Title: Interim Choices
Setting: early in season 1
Author's Note: I wrote this about 4 years ago, in the spring of 2005. I'm reposting it here because I realized I don't have it on LJ or at ff.net, and someone just recced this story on stargateficrec! This fic has not been rewritten or altered, except for a couple of misspellings--I didn't even take out the occurrences of "Danny."
Summary: When aliens choose to interpret Jack's dedication to the fight against the Goa'uld a little too literally, can the team find a solution before it's too late?
(summary stolen from sg_fignewton, because it's better than the one I came up with. *g*)
Written for the Multi-Fandom Lyric Wheel Challenge, 2005
inspired by Billy Joel's "And So It Goes"
Jack O'Neill tore a piece of flatbread and dipped it into the spicy stew in front of him. There were much less enjoyable things than being thrown a modest feast, in a small tented village, on a clear desert night. Even if it was on alien planet, and even if their excellent hosts spoke mostly their own language. Daniel was in linguist heaven.
Or might have been, Jack corrected himself, if this tribe weren't so darn similar to the Abydonians--the way they dressed, what they built, their manners. He turned, just to make sure his teammate was enjoying the meal.
A young woman was offering Daniel a platter of small cakes. "Thank you," he said gravely, and she ducked her head, blushing. Before she could leave, Daniel leaned forward. "Your people know the sign of the serpent. Has he been here?" She shook her head, and he asked her something in her own language. Again, she shook her head, and pulled away to continue serving.
Daniel sat back and noticed Jack watching him. After a moment, he leaned closer and whispered, "Aren't you glad we asked questions first instead of shooting?"
Jack raised an eyebrow. "I'm satisfied," he corrected, waving a piece of meat between two fingers. "For now. Please tell me you've actually noticed how closely they're watching Teal'c."
"Are they?" Daniel blinked innocently behind his glasses. At Jack's glare, he cracked a smile. "Okay, yes, I noticed. They recognize the sign of Apophis, that's all."
"That's all, huh?" Jack put his plate down, eyes darting around the small adobe village. "And how do you know that, anyway?"
Daniel reached over and filched one of Jack's cakes. "It's pretty easy to eavesdrop when your hosts think you're not fluent in their native language."
Jack snagged the archaeologist's wrist and took his cake back. "You are a lousy liar, Daniel." Carefully, he broke the cake in half and handed one piece to Daniel. "I heard what you were asking her. Any of them have more straightforward answers for you?"
"Daniel...." Jack breathed out slowly. "Are they working for Apophis or not?"
The younger man nearly choked on his mouthful. He gestured to the small framed tents, built on flat black sand; the river behind the village could barely be heard over the communal celebration. "I don't think so. Maybe he comes here to cull hosts, sometimes. If anything, they're just victims, Jack."
"And why were you grilling them on the sly? It might be nice for me to know these things."
Daniel finished chewing slowly. "I just thought--they might have news. That's all."
"Just a good old evening of gossip." Jack waved his hand in front of Daniel's face. "If they don't feel like sharing, maybe this isn't the time to ask."
Daniel frowned, but any argument he was going to make was preempted by a sudden quieting of the crowd, and the approach of three men in dark grey robes. The eldest, silver hair flaming above lined olive skin, smiled down at SG-1. "We bring the welcome cup to these our friends, who bring peace through the gate of stars."
Daniel rose and bowed, holding both hands out to the elder who had been the first to greet him when they arrived. "It is a glad day which brings us to the same meal, Nuzen."
"Indeed." But Nuzen did not offer the carved stone cup to Daniel. Instead he turned to Jack and held it out. "From my people to your people, Ohneel."
Jack stood. "If you offer peace, then tell me why you watch Teal'c like an enemy."
Nuzen stood nonplussed for a moment, mouth drawn, face unreadable. "He is marked by the god," he finally said, almost whispering. "He serves the serpent. Yet he travels with you, who are not marked."
"Yeah, with us. Not with the serpent." Jack caught Teal'c gaze from across the village circle, and raised his voice. "You want to explain to them what we mean by peace?"
Daniel's gaze sought out Sam, where she sat near Teal'c. She only shrugged.
Teal'c was instantly the center of attention. He cleared his throat, rising to the occasion. "Peace is freedom from slavery. Apophis is a false god. I served him once, but no longer. Now I seek peace for my people, and for all people so enslaved."
The pronouncement rang out over dead silence.
Daniel drew in an anxious breath.
Nuzen proffered the cup to Jack once more. "From my people to your people, Ohneel." The words were solid, and final. Jack met his eyes, then slanted his gaze to Daniel, who nodded quickly.
Taking the cup, Jack tipped it back and drained it at one go. A cheer from the gathering drowned out his sputter.
"Makes that Abydonian moonshine of yours look like the best Scotch," he hissed to Daniel, between coughs.
Stone jars and cups appeared among the rest of the crowd, passed eagerly from hand to hand. At least three different people lifted a cup in both hands, shouting a single word in their native tongue. Daniel cocked his head to one side, his own drink forgotten in a moment of study. "I wonder why they would use that as a toast. Sounds like he's saying 'mirror' or maybe 'glass'...?"
Jack elbowed him in the ribs. "Shut up and drink, Danny."
It didn't take long for the party to settle down, after that. There were a few more toasts, and a good deal of storytelling. Sam watched Daniel engage Nuzen in conversation, and kept a wary eye on the group of young men that had gathered around Teal'c. Apparently stories of battle were always welcome at this kind of celebration.
Two girls, one wearing a red headscarf, the other bareheaded, showed her a pitched tent off to one side of the tiny village--the west side, nearest the still-distant Stargate, Sam was pleased to note. She thanked the girls, then returned to the village center.
The square had nearly cleared. Teal'c sat in the same place, listening now to enthusiastic tales from the youths. Daniel was still up to his eyeballs in tribal discussions with Elder Nuzen. And the Colonel looked half asleep, chin resting in his hands, staring into the dying fire.
Sam stopped to tell Teal'c that their quarters were ready, and moved quickly on to the other two.
Daniel kept switching between English and the native tongue, and barely glanced up as Sam joined them. The Colonel gave her the once-over and frowned a little. "I'd think you knew better than to get falling-down drunk on an alien planet, Captain," he said.
"Sir?" Carter kept her tone bland.
O'Neill waved a hand across his own face, and instinctively Carter wiped her free hand down her own. It came away clean.
Daniel had seen that exchange, and sat back from his conference with the elder. "Maybe you're the one who had a bit much, Jack. That drink sure seemed to pack a punch."
O'Neill scowled and swatted Daniel, who flinched back. "What?" Jack asked defensively.
"Cold hands, Jack," Daniel said lightly, rubbing his shoulder.
"Sir, they've set up a shelter for us, for the night." Carter barely refrained from offering her commanding officer a hand up, but he made it to his feet nimbly enough.
"Fantastic." O'Neill brushed his hands off on his trousers. "Maybe Teal'c would like first watch, as he's still got an audience?" He beckoned to the Jaffa, who made some excuse to the youths sitting around him and crossed the clearing to join his team.
Daniel rose and bowed to Nuzen. "It has been light to my eyes, wise one. Thank you."
"It has been light to me also." Sam noticed that the elder's eyes went to Jack rather than Daniel, for a moment. "Rest well, people-of-my-people."
"All right, campers, bedtime." Jack flung his arms out to steer Sam and Daniel towards the west side of the village.
Daniel ducked away. "Dammit, Jack, don't, you're freezing."
Jack scowled and muttered something. "...by the fire, I'm not cold."
"I don't care where you were sitting." Daniel tucked his arms around his chest. "Sam, back me up, will you?"
O'Neill pointed a warning finger at his second-in-command. Carter smiled and shook her head. "It's a desert here, so it's always cold at night. Right, sir?"
"Right." Jack adopted a slight swagger. "Maybe you should clean your glasses, Daniel."
Daniel stared at him, then glanced around the central clearing, took off his glasses and squinted closely at them. "They look fine. But you, Jack...." He leaned into O'Neill's personal space for a closer look. Jack took a defensive step back. "Are you seeing this, Sam?"
He reached a hand towards Jack's cheek. The Colonel slapped it away, and Daniel caught his wrist, holding Jack's hand where firelight still fell.
"Holy Hannah." Carter unclipped her flashlight and switched it on. Instead of disappearing under the bright beam, a film of darkness, of misty black, trickled over and around Jack's bare wrist and fingers. If it had sat still, it might have seemed like a stain of dirt or ashes. But it was in motion, sliding over his skin.
Jack made a disgusted noise and shook his hand sharply. The mist clung, moving in its own pattern without regard to his movements.
"What is that?" Daniel had recoiled to arm's length.
"You might...let go, Danny," Jack observed dryly.
Daniel looked at him, uncomprehending until his brain filled in the words that had vanished from the middle of the sentence. Then he dropped Jack's wrist like a hot potato. Carefully, he spread his own fingers in the flashlight beam, but they were clean. Of moving black mist, anyway. "So that's what 's cold," he observed.
"Why me?" Jack asked rhetorically. "Do I have a sign on my back that reads, willing victim of alien plague?"
Teal'c frowned. "You do not, O'Neill."
Daniel bit his lip, then glanced around. No one was near. "Nuzen singled you out for the welcome drink, Jack."
O'Neill raised his eyebrows and rocked back deliberately on his heels. "Thought you were practically in love with this guy. Now you're saying he, what, poisoned me?"
"What if you were right? What if they do serve Apophis? I've been wrong before." Daniel sighed. "Or maybe we're both wrong, and it's just something native to the planet."
The red-kerchiefed girl appeared by Carter's side, tugging her towards their bedding place, smiling. Daniel knelt next to her and began firing off questions in her native tongue. He pointed at Jack, who rolled his eyes but bared his wrists willingly enough. The girl's smile vanished, and she figited under Daniel's stream of words, not answering except to shake her head. Then she turned and bolted away into the dark.
"Doesn't seem to know much," Daniel said unconvincingly.
"Or she's scared," Sam added.
"That was useful." Jack jerked a hand at his team. "Look, at least we could go talk about this in relative privacy."
Huddled over the coals of a stone brazier in the center of the tent, Jack stripped off his jacket and shirt. Sam checked them over carefully. The shadows seemed to leave no residue at all. "Are we sure this isn't a trick of the light?"
"Flashlight beam didn't change it," Daniel reminded her. "And it's all over him, now."
Jack blinked. To him, it was Carter and Daniel, and everything else, really, that boasted the occasional misty overlay. "Hey, 'him' is right here."
"Sorry, sir." Carter handed him back his clothes. "How are you feeling? Daniel and I can sense cold from the, uh, the shadows, but you said you were warm?"
Illusion would make more sense than reality at this point. Jack studied his right hand. "I can't feel a thing. Maybe Nuz-whatever drugged all of us, you think of that?"
"And we're all having the exact same hallucination about the exact same person on our team." Daniel sounded...unconvinced.
Jack shrugged. "Okay, so...other options? Talk to me, people."
Carter was watching his face closely. "Sir, I keep missing some of your words. Like your voice just shuts off."
"It's the mist," Daniel said, taking off his glasses and rubbing his eyes for the fifth time in as many minutes. "Watch his mouth next time he says something. When the mist moves across it, we can't hear him."
"It absorbs sound waves?" Carter looked at the Colonel like he was something on her laptop screen. Flattering, he supposed, but really unnerving. "Why can he hear us, then?"
"I don't know," Jack said, slowly and clearly. "Why don't I feel the mist creeping all over?" But Carter's forehead wrinkled; she must have missed something there, and gotten confirmation for Daniel's little theory. He sighed, and rubbed his forehead. "I guess we'd better figure this out before we go traipsing back through the Stargate."
"Yes, sir." Carter sounded vaguely guilty. "We don't even know if it's contagious. Yet."
"I could go get Nuzen. See what he knows." Daniel got to his feet.
Jack held up a hand. "Oh no. Teal'c can go." The Jaffa inclined his head, rose, and headed for the entrance. "Teal'c!" The Jaffa looked back. "In one piece, please." Teal'c nodded and ducked out of the tent.
There was silence, as Jack flexed his fingers in the firelight, and watched Daniel trying not to stare at him. Carter, too. If you knew her well enough, you knew that messing around with her equipment like that signalled way too much nervous energy.
"Sir?" Carter's sharp, low tone made Jack jerk his head up. The red-kerchiefed girl was crouched in the entrance, wide eyes filling half her face. She beckoned frantically to Carter, glancing back over her shoulder as if she expected to be ambushed.
"Sir. She wants me to go with her." Carter was vibrating like a plucked string, waiting for his permission.
Why would he let another of his team go off on their own in what was now a potentially hostile village? "I'm not comfortable with this, Captain."
Her jaw set stubbornly. "I can take care of myself, sir."
"Oh, for crying--"
"Jack?" Daniel turned to exchange another whisper with the girl. "She says she needs to show Sam 'the mirror'. That's the same word they were using as a toast tonight."
"What is it, their god?" He cut off Daniel's response with a slice of his hand. "Never mind. Fine. Back in one piece, Carter."
"Yessir!" Carter slung her pack over her shoulder, crouched low, and followed the native girl out into darkness.
Teal'c stopped outside the tent, waiting for Nuzen to enter. Daniel Jackson was on his feet as soon as the elder stepped through. He bowed. "I'm sorry to have disturbed you, Elder."
The man waved a dismissive hand. "It is nothing. What service can I be to you, my friends?"
O'Neill stood. The darks streaks and swirls stood out against his skin, darkening his eyes and teeth. "You could...by explaining what you...." His voice cut in and out as the mist moved across his face. Teal'c felt his fist tighten around the hilt of his staff weapon; if only he knew which weapons would kill this nearly invisible enemy.
Nuzen had stopped still when he saw O'Neill, and then he bowed, deeply. "It proceeds, then. You will not be forgotten by my people, Ohneel. We are already in your debt."
Daniel Jackson had to move quickly to stop O'Neill from leaping at the elder. O'Neill let the scholar's hand stop his forward momentum, but it did not stop his furious words, only a few of which could be heard. "...son of a...what did...slipped me some kind of...."
Nuzen watched, resigned dark eyes seeming out of place in a face completely calm.
"Jack. Let me." Daniel Jackson waited till O'Neill relaxed, till he took a step back, before letting him go and turning to Nuzen. "Elder, what do you honor our leader for? What has he done? Or what have you done?"
"Only what was necessary. Only what we knew he would not hesitate to give." Nuzen's gaze still rested on O'Neill, though his words were addressed to Daniel Jackson.
Daniel huffed out a frustrated breath. "And what would that be?"
Now Nuzen met his gaze. "Protection."
"How?" Daniel took a step closer, and his voice grew cold. "By incapacitating him and turning him over to the serpent? A bribe to keep your own safe?"
Nuzen turned and spat on the ground behind him. When he lifted his head, the calm was no longer perfect. "I have told you, we know the serpent. We do not serve him." As if suddenly inspired, the elder turned to Teal'c. "We seek peace, as the Jaffa seeks peace. As Ohneel offered us peace."
"God." Daniel Jackson pulled his glasses off and rubbed his eyes wearily. O'Neill shook his shoulder, wanting an explanation. Daniel straightened up, glasses still dangling from his right hand. "Nuzen, how does this--" he waved a helpless hand at O'Neill "--help you find peace? What did you do?"
Nuzen turned his gaze to O'Neill again, locking eyes with him. "You carry the means to close the gate of stars." His voice edged into a ceremonial cadence. "Long have we waited, long have we prepared. Now, we shall have peace."
O'Neill's hand closed over Daniel Jackson's shoulder, and he flinched from the cold. In a voice suddenly clear, O'Neill said, "Destroy the Stargate?"
"Not destroy," the Elder corrected him. "Close. Close the path of the serpent."
"Others could uncover it." Nuzen spread his hands to the air. "No one shall uncover it now, and my people will be safe from the bite of the serpent."
Daniel Jackson put his glasses back on, and took a moment straightening them. "Elder, can't you reverse the process? You gave him this means in the drink of welcome, didn't you?" Nuzen nodded. "Is there an antidote? Some way to undo this?"
Nuzen's calm had fully returned. "Why would I? The gift has been offered and accepted. It is time."
Teal'c took one step forward, until he towered over the straight-backed man. "Peace gained by unwitting sacrifice is no true peace."
"The gift was offered and accepted." The elder did not even deign to look at Teal'c.
"I did not...anything!" O'Neill stayed put this time, though Daniel only made a cautionary gesture.
Daniel's voice was low. "Elder. O'Neill has other responsibilities at our home, through the gate of stars. He leads many people in the ways of peace. You cannot ask this of him."
"Why couldn't one of your own people...?" O'Neill managed to blurt out, before the shadows cut off his words.
Nuzen shook his head. "We do not have such power. It must be you." He gazed with utter confidence at O'Neill, until Jack sat back down on the ground and put his head in his hands.
"It could be me." Both Nuzen and O'Neill looked sharply at Daniel. He held a hand out towards Nuzen, as if he wished to bargain. "If you have an antidote, and will give it to O'Neill, I will carry this burden for your people."
"Oh no you...!" O'Neill grabbed for Daniel, but he stepped out of reach, not looking at the Colonel.
"Elder, I know what it is to live without peace. My wife..." his voice wavered. "She was taken by the serpent."
Nuzen watched him for a long moment, then held out a long, lean hand. Daniel took it. "The gift is offered and accepted," the elder said. "Wait, and I will return with the antidote, and with the means to close the gate of stars." Without another look at the other occupants of the tent, Nuzen turned on his heel and strode into night.
Damn, it was irritating to not know how much of what he said the others could hear. Daniel would be able to ignore him forever if he so chose, and Jack wouldn't be able to call him on it. He tried again anyway. "What the hell was that, Daniel? You trying to be a hero? Or is this some kind of plea for attention?"
Daniel had settled crosslegged, facing away from Jack, but at that he twitched a little.
"Ah-ha. So all I have to do is let you sit down and have a heart-to-heart, and we'll all go home happy?"
He didn't say anything that time. Jack looked up at Teal'c, who instantly got the message and moved to stand guard just outside the entrance. Jack tried again. "Why? You tell me that, so I can figure out how to talk you out of this stupidity. Why?"
Daniel was so quiet that Jack thought he wasn't going to answer. Just as he prepared to launch another verbal volley, Daniel lifted his head. "I got the antidote," he said.
"That's not what I meant--" Jack pounded a fist into the sandy floor. "Dammit, listen to me."
"I can't hear you, Jack." Daniel hitched himself around, facing his teammate. "I'm sorry, I couldn't think of what else to do."
Jack thought for a moment, then smoothed the floor with one flat palm and scrawled why? in the sand.
Daniel took this in. Then shrugged, and looked away.
Erasing that word, Jack tried again. you going crazy on us?
"I can't even read that," Daniel said, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.
Jack thought. He listened for footsteps outside and heard nothing. And he made a guess.
SGC ≠ Sha're
For a long minute they both just sat there. Firelight flickered from the brazier, playing across Daniel's glasses as he gazed at the floor. Finally, he reached out and slowly drew a line of strange letters beneath his wife's name. His hand stayed pressed against the floor as he said, very soft, "Yeah, Jack. I figured that out weeks ago."
Jack wiped the floor clean, but couldn't think of what to write next.
That was when Carter darted through the door at a stumbling run, Teal'c right behind her.
"Run that by me again?" Jack said, or at least that's what Daniel thought he said, through the muffling, shifting shadows that periodically hid the man's face.
Sam brushed a hand through her short blond hair, spiking it up. "There's a crater, maybe meteoric, about a mile east of the village. It's full of what looks like obsidian. I thought at first it was just left over from the intense heat melting the sand when it impacted."
"So it's not?" Daniel cocked his head.
Sam shrugged. "It may be, for all I know, but what was pooling on the surface at one point was definitely not. The girl who took me there--"
"Atnia," Daniel supplied.
Sam echoed the name. "She said something about fire from the sky, which would fit with a meteor hit, and something about living glass."
Daniel muttered something. "Living mirror," he translated. "You think this is some kind of alien life? Not just a chemical reaction?"
"It moved," Sam said softly. "I approached the pool--Atnia wouldn't come closer--and the liquid moved in response to stimuli. My light, the warmth of my body...it may not be at all intelligent, but it's certainly alive in some way. At least in the liquid form."
Jack waggled both hands in the air. Misty darkness slipped and slithered over them. "And that's....got all....me?"
"Nuzen's bringing the antidote," Daniel informed her. Jack glared at him.
Sam's forehead creased in confusion. "Antidote? It's not a poison. I guess if it were more like pesticide, or an antibiotic, it might work. But..." She reached for Jack's hand. Intially he pulled it back, then held still and let her take it. "I can't feel anything but cold spots under my hands. It's less a part of our plane of existence than a wormhole is. I have no idea what might persuade it to leave."
"Is it reproducing?" Daniel asked her. Jack stared at him in horror. "I mean, like plants that have different parts to their life cycles?"
"Maybe. I don't know, Atnia isn't very talkative--she only said it would be good for her people."
"Bring peace," Jack spat. "We heard."
Teal'c added helpfully, "They are attempting to use O'Neill to close the Stargate."
"But how...?" Sam sat back, all her focus turned inwards. Then she sighed. "Well, sir, that makes as much sense as anything else. If they know how to get the liquid to turn into that solid sheet of obsidian I saw filling the crater--that would pretty much be like burying the Gate in solid rock."
Jack scrawled a huge NO in the sand, then beckoned to Daniel and pointed to it.
"Jack, I already promised them I'd help." Daniel pushed his glasses up. "What else do you want me to do?"
The Colonel pointed at Daniel. "...safe." Then to Teal'c, "Keep watching for those...." Then he looked at Sam, his eyes glinting through thickening shadows. "...figure this...."
Sam protested, "Sir, I don't know enough about this to--"
"Ah!" Jack waved a warning finger in front of her face, before dipping it to write one word. THEORIZE.
"Yes, sir. Theories coming up." Sam scooted back to sit against the wall of the hut and pulled a notebook from her pack. Before she opened it, she looked back at Jack. "Sir? Are you feeling all right?"
Jack blinked at her, barely disturbing the eddy currently swirling past his right eyelid. "A-okay, Cap...." he slurred, before slumping to one side and hitting the sandy floor face-first.
Hands were lifting his head, putting a cup against his mouth. "Sir? You need to drink this. It's supposed to be an antidote." Jack turned his face away from the cup, not sure where the urgent refusal came from until he heard Daniel arguing in the background. Carter sounded freaked--that was a remarkable first. "Please don't do that, sir. You need to drink this."
Not sure how to get around the foggy sensation that wrapped around his brain, much less through the mist that clouded his vision, even after he was sure he'd opened his eyes, Jack gave in and drank. It burned going down, and he coughed some of it back up. Daniel was still arguing somewhere, and Carter sounded like she wanted to get in on it, so Jack let himself go back to darkness.
"I've changed my mind," Daniel said firmly. Nuzen stood before him, offering the same carved stone cup that he had presented to Jack at the meal. "You didn't tell me it was untested. If your antidote works, then I will do as I agreed. If not, one of us is enough to liberate you. I'll be needed, if we come back without Jack." He stared, daring Nuzen to contradict him.
Instead, the elder lowered the cup. "That might be too late," he said sadly, "but I will not request more than you are willing to give."
Daniel bit his lip to keep from commenting on that. Instead, he said, "Samantha is the other scholar among us. She studies what things are and how they work, how they live. She's very interested in how you plan to close the Gate. Will you tell her?"
Nuzen dipped his head in a tiny bow. "Gladly. And the cup will be waiting when you are ready to help us, as you promised."
"Fire?" Sam echoed the elder's words slowly, seeking connections. The coals in the brazier were burning low and red. "Like the meteor, I can see that. But why haven't you been able to simply take some of the liquid and set fire to it?"
"It dies," Nuzen said simply. "It must have life to sustain it until it reaches the place it will dwell. And we have no fire great enough to cause the mirror's spawn to seed."
Fire. Life. Energy. Sound waves, even. Sam glanced over to the corner, where Daniel squatted near the still-unconscious O'Neill. The shadows had crept outwards from his skin, fanning out like fantastic feathers or rags. "And to make the transition from one life stage to another, it needs a tremendous amount of energy." She frowned at the elder. "What makes you think we have that kind of energy?"
Nuzen held out a hand to Teal'c, sweeping it gracefully up to indicate the length of his staff weapon. "This will do it."
"No." Teal'c did not move, and his face did not change, but the word was absolutely final.
"What?" Daniel asked, looking up distractedly.
"I don't think that would work," Sam told the elder. "Tell me anything else you know about this living mirror. There has to be another way."
He shook his head in disbelief. "Perhaps. But we must hurry; there is not much time left to reach the gate of stars. Ohneel may not even have till dawn."
Daniel sat up straighter, then leaned over to shake Jack's shoulder. "You awake in there? Come on, show us you're all right."
The gathering mist swirled, parted briefly to show a pair of blinking brown eyes, then covered them again. Jack sat up, reaching for Daniel's arm with a blurred hand. Only a few sounds of speech penetrated the fog.
"Here, Jack, just write. Don't bother trying to talk, the mist is too thick." Daniel scrambled for the notepad and pen he'd been writing in, and handed them to Jack.
Yuck, was the first word.
Sam was suddenly kneeling beside them. "Sir? How are you feeling?"
What happened? The pen slipped; Jack gripped it tighter.
"The shadow stuff is using the energy you produce to keep itself alive, until we can give it enough energy to let it change form again." She wrapped her hand around his shadowed wrist. "We'll get it. But the first step is heading back to the Stargate. Do you think you can walk?"
The misty shape that was Jack shrugged. Can't take me through the gate like this, he scribbled.
"We will if we have to, Colonel," Sam said quietly. "But I'm hoping we figure something else out before that happens."
"Or before someone tries to blow you to kingdom come," Daniel said grimly.
Did you take the --
"No," Daniel said hastily. "I said only if the antidote worked, and it looks like it's not working yet. So I'm still just plain non-shadowy Dr. Jackson."
Jack shivered under his cloak of shadows. If we're going to go let's go.
"Okay." Daniel took Jack's arm and helped him clamber to his feet.
Teal'c entered and addressed himself to Jack. "O'Neill, our escort has arrived."
"Let's blow this pop...." The rest of his sentence was lost.
Outside, only thick stars shed light onto the village. Jack was no more invisible than anyone else in the desert darkness. Still, Teal'c had not moved from his side; and Daniel, following that cue, took his place on the other. Six or seven young men, including a couple Daniel had seen talking with Teal'c at the meal, surrounded SG-1. Nuzen stepped out of the dark to lead them. "Come. We must hasten, and reach the gate of stars before dawn if we can."
Before dawn? Why not after dawn? Sam Carter wondered as she trudged along through dark sand and cold night wind. Her companions, including the escort, were silent for the most part, making a fairly straight path for the Stargate itself. Sam caught herself looking for landmarks, but in this flat plain there was little to see. The exception was the Colonel, who was apparently keeping up a nearly inaudible running monologue behind her. Once or twice she heard him stumble, and either Teal'c or Daniel asking whether he could keep going.
The only clear words she had heard from him these past two hours were, "I'm fine. That's an order," which should have made her grin, but instead had brought tears to her eyes.
Relentlessly, Sam pushed that emotion out of her mind. Maybe, if they reached the Stargate after dawn, there was something she could do to concentrate solar heat, enough to ignite the alien biology. An unbidden image of O'Neill bursting into flame, like an ant under a magnifying glass, nearly made her break stride.
She could do better than that. Non-destructive energy? Was there any such thing? Maybe one of the zat'ni'ki'tels? If the shadow absorbed the energy before it reached the Colonel.... No. Still too risky.
The sky ahead was beginning to lighten. Barely, but it was perceptible now. Against the pale horizon, a tiny black nub grew into the wheel of the Stargate.
Nuzen ordered his escort to fan out in some specific pattern, retaining only one to bring up the rear as he led the small convoy towards the Stargate's dais.
Something ice cold slid a notebook into Sam's hand; she glanced over her shoulder in time to catch what might have been a wry smile underneath a thin moment in the mist. On the notebook was scratched: been thinking. gates have energy right? where?
The 'Gate. Could that, would that possibly....?
Nuzen stopped ahead of them, stretching out his arms as if to take in the world. "We are come for the beginning of peace." He turned to face the team, beaming in the faint, predawn light.
Sam stepped forward. "Elder"--Daniel's nod, to her left, reassured her that this was the correct form of address--"I am under orders to deliver the rest of my team safely home. O'Neill is prepared to do what he must, but we are needed there."
Nuzen shook his head. "I cannot let you go. At the least, your Teal'c must stay, to operate his weapon." He lifted a hand, and the young men moved in from the perimeter towards the team.
Sam shook her head. A heartbeat later, her zat was in her hand, pointing straight at Nuzen. On the far side of O'Neill, who was supported by a tense Daniel, Teal'c raised his staff. Energy crackled at its tip. "Not if my idea works. And you're going to let us try. Daniel, dial us home?"
"Sam...?" The archaeologist glanced at her, then back at Jack, who was drooping visibly (though under his shroud of gathered darkness, that seemed like a misnomer). Before Sam could order him, the Colonel let out a put-upon sigh and shoved Daniel in the general direction of the DHD. Daniel went. Sam reached her free hand back to catch O'Neill's icy elbow, and followed Daniel, covering him.
Nuzen and his men did not move. What were they waiting for? Daniel's flashlight picked out sharp edges of light against the DHD, and then he hit the first symbol in the dialing sequence. The 'Gate groaned to life and one chevron lit, scattering reddish light into the early dimness.
"You are our hope." For a moment Sam couldn't process the words; then she realized that Nuzen was addressing the Colonel. "Do not wait too long; it is nearly dawn."
Beside her, O'Neill muttered something that sounded very much like "screw you." Then, in a wave of cold air, against the backdrop of lighting chevrons, Jack bent close to her ear and asked, "What...I...to do?"
The final chevron locked, and the wormhole ignited. Nuzen and his men fell back as its energy whooshed out, then settled.
The Colonel staggered and nearly fell. Sam turned to him and stopped cold. The cocoon of flickering mist around him was reflecting--amplifying?--the silver-blue light of the wormhole. Last-minute thoughts chased themselves through her mind: did this mean it would be impossible to use the Gate energy? Did the shadow creature have to absorb energy via a living being? Would taking Jack through the Stargate kill him?
Daniel was back at the Colonel's side, paying no attention to Nuzen or the others. "Now what?"
Sam pointed her zat at the 'Gate. "Come on." With herself on his left side and Daniel on his right, Jack stumbled forward towards the circle of blue-shifted light.
Daniel felt someone grab at his jacket sleeve. He shrugged the grip away, and pushed Jack forward, following Sam's lead. She pressed Jack's left hand up into the event horizon of the wormhole, and the icy shadows under Daniel's hands seemed to twist and then explode with force. Daniel was flung backwards, bruising shoulder and ribs as he rolled down the steps of the Stargate's platform.
When he looked up, Jack's indistict silhouette was the only thing standing near the wormhole. Every bit of the mist was glowing brilliant blue, expanding into a ragged, billowing cloud behind and above him.
A strong brown hand took Daniel's, helping him to his feet. Elder Nuzen's voice shook, and he would not take his gaze off Jack. "It will be enough," he said, and Daniel recognized reverence when he heard it.
"It had better be." He bowed perfuctorily to Nuzen, then ran back up the steps. Teal'c was half-carrying Sam, who had a trickle of blood running from underneath her pale hair.
"Go through!" she shouted to Daniel. The light from the wormhole flickered, and Sam's cry took on added urgency. "The wormhole is going to collapse...prematurely....move it, Daniel."
Daniel waved her forward. "You and Teal'c first, you're hurt, we'll be right behind you."
Sam tried to protest, but Teal'c took a long look at Jack, then nodded to Daniel and pulled Sam after him into the glowing horizon of the 'Gate.
The wormhole flickered strongly as they passed in, and Daniel thought for one horrible moment that he and Jack were going to be stranded. He turned his attention to the colonel, and felt his heart nearly stop. The glowing shadows were peeling back, streaming off Jack, down the steps of the Stargate platform into the sand. But Jack himself stood limp, head drooping to his chest, looking as if the only thing holding him up was the hand he had planted in the event horizon. Daniel held himself back, not wanting to be thrown again, waiting till the shadows should finish their exodus.
Daniel threw one last glance over his shoulder. Nuzen and his men circled the rapidly growing pool of blue, which shimmered like a mirror and poured across the sand like quicksilver. A final shred of brilliant shadow detatched itself from Jack's shoulders and he started to fall. Daniel wrapped both arms around Jack's waist and lunged for the trembling light of the wormhole.
The first thing Jack felt was the ice-cold metal ramp pressing against his cheek. The first thing he heard was the very welcome sounds of security and medical personnel swarming the 'Gate room. And the first thing he saw after making the effort to force his eyelids up was the pleasantly un-misty sight of his team sitting nearby.
"Heya, Teal'c." Jack tried to sit up, but most of him didn't seem to want to move.
"Don't get up, Jack." Daniel readjusted his glasses. "You just got zapped by a wormhole."
"I'll make that suggestion an order, if I have to." Doc Fraiser had appeared at his side.
"Okay, fine, bully a man when he's down...."
Carter, under the ministrations of one of Fraiser's nurses, grinned at him. "Never thought I'd say this, sir, but it's awfully good to hear your voice."
Jack leaned against the doorway of Daniel's office. How long would it take the geek to notice him this time? At this rate, he was really regretting not taking Feretti up on that bet.
Daniel was bent over a notebook, transcribing something from a tiny metal fragment. When he finally paused, taking off his glasses and tossing them onto his desk, Jack decided he'd waited quite long enough. "Hey, Daniel."
The geek leaned back in his chair. "Hey. Good to see you up and about. What brings you here?"
Daniel pressed the heels of his palms against his eyes. "Look, I already apologized for asking all those questions back on PX5-982. I still don't think it caused what happened, but it won't happen again."
"I know that," Jack said, in the tone of one explaining something to a child. "But now that you can hear me, you want to tell me why you made that idiotic offer?"
There was a silence. Daniel rolled his pen back and forth on his desk with one finger. "It was one choice, Jack."
"Okay." Jack pondered that. "You're going to have to be a little more clear. I'm not sure I see why that matters, other than that it was a stupid choice."
"But it was mine," Daniel said, still only looking at his pen. "I would choose to be with Sha're, that's if the choice were mine to make. Apophis made sure it wasn't."
"So you're looking for her. Except the SGC isn't exactly enabling your efforts. It can't."
"I know, Jack. But it's the best I have. So I choose what I can still affect. This." Daniel tapped the SGC patch on the arm of his jacket. "I can't choose Sha're, so until I can, I choose the SGC."
Jack stuck his hands into his pockets. "And that includes making damn-fool, sacrificial offers to crazy tribesmen?"
"Nuzen was not crazy, Jack...."
But the Colonel was already on his way into the corridor. "The SGC chose you too, Daniel. Don't waste that."
Daniel looked back at his notebook, to see that he had doodled the same series of Abydonian symbols across the bottom of the page. Sighing, he brushed a tender thumb across his wife's name, then gently erased it from his notes and went back to translating his artifact.