wanted to see me," Jack explained and his voice, the sweet normality of it, made Daniel's heart skip. Was it possible he had been mistaken in what he had seen and heard in the passageway, that it had been nothing more than his exhausted mind responding to a trick of the light and the way the sound bounced off the damp stone walls? Was it possible that Jack had not been taken as a host?
"Yes!" he answered, too eager, too hopeful. "Yes... It's Sam... She needs help..."
"Sam?" A greying brow sketched a quizzical look onto the enquiring face as he looked down at the woman cradled in Daniel's arms. It was almost as if... he didn't recognise her.
"I think she's - dying...."
"What happened to her?"
Daniel stared at him, incredulous, his mouth opening and closing around the question like a beached fish. "What happened?" Finally, he succeeded in forcing the words out. "She got shot, that's what happened - or did I imagine you being there?"
Jack said nothing but advanced further into the chamber and hunkered down, his oddly hesitant fingers touching Carter's ashen cheek in a gentle caress. The urge to reach out and slap that hand away was overpowering Daniel but he held his breath and willed himself not to do anything to antagonise either the Goa'uld or the guards.
"She's burning up..." Jack observed. Daniel needed no one to tell him that, he could already feel the heat bleeding from her body into his.
"Yes. Jack, you've got to do something. At least find her a doctor."
"We have a healer - "
"Yes!" triumph. "A healer... Yes... Then get him here - before it's too late. Please..." Begging now, but past caring. He would crawl on his belly and lick his captor's boots if it got Sam the treatment she so desperately needed.
"She's... a major?" Jack murmured. It was an odd statement - Jack himself had recommended her for promotion - but some instinct warned Daniel to go with the flow here, play along in the hope of finding out just what was going on. If Jack truly could not remember Sam that still didn't necessarily mean there was a Goa'uld presence. Over the years they had come up against any number of threats to body and mind, sometimes even without being aware of the fact until the crisis was over, and those experiences reminded him now that sometimes to lay the blame on their primary enemy was taking the simple way out.
"Yes," he confirmed quietly. "Major Samantha Carter."
Jack considered this but said nothing, leaving Daniel none the wiser.
Frustration pushed its way to the fore again. "Look, just get her some help, okay?" he demanded, his voice softened by a wave of bone-crushing fatigue. His gaze drilled into the familiar brown spheres, desperate to find there some lingering part of his friend, an undamaged kernel of compassion he might still be able to reach. He found - nothing. "I'll - do whatever you want, just - help her, Jack. Please."
There, it was said. The offer had been made, the price counted out on the bargaining table and now all he could do was wait to see if it was enough, if the currency was acceptable.
He was so caught up in his own thoughts that at first he was hardly aware of the growing tension in Jack, the physical strain that stiffened the shoulders and forced the hands into fists of anger, the cold, hard look that had turned his eyes from brown to almost black. Had his concern not been focused so intently on Sam he might have noticed the signs, the little warning notes he had witnessed so recently on Tollana as Skaara and the Goa'uld, Klorel, battled for ownership of a body. Then the grey head dipped and Jack's gaze slid from sight, and Daniel's blood ran cold again with the realisation that he had been right all along.
"Why was I not told about this?" Jack demanded - except Jack was no longer in control. Cruel disdain filled his eyes now and the voice that Daniel knew so well and loved so much, the lover's voice from his dreams, grew coarse and cold, both marking for what he had become.
The question was directed over his shoulder, to the guard positioned just behind him, but the eyes, those burning hate-filled eyes, never once wavered from Daniel's face and Daniel, caught in the twin beams, found that he could not turn away.
"With all due respect, sir," the guard responded "Major Dace ordered her brought straight to the cell."
"Dace? That arrogant fool? He does not command here - I do. You would do well to remember that."
In the reverberating stillness, the voice of the guard had shrunk to little more than a terror-filled whisper as he acknowledged the advice with a meek "Yessir."
Fear dried Daniel's mouth as he awaited the Goa'uld's next move, yet as quickly as the Goa'uld had taken control it was relinquished and he once more found himself gaping deep into the familiar velvety eyes.
His head tipped slightly to one side as he contemplated the situation, at the same time becoming aware of certain elements which failed to add up. For one thing, he had seen nothing that would indicate the guards were either Goa'uld or Jaffa, or anything other than regular SGC personnel for that matter and, if that was the case, maybe there was an outside chance - a very slim outside chance - that he might be able to work on them, turn them against their alien master. It was the beginning of a plan, at least. Then there was the mysterious Dace - who was he? In three years Daniel had never heard of an officer of that name either within the SGC or associated with it. Not that that signified much really - he hadn't heard of Lansdown either and he had apparently been a member of SG9.
But the biggest inconsistency of all remained Jack himself. Constant exposure had proven to Daniel that if it looks, sounds and acts like a Goa'uld, then chances are it is a Goa'uld. Well, the creature that appeared to have invaded Jack's body certainly had the eyes, voice and attitude of a snakehead. Yet, there the similarity ended. Something was missing - or, more precisely, something didn't fit. Like the piece of the jigsaw that's the right shape and size for the space but doesn't match the picture. It was almost as if something had gone wrong during the process of implantation and the Goa'uld had been unable to establish complete control, allowing Jack's personality to remain dominant for the most part. Was it possible? Skaara had proved beyond doubt that the mind of the host survived intact so what if the Goa'uld was too weak to maintain control for more than short periods? Maybe he had been going about this the wrong way from the start.
"It's not too late to put things right, Jack," he soothed, his hand dropping to rest over the Jack's forearm, his thumb brushing lightly at the grey hairs there.
Jack's gaze dropped to Daniel's hand: when it lifted again what Daniel saw there caused the breath to hitch in his throat. Gone was the anger, the cruelty, the derision and with them all the signs of the Goa'uld presence. In their place he saw - regret... misery... need and... something else. Something that at that moment in time he was too afraid to name.
Hot fingers extended towards him, sweeping lightly down the curve of his cheek in a touch so delicate he felt it in every nerve and synapse, starting a whole new ache deep within him, forcing him to remember that last morning in the other cell, before Jack had been taken from him and his world had fallen apart. Before everything had gone so horribly wrong. Jack had sat beside him, so close in all ways, and he had reached out and touched Daniel's face, touched his lips, and for one wonderful moment Daniel had found himself waiting for Jack to kiss him. Wanting Jack to kiss him. He had that feeling now, the hunger for Jack's touch that never seemed to leave him these days, and it would be so very easy...
"Take the woman to the Healer," Jack ordered, the sound of his voice, the loss of his touch, snapping Daniel back into the uncomfortable present. There came a shuffling of feet in response, the nervous clearing of a throat, a meaningful look bouncing between the three guards, none of whom had attempted to move.
"Ya got a problem with that?! Jack barked.
One at last found the courage to ask - "What about him?"
The reply was immediate and left no room for debate. "He stays with me."
Daniel swallowed the rising fear. So... This is where it starts... The Goa'uld would clear the room, have Sam disposed of - was there really a healer? - and then - what? Unlikely the end would be quick and clean. At the very least he could expect to find himself invited to a Goa'uld 'torture fest', with himself as the main attraction. Despite the privations of the last few days, he was still in pretty good shape, could probably hold out against a ribbon device for a while at least - longer, if they had a sarcophagus to hand. And then? Rape, probably - the Goa'uld had made its interest clear in the passageway - followed by a slow death, after all, the Goa'uld loved to get their pound of flesh and he had certainly pissed enough of them off in the past to merit special treatment...
"Is that wise, sir?" the same guard asked. "We don't know how... I mean, Dr Jackson -"
"Dr Jackson is no threat - are you, Danny-boy?" Jack asked brightly, smiling at Daniel. The question was clearly rhetorical, yet Daniel answered it anyway with a sharp shake of his head.
"But colonel... When we left earth, Dr Jackson was -"
The explosion of anger across Jack's face was almost tangible as he whirled and pushed to his feet, grabbing up a handful of the guard's shirtfront, his eyes flashing with a very human emotion as his command was challenged.
"Are you completely stupid, Nansen?"
"Got a death wish?" Even in the dim light the leeching of all colour from the young face cold be clearly seen. "See, I don't recall anyone pinning a silver bird on your lapel recently - do you?"
"Sil-silver b-bird, s-sir?"
"I. Said. Jackson. Stays. With. Me." Each word was enunciated in his best 'let's spell it out for the idiot' tone and accompanied by a jab of Jack's finger in the guard's chest. A scathing "You got a problem with that, airman?" completed the intimidation.
"No - ah - No, sir!"
"Good. So why don't you and Westwood here get the good major to the Healer and leave
me to - take care of Dr Jackson."
Was it Daniel's imagination, or was there something else in that statement? Not so much a threat as - a promise? Again, he pondered what might be going on in that sick mind, deciding that - whatever it was - he wished he would just get on with it, get it over. Anticipation was more often worse than the event itself.
Sweeping the sloppiest salute Daniel had ever seen, the guard reached down to lift Sam from her resting place across Daniel's lap, gesturing with a curt nod to his companion to help him. They were clumsy and heavy handed, and she cried out, a long, shuddering sound filled with agony as, in their reluctance, they pulled her around, twisting her injured leg.
"Please don't hurt her -"
"Hey, take it easy, ya clods -"
Daniel's voice blended with Jack's as both spontaneously protested the unnecessary roughness and the two men turned, catching each other in a shy smile of familiarity before Jack turned back to the guards, his voice now at its most commanding.
"You take her to the Healer and no rough stuff. That's an order. From now on you consider her a guest here, which means you treat her like you would your mothers - not that you ever had one, Nansen. Take Genaro with you," he added, indicating the third guard before Nansen could respond. "And somebody get some food sent to my quarters for Dr Jackson," he called after their retreating forms. "He looks like he could use it!... And leave a torch!" he added as an afterthought.
Both watched until the guards had gone, the strongest of them - the one the Goa'uld had addressed as Westwood - now carrying Carter easily in his arms as the others lit the way for him through the darkened maze of tunnels.
Finally, relieved of his burden - in all senses - Daniel leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes, relaxing in the relief of the moment. He had done what he had needed to do - got them to help Sam while there was still a chance for her - now all that remained was to find Teal'c and get them all, Jack included, out of there and back to the safety of Earth.
"You planning on staying there all day?" Jack asked, amusement skimming the surface of his voice. The old Jack, the Jack he knew and loved, friend, team leader and one of the bravest men Daniel had ever met, not in terms of his performance under fire but because of the things he had faced in his own life, the shadows that had haunted him for so long. He wondered if Sam or Teal'c knew as much about him as he did.
"Just - thinking..." He murmured his response, not bothering to look up. Again, the laughter bubbled over him.
"Oh? Well I can think of better places to do that..."
This time Daniel did open his eyes, in time to see Jack reach a hand down to him, the invitation clear.
"C'mon, Danny-boy... I think this has gone on long enough, don't you? Let's get you cleaned up and fed..."
The condemned man ate a hearty breakfast... The irony of it made Daniel laugh, yet it was not enough to detract from the prospect of hot water, food and possibly a change of clothes. The last time he had smelled this bad was on Abydos and the temptation was certainly hard to resist: what bothered him was the price he might be called upon to pay and he couldn't help but think he might be safer if he stayed right where he was. Then again, if his captor was as intent on exacting that price as he had hinted in the passageway, taking him in these surroundings probably wouldn't bother him anyway. Rape was rape, wherever it happened, and he had already resigned himself to that eventuality. Was it, therefore, so terrible of him to manoeuvre himself into less degrading surroundings? Where did the line fall between refusal and consent?
Reaching up, he slid his fingers into the cool palm and immediately felt Jack's had tighten around his, felt the muscles in Jack's arm flex as they took up the strain, drawing him to his feet. He was glad of the added strength of the Goa'uld's as he tried to push up from the floor and his legs - cramped from supporting Sam's unconscious weight for so long on the cold, packed earth - gave way beneath him.
Jack laughed - "Whoa there, Danny-boy!" - and caught him beneath the arms, pulling him upright, holding him steady. The return of the blood flow to his legs was agonising and, reluctant as he was, Daniel was forced to cling to the stronger man as he gasped for breath, fighting the pain. He could barely straighten up from the white-hot blade piercing the small of his back and in that moment decided that nothing could be worse than what he was feeling at that moment.
Yet in the next instant the pain was forgotten as he felt himself drawn into a tight embrace, his face finding it's own resting place in the angle of Jack's shoulder. The cold sting of two metal zippers pressing against his naked chest made him gasp and pull back, but the Goa'uld made a soft 'shush-ing' sound and gathered him close again, hands circling on his back, soothing him. It was at once the most wonderful feeling and yet the most terrifying. On the one hand, he was where he had always wanted to be - in Jack O'Neill's embrace - but on the other he knew himself to be at the mercy of the Goa'uld inhabiting that body, an entity about which he knew nothing at all beyond the reputation of it's kind.
Drawn to Jack, repelled by the Goa'uld, Daniel could only hang there within the warm arms and await whatever fate was to befall him.
"Better?" Jack asked, slackening his grip slightly. Daniel eased back enough to look into the cloudless dark eyes. It was Jack - it had to be. There was nothing in those beautiful eyes to tell him otherwise. Looking into them now, he saw the same warmth, the same caring that Jack had always shown him.
Never once breaking the gaze, he said softly "I think so..."
"Think you can make it out of here if I help you?"
"I can try..."
"Good..." One arm released him and he shifted his weight. It still hurt, but at least now his legs would hold him up of their own accord.
He was about to try a small step away when the other arm tightened around him, and suddenly Jack's fingers were skimming across his cheek, sweeping downwards from temple to jaw line, his thumb grazing lightly over Daniel's bottom lip, barely a touch but enough to set Daniel's pulse racing. Then, as quickly as it had begun, it was over and Jack was turning them towards the door, leaving Daniel to wonder if he had maybe imagined it all. Maybe he was going crazy again - wouldn't that be a hoot?
"Ready?" Daniel nodded. As ready as I'll ever be... "Okay, let's give it a whirl. Just sing out if you need to stop." He pulled the torch from its bracket and lifted it high and, arms around each other like young lovers, they stepped out into the hall.
Go to Part 9