Solitude's End

Written by Sheila Paulson
Comments? Write to us at venkie@aol.com

There is a destiny that makes us brothers.

Edwin Markham

 

"At least we know it can be done, right?"

His remembered words offered some small measure of consolation. Daniel Jackson saw behind his closed eyes the image of Thor's Hammer, the only means he'd yet found to free Sha're from the domination of the Goa'uld. The way he had destroyed. The comfort offered by the knowledge that it was possible to save her, if they found her, was limited by the fact that the way didn't exist any longer.

Daniel pounded his pillow. Sleep wasn't going to come. It hadn't for the past few nights, at least not easily. When it did, it was filled with dreams, dreams of Sha're, warm, lovely Sha're, imprisoned forever inside her own body, trapped by the Goa'uld who had possessed her. She could have been freed the way Kendra had been freed, but she remained trapped.

Trapped As Teal'c had been by Thor's Hammer on Cimmeria.

"You are part of this family now. We're not leaving you behind."

Those had been Jack's words to the Jaffa before he passed Teal'c's staff weapon to Daniel. For a long, breathless moment, Daniel and Jack had stared into each other's eyes. I know how much it will hurt, Jack had said without a single word. But you can't trade the possibility of finding Sha're one day and bringing her here for Teal'c's current need. He's here now. Come on, Daniel.

You don't know how much it will hurt, Daniel thought with a surge of resentment before catching himself. Jack did know. O'Neill knew all about loss. He'd lost his son to a death he blamed himself for, his wife had left him, and then, he'd lost Skaara, who had become like a son to him, to the Goa'uld. By passing Daniel Teal'c's staff weapon, he knew he was condemning Skaara, too. Teal'c had said, "I was with those who took those you love," when he had offered to stay. He had referred to Skaara, as well as Sha're. Jack had known that when he passed over the staff weapon. Yet he'd given it to Daniel, because he also knew the choice to use it had to be Daniel's. Easy enough for him to step through the portal and blast it himself; he wasn't confined like Teal'c was. But he'd known; he'd understood that Daniel would resent anyone else who did it, that it was a choice only he could make for himself.

When had Jack come to understand him so well? He'd stood there mentally egging Daniel on, muttering, "Come on," as if he could will Daniel to do the right thing. When Daniel had done it, blasted away Sha're's chances to free Teal'c, Jack had understood exactly how much it had hurt--and there had been recognition of that fact, as well as pride and approval, in his eyes.

As he took back his staff weapon Teal'c had known, too. He would have stayed behind in that dark pit just to grant Daniel the off chance of saving his wife, and he would have done it without hesitation and without recriminations. He had offered to do so. It was the recognition of Teal'c's determined integrity that had allowed Daniel to look past what the Jaffa had done as First Prime of Apophis and to begin to consider him a friend. It was that friend who had come to him after they had found a way to cure the Touched and apologized so gravely for losing Daniel on the dark side of P3X-797. Jack had said later that one of the things he remembered when he was trapped in his primitive self was Teal'c coming to him and admitting that he had been forced to leave Daniel there. Teal'c's loyalty, once won, was unswerving. Daniel had witnessed it repeatedly since he joined SG-1. If he couldn't help wishing that Teal'c had come over to their side back on Chulak in time to save Sha're and Skaara, in his more logical moments he realized that the time had been wrong and he would have acted for nothing if he had switched sides too soon. He couldn't have succeeded any earlier than he actually had.

That knowledge didn't help Daniel to come to terms with the outcome of the mission to Cimmeria as he lay wakeful in the wee hours of the morning.

He flopped his pillow over and sought its cooler side. SG-1 had a mission in a few hours and if he were to stagger into the pre-embarkation briefing looking like he'd pulled an all-nighter researching the possibility of yet another Egyptian based culture on P3K-443 Jack would be sure to have harsh words with him. That his words might be tinged with sympathy because of Cimmeria was not something that Daniel wanted. He had never been good with pity--or with asking people for help, or admitting he had needs, or even how miserable and alone he felt at times. There had never been anyone to turn to when life let him down, not even his mentor, Doctor Jordan at the university. Once his parents had been killed, it had been a case of Daniel against the world, standing solitary on his own small feet, learning as he grew up that it didn't do to lower his guard to people, to admit to vulnerability, or even to need anyone. People could turn on you so easily. People could let you down. When his parents died, his own grandfather hadn't wanted him. That kind of lesson was painful but it had been well taught. Ever since then, it had been Daniel alone--until Sha're.

Now he had blasted the only chance he'd ever found to save her.

Damn it. He couldn't blame Teal'c, either. It wouldn't be fair. In the absence of support, he'd learned to be fair, to give others no valid cause to complain about him. Teal'c was a good man who didn't deserve what Thor's defense mechanism would do to him. Neither could Daniel let himself fail Jack, who so obviously expected him to do the right thing, or Sam, whose opinion of him mattered. And, even more, he knew that, had he insisted Teal'c remain behind until they could find Sha're, he would have been unable to live with himself for the utter selfishness of such an action.

But could he live with the outcome?

Daniel alone. All right. He could endure that. He was used to that. One perfect year on Abydos couldn't alter the habits and expectations of a lifetime. He was Daniel alone again, and he'd blasted his chance of redeeming that.

You did it, Daniel, he thought and made himself face the fact. You did it. Don't whine about it. Don't cry about it. But don't give up. If Thor protected one world, there could be Hammers out there on other worlds, too. Maybe he would find them one day. Maybe Sha're really was no further away than the Stargate.

When he finally slept, his dreams were restless and troubled and, when the alarm cut through the dreams, he did not awaken refreshed.

*****

P3K-443 was another desert planet, like Abydos. Somehow, that made it harder to bear. The gate stood in a pyramid there, too, but close to the door so that the M.A.L.P. images had revealed the sunshine outside and the desert sand dunes in the distance. Once they'd stepped through the gate and made a quick surveillance of the pyramid, Jack had dragged him and Sam past the interesting interior before they could become caught up in it, so they check for hostiles and secure the perimeter. Stepping out into the dry heat of the day, they all paused at the top of the ramp to put on sunglasses against the brilliance of the light.

The sand was darker than the Abydon sand, a deeper brown, and it didn't dominate the entire scene. There were ridges with scraggly trees and even a nearby oasis at the foot of the ramp with the local equivalent of palm trees, tall, sloping ones with dusty green, spear-shaped leaves and purple fruit that hung in trailing globs a little like bananas. Sam spotted them right away. Daniel had learned quickly that, along with her general knowledge base, which was considerable and well organized scientifically, she noticed things and reasoned out answers. She would have made a good archaeologist; she was even starting to pick up some of the basics from Daniel as they went along. He was glad he had her respect.

When they stepped through the gate, Jack and Teal'c always went into full combat mode, ready for trouble. Six months of planetary exploration had taught them useful patterns and the ability to work together seamlessly. It didn't surprise Daniel when the two men positioned themselves carefully to survey the landscape before they committed themselves to going further. Daniel knew the interesting ruins could distract him; he'd already noticed the intriguing hieroglyphs just inside the pyramid that he'd like to record once they had secured the site. He was learning not to bother Jack with things like that until the Colonel was sure they weren't about to come under fire, encounter a hostile native population, or discover a troop of armed Jaffa waiting to jump them.

Sam had picked up on something that interested her, too; what looked like some tech stuff; inactivate instrument panels set into the walls just past the carved hieroglyphics. She'd nodded, pointing them out to Jack as he passed, but he'd done no more than register them and measure them for potential threat before he had led the way to the door. He'd asked Teal'c quickly if they were Goa'uld and the Jaffa had said they weren't, which had only whetted Sam's interest. Daniel shared a commiserating smile with her as they stood at the top of the ramp.

"The M.A.L.P. didn't pick up any life signs?" Jack knew the answer to that, but the question was meant to encourage theories or comments.

"None I could see," Daniel replied. "The sand didn't show any trace of footprints, but then, with this wind, they'd drift over quickly. If we went down to the oasis for a better look we might find footprints by the water."

Sam raised a hand to shield her eyes from the glaring heat of the huge sun before lifting her binoculars. "Animal tracks are all I can make out, sir," she reported. "But we're really too far away to be sure."

"Doesn't mean there isn't a settlement just over that sand dune." Jack frowned.

"Nobody tampered with the M.A.L.P.," Carter reminded him. "And I didn't see any footprints in the sand that's drifted into the pyramid."

"I don't think anyone comes in here," offered Daniel.

"Not now," Carter said. "But they have been or we wouldn't have those instrument panels on the walls. They weren't running just now but maybe they can be deactivated from a remote site. We could be under electronic surveillance right this minute."

"Ya think?" Jack frowned. "Teal'c? You see anything? Sense anything?"

"Nothing. I have detected no movement other than the branches of those trees as they move in the wind." He was silent a moment, then he said, "I do not like this place, however."

"Oh, yeah? Any reason why?" Jack wasn't big on that kind of feeling, but he listened when any of them had them. He'd been around long enough to trust gut instincts. Maybe this really was a 'gut' instinct, some prompting from the Jaffa's larval Goa'uld. Jack was pretty uncomfortable with 'Junior', but he didn't discount any input he got as a result. Not that Teal'c could communicate with the infant Goa'uld, but it probably heightened his awareness. Daniel would like to study Teal'c's reactions one day. It really wasn't his field, and it wasn't something that would probably matter in the scheme of things, just one more bit of the scientific curiosity that made up Daniel's nature. He had put such research on his long list of tasks to accomplish one day.

"None," Teal'c replied. "An instinct warns me of this place, but I cannot explain further."

"I don't like it, either, sir." Carter had her gun in one hand and the binoculars in the other. "This is rough terrain. It's practically the edge of the desert; over that way, I think we might run into country that could grow marginal crops. If there are people here, I'd guess they would live over there." She waved the binoculars in that direction.

"So I guess we hike over there." Jack measured the distance to the nearest ridge with his eyes. He didn't look at all happy about it. Teal'c's uneasiness was catching.

Sam frowned. "I do want to study those panels in the pyramid, sir. We haven't seen many places with levels of technology like that. I think the powers that be would be pleased if we could get a handle on them. If I could access their system, I might be able to download something. It's different from our own system, of course."

"I didn't see a handy dandy keyboard or a floppy drive back there," Jack replied. "You gonna hook it up to a laptop?"

"If possible. I'd have to study it first. We can do that when we come back, though, if we have a chance."

"We'll see what happens," Jack decided. "Okay campers, let's make tracks. Head for that ridge with the jagged rock. It's high enough to give us a view of the surrounding country." He gestured for Teal'c to take the lead and fell in beside Daniel.

"Up late studying?" he asked in an undertone. The look in his eyes suggested he wouldn't buy a lie.

Daniel didn't insult him with one. "I didn't sleep very well. Sorry, Jack."

"Cimmeria?"

How did he do that? Of course Jack knew what Sha're meant to him. He'd known her, although briefly, on the first Abydos mission, but he hadn't been able to speak with her then; she hadn't learned English. He hadn't been able to speak with Skaara, either, but that hadn't stopped him from bonding with the boy. Maybe he understood because he'd lost his own wife, although not so drastically. Or maybe he just understood because he was Jack.

"Well...yeah. I won't let it interfere with the mission."

"Didn't think you would. Gotta say, though, I don't want to hear that you're blaming yourself for destroying the Hammer."

"I did destroy it, Jack. It was my choice, and I made it. It was the only choice I could have made."

"Just so you know that...." He grinned wryly. "I can feel for you. I keep thinking of Skaara out there. He's a good kid. I just hope we can get them back someday soon." His eyes raked the terrain as they left the ramp and started out across the rolling dunes. "Tough decision, wasn't it?" The words were casual, but there was a lot of understanding behind them. Something warmed inside Daniel.

He hesitated then he nodded.

Jack caught his eye. "It would have been for me, too. But Teal'c's family now."

"That's what you said. It... gives me hope."

Jack arched a startled eyebrow.

"Well...he's a Jaffa. He served Apophis. But now he's with us. Something we'd never have expected." And he'd never expected the Jack O'Neill he'd met before that first mission to Abydos to lower his guard to someone like Teal'c, to even speak of him as family so casually, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. "So...anything's possible." It was possible that he'd find Sha're out there. If not on this planet, maybe on the next one, or the one after that. Maybe someday they'd figure out if there really were a Thor out there protecting Cimmeria and--hopefully--other worlds. Maybe they could recruit him to help rescue Sha're and Skaara.

"Hold that thought," Jack told him. The Colonel's eyes were busy with the terrain, but Daniel knew that he hadn't lost O'Neill's attention. "I've got to say, coming to all these other worlds proves you're right. Anything's possible."

The next second, a new possibility presented itself, abruptly and nastily, as armed natives popped up from the sand practically beneath their feet, spilling sand from the tarps that had concealed them, and leveled weapons at the team that were so far in advance of SG-1's MP-5s that they'd have been right at home on Star Trek. There were at least two dozen natives, big, long-limbed men who made even Teal'c look small, all of them clad in flowing robes the exact same color as the sand that didn't hinder their gun arms at all. They looked vaguely Berber, but their headgear was reminiscent of yarmelkes wrapped around with a trailing band that secured them against the desert wind. If they were human, if they'd been brought through the gate, they must be of North African origin. Maybe not Egyptian, but transported here at the time the gate was still open in Egypt.

"You will lower your weapons," the tallest of them barked. He gestured at his men, who deftly removed the team's guns. "You come armed to Tannish? This is forbidden."

"Uh, we didn't know--" Daniel began.

"Did I grant you permission to speak? I did not." He jerked his chin up in haughty command and one of the natives backhanded Daniel hard across the face. He staggered back in pain and fell against Teal'c, who caught him easily and held him up until he caught his balance. He could feel blood oozing from a cut on his cheekbone. For the first moment, he was woozy, but it passed.

"Further infractions will call down fiercer correction."

"Hey," Jack began furiously and caught himself. He held up his hands in an arresting motion. With a fierce glare at the leader, who watched him impassively with his laser gun leveled, the Colonel wrenched himself out of a native's grip and charged over to Daniel. Weapons tracked him the whole way but at least no one fired. With teeth clenched to hold back words of outrage, he caught Daniel by the chin, tilted his head slightly, and studied him. An eyebrow arched in question.

Daniel nodded quickly to reassure O'Neill. He wasn't dizzy, just sore at the point of impact.

"I see you can learn," the leader said smoothly. "Now. We will question you, and you will answer. You. The female. Which of you is the head of your group?"

Sam hesitated and weighed the question. Daniel was pretty sure she didn't want to single Jack out for fear of some form of retribution. "We are a team," she replied.

"Which of you is in charge?" No chance of negotiation in that implacable tone.

Sam glared back with equal stubbornness, her chin high. Daniel realized she wasn't about to call down nastiness on Jack by explaining. Jack didn't let her take the fall. Daniel had known he wouldn't, even as he wondered if he should jump in and claim the leadership role. He saw Teal'c open his mouth to speak, too.

"I'm in charge," Jack said quickly and finally before either of them could say anything. "If you have a problem with us, you come to me."

"I gave you no leave to speak."

One of the native warriors punched Jack in the stomach. He doubled up, and Daniel lurched free of Teal'c' and grabbed Jack's arm. Teal'c moved in unison with him, and the two of them held O'Neill up while he wheezed and struggled to catch his breath.

When he could finally speak, he straightened up and faced the leader head on. "No, but I'm in charge. If you have questions, you ask me, not my people." Daniel and Teal'c stayed right at his side, and Sam would have been there too if one of the tribesmen hadn't had a firm grip on her arm. He was a good ten inches taller than she was and his muscles made Teal'c resemble a ninety-eight-pound weakling. She didn't risk the indignity of a struggle, but her feet were braced. If the grip weakened, she'd be away in an instant.

The leader's face was so impassive Daniel didn't have a clue what he was thinking, but he didn't order another blow. That was interesting.

"You, in charge. You speak now. Why are you here? You are not Goa'uld, even if you have a Jaffa. But since you have a Jaffa, you are their allies. We do not tolerate the Goa'uld on Tannish."

"We're not Goa'uld," Jack panted. He prodded his stomach with exploring fingers and cast a resentful glare at the man who had hit him. "We're not their allies, either. They're our enemies, too. Yeah, Teal'c is a Jaffa but he's renounced the Goa'uld and works against them. We didn't come as conquerors but as peaceful explorers."

"You lie. Peaceful explorers do not bear weapons."

"They do when they don't know what to expect on a strange world. There might be dangerous animals--or Goa'uld. We didn't know. We couldn't take the chance."

"Chance? You speak of chances?" The leader drew himself up to his full height. He would have made a great center for the Chicago Bulls. He looked down his long, elegant nose at them. "Leader. I offer you a proposition. You will prove your good intentions. You say you came here in peace, that this Jaffa is not evil. I find your words difficult to believe. But I will free you--if you are willing to pay a toll."

"Toll?" Jack's eyes narrowed. "What kind of toll?" Daniel could tell that he expected fate to deal him a lousy hand. Daniel thought that, too, and he could see Sam tense and Teal'c brace his muscles in case he needed to act quickly. Not even Teal'c could take on two dozen men armed with high tech weapons. Jack noticed and shook his head fractionally. Daniel worked his bottom lip between his teeth and tried to ignore the annoying trickle of blood down his cheek.

"The woman I will spare. She is of breeding age and the Tannish would never harm a potential mother, but there are two others for you, leader. Choose one of them."

"Careful, Jack," Daniel muttered under his breath. The leader made an imperious gesture with one hand and the nearest guard punched the archaeologist in the stomach. Pain exploded through his midsection and his breath went out in a whoosh. He would have fallen if Jack's arm hadn't shot out to steady him.

"Son of a bitch," Jack exploded. "Damn it, Daniel..."

The gleam of interest lit the leader's eyes. "You have concern for this one? You would then offer me the Jaffa to die?"

Daniel straightened up hastily and tried to pretend he felt great even if his stomach was not very happy. This sounded even worse than he'd expected.

Jack's expression hardened. "Die? What the hell do you mean, die?" He added under his breath, "Okay, Daniel?"

"More or less."

The leader ignored their brief exchange. "One of your party must die. You have violated our custom. As we have said, we spare the breeding-age female. Choose which of these other two must die. Shall it be the Jaffa? Can you be sure he has turned from the service of Apophis?"

"How did you know...?" Daniel began. Jack made a quick, chopping gesture across his throat and Daniel shut up. The leader frowned but he didn't order another blow.

"You think us fools?" demanded the leader. "You think Ay-har of the Tannish does not recognize the sign upon this one's forehead? We are not ignorant here. You come here among us bearing weapons and look at us as if we were grit beneath your sandals. This one served Apophis. Perhaps he does so no longer. But that is irrelevant. Leader. Choose. Which of your team will die?"

"We couldn't negotiate here?" Jack demanded cautiously. "Come to an agreement?"

There was no yielding on the man's imperious face. "No. I have spoken. One of your team will die. The others then will be permitted to flee home in defeat through the Chapa'ai. But we must have blood--or all shall die, all but the female, whom we shall take back with us to our tents to use as women were intended. She will bear strong sons for my people."

Carter's mouth twisted. She wouldn't make it easy for any of them. Let her get her hands on a knife and whoever tried to trifle with her would be sorry. But Daniel knew Jack would never allow it to come to that. The Colonel gritted out, "You leave her alone."

"Then choose. You waste my time. Choose quickly, or all shall die but the female, and she may even wish she had joined you. Which shall it be? The Jaffa? Surely he can be spared. One less Goa'uld. We will rip it from him and let him die slowly without it. Or shall it be this one with the long hair." He caught Daniel by the chin, just as Jack had, but his hand wasn't gentle and worried, it was arrogant and possessive, and he gave Daniel's head a twist that made the dizziness tease briefly at the edges of his awareness. Jack tried hard not to erupt in five directions at once. "You showed a fine concern for him," continued Ay-har. "Perhaps he is your bondmate or your brother. Know that he would die slowly, too. We would stake him out in the sun and let it leach the life from his body. Thirst is a terrible way to die."

Daniel forced himself not to cringe. He remembered that once, on Abydos, one of the men had been lost in a sandstorm. They had found his body five days later, dead of dehydration. It hadn't been a pretty sight. He'd always thought that would be a really nasty way to go. Could these people of Tannish read his mind? Not a happy thought.

Jack's mouth traced a tight line and his jaw muscles worked. He lifted his eyes and studied Daniel for what seemed like five whole minutes without speaking, and there was absolutely no expression in his face at all. He turned to Teal'c and scrutinized him with the same evident impassiveness. Only he wasn't really impassive. If his expression was cold and blank, his eyes were desperate. He tracked the natives, registering each one, judging their effectiveness, and Daniel could tell how much he hated the odds. There were too many of them, and they were all honed to a fierce alertness. A troop of Jaffa would not have been more watchful. Jack glanced back at the pyramid as if measuring the distance there. Daniel knew the moment when he accepted that he had no options at the moment. The slump of his shoulders was so slight that the natives wouldn't even see it, but Daniel did, saw it and understood it.

Jack had said Teal'c was part of his family. Teal'c knew everything there was to know about the Goa'uld. He was a powerful warrior and a man of complete honor. He was too valuable to the team to lose, just as he had been on Cimmeria. Jack couldn't let Teal'c die. The fate of the Earth might depend on the knowledge he possessed of the worlds beyond the Stargate.

As for Daniel, Jack might like him, might trust him, but there were so many times when he'd been exasperated beyond belief at Daniel's naiveté, his willingness to babble out more information than Jack wanted to hear, his obsession with finding Sha're. Jack might even wonder if that obsession might threaten the team. And he couldn't give Sam to these tribesmen. That was unthinkable. Even if she weren't a friend, to waste her brilliant mind was simply impossible to contemplate. And even in these liberated days, a little of the 'women and children first' mentality lingered. No, Jack couldn't choose Sam either.

So, if he had to make a choice to save the others, it was a foregone conclusion which one of them would have to die. Daniel understood that, and he couldn't fault Jack for his decision. He wouldn't take his own survival at the expense of any of the others, and he wouldn't leave the choice unmade so all of them would die but Sam, who might wish she had died, with what they would do to her. No, Daniel knew he would be chosen. Jack would be sorry, but Jack was the leader. He had to consider the larger picture.

"It's okay, Jack," he said. "I understand. I know you have to choose me. Just promise me you'll keep looking for Sha're, and if you find her, tell her that I never stopped loving her."

"What the hell?" Jack blurted out. He jerked away from the two natives who had closed in on him at Ay-har's command. "You think I chose you?" He couldn't have sounded more astonished if Daniel had grabbed him and planted a big, sloppy kiss on the tip of his nose.

"You can't let them kill Teal'c," Daniel objected. "He knows so much that can help us. Besides, you said yourself that he was family. So you can't kill him. And you can't just not choose because then all of you would die, and Sam...."

"Who said I chose you?" Jack insisted. He grabbed Daniel by the arms and shook him with an exasperated fondness. "I didn't choose you, Danny. I didn't choose Teal'c or Carter, either. For crying out loud! I chose myself."

"No!" Daniel's stomach knotted up in horror at the fierce determination in O'Neill's face. "Don't you see? You can't do that. You have to choose me. I'm the one most easily spared." He couldn't let it be Jack. Impossible. If Jack wouldn't back down, Daniel would just have to make Ay-har listen.

Jack shook his head. He'd never looked more stubborn and determined. "No deal. My choice is made."

"You cannot, O'Neill. I volunteer," Teal'c insisted. He planted his feet and faced Ay-har. "I will die in O'Neill's place."

"Too late, Teal'c. I made my choice."

"Sir, no," Carter sounded stricken. "I'll stay. You can't choose to die."

"Well, I'm not picking any of you, and I'm the Colonel. It's my decision." He pulled away from his frantic team and went over to Ay-har. "You told me to choose, and I've done it. Let them go."

Ay-har was silent a long time. Daniel hoped he'd remind Jack that his choice was to have been between Teal'c and Daniel, that Ay-har had said nothing about self-sacrifice. Jack couldn't do this. There had to be an alternative. Maybe he was hoping he could get away, or felt like he'd have more options once the rest of them were safe on Earth. Maybe he thought they'd send reinforcements to haul him out before he could dehydrate in the desert. They would, if it came to that. But whatever the case, Daniel couldn't stand it. Jack had given him the option on Cimmeria. He'd chosen to free Teal'c there. He had to make a similar choice here, to free Jack.

So he went to the native leader and gazed earnestly up at him. "Ay-har, listen to me. I'm the most easily spared. These others, they're all soldiers, warriors. I'm just a scientist. Let them go and they can keep on fighting the Goa'uld. You claim to hate the Goa'uld. If you kill any of them, you're only helping the Goa'uld and I don't think you want to do that."

"So you say." Ay-har regarded Daniel the way the archaeologist might have studied a fascinating piece of Akkadian script. "Enlighten me first. Why would you choose to die? Is your life so pitiful that you would rush into death?"

"The Goa'uld took my wife and made her into a host," Daniel said. "I want to live so I can free her. I know that I can free her some day, if I can find her. Something of the host survives. I know that. I met a woman recently who had once been taken by a Goa'uld and is now free. So it can be done. But if I die here, I know Jack will look for Sha're for me. I know that. And my friends will be spared."

"You seek this wife, this Sha're, whom you love very much. I see it in your eyes and I hear it in your voice. Yet you would still die in place of your leader. Why?"

"Because..." Daniel's voice trailed off. He needed a rational argument, one that would convince Ay-har to free Jack and take Daniel in his place, but his insistence wasn't rational. It was pure gut instinct, an involuntary decision; one he made because there was nothing else he could do. He remembered watching Jack slowly come back to life on Abydos, learning that he had a reason to live after all. He remembered turning to Jack after Sha're had been taken, and pleading for his help, and how Jack had agreed and had pushed to include Daniel on SG-1. He recalled the way Jack had looked him in the eye on Cimmeria before he'd passed him the staff weapon, the understanding so strong between them that they were communicating without words. He couldn't let Jack die. He simply couldn't. The friendship building between them was not easy-- nothing important ever was--but it was real and it meant so much to Daniel. "Because I want him to live," he said, and knew it must sound lame to Ay-har. It sounded lame to him, but he couldn't find the words to make it clearer.

Exasperated, Jack caught his eye, but there was something warmer in his gaze, even if his face made it clear that he wasn't buying any of this. "Daniel...." he growled.

"Ah." The native leader's reaction offered no clues to his thoughts. "You, Jaffa." He spun away from Daniel and loomed over Teal'c instead. "Why do you offer your life for this man?"

"I am sworn to follow him," Teal'c replied simply. "I have chosen to fight at his side. I must protect him, and if I must protect him with my life, that is the choice that I make. You expected one of him. I offer you my own in exchange."

"You are like no Jaffa I have previously encountered."

"He sure isn't," Jack agreed. "But I don't want him dead. You've got my answer. I'm the one you said had to choose."

"Don't listen to him," Sam persisted. She caught hold of Ay-har's arm and only let go when four of his men jammed guns in her face. "I'll stay, sir. They don't mean for me to die. I can take care of myself. If I stay here, you'll let them all go?"

Ay-har regarded her as if she were a complex puzzle. "You are like no breeding female of my people."

"I'm not a breeding female, I'm a scientist and a military officer," she replied. "And Colonel O'Neill is my commanding officer."

"Yeah, and I gave you all an order," Jack insisted. "Shut up and let me do this. Go back through the Stargate and let Hammond know to avoid this world in the future. We won't get any treaties here. Don't worry about me. I can take care of myself."

"Not tied down in the blazing sun, you cannot," Ay-har reminded him.

Jack stood his ground. "Ah, hell, will you just send them home and get it over with?"

"Why?"

"Because that was the deal. I want them safe before you do your dirty work. Are you backing out now? And you think we're as bad as the Goa'uld?"

Daniel caught Sam's eye and Teal'c's. They couldn't fight. They would lose in a second, in the time it took to discharge the energy weapons. If they resisted, it would dishonor Jack, who stood there so grim and determined to see them to safety. Give up? Go tamely back through the Stargate and leave Jack to die? Unthinkable. There had to be a solution. Daniel was a scientist. He should come up with something.

"Ay-har? Is there anything we could offer in trade? Our people are always willing to open trade negotiations. Wouldn't you rather try that than just killing one of us out of hand? Or are you the ones allied with the Goa'uld?"

A lot of the tribesmen murmured resentfully and a few more guns came to rest on him.

"Daniel," Jack cautioned. "Don't push your luck."

"I can't just give up, Jack. You know I can't. There has to be a way out. Even back on Abydos, when you had to be fed up with me, you didn't give up on me. Don't give up on yourself. There has to be another solution. Ay-har, don't take him. Take me instead."

"You made that offer before, and he refused it. If he is your leader, he makes the choice."

"No! Why won't you listen? It doesn't have to be like this. You're just imposing your own arbitrary rule. I'm not trying to malign your culture, but wouldn't it be better for everybody to come up with a solution that lets us all come out ahead?"

Ay-har's face gave nothing away. He eyed each of them in turn, long and thoughtfully, and when Daniel opened his mouth to argue further, he put up a warning hand. "I have tolerated your speeches, all of you. No more. I told you at the start that I was the one who would speak, and now, here you are, babbling like foolish children."

Sam jumped in. "Wouldn't you try to save your own people? Why should you think we'd be any different?"

"Because you have a Jaffa."

"I have turned my back on the Goa'uld," Teal'c reminded him. "But if I am the cause of your distrust, then I should pay the price, not O'Neill, Captain Carter, or Daniel Jackson."

Ay-har smiled. "It amuses me to listen to you."

"Yeah, somebody dying must be a laugh a minute to you," Jack complained. "Just send them home. It's over. Quit trying to make them squirm when you're not gonna change your mind."

"Oh? And why am I not? You now know what is in my mind? I did not realize those who came through the Chapa'ai could read the thoughts of the Tannish."

"Oh, give me a break. It's obvious you're getting off on this power thing," Jack spat. "You want to play with your toys before you break them. Fine. But send my people home first."

"No."

Jack looked like he wanted to explode. "Who's like the Goa'uld now, Ay-har?"

"Evidently, none of us," the Tannish leader replied. "I would hear more of these trade negotiations."

"Like we're all gung ho to trade with people who knock us around and kill us."

"No, Jack, wait." Daniel shot out a hand and caught O'Neill's arm. "Ay-har, what are you saying?"

To his astonishment, the tall man laughed. "I am saying what you think I say. That none will die today. I will apologize for the blows you have suffered. We will sit down and drink together and then we will see what bargains we will strike."

Daniel's breath went out in a relieved whoosh, and Jack stared at the leader, eyes wide with disbelief. Teal'c pulled away from the two tribesmen that held him and positioned himself at O'Neill's side. All the laser guns went down.

"You will not take his life?" Teal'c persisted.

"I have said I will not."

"Nor Daniel Jackson's, nor Captain Carter's?"

"Nor your own, Jaffa."

Carter asked simply, "Why not?"

"Surely you must already guess." Ay-har laughed again. "We did not know you. We did not know of your people, only of Goa'uld and Jaffa, and this one bears the mark of Apophis. Killing you outright might have proven wasteful. You might have been allies. But you would claim such, even if it were a lie, for that is the way of the Goa'uld."

Daniel suddenly got it. "This was all a test, wasn't it? You wanted to see what we'd do in a crisis?" Relief flowed through him like healing water.

"So you pushed all the right buttons and stood back to watch?" Jack did not look pleased. He looked like he wanted to rearrange Ay-har's face. Daniel caught the older man's eye and shook his head.

"I waited to see if you would be Goa'uld or not, if you would act as they acted. Each of you opted to die rather than see his comrades die. That is the way of the Tannish, not the way of the Goa'uld. You offered to sacrifice your lives to save each other. I believe, and my people believe, that you are sincere. We pretended great ferocity and we had the greater numbers; you could not run. When your survey machine came through the Chapa'ai, we knew strangers would follow, so we prepared, to see whom they would be. We did not recognize the technology of your device, although our scientists studied it through our surveillance equipment. That need not mean you were not Goa'uld, although they come through boldly without testing first. If you were a race unknown to us, we wanted to study you, to understand the workings of your minds, to learn whether or not you were honorable. We have decided that you are."

"Sweet," Jack muttered under his breath. He didn't look ready to forgive the Tannish for their little deception. Daniel wasn't sure how easily he could, either, but it was just sinking in that none of them were going to die today. He felt a sudden urge to cheer.

Jack slapped him on the back and then did the same to Teal'c. He didn't have to sacrifice one of his team. Some of his resentment slid away.

"Let's talk to them, Jack," Daniel urged. "They've got technology, just like we have. From the look of them, I think they came from Earth originally, maybe from one of the North African countries. We could find out about their history."

"You come from the Mother World?" one of the warriors demanded. "The one from whence we originated? Ay-har, this could give us vital knowledge."

"Yes, Sol-ray. It could." He suddenly grinned like a happy schoolboy. "The elders will be most pleased. O'Neill. Daniel Jackson. Captain Carter, Jaffa Teal'c. Will you come with us to our city and meet with the elders? I think we may have much to discuss."

Daniel gave Jack a nudge and the Colonel shrugged. "Yeah, guess we can do that. Just give us a minute to wipe the blood off Daniel's face. Gotta say, I don't much like looking at it."

Surprised, Daniel put up a hand to his cheekbone. It had stopped bleeding already and it didn't even hurt any longer. "I'm all right, Jack," he said as several of the Tannish whipped out the local equivalent of first aid kits and held them out apologetically.

"You had better be."

*****

"Daniel? Got a minute?"

The briefing was over, and a diplomatic team had already been assigned to go to P3K-443 to begin formal negotiations with the Tannish. Jack still didn't seem very fond of them, but they'd mellowed out amazingly once SG-1 had passed their little 'test'. It had been a convivial gathering, with a local date wine that tasted far better than it sounded, dancing girls vaguely reminiscent of belly dancers, and a savory meal in a big communal pot that had reminded Daniel of couscous even if the meat tasted a lot like chicken. Maybe that was a universal concept. The local women had proven much more than 'breeding females'; some of them were a part of the council of elders; others were scientists. The image the tribesmen had presented in the desert had evidently been to mislead gate travelers, who might have come with evil intentions, into believing that the Tannish were simple and primitive. Sam had talked to a few of the women for hours. When Daniel had happened to overhear, they were conversing about wormholes, and the women were every bit as knowledgeable as the Captain Doctor.

A glass of the date wine had mellowed Jack out a little, but he had seemed glad when it was all over and he hadn't really relaxed until they had returned to the SGC. He'd described the entire first encounter in the briefing, and Hammond had been inclined to doubt the Tannish, until the others had reassured him. Up against the Goa'uld, sometimes people had to take stringent precautions. All of them could understand that.

Now Daniel halted obediently and turned to face O'Neill. "What's up, Jack?" He let the Colonel steer him into an empty office.

Jack closed the door carefully behind him before he turned to face Daniel. He looked awfully steamed. "Just what the hell were you trying to prove back there? You honestly thought I was gonna just write you off? Are you nuts? Don't we have more of a history than that?"

He was furious. Daniel blinked at him in surprise and involuntarily wrapped his arms around his chest. "Well, I thought Teal'c was more use to the team than I was, and we couldn't let them take Sam."

"Ah, hell, Carter could have handled them with one hand tied behind her back, the way she did among the Shavadai, and you know it. And I thought they were just dying for me to pick Teal'c. No way was I gonna let that happen, or you either."

"You chose yourself," Daniel objected hotly. "How could you do that?"

Jack opened his mouth for a rant and stopped cold. "You didn't like that?"

"Of course I didn't like it. God, Jack, I was the logical one to choose."

O'Neill started to yell then he shut up abruptly and squinted at him. "Is this a polite way of telling me you wouldn't mind dying?" he ventured uneasily. He looked ready to jump in and pound a few reasons for living into Daniel's head. He'd been there. He'd want to return the favor.

Daniel's mouth fell open. "No, I wasn't telling you that. I don't want to die. Losing Sha're has been the worst thing that could have happened but after we met Kendra I knew that it could be reversed. That gave me hope, Jack. It wasn't about what I wanted today, except that I didn't want any of the rest of you to die. Why, why don't you get it?"

"Same reason you don't, I guess," Jack replied. "You're my team. I wasn't about to sacrifice any of you, either. Goes without saying."

"But...well, you had to stop them taking Carter off to the harem, and they were in for Jaffa already."

"Make your point." And that was Jack, all the way. He knew Daniel had one. But he looked like he wasn't prepared to like it.

"You said on Cimmeria that Teal'c was part of your family." The words emerged automatically and involuntarily. Daniel tried to memorize the tile pattern of the floor. "I didn't think you'd choose him because of that."

"What the hell..." O'Neill fumed. If it had been possible, steam would have boiled out of his ears. "Dammit, Daniel! I said he was part of this family." He made a wild gesture to encompass all of SG-1, even the two absent members. "Me. Carter. Teal'c. You." He glared at Daniel. "You honestly thought I meant Teal'c was family and you weren't? You think I was giving you the staff weapon because he was more important than you? He just had the most need at the moment. Is that the kind of guy you think I am, after all we've been through together? Give me a break, Jackson."

Daniel opened his mouth to explain and found that words simply wouldn't come. He remembered too many times when he'd been the outsider, the one the others thought was strange, when his own grandfather hadn't even wanted him, when his colleagues had rejected him, when other archaeologists had scorned him and scoffed at his theories. Yet here was Jack O'Neill automatically drawing Daniel in, not only as part of SG-1 but part of this new 'family' they had become. All that understanding he'd sensed in Jack's eyes when he'd passed over the staff weapon had been real. The understanding and sympathy from Teal'c was real, and so was Carter's respect. He belonged.

God, this was awful. He halfway was afraid he was going to break down and bawl. That would drive Jack into terminal embarrassment, and him, too. But it was great, too, because suddenly it wasn't Daniel against the world, Daniel alone, not any longer. He could determinedly spout his theories and if they shot him down it would be in the way of friends, not critics. They would help him to try to find Sha're, but it was more than that. It wasn't only because of Sha're that he was here. He had a place here, one that only he could fill. A kind of peace settled into his heart that he'd only known before with Sha're.

But how could he say all that? It wasn't possible, not without turning all awkward and stumbling over his words. Instead, he found a tentative smile. "Pretty stupid, huh?"

"You could say that. To the hundredth power. What's this humble number, Daniel? You're the guy who figured out how to use the Stargate in the first place, for Pete's sake. We're out there because of you. Anything we gain, it's gonna be because of you. And I'm alive and glad to be--because of you. So can this crap about being the one most easily spared because I never heard a bigger crock of shit in my entire life."

He couldn't even tell Jack that he wasn't used to being part of a team, that the few times anything like that had happened, it had ended wrong, like it had in Chicago when Professor Jordan had scorned his theories. That, until now, the only time it had ever been right was before his parents had died and during his year on Abydos. Abydos was behind him and his parents many years dead, but it wasn't the end of everything after all.

"I guess I'm just...not used to it," he said lamely.

"Yeah, well.... Think I am?" Jack made a face. "Listen up, Daniel. No more of this volunteering to bite the big one, or I'll have to give you hell for it. And don't think I couldn't."

"I'd never think that, Jack," Daniel said with a sudden, genuine smile. "You're probably one of the world champions at giving people hell."

"And don't you forget it, either," Jack replied. He grinned back, slung an arm around Daniel's shoulders, and steered him out into the hall. "Come on, let's go find Carter and Teal'c. I don't know about you, but after all that weird stuff in the pot back there on Tannish, I'm about ready for a good old-fashioned American hamburger."

The End



© May, 2001The characters mentioned in this story are the property of Showtime and Gekko Film Corp. The Stargate, SG-I, the Goa'uld and all other characters who have appeared in the series STARGATE SG-1 together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MGM-UA Worldwide Television, Gekko Film Corp, Glassner/Wright Double Secret Productions and Stargate SG-I Prod. Ltd. Partnership. This fanfic is not intended as an infringement upon those rights and solely meant for entertainment. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author.


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