George Hammond stood in the control room staring down at the stargate below with a concerned scowl creasing his face. Hands clasped behind his back he waited anxiously for the wormhole to disgorge his flagship team, one that was returning to Earth two days ahead of schedule.
A mission ending early was far from a rare occurrence, but when it happened to SG-1 it tended to make the Commanding Officer of the SGC a bit nervous. The tone of Colonel O'Neill's voice when he had checked in less than twenty minutes earlier had done nothing to settle Hammond's nerves. O’Neill was angry; very angry. While the Colonel was certainly no stranger to the practice of throwing a fit, his tone of voice had indicated something much more dire than a mere difference of opinion. Hammond sighed to himself. Things had been calm and quiet around the SGC for well over a week. Leave it to his most high maintenance team to put ripples in the water.
As the first member of SG-1 stepped through the shimmering event horizon Hammond resisted the urge to bounce on the balls of his feet in anticipation. Instead, he lifted his chin up a notch higher and tucked the tension down deep in his belly where he always kept it. A practice that he was sure would give him an ulcer one day. With this command it was almost inevitable.
O'Neill was the first one through the gate, the irritation obvious in his face as he strode down the ramp, one hand clutching at the P-90 clipped to his chest, more out of habit than necessity. Following closely behind him was Major Carter looking only slightly less grim with Dr. Jackson appearing beside her and Teal'c bringing up the rear. For a moment General Hammond stood in silence watching them, taking in details, assessing the situation and in less time than it took the wormhole to disengage, he had come to the conclusion that there was indeed a problem.
"Medical Team to the Gate Room." He said, reaching out and grabbing hold of the microphone attached to the control panel in front of him.
There were no obvious injuries, no blood, no body parts bandaged. For all intents and purposes SG-1 looked perfectly fine, or they would have to someone who hadn't sent them on dozens of missions over the past five years. Someone not used to watching them come back through the gate in a variety of states and having learned long ago to recognize when things were not as they should be. For example, the continued glances O’Neill kept casting toward Dr. Jackson spoke of something other than anger. He was worried, though getting him to admit it would take something near to an act of Congress. Teal'c's face was folded into one of a variety of displeased scowls as he too kept an eye on the archaeologist. Despite being the subject of obvious scrutiny, Dr. Jackson seemed perfectly calm, completely unconcerned, though quite pale. It was the combination of the blank expression on his face and the fact that he seemed unable or unwilling to move unless Major Carter was tugging at his sleeve that had Hammond calling for a medic. Something was off and he wasn't going to waste time trying to figure out what it was before calling for help. In his line of work things tended to go very wrong very quickly and when they involved Dr. Jackson, well, he’d learned long ago to err on the side of caution.
Turning away from the scene, Hammond dashed down the stairs to the gate room arriving mere seconds ahead of the medical team.
"What happened, Colonel?" He asked, sparing a glance to Dr. Jackson who was standing at the base of the ramp inspecting a spot on the floor several feet in front of him.
"We're not sure, Sir." O'Neill growled. "Daniel was missing from the team for several hours. When we got him back he was like this."
"Did he give any explanation?" Hammond asked, slightly uncomfortable talking about Daniel as if he weren't standing right next to him.
"He won't speak, Sir." Carter explained, still holding onto Daniel's jacket sleeve. "We've been trying for hours. We're not even sure he can hear us."
"Alright. Get him to the infirmary. We'll debrief in one hour." Hammond announced, standing aside as the small infirmary crew loaded Daniel onto a gurney.
"I'm not sure what happened, Sir." Jack admitted from where he sat at the briefing room table, doing his best to hold his temper in check. He was still fuming from his conversation with the natives hours earlier. "Things seemed to be going fine. Daniel got word this morning from the priest guy that he wanted to talk about something and that was the last we saw of him for almost six hours. When he missed a scheduled check-in we started searching for him, but we didn't get very far."
"Things got a bit tricky at that point, Sir." Carter chimed in, Jack grinding his teeth, perfectly willing to let her tell the story. "We only managed to get half way through the village before we were arrested."
"I'm not sure how else to put it, Sir."
"They held us hostage, General." Jack stated bluntly, his blood boiling at the memory. "We were confined to our hut under guard."
"Did they say why?"
"No, Sir." Carter replied. "The guards wouldn't tell us anything."
"Who sent them?"
“Zarek.” Jack answered with a wave of his hand. “Apparently he’s the grand high poobah over this group or some garbage.”
It was one of the few details they had, thanks to a meeting with King Sakima that had followed on the heels of Daniel being returned to their hut in much less than peak condition. The Magistrate had claimed to know nothing about the guards. He did, however, know about Daniel.
According to Sakima, Daniel had volunteered to take part in some kind of tribal ritual. Apparently it had been a big deal, the drums they had heard from the confines of their hut rumbling away for hours. In fact, the party had still been in full swing when Jack had finally shoved his way through the King's entourage to demand answers.
From Sakima's sketchy description of what he had termed "an offering to the gods", the main event, long past by that point, was either a tribal secret or something Sakima didn't fully understand himself. Either way, it had been obvious that the details Jack wanted were not going to come from the King. Apparently tribal parties were the High Priest's domain and if he wanted answers Sakima suggested he seek out Zarek. The one thing the rotund, perpetually grinning Ruler would say was that Daniel had held the place of honor and whatever had happened he had participated willingly. Jack had serious doubts about that. While it was true Daniel sometimes stepped into things without thinking them through, Jack didn't believe he had volunteered to be part of something that would have left him a walking vegetable.
Daniel couldn't or wouldn't communicate at all on any level and for a guy who always seemed to have something to say about everything Jack doubted he would simply agree to give that up. Of course, a lack of speech wasn't his only problem. He wouldn't move unless pushed or pulled, hardly even blinked and Jack was fairly sure that Daniel had turned loose of his bladder sometime during the hike back to the gate. No warning, no comment, just…
After his less than enlightening discussion with Sakima Jack had gone in search of the tribe's High Priest, but Zarek had been nowhere to be found, having slunk somewhere underground, apparently to perform his own private rituals. According to the few people privy to the details, the ritual had been started in a forbidden part of the temple, one only Zarek and those he deemed worthy were allowed to see. Apparently, at some point during the festivities he had come out of hiding, showed the still undefined "sacrifice" to the audience from a balcony several feet above them and then disappeared again leaving the villagers to their celebration. He wasn't expected to show his face again for several days. Until his part of the ritual was complete no one was allowed to disturb him. Not even an irate Colonel with half a mind to go rampaging through the temple with a fully loaded P-90.
“Did this ‘Zarek’ tell you why he had taken Dr. Jackson and held you three prisoner?”
"No." Jack answered. "But I intend to ask him as soon as he comes out of hiding."
"Hiding?" Hammond echoed.
"Something to do with the ritual." Jack groused. "Apparently he's not allowed out of the temple for a few more days."
"We’re still trying to figure that out, Sir. Sakima called it a sacrifice, but nobody could tell me exactly what was sacrificed. All we know is that Daniel was involved somehow."
"Oh I doubt that.” Jack grimaced. “Sakima said he volunteered, but from the look of him I'd say the King is either lying or out of the loop." He snorted. "There's no way Daniel agreed to whatever they did to him, Sir."
“And if he did, why hold us hostage until it was over?” Sam chimed in.
"Agreed." Hammond replied, both his jaw and his expression tight. "When this Priest finally comes out of hiding I want you to go back to that planet and get some answers."
"Yes, Sir." Jack nodded, with a feral smirk.
Janet Frasier pulled the blankets up over her newest patient, watching in fascination as Daniel grabbed them with both hands and tucked them to his chest. During her time at the SGC she had seen a lot of strange things, but this was certainly one of the most puzzling.
Physically he was fine, aside from a nasty gash on one of his wrists. He had no bruises, no broken bones and nothing out of the ordinary in his bloodstream. The only thing she had found in her exhaustive inspection of him was that he was slightly anemic. However, there was no doubt that something was profoundly wrong with him. Daniel hadn't made a sound since they had brought him in. He wouldn't make eye contact, wouldn't answer questions, wouldn't even acknowledge the presence of other people in the room. In fact, the only thing he seemed to respond to was physical pain, but even that reaction was minimal. She had put close to 30 stitches in the wound on his arm and he had barely even blinked at the repeated sting of the local anesthetic.
While he went willingly enough wherever he was led, shuffling along in silence as he stared at nothing on the floor, he seemed to have lost the ability to function of his own will. The only thing he had done without being coaxed was curl up on the gurney while Janet had been on the opposite side of the room retrieving his medical file. Pulling himself into a fetal position he had stared silently across the room, his eyelids drooping in what was apparently exhaustion. Taking the hint, Janet had covered him up.
"You're right. That's enough for now." She said, chattering to him the way she had been since he'd appeared in the infirmary, hoping he would decide to respond to something. "We can finish this tomorrow. Do you want something to eat before you go to sleep, Daniel? Are you hungry?"
Janet scrutinized his face for any sign of a response, but as had been the case for the last hour, if he heard her he wasn't in the mood to reply.
"Alright. Let me know if you change your mind." She added, patting his shoulder through the blanket.
Leaving the curtain pulled back to give her a better view of his bed, she wandered back to her office, giving the entire staff orders to keep an eye on him. There was no telling when he might snap out of it or what he might decide to do when he did. Janet settled behind her desk and began making a new entry in his chart detailing his altered behavior. She was torn between two possible scenarios and neither one of them pleased her. Either something had been done to Daniel to render him what she hoped was only temporarily mentally deficient, or this wasn't the real Daniel Jackson. Perhaps it was some kind of clone that had been fashioned to look like him, just without the benefit of any type of mental capacity above the bare minimum needed to survive. An empty shell designed to serve as nothing more than a decoy. Several years ago the possibility never would have entered her mind. However, that was before the SGC had broadened her horizons.
A third option presented itself, but it gave her no more hope than the other two. It was possible that something that had happened on the planet had sent Daniel burrowing so far inside himself to escape it that he had yet to find his way back out. It was no secret that he tended to withdraw into himself when he was hurting, but she’d never seen him even approach this level of isolation, and she’d seen him dealing with the after effects of some pretty nasty things. Shaking her head to herself, Janet finished her notes and began scouring his test results again, looking for anything she might have missed.
The blood work said he was human with DNA that matched that of Dr. Jackson. The PET scan showed there was brain activity, greatly reduced for that of a conscious adult, but it was there, nonetheless. His CT scan showed he wasn't harboring any unwanted passengers. All good news, but none of it explained his behavior.
Setting the results aside, she pushed away from her desk and walked back to his bed only to find him sound asleep. For a moment she considered the idea of restraining him, but decided against it. So far he hadn't been violent. In fact, he'd been the model patient: no complaints, no arguments, no attempts to talk his way out of the examination. She decided to leave him with no more attachments than the IV dripping fluids into him. The whole situation was making Janet nervous and she had a feeling if anything was going to go wrong it was most likely going to go very wrong very quickly. Scribbling an order to have his vitals checked every 15 minutes and satisfied that for the moment he needed nothing more than sleep, she left him to rest and headed for General Hammond's office to fill him in on the few details she had.
Jack stalked through the stargate and headed for the village at a determined pace. Two days had passed since Daniel had disappeared only to be returned completely catatonic. Two days during which no one had any answers. Jack had spent that time trying not to dwell on what he was going to do to Zarek when he finally laid hands on him, though it had been largely unsuccessful. Passing quickly through the village with Teal'c following silently, he ignoring the greetings sent his way and focused on reminding himself that Zarek was the only one with any answers and those answers would be hard to understand if he was trying to speak with hands wrapped around his neck. Jack needed to be as calm and rational as possible if he was going to be any help at all to Daniel. Once then had what they needed, then he could pummel him into the dirt.
As had been the case when Jack had made his first attempt to get into the temple, there were two rather large guards posted at the entrance. Barely clothed and armed only with sturdy looking spears, Jack marched up to them with his hand already on the trigger of his P-90. He was going to get answers out of Zarek even if he had to shoot his way in and out of the temple. He wasn't remotely interested in diplomatic relations with these people. All he wanted were details and before he stepped back through the stargate he was determined to have them.
Over the past two days Daniel's behavior had remained unchanged. He was still completely unwilling or unable to respond to anything at all. He only ate when you put a spoon to his lips, only drank when you practically poured the water down his chin and didn't have any problem with soiling himself if someone forgot to lead him to the bathroom every few hours. Frasier was convinced the real Daniel was tucked away inside somewhere. Personally, Jack was still holding out hope that the man in the infirmary was only a clone. Either way he wanted his friend back and Zarek was the only one who knew how to make that happen.
"Out of the way." Jack demanded as he strode up to the guards, stopping just out of reach.
"Zarek does not wish to be disturbed." One of them informed him.
"Trust me, he's already disturbed. Now move."
"You will not pass."
"Let me put it this way…" Without warning Jack fired a few rounds at the wall next to the large men, pleased when they leaped back from the now marred stone block, eyes wide. "Move or I'll blow your head off."
Standing clear of the door and eyeing the weapon clipped to Jack's vest with obvious anxiety the guards stood rooted to the spot as he stormed through the doorway and into the darkness of the temple. Teal’c, sparing barely a glance at the two men whose bulk overshadowed his own, followed silently behind.
"Zarek!" Jack bellowed, turning on his flashlight and examining the space. He glanced with a complete lack of interest at the walls covered in writings he was certain would have fascinated Daniel. It was probably how Zarek had lured him inside in the first place. Promising him a chance to study their ancient writings in exchange for doing him one little favor.
"Get your ass out here now, Zarek, or I'll take this place apart." Jack demanded.
The man appeared at the opposite end of the narrow hall, a lantern in his hand and a displeased scowl on his face.
"Lower your voice." The priest hissed. "This is a sanctuary to the gods. They do not appreciate being disturbed in such a manner. Nor," he added “do I.”
"You," Jack growled back, teeth clenched and his face twitching in a way that promised dire consequences "are going to tell me exactly what you did to Daniel Jackson and how to reverse it."
"I have done nothing to Daniel." The man replied. "It was his wish to participate in the sacrifice. He has honored the gods and he will be blessed."
"Cut the crap." Jack demanded, striding toward the priest. "He hasn't been blessed he's been turned into a zombie. Now change him back."
"That is not my doing." Zarek repeated calmly, unperturbed by Jack's obvious anger.
"Well it’s somebody’s ‘doing’ and everybody around here seems to point the finger at you." Jack informed him. "Now I want him back the way he was or you will be a very sorry man."
"You can do nothing to me." Zarek snorted with a mildly amused smirk.
"Really." Jack replied quietly, accepting the challenge and closing the distance to the priest. In an instant Jack had an arm at his neck and had slammed him up against the stone wall, leaning into him with enough force to almost completely cut off his air.
"O'Neill." Teal'c protested, Jack ignoring him completely.
"You dare touch me?" Zarek croaked, his face a mixture of fascination and anger.
"I dare." Jack replied, leaning on him a little harder, threatening to crush his windpipe. "Now," he said, nose to nose with the priest as the man began clawing at his arm in an attempt to free himself enough to draw a breath "you are going to tell me exactly what happened the other night. Every detail and when you are done I'm going to decide whether to kill you right here or drag you back to my planet and do it there. Got it?"
Zarek gurgled in reply, his face creeping from a deep red to purple.
"Got it?!" Jack bellowed.
Reluctantly Zarek nodded and with one last shove Jack released him.
"You…" Zarek rasped, coughing and gasping for air "you cannot kill me. The gods will destroy you and your people for such an offense."
"I'm not too worried about 'the gods'." Jack replied, completely unimpressed with the threat. "Now, spill it. I want the whole story, every detail and I wouldn't leave anything out because if this little tale doesn't make sense I'm going to start shooting. One bullet for everything you decide not to tell me."
Zarek glanced at the P-90.
"Your weapons do not frighten me, Colonel O'Neill." He stated calmly. "My power is greater than anything you could hold in your hands."
"Really?" Jack asked, gripping his weapon and firing a single round into the corner scant inches from where the priest stood, bits of stone exploding from the wall. "Imagine that was your leg."
To his credit, the priest had an impressive poker face, but Jack didn't miss the way he swallowed nervously or the sheen of sweat that had suddenly broken out on his forehead.
"Talk." Jack demanded. "You invited Daniel up here to the temple three nights ago and…"
"And he came willingly." Zarek assured him one last time.
The unmistakable sound of someone retching drew Janet from her office and she emerged to find Daniel awake on his gurney, his body convulsing as he tried to throw up the minimal amount of lunch he had been willing to swallow hours before. Grabbing a small, kidney shaped basin on her way by one of the supply carts, she hurried to his bed and tucked it under his chin before he had a chance to make a mess out of his sheets.
"Lunch didn't sit very well, huh, Daniel?" She sighed, a hand on his shoulder. "Maybe we should have tried something other than tuna fish. Can you hold this?” She asked, gripping his hand and moving it up to the basin at his chin. When his long fingers gripped it she stepped away from the bed to find a cloth to clean him up.
“I’m going to put a note in your chart.” She told him pleasantly, wiping the mess from his face. “Dr. Jackson would prefer not to have tuna until further notice. There. Much better.” She added as he settled back on the bed, his stomach having apparently finished its protest. “Feel better or should I leave another one of these here?”
As expected there was no reply.
“I think I’ll leave one here, just in case.” She decided, setting a replacement by his head, not that she expected him to actually use it.
“Everything ok?” Sam asked appearing in the room with a book in hand.
“Just a little upset stomach.” Janet replied, patting his arm gently. “I think he’s ok now.”
“Is it ok if I sit with him?” Sam asked.
“I’m sure he’d love that.” Janet smiled. “Here’s a basin if he starts throwing up again.”
“Gee, thanks.” Sam grimaced before pulling a chair up to the bed.
Janet wandered back to her office to put another note in Daniel’s ever expanding chart. Over the past three days he had thrown up a little over half of what he ate. She wasn’t quite sure what to make of it since his white cell count was normal, meaning no infection or virus. She had tried putting him on a liquid diet in order to go easier on his stomach, but he had refused to swallow the protein drinks, the liquid dribbling out of his mouth and down his shirt. On the one hand it was frustrating because Janet wasn’t sure how else to get nutrients into him other than the IV or feeding tube. On the other hand, it was the first sign of willful behavior she had seen since SG-1 had brought him back. If he didn’t want protein drinks she wasn’t going to force him. She would just have to keep going through the variety of commissary fare until she found something that he would eat and his body would keep down.
She had been racking her brain for his list of favorite foods and realized that where his eating habits were concerned she had paid little attention in the past. He liked waffles. She knew that, but they had already tried those and they didn’t stay down. They had also tried a variety of other things with mixed results. French fries he could handle. Jello came right back up.
Closing his file she headed upstairs to the commissary in search of more ideas. After perusing the available food she returned to the infirmary with an assortment. Janet approached his bed with the tray, listening as Sam continued to read.
“What is that?” Janet asked, glancing over her shoulder.
“History of the Byzantine Empire.” Sam replied. “I figured that if I’m going to read to him it might as well be something he’s interested in.”
“Good idea.” Janet nodded. “I’m going to try to get him to eat a little bit of this while you read, ok?”
“Sure. What did you find?”
“Baked chicken, some mashed potatoes, peas, and chocolate pudding.”
“If you want my advice, I’d start with the chocolate pudding.” Sam grinned.
“Why not?” Janet shrugged, grabbing the small, glass bowl and a spoon.
Tucking a napkin into the collar of Daniel’s shirt, she gathered up a small spoonful and held it to his lips. Obediently he opened and the pudding disappeared.
“Well, so far so good.” Janet shrugged.
Sam went back to reading as the pudding continued to disappear one spoonful at a time. When the bowl was empty she wiped his mouth with the napkin and replaced the bowl on the tray.
“What’s next?” Sam asked, pausing in her reading
“I think I’ll just let that sit for a few minutes and see if he keeps it down.” Janet advised. “In the meantime, it’s about time for a bathroom run. We’ll be right back.” She said, pulling back the covers, taking his hand and tugging him gently out of bed.
Shuffling along beside her, Daniel followed where she led, he and his IV pole being herded to the bathroom and back out again a few minutes later. She had considered putting him in adult diapers, but decided it was easier just to remember to take him than to clean him up and change diapers after the fact. As soon as he was settled in bed again Sam continued reading.
"It is a sacred ceremony.” Zarek insisted. “One an unenlightened person could never understand.” The Priest said, managing to sound smug despite the nervous glances he kept making toward Jack’s weapon.
“And at what point during this voluntary ceremony did you find it necessary to put us under guard?” Jack demanded.
“I assure you, it was for your own protection.”
“Protection from what?” Jack demanded, hand twitching on his P-90.
“Interrupting a sacred ceremony is strictly forbidden.” The man sighed haughtily. “You were put under guard to protect you from upsetting the gods. It was for your own safety.”
“And why, exactly, would we want to interrupt the ceremony?”
For the first time the priest looked slightly flustered.
“The sacrifice had to be made. Your friend was given the honor of participating. Most members of the tribe live their whole lives without that opportunity.”
“He did not understand.” The man sighed. “Once the purification has been completed he could not refuse to complete the ceremony. It is written…”
“I thought you said he volunteered?” Jack interrupted.
“He did.” The man nodded. “Then suddenly he was…reluctant.”
Without a word Jack tapped the trigger of his weapon and discharged a bullet into the ground right beside one of Zarek’s feet, narrowly missing his toe.
“What exactly made him reluctant?” Jack demanded, ignoring the priest’s yelp of protest. “I want every last detail or the next bullet goes into your leg. Start with the cleansing thing and go from there.”
“I cannot reveal the secrets of the ceremony.” Zarek gaped. “It is strictly forbidden.”
“Then I hope you have a replacement all picked out because your ceremony days are over.” Jack warned, raising the muzzle of his weapon to the man’s chest.
“O’Neill.” Teal’c warned.
“Get out of here, Teal’c.”
“This will not benefit DanielJackson.”
“This guy’s not helping much either.” Jack pointed out, glaring into the man’s face. “I figure someone else around here knows what happened and if I drag old Zarek’s body into the town square they might be a bit more willing to talk about it.”
Zarek swallowed hard, a bead of sweat trailing down the side of his face. “He did not wish to complete the ceremony.” He blurted out. “He said he wanted to participate, but when it came to completing the offering he would not.”
“Because he was weak.” Zarek growled through clenched teeth.
“Somehow I doubt that.” Jack replied. “Try again. Why didn’t he want to go through with it?”
“He did not approve of it.”
“I cannot…” Zarek protested.
“I think you can.”
“Please, you must let me go.”
“Fine. Tell me what I want to know and I’ll let you go.”
Zarek was quiet for a long moment, the scowl on his face making it obvious that he was weighing his options. Finally he nodded.
“I will tell you.” He said. “Let me go and I will bring you the sacred writings so you may see for yourself.”
“Why don’t I just come with you.” Jack replied with a sarcastic smirk.
“You cannot!” Zarek replied instantly fear replacing the proud indignation he had been sporting since the day they had first met. The change got Jack’s attention. “Is it not enough that I am betraying the gods by showing you the sacred text? Would you have me dishonor them further by defiling their hallowed sanctuary?”
Jack glared back at him for a moment, attempting to read his expression before reluctantly taking a step back. “You have thirty seconds.” He warned. “If you’re not back here with the texts by then I’m coming in after you.”
“Agreed.” The man nodded nervously before turning on his heel and fleeing the room, his robes billowing behind him.
“He is being deceitful, O’Neill.” Teal’c commented.
“You noticed that too?” Jack nodded. “He can’t get too far in thirty seconds.”
Jack kept a nearly steady eye on his watch, habitually clenching the grip on his weapon in anticipation. He knew the little worm was lying. The question was exactly how much trouble would he be in if he really did shoot him, and would it get him the answers he wanted in the end.
Somewhere around 27 seconds Jack caught a whiff of smoke. With barely a glance in Teal’c’s direction he sprinted through the door Zarek had used, in search of the priest.
“Zarek!” He bellowed, his voice echoing off the stone walls. “Damn it. If you think burning that book is going to help you’d better think again!”
Moving as fast as he could with nothing, but a flashlight beam to see by, he charged through the hall, following it as it curved before finally opening into a large room.
“Zarek!” he barked again.
“The secrets are protected.” A quiet voice spoke in obvious relief.
Jack spun toward the voice to find the priest huddled on the floor, a small pile of ash next to him.
“What’d you do?!” Jack demanded, lunging toward him and grabbing him by the front of his robes.
“The gods will reward me.” Zarek sighed.
“He seems unwell.” Teal’c pointed out.
“What did you do?” Jack repeated, scouring the man’s face in search of clues and finding only a dazed smile.
“I did not betray them.” He said with all sincerity, shaking his head from side to side. “All will be well.”
Jack spotted the small vial lying in the dirt near Zarek and knew without having to ask a third time exactly what the priest had done.
“You’re not getting away that easily.” Jack demanded, shaking him violently. “Tell me what you did to Daniel.”
“I did nothing. It was his weakness that brought the curse.”
Zarek opened his mouth to speak, but uttered nothing more than a gurgle. Convulsing violently he tore himself from Jack’s grip before collapsing in a heap on the ground. Jack didn’t need to check his pulse to know that he was dead.
“Let’s get out of here.” Jack growled quietly, leaving Zarek where he lay and heading for the door.
Hammond picked up his coffee mug to take a sip and was surprised to find it empty. He couldn’t remember draining it, but obviously he had. Pushing back from his desk he wandered to the coffee maker in the far corner of his office and found the pot just as empty as his cup. It was probably just as well. The doctor had told him to cut back on caffeine. Easy to say for a man that didn’t work in a zoo.
He’d been hunched over his laptop all morning taking care of daily business, but his mind had been off world with Colonel O’Neill. To be honest he had no idea what his second in command was going to say when he finally came back through the gate. Most likely he would have answers. Whether or not getting those answers left blood on his hands Hammond couldn’t begin to guess. If the truth be told he didn’t really want to know. Still, being in command meant just that. He was in charge so it was his job to know.
Reaching for the bottle of Maloxx in his desk drawer, he pushed the call button for the phone in the control room. If there had been an update Walter would have told him, but he couldn’t help checking just the same.
“Any news, Sergeant?”
“Nothing yet, Sir. SG-1 is several minutes past check-in, though. Do you want me to dial them up?”
“That’d probably be a good idea. Let me know…”
“Incoming Wormhole.” The overhead announcement interrupted.
“It’s SG1, Sir.” Harriman informed him.
“Open the iris. I’ll be right down.”
Hammond emerged from the upper level just in time to see O’Neill come striding through the gate. The look on his face told Hammond all he needed to know about how the mission had gone. It would seem they weren’t going to have any answers in the near future. He sighed heavily as he reached for the microphone.
“Welcome back Colonel O’Neill…Teal’c. Debrief in my office in 15 minutes.”
He received a nod from Teal’c, O’Neill striding out of the gate room without so much as a glance in his direction. He had given them 15 minutes to cool down from whatever had obviously gone wrong on the planet. O’Neill most likely could have used a couple of hours and a session with the heavy bag in the weight room. Unfortunately, they didn’t have a few hours to wait for cooler heads. Dr. Jackson had already been left in his current condition far too long.
“Dead?” General Hammond gaped
“Yes, Sir.” Jack replied, the set of his jaw making it obvious that 15 minutes had done little to cool his temper.
“We believe Zarek would have named a successor.” Teal’c volunteered. “The position is one of great power and influence. It would most likely require an apprentice to be trained in the event something happened to the current priest.”
“That makes sense.” Hammond nodded. “Do we have any idea who this apprentice might have been?”
“We do not.” Teal’c admitted. “We will need to return to the planet.”
“Ok.” Hammond agreed. “Let’s give them a day to name the new priest. I want you and Major Carter to go back to P3T16J at 08:00 tomorrow and bring whoever that is back here.”
“General, I’d like to return to the planet with Teal’.c.” Jack replied.
“I’m sorry, Colonel, but I think cooler heads need to prevail. Besides, it’s quite possible these people think you killed their last spiritual leader. I doubt they will be willing to hand over another one.”
“What if the new priest does not come willingly?” Teal’c asked.
“Then bring him by force.” Hammond replied. “Just get him here in one piece.”
Jack wandered into the infirmary having no idea where else to go or what to do with himself. He had spent an hour pummeling the heavy bag in the gym and had walked away with sore hands, but little else. He no longer had an uncontrollable urge to choke someone so it hadn’t been a total loss, but it also hadn’t made him feel any better about the situation with Daniel.
He found Frazier standing by Daniel’s bed, spoon feeding him pudding.
“Hello, Sir.” She greeted. “How did things go on the planet?”
“Not very well.” He admitted.
“I’m sorry to hear that.” He said, her smile fading. “I was hoping you’d bring back some answers.”
“Me too.” He sighed. “What’s going on?” He asked, waving toward Daniel.
“Well, it seems Dr. Jackson likes chocolate pudding.” She said, her smile returning. “It’s one of the few things I can get him to keep down.”
Jack honestly wished that had been as good news to him as is seemed to be to Frazier. Unfortunately, the fact that she was having to feed him like an infant drained whatever enthusiasm Jack might have had about the discovery.
“Sam was here earlier reading to him.” She continued, prattling on as she wiped chocolate from Daniel’s chin. “He seemed to like it.”
“How can you tell?” Jack asked.
“Just a feeling.”
“Oh come on, Doc.” Jack groused. “He’s nothing, but a vegetable.”
“I know it’s hard, Colonel.” She soothed. “But I have to believe he’s in there somewhere. The PET scan shows brain activity. Something’s going on in his mind he’s just not able to interact for whatever reason.”
“It’s been three days.” Jack pointed out.
“I know.” She said, gently. “Do you want to sit with him for a while?” She offered. “I can leave you two alone.”
“That’s not Daniel.” Jack said determinedly, pointing at the man in the bed. “The Daniel I know doesn’t need to be spoon fed or walked to the bathroom and there is no way he could possibly keep up the silent treatment for this long.”
“We’re just going to have to be patient.”
“Until when? Hmm? How long before someone decides he’s a lost cause and locks him up in the loony bin?” He snarled, his piss poor attitude returning with a vengeance.
None of them could say it couldn’t happen because it had and years later Jack was still kicking himself over it. He had let them lock Daniel up once. He was not about to let it happen again. Someone had to do something. The problem was nobody had any idea where to even begin looking for answers. Especially now that the one person they had been counting on to shed a little light on things was dead. Getting excited over the fact that Daniel was eating pudding wasn’t bringing them any closer to getting him back.
“I don’t know what you want me to say, Colonel.” She replied.
A glance at Daniel revealed a deep scowl creasing his face, a face that had been determinedly lacking in expression for the past three days. Jack stared at him long enough to attract Janet’s attention.
“How long’s he been doing that?” He asked.
“He hasn’t been. Not until now.” She replied. “Daniel?” She searched his eyes for any sign of recognition.
“He gets that look when something’s bugging him.” Jack supplied. “Usually right before he says something I generally don’t want to hear.”
“Well, whatever it is, it’s the first sign of emotion he’s had since you brought him in.” She grinned.
“I think it might be time for another PET scan, what do you say, Daniel?” She asked, patting his leg.
Once again Janet found herself standing by Daniel’s bed shoveling food into his mouth. They were on day four and despite the scowl on his face the day before he had yet to show any real signs of recognition. Still, his latest PET scan showed a slight increase in brain activity so she was willing to be optimistic.
Despite his obvious preference for chocolate pudding she was trying something with a bit less sugar that afternoon and had opted for macaroni and cheese. The bowl was nearly empty and things were looking promising when he suddenly slapped a hand over his mouth, threw back the covers and dove off the bed, lurching toward the bathroom. Janet’s first thought was concern over the fact that he had torn out his IV in his mad dash to the toilet. The second thought was the startling realization that Daniel had just moved on his own. Not a twitch or a scowl, but action that required both reasoning and decision making. She couldn’t help the smile that spread across her face as she followed his retreat to the bathroom and found him huddled over the toilet doing what a day earlier he would have done all over himself and his bed without a thought.
Spitting and gasping into the bowl, Daniel pushed himself away from it once his stomach was empty of the little he’d eaten and collapsed against the cold, tile wall, his entire body trembling. One knee pulled up to his chest he sat, head bowed, panting as if he’d just run a marathon. Janet wet a small surgical drape that she had been using as a napkin and knelt down in front of him.
“Let’s get you cleaned up.” She said gently, lifting his chin with her free hand.
For the first time in days his gaze met hers, blue eyes quickly sliding away as she wiped at his face.
“So you are in there after all.” Janet smiled. “Do you want to do this yourself?” She asked, realizing that there was suddenly no need to baby him any longer.
Tentatively Daniel took the towel from her.
“How do you feel?” She asked, watching as a trembling hand wiped at his face.
“I’m not sure.” He croaked quietly.
“Let’s get you back to bed.” She suggested, helping him to his feet and leading him out of the bathroom.
“Why am I here?” He asked softly as she pulled the covers over him before tending to his abandoned IV, Daniel refusing to meet her gaze.
Janet knew that behavior. The quiet voice and distinct lack of eye contact were classic signs of Daniel in some kind of emotional pain.
“You’ve been out of it for the past four days.” She explained. “Almost completely non-responsive.”
“Why?” he asked.
“I was sort of hoping you could tell me.” She admitted. “What’s the last thing you remember?”
“A briefing.” He said after a long moment. “We were doing a team briefing about P3T16J.”
“Ok. And then what?”
“Then…nothing.” He shrugged. “I was here…in the bathroom.”
“You don’t remember anything about the planet?”
“No.” he shook his head.
In a heartbeat his head came up and Janet suddenly found him looking directly at her, an expression of near panic on his face. “Jack? Sam?”
“They’re fine.” She assured him with a gentle pat of his arm. “Nobody was hurt except you.” She gripped his wrist lightly and turned his arm to reveal a large bandage covering the stitches. “These should come out in a few days. Other than that…not a scratch on you.”
“Why can’t I remember?”
“I wish I knew.” She sighed. “But the fact that you’ve said more in the last five minutes than you have in the last few days is a good sign.”
Daniel gave her a tight smile and she watched as he settled under the blankets. The pale complexion had returned, but this time she was fairly certain it had nothing to do with low iron levels in his blood. She had seen him this withdrawn and disturbed once before, right after his wife had died. Something had happened on that planet and she was no longer sure that it was the ritual itself that had caused his odd behavior of late. No doubt it was related, but she found herself suddenly wondering at the reason for the gash on his arm.
“You got everything?” Jack asked, watching as Daniel took one last sweeping gaze of his office before nodding silently.
It had been two days since he had rejoined the land of the living. He still wasn’t talking much, but Jack was ok with that. Daniel was back; obviously upset over something they had yet to put a name to, but in one piece. He would take what he could get.
Since Daniel was able to pretty much take care of himself Janet had warily agreed to release him from the base. What she wanted was for him to spend some serious time on a couch at Mental Health, but Jack had argued strenuously against it. What Daniel needed was less stress, not more. Talking with military shrinks was not going to help him. If anything it would only add to his tension, playing on his fear that if he didn’t say or do the right things they would lock him up again. What he needed was a change of scenery and the freedom to deal with things however he wanted…within reason. What he also needed was a bit of love and affection to coax him out of his shell. As luck would have it, Jack could provide all of that and more. Of course, the last bullet point had been left off his official list to Frazier.
Jack ushered Daniel to the elevator and up to the surface, letting him carry his own overloaded backpack when he had refused Jack’s offer to carry it for him. Daniel was and always had been fiercely independent. It was one of the things Jack loved most about him, and one of the things that also never ceased to drive him batty. To say he was mule headed was putting it lightly. Daniel could take stubborn to new heights when it suited him. For that reason he had never been one for being babied. No matter how badly he was hurting “I can take care of myself” remained his personal mantra.
That wasn’t to say he wasn’t affectionate. Jack had been quite happy to find that Dr. Jackson was a closet cuddler. When he was able to let his guard down he was all for being held; snuggling up close even in his sleep. However, there was a big difference between affection and coddling. The quickest way to get on Daniel’s last nerve was to treat him like a helpless child. That left Jack walking a fine line during times like these. It was obvious Daniel was a bit on the fragile side at the moment. The trick was knowing just how much affection to give him without smothering him.
Letting Daniel settle himself in the truck Jack headed for home. One of the conditions of Daniel’s release was that he would have someone there to keep an eye on him. Going back to his apartment to rattle around by himself wasn’t an option. So for the next week or so he was going to be taking up residence in Jack’s house. Technically he was on medical leave until further notice, however, knowing how therapeutic work was to him, Janet had allowed him to bring home a few translations. Nothing too involved since he also needed sleep and food in equal doses.
Daniel had been sleeping very little since returning to the land of the fully functional and keeping food down was still touch and go. Janet had a feeling that his stomach issues were somehow tied to the trauma, since she could find nothing physically wrong with him, but at the same time she had no real proof. She was hoping it would correct itself once his memory returned. Jack was hoping it would correct itself long before then because Daniel was definitely getting thin.
Daniel walked toward the temple, curiosity niggling at him. The High Priest, Zarek, had extended an invitation for him to tour some of the more sacred parts of the building. He was excited, but the fact that he had been told earlier that doing so was impossible had him wondering what had changed the priest’s mind. The rest of his team being strictly forbidden to accompany him had made the invitation seem even more odd.
As had been the case in the past, the temple entrance was guarded by two very large, formidable looking men. Pound for pound they were probably as muscular as Teal’c, but several inches taller. They watched as he approached and without him needing to offer any explanation, stepped aside to let him enter.
Zarek greeted him eagerly and led him further into the dimly lit structure.
“You have expressed great interest in my people and their customs.” The man said as they walked the winding halls. “You treat us with respect and honor.” He added. “Not like others of your team.”
“You mean Jack? Oh, he’s just a bit wary of new things. He doesn’t mean any disrespect.”
“Still.” Zarek nodded, as if the single word was enough to explain his entire argument. “Come. I must show you something.”
As the final turn in the corridor led to a large room Zarek herded him to a wall covered entirely in hieroglyphs. They weren’t anything like the Egyptian writings he was used to. Peering at them curiously in the dim light they reminded him more of writings of the Olmec from South America…ancestors of the Maya.
“It draws near to the time of the blood moon.” Zarek explained, the phrase immediately snatching Daniel’s attention away from the hieroglyphs.
“Blood moon?” He echoed.
“The moon rises red as blood announcing the time of sacrifice.”
“We must give back to the gods as they so freely give to us.”
“May I ask exactly what is sacrificed?” He blinked, brows furrowed.
“A sacred offering. A small token of our gratitude for our existence.” Zarek replied with a wave of his hand. “It was written long ago,” he continued, directing Daniel’s attention back to the wall “that one day a stranger would come, one with knowledge of the ancient ways. He would purify the offering before the sacrifice and by so doing please the gods. As a reward they would bestow ten years of greater prosperity than the people have ever known.”
Daniel nodded, glancing from Zarek to the wall and back again.
“I believe you to be that stranger, Daniel Jackson.”
“You have the knowledge, yes?”
“Of the writings, yes, but I don’t have knowledge of your culture. Well, not specifically anyway.”
“You know of the rituals of our ancestors.” Zarek argued. “I have heard you speak of them.”
“Well, yes, of the Mayan people, but I’m sure a lot has changed in the thousands of years since then.”
“It is your ancient knowledge that will please the gods.” Zarek smiled. “Not knowledge of us as we are now.”
“What would I have to do?” He asked feeling distinctly uncomfortable, but not entirely sure why.
“You merely anoint and prepare the offering.” Zarek said simply.
“And exactly what is the offering?” He repeated his earlier question.
“Do not be afraid.” Zarek smiled. “It is merely a token gesture from our people. A representation of our gratitude for the prosperity we have received thus far.”
Daniel hesitated, eyes searching the writings on the wall for any clue about the specifics of the ceremony without really expecting to find anything. As was part of the Olmec tradition, instructions for rituals and ceremonies were kept in a sacred book that was seen only by the priest and his apprentice. Allowing it to be seen by the uninitiated was taboo.
“You will not be harmed, Daniel.” Zarek assured him. “I give you my word.”
Daniel woke with a start, heart pounding his chest. He woke that way most of the time lately and it was starting to wear on his nerves. He’d dreamed of Zarek again. That seemed to happen more often then not, too. Janet said he was probably trying to remember what had happened on the planet, but if the creepy, crawly feeling the dreams gave him were any indication of what was to come he wasn’t sure he really wanted to.
He remembered very little of what had happened on P3T16J other than what was in his dreams. For that reason he wasn’t sure how much of it was real and how much was a nightmare inspired by real events. All he knew for certain was what Jack, Sam, and Janet had told him. SG-1 had traveled to the planet, things had been going great for several days and then he’d turned up completely catatonic. He had no idea what had happened in between “great” and “catatonic”. Whatever it was it left him with a feeling of panic and a dread so dark it made him physically sick.
Pushing back the blanket he crawled out of bed, sparing a glance to the empty space next to him. It seemed that Jack was already awake.
As much as he hated the idea of having a babysitter he was actually enjoying having Jack around. Since he spent most of his time feeling as if he’d just been through an emotional typhoon he wasn’t really in the mood to be social. However he wasn’t exactly in the mood to be alone either. Thankfully Jack knew him well enough to be able to read his moods a vast majority of the time and could tell when he needed a shoulder to lean on. He could also tell when he simply needed to be left alone.
Daniel wasn’t exactly sure when Jack had become so well aware of what he needed. It was a level of understanding that still surprised him. In fact, the entire relationship still surprised him. He and Jack butted heads often and had since the beginning. They seemed to have a knack for getting on each other’s nerves. Still, somehow a friendship had grown out of that tension and out of that friendship an affection that seemed to defy all of their arguments, frustrations, and frequent differences of opinion. Deep down they both wanted the same things, they just came at them from completely different angles. Apparently it was the “deep down” part that mattered because after 5 years of disagreements here they were.
Daniel padded down the hall, following the smell of coffee to the kitchen. According to the display on the microwave it was just after 10:00. He hadn’t slept that late in ages, but then he hadn’t really slept that night so it was probably no wonder. He dozed in fits and starts, but the dreams woke him almost as soon as they started.
He pulled the half full pot of coffee from the coffeemaker and dumped the contents into the sink. Aged coffee was not one of his favorite things. He would put up with it on base if he had to, but when he had the luxury of making it himself he liked it freshly brewed. Grabbing a new filter and dumping the old one he set to work making a new pot.
“Well, well, if it isn’t Sleeping Beauty.” Jack teased, wandering into the kitchen as Daniel stood staring at the coffee pot, watching the dark liquid fill it inch by inch. “How’d you sleep?”
“Not great…and not much.” Daniel admitted.
“I noticed that.” Jack replied softly before leaning in and placing a kiss on his temple.
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to keep you up.”
“No apologies necessary.” Jack assured him. “Feeling any better?”
“I don’t know.” He shrugged. “Depends on the moment, I think.”
Jack nodded as he moved behind Daniel and wrapped his arms around him, his chin rested on Daniel’s shoulder.
“Hungry?” Jack asked.
“Not yet.” His stomach still churning from the remnants of the dream.
“Well, as long as you get plenty of coffee, I’m happy.” Jack replied. “I know how you get when your java levels are low.”
Daniel elbowed him gently in the ribs and managed something near to a smile.
“I’m going out for a ride.” Jack announced, letting go of him. “Want to come?”
Once upon a time Jack had been a moderate distance runner, getting in several miles a day. However, time had taken its toll on his knees so he was now strictly a cycle man.
“I don’t think I’m really up to that.” Daniel answered.
“No problem. I’ll be back in an hour or so.” Jack announced. “Try to eat something, ok?” he added before placing another kiss on the side of Daniel’s head and heading for the garage.
Daniel stood waiting patiently for the coffeemaker to finish before filling a mug, dumping a couple of teaspoons of sugar and a touch of milk into it and heading for the dinning room table and his backpack full of books. Maybe a few hours of translations would settle his stomach enough for lunch.
Daniel could hear the sound of the drums pulsing through the air. Night had finally fallen and the priest informed him that the time had come. As twilight had drawn closer Daniel had grown more and more uneasy. Zarek was hiding something. He was sure of it, but for the sake of building a relationship with the people he was going along with it until he found a reason not to; something Daniel fully expected to happen at some point.
The high priest was dressed in a robe and a feathered crown, his body and face painted in designs that strongly resembled some of the scenes on the walls. Daniel was allowed to stay in his “native clothing”, in other words, his fatigues. He washed his hands and arms in a large bowl of water, following Zarek’s movements. This, he supposed, was the purification part.
Once he was washed to the priest’s satisfaction he was led toward an open platform that was several feet above the ground, a well used altar settled in the center, far enough toward the edge that it could be seen by the crowd below. He stepped close enough to the edge to peer down at them briefly, but was distracted by a small procession of three children that joined them on the platform. The bare-chested boys were dressed identically in animal skin pants with elaborate designs painted in red and black on their faces, arms, and bellies.
One design in particular kept recurring over and over. It was a variation of the ancient Olmec symbol of sacrifice. Daniel stared at them for a long moment, visually inspecting the art. For a moment he thought that perhaps they had been painted with the symbol because they were part of the ceremony. Never mind the fact that neither he nor Zarek had it. Then he glanced at their faces. The dazed expression in their eyes made his blood run cold. They were hollow, almost as if in a drugged stupor. Daniel had studied enough of Olmec and Mayan traditions to understand exactly what that meant. It was suddenly obvious why Zarek had been so evasive. It was also obvious that backing out of his part in the ceremony wasn’t going to be nearly enough.
Daniel woke with his heart once again hammering away in his chest. Sitting bolt upright at the table he leapt to his feet, upsetting the chair in the process. With images he didn’t really understand tumbling in his head he stumbled down the hall to the bathroom, barely reaching the sink in time to retch noisily into it. Because there was nothing, but traces of morning coffee in his system there wasn’t a lot to throw up, however, that didn’t stop his stomach from trying.
Jack heard the racket in the dinning room a few seconds before he heard the racket in the bathroom and was up from his chair in the den in a heartbeat. He made it to the guest bathroom to find Daniel huddled over the sink, his body convulsing as he tried to rid himself of breakfast he had never eaten. Jack waited patiently until the heaving had turned to panting. Resting a hand lightly on Daniel’s back he handed him a cloth and let him wipe his face. When the panting turned almost immediately to gasped mewls of panic Jack added a light grip to Daniel’s unbandaged arm, just enough to ground him in reality without making him feel boxed in. He’d learned from experience that Panicked Daniel tended to come with a nasty case of claustrophobia and the last thing a person wanted was to add fuel to the fire when Daniel was already off balance. Otherwise that person could find themselves laid flat out on the floor before they realized the stupid thing they had just done. Yeah. He’d learned that the hard way.
“Easy, Daniel.” Jack soothed, giving him as much space as the minimal contact allowed. “It’s alright.”
Daniel’s head came up and met his gaze through the reflection in the mirror, eyes wild and desperate.
“It was just a dream.” Jack assured the reflection. “You’re home, remember?”
Daniel stared back at him for a long moment before finally nodding minutely, the panic sliding from him as his head sagged back toward the sink, the arms that braced him trembling along with most of the rest of him.
“Come here.” Jack gently tugged him away from the sink and wrapped his arms around him, Daniel gripping his shirt tightly, face buried in his shoulder.
“What’s happening to me, Jack?” Daniel’s muffled voice croaked.
“I don’t know, Daniel.” He admitted, a hand on the back of his head. “But we’ll figure it out.”
Jack stood for he had no idea how long gently rocking him while Daniel clung tightly to him like the only solid object in a hurricane.
“Maybe Frazier’s right.” Jack finally offered quietly. “Maybe you’re starting to remember.”
“Right now I’m really wishing I wouldn’t.” Daniel replied, lifting his head up far enough to rest his chin on Jack’s shoulder, eyes red and bleary.
“Can’t say that I blame you.” Jack sighed. “Considering what it did to you the first time, I think it’s safe to say whatever it was it wasn’t good.”
“I don’t want this, Jack.” He admitted quietly. “I don’t want to know this.”
“I can’t stop it.”
“What am I gonna do?” Daniel croaked.
“I guess you let it happen.” Jack said quietly. “It’s going to keep haunting you until you get it out, one way or another.”
“Yeah, well, it’s the getting it out part that’s scaring me.” He said with a chuckle that was entirely devoid of humor.
“You and me both.” Jack admitted. “I guess, like it or not we’re just going to have to ride it out.”
“I know.” Daniel mumbled, finally releasing his hold.
“You ok?” Jack asked quietly, inspecting his face, resisting the urge to wipe at the few tears that had escaped.
“No.” he admitted. “I think Zarek did something, Jack.”
“I kinda got that impression when I talked to him.” Jack admitted. “He was pretty cagy about the details.”
“I…I think he killed someone.” Daniel shuddered.
“I don’t…I’m not sure.”
Jack nodded silently, studying Daniel’s face, watching as he slowly folded back in on himself, arms wrapped around his chest, eyes on the counter.
“Why don’t we just leave it alone for now.” Jack suggested, giving his arm a gentle squeeze. “I think you’ve had enough trauma for one day. How about some completely mindless distraction?”
“Like?” Came the quiet reply.
“TV? Old movies? Popcorn?”
“No food.” Daniel said, his hand going to his apparently still disgruntled stomach.
“Ok, no food.”
Jack led him out of the bathroom and into the living room before curling up with him on the couch.
“We wish to see your High Priest.” Teal’c stated to the men guarding the temple, his expression dark and foreboding.
“He cannot be disturbed.” One of the guards replied, unimpressed.
“Tell him we need to see him…now.” Sam demanded. “It’s about Zarek.”
The two men glanced at each other. “You will remain here.” One of them stated while the other disappeared inside.
Sam and Teal’c waited impatiently for the second guard to return. The wait stretched out minute by minute until Sam was beginning to wonder if the guard had gone inside to warn him rather than bring him out. Finally, when she was about to suggest that they simply force their way inside, a man appeared, the second guard trailing behind. He was younger than Zarek, but far from a child. He also had yet to perfect the self-impressed sneer of his predecessor.
“You wish to speak to me of Zarek?” He asked.
“Are you the new High Priest?” Sam replied.
“Yes.” He nodded. “I am Arunda.”
“You will come with us.” Teal’c informed him.
“Where?” He asked, the previous priest’s bravado most obviously missing.
“To speak to our leader.” Sam explained. “We have questions about the ceremony that Zarek was unable to answer.”
“If Zarek had no answers then it is unlikely I will be of any assistance.” Arunda shrugged, turning back toward the temple.
“It wasn’t that he didn’t have the answers,” Sam clarified “just that he wouldn’t give them to us.”
“And what makes you think I would?” he asked curiously, turning back toward her. “I am bound by the same laws.”
“Because this time we’re not going to ask nicely.” Sam smiled.
With a nod to Teal’c she set in motion a plan they had hatched on the walk from the gate to the temple. Sam whipped the zat from its place on her thigh and sent Arunda and the guards tumbling into a heap of muscle and spears. Teal’c extricated the priest from the pile, hefted him over his shoulder and they headed back to the gate at a fast jog.
“You cannot keep me here.” Arunda yelled, arms at his sides and fists clenched tightly.
He had regained consciousness just before Teal’c had stepped through the gate, his protests cut short by the sudden change of scenery when the landscape of the planet dissolved into the gray walls of the SGC. However, the shock had been short lived. They had immediately ushered him into a holding cell where he had been pacing and fuming ever since.
“I assure you, we can.” Hammond replied calmly where he stood in the open doorway of the heavily guarded room. “We have questions. You have the answers and you will remain here in this room until you decide to cooperate.”
“I will tell you nothing.”
“Then you had better get comfortable.” Hammond turned on his heel fully prepared to march back out of the room.
“Wait.” Arunda grunted. “If I tell you what you wish to know, you will take me back?”
“You have my word.”
“And you will make no mention of this to my people?”
“Agreed.” Hammond nodded.
Arunda chewed on his lip as he cast random glances around the room, apparently weighing his options. Then with a heavy sigh that seemed to deflate him, he nodded agreement. “What do you wish to know?” he asked, looking suddenly weary.
“You have to stop this.” Daniel demanded, face worked into a scowl.
“We have no reason to stop.” Zarek replied calmly. “The moon is high. Night has fallen. The sacrifice is ready.”
“I won’t do it.” Daniel stated.
“I’m afraid you have no choice.” Zarek informed him.
“You have come to our village…just as the prophecy foretold. You will bring great blessings upon our people. You cannot refuse. It is written.”
“I don’t care. You should have told me the truth, Zarek. You lied to me to get me to agree.”
“I may have withheld sacred details, but it was for your own good.”
“You will not dishonor me this way.” Zarek growled, the calm demeanor vanishing in an instant. Grabbing Daniel’s shirt he brought his painted face to within mere inches of Daniel’s nose. “You will complete the sacrifice or you and your friends will not leave this place alive.”
“I wouldn’t count on that.” Daniel replied, glaring back at the priest.
“If you do not perform your part of the ritual I will be forced to perform one of my own.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Your friends are being held as prisoners in their hut.” Zarek explained, letting go of Daniel’s shirt and regaining his composure. “If you do not follow through with your promise to participate in the ritual then I will have no choice, but to sacrifice them to the gods.”
“You choose, Daniel Jackson.” Zarek said. “Refuse to perform the ritual and you anger the gods. Therefore your friends must be sacrificed as penance.”
“Look, there has to be another way.”
“There is not.” The priest said simply. “I will not allow you to darken the fate of my people. The sacrifice will continue as planned. You will now have the honor of choosing who that sacrifice will be.”
Daniel’s mind was spinning. There had to be a way out. There was always a way out. Maybe Zarek was bluffing. Maybe the rest of his team wasn’t really being held prisoner. The question was could he gamble with their lives like that? He already knew the answer. There was only one life that he had the right to bargain with.
“Use me instead.” Daniel blurted before he had a chance to change his mind. It was the only way.
Zarek stared back at him, a puzzled expression crossing his face.
“You would put yourself on the altar?”
“Why not? You said I would bring the favor of the gods, right? Well then sacrifice me.”
“You would not be enough.” Zarek replied. “The sacrifice must be a triune.”
“The blood of the favored one, a prophecy foretold generations ago, is not enough?”
“You are not the sacrifice, Daniel. You are merely the one that performs it.”
“You want me to…” Daniel gaped, the final piece of the puzzle blatantly slapped down on the table.
“Yes.” Zarek stated. “You perform the sacrifice of our chosen offering or I will kill your friends.”
Zarek’s apprentice, a man named Arunda ushered the dazed and lethargic children toward the altar and Daniel knew his time was up. Contrary to Hollywood’s portrayals, sacrificial victims were not led kicking and screaming to the altar. A drugged and compliant victim was much easier to handle and detracted much less from the grandiose spectacle of the ceremony. Daniel knew that if he tried to make a run for it there would be no way to convince the children to follow him. They were barely aware of his presence let alone having any comprehension that their lives were about to be taken.
Zarek pressed a knife into Daniel’s hand, the black obsidian blade gleaming in the moonlight. Staring down at it Daniel realized he was backed into a corner with no way out. He couldn’t risk the lives of his team. He wouldn’t take the lives of the children. Killing himself would only ensure that there was no one left to stop Zarek. That left one option. He had to kill Zarek. Daniel gripped the knife tightly, turned and lunged at the priest, narrowly missing his neck. From somewhere in his robes Zarek produced another knife and swung back at Daniel in return, cutting a deep gash the length of his forearm. The strike caused him to drop his knife leaving him unarmed before a panting and seething priest.
“On your knees.” Zarek growled with a glare that rivaled Teal’c’s most menacing expression.
Not at all sure what the man had in mind, Daniel reluctantly dropped to his knees, Zarek grabbing him by the hair and yanking his head back in order to more effectively glower down at him.
“Bring them.” Zarek insisted, his eyes on Daniel, but his command meant for someone else.
Seconds later one of the boys materialized in front of them, ushered gently by Arunda. Zarek let go of Daniel’s hair and once again pressed a knife into his hand, clamping his own hand over it.
“Hold him.” Zarek growled to Arunda who immediately gripped Daniel by the shoulders, restraining his movement.
Daniel knew all about obsidian blades. They were sharper than a scalpel and able to hack clear through bone with little effort. One swipe at the boy’s unsuspecting neck and it would be over. Because he was already drugged there would be no need to hold him still. By the time he reacted to the gash it would be too late. Staring into the dazed face of a boy that looked like the dozens he had played with in the sands of Abydos Daniel struggled in the combined grip of the priests, leaning back as far as he could, hoping to tear himself lose before Zarek had a chance to force him to swing the blade. He was screaming at the top of his lungs, but he had no idea whether or not he was actually making any sound.
He couldn’t do this.
It wasn’t real.
This wasn’t real!
Jack heard the sound echoing through the house, shattering the silence and instantly he was moving.
Daniel had a dozen different ways of saying his name, each of them capable of communicating an entire concept with only a single word. This one said he was in big trouble and if he didn’t get some help on the double he was going to be the former Doctor Daniel Jackson. Odd that that particular tone should be coming from the peaceful confines of the bedroom.
Jack came barreling down the hall and hurled himself into the bedroom ready to tear someone or something limb from limb. However, at first glance it looked like the job had already been done. The bed had apparently done battle with something and lost, the comforter hurled against the far wall, lying in a heap. The sheets had been torn off the mattress and were pooled on the carpet. The mattress itself had been jolted slightly off the box springs underneath and he had no idea where the pillows had gone.
Daniel was standing with his back pressed to the closet doors, thankfully in one piece, but his eyes were wild and filled with what could only be classified as abject terror.
“Daniel?” Jack said quietly, attempting to catch his breath and realizing that he had probably just walked in on the mother of all night terrors.
He’d seen Daniel freaked out in a lot of different ways over the years, but the current expression on his face was beyond words. He was shaking from head to toe, his breath coming in short gasps, and his hands held out in front of him as if he were waiting for someone to slap on the cuffs.
“Jack. What did I do?” He gaped.
“What did I do?!” Daniel repeated, tears pooling in his eyes as he thrust his hands a few inches closer to Jack, palms up.
“I don’t…” Jack shook his head.
“The blood, Jack.” Daniel managed to sound exasperated as well as scared out of his mind, a combination he doubted anyone else in the world could have come up with. “It’s everywhere…” he croaked. “What did I do?”
“Daniel, look at me.” Jack requested calmly even as his skin began to crawl. “There’s no blood.”
“There’s no blood. Not on the bed and not on you.”
Jack just shook his head, determinedly trying to hold Daniel’s gaze long enough for the concept to register. He knew Daniel. Once it sunk in he would start questioning things and pretty soon the panic would give way to a rational, logical, chain of thought. It took several long moments, but finally the haunted look gave way to confusion, Daniel’s face wrinkling into an expression that said something in his mind clearly did not make sense. Jack took that as his queue. Very calmly he crossed to the dresser, stepping over the puddle of sheets, and pulled out a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, making a pointed effort not to slam the drawers shut. He was determined to be calm, cool, and collected on the outside despite the tirade that was raging inside.
“Daniel?” he said very quietly, crossing the room back to where the bewildered man still stood. “I need you to put these on, alright?” Damn it to hell’s basement! “We’re going to take a drive.”
“Yep.” This is NOT happening again!
“Where are we going?” Daniel asked inspecting the shirt.
Good. Inspecting was good. It meant Daniel was thinking. That was a good sign.
“We are going to see Frazier.” If I see so much as a memo with McKenzie’s name on it…damn it! This is not happening!
“Why? You said there isn’t any blood.” Daniel accused, his head coming up, the panic threatening to reassert itself.
Even half out of it Daniel was still a bit too clever for B.S. answers. He might have been coming unhinged, but he wasn’t a fool.
“There isn’t,” Jack assured him “but you have an appointment to get your arm checked out this morning. Remember?” It was a bald faced lie, but he was counting on Daniel’s confusion of late to provide enough cover to sneak it through. There is no way McKenzie is going to be kept out of the loop on this one. Frazier’s gonna have to tell him.
“Oh…my, uh, arm.” Daniel nodded, scowling down at the skin now void of stitches. “Right.”
“She wants to make sure it’s healing alright.” He lied casually. “Just a routine check up.” I’ll take one look at that smug little runt and this time I’ll come right across the table at him. Oh, there is SO going to be a court-martial in my future.
Jack left Daniel to get dressed and snuck out to the kitchen to call Frazier and warn her that they were coming in. He also took the opportunity to make it perfectly clear that no matter how things turned out they were not…absolutely N.O.T…going to be checking him into a room at the nuthouse.
Trying to act casual while strangling the steering wheel of the truck as he drove was not a very convincing act and the further away Daniel got from the dream the more lucid he became.
“Jack,” he finally asked quietly when they were half way to the base “what’s going on?”
“And that’s why you’re grinding your teeth and, um, choking the life out of the steering wheel?” he said, waggling his finger toward Jack’s fists.
“A little obvious?”
“I just want to have Frazier check you out.” Jack sighed.
“It was just a dream.”
“A dream that had you in an all out panic, convinced you were covered in blood.” Jack replied. “Even I have to admit that’s not a good sign.”
“They’ll call McKenzie.” Daniel swallowed.
“No.” Jack replied instantly. “Not this time. We’re going to figure this out, but not with you in a padded cell.”
“You can’t stop them.”
“Daniel. Just let me worry about it, ok?” Jack reached over and gently squeezed the back of his neck. “Maybe anti-depressants. Maybe something to help you sleep at night, but there is no padded cell in your future.”
Daniel nodded before turning his head to stare out the side window. Jack could tell by the way his shoulders sagged that he wasn’t convinced.
Daniel was tucked away in the infirmary with a near blood oath from Frazier that she wouldn’t so much as give him a band-aid without telling Jack about it first and they most definitely wouldn’t be spiriting him away to Mental Health while the Colonel was otherwise occupied. Jack fully intended to hold her to it. In the meantime Jack was settled in the conference room, staring down Zarek’s replacement, his jaw clenched and his hands balled into fists on the table. Hammond had let him sit in on the interrogation as long as he promised to keep his hands to himself and his temper reigned in. It was a lot to ask, but he was willing to give it a try if it would give them better results than they’d had with Zarek. So far Jack wasn’t overly impressed.
"It was the time of the Blood Moon and the gods required a sacrifice.” Arunda explained, diving into the same song and dance that had set Jack’s blood boiling the first time. “It is a ritual that has allowed our people to survive for generations. We find favor in their eyes and they grant us prosperity." He said eagerly.
"If I’m not mistaken we already heard that from your predecessor.” Hammond replied from his place at the head of the table. “It’s what happened during the sacrifice that we’re interested in.”
"If we do not willingly make the sacrifice the gods will take whomever they choose.”
“So this is a blood sacrifice. Someone is killed.” Hammond surmised.
"Yes.” Arunda nodded.
“And you offered up Daniel.” Jack stated.
"No.” The man protested anxiously. “You have seen for yourself. He still lives. He was merely an instrument used to deliver the sacrifice."
"Then who was the sacrifice?" Hammond asked.
"And that would be?" Jack sighed impatiently.
"Those who are pure of heart. They are blessed with the honor of saving their people with their life's blood." Arunda explained. "Daniel understood this. He knew the great importance of what we asked.”
“Zarek said he backed out.” Jack replied.
“He…he was reluctant after the purification.” Arunda admitted, hands anxiously clasped together in his lap. “But once the purification is completed the ritual cannot be stopped.”
“Oh for cryin’ out loud.” Jack groused in frustration.
“What is the ritual?” Hammond asked. “I need to know what was done to Doctor Jackson.”
"But the ritual did not do this." Arunda insisted.
“So you keep saying.” Hammond replied.
“He was fine before the ritual. He’s been a mess since it happened.” Jack snapped. “Explain that.”
“If he wasn’t the sacrifice then what was?” Jack demanded.
“I think I can answer that, Sir.” A voice replied from the back of the conference room.
Hands clasped in front of her Janet approached the table.
“Daniel’s starting to remember.” She said with a sad smile. “He didn’t go into much detail, but he told me as much as he could. The, um, sacrifice they have been talking about was a…child. A small boy.”
“What?!” Jack gaped.
“Actually he said it was three, but he only remembered the first one.” She clarified.
“Oh god.” Sam whispered.
“He’s sure?” Hammond asked.
“Yes, Sir.” Janet nodded. “He didn’t know exactly what the ritual was until they were half way through it. When he tried to back out apparently Zarek told him that it was either the children or the other members of SG-1. He had to choose the victims. Daniel tried to stop him. That’s how he got the gash in his wrist, Sir.” She added. “He, um, says he lost consciousness. My guess is from a combination of blood loss and shock. It explains his anemia.
“It also explains his behavior when he returned to base. I’m not sure how much he was involved, but it’s clear he was forced to do something against his will.” She paused to clear the lump in her throat. “He doesn’t really remember anything after that.”
Silence hung in the air with a nearly tangible weight. Sam sat glancing from Hammond to Arunda and back again. Hammond was rubbing at his forehead. Jack was angry enough to do something he would definitely regret, jaw set and a glower on his face that could melt steel. For his part Arunda had the decency to look distinctly uncomfortable.
“Sir, with your permission I’d like to get back…”
“Dismissed.” He nodded.
“You.” Jack snarled. “You did this. You stood there and watched while Zarek…”
“Colonel.” Hammond interrupted.
“I outta break your neck.”
“Dr. Frazier, why don’t you take Colonel O’Neill with you.” Hammond suggested. “I think he needs to clear his head.”
“General Hammond…” Jack protested getting up from his chair, fists grinding into the tabletop.”
“I can make it an order, Colonel.” Hammond said gently.
With one last snort in Arunda’s direction Jack stormed away from the table and bounded down the stairs. To her credit, Frazier followed him, but obviously knew better than to even attempt talking him down from his frenzy. She waited until he made a turn toward the infirmary before interrupting his thoughts.
“He’s in his office.” She said.
“Daniel. He’s in his office.”
“Right. Thanks.” He offered before heading to the elevators, his thoughts taking a new turn at the same time.
Daniel. Suddenly the nightmares and withdrawn attitude made perfect sense. Daniel wasn’t weak by any means, but everyone had their limits and human sacrifice was way beyond Daniel’s. Human sacrifice of children was well beyond the limits of everyone Jack had ever known. He couldn’t begin to imagine the horror Daniel must have felt when he realized what had happened; what Zarek had made him do.
Jack strode down the hall with a new sense of urgency, one that had nothing to do with wanting to pulverize someone. He was a little surprised that Frazier had released him, but at the same time he understood. Daniel most likely wanted to be alone with his new found memories and sort everything out without prying eyes and sympathetic looks. This was one of those moments when coddling Daniel would send him right through the roof. Not because he was stubborn, but because he didn’t feel he deserved it. In his mind compassion was for people that weren’t guilty of terrible things. Never mind that he, himself, doled it out to the guilty by the bucket. Every little act of kindness would piss him off, which would wind him up even more. Then he’d get angry with himself all over again for being mad that people were trying to help him. It was a vicious cycle.
Jack stepped through the always open door of the dimly lit room and found Daniel huddled over his desk doing his best imitation of a busy archaeologist at work. Jack knew the routine. It was the one Daniel used right before deciding that the base was too crowded, packing up his things, and heading home…usually without telling anyone he was leaving. That would be followed by him not answering his home phone, turning off his cell phone and pretending he was somewhere other than Colorado Springs. It was typically about that time that Hurting Daniel gave way to Pissy Daniel, at which point there was nothing left to do, but let him rant until he got it whatever it was out of his system.
Jack had fully intended to step through the door with something to say, but standing on the far side of the work table he realized he had no idea where to start. “Are you ok?” was a lovely sentiment, but a very dumb question given the circumstances. Launching into a speech about how he’s not guilty of anything wouldn’t work either. Daniel had to come to that conclusion on his own. Hands in his pockets, Jack rocked back and forth on his heels fully aware that Daniel knew he was there. Maybe the best idea was just to wait. He could do companionable silence…at least for a few minutes…until it got boring. Of course, both of them sitting there waiting for the other one to kick things off was going to make for a very long afternoon.
“Talked to Frazier.” Jack finally stated.
“Figured.” Daniel mumbled.
“Arunda finally admitted what happened.”
Daniel shuddered at the name.
“So I guess the mystery is solved.” Jack said quietly.
Ok, this was getting nowhere. If the tap dancing wasn’t working then he was going to try a frontal attack and see where that got him.
“Look, Daniel…” Jack began, striding closer to the desk.
Daniel’s head came up with an expression that said Pissy Daniel was already present and accounted for so he had better watch his step. It was a warning, but not much of a threat. Even when he fought, Daniel fought fair. He pulled far more punches than he actually landed. He knew enough about Jack’s soft underbelly to rip him to pieces with a few well placed words and never even break a sweat. But he never did. Jack wished he possessed the same restraint because he seemed to hit the mark far too often. This, he swore to himself, was not going to be one of those times.
“You didn’t do anything wrong.” Jack informed him, leaning across the table to give Daniel a good, hard stare.
Daniel’s face folded into a scowl, jaw clenched as he stared back and then to Jack’s complete surprise, he dropped his gaze to the table and pushed back in his chair. The arms that immediately wrapped around Daniel’s body told him he had been bluffing. He wasn’t really in the mood for a good fight. Jack wandered his way around the table and came to rest behind Daniel’s chair, giving his shoulders a reassuring squeeze.
“It wasn’t your fault.” He said quietly, leaning down to Daniel’s level, Jack’s chin hovering over his shoulder. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”
“It doesn’t feel that way.” Daniel replied.
“I know. Give it time.” Jack assured him. “It will.”
Daniel nodded unconvincingly.
“Come on.” Jack said, straightening up and patting his arm. “Let’s go home.”
|Genres:||Drama, Established Relationship, Hurt/Comfort|
|Summary:||The team stumbles onto an ancient South American civilization now living half a universe from Earth. However, what starts out as a pleasant encounter takes a turn for the worst when Daniel is forced to participate in a ghastly ritual.|
Warning: This story contains implied violence toward children. If the mere thought of such a thing turns your stomach I would suggest you skip this story.
Author’s note: Much thanks to Taj for the beta help!
For more stories visit: www.pantherslair.webs.com
Author’s note: Much thanks to Taj for the beta help!
For more stories visit: www.pantherslair.webs.com