Part 11

There were two men in the room when Daniel entered but although both were strangers to him, he had no trouble at all in identifying one as Major Dace, even though both were dressed in the same bastardized version of a uniform as everyone else around there seemed to wear.

Dace was tall, broad, heavily built and clearly on the wrong side of fifty. A military man right down to his genes, if his appearance was anything to go by, his hair clipped until it was no more than a haze of brassy red stubble shadowing his skull, the muscles that bulged in his arms and shoulders a testament to long hours spent keeping himself in the peak of condition - for what reason, Daniel decided not to dwell on.

The major was in full cry, sparking with anger as he confronted the much younger man who stood beside the bed in which Sam lay. This, Daniel assumed, was the Healer about whom he had heard so much in the last few hours. On first impression Daniel could see little about him to cause the look of fear he had seen in Ayleen's eyes; then again, he had learned long ago that first impressions could be deceptive.

Anger had coloured the major's face a florid, unhealthy pink and his eyes, like little black beads, had narrowed beneath a wrinkled brow. Oblivious to Daniel's entrance into the room, he continued to glare at the healer, who in turn showed no sign of backing down.

"You *will* do it," Dace snarled, and his tone sent a chill through Daniel.

"I assure you, I will not." The medic's response was equally emphatic, his gaze an answering challenge yet, from his own viewpoint, Daniel could see that the hands hanging at his sides were not balled into fists but hung loosely, flexing nervously against his thigh and that his feet, stuffed into a pair of much abused Adidas, were shifting uneasily on the dusty wooden floor. The dichotomy of body language and the ripples of emotion emanating from the younger man told Daniel that here was a man torn between the mutually exclusive impulses of fight and flight. Daniel admired him for his courage in standing his ground. As tall as Dace but perhaps only a third of his build, any physical conflict would no doubt result in serious damage to such a delicate frame.

"That a refusal?" Demanded Dace, somewhat unnecessarily.

"Is that a serious question, major?" came the cool response.

Daniel bit his lip and ducked his head to hide a spontaneous grin, deciding that there was at least one thing about the healer to like.

"You have no right to demand this of me," the young man continued placidly. "I will not waste a life without good reason."

Dace visibly bristled. "Yeah? Well I happen to consider it a very good reason."

"Then that is *your* problem. I suggest you find someone else to help you, because I will not." And with that, he spun away, striding purposefully across the room, towards a heavily laden workbench.

Determined no to be beaten, Dace followed, snagging him by the shoulder. Daniel called a warning but at the same moment Dace swung his fist, catching the healer such a vicious blow to the solar plexus that it lifted him off his feet and propelled him through the air, to crash against the far wall. He had barely landed, when Dace was on him again and for one terrible moment, Daniel was certain he intended to finish the young man off. Instead, the soldier hunkered down and grasped the pointed chin in a cruel hand, forcing the face up to meet his own.

"You'll do it." His voice dripped venom, the words an order now. "You'll do it, or you know what'll happen."

"And how will you explain *that* to O'Neill?"

"O'Neill?" Dace laughed, an ugly sound. "You think I give a fuck about O'Neill? The man's a washout."

A slow smile, a dangerous smile, spread across the healer's fine features. "Not so weak that he cannot keep your precious Ayan'nat at bay. Do you truly believe that I would help you to defeat him? That I would allow her to make slaves of us all?"

"I suppose you'd rather die..."

The healer did not flinch, his gaze holding steady as he answered: "If that is the only option - yes."

Seconds ticked away while Dace considered this then, with a shove that drove the healer's head painfully against the wall, he pushed himself to his feet.

"Your choice.... not that you'll live to regret it," he spat and with that, turned to stalk from the room.

Daniel, wary, waited until the sound of his footsteps had faded into silence before going to the aid of the injured man. So, that was Dace: no wonder the girl had been so afraid of him. Words meant nothing, threats could often be empty, but this man had proven by his actions that he had the strength and the savagery to carry them through. A very dangerous man, and not one that Daniel was eager to confront.

As he knelt beside the dazed man, the healer opened his eyes, tilting his head to focus on the face above him. His eyes were a deep, vibrant amber. Daniel had never sees eyes that colour in a human, not with all the races he had encountered in the past few years and he found them strangely calming and - incredibly beautiful.

He shook himself mentally. So, the healer was obviously not human then. That would also account for the pale, almost translucent quality of his skin that reminded Daniel of the alabaster effigies he had seen on tombs during his travels through Europe. The skin was smooth, too and, with the exception of his head, hairless.

"Hey - easy..." he cautioned as the injured man struggled to sit up. "That was quite a knock you took..."

"I am unharmed." The protest rode his lips uneasily and a flash of discomfort crooked his features for an instant.

"Even so..." Shifting nearer, Daniel slipped a hand behind the healer's head, feeling for injury: a moment later he withdrew it again, the tips of his fingers glistening with what looked like honey but was clearly this being's equivalent of blood. "Unharmed?" he queried, waving his hand in front of the healer's face.

"It is nothing."

"Sure, that's what they all say... Think you can stand if I help you?"

He could and, with Daniel's help, crossed the room to a wooden stool drawn up to the workbench. Now that the argument was over and Dace had gone, Daniel could at last take stock of his surroundings. As an infirmary, it left a lot to be desired. Austere, bordering on the primitive was the closest he could come to a description. A workbench, a chair, the wooden stool and the narrow, military issue cot on which Sam lay were the only items of furniture. The bench was heaped with equipment, books and medical paraphernalia that ranged from a very ordinary looking stethoscope to a Goa'uld healing device similar to the captured one they had back at the SGC, and a dozen variants in between, some of which Daniel could identify, some totally alien. Above the bench, a narrow shelf held a collection of boxes and bottles, pills and potions, even a carton of assorted field dressings in their sterile wrappings.

"Okay... Let's take a look." Stepping behind the healer, Daniel began to carefully part the long, transparent mane with gentle fingers. Absently, he noted that he had never felt hair that soft before, so soft he could hardly feel it against his fingers. Soft and fine, totally without pigment. It reminded him of... optical fibres! He laughed softly. Brought a whole new meaning to the term 'light headed'.

"I amuse you?" the healer asked tightly, snapping him from his thoughts.

"What? Oh - ah - no. No I was just... Ah, here we are," he announced, grateful for the opportunity to change the subject as he located the site of the injury, a three centimetre split in the skin. Except - it wasn't skin, at least not in the human sense. Instead, he found himself peering intently at thousand upon thousand minute - scales? It seemed fantastic, and yet that was exactly what they appeared to be. Tiny, pearlescent hemispheres packed tightly together, with tufts of the long silky filaments protruding from the spaces between. "Wow!" he murmured, lost for anything more intelligent to say. As he continued to watch, the edges of the wound seemed to draw together, sealing themselves with the honey-coloured fluid until the site of the injury was completely covered by a protective membrane. Self-healing? These people could...?

So mesmerised was he by what he had witnessed, Daniel hardly noticed when the healer shuffled around on the stool until he was facing him. "As you can see, your concern was unnecessary. However," he added, placing his hand on his chest and making the smallest of bows "I thank you for it."

Still shaking his head with disbelief, Daniel said absently "Um... That's... That's okay. No... No prob -" Breaking off the thought, he gave a small 'huff' and demanded instead "How the hell did you do that?"

Tawny lips twitched a smile. "It is a genetic trait of my kind."

"Genetic? You mean all your people -"

"No, not all. Only those born to be Healers. It is - quite useful."

"I can imagine... So, you can't be killed?" It seemed a logical progression, yet the healer shook his head.

"Oh yes." With a word, the smile was gone, sadness taking it's place. "We are - quite vulnerable in that respect. Small injuries, infections, diseases... against these our resilience is strong. But yes, we can be killed."

Daniel's gaze snapped involuntarily to the door as he recalled Dace's threat. "Does he know?"

"No. No-one here knows - "

"Except me," Daniel concluded for him. "Aren't you taking a big risk in telling me?"

"I do no believe so. I - have heard all about you, Doctor Daniel Jackson. I believe I can trust you with my secret."

Blinking, Daniel tilted his head, suddenly suspicious. "You heard about me?" he asked. "Who from?"

A long, slender finger gestured across the room, to the cot. "Her."

"Sam?" The sharp edge to Daniel's voice suggested he was a long way from believing that. "No, she can't have done. She was only brought to you a few hours ago and she was - She wasn't in any condition for conversation," he finished lamely, avoiding the memory of Sam lying almost dead in his arms.

The amber eyes lifted to his face. They were wide and deep, and for perhaps the first time Daniel truly understood what was meant about the eyes being the windows to the soul. There were no lies concealed there, no deception, no hidden agendas. Everything that the healer had told him, he knew to be the truth and all he asked in return was Daniel's trust.

Slowly, the healer rose from the stool, gesturing to Daniel to follow. "Come... See for yourself..."

She lay unmoving beneath a thermal blanket of a type Daniel recognised from the time they had rescued both her and Jack from the Antarctic. She appeared to be sleeping, but if so, it was a deep, healing sleep. Already he could see that it had erased the lines of pain and the ravages of fever from her face. She looked - so peaceful and Daniel rocked under the wave of relief that coursed through him. Only now could he acknowledge to himself that a part of him had never expected to see her alive again.

"Her injury was severe," the healer explained. "Another hour in that cell and she would have been lost to us." Taking the greatest of care, he lifted back the side of the blanket, enough that Daniel could see the place on her thigh where she had been shot, while at the same time preserving her modesty. There were still signs of the wound, a large angry red area of flesh that stood slightly proud of the rest, but it was healed over now, the new skin smooth and shiny. Once fully healed it would leave no scar. Daniel asked "How?" and the healer smiled. "I am a Healer," he replied, as if that explained everything which, Daniel conceded, it probably did. The 'how' was not important - be it an aspirin or a sarcophagus that had healed her - the fact that Sam was alive was all that mattered.

That, and getting them both out of there.

"How soon will she be well enough to leave?" he asked.

A hesitation, a glance at the closed door, then "Soon."

"How 'soon'?"

Replacing the blanket, the healer moved away from the bed, his reluctance to speak obvious. Daniel followed, waiting, his own fears returning. He had hoped for a day or two - what if it took weeks for her to heal enough to make the journey to the Stargate?

The healer walked to the door and slid home a heavy metal bolt before resuming his seat on the stool and motioning Daniel to the chair. The archaeologist sat, reluctantly, leaning forward with his hands clenched against this lips, chewing anxiously on a knuckle. He was fully aware that their immediate future was now dependent upon this strange being, but he wasn't so certain that he was ready to place that much trust in one he had met only minutes ago. The way things changed in this place, he could be walking them into a whole other heap of trouble.

"Major Carter is well enough to leave now," the healer informed him abruptly, all emotion schooled from his voice.

"But - she's still unconscious - isn't she?"

"No. For her own safety, I have placed her in a deep, regenerative sleep. A form of stasis, if you will. The small device on her forehead..?" he tapped his own smooth forehead to indicate the place. Glancing at Sam, Daniel could see a small disc, about the size of a quarter, gleaming against her tanned skin. "I told Major Dace that it was part of the healing process. If he knew otherwise..."

Suddenly, the conversation Daniel had overheard as he entered the room was starting to make sense. "He wants to use Sam as a host for that... that *thing* in Jack's head."

"Yes. Dace has long been a servant of Ayan'nat. He has made her his queen - but she is dying. If she remains within O'Neill, they will *both* die. When Dace saw Major Carter he saw a chance for Ayan'nat..."

"But you refused to help with the transference."

"Yes. As I told Major Dace, I will not risk one life to save another. If I remove Ayan'nat from O'Neill, the colonel will die. Her presence is the only thing keeping him alive. But there is no way of knowing how badly Ayan'nat has been damaged by the failed blending and there is a high probability that, even if separation from O'Neill is successful, once transplanted to Major Carter she would kill her new host and therefore herself."

Around Daniel the world turned a dull, aching grey as his mind fixed on one fact and one fact only: they had lost. Whatever happened, whether they removed the Goa'uld from Jack or left it alone, Jack would die, and soon. End of the line. Game over. Just like it had been with Kawalsky.

At that moment he knew that the best he could hope for now was to get Jack home, where he could die surrounded by the people who loved him. It seemed a simple, humane solution - until, without warning, an image of Apophis slipped into his mind, the once-powerful System Lord strapped to an infirmary bed, screaming in agony as he fought to survive, crying out for his mate with his last breath. Could he put Jack through that, knowing that a part of him was still conscious, held prisoner by an insane parasite? Could he do that to someone he loved? Wouldn't it be better to end it, quick and clean? A single shot was all it would need...

Could he do for Jack what he had not been able to do for Sha're?

"I have to get him out of here..." he said, already pushing to his feet, driven by the desire to protect what was left of his friend. A strong hand pressed him back into the chair.

"If you are referring to Colonel O'Neill, then I regret - there is nothing you can do for him. With or without Ayan'nat, he will die."

"NO!" Daniel shook his head, tried to push the healer away. There must be a way to save Jack. There *must*. It couldn't end here, like this, not with Jack the slave to a Goa'uld. This wasn't happening! They couldn't have come this far for it to end like this!

"I am so sorry, Daniel," the healer murmured, his hands enfolding Daniel's in a gesture of compassion. "I wish that I could give you hope, but the O'Neill you knew and loved died at the moment of implantation."

"But I saw him, I spoke to him - to *Jack*. He's still in there..."

"Only for as long as Ayan'nat maintains him. Only for as long as she can. Have you not noticed, even in the short time that you have been here, that as Ayan'nat becomes more dominant she is also becoming less stable."

"But the host survives," Daniel protested. "We proved that! Skaara survived. Sha're -"

"Yes, in many cases the host can survive. But O'Neill was already close to death when she was implanted. And what if he *did* survive separation? You must remember the sight that greeted you when you first came through the Stargate," Daniel nodded bleakly "then ask yourself if O'Neill would wish to remember it, knowing that Ayan'nat gave the order through him, that through him she ordered the execution of your Jaffa friend."

"Teal'c?" Daniel's world turned from grey to black, spinning violently around him. Teal'c was dead? And - Jack knew? It wasn't possible! Jack would have fought it, surely. He was strong, had stood his ground before, fought off the Goa'uld that Hathor had tried to implant in him. No, the Jack he knew would never have let Teal'c die without a fight.

But then - this wasn't the Jack he knew...

Teal'c dead.

Jack dying.

Was there any point in going on?

As if reading his thoughts, the healer said softly "It is too late for O'Neill, but you can save Major Carter and, in so doing, stop this madness. Without a suitable host, Ayan'nat will die with O'Neill - and without Ayan'nat, Dace is powerless. There are others here who wish to leave, Daniel, but while Dace and Ayan'nat control the gate it is impossible."

"So what are you saying?" Daniel snapped. "I'm supposed to just - abandon Jack, turn my back on him when he needs me the most?" he looked deep into the amber eyes, his own narrowed with bitterness and suspicion. "Why hasn't anyone else moved against him?"

"Some tried, but Ayan'nat awakened and - dealt with their insolence."

"Great. What makes you think he - she - won't do the same to me?"

The healer reached out, laying his hand over Daniel's. "O'Neill loves you. He does not care about these others, only you, Daniel. His love for you gives him the strength to resist Ayan'nat in ways he cannot otherwise do."

Thinking of the fight he had had with the Goa'uld just a few hours ago, Daniel seriously doubted he had that much influence yet, just knowing Jack loved him changed so many things. He had sensed it himself, just before their violent confrontation, and now the healer had confirmed it. Even if it was only the love of close friends, wasn't that something worth fighting for?

"If I leave him here, what will happen to him?"

"As I said, he will die..."

"Before that. "

"Ayan'ant will become dominant, control his mind and his personality..." He paused, looking away, as if the rest was too painful for even him to consider and Daniel found himself wondering if perhaps the healer had in some way grown fond of his captor.

"Tell me the rest," he prompted gently, lifting a hand to offer comfort of his own.

"His physical condition is already weakening and she is no longer able to sustain his body. When he has grown weak enough and Dace turns his back on him..."

Daniel swallowed the constriction in his throat, the image all too clear in his mind. "The others will kill him."

"That is my belief, yes."

"Slowly and... painfully, no doubt." A chill feeling of dread clawed at Daniel's insides. Even from the little that Teal'c had told him of Goa'uld execution he knew the horrors that Jack would be facing.

The white head bowed once in confirmation. "There is much hatred against Ayan'nat, they will look for ways to avenge those she has destroyed."

It was all Daniel needed to hear. "Then I have to get them away from here - Sam *and* Jack. I can't leave him behind to face that."

The healer sat forward, a deep frown line puckering his brow, his long delicate fingers fisting in his hair as he allowed his own frustration to rise to the fore. "But there is nothing you can do to help him! The journey through the Stargate alone will surely kill him!"

"I know that," Daniel whispered, ignoring the stinging in his eyes. "But at least he'll die with dignity. If I can't save him, at least I can give him that."

The healer scrutinised Daniel's face intently as he absorbed this declaration. "It means that much to you?" he asked, as if the concept of such a depth of loyalty was alien to him.

A sad smile crossed Daniel's face. "You said it yourself - I love him. If your people know anything about love, you'll understand how important this is to me."

The amber pools darkened, looking like polished hazelnut shells in the alabaster whites of his eyes, as all his thoughts turned inwards. At some other time, in some other situation, Daniel would have been content to spend hours exploring this man's past - it certainly seemed that there would be many stories to tell - but too much else was weighing on him and time, apparently, was something he had little of.

"My people," said the healer, "were a peaceful race. They knew much about love and about loyalty."

"So - will you help me?"

"It will not be easy. The gateway is half a day's journey on foot."

With more conviction in his voice than he was actually feeling, Daniel shrugged. "Just help me get Sam out of here and point me in the right direction. I can do the rest."

"How will you convince O'Neill?"

// Good question // thought Daniel. Jack was no more likely to respond to an invitation now than he had been a few hours ago, which mean that whatever he did would have to be done by deception.

A thought entered his head then, something Jack had said earlier about this being a one-way ticket. {{They can follow us through, but we can't ever go back, that was the deal.}} It hadn't occurred to him at the time, with everything else that was happening around him, but all at once he found himself confronted with the ugly possibility that the words were more than just the ramblings of a mind not firing on all thrusters. What if Jack had been right, that people could come through the gate but not leave by it? After all, that had been the case on Hadante. True, the gate here had a DHD but - they had never actually had the opportunity to find out if it worked. What if it didn't? What if they really were trapped.

"I'll do whatever it takes," he said vehemently.

"The price could be high..."

Daniel didn't need to be told that, it was a given here, in this strange place. It was also unimportant when weighed against what was a stake. "Whatever the cost... he's worth it."

Slowly, the healer nodded. "For the first time, I envy your colonel," he smiled, his hands lifting to frame Daniel's shoulders in a gesture of solidarity. "Come, we have much work to do."

Eyes darting to the bed, Daniel asked "What about Sam? We should wake her..."

"No, let her rest. She will need to be strong if you are to stand any chance of escape." He began to rise from the stool, but Daniel caught at his hand, stalling him.

"If *we* are to stand any chance of escape," he corrected. "You have to come with us."


"Yes. For one thing, Dace will probably kill you if you stay and for another - you don't belong here, not with all this - death. Earth might not be the best place in the galaxy, but it certainly beats this. Please," he added when the healer seemed to hesitate.

Long, almost transparent lashes swept the high cheek bones as the healer closed his eyes, the expression that blossomed on his face, one of relief as he contemplated freedom, perhaps for the first time since he had come to this bleak world. When he opened his eyes again, he was smiling.

"I understand now why O'Neill's feelings for you are so intense. You are a remarkable man, Daniel Jackson."

Daniel started to protest, blushing furiously, but the look on the healers face warned him that any protest would be pointless and so he shrugged, wriggling his shoulders shyly, and gestured to the desk. "Come on... Let's see if we can find a way to get us all out of here..."

Go To Part 12