New Arrivals
Author-Gadfly
Titles

Breathing Space
by Gadfly

Summary:  Jim really needs time to come to terms with everything that has happened. Part of A New Direction series; continues on from Out Of the Frying Pan; crossover with Stargate SG-1.

Author’s Note: Un-beta’d as usual.

Disclaimer: Jim, Blair, Simon, et al, and The Sentinel belong to Pet Fly, UPN, and Paramount. Jack and the gang belong to MGM, and the other Stargate Powers That Be. No copyright infringement is intended.

Major General George Hammond gritted his teeth in frustration as he read over the report the officers he’d assigned to look into the abduction and subsequent rescue of Colonel Elliuson and Doctor Sandburg. As usual, the NID had publicly disavowed knowledge of the actions of the agents responsible, claiming that they were rogues, acting without the agency’s authorisation. Unfortunately, the survivors were supporting the story.

Naomi Sandburg had been very cooperative, trying to make up to her son for her part in the debacle, no doubt, but all she really could tell them was that she’d been contacted by someone that she knew only as ‘Frank’, and the description she’d provided was unfortunately vague..

While Hammond suspected that this ‘Frank’ must be someone fairly highly placed within the NID, his chances of finding out more were slim to none. If nothing else, the shadowy organisation was highly skilled at avoiding being held responsible for its failed operations.

The best they could hope for was that the NID would crawl back under their rock and leave Ellison and Sandburg alone, for the time being, at least for the foreseeable future.

A knock at his office door interrupted his thoughts.

“Come in, Doctor Sandburg,” the General slid the file back into his in tray and smiled in greeting as Blair walked into his office. “I understand that you wanted to see me?”

“Yes, Sir,” Blair nodded as he came to a stop in front of the General’s desk. He’d just returned to the Mountain after taking Naomi to the airport. His mother was going off to some retreat or other to process everything that had happened and try to come to terms with her part in it. She’d asked, rather anxiously, if she could visit with Jim and Blair when she’d finished. Blair had hugged her and told her that she would always be welcome, in both their homes, and that Jim had told him specifically to make sure that she knew that.

“Please, take a seat, Doctor,” Hammond gestured to the chairs next to Blair.

“Thank you, General.”

“How is Colonel Ellison this morning?”

Jim had been in the Infirmary for the past couple of days while Doctor Fraiser reassured herself that he hadn’t suffered any lingering ill effects either from his treatment at the hands of the NID or the fire.

“Getting pretty desperate to escape Doctor Fraiser’s clutches, actually,” Blair grinned, and the General chuckled in response.

“So, what can I do for you today, Doctor Sandburg?”

“I was wondering if it would be possible for Jim and I to take some leave, Sir. I know that we just kind of had some, but that didn’t exactly turn out all that well, and Jim still needs time to get his head around what happened with Hal’ruut,” Blair said, his expression serious.

“I see. I will, of course, amend your records to credit you the leave that you were supposed to have when the NID interfered,” Hammond assured Blair with a smile. “I see no reason why you and the Colonel can’t try again.”

“Thank you, Sir,” Blair nodded, then took a deep breath. “Ah, I was also wondering if it would be possible for us to spend our leave offworld, Sir?”

“That’s a little unusual, Doctor Sandburg. Where exactly did you have in mind?” Hammond frowned slightly.

“I was thinking of P4Y-479, Sir. The Inchac’s planet. Given what happened with the NID in Cascade, I think I’d feel better if I could take Jim somewhere where the NID can’t get to him, and I know that Jim enjoyed the time we spent with the tribe on our last visit. Ideally, I would have liked to take him to Peru, to visit the Chopec, but it’s a somewhat unstable region politically, and it’s not as if he could tell them what happened to him, unlike he would with the Inchac,” Blair explained his choice of holiday destination succinctly.

Hammond considered Blair’s request in silence for a moment. “Very well, Doctor Sandburg. I believe that we can accommodate your request. When were you intending to leave?”

“Thank you so much, General Hammond,” Blair’s smile was blinding. “I was hoping we could go today. Jim will be released from the Infirmary in about an hour, and I’ve already got all our gear packed and stored in my office.”

“You seem very sure that I would agree, Doctor,” Hammond raised an eyebrow at Blair’s response.

“No, Sir, I just wanted to be ready if you did say yes.”

Hammond laughed at the innocent expression on Blair’s face. “You leave in ninety minutes, Doctor Sandburg. I can give you and Colonel Ellison until SG-1 accompanies the first mining team to the planet in eleven days. Is that sufficient time?”

“I hope so, Sir. Thank you.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jim had been more than a little surprised when Blair informed him that they would once again be taking leave, and that they were headed for P4Y-479.

“How on Earth did you swing that with the General, Chief?”

“I just pointed out that we hadn’t really had any leave to speak of thanks to the NID, and that it was doubtful if the NID had any agents on P4Y-479 to harass us,” Blair grinned as he handed Jim his pack and picked up his own.

The rest of SG-1 was waiting to see them off when they reached the gate room.

After much teasing from O’Neill, Blair and Jim headed up the ramp once the gate had been activated, stopping briefly to wave to the others before stepping into the wormhole.

Once on the planet, they dropped their packs on the platform and sat down on the steps to wait, knowing that the Inchac kept a watch on the gate, and that the tribe would be notified of their arrival.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Pinachu studied both men silently as he and the greeting party approached the gate platform where Blair and Jim sat waiting for them. He was more than a little surprised to note the unmistakable signs of stress and pain, and the fact that the Sentinel appeared somewhat gaunt. Even injured as he had been last time he had come to the planet, the Sentinel had still exuded an aura of power and confidence. Both were missing now, and he seemed tired and unsure of himself. Pinachu could only wonder at the cause.

Blair and Jim stood and came down the steps as the Inchac approached.

“What do you seek here, Sentinel and Shaman Guide of the Tau’ri?” Pinachu asked formally.

“We seek Sanctuary,” Blair replied for both of them, as Jim had instructed him he should when he’d told him the correct words to use before they’d left Earth. “A place of safety, and the time to heal.”

As custom required, both men bowed deeply to the Shaman after Blair had spoken, and missed seeing Pinachu’s eyes widen in shocked horror when he saw the jagged scar on the back of Jim’s neck.

“Sanctuary is granted,” Pinachu completed the ritual with a sad smile as he began to understand what must have happened to the tall Sentinel since last he had been on the Inchac’s planet. “Come, friends. You are welcome at my fire.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The long walk to the village was, for the most part, silent. Jim was withdrawn and quiet, and neither Blair nor the Inchac seemed inclined to engage in the banter of their last visit.

Arriving at the village in the early hours of the evening, they paid their respects to the Chief and the Council before following Pinachu to his hut.

While Jim sat staring into the fire, Blair assisted Pinachu with the preparation of their evening meal. Not wanting their presence to be a hardship to the tribe, Blair had stocked both of their packs with meat in small coolers, as well as vegetables, fruit, coffee, long-life milk in small individually sized containers, raw sugar, and spices, all of which he had handed over to the Shaman after they’d unpacked and stowed their gear in Pinachu’s hut.

Pinachu and Blair talked quietly as they ate, but Jim ate his meal in silence. As he put the plate down, an unmistakable lethargy began to overtake him. “Not again!” he glared irritably at the Shaman who had once again drugged his food. Why did he always forget how sneaky a Shaman could be?

Blair and Pinachu carefully eased Jim down onto the sleeping furs, and covered him with several more, gently tucking them around the lax body to ensure that he would stay warm.

“Now, young Shaman, you will tell me how exactly how your Chief came to be so careless as to allow Enqueri to be taken by the Glow Eyes, and also how you managed to free him.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In the days that followed, Pinachu spent many hours talking with Jim about what had happened. The Sentinel had been hesitant at first, but soon found himself relating every detail of his time as host to Hal’ruut to the older man. Pinachu had, for the most part, listened in silence, knowing that Jim’s most pressing need was to speak of what he had been through.

Blair, meanwhile, spent the time getting to know the members of the tribe, studying their customs, and writing down their stories. He was still very worried about Jim, but with every day that passed, he could see his Sentinel coming back to himself little by little.

As he pondered the changes in Jim, Blair decided that one of the major turning points had been three days after their arrival, when Pinachu had come to them and told them that it was the wish of the Chief and the Council that they be initiated into the tribe, if they so desired.

Blair had immediately accepted the offer, honoured that the Inchac Council deemed them worthy of membership in the tribe. Jim had been more hesitant about accepting, but had eventually agreed. Both Pinachu and Blair had understood that his reluctance stemmed mainly from the fact that he did not consider himself worthy of the honour, but neither brought the subject up.

In accordance with the tribal customs, both men had spent the day in quiet meditation in Pinachu’s hut, emerging at sunset to go to the nearby river to bathe and change into the clothing that Pinachu had given them when he had outlined for them what would happen during the ceremony.

The ceremony itself had been simple, yet moving, and it had been obvious to everyone that Jim had been a little overwhelmed by the Inchac’s eager acceptance of him as a member of their family, their tribe. Blair had also received an Inchac name – Pechu – during the ceremony, while Jim had retained Enqueri, the name given to him by the Chopec.

Jim still had a long way to go, but Blair was finally certain that he would make it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

By the time they were about halfway through their stay, Jim had relaxed enough to play games with the children, and to accompany the warriors when they went hunting for game to feed the tribe. Although his sleep was still plagued by nightmares.

The other warriors were generous in their praise of Jim’s deadly accuracy with both crossbow and spear, and even set up several good-humoured competitions between Jim and themselves. Jim always won, but the warriors seemed unperturbed. Many of them had recognised that the tall Tau’ri was a Sentinel, although they never spoke of it, even amongst themselves. Now that Enqueri was a member of their tribe, they would die rather than betray his secret.

Sanhaca, the young boy who Pinachu had identified to Blair on their previous visit as a potential Watcher, seemed to naturally gravitate to Jim’s side; another sign, as Pinachu told Blair, that the boy would indeed grow up to be a Watcher, or, more probably, a Sentinel, since his other senses had also begun to show signs of being enhanced. Jim had indicated that, under the circumstances, he had no issue with Sanhaca knowing that he was a Sentinel, and he had also confirmed that the boy was indeed a budding Sentinel, explaining to Blair that he could ‘feel’ Sanhaca’s presence, similar to what he’d experienced with Alex Barnes, but with none of the foreboding that he’d felt when the female Sentinel had been around. Pinachu was well pleased – it was right and natural that Enqueri, as the senior Sentinel, would undertake to mentor the youngster.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Enqueri, your spirit still seems troubled,” Pinachi said as the two men took what had become their customary walk through the jungle surrounding the village each afternoon.

Jim sighed heavily before responding.

“I just can’t get past what I was forced to witness, and to do, when the Glow Eyes took control of my body. I wasn’t strong enough to stop him. I failed to protect the tribe. People continue to place their trust in me, and they shouldn’t, not when I don’t trust myself!”

“You must move on, Enqueri, lest the memories destroy you and give the Glow Eyes victory after all,” Pinachu told him gently.

“I know, but I can’t!” Jim said, his expression full of anguish. “I don’t know how!”

“Perhaps there is a way…”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“A cleansing ritual?”

“Yeah. Tomorrow night. Pinachu seems to think that it will help me put everything behind me and move on,” Jim shrugged self consciously.

“I think he’s right, man,” Blair said sincerely. “At the very least, it couldn’t hurt.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In preparation for the ceremony, Blair and Pinachu took Jim to the river, where he bathed using a lightly scented soap made from the herbs traditionally used for ritual cleansing, then dressed in a loin cloth that had been bleached again and again until it was nearly white.

The two Shamen then escorted him back to the centre of the village, to a circle of stones where he knelt on a large flat rock, padded for comfort with a thick, soft layer aromatic leaves and grasses. A small fire burned several feet away from the rock, warming a large pot of water which had also been scented with the cleansing herbs.

Chanting softly, Pinachu anointed Jim’s forehead and chest with oil before using a strip of leather, which had been dyed black, to bind the Sentinel’s hands firmly behind his back. As required, Jim remained silent throughout, with his gaze fixed on the ground before him.

“Our brother Enqueri’s soul carries a heavy load,” Pinachu addressed the gathered tribe members. “He is burdened by guilt and anguish over actions taken and not taken while his body was controlled by the Glow Eyes. He asks our help in cleansing his spirit of the darkness that binds it. Who will be the first to step forward and aid our brother in his time of need?”

“I will,” Michanka, the Chief, stepped into the circle. He dipped a ladle into the water before raising it over Jim and allowing the water to trickle down over his head and shoulders while speaking softly to him. “Forgive yourself, Enqueri-brother, release your anger and be cleansed of your pain.”

Replacing the ladle in the pot, the Chief placed his hand briefly on Jim’s shoulder in support before returning to his place in the crowd.

One by one, each adult member of the tribe took turns in approaching Jim, symbolically washing his guilt and pain away with the water as they spoke the words of the ritual. “Forgive yourself, Enqueri-brother, release your anger and be cleansed of your pain.” Each of them also touched him lightly on the shoulder or the side of his face before resuming their place and allowing the next participant to come forward. Blair was the last to step forward before Pinachu returned to the circle.

The Shaman’s actions and words mirrored those who had come before him, but he did not step back out of the circle once he had finished.

“The black jaguar has defeated the snake, with the help of the silver wolf and others. Trust yourself, as we and all who call you brother and friend trust you, Enqueri. There is no shame in being overwhelmed by a far more powerful enemy. There is no guilt in being forced to see or even do abhorrent things by an enemy who has taken physical control of your body. As a warrior, you know this to be true. Learn from your suffering, Warrior-brother, and use what you have learnt to protect the tribe. Change what you are able to for good, accept that you cannot change everything, take counsel and solace from your friends and family to assist you in recognising those times when you can and cannot make those changes.”

Almost despite himself, Jim acknowledged that the Shaman was correct. The tight knot of guilt, anger, and pain in his chest loosened as he allowed himself to begin to believe that he could move past what had happened.

“Be free, Enqueri!” Pinachu declared as he used a razor sharp knife to cut the leather that bound Jim’s wrists and drew him off the rock and onto his feet.

Two of the tribe’s senior warriors came forward and began to paint Jim’s face, torso, and arms with symbols of strength and power, using a white paint that was reserved specifically for ceremonial purposes such as the cleansing ceremony.

When the warriors were finished, Blair and Pinachu led Jim from the circle of stones over to where half a dozen small fires had been lit and had him sit cross-legged on several furs. Both Shamen then sat, taking positions flanking Jim.

As the tribe gathered in a loose circle around the three men, one of the infants – the younger sister of the two children that Jim and the others had helped to rescue during their last visit – broke free from her mother’s hold, and ran over to Jim, climbing unhesitatingly into his lap and reaching up to gently stroke his cheek before snuggling down and falling asleep almost immediately. Jim had initially flinched at the child’s touch, but soon found himself staring in wide-eyed wonder at the trust the little girl had gifted him with. Without quite understanding how it had happened, he suddenly found himself in tears; deep, racking sobs shaking his body as he cradled the child gently in his arms. Pinachu smiled at the sleeping child in silent approval as he and Blair moved to comfort Jim.

The tears finally subsided, but the emotional catharsis had left Jim exhausted. At Pinachu’s urging, he drank a cup of juice lightly laced with the sleeping powder and lay down on the furs, his head cushioned on Blair’s thigh.

“The watch is mine, Sentinel,” Sanhaca murmured sentinel-soft and knelt beside his mentor in silent vigil.

The little girl, Melarnica, stirred briefly and sleepily repositioned herself until she lay contentedly on Jim’s chest.

“Sleep now, Enqueri. Know that the tribe will guard your rest,” Pinachu murmured as he drew a fur up to cover the drowsy man and the sleeping infant.

The rest of the tribe knelt or sat after building up the fires to ward off the slight chill of the night, keeping watch over their brother. No words were needed, and the silence was peaceful rather than awkward or oppressive.

Shortly before dawn, Pinachu stood and once again addressed the tribe.

“It is done! Our brother Enqueri’s spirit has been freed of the darkness.”

A soft murmur of satisfaction passed through the tribe members. Malkarei retrieved her daughter while several warriors picked Jim up, furs and all, and carried him carefully to Pinachu’s hut.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Later in the morning, Jim awoke refreshed, truly at peace with himself for perhaps the first time in his life. Seeing that Pinachu and Blair were still sleeping, he quietly set the kettle over the small fire and went about preparing breakfast.

After eating breakfast, and lingering indulgently over a cup of coffee, Jim sat the coffee pot on the edge of the fire to keep it warm for the others before gathering up his crossbow and spear and heading out to join the hunting party. With SG-1 and the first mining team due to arrive the next morning, there would be a need for additional food to cater for the extra mouths that would need to be fed.

Approaching the gathered warriors somewhat hesitantly, Jim was soon drawn into a lively discussion on the best area to hunt, as well as some good-natured wagering on who would bag the largest number of animals. There was no mention of the ritual, but each of the men had taken the time to greet Jim with the forearm grasp that was customary among warriors, and a gentle word of welcome.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

SG-1 arrived right on schedule, accompanied by the mining team, their mission twofold: to smooth the way for the miners, and to collect Jim and Blair and escort them home.

Jim, Blair, Pinachu and a small party of Inchac warriors emerged from the trees surrounding the gate clearing moments after the wormhole had shut down. It didn’t escape O’Neill and Teal’c’s notice that the warriors seemed to be grouped protectively around the Sentinel and Guide, relaxing only after Pinachu spoke quietly to them.

Dressed only in loin cloths and the sturdy moccasins that the Inchac favoured as footwear, Jim and Blair leaned casually on the spears that they were carrying once the Inchac group came to a stop and waited for the SGC personnel to approach them. Both men were deeply tanned, emphasizing the vivid blue of their eyes. Their wrists, upper arms, and ankles were adorned with woven bands, and each wore several beaded necklaces, as well as their dog tags, although the latter were partially hidden by the necklaces. Daniel was interested to see that, while their faces, bodies, and limbs were painted in the way of the other warriors, each bore a number of symbols that seemed to be unique to them, although several of Blair’s markings were very similar to Pinachu’s, and he also had a half dozen feathers braided into his hair, while Jim wore a bandana on his head as he had when his picture had appeared on the magazine cover upon his return from Peru.

The members of SG-1 took a moment to study Jim closely, pleased to find him looking relaxed and healthy. They had been more than a little worried that they would lose him.

“Oh, damn, that is one fine looking man!” Lieutenant Amy Hills, one of the mining engineers, remarked quietly to Carter, eyeing Jim’s muscular physique, which the loin cloth did nothing to conceal.

“Colonel Ellison,” Jack dragged the name out, with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes, having heard the Lieutenant’s comments, “once again, you seem to be out of uniform. Seems to be becoming something of a habit for you, doesn’t it, JJ?”

“What can I say, Jack? When in Rome…” Jim grinned in response.

That’s Colonel Ellison?” Hills spluttered, red faced with embarrassment that she’d been so blatantly ogling a senior officer.

“Oh, yeah,” Carter drawled, allowing her gaze to sweep over Jim’s body with undisguised appreciation. “You look well, Colonel, Blair,” she grinned cheekily, having noticed Jim’s amusement at both Hill’s initial comment and her reaction when she realised who he was.

“Why, thank you, Major,” Jim returned her grin, resolutely refusing to blush at the attention he was receiving even as he came up with a plan to get even with her. “You don’t think the loin cloth makes my butt look too big?” he asked ingenuously, turning around to ensure that Carter could take in the full effect of the outfit, causing O’Neill to crack up laughing.

“Ah, no, Sir. I’d have to say that it’s not a problem,” Carter finally managed to choke out, sending Daniel and Blair into fits of laughter.

“And the tattoos? I’m assuming, of course, that those are tattoos…” O’Neill’s eyebrow rose in query as he gestured to the left side of both of their chests. Jim’s tattoo was of an elegantly rendered black jaguar, while Blair’s was an exquisite silver and grey wolf. Both of the animals had blue eyes, the shade of the blue of the jaguar’s eyes was a perfect match for Jim’s, as was the wolf’s for Blair’s.

“Pinachu is quite an artist,” Jim replied with a shrug and a smile.

“Uh, actually, it seems that when you become an adult member of the Inchac tribe, you need to be marked with the image of your spirit guide,” Blair explained with a bounce and a grin. “Interestingly, it’s a common practice among many indigenous tribes to incorporate some sort of permanent marking when their members, especially the males, are initiated into adulthood. The Iminari tribe, for example – ”

“Ah! Ah! You know I get a headache when you and Daniel try to educate me, Sandburg!” O’Neill protested with a pained expression on his face. “Take pity on a poor flyboy, okay?”

“Gee, Jack, I was only trying to broaden your cultural horizons, man!” Blair laughed.

“That’s pretty much a lost cause, Blair,” Daniel grinned at the mock look of hurt that O’Neill sent his way.

Blair and Daniel handled the introductions between the Inchac and the SGC people before they group set off for the walk to the village with Blair and Pinachu leading the way.

“So, how was your stay, Jim?” Daniel asked quietly, moving up to walk beside Jim. The rest of the team had also moved closer to Jim, wanting to reassure themselves that he was as okay as he appeared to be.

“Peaceful, Daniel,” Jim replied with an easy smile. “I’ve, ah, been talking a lot with the Shaman about what happened, and it’s helped a lot.”

“I’m glad, Jim. We were all worried about you – especially Blair,” Daniel squeezed Jim’s shoulder.

“I know, and I’m sorry about that.”

You have nothing to apologise for, Sir,” Carter told him firmly. “We’re just glad that coming here helped.”

“Indeed, Ellison. I, too, am pleased to see you so at peace,” Teal’c added with his customary slight bow.

“So, JJ, find any good fishing spots while you were here?” O’Neill diffused what had threatened to become an awkward silence – JJ had never handled personal conversations all that well, something that he himself could so relate to.

“There are a couple, Jack, but they all have lots of those pesky fish, so I’m not sure if they’d appeal to you,” Jim teased his friend, relieved that Jack changed the focus of the conversation away from him.

“Darn!”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The official meeting between the mining team members – each of whom had taken an intensive crash course in Quechua from Daniel prior to making the trip – and the Inchac went well, and the villagers insisted on a huge meal to both welcome the newcomers, and bid farewell and safe journey to their newest tribal brothers.

The celebration had once again lasted well into the night, and several members of the mining team were more than a little the worse for wear the next morning, much to the amusement of the Inchac.

As Blair and Jim were taking their leave of their new brothers and sisters, Melarnica came running up to Jim, flinging her arms around his neck when he knelt down to talk to her.

“No go, Enqueri!” The three year old sobbed. “Stay here!”

“I have to return to my other tribe, Melarnica. I’d love to stay here with you, but Pechu is my Guide, and you will have more than enough to do as Sanhaca’s Guide as you grow older,” Jim told her gently.

Melarnica looked up at him in surprise, then over at Sanhaca, who stood with Pinachu. “He mine?”

“He will be one day, little Guide. And you must look after him, as he will look after you.” Jim couldn’t help but grin at the proprietary way the child was now looking at the young future Sentinel.

“He mine like you his?” Melarnica asked, glancing over at Blair.

“That’s right.” Jim nodded, smiling at his Guide.

“I be good Guide like Pechu. I promise!” Melarnica told Jim firmly before kissing him on the cheek and heading determinedly for a somewhat nervous looking Sanhaca.

“Did you know about Melarnica? That she was a Guide?” Blair asked the Inchac Shaman quietly.

“I suspected it, even before she went to Enqueri during the cleansing ritual. Enqueri’s words have confirmed it,” Pinachu replied just as quietly.

“This is wonderful news,” Blair grinned. “It’s great that the Inchac will once again have a Warden Pair to watch over them.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Once again, Pinachu had insisted on accompanying SG-1 and their honour guard of Inchac warriors back to the gate. The long walk was eased by the good humoured banter between members of the group (with translations provided by Jim, Blair, or Daniel as required).

O’Neill and the others went through the gate first, allowing Blair and Jim a few moments of privacy to make their farewells to the Shaman and the warriors.

“We thank you for the Sanctuary,” Blair said formally as both he and Jim bowed to the Shaman.

“What is freely given and accepted requires no thanks,” Pinachu responded with equal formality. “Go in peace and safety, brothers, and remember that you are always welcome at my fire,” he added with a warm smile.

“Be well, brother,” Jim grasped the Shaman’s forearm in the way of the Inchac warriors. “I know that you will guide the tribe wisely. Call us if you need us – Daniel has given you the details of what to do.”

“Be well, Shaman,” Blair said, drawing Pinachu in for a quick hug. “I hope we’ll see each other again soon. And don’t let Melarnica bully Sanhaca too much!”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It was late Friday afternoon when SG-1 returned to the SGC to be welcomed by General Hammond.

They debriefed immediately after being medically cleared by Doctor Fraiser and her staff, the atmosphere of in the conference room was relaxed and relatively informal.

“So, in summary, Sir, Doctor Sandburg and Colonel Ellison got themselves adopted by the Inchac, along with new outfits, which they declined to wear back to the SGC, and a couple of very cool tattoos – I believe that Doctor Jackson has some excellent footage if you’re interested in seeing it – and the mining team has settled in with the Inchac quite nicely,” O’Neill concluded his report with a huge grin.

“Thank you, Colonel. That was most, ah, informative. I think that your written reports can wait until Monday. Go and enjoy your weekend,” Hammond dismissed them with a smile.

“On that note, Sir,” O’Neill said as he and the others stood, “there’s a barbecue at my place tomorrow evening. Bring whatever you want to drink. I’ve already invited Doctor Fraiser and Cassie.”

“What time do you want me there, Colonel?”

“Anytime after five would be fine, Sir.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Hypersensitive fingers ran lighter than air along the scar that marred the skin at the back of his neck. A twin to the scar that adorned the back of O’Neill’s neck. The difference was that the Goa’uld that had been implanted in Jack a little over twelve months ago had not survived long enough for O’Neill to experience the true horror of being trapped inside a body that he had no control over.

As nightmarish as the experience had been, O’Neill had been spared having to watch impotently as his own body inflicted pain, humiliation, and death on innocent victims. Thankfully, Jack would never known what it was like to have no control over anything, only able to scream and rage silently as the malevolence that had invaded him gloated over his pain. Jim shuddered as the memories washed over him once again, bringing with them a dark, almost impenetrable depression.

But there were other memories, too.

He straightened imperceptibly, refusing to give in to the darkness, resolutely drawing those other memories out to be savoured.

The pleasure of tricking the snake into a zone deeper than any he had ever experienced before, knowing that his friends would understand what had happened, and take the appropriate action. The satisfaction of knowing that they would not allow the snake to live, that he would be freed of its evil, even if the only way they could do that was to kill him. The wonder of waking on Cimmeria, aching in every bone and muscle, head pounding like it was going to explode, nauseated beyond anything he could remember, but amazingly, miraculously free of the Goa’uld’s control. The compassion of the Inchac and their acceptance and understanding. Melarnica’s incredible gift of trust.

Jim looked around at his team mates, and knew himself to be surrounded by people who genuinely cared about him, and who he cared about. His friends. He leant back in his chair, content for the moment to merely sit and observe as they teased and bantered and laughed.

The NID were out of the picture, at least for the moment. Hal’ruut and Mel’tak were dead, and he was home, among friends who were in many ways closer to him than his family, although he was hopeful for continuing improvement on that front as well.

For the first time in what seemed like forever, Jim smiled in contentment, and really meant it.

Life didn’t get much better than this.

The End