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nightspear ([personal profile] nightspear) wrote2010-02-08 05:18 pm
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Journeys: Part 1 of 5

Title: Journeys (Table of Contents)
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: Nothing you recognize is mine. I gain nothing of material value from this.


XXXXX
Part I: Endings
XXXXX

26 November 2001; Ra's Pyramid, Abydos; 0100 hrs

Jack stepped through the wormhole first, even though he didn't want to leave the bedside. It was important to check security; Daniel wouldn't even know right now whether or not someone was sitting with him.

Skaara was waiting, as usual. He grinned, as usual, and lowered his gun and said, "O'Neill," and looked torn between a salute or an embrace for a greeting, as usual.

Instead of answering as usual, Jack said, "Where's your dad? Where's Kasuf?"

"In the village," Skaara said, the smile starting to droop, as if he was starting to see that all was not well. He turned around and nodded to one of the younger boys, who ran off into the desert. "What has happened?"

"Daniel was hurt," Jack said, aware of the wormhole still behind him and aware that he hadn't moved a step since walking through--he was still standing at the bottom of the platform where the Stargate sat, and all the boys in the pyramid had lowered their weapons, stopped what they were doing, looked up to listen to him. "It's...bad."

"Then tell them to close the chaapa'ai," Skaara said, stepping toward the DHD. "I want to see him--"

"No," Jack said. "He's coming here."

With one hand already poised over the glyph of Auriga, Skaara froze but kept staring at the DHD. Jack knew the look on his face, though. He knew. "No," he denied. "If Dan'yel is hurt, he should remain on Earth. Your physicians can care for him--"

"No, Skaara," Jack said. "They can't."

Leaning on the DHD now, Skaara said, "Why?"

Jack clenched his fists and forced himself to relax them again. "They tried. He was hurt too badly. He's...near the end."

Finally, Skaara looked up. "How?"

"It's a long story," Jack said. "Not really important right n--"

Skaara covered the distance between them in one stride, grabbed Jack by the vest, and pushed him against the wall of the pyramid. He didn't have the leverage or the weight for their position, not really, but he was making a point, not a threat, and Jack didn't move. "You cannot tell me my brother is dying and not tell me who killed him," he hissed. "Tell me what happened!"

"All right," Jack said. "But first I have to tell them it's safe to bring Daniel through. He wants to be here when he...dies. And he doesn't have much time left."

XXXXX

Five Days Ago
Briefing Room, SGC; 1400 hrs

"We do not have much time," Ren'al told them.

"You can give us a minute to think about it," Jack snapped back. Daniel gave him a reproachful look but didn't argue aloud.

Ren'al stood. "Come to Revanna tomorrow if you plan to take this mission."

"If I do this," Daniel said, still playing with his pen, "and it works...then all the System Lords...?"

"Yes," Ren'al said. "They can all be killed with one blow. It will be the greatest strike against the Goa'uld in ten thousand years. It will be the end of all we have been fighting for."

Jack huffed in annoyance. "Don't hold back the melodrama on our account," he muttered.

"Councilor," Hammond said firmly, standing up. "Thank you. We'll have an answer for you by tomorrow. I'll have them send you back to Revanna in the meantime."

Once both of them had stepped into the control room, though, Carter said quietly, "Colonel, I think she's right about the stakes."

"All the System Lords," Daniel said for the second time.

"You don't have to do it," Jack said.

In answer, Daniel repeated, "All the System Lords, Jack."

"Yeah," Jack said, "which makes it a bad place for you to be alone, Daniel."

"You've sent me into more dangerous situations yourself," Daniel pointed out, and then, "Don't look at me like that. It's not an accusation; it's just a fact."

Jack glanced at Teal'c. Teal'c was being silent and unhelpful. "You're not an assassin," Jack said.

"Assassin," Daniel said, slowly, in the wrong accent, mulling over the word's origins the way he sometimes did when he was nervous and decided to drown nerves with intellect. "You know, half of it is the word choice--'assassinate' sounds more sinister than 'kill,' and 'defense of our people' sounds better when you ignore the fact that you assassinated people to do it."

"This is not a game of words, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c said.

"I know," Daniel said, still oddly calm. "I've killed. We're all assassins sometimes. As often as we can be, in fact, which isn't as often as we'd like but is more often than we'd like to admit. This is what you've been training me to do for the last five years."

"No, it's not," Jack denied immediately.

Daniel gave him a look. "I came here to fight the Goa'uld. We all know it was coming to something like this--that the only way to beat them is to kill them."

"But if someone else can do it," Carter said. "If any of us could find a way to do it instead..."

"I know, Sam," Daniel said. "But you can't."

It wasn't even a question of whether Daniel could pull it off. Jack was sure he could--or, at least, as sure as he ever was, and Daniel was right that they'd all walked into situations like this before. In fact, Daniel's youth had often given him an advantage when they had to infiltrate enemy territory, so he had as much experience as anyone being undercover off-world. The Tok'ra were serious about this--they would make sure things went off without a hitch.

Because this could win the war for them.

All things considered, this was exactly what they'd been training Daniel for. But Daniel had never taken a mission quite like this one. He thought this killing spree would be the same as any other time when they crouched behind flimsy cover and exchanged fire with enemy soldiers or set a bomb to detonate and barely escaped with their lives. Maybe it was the same, on some level, but Jack knew well that it wouldn't feel the same, and that mattered.

General Hammond returned once the wormhole had closed behind Ren'al. He took his seat and remained silent until it was clear no one else was going to say anything. "I'm not going to order you to accept the Tok'ra's mission," he said. "The choice is yours, Mr. Jackson."

Daniel looked up, surprised. "Mine?"

"Yours," Hammond said. "Not mine, not Colonel O'Neill's. If you say 'yes,' you'll be the one carrying this out. You're the only human here fluent in Goa'uld--or am I wrong about that?"

"No, sir, that's...no one else is fluent enough to enter a Goa'uld summit as lo'taur," Daniel said. "Rather, the ones who are relatively fluent don't have field experience."

"Wait, enter as what?" Jack said.

"Lo'taur is the highest rank among human slaves," Teal'c translated. "Each of the System Lords will undoubtedly choose his lo'taur to join him or her at the summit."

Daniel pushed his glasses up his nose and said in the direction of his notebook, "It's funny--Kasuf was chosen as lo'taur to Ra when he was about my age, and then he led the charge that freed Abydos from the Goa'uld. I might as well follow in someone's footsteps, huh?"

"I won't order you to do it, son," Hammond repeated. "It's up to you."

But Jack knew, as he watched Daniel, what the decision would be.

...x...

Two Days Ago
Revanna; 1500 hrs

Zipacna attacked while Daniel and Jacob were at the summit.

"Where's Mansfield and his team?" Jack asked as he and Teal'c finally met Carter stumbling out of the crumbling Tok'ra tunnel.

She shook her head. "Dead. Elliot almost got out...but I couldn't save him. They're all gone."

Damn. Elliot had been a good kid on his first mission, and SG-17 a good team. And the Tok'ra couldn't afford any losses, much less everyone still in these tunnels.

"Weren't you with Aldwin?" she asked.

"Dead," Teal'c answered shortly. She grimaced.

"Come on," Jack ordered, running toward the ring room. "They're gonna keep bombing us until we cave in. We've gotta get to the surface and make for the 'gate."

...x...

"There has to be a way to reprogram this sensor," Carter said, frustrated, once they reached the surface and found the beacon that the Tok'ra had sent to broadcast. "This encryption..."

Jack looked around impatiently, half-expecting Jaffa to jump out at them any second. "What's it broadcasting now?"

"Probably the basic Tok'ra warning, sir--'assume no survivors, get out of here.'"

Crap. He glanced at Teal'c, who returned a solemn look. If rescue was a no-go, the only other option was to try to fight their way to the Stargate, and they all knew that would be suicide or, worse, possible capture and the prospect of divulging secure information. "Carter..."

"Maybe..." she said, then teased out a crystal. "I can't reprogram it to change the message, but I think I can deactivate the shielding mechanism and destroy the beacon. At least if my dad flies over, he won't get the message to go away."

"Can't you send an SOS?"

"Doubt we have the time to figure it out, sir."

Jack made a face, but it would be better than nothing. "Do it," he ordered.

"Teal'c," Carter said as she went to work again. "Do you have a zat? The electricity should be enough to destroy the message once I get...this...out..." She ripped a panel of crystals out of the sensor. "There. Teal'c?"

"Stand back," Teal'c said, so Jack took his place on lookout while he moved toward the sensor. A quiet zat blast, and the light on the sensor faded out.

"Uh," Carter said, staring at it. "Well, it's not much, but--"

"Guys, this is Daniel--if that was you, you'd better answer right now," a very familiar voice said suddenly from their radios, and then, "Am I on the right channel?"

"Yes," Jack hissed, and reached up quickly to his radio. "SG-1's all here. The planet's swarming with Jaffa, and we could really use a lift home. We're at the sensor."

There was a pause, and then, "Slight problem," Jacob's voice answered. "The sky's swarming with Jaffa and ships, too, and I'm not sure our cargo ship's going to make it in one piece. We were about to turn around and go, so we're not even close to you."

"Crap," Jack said, squinting skyward.

"We'll do our best. You might have to make your way to us on foot if we can't get close. Here goes nothing," Jacob said, and Jack let out a sigh of relief--if Jacob and Selmak could maneuver their way through a minefield, they could probably make it past a few gliders.

Except that, suddenly, sounds of ships firing came in the distance. "There!" Teal'c said, pointing.

"They must've been hit," Jack said, squinting in that direction--it was way too far out for him to see anything--and trying to figure out the best way to get there on foot. "They're not getting anywhere near here." Even if they're not dead before they hit the ground, he didn't add.

"Sir, there's a ravine that way," Carter said, stopping him when he started out. "We'll get there faster if we go around."

"Undoubtedly, Zipacna's Jaffa will arrive before we," Teal'c said.

Jack bit back a curse. "Well, let's hope the two of them have the sense to get out of their broken ship before that happens," he said.

Their radios crackled again, this time backed by more static. "Sam?" Jacob's voice said, sounding strained. "Jack? Teal'c?"

"Dad, are you guys okay?" Carter answered as they ran.

They were never going to make it. Four, five, six seconds passed, and then, "We're okay, mostly," Daniel said. "But, uh, the ship's not."

"No way we could get it fixed in time," Jacob added. "The gliders made our position when we landed; they'll be here soon."

Jack slowed. "Obviously, you guys should start coming to us, then," he told them. "We're...to the west of you."

No one answered.

"Get your asses over here!" Jack snapped into his radio.

"No," Daniel answered.

"Danny, you sure about this?" Jacob's voice said quietly.

"Yeah. Jack, Sam, Teal'c, stay where you are and find cover."

Apprehension stabbed into Jack. He knew that tone of voice. "That's what we're doing," he said through gritted teeth, "which is why you need to get yourselves over here and join us."

"No time, and without a ship we'd still need to get rid of Zipacna's Jaffa before getting to the 'gate," Daniel said. Without giving them time to answer, he went on, "I didn't release the poison at the summit. No, listen, Jack!" he said even as Jack opened his mouth and started to push the talk button on his radio. "There was a complication, and you need to hear--"

"Later," Jacob said. "This is more than just our survival, or yours. We picked up some information that cannot die with us. It's about Anubis, so Teal'c, you know what's at stake."

Jack glanced at Teal'c, who had straightened. "Bad?" he guessed.

"Extremely," Teal'c said.

"So we've still got the poison," Daniel said, talking faster. "Osiris made me at the summit--"

"Osiris?" Carter blurted.

"--point is, they know there was a Tok'ra spy there, probably an assassin, and Zipacna might even know it was me if Osiris contacted him. They're looking for me, and Zipacna knows I'm SGC and allied with the Tok'ra, so he'll think I know the formula for symbiote poison or at least how to contact the Tok'ra, and they'll take me to their base at the 'gate for interrogation. Once I'm there, I'll release the poison and take out everyone at once, and you'll be clear to get to the 'gate, which is why you need to get Teal'c as far away from there as possible until I'm done."

When he finally stopped, Jack said, "Are you nuts?"

"What about Selmak?" Carter added. "He's vulnerable to the poison, too. Just get over here, and we'll figure out another plan."

A grunt and thumping sounds came through past the static. "Like we said," Daniel said, breathing hard, "the ship's pretty messed up. As soon as we get one of these stupid...doors open, Jacob will run and meet you guys. Jacob, over here, I think I can get the escape pod...hatch...open...enough for you to get through. Hit the switch while I pull, yeah?"

"Daniel's got a Tok'ra radio on him," Jacob added, "which'll only remind the Jaffa that he's with the Tok'ra, and I'll bring another one to you guys"--another thump and a muffled 'ow'--"so we know when he's finished the job."

"I told Jacob everything that happened at the summit," Daniel said. "Got it! Jacob, go, go."

There was a clanking sound. "Luck," Jacob's voice said.

"He's heading toward you guys now. Jack, don't worry--I'll release the poison before they can do anything to me. And...if..." He paused but didn't hand the transmission over to them. Jack clenched a fist around his radio, helpless. "Jacob knows what happened at the summit. The SGC needs to hear, and Selmak's the only one who can find where the Tok'ra went after the attack here. You have to get him to safety."

"You don't have to do this," Jack said when Daniel finally released the communications. "I don't think you get what Zipacna's buddies are going to do to you. There's always another way."

"This time, this is the other way," Daniel said firmly. "I'll be fine--I've got a secret weapon, remember? Just worry about yourselves and make sure you meet up with Jacob. And Teal'c, do not approach the 'gate until Sam says the poison's clear, cho'qua?"

Carter exchanged a look with Teal'c. "This is an unwise plan," Teal'c said, though he didn't order Daniel to get out and run.

Jack started to key his radio again when Daniel said, "I think I hear them."

Shit. "Don't get yourself killed," Jack said, because there was nothing else to say when there had to be over a mile between him and them. He started to say something else, then decided not to give the Jaffa any hints that there were other people communicating with the ship.

And then, because it had been pointless to think everything would go according to plan--

"Ay, yi shay, I see them--they caught Jacob," Daniel said, sounding panicked for the first time.

"Oh god," Carter said. She started to reach for her radio.

"Dammit," Daniel said. He lowered his voice to a whisper. "Okay. Ah, damn. Okay, listen, the Jaffa are coming this way. I think Jacob's still got the Tok'ra com he was going to give you; I'll leave mine on the ship, under the panel just under the console. Start toward the ship. By the time you get here, we should be gone and the Jaffa should be gone, so pick up the radio, stay back, and we'll contact you when it's clear."

"What the hell are you going to do about Selmak and Jacob?" Jack hissed, because Daniel had been taught not to flinch or hesitate when aiming at the enemy, but the one time he would always pause was when a friend was in the way.

"I don't know!" Daniel whispered loudly. "We'll think of something. Shut up now, they're coming. I have to go. I'm turning communications off."

"Dammit, Daniel!" Jack tried, but not even static answered him. "Crap." He turned around in a circle, trying to see what was around them, then said, "Carter, you and Teal'c find cover and stay here. I'll get to the ship, get their radio, and try to get as close as I can to monitor their situation. Don't approach until I radio you."

...x...

The com was just where Daniel said he'd leave it, and the clearing where the teltak had landed was abandoned as promised.

Jack made his way alone in the direction of the Stargate but couldn't get close, not the way he had to stop and back away every so often when he met a line of Jaffa; he thought he might suffocate with unbearable frustration if he had to stay crouching in hiding any longer. His one consolation, odd as it was, was that every time he snuck out, he saw Jaffa still standing guard--if Daniel Jackson of SG-1 and Selmak of the Tok'ra had been killed and the symbiote poison discovered, surely there'd be more activity than that. Somewhere out there, Daniel and Jacob and Selmak were still alive. He really hoped they had some brilliant plan to use right now that didn't involve suicide, because Jack had nothing.

And then...

The Tok'ra radio crackled in his pocket. Jack ripped it out and stared at it, not willing to give Zipacna any unnecessary clues.

A muffled, flattened cough came from the radio.

Jack's hand tightened around it, and he forced himself to remember that, if they were being tortured, letting Zipacna know someone was listening would only make things worse. Their only hope of survival was to make sure Zipacna thought Daniel and Jacob were alone and vulnerable enough that they wouldn't look too hard for other threats. But then--

"Jack! Sam! Jack!" Jacob screamed through the radio, his voice hoarse and cracking with desperation. "Help me!"

Not stopping to wonder how or why Jacob was still alive when logic said he should be dead or dying or shot, Jack leapt out, holding his gun in one hand and the radio in the other as he sprinted in the direction of the Stargate. "Jacob, where are you?" he barked into his com device.

"Stargate," Jacob's voice said. He coughed. "Daniel...they sh-shot... The pois...poison..."

A pair of Jaffa--sentries, probably--were convulsing on the ground in front of him. Jack glanced at them as he ran past, just to make sure they were dying the way it looked like they were, then continued on, listening for more groans of more dying Jaffa because that would lead him to the center of camp. "How"--Jack stumbled over a Jaffa's body, caught himself, and went on--"How bad?" he asked.

No one answered.

"Jacob!"

"I think he's dead," Jacob mumbled.

"Dial Earth," Jack ordered, because that wasn't possible. "Jacob, get help."

"Trying," Jacob said.

Snarling, he stuffed the Tok'ra radio back into his pocket as he reached the outer perimeter of Zipacna's base camp.

"Jacob!" he yelled into the air. "Daniel! Where are you!" No one answered. Jack sped up and ran and ran and ran, ignoring the men writhing on the ground in pain until he reached the main camp.

At first, he couldn't see anything but a mass of dying Jaffa and a mothership hovering overhead, just in front of the Stargate. And then someone moved.

Jack turned toward the movement to see Jacob on the ground, pulling himself toward the DHD. "Jake!"

Sluggishly, Jacob turned to face him. "There," he rasped.

A flash of color among the armored Jaffa caught his eye. His first thought was that it was from that ridiculous lo'taur uniform the Tok'ra had put Daniel in, but it didn't take long to realize it was Zipacna, supine, eyes open in death. Still, if Zipacna was there, Daniel couldn't possibly be far...

And meters away, he saw Daniel, face-down, blood smeared over the glint of his clothing, and god there was smoke rising from his body and he wasn't moving--

"Daniel," Jack said, dropping to his knees and pulling him onto his back as gently as possible. "Daniel!" His heart--there was a pulse, thready and erratic, and he wasn't breathing, but he was alive--"He's alive," Jack heard himself say.

"Go," Jacob said. Jack glanced over his shoulder to see Jacob drop onto his elbow. "I'll live. J-jack, he's not...gonna make it--"

Jack ripped his radio from his vest and tossed it within Jacob's reach. "Call Carter," he said, and then hauled Daniel's limp form over his shoulders and sprinted to the DHD.

XXXXX

25 November 2001; Ra's Pyramid, Abydos; 0115 hrs

"It's okay," Sam said when they'd stepped through the wormhole and Daniel stirred on the stretcher, his hand sliding in hers. "We're here."

"Oma?" Daniel mumbled.

Sam frowned but wasn't going to try translating that into sense right now. "It's me, Daniel," she said. "It's Sam."

"Carter," Colonel O'Neill said, nodding stiffly to her and then behind her. "Teal'c. Dr. Fraiser. Downstairs--it's the closest thing we'll get to aseptic conditions, no wind and sand blowing..."

"No," Daniel moaned as Sam, Janet, and Teal'c started to guide the gurney down the Stargate platform. "No--"

The colonel had lifted Sam's end of the stretcher, and she took Daniel's hand again. "Shh," she said again. "Relax. We're just going to bring you down near the secret chamber room, okay?"

He stilled for a moment, then said, "A...Aby..."

"Abydos, yeah, we're here," she said, and pointed out into the open desert, past the silent Abydons who had gathered there. His head didn't move, but his eyes did, slightly, following her finger. "See?"

"Hm," Daniel breathed, closing his eyes, and Sam's only, idiotic thought was that she wished she'd paid more attention to his Egyptian lessons, because Teal'c had fallen out of the habit of being their translator, and from now on, they weren't going to have Daniel to rely on for that.

A hand touched her shoulder. "Tell me," Sha'uri said quietly, looking up into Sam's eyes. Sam leaned against the wall behind her and wanted to cry. Daniel's sister who was the mother of his baby brother must have sensed it, because she hugged Sam's head to her shoulder and said, "Hush. It will be all right."

Sam shook her head. "No, it won't," she said. "He's...he's not going to--"

"I know," Sha'uri whispered. "I know. Shh."

"I'm sorry," she answered.

"Tell me," Sha'uri said again, wiping her face of the first tears that had fallen.

"We tried to save him," Sam said. "But it was too late."

...x...

Two Days Ago
Revanna; 2000 hrs

"They tried to save me," her dad said when she finally, finally reached him. "It was too late--I'm sorry, Sam."

"I need to get you to the SGC," Sam said, ignoring what he was saying, because she couldn't think about that now, not when the colonel had run home with Daniel and Dad said Daniel was going to die and Teal'c was tearing trees apart in frustration because it wasn't safe for him to come help them yet. "How did you survive the symbiote poison?"

"Selmak's gone," her father said, and suddenly his expression looked so bleak Sam didn't know what where how why. "Tried to save me," he repeated.

"Gone?" she said. He looked at her and blinked, swaying where he sat. "Okay, Dad," Sam said, and threw his arm around her shoulders, trying not to look at the corpses all around them as she staggered upright, supporting his weight. "Let's go. We need to get home, and--and--and we'll get everything worked out, okay?"

"Okay," he whispered.

...x...

Two Days Ago
Infirmary, SGC; 2015 hrs

Sam got to the infirmary half an hour after the colonel and Daniel did. Janet set to work on her dad right away and said, "Sam, give me space."

So her feet walked her to the next bed, where Martouf was sitting in a chair, the healing device active on his hand, and Daniel--

"Oh, god," Sam breathed in horror when she caught a glimpse of him.

The colonel finally looked up. "Carter," he said, and then turned around. "Teal'c, your dad?"

"I...I-I don't, uh..." Her eyes were still frozen on Daniel. The colonel stepped in front of her, pulled the curtain shut around Daniel's bed, and drew her away, one step, two steps, three four five six. "He's...I don't know," she said. "Teal'c's still on the planet. Told him not to come for another two hours, just to be sure. Dad is...I think Selmak's dead."

The colonel's expression didn't change. She'd learned, over the years, that that meant more than if it had. "All right," he said. "We'll see what Fraiser says."

"Daniel?" Sam said, trying to pull away from his hands so she could see past him.

"It's better than it was..." the colonel started.

"God," she said again, bringing her hand to her mouth. "He's...?"

"I don't know," the colonel said. "Martouf's been at it for the last half hour."

Sam finally glanced again at Martouf beyond the curtain and realized why he was sitting when he'd have had better reach while standing. The Tok'ra was slumping in the chair, sweat beading on his forehead, one hand holding up the other, the healing device shaking in front of him. Using Goa'uld devices was an intensely precise process, not the uncontrolled bursts of energy Sam achieved with them on the few occasions she'd tried. The worse the damage was, the harder it was to fix it.

"It's not working," Sam said, because she knew that if someone still looked like that after a half an hour, it wasn't working and it wasn't going to work. "Sir?"

Jack shook his head. "I don't know," he said again. "Daniel's--his heart wasn't beating when I got him back. And now it is, but..."

"Staff weapon?" she asked, her brain recalling the ugly, red, oozing wound she'd seen for a moment. "It looked like some kind of burn--"

"Yeah, I thought so, too. I didn't see it. But I'd guess so. There were Jaffa all around him." Jack finally let go of her and scrubbed both hands through his hair. "It's not as...Martouf says there was internal damage. He's been trying to heal that first, but..."

A soft thump sounded. Sam shook herself back into focus and hurried to catch Martouf before he could fall the rest of the way to the floor. "Give that to me," Lantash said, squinting, pointing at the healing device that had fallen off his hand as Janet hurried toward them.

"You can't," Sam said. "You need to rest."

"Daniel is dying," Lantash said, but it sounded sad, not angry, and Sam knew it was true.

"Would it help?" she said, easing him onto the next gurney over with the help of an orderly. She picked up the fallen healing device. "Can you save Daniel with this?"

Lantash squeezed his eyes shut, and then opened them. "It is unlikely," Martouf said. "The damage is too great. I have...delayed it, perhaps. Your surgeons may be able to do more."

Sam turned around and found Jack pressing his fingers gently to Daniel's throat, bending over his mouth. "He's breathing again," Jack said, then looked at the burned skin on his chest. Sam could see another wound on his side, too, his skin far too pale, his arm bent at an odd angle, a small spot near his hip where it looked like the fabric of his clothing had actually melted--God, how many times had he been shot?

"Colonel, Major," Janet said briskly, appearing from behind him. She took a breath, then raised her voice. "You're in the way--move. I'll come get you."

...x...

Two Days Ago
Briefing Room, SGC; 2200 hrs

"I told you to wait," Sam said when Teal'c ran through the Stargate and rushed up the stairs.

"I waited long enough," Teal'c said stiffly. "What of Daniel Jackson and Jacob Carter?"

"Infirmary," the colonel said.

"What happened?" Teal'c demanded.

"What do you think happened?" the colonel snapped, because they all knew what happened when high-ranking members of the SGC or the Tok'ra fell into enemy hands and were interrogated.

General Hammond shook his head. "There are still a few unanswered questions. The only ones who'd know are Jacob and Daniel, and until the doctors say otherwise..."

"Will they live?"

Sam felt herself scrunching tightly into her seat and forced herself to straighten. "We don't know anything yet," the colonel answered. "Martouf says he can't heal Daniel any more."

"And Selmak's dead," Sam said. "Dad was awake, but he passed out, and now he's...in a coma or something, I don't know."

Teal'c lowered himself slowly into a seat. "The symbiote poison," he said. "Selmak could not have survived." Sam nodded and thought she would feel a lot worse about that once they knew what was happening to everyone else. "But a symbiote releases a toxin into its host when it dies."

"Jolinar didn't," the colonel spoke up. "There must be a way to stop it. Selmak would've tried."

"Dad said Selmak tried to save him," Sam said. "But he's still getting worse--something must've gone wrong. Maybe it happened too fast, and Selmak couldn't--"

The phone rang. General Hammond answered it immediately. Sam didn't realize she was on her feet until she noticed that the colonel and Teal'c were, too. Then the general hung up and said sharply, "Infirmary. Now."

...x...

"We have no choice," Martouf said. "Daniel and Jacob are the only ones who know what happened at the summit. If that information was so important that they were forced to abandon the mission, we cannot let it die with them. Without a symbiote, Jacob will die from Selmak's toxin, perhaps in days, and Daniel will die of his injuries. We cannot be certain if either of them will awaken otherwise."

"No one will implant Daniel Jackson," Teal'c said stonily.

"His advance directive says the same," Janet said into the thick silence. "Even disregarding that, it'd be incredibly risky, to both him and the symbiote. He's not in good shape. At least with General Carter, we can be sure he's not fundamentally against a blending."

"That may be best," Martouf said gravely. "Lantash can certainly neutralize the toxin that is killing Jacob. He is willing to try to save Daniel, but we are not certain; if Lantash takes Daniel as a host and not Jacob, it is possible that both of them will die, and Lantash with them."

"But..." Sam said, looking between Martouf and her dad. Their beds had been pushed close together already, her dad asleep or unconscious. "Maybe Daniel will wake up," she said, and she didn't know what was worse--that Daniel would wake up and give them the information so it was okay if her dad died, or that Martouf was going to lose his symbiote so her dad could live because Daniel might not make it.

"He was no longer breathing when you brought him back," Martouf said. "If it was for a long period of time..."

He stopped, perhaps looking for a tactful way to say it. "A healing device has limits--like brain damage if it's too severe," Janet finished. The colonel twitched but clenched his jaw instead of speaking. "When--if Daniel wakes up, he might not be able to tell us what he learned."

"Are we really picking who's going to be healed based on the value of intelligence?" Sam said, unable to believe Janet, of all people, was saying this.

"As I understand it," she said, her voice strained, "both Jacob and Daniel thought it was worth dying for. What it comes down to is what they would have wanted--and which of them is more likely to survive the procedure at all."

Sam fell silent. "What about you?" the colonel said, nodding at Martouf. "I'm talking to you, not your snake. This affects you, too."

"The Tok'ra lost an operative in me when I was programmed to be a zatarc," Martouf said, watching Sam. "If Revanna was destroyed and so many lost...we cannot lose Jacob's knowledge, his experience, and his memories of Selmak. Lantash would serve better with him."

But Martouf was old, by human standards. This was all but a death sentence for him, too.

"Martouf..." Sam said helplessly. "You're over a hundred years old. Without Lantash--"

"This is my choice," Martouf said firmly. "Our choice--both of us. If Jacob disagrees with the blending when he awakens...we will see. But he will die without Lantash."

Sam looked toward the other end of the infirmary--Daniel wasn't there anymore, though; they'd taken him into surgery. When she looked back, Lantash's eyes glowed. "Major Carter," he said, holding out his hand. She inched closer and grasped it automatically. "Watch over Martouf."

"He'll be fine," she said, insisted, because it wasn't fair that so many pillars of her world could crumble at once.

"No," Lantash said, squeezing her fingers. "There is too much damage from the zatarc technology. Without a symbiote to compensate, he will have great difficulties--I cannot say how much he will remember. And he will grow old quickly--he is older than most unblended humans could ever become."

"We'll take care of him," the colonel said quietly.

"He loves you, Samantha," Lantash said, and Sam didn't even care that everyone from the colonel to Teal'c to the general was listening. "Not for Jolinar, but for the friend you became to us. If he does not remember after I leave him, we wish you to know that."

And before she could answer, Lantash sat up and leaned over her dad where he lay. Martouf's hands held her dad's mouth open, and then Lantash launched himself in. Sam was still closest, and she caught Martouf as he collapsed again.

...x...

One Day Ago
Briefing Room, SGC; 0500 hrs

"General Carter hasn't woken up yet," Janet said as they sat around the table. "But his vital signs are much stronger now, and we can't find any traces of the toxin in his blood. I found elevated leukocytes--I'd need more analysis to know for sure, but I'd guess that Lantash released an antibody or some other immune modulator that's neutralizing the toxin and allowing it to be cleared safely. He should wake up as soon as he's rested."

The blending took a lot out of a person, Sam knew. It had taken most of a day before Sam and Jolinar had both been able to be awake at the same time, and her dad hadn't been in good condition when Lantash had blended.

"Martouf's vital signs are also stable for now," Janet said. "I can't say anything about his cognitive state, but the signs of accelerating aging are definitely there. We'll see what we can do for him, but there may not be much we can do."

"What about Daniel?" the colonel said.

"The surgeons went in and closed off some internal bleeding, and we've dressed what wounds we can," Janet said. "But... He suffered some major organ damage."

"Major?" Sam said. "What's major?"

"We think he took at least one staff blast at close range. That he was revived from that at all... Lantash fixed some internal damage better than we could have on our own, but it's not enough. His lungs are barely pulling enough oxygen as it is, with external help, and--"

"Well, he can stay on base, then," she said. "He doesn't have to be active and in the field. He can stay on light duty until--"

"Carter," the colonel said, and she shut up.

"There was some damage to his heart," Janet went on, still not looking up, "consistent with trauma to the torso. Aside from staff weapons, based on patterns of bruising, other...blunt objects were probably used as well--"

"He was beaten and then shot," the colonel said flatly.

Janet nodded. "He's coded twice more since being resuscitated the first time. Again, the boost from the healing device helped, but... He has a weak pulse; that's the best I can say. I don't know if it'll hold, and that's not helping his hypoxia."

"So..." Sam said, her mind floating oddly and not helping her at all. "Then. What?"

"That device can seal off primary injury and stop further tissue damage by speeding natural healing processes," Janet said, "but Daniel wasn't breathing when you brought him back, probably for minutes, at least. A healing device can't reverse severe damage or necrosis, and the brain can't go without oxygen for very long without sustaining significant damage."

"That is why you fear injury to his brain," Teal'c said.

"We won't know unless he wakes up," Janet said, hesitantly. "But I don't think you understand what I'm saying. The healing device revived him, bought a little time, but that's all. His organs are failing. I can't even say anything about infection--and that's always an issue with injuries this severe--or whether he'll be able to fight them off. The state of his cognitive abilities... I don't think it'll matter."

Sam waited for the colonel to say something, or for Teal'c to. Neither of them spoke. "So," Sam said, then cleared her throat. "So what are you saying? That's...that's it?"

"What about our allies?" the colonel said. "Someone'll have something that..." He stopped.

"Colonel, if I thought there was a way, I would ask," the general said. "But who, exactly, do you suggest we ask for help?"

Tollan, Nox, Sam thought. Tok'ra, Asgard... But none of them could help. They were alone now.

When Janet finally looked up, her eyes were faintly red. "I'm sorry. It's just a matter of time."

"How much time?" the colonel said blandly.

"Ah...days," Janet said. "Maybe less, maybe more. It depends on how...how we proceed with his treatment--the amount of painkillers we allow him, the degree of life support..."

"Days," the colonel repeated.

"We could sustain him artificially for a little more time, sir--mechanical ventilation, intravenous nutrition--but I won't go against the wishes in Daniel's living will," she said. Sam knew, of course, what Daniel's will said. They all knew each other's wishes, just in case, and had hoped they'd never need to use that knowledge.

"Will he awaken?" Teal'c said.

"He's still under from the surgery," Janet said. "If we ease him off the sedation, he might wake up, yes."

"Can we see him?" Sam said. "Or...sit with him? And with Martouf or my dad?"

Janet nodded. "In fact, I'd suggest it. They'll want to see a friendly face if they wake."

XXXXX

25 November 2001; Infirmary, SGC; 2300 hrs

Teal'c touched Daniel Jackson's cold hand and pulled the blanket higher, tucking the edges carefully under him.

"Teal'c," Daniel Jackson said softly, slurring what sound he forced through his lips, then stopped to draw a breath. A thin line of red began to run down his chin. Teal'c checked to make sure the blood was only from biting his lip before gently wiping it away. "Is..."

Major Carter was watching Dr. Fraiser work, standing stiffly next to O'Neill, who sat on the other side of the bed and rubbed one of Daniel Jackson's hands slowly in his own. Teal'c finished with the blanket, glanced up at Dr. Fraiser, and said, "You should conserve your strength."

Daniel Jackson struggled for a moment until Teal'c freed his arm from the blanket again, and his fingers closed weakly on Teal'c's arm. "Doesn' matter if...'m tired."

Teal'c did not know what to say to that. A flash of pain crossed over Daniel Jackson's features, and Teal'c gently set his hand back down, disentangling his fingers. "Nonetheless, it is time to rest."

Instead, Daniel Jackson watched him through eyes fogged with pain and medicine and said, "What...d'you th-think...after?"

Major Carter pressed her lips together. O'Neill's face did not change, but he stilled. "It is not for us to know," Teal'c said honestly. "It is for the kalach to explore. I believe there are worlds beyond ours."

"Still... You still...believe?" Daniel Jackson whispered.

Teal'c suppressed his own uncertainty--for those who knew what it was to lose a faith to the Goa'uld, it was impossible not to be uncertain--and said, "I believe there are worlds the Goa'uld will never be able to reach."

"Sounds nice," Daniel Jackson murmured. Teal'c could not tell whether he believed it. "Will you...kalach--" He stopped, and Teal'c almost thought he had fallen into unconsciousness when he said, "Abydos."

"Abydos will be fine," O'Neill said. "We'll take of 'em."

But Daniel Jackson turned his head to look up at Teal'c, and suddenly, he knew. "He wishes to go to Abydos," Teal'c said, "to allow his soul to rest in his home."

Immediately, Dr. Fraiser said, "Daniel, I can care for you here; without equipment, you'd be--"

"Dying," Daniel Jackson whispered. "Please."

"We'll take you home," O'Neill promised. I'm sorry, his eyes said. Daniel Jackson had drifted off again and did not see it. Teal'c knew that all of their eyes said the same.

...x...

Five Days Ago
Archaeology Office, SGC; 1900 hrs

"I'm fine, Teal'c," Daniel Jackson said. "Look, it's late. You don't have to stay here with me."

"I would take your place if I could," Teal'c said, not moving from where he sat, "but since I cannot, I will ensure that you understand the System Lords more fully so that you can complete this task."

"And I'm studying, Teal'c. I'll be all right. I just..." He stopped.

"You would prefer another way," Teal'c said. Daniel Jackson nodded, staring at his notes and not reading them. "As you said, each time we meet a System Lord, we aim to kill."

"Except this time it won't be by accident, as usual," Daniel Jackson said wryly, though he still looked troubled. "Look, killing them all with a poison while they're at a meeting is morally...maybe not different from killing them in battle. It's just...there's a reason people follow different rules in combat. We don't go by that when we don't have to. This just seems..."

"If they live," Teal'c pointed out, "each one may kill many more humans and Jaffa."

"I know," Daniel Jackson said. He shuffled through his notes again. "What do you think of this?"

"I have no better alternatives at this time," Teal'c answered truthfully.

"Yeah, I know. And I'll do it; I just never thought... Okay. I'm good. Just, uh..."

"We should review again," Teal'c suggested, taking the notes away from him.

Daniel Jackson nodded. "Right. Let's do that."

"Ba'al," Teal'c said.

"Ba'al," Daniel Jackson recited. "Said to be the son of El Elyon and a--"

"In Goa'uld."

After only a short pause, Daniel Jackson began again. "Ba'al, kal'ma n'El Elyon. Hilk'sha--"

"Helk...sha," Teal'c corrected. "Again."

"Helk sha," Daniel Jackson said, closing his eyes, his lips moving as if to erase the Abydonian pronunciation from his mind and cement the correct dialect. "Helk sha, mar tokeem..."

...x...

Two Days Ago
Revanna; 1930 hrs

"...took Daniel back to the SGC," Jacob Carter's voice said feebly through their radios. "Teal'c, don't come. Another...hour or two before the...the poison dissipates."

"Stay there, Dad," Major Carter said, standing. "I'm coming to get you." She released the radio and turned to Teal'c. "You heard him--wait two hours before you try to get to the Stargate."

"He said Daniel Jackson may be dying," Teal'c said.

Major Carter stiffened but didn't turn around. "And unless you think you'll do us any good dead, Teal'c, you'll follow orders. Two hours."

Teal'c gritted his teeth and watched as she left, leaving him alone to wait.

...x...

One Day Ago
Infirmary, SGC; 0900 hrs

O'Neill and Major Carter had dozed off in their chairs around Daniel Jackson's bed. "I'm sorry I can't do more," Dr. Fraiser told him quietly, once they knew there was nothing left to do.

Teal'c watched Daniel Jackson sleep, attached to too many wires and tubes--for water, medicine, air, electrical monitors, things Teal'c did not recognize even after years on Tau'ri. He did not look alive. Teal'c had sometimes told him he should be more silent, but he would have given his life to see Daniel Jackson speak now. "Is he in pain?"

"He...will be if he wakes up," she admitted. "I'm doing what I can, but too much of this"--she held up a syringe--"could stop his heart prematurely." Teal'c glanced up to see her face, and she said, "Don't think I haven't thought about it."

"But you will not," he said, uncertain whether to be grateful or resentful for it.

"Maybe I can't save him," she said, "but I won't kill him."

A soft knock sounded, and Teal'c turned to see a nurse pull the door open. "General Carter's awake," she said. "He wants to talk to SG-1."

Teal'c looked back at Daniel Jackson, unwilling to abandon him now, but Dr. Fraiser said, "I'll stay. You need to see what's going on."

Teal'c nodded and followed the nurse out of their room and into another room, where Jacob Carter lay. "I'll get General Hammond," the nurse said, and went to a nearby telephone.

"Teal'c," Jacob Carter said, struggling to sit up.

"The blending was successful?" Teal'c said, automatically moving to help him into a seat.

"Yeah. Lantash is in here. He..." Jacob Carter trailed off, his eyes unfocused. "God. It's weird."

"Are you well?" Teal'c said.

Jacob Carter took a breath and nodded. "Will be. Teal'c, I need to--where are Jack and Sam?"

"They are with Daniel Jackson," Teal'c said. "I will relay the information to them."

"Daniel?"

Teal'c raised his chin and tried very hard not to say aloud that Daniel Jackson would still be safe if he had not joined Jacob Carter on that mission. It was not the man's fault, and it would be cruel to say now. "Near death," he finally said.

Jacob Carter closed his eyes. He wore the expression of one who had known too much grief too quickly--it was not only the loss of Selmak, Daniel Jackson, and many Tok'ra that he felt now, but also that of Martouf, though Lantash.

"Jake," General Hammond said from the doorway. "I know you've been through a lot, but--"

"George, it's Anubis," Jacob Carter said, pulling himself together.

General Hammond looked confused, but Teal'c had been told, as every Jaffa child was, of Anubis. "He was banished," Teal'c said. He is a legend told to frighten children, he almost added, but he knew Anubis had been real once.

"Apparently not well enough," Jacob Carter said. "And he's back. We don't know how or where or...or anything, but Osiris and Zipacna are both working for him. We think Tanith might be working for him, too, so--"

"I killed Tanith," Teal'c interrupted. "Less than two weeks ago."

Jacob Carter looked surprised. "Oh. Good. Anyway, Anubis sent Osiris to the summit--I think that's why Daniel hesitated to begin with. Said something about...because Osiris's host wasn't a lost cause. She's the woman from Earth, right--Gardner?"

Teal'c nodded. "He gave his word to a man who knew her that he would try to save her."

"Well, I thought it was going to ruin everything. Turns out it was lucky, because that was how he found out Osiris was just the messenger for Anubis. The System Lords accepted Anubis back--every one of them except Yu--"

"Why would they do such a thing?" Teal'c said.

"They're scared," Jacob Carter said. "Major players have been taken out in the last couple of decades alone. Over the last year, someone's been killing the remaining System Lords' armies, and once they found out it was Anubis..." He shook his head. "I don't know how he got so powerful so fast, or how he got back at all, but the System Lords are scared of him. And he's going to attack Earth. We don't know when, but he wants you off the map."

Despite not knowing the name of Anubis, General Hammond understood enough to say, "We're protected by the Asgard treaty."

"Anubis isn't a System Lord yet," Jacob Carter said. "It's a flimsy loophole, I know, but they're gonna use it. Afterward, he'll take his place as a System Lord, and maybe the Asgard will try to stop him, but it'll be too late for us by then. He's coming, and from what we heard, he's going to come in strong."

"I see," General Hammond said. "Anything else?"

Jacob Carter rubbed his forehead. "Little details--might be useful eventually. But that's the main bit. Uh...there are things Daniel mentioned about Anubis's forces and technology--rumors, mostly, some supported by Osiris but a lot of it unsubstantiated. Some of it struck us as odd--unusual for Goa'uld tactics--and I'll want to compare it to some of the reports we've gotten from...from Tok'ra operatives."

General Hammond glanced at Teal'c. "I need to know about this Anubis."

"Sir, I can tell you of him," Selmak--not Selmak; Lantash--spoke up. "Let Teal'c stay with Daniel."

"All right," General Hammond agreed.

"But first I must know--where is Martouf?"

"He hasn't woken up yet," a nurse said. "He's, uh...his aging has accelerated, but if he wakes up before...well. We'll send for you immediately if he wakes up."

Lantash closed Jacob Carter's eyes and retreated. When the eyes opened again, it was Jacob Carter, looking pained, who said, "Well. I guess I'll have to tell you what I know from...from what Selmak left me."

...x...

Teal'c emerged from kelno'reem with the feeling that there were eyes on him. "Daniel Jackson," he said, standing up. Daniel Jackson blinked slowly, then reached up to his own face. "Do not," Teal'c said, catching his hand before he could pull the oxygen tubing from his nose.

Almost immediately, he moaned, squeezing his eyes shut again. "T...teal--"

"Hush," Teal'c said, holding him still with one hand on his shoulder. "Dr. Fraiser!"

Before the doctor could arrive, O'Neill and Major Carter woke, as well. "Daniel," O'Neill said. "Hold still. The doctor's on her way."

"What..." Daniel Jackson whispered, and stopped with a hiss.

"Hey there," Dr. Fraiser said, hurrying to the bedside. "I'm going to give you something for the pain, Daniel. Just hold on a second."

"H-have to..." Daniel Jackson started, but he had to stop partway through to breathe. "Anubis--"

"We know," O'Neill said. "Jacob told us--don't worry. We know all about Anubis and what he's planning."

Daniel Jackson turned slowly toward him and Major Carter, then closed his eyes. Teal'c resisted the urge to shake him awake again, fearing that he would sleep forever now.


Present Time
Ra's Pyramid, Abydos

"You hold tightly to them," Oma Desala said. Daniel turned away from the vision of his friends and his family around him. Well, they were the reality, technically; he was the one in a vision now, while they were the ones who were real. "As they do to you."

"They're...everything," Daniel explained. She folded her hands in front of herself but didn't answer. "Do you understand?"

"You must release your burden if you are to continue your journey," she told him.

He looked around himself. He knew he was in the catacombs of an Abydonian pyramid, physically, but everything looked and felt like his office. Robert's office, at first, and then both of theirs, and then Daniel's, and soon no one's. There was even a report he hadn't finished--he'd put it aside when Ren'al had come with news of the System Lords' summit. Daniel picked it up, aware of Oma Desala still standing near him, even as occasional whispers trickled through from his friends, just out of sight.

"Continue my journey," Daniel said. "What does that mean? What's after all this?"

Oma's expression didn't change. "If you know immediately the candlelight is fire, then the meal was cooked long ago."

He resisted the urge to rip apart the phantom paper in his phantom hands. "I'm dying," he said. "I really don't think I have time to figure out what you mean now."

"One cannot reach enlightenment by running from death," she chided.

"Right. Right, okay," Daniel said, knowing he couldn't be more than a day from death, though he didn't know how time flowed here. "Then...then tell me what to do."

"Many roads lead to the great path," Oma said. "Only the willing find their way."

"I'm willing," Daniel said. "You're talking about Ascension, right, to another plane? Like what you told me about on Kheb? I'm willing."

"The river tells no lies," she said, "though, standing on the shore, the dishonest man still hears them."

Daniel clenched his fists and realized there was nothing in his hands--his desk and everything had returned to the way it had been. "Okay," he said, steeling himself and deciding that, if he was about to die, he really had nothing to lose by being absolutely truthful. "Fine. You want the truth? I don't want to die--I don't want to leave, not while this war is still going on, and if that makes me a coward or...or...or unenlightened, then I guess that's going to be a problem."

Oma gave him a tiny smile but didn't speak.

Feeling stubborn and terrified all at once, Daniel folded his arms.

In the end, she was more patient than he was and he was still dying, so he said, "Anubis is out there. I don't know much about him and how he got so powerful or..." Oma narrowed her eyes. "You know! You must know what I'm talking about, right, with Anubis and everything? All you...big...glowy octopuses..." Daniel stopped. "I sound like Jack."

"Daniel?" Jack's voice said.

The room began to fade around him. Daniel felt the beginnings of pain and shied away reflexively, pulling the illusion more firmly around him.

And then, "Daniel, are you--can you still hear us?"

Turning toward Jack's voice, Daniel felt the peaceful vision slip away, and then--

...x...

It hurt to breathe.

Perhaps, if he had been required to do anything aside from breathing, Daniel might have understood more clearly what else was hurting; for now, he only knew it felt like he was being crushed every time he took a breath. Janet's blurry face hovered just at the edge of his vision.

"Jack," he managed. He knew his lips were moving, but he didn't hear the words. He couldn't think. There was something wrong with him, more than just medicine and pain clouding his thoughts.

"Hey," Jack said, kneeling beside him on the floor of the pyramid. His knees probably hurt. Others were spread in the background, and if Daniel's eyes had been working properly or his head less fuzzy, he might have been able to identify them. "Look. Uh, I just wanted to...say..."

Daniel felt his lips twitch as Jack trailed off and scratched his head. But Daniel thought he knew everything he needed to know and hear from Jack, and he still had something to say himself. "Not...your fault," he said, fighting past the pain to draw enough air to speak. "I had to."

Jack's expression went carefully blank. "I almost adopted you once," he said, almost to himself. "Feels like a long time ago."

They didn't talk about that much; things had changed. It wasn't something they could afford to have between them, interfering in the field or on the job or in their lives. It had been easier in some ways when they had been rescuer and rescued or the colonel and the kid, but being Jack and Daniel was better, even though it was harder.

"Didn't need...father," Daniel said, frustrated that he couldn't explain it properly. He had the words somewhere, but they wouldn't come out, and he didn't have the strength to say them. They would have been caught in a loop of father and child, and he'd needed Jack more than he'd needed a father.

And he only needed Jack's expression to remember that neither of them really needed words anyway, not for this. "I, uh," Jack said quietly. "You know...that I--"

"Mm," Daniel said, despite not knowing exactly what Jack had been about to say. Whatever it was, he knew it already, and if he didn't, it wasn't worth saying. "Yes."

"Dan'yel," his brother's voice said, and Daniel fought his drooping eyelids and the creeping black bliss long enough to see Skaara join Jack at his side and hear him say, "Sinu'ai--"

...x...

Daniel sighed in relief and disappointment when he found himself back in his office, dressed as if to go back to work, free of pain and with his friends nowhere in sight.

"Your name will be known to all," Skaara was saying, somewhere just out of view.

"I don't want that," Daniel said. "Skaara, you know better than that."

"But I will remember you as you were," Skaara finished. "You are our brother." Daniel turned around to see Skaara kneeling just before the desk in his mind. Sha'uri stood just behind, almost as much mother to Daniel as she had been sister, and for a moment, he imagined that she met his gaze, but she was looking past him.

"Maybe I'll see Shifu," Daniel said, Sha'uri's face reminding him of that possibility.

They disappeared.

He touched a desk that wasn't there with fingers that didn't really feel and wondered aloud, "Why are we here? Why my office at the SGC?"

"The journey was begun years ago," Oma Desala said.

Deciding to take that at what passed for face value for Ascended beings, Daniel said, "And my journey began at the SGC, in this office. Well, not if you count the part about being kidnapped and carried through the Stargate..." Oma raised an eyebrow. "Willingness," he amended. "It's about choices. When I chose this life, it was at the SGC, not in a prison on Chulak."

She didn't answer. Then again, there were a lot of other journeys to which she could be referring. He'd started another journey a few years ago, too, on Kheb, although he'd fooled himself about so many things that time that he wasn't sure that had been real, either.

The point was that the journey wasn't over. He hadn't finished whatever he'd thought he'd started on Kheb, and this, here... He looked back down at his desk and couldn't avoid the wave of mingled nostalgia and urgency that swept over him. "I'm not done," he said.

"At the end of one path, another begins," Oma said.

"There is such a thing as a cul-de-sac," Daniel quipped, but then the idea that he might have reached a dead end was almost unbearable. He could face anything ahead, he thought, except the possibility that it was all over.

"Not all paths are easy to reach," she acknowledged.

Daniel bit his lip. "We killed Apophis," he explained, needing her to understand. "And we always knew that wasn't going to be it, and even the Goa'uld wouldn’t be the end, not really, but now, with Anubis...he's back, and it's worse. You have to know that, right?"

"All things are known to those who have achieved enlightenment."

"So then you know," Daniel said. "You know how much we have to do. I can't leave now." He sighed, frustrated. "Can't you...heal me? Or something?" Mother Nature could surely heal if she could kill the way that Daniel knew she could.

She tilted her head slightly. "Some paths," she said, "bear greater fruit than others."

"Is that a 'no?'"

"Your bodily wounds are not for me to heal. But for those who have achieved Ascension, physical form has no meaning."

He started to ask exactly what Ascension entailed--if that was the path with more fruit--but decided to avoid another warning about cooking meals on a candle. "Why me?" Daniel said.

Oma spread her arms. "The journey is for all who are willing. You have taken the first steps on the journey."

"No, that's not good enough," Daniel said, too annoyed to care (yet) that he was wasting time arguing against this when he'd been pleading for her to help him just moments ago. "I can Ascend just because I happened to be the one who went to Kheb? People are dying all the time. People have died to save hundreds--millions of others. They've died for me. How are they not worthy?"

"The path is not smooth," Oma said. "Nor is it easy to find."

"What makes me so special? That I was on that one mission? That I knew Shifu? Is this some...some sort of otherworldly nepotism? What?"

"When you came to Kheb," Oma said, "you took the beginning of an unknown journey when it was offered to you. Perhaps you do not realize how few people are willing to take that step."

"Well, then, why don't you show the path to them?" Daniel snapped.

"I show it now to you," she said calmly.

"Daniel?" Sam said. He looked around to see his friend kneeling, touching her fingers to what must be the edge of a stretcher where his body was lying. She'd been crying recently. Daniel sighed. "I don't know if you can hear me."

"He's in a coma, Sam," Janet said.

"I can hear you," Daniel said, even though he knew his lips weren't speaking, and she didn't hear.

Sam bit her lip, looking over her shoulder, then turned back to him, reaching out one hand. Daniel closed his eyes and imagined he could feel her fingers gently smoothing his hair, the way she did when he was hurt. "I don't know if you, uh, heard before," she said, "but my dad's okay. He told us all about Anubis."

"Good," Daniel said, genuinely relieved.

"We still don't know exactly what happened to you. I mean, we can guess. But you were pretty worried about Anubis, so..." She cleared her throat. "I thought you should know."

"What about Selmak?" he said.

"You're probably wondering about Selmak," Sam said, and Daniel allowed himself a moment to think of how much he'd miss these moments when he could barely tell where his thoughts ended and hers began. "He, uh, didn't make it." Daniel bit his lip hard. "But Dad says he died doing what he thought was right."

"He died because I killed him," he said.

"And he says to th..." She stopped, rubbed her nose, and tried again. "...to thank you for...for saving us and not letting Selmak's death be for nothing."

But he knew that look on her face; he knew something was missing. "Sam? What aren't you telling me?" Was Jacob alive but gravely wounded? Had they had to do something drastic to save him?

She took a deep breath. "Um. I want to...thank you, too. I've learned so much--we've learned so much together, Daniel. You've...you make me think about things that I would never have thought about before. You changed me. You change people. And I'm sorry we let this happen."

"Don't be sorry," Daniel said, anxious that he might die knowing that all of his friends felt bad about it. Everyone had always felt vaguely guilty about his situation, he knew that, and if they thought he was dead because they hadn't guarded him well enough... "Sam, don't."

But her specter was fading already, and the last he saw of Sam was her miserable expression as she stared at his broken body, still talking, but her words fading, becoming too muffled for him to hear.

And Oma was still watching. He wondered what she saw--him, here, whole and healthy in his mind, or a weak and dying man surrounded by those holding a last vigil. Maybe she could see both and knew just how close he was to being gone. "You hold fast to this world," she observed again.

Daniel stared at the spot where Sam's image had vanished. "It's my world," he said. "They're my people."

"Beyond this plane," she said, "the worlds are endless."

"All of that can be mine," he said, half in question.

She nodded once. "If you choose it."

"I'm not ready," he said honestly, and if it was selfish or cowardly, it was at least true. "I don't... There's so much left to do." There was so much life left to live. He was smart, young, and strong. He'd seen more war than many of Earth's seasoned veterans. By the time he was no longer the youngest member of the SGC, only people like Teal'c, Jack, and Sam would be more experienced, either at a desk or in negotiations or in battle, and he would have been just reaching the peak of his abilities. He could have done so much, and now he never would.

"You believe your journey here is not yet over," Oma said.

"I could have done so much more," he said.

"You have saved many lives and helped countless people," she said.

"I've hurt just as many," he said. "Every time I helped someone, I hurt someone else. I thought the Goa'uld war was beginning to end, and now, I find out that it's only going to get worse, and..." He gestured around himself. "How many millions of people have already died because of me? Or how many are going to die because I didn't do enough?"

"Your people--the Abydons--believe that a soul is weighed in the afterlife," Oma said.

Daniel took a breath and nodded. "You're saying my soul wouldn't pass. I can't say I'm entirely surprised."

"A soul cannot be weighed--" she started.

"Oh, that's--that's great," he said. "So my people's religion isn't even valid."

"Then it is your people's and not yours?"

"What difference does it make?" he said, meaning 'yes.' It had been a long time since he had dared to believe anything the myths said.

"You are the only one who can judge yourself," she said. "Your belief will decide your fate."

"So...I have to believe I'm worthy of Ascending," Daniel clarified. "That's what you mean? I play the role of Ma'at and my belief is the scale that measures my worth?"

How could he be worthy of this chance when no one had offered it to his parents and his brothers who had died to protect Abydos, or to Robert Rothman who had died for him, or Lieutenant Elliot who had been so eager to serve Earth and had died on his very first mission? How could she think Daniel deserved a reward for all he had done in life?

"Did you see what I did?" he said. "I walked into a room full of men and women and wanted to assassinate them, even the ones who were innocent victims. I argued that it was the best way."

"Do you regret it now?" Oma said.

"I don't know," Daniel said. "I didn't realize I'd become..." He stopped, remembering that day when he'd sat in the briefing room, feeling so numb that he was utterly calm, and actually told Jack that they were all killers already. He had trained to fight and kill because he had needed to in order to find his brother or his sister or Shifu; he hadn't realized until then what would be left of him when he had nothing to look for anymore.

In the end, he'd balked at killing a room full of System Lords because he'd seen a single, innocent, salvageable host and remembered that that wasn't who he was supposed to be. Still, he had no doubt that he would have done it--would have pushed the button and killed them all--if it hadn't become strategically unwise. When had he begun to judge a life by its strategic value?

"What if I don't think I did enough to balance the things I did wrong?" he said.

Perhaps Oma could read his thoughts, or perhaps he had said them aloud here in his mind. "Your successes and failures do not add up to the sum of your life. There is only one thing we can ever truly control: whether we are good or evil."

Good or evil. There was no such thing as good and evil, because good for one person was evil to another. Saving a thousand people usually meant killing one or letting one die. Sometimes, they killed thousands and saved one. "I don't know which I am," he said.

"What you have done is not who you are," she said again. "Who are you, Daniel?"

"I've tried to be good," he said.

"Yes," Oma agreed, but they were still there, and he was still dying.

"How can I leave all of this behind--unfinished like this?"

"How can you not?" she pointed out. "You hold what is no longer yours. You cannot go back. You can only decide how you will go forward."

"What is forward?" he asked.

Smiling faintly, she said, "Do you want to know?"

"Yes," he couldn't help saying. She smiled a little wider, and Daniel looked back down at the image of his desk, running his hand once along its surface. "If there's something there...how can I not want to know?"

"Do you fear it?" Oma asked. "That you do not know what lies before you?"

Daniel nodded, but even as he did, he thought of the spark of excitement he felt each time he waited for the computer screen to show him the latest MALP telemetry, or the way it felt to stand in front of a Stargate and know that something wondrous could be on the other side.

"But that's part of the fun," he said as lightly as he could, thinking that that was what Jack might have said. It wasn't quite a joke, not for him or any of them. Experience meant that some of the instinctual fear of the unknown manifested as anticipation instead. Fear never disappeared completely, but it sharpened things, too; Daniel thought that, if they stopped being just a little afraid of what they might find and of what might happen when they found it, it would mean that it didn't really matter anymore.

"Then," she said, "you have only to decide."

Oma Desala had rained lightning and death on a thousand Jaffa and had carried Shifu on a storm and given a life to a baby whom others would have condemned to experiments or death. She understood things and saw things no one possibly could without being like her. Maybe he could do more this way. He was so limited now--he was one man translating texts or shooting a gun, and when one Goa'uld fell, another rose to take its place. Now, more than ever, they needed someone who could do more.

And enlightenment meant knowing, too. If Daniel had one purpose that he had tried to hold onto at the SGC, even through all the turmoil, it was to know--to learn and to want to learn. What if he could be that person again?

He had to commit to it, though, or it wouldn't count. Teal'c always said that it was better not to act at all than to act halfheartedly.

Even knowing the answer before he said it, Daniel had to ask, "Are my parents there?"

Oma shook her head gently. "No."

"What about my brothers from Abydos, my friends from the SGC?"

"No, Daniel. This path is not that of the dead."

"What about Shifu?"

She paused, then said, "Yes. Shifu has been watching over you, Daniel. He is waiting. But do not take this journey forward to seek out your past."

"No, I--I know. I'm not," he said, realizing that he was speaking now as if the decision were already made. Perhaps it was. "But I'll take comfort in what I can. I can do that, right?"

"Then you have chosen?" Oma said.

"Daniel Jackson," Teal'c said.

He turned and saw his friend, his teacher, his brother standing before him, holding an Abydonian funerary statue. "Tek'ma'tae," Daniel said.

"I promised you once that I would speak the words for Skaara or Sha'uri if they fell in battle, to carry their souls home," Teal'c said. "We did not know then that you would join us in the fighting. I did not know that your brother and sister would be saved and you would fall."

"No one knows that kind of thing," Daniel said. "You couldn't know."

"Know this," Teal'c said. "In you, we will have lost a great warrior in the fight against the Goa'uld."

"Bad timing, then," Daniel said helplessly. "Because it's about to get a lot worse."

Teal'c opened his mouth, then closed it again, his throat working. Daniel had seen Sam cry before, and he had seen Jack in his own sharp, jagged rituals of grief, but Teal'c always grieved alone, in meditation, not like this. The Jaffa took a breath and said, in a low voice, "And I will have lost my chal'ti and my brother."

As Teal'c set down the statue and faced Daniel's body and began to speak, Daniel turned to Oma and said, "He called me a warrior against the Goa'uld. I wasn't always."

"Do you wish to be?" she said.

"I want...to do good."

She smiled again.

Daniel took a breath. "I want to do good," he repeated, weighing the sentiment and looking for cracks, but it was true, through and through. He had done things in the past that he wasn't proud of, he had made mistakes, and he had sought selfish revenge and found it lacking. But he had always tried to be good, not evil, and now, at this moment, he could accept that it was so.

"I know that," Oma said.

"I want to Ascend," he said, relieved once he had said it. "I do. And...once it's over, I'll be completely and utterly for it. But is it...would it be okay if I waited until...until the end? Just...let me have whatever I have left?"

"Your body has entered a deep sleep," she said gently. "It won't be long...and I cannot see what good it would do you."

"I know," he said, as Teal'c said, return to your home on Abydos, you will see many worlds, you will be remembered, we will remember you.

Then Teal'c stopped and looked up, past Daniel. "Jacob Carter!" he said, sounding surprised, and his image disappeared.

"What--" Daniel said, not sure what was going on. He turned around, looking for the ghosts of his friends, but no one was there.

"It'll save his life," Jack's voice snapped.

"What will save--" Daniel said.

"I will not allow it," Teal'c answered in a growl.

"Get out of the way, Teal'c," Jack said.

"He would not want this," Teal'c insisted. "Anything but this."

"I don't give a damn--he's dying!" Jack yelled. "He can't choose right now. I don't care if he hates all of us for it--"

"Lantash, you're too weak," Sam said, her voice strained almost to shaking. "And even if you could...would Daniel survive? Would you?"

And then Jacob's blended voice--not Selmak, because Selmak was dead, and now Daniel understood what had happened to Jacob and who was now blended with him. "I am doubtful that I could heal him completely," Lantash said through Jacob. "There will be much residual damage, but I believe he will live."

"And Dad?" Sam said desperately.

"Toxin's gone," Jacob said. "I'm willing. We both are."

"I. Will not. Allow it," Teal'c repeated.

"He would not wish this," Sha'uri spoke up. "Stop this, all of you."

"The symbiote can be removed after he has healed," Skaara spoke up, and Daniel thought, no, not you, too.

"That's right," Jack said. "That's right! Just temporary. They'll switch right back when he's better. Won't even have the protein to show for it."

"No," Janet's voice said. "You don't understand. There's too much damage for a Tok'ra to heal completely. He'll need constant care, constant therapy, and if it's provided by a symbiote..."

"It is likely that we would have to remain blended if we survive the procedure," Lantash said.

"Then you cannot," Sha'uri said. "If you are a true Tok'ra, you will not take an unwilling host."

"You would rather him dead?" Lantash retorted. Even after living on Earth for over a year, he shared the same blind spot as most Tok'ra--he didn't seem to understand how someone could be so violently against a blending that death would be preferable. "He cannot speak for himself--"

"But he has a living will," Janet said over the bickering voices. "And I will not defy--"

"Just give him a chance to say it himself!" Jack snapped. "If this works, he'll still get his choice, and we can deal with it then."

"No," Daniel said, horrified. "No, please, don't! I'm ready! Don't do it!"

Oma turned around.

"Oma? You're leaving?" Daniel asked her. "But you can't leave now--"

"The rest is up to you," Oma said.

"They're talking about implanting me," he said.

"Then your journey will continue as before," she said.

"I don't want it to," Daniel said, and he found that it was true. He had made his choice, like he had made so many choices to move on before that, and he would follow the path where it led him. "Not like that. Not anymore. I've decided."

"Walking the great path brings great responsibility," Oma warned. "You cannot fear it nor hesitate in your resolve."

"I understand," Daniel said, gritting his teeth when it felt as though his entire body were tingling. Were they moving him--preparing to implant him?

"Then stop them," she said.

...x...

"Jack," Daniel said.

Jack stiffened but didn't turn around--his eyes were fixed on Daniel's body, lying on the ground, Jacob standing beside him, half of the people trying to stop the transfer and half trying to stop the others from stopping it. There were more Abydons here now, drawn by the commotion, and if something didn't happen soon, they were going to start yelling again and fighting, and Daniel was so tired of people fighting when they didn't have to, not them, not over him.

Daniel looked away from his own body, found Skaara, and grasped both his brother and Jack by the shoulder.

They resurfaced in the embarkation room at the SGC--empty but for themselves and Oma Desala, sitting quietly on the ramp. "Jack," Daniel repeated. "Skaara."

"Dan'yel," Skaara said in disbelief. "What..."

"Don't do this," Daniel said, looking at both of them.

"Daniel?" Jack said. He didn't even look confused. He wore a distant expression that meant he thought he was dreaming and he didn't much care, but he stared hard at Daniel all the same. "What's going on?"

"Let me go," Daniel said. The look in Jack's eyes sharpened until the look became wariness and stubbornness. "You wanted to give me a chance to speak for myself. So tell Jacob to stop. Leave Lantash where he is."

"Why?" Skaara said. "This Tok'ra can save your life."

"I don't want it," Daniel said.

"It's Lantash," Jack said. "You like each other. Mostly. It'll be okay. Carter's dad isn't as old as Martouf; he'll be fine, too."

"No," Daniel said. "I'm ready to move on."

Jack's face became angry for a moment, and then it disappeared into the emptiest expression he had. "You're just giving up?" he said, and Daniel understood, because Teal'c had taught him what war was and Sam had shared with him the love for learning that gave it all a purpose, but it was Jack who had taught him to fight, always, and never to give up.

"I'm not giving up," Daniel said, looking between them both. "Believe me, it's not that." He glanced past them. Both of them turned around to see Oma on the ramp. "Oma Desala," he said, because they might not recognize her in this form. "The one who's been caring for Shifu."

"I remember," Jack said.

"Dan'yel..." Skaara said.

"I think I can do more this way," Daniel said, fixing his gaze on Jack. Jack would understand this--he had to. "Please. Let me go. I don't want what they're about to do. You know that. For me--tell them to stop."

Jack stared at him a moment longer. Without looking away, he said, "Jacob, don't do it. It's what he wants."

Daniel turned. He saw nothing but Oma on the ramp and the Stargate shimmering behind him.

"No, father," Skaara said, and Daniel turned again to see his brother add a voice to something he couldn't see. "It is what he wants."

"Just let him go," Jack said.

Then they fell silent.

"Are...did they...?" Daniel said when a minute had passed. "I don't feel anything."

Skaara dropped his face into his hand. Jack looked at him and didn't speak.

"Time of death, 10:08," Janet's voice echoed softly from a distance.

Now, Oma's voice echoed in his mind, though the others didn't seem to hear it. This is it.

The realization was like a breath of air when he hadn't breathed in years. Daniel closed his eyes and saw--he was in the 'gate room on Earth, and he was in the desert in Abydos; he was here, clearheaded and real, and he was there, dead. His sight was clearer than it had ever been, and he thought he felt Oma's hand on his shoulder, pulling him away until he was high enough to see them all. This was the conversion, he realized--this was how Mother Nature manipulated the material world, and now she was making his physical form irrelevant.

Sam was staring right at him, wide-eyed and with an arm around her father's shoulders and Janet's face frozen in shock. Skaara stood with his arms out in front of all of their Abydonian brothers and sisters and their father, silent, watching. And Jack turned to him--

"Gonna miss you," Jack said.

Daniel took a look back at the ramp, where Oma was now standing in front of the wormhole, as if to say he had to leave. But if this was to be the last time, and if he could have one last act before leaving...he grabbed Jack's hand, and, before Jack could ask what he was doing, placed it in Skaara's.

His throat was too tight to speak, but Jack said, "We get it. 'Gate's always open."

"Don't feel bad," Daniel managed to say calmly. "Tell them that. And that I miss them."

A soft sound behind him told him Oma had disappeared through the wormhole. Daniel stared at the event horizon and took a breath, and then another, and walked up the ramp.

"Where are you going?" Skaara called before he could step through.

"We'll see you around?" Jack asked.

Daniel turned around and found that they were blurry in his vision. "I don't know," he said, and he accepted the fear that boiled in his gut at that, because encased within it was the excitement of finding a new world. He turned away for the last time and stepped through the Stargate.

...x...

"We've been waiting for you," Oma said on the other side. Daniel turned around, but the Stargate was gone. Below him was a crowd of his family, looking up, a few faces wet and the others dry with shock or numbness. His body was gone, and he was here, not dead, but here.

"I did it," Daniel said, not sure what to feel, or if he even could still feel anything. "I..."

And Oma held out her hand. "Come," she said. "It is time."

XXXXX

Two Days Ago
Revanna; 1930 hrs

"It's time, Daniel, now," Jacob snapped, and was shoved to his knees for his trouble.

Already swaying on his knees himself and shivering with pain, Daniel only managed a sympathetic wince. "Jacob--"

Pain blossomed in his side as a foot knocked him into the grass. He bit back a moan and fought the urge to push himself upright until he could drag enough air into his lungs. Something was wrong with his chest, and the rest of him felt like it was on fire, but he couldn't worry about that now. That was for later.

He didn't dare to move his hand, gripping the vial of symbiote poison. If he opened his fingers, just a little, Zipacna would see it. If he closed his fingers, just a little, Selmak would die, and Jacob with him. He'd been willing to do it with the System Lords and their hosts, and even with enemy Jaffa, but Jacob and Selmak?

Time was ticking. The longer they knelt here together under Zipacna's ship, the more chance that someone would discover what he was holding. If they lost the poison, they lost SG-1's chance of escape, and the System Lords would have the Tok'ra's symbiote poison. They'd discover the formula from there.

Jacob turned to him and insisted, "Can't both die."

One of them had to live. Zipacna and his Jaffa had to die for SG-1 to live, and someone had to warn the SGC that Anubis was alive and powerful and coming for Earth. If Daniel had the best chance, he had to take it. If he didn't, they were both dead, anyway.

He started to shift his grip--

"What is this?" Zipacna said. "Jaffa!" Hands grabbed Daniel's arms and pulled him forward. Panicked, Daniel started to squeeze and break the vial--

He heard the sharp crack of bone before his arm was overtaken by fiery agony, and he screamed.

By the time he'd fought his way out of the haze of pain and caught his breath, staff weapons had snapped open all around him.

"If you move again, you will be killed," Zipacna said, taking the poison from the Jaffa who had wrested the vial from Daniel's broken arm. If it weren't for the fact that Daniel didn't think he could move, he might have been scared.

"Daniel...dammit," Jacob whispered.

"I'm sorry," Daniel managed. He coughed, wincing when the movement reverberated through his aching chest and down his limbs.

Zipacna examined the vial and smirked. "Ah," he said. "So this is the secret the Tok'ra have been hiding."

"I can save him," Selmak said suddenly. Another staff weapon snapped open, but Daniel turned and found the Tok'ra staring at him, his eyes glowing bright. "I can save Jacob."

In that moment, Daniel knew he was going to die.

If he did nothing, the System Lords would have the poison, Zipacna would kill them anyway, and then SG-1 would never make it back to safety. The only hope was to get the vial, crack it open, and let the poison kill the Jaffa before they killed him. He twitched his legs experimentally, and they both still seemed to be working--but if he moved, if he tried to reach the vial, he would be killed instantly, even if he could grab it.

And if Daniel was killed...

Selmak said he could save Jacob. That could only mean one thing for the symbiote--suicide--but Jacob would carry some or all of Selmak's memories, unhindered by the conflict Sam felt when trying to access Jolinar's knowledge, and Jacob would be alive to tell the SGC that Anubis was coming. Daniel could die killing Selmak if it meant one of them lived. That was what it meant.

He met Selmak's eyes and nodded.

Without warning, Jacob choked. "No," he whispered, his eyes becoming panicked as he clutched his throat. "No!" Some of the staff weapons swung away from Daniel to him--

Daniel lunged to his feet and barely felt a staff blast crashing into him until he'd landed on top of Zipacna. Nothing moved the way it should--he couldn't take the time to figure out what was injured--but he saw the vial in Zipacna's hand, and he slammed himself against it--his hand, his knee, his head, his body, whatever part of him still worked.

The last thing he saw before his eyes blurred was Zipacna's shocked expression. He heard cries from Jaffa dying around him, and Jacob was crawling toward one of the Jaffa, reaching for something, yelling for Jack.

Daniel closed his eyes. 'This is it,' he thought. 'I'm done.'


Part II: Ascension


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