Nor Iron Bars a Cage
by Sheila Paulson
See notes and disclaimer on part one.
"Nothing," Sam Carter said in disgust an hour later. "We practically stripped the walls out of Ellison's quarters. Sandburg went over everything. If there's a Goa'uld artifact there or a bomb or any hint at all about a booby trap, we couldn't find it there."
"It doesn't have to be there," Hammond reminded her. "Ellison wasn't restricted to quarters. He could have gone anywhere."
Teal'c inclined his head in agreement. "We know that, General Hammond. We have searched further afield."
"We thought we'd try to retrace his steps, everywhere he could have gone once he got back here." Sandburg had bound his hair back; he did that a lot, although not all the time, when he was supposed to meet with the General. It was mainly in front of Colonel O'Neill that he left the hair loose. Sam smiled faintly. It did irritate the Colonel. "He didn't go to the infirmary to see how Sam was recovering from the bee sting, but then the Goa'uld had to know that she'd sense it in Jim. The rest of us went but Jim didn't. He could have gone anywhere. He had plenty of time." He fought to repress a yawn. Sam could sympathize. It had been a very long day.
"That's not a reassuring thought," muttered the General.
"I know, and I'm sorry, sir. I should have known there was something wrong. I should have *known* it. My best friend taken over and it took me *hours* to realize something was wrong." He made a disgusted gesture and avoided their eyes.
"It took that long with me and Jolinar, too," Sam reassured him. She was beyond weary, and knew she probably ought to go to bed. She'd had that alien bee sting not that many hours ago and since then she'd been on a rescue mission, stressed out over Daniel and the Colonel being hurt, and helped tear the base apart. She braced herself stubbornly and continued, "Even though we know it's possible, Quich‚ was a free world who had no reported Goa'uld contact since Ra's death. It wasn't obvious. The Goa'uld have a major advantage; they can access details of the host mind."
"But Denlin doesn't know about the Sentinel thing, General," Blair said triumphantly. "We think Jim repressed his senses and blocked off conscious thought of them. It's almost like a form of self-hypnosis. Jim and I have worked on that kind of thing, not necessarily on blocking thought of his senses, but about controlling aspects of his mind; it's one of the ways he learns to access individual senses, to piggyback one on top of another. He's had four years of training with that kind of thing. So if anybody could hold something back from a Goa'uld, it'd be Jim."
"How does that help us, son?" Hammond asked kindly. Sam was afraid the general might consider that a bit of useless information, but she shouldn't have underestimated either Hammond or Sandburg.
"Because it means Denlin wouldn't have told anyone on Chulak about Jim's senses," Blair replied. "And it meant that Denlin hasn't been able to access them here, when he was maybe planting a booby trap. And it means that if Thor or the Tollans or Nox or somebody know how to remove a Goa'uld, Jim will still be in one piece and information about Jim's senses won't be compromised."
"Then think about this," Hammond told Sandburg. "If the senses are repressed, if Ellison has them blocked, is there any way he could block them to the point where Denlin would be blind and deaf?"
"Teal'c?" Sam whirled to face the Jaffa. "I know the Goa'uld can heal their hosts. Selmak was able to heal my father's cancer. If Jim blocked his senses completely, would Denlin be able to override it?"
"That is uncertain." Teal'c frowned, pondering it. "There would be nothing to heal, for Ellison's vision would be undamaged. The Goa'uld might override control after a brief delay."
"What could we do with a delay of that nature?" Hammond tossed out the question. "Think about it, people. I'm starting to believe our allies aren't going to come through on this one. We may be on our own. We know we don't have the technology to remove the Goa'uld surgically, not after the experience with Major Kawalsky. Even the Quich‚, who are advanced medically, don't know how to do it. The only advantage I can see is that Ellison has heightened senses, that they're turned down, and that Denlin doesn't know about them. Work out a strategy, if you can. A theory. Anything. The Tok'ra don't know about Ellison's senses and I've been reluctant to share that information with them. If we get any ideas, I might have to do so. They have knowledge we lack."
"They wouldn't want to take advantage of Jim's abilities?" worried Blair. "I mean, your dad's great, Sam, but there's Selmak, too. And all the other Tok'ra. Martouf seemed like a great guy, but they have their own agenda, after all. I'd hate to think we'd free Jim only to set him up." He hesitated. "But freeing him's gotta take precedence. We can deal with the consequences afterwards." His shoulders slumped. Sam knew the weight of the burden he accepted.
"The Tok'ra are our allies," Hammond decreed. "But they do not run this base and they do not control the personnel here. They won't have access to Ellison's abilities unless it can be mutually agreed to benefit both parties--or unless there is absolutely no other choice. Ellison himself would have to agree, as well. Don't worry, son," he reassured Blair. "We're trying very hard not to throw your friend to the wolves."
Blair smothered another yawn and the general struggled not to copy it. He failed miserably. "People, it's late. I know there's a lot we want to accomplish, but tired people can make mistakes. I'm going to suggest everybody get some sleep now. Ellison will be guarded and the search for Goa'uld artifacts and computer tampering will continue. I've sent instructions to all off-world teams to delay their return except in emergencies, until we can resolve this situation."
Blair tried fiercely to look wide awake. "I can't go to bed, not with Jim..."
Hammond held up his hand to silence the guide. "That's an order, son. You're ready to fall over. I can imagine you won't sleep very well, but rest. No one will hurt Ellison and the Goa'uld won't be able to act. He'll be guarded very thoroughly. You'll be better able to come up with solutions when you're rested. And you, Major Carter, need your rest as well. It hasn't been that long since you were released from the infirmary. If necessary, I'll have Doctor Fraiser order you to bed."
"Yes, sir." Sam knew when to argue and when not. She ached with fatigue. Just standing here forcing her thoughts into some kind of rational order was difficult. It had been one hell of a day.
Teal'c didn't look sleepy, but he did look tired. "I need less sleep than humans, General Hammond. I will continue the search."
"No, Teal'c. You're beat, too. If you feel you must do something, go and do your kel'no'reem meditation, but rest. I want all of you to be fresh in the morning. And remember, we may hear from our allies by then with possible solutions."
Sandburg wanted to argue--Sam could feel it. He rocked on his toes, but the bags beneath his eyes added years to his age and the spots on his throat were as dark as dirt. Teal'c studied him. "Come along, Blair Sandburg," he urged in tones he might have used when speaking to his son Rya'c. "I will walk with you to your quarters."
"Gonna tuck me in, too?" Blair asked sleepily.
One Jaffa eyebrow arched. "That is not, as O'Neill would say, in my job description," he murmured, deadpan.
Sandburg caught his breath, then he giggled. He *must* be tired. "And I bet you never tucked in the Colonel," he teased.
"I have not." Teal'c paused. "Not more than three times," he corrected. Hammond's eyebrows shot up, and Sam found herself repressing giggles of her own.
"Someday," said Blair as he let himself be borne away, "you've got to tell me about that."
"I shall do so--when this is over and Major Ellison is free."
"I'll hold you to that," Blair said as the Jaffa steered him into the corridor.
Sam hung back. "I hope you'll sleep, too, General."
"I'll put some things in order first and do so. Good night, Major."
"Good night, sir."
Jack was snoring. Loudly. Daniel groaned, shifted position cautiously to favor his wound, and considered pulling the pillow over his head. O'Neill had to feel even more battered than he did. How could he sleep? And why should he sleep when Daniel couldn't?
Worse, it sounded like everybody who worked in the infirmary was running around out there, carrying on like crazy. That must be what had awakened him. Aware of the noise, Daniel couldn't ignore it and go back to sleep. The raised voices were too indistinct for actual words to carry, but Daniel was sure something was wrong. Too many people moving, too much sense of urgency for it to be a minor thing. The longer he lay there the more wide awake he became, and the more convinced that there was a problem. Could it have to do with Jim Ellison and the Goa'uld? The booby trap? A bomb exploding would have awakened him, and he was sure it hadn't. Jack was still snoring, and Daniel's wakefulness was the result of turning over and landing on the place where the bullet had slid along his ribs or else the activity outside their room. So, no bomb, but something, and something bad. The urgent voices carried a sense of danger, of tension, of crisis.
He glanced over at Jack. No, he was still fast asleep. Daniel didn't want to wake him if whatever was wrong wasn't dangerous to them, and it probably wasn't or there would have been people in here to move them out of harm's way. Jack had not had a good day--the stresses of dealing with that little girl, Mara, who had to remind him of Merrin, and probably Skaara, too, with all those elaborate braids. Then getting snatched and having his mind controlled, being beaten up, and then seeing Daniel shot. He'd been so angry about Daniel's rash, instinctive defense because he'd been worried as hell about him. While it was good to know that Jack cared, he was sorry he'd scared him. He was not sorry he'd saved his life, even if the outcome had turned out worse. It had been an automatic reaction, but it had been automatic because the intended victim of Denlin's gun had been his friend. Daniel knew without a fragment of a doubt that Jack would have done the same for him--and that he'd have been every bit as furious with Jack for doing it as Jack was with him.
He'd let Jack sleep, at least until the situation out there got out of hand and moving was necessary. But the curiosity that drove him and made him a good scientist would not let him go tamely back to sleep. He had to know what was wrong out there.
His IV had replaced fluids and he'd been hungry enough to eat a good meal a few hours earlier. He'd have liked to wash it down with a nice hot cup of coffee with it but Doctor Fraiser had refused it to both him and Jack, because of the nature of their injuries. Jack had groused about it but he hadn't made a major fuss, a sign that he wasn't yet at the top of his form. Had he felt better, he'd have been sneaking out of bed, causing trouble, fetching his own coffee. He'd probably stage a revolt in the morning if they still couldn't have coffee with their breakfast. Daniel hoped he would. A Colonel O'Neill who wasn't fussing about something--loudly--was a Colonel O'Neill who worried him. He knew Jack would be okay, but Daniel would like him to be okay *right now*.
Unwilling to wait until someone came to reassure him, he snatched his glasses off the night stand and put them on. He still had his IV, but it hung from a mobile stand beside his bed since he'd been granted bathroom privileges. His wound still tender, he winced himself upright and used the stand for additional support as he padded out into the hall to follow the sounds he heard. An orderly went past without even noticing Daniel, and the pajama-clad archaeologist trailed him to the door of a four-bed ward. There was a patient in each bed, each one in considerable discomfort, two of them writhing painfully, curled up, arms wrapped around their stomachs. All were flushed and sweaty. The center of frantic attention from the medical team, they groaned and jerked on their beds. Doctor Fraiser and Doctor Warner were both so busy with them that they didn't notice Daniel hovering there with his IV. One of the men was Johnson from SG-3, another of them was one of Fraiser's nurses, and the other two were people Daniel didn't know, who worked base support on the late shift. He'd seen them around and knew their names to speak to them, no more.
A nurse pushed past Daniel without pausing to send him back to bed. "We've got another one."
Fraiser heaved a worried sigh and turned. "We'll probably have more until we figure out what's causing it." She spotted Jackson. "Daniel, go back to bed, there's nothing you can do."
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"It seems to be a poison of some sort. We haven't determined if it's some form of contamination--bad food, perhaps, although it doesn't match the classic symptoms of botulism--or a deliberately induced poison. We've had to pump a couple of stomachs." She shuddered. "We're not sure what's causing it but once it started, we contacted Quich‚, and sent little Mara home before it could influence her. Their situation appears under control--ours isn't."
Cold anxiety pumped into Daniel's stomach. "You think *this* is what Jim meant when he tried to warn Blair about a booby-trap? Not a bomb but some kind of poison in our system?"
"It seems likely." The doctor's mouth was tight. "If so, he must have found a way to put it into the food supply; not the general food supply but in a few select places. And that makes sense. Ellison wouldn't have had a reason to go into the food preparation areas. Someone would have remembered if they'd seen him there. It's sporadic, but if we don't find it, it'll spread. The only good thing going is that it apparently has to be ingested. It doesn't appear to be contagious from patient to patient."
"Have you found a pattern; something in common with all these people?"
Janet looked as if she hadn't slept for days, her eyes red-rimmed, her face lined with grinding weariness, and it made her testy. "I do know my job, Daniel. Naturally we've already asked ourselves and our patients those questions. We want to track the vector as fast as we can. Time spent answering your questions is time away from finding a solution."
Daniel knew that. He took the reproof in the spirit intended but he didn't retreat to his room. The medical staff had enough on their minds without questions from a well-intentioned amateur. Something in the food? Maybe in several coffee pots scattered here and there around the base? In the sugar or in the coffee grains itself? Salt shakers in the mess? If Denlin had poisoned the SGC, why was he so complacent about it. He'd have to eat, too. They wouldn't starve Ellison, even if they'd have liked to deprive the Goa'uld of sustenance.
"You're sure it's something they ingested?" he asked.
Doctor Warner glanced over at Daniel. "Yes, Doctor Jackson. If it were airborne--and the symptoms don't match that, since they're so strongly tied to gastric distress--the outbreak would be far wider."
"Okay. Well...it would have to be something specific so that Denlin could know what to expect and refuse to eat it, then. Like maybe something in the coffee or salt on his food. Does anybody know if he refused part of his meal?"
Both doctors paused and stared at Daniel, then Fraiser smiled. "Thank you, Daniel. That's a good suggestion. We'll follow up on that. You go to bed now. You may be feeling a little better, but you did lose a lot of blood. You need to get a good night's rest. I'm just glad you and Colonel O'Neill didn't eat whatever it was."
Daniel felt like a child being patted on the head, humored, and sent off to bed. He didn't like it. Well, the medical staff had too much on their plates to deal with anything but treating the victims. They'd find out what Denlin had refused, if anything. That needn't even be the answer. Whatever the Goa'uld had doctored might not have even been on his menu. Fine. They'd get around to him later, but Daniel didn't want to wait. He trailed back to his room and draped a robe over his shoulders. Impossible to get his arm into it with the IV attached so he left that sleeve loose. He started to turn when an alarming idea occurred to him, then he jerked to a halt and went over to Jack's bed to be sure O'Neill was really asleep and not unconscious. He couldn't remember if they'd eaten the same things at dinner or not, but that had been hours ago, long before Mas Tul and his daughter had visited before Sam and Teal'c had gone off to help search the base. The hours of the endless day ran together and if it weren't for the wall clock, Daniel wouldn't have had a clue what time it was. Two forty-seven a.m. No wonder he was so tired. He smothered a massive yawn as he gazed down at his sleeping friend.
Jack was still snoring softly, but his was a normal sleep. No flushing, fever, or sweating, no writhing in agony. No more discomfort on his face than the broken ribs could account for. He wasn't poisoned. Daniel's breath went out in a cautious and relieved whoosh. Broken ribs healed. The poison might have been fatal.
Daniel put out a hand and touched Jack's shoulder very lightly in relief, then he tried to arrest the motion.
O'Neill's eyes opened and he blinked up groggily at Daniel in the dimly lit room. His eyes sharpened into instant alertness and his brows scrunched together in alarm. "What's going on?"
"I didn't mean to wake you. Sorry. But there's something wrong. People are being poisoned. A bunch of them have been brought into the infirmary. Janet says it was something they ate. It must be Denlin's booby-trap."
"Poison instead of explosives? Never thought of that." Jack sat up abruptly, then the color left his face and he groaned and clutched his ribs. With an exasperated snort, he batted away Daniel's concerned hand. "I'm okay, just moved too fast. What the hell do you mean, poisoned?" He knuckled sleep out of his eyes and dangled his legs off the edge of the bed.
"Randomly, like Denlin couldn't get to the main food processing area, but maybe like he put things in a few individual coffee pots or salt shakers or something like that. I mentioned that possibility to Fraiser and Warner but they were pretty busy. Then I came back here and figured I'd better make sure you were okay and hadn't had some of it, too."
"Yeah, well, I think if I was poisoned, I'd know it." Jack made an unhappy face. "Better get to bed. You look like crap."
"Thanks, Jack." He shook his head. "Not yet. I thought I'd go talk to Denlin."
Jack's mouth curved disapprovingly. "You're supposed to be in bed. You got *shot*, for crying out loud. *I'll* go."
"You have broken ribs, for crying out loud," Daniel mimicked his querulous tone. "Besides, I'm already up."
"Where does it say that you need to be running around in the middle of the night when you've got a bullet in you?" Jack fumed.
"I don't have a bullet in me. They took it out, and it wasn't even in me, really, just under the skin. I'm *fine*, Jack."
"Yeah, you look it." O'Neill glared at him. "You look like you've been rode hard and put away wet. Giving me grey hairs."
"At least you're alive to get them," Daniel snapped right back. "Let's both go see Denlin."
"Think he'll tell us one single thing?" Jack asked, but he was already out of bed, flinching his way into his robe. Every movement was a study in caution. He had to be awfully sore, and his bruises had been given plenty of time to darken, like the marks on Sandburg's throat. Black and blue--new colors for the SGC. Daniel frowned.
"Well...no, he probably won't, but if everybody else has to be awake, he can be awake, too," Daniel said with a faint smile. "Besides, he might let something slip."
"Yeah, he's not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer. He could've done a lot worse to us, y'know."
"To you," Daniel said softly. He put out the hand that wasn't holding up the IV to make sure Jack was steady. Jack glared at it, exactly as Daniel had expected him to. "Just because he didn't know about Apophis doesn't mean he's stupid."
"Drugging our food is pretty stupid," Jack argued. "We'll just make sure nobody eats or drinks anything that's not sealed. He can't have gotten into cans, and he probably didn't have access to cooking pots and stuff like that. Now that we know what he's done, we can keep it from happening again, even if they have to scrap a lot of stuff. You can bet Fraiser's already got that going. It can't be in the water or it'd be a lot more than a few people in here. So if it's poison it's probably in food like you thought."
"We might lose a few," Daniel said ruefully. "And it didn't happen right away. Either it's a slow-acting poison and we're all exposed and it hasn't hit everybody yet, or it's really selective."
"Now there's a happy thought." Jack froze. "Wait a minute. What about Mara? She's just a kid. Is *she* okay? Somebody checked, didn't they?"
"Janet said they sent her home when all this started. She didn't have any symptoms and their medicine is in advance of ours. Apparently Mas Tul was satisfied that the conspiracy was under control or he would have had us keep her here and just monitor her."
Jack's muscles relaxed fractionally. "Guess that's something anyway. Long as it didn't hit *her* later, too. You're just full of cheer in the middle of the night, aren't you?"
"I'm always like this at three a.m. You just don't usually see me when I'm pulling an all-nighter over some translation." Daniel shrugged. "Come on. If we're lucky they'll be too busy to notice us and send us back to bed."
They made their wincing way down the corridor to the isolation ward, where two sleepy Marines stood guard just inside the door. They didn't object to the wee-hours visit, but they didn't relax their attention, either. Daniel was sure the quick once-overs he and Jack got had informed the guards with complete accuracy the health status of the two of them. All trace of sleepiness vanished from their postures as they stood aside to let O'Neill and Daniel in, but they tightened their scrutiny of the prisoner.
The lights were down but not entirely out, and Ellison was fast asleep. Did Goa'ulds sleep? Daniel wondered. If Ellison were sleeping, did that mean the Goa'uld didn't know they were there? Did Ellison have to get the Goa'uld's approval to catch a nap? Even if the Goa'uld didn't need to rest--and Daniel was pretty sure Teal'c's 'junior' rested even if it was simply a part of the kel'no'reem--the human host would need to sleep. No matter how the Goa'uld could prolong its life, surely the human would need some periods of REM sleep. Ordinarily, it would have been a fascinating question, but it wasn't fascinating to Daniel, not with Jim Ellison trapped there, not with Sha're out there somewhere, lost to him, and Skaara, too. It would only be fascinating if he could view it in the abstract, and that simply wasn't possible. Goa'uld infestation had become far too personal a subject for Daniel for him to practice any objectivity.
Daniel let his eyes sweep over the readings that monitored both sets of life readings. He remembered that there had been a screen like that for Sam when Jolinar was in her. Daniel hadn't understood it thoroughly then and he didn't now, but he could tell which was which simply because of the way it had been set up last time. He saw Jack register the double readings and his mouth twist at the sight.
The Goa'uld must have sensed their presence, because the images on the monitor picked up a little activity. Ellison's eyes opened and he blinked at them sleepily. In that first moment, Daniel was sure it was Jim looking at them and not Denlin, then the blue eyes glowed with malice and the Goa'uld greeted them.
"Ah, my victims. What brings you to disturb me in the night?" The utter smugness of the tone sent Jack bristling. Daniel could tell without even looking sideways. He could feel it.
"Why should *you* get to sleep?" the Colonel challenged. "I live to give Goa'ulds their wake-up calls."
"I do not wish to speak to you. Humans are beneath my contempt, and I have no interest in you. Go away."
"Sorry, no can do. Actually, *not* sorry." Jack went to drag up a chair, winced, and chose to leave it where it was and sit there instead. He lowered himself into it with aching caution, then he controlled his features, lifted his head, and favored Denlin with a scathing, contemptuous sneer. Jack had that look down pat. "So, can we get you anything? Coffee, tea? A firing squad?"
"I want nothing--except my privacy."
"Prisoners don't get privacy," Jack snarled.
Ellison's head cocked, listening. "I hear a disturbance. Can it be that something is wrong?" The mocking edge of the question made Daniel clench his teeth.
"Wrong with you," Jack returned. "Wrong because of you. I think you're going to tell us all about it."
"I think I am not. Why should I make anything easier for you?"
"Because we're gonna find out what you did and make sure it's done to you."
Ellison's eyebrow arched. "And then, I die. And your precious Jim dies, too. Will you then tell Sandburg that you killed him? Will you watch that light of hero worship fade out of his eyes, replaced by hatred and contempt? You will not do that, I think. You enjoy being a hero to him. You would not cause him pain."
"I would do what I could to protect this base and this planet, and Jim Ellison would be the first one to approve anything I could do to protect it, and to protect Sandburg along with it. Don't play your damn games with me."
"If you brought a poison to this world, you probably brought it from Quich‚," Daniel cut in quickly before Jack could go on. O'Neill had winced at the threat; Daniel knew that he'd grown fond of Sandburg in much the same way he had of Skaara. He'd hate to do anything to cause him pain, but he knew he might have to, and Denlin knew it, too, and was prepared to play on it. Daniel wrapped his arms around himself as if he could contain his frustration that way.
"Perhaps." The Goa'uld was so damned smug. Daniel had more reason than most to hate the Goa'uld, and this one was pretty high on his enemy list. "How does that benefit you?"
"More than you'd think. If the substance is native to Quich‚, the people there will know how to treat it. Their medical knowledge is high. All we have to do is send a message through. They already know what's going on here--we told them. We'll check with their doctors and figure it out." He nodded at the Marines, and one of them caught on and went out to pass the word. For all Daniel knew, that speculation had already been realized and a message may have gone to Quich‚ already with Mara when she was sent out of harm's way. He hoped so.
The frustration that flashed in Ellison's eyes came and went so quickly that Daniel almost missed it.
"He shoots, he scores." Jack gave Daniel a thumbs' up sign. "Way to go, Danny boy. I bet you're right on the money there."
"That still doesn't explain where he put it, but maybe once we know what it is, we can guess what foods might camouflage it. Or whether it doesn't even have to go on foods. It might be rubbed into the walls where we'd touch it, and respond to bodily contact." He shook his head. "No, it's not contagious, so that's probably not true. And the symptoms were gastric, so it must be eaten."
"And whatever it is, we're gonna stay right here and keep you awake until you spill the beans." Jack shifted surreptitiously in the chair to ease his ribs, then a sudden thought occurred to him and he slid out of it and waved Daniel to sit down.
"I'm okay," Daniel said automatically.
"Yeah, I can tell. You'll still be okay when you fall on your face, right?" He turned toward Daniel so that Denlin couldn't see his face and he winked. Daniel could see his I've-got-an-idea expression as clearly as if Jack had spoken the words aloud. "Okay, so you're half asleep. So am I. We gotta stay here, I want a hot cup of coffee. I'll get us some. He pointed very insistently at the chair. *Play along, Danny boy.*
Daniel didn't have to fake it. He knew exactly where Jack was going with his idea. If only the Goa'uld didn't access the part of Jim that had been a medic and realize they probably wouldn't be offered coffee at this stage of their recovery. Or maybe he'd think that they were sneaking it. Worst of all, he'd realize what a setup it was.
After a few minutes Jack came back without any drinks. Daniel wondered what he'd set into effect in his absence. "Sent somebody for it," he said. "Don't want to be carrying things yet." He scowled artistically at Denlin. "*Somebody* decided to use me as a punching bag. If you had a body of your own, Denny, you'd get your share back."
"Talk," scoffed the Goa'uld, "is cheap."
"Yeah, every time you open your mouth, you prove that."
Anger flashed in Ellison's eyes. No trace of Ellison in any expression so far. Daniel tried not to shiver. God, it was hard to see him; every out-of-character twist on the Sentinel's face brought Daniel images of Sha're--of Ammaunet.
Jack folded his arms across his chest. It probably made him look impatient to the Goa'uld, but Daniel recognized the stance for what it was, support for the aching ribs. Would Jack take the chair back? Probably not. Daniel didn't want to weaken him in Denlin's eyes, so he stayed put. He'd leave it to Janet Fraiser to deal with Jack in his stubborn phase.
A marine appeared in the doorway with a tray of drinks, the smell of hot coffee wonderfully evocative. Daniel's mouth watered, even though he knew he couldn't risk a cup under the circumstances. Still moving stiffly, Jack passed a cup to Daniel, who looked at it and realized it was only hot water, steaming enough to look natural. Jack took a cup of hot water, too, raised it to his lips, and sipped it with evident relish.
He gave the Marine a stagy wink. "Now you won't tell the doc I sneaked some coffee, will you? That's an order."
"I won't say a word, sir."
Daniel sipped his, too. Hot water wasn't exactly the most wonderful drink in the world, but he could probably use the liquid. He tried to look delighted even though steaming water had never been his drink of choice.
"This one's for you, Denny," Jack told the Goa'uld. "If we're awake, we're gonna caffeine you like crazy so you'll stay awake, too."
"I do not crave caffeine, the way you humans do."
"No, but at least it will keep Ellison awake. Why not let us talk to him?" He gestured at one of the Marines, who came forward and loosened one wrist. The other guard aimed his rifle at Denlin to cover him. Jack caught Daniel's eye and signaled toward the doorway. Whatever he was trying to convey didn't quite come across. That maybe Denlin had refused coffee earlier? That someone was out there listening, ready to act?
"Here you go." O'Neill passed the cup to the Marine to give to Denlin.
The Goa'uld took it. He couldn't refuse without giving himself away, assuming the poison was in the coffee. Probably the easiest place for him to have doctored it, Daniel suspected. Would he risk it? Would he believe Goa'uld abilities could neutralize it? Was the whole scheme a waste of effort? Daniel sneaked a glance at the Goa'uld reading. It seemed fractionally agitated. Was Denlin worried about the coffee?
"Come on, let us talk to Ellison," Daniel urged to distract the Goa'uld from their speculations. "You owe us."
"Because you gave me a human drink?" The Goa'uld lifted his head and favored them with contempt. It could hear the noise out in the infirmary even without Ellison's super hearing. It might assume the chaos was a result of its handiwork, it might even hope like mad that the members of the SGC were dropping like flies, but even with the threat that the same thing would be done to him, it didn't know what they knew. It couldn't know whether or not the Tauri had a cure or whether the Quich‚ did and had offered it. Yep, the readings were higher. Ellison's reacted a little to the Goa'uld's stress, but Daniel was pretty sure Jim didn't know the details. Maybe the Goa'uld knew nearly everything he knew, but the reverse might not be true. They didn't know for sure how totally aware the host could be or whether the Goa'uld could block the human from knowing everything. If Ellison could shut down his senses because of all those training exercises Blair had used on him, maybe he could block out big chunks of time on his own. He probably hadn't done that often, if at all; he'd want to keep informed. Maybe the Goa'uld could override human control at times to keep secrets from the host.
Daniel sipped his hot water and tried to act like he was drinking coffee. Maybe the Goa'uld was arrogant enough that it wouldn't expect them to have solved the problem--if they had actually solved it. It could be so many other things. Table salt, although someone would have noticed Ellison unscrewing more than one salt shaker and doctoring it. Snack foods spread around at various work stations? There were usually cookies or rolls in the lab where Daniel did most of his research work. He'd absentmindedly nibble them as he worked late into the night. Sweeteners for coffee and tea wasn't loose; it always came in little packets; NutraSweet, Equal, or actual sugar. That was probably tamper- proof. What they were getting was a random outbreak; not something that had swept the base. Maybe dumping something into the various coffee jars around the SGC. It wouldn't even be used until someone needed to make a fresh pot. Long enough to lull everybody into complacency. It would explain why the crisis didn't develop until much later.
The more he reasoned it, the more Daniel realized coffee would have been the easiest thing for Denlin to doctor.
"You owe us because you're our prisoner and we control you," Jack plunged in. "Just let us talk to Ellison."
"I wouldn't have thought you'd be into this for sentiment, O'Neill."
"Who said anything about sentiment?" Jack argued. "What's it hurt you, after all? You've got this censor ability. Not that you're too sharp at it. Ellison tried to warn Sandburg before, didn't he? Said enough we figured out you had booby-trapped us."
"Not enough for you to solve the problem, however."
"Nah, that's what you think." Jack's eyes lingered fractionally on the coffee cup the Goa'uld held. "Have some coffee. Hadda go all the way to the break room for it. They've been so busy here in the infirmary they emptied the pot."
That was a stroke of genius on Jack's part. Denlin wouldn't have come to the infirmary while Carter was here for treatment of her bee sting for fear she would sense him. Daniel was willing to bet the medical coffee pots were untainted. Maybe he was right. Denlin's eyes flashed with panic and the Goa'uld readings jumped. "No. I will not indulge you in any way."
"I'm not *asking* you to indulge me. I'm *telling* you what I'm gonna make you do."
The hand holding the cup jerked--maybe Denlin thought to delay by spilling the drink--and Jack and the Marine pounced. They grabbed the Goa'uld's wrist. "Drink it," Jack said in a voice that was pure steel. "Drink it right now or, goddam it, I'll have them hold your mouth open and your nose shut and I'll pour it down your throat." He nodded at the Marine, who wrenched away the cup.
"You didn't risk coming to the infirmary before, not when Carter was here able to sense you," Jack said. His thoughts had definitely paralleled Daniel's. "So I didn't bring it from here. That's from the closest pot to Ellison's quarters. You're gonna drink it right now. I'll pour it down your throat."
"I will not die of it. I can heal myself."
"I betcha dollars to doughnuts you'll feel pretty crummy, though."
He nodded at the Marine, who quickly secured the Goa'uld's wrist again so he couldn't fight, then slid his arm under Ellison's shoulders to raise his head. Remorselessly, Jack brought the cup to his lips.
"No! NO!" Ellison writhed against his restraints and the Goa'uld readings shot sky high. Ellison's went up, too, driven there by the Goa'uld's panic.
"Yes," purred O'Neill.
"Wait, Jack." That was Ellison, the alien echo gone from his voice. "Yeah, it's in the coffee. He's afraid he can't take it."
"How many pots?"
"I don't know. I didn't even pick up on it. At first it was so overwhelming that I didn't have a handle on it. I'm repressed." He said the word with heavy emphasis. Daniel's head came up. Was that a message he hoped Denlin wouldn't pick up?
"*I* repress you." The Goa'uld shut off the moment of communication. "Do not think to share more information than I will allow. The poison did not fail. Many of your people will die." It was definitely getting itself in line. The Goa'uld readings stabilized.
"I don't *think* so." Jack glared at him. "We've got a handle on it already." His head shook fractionally at Daniel.
They *didn't* have a handle on it? What? Jack took the coffee cup away. "Okay, that's enough. Hang in there, Ellison. We'll be back."
He corralled Daniel, gave him a hand out of the chair that Daniel tried not to take real advantage of--Jack shouldn't be hauling him around, not with those ribs--and steered him toward the door.
Outside the room, they encountered a sleep-eyed, rumpled and unshaven General Hammond and Doctor Fraiser, who looked like it had been so long since she had last seen her bed that she'd forgotten what a good night's sleep was. The General surveyed the two members of SG-1. "I don't even want to *know* what kind of grandstand stunt you two are pulling and why you're not in bed. You're going there *immediately*, if we have to put you in restraints to keep you there." His voice softened. "We heard what went down here just now. We're sending for Mas Tul again, and for some of his medical people, in case the poison agent is from Quich‚. They should be arriving now. They knew we had the problem already because we had to send little Mara home, but now they've volunteered to help us. We've confiscated every pot of coffee and every open can of ground coffee and jar of instant on the base, not to mention any other loose food and seasoning the Goa'uld might have had access to. We'll run tests on all of it and see if we can track down the poison."
"We've got twenty-three people down that we know of," Fraiser added. "And we're doing a door-to-door check of the sleeping quarters this minute to make sure we haven't overlooked anyone. It's under control." She studied the two of them. "Daniel, if you want a painkiller, you're well past due for it. Can I trust the two of you to go back to bed now?"
Jack and Daniel eyed each other with sleep-filled and pain-shadowed eyes and said in perfect unison, "Yeah." They'd done all they could.
Hammond went off to the gate room so he could welcome Mas Tul back with his medical people, and Fraiser returned to her patients.
"Come on," Jack urged in a voice that ached with tiredness. "If we're lucky, we can hold each other up long enough to stagger back to bed."
"Sounds good to me," Daniel agreed, and they set off slowly down the corridor to their room.
Daniel was so exhausted he didn't even need the pain-killer to fall asleep.
"Repressed?" Blair Sandburg asked early the next afternoon. "What do you mean, he said he was repressed?"
Daniel and Jack had been released from the infirmary around noon with strict instructions to take it easy, to rest as much as possible, and to stay out of trouble. Fraiser had sounded pretty doubtful about the last option. O'Neill was pretty sure they would still be flat on their backs in bed if there hadn't been a need for their beds by people who were a lot sicker than they were. From the way Carter and Teal'c watched their every movement, the well members of SG-1 had probably been given the word from the doc to haul them off to bed if they started to look like they were ready to keel over. Definitely a medical conspiracy.
No one had died from the poisoning, and those who hadn't taken it badly were dismissed, either to restricted duty for the rest of the day or to their quarters. Mas Tul's doctors had recognized the poison's symptoms immediately. It was a powder ground from the bark of a tree that grew in abundance on Quich‚. Highly poisonous, it didn't kill instantly, presenting the victim with mild flu-like symptoms at first, that abruptly worsened into massive distress. If not treated during that process, it could eat away the lining of the stomach or cause fatal internal bleeding. Jack found himself more than grateful that he'd been denied coffee yesterday, even though the coffee in the infirmary hadn't been affected, nor had that in the mess hall. It was the individual coffee pots around the base that could be easily accessed that had taken the hits. And it wasn't the pots themselves that were tampered with but the open coffee cans. The poison was almost the exact color as ground coffee, and its mildly bitter taste was easily disguised, especially in a place where a lot of the coffee could almost dissolve stomach lining on its own. A couple of the people with the mildest symptoms had even found it distasteful and tossed it out. A couple of obsessive coffee addicts were pretty sick and one of them had nearly died in the night. Fortunately, the Quich‚ treatment relieved the worst of the symptoms very rapidly.
Mas Tul, who had still been present when Jack had awakened, had come to see him.
"I must again apologize to you and your planet, Colonel O'Neill."
"The poison wasn't your fault, Mas Tul," Daniel said quickly. "Your daughter's life was at stake, and you acted as soon as you could to fix it. I hope she's okay."
Jack turned an intense focus on the Quich‚ leader and waited for an answer to that. The kid had to be okay. He didn't like bad things happening to kids, not after Charlie, after Skaara, after Merrin. He gnawed his bottom lip.
Mas Tul produced a doting smile that enabled O'Neill to relax slightly. "She was not poisoned, and the conspiracy on my world has been contained. She is safe at home and my father watches her."
Jack wasn't quite as forgiving as Daniel; never had been. Besides, he still remembered the way Daniel's body had jerked and he'd collapsed when Denlin had shot him and the way Jack's stomach had knotted up so tight at the sight that he'd wanted to be sick. But the image of Mara's small, joyful face, and her eager delight in her first grown-up banquet rose before his eyes and he could understand the guy's reaction. To save Charlie, what might Jack himself have done? To save Daniel, or Carter, or Teal'c.... Mas Tul had been between a rock and a hard place, all right.
He and his people had endured quite a scare. They were working through it. "Just one more reason to hate the snakeheads," Jack threw in. That made Daniel smile approvingly at him.
"We, too, hate them," the Quich‚ leader agreed. "I will not stay now, but my people have voted early. I know the three full days have not passed, and we must wait for them to do so before our treaty is official. If your people would still ally with us, we will be glad of the alliance."
"We're glad of it, too, Mas Tul," Daniel told him. "The rest of the galaxy has to unite against the Goa'uld. If we all stand together, it will be harder for them to gain control or cause this kind of incident in the future."
Jack knew that every non-Goa'ulded planet in the galaxy forming an alliance might not stop all their repression, but it was a start. So Mas Tul's people had their minority who still clung to the old days of Goa'uld repression. It wasn't as if Earth had a united government, either. They had their own troublemakers here, and some of them were big shots in the government. He could hardly scorn Mas Tul who had been devious out of desperation when there were people like Senator Kinsey or Harry Maybourne around who reveled in being devious--turned it into an art form.
When the Quich‚ had returned to their planet, leaving one of their doctors behind to assist Fraiser with the treatment of the affected people, and when Daniel and Jack were dismissed, they went to look for the rest of their team. Fraiser had reassured the two men instantly that neither Carter nor Teal'c had been poisoned. Jack knew Teal'c wasn't your usual coffee drinker. He might have a cup if it was being offered but he didn't seek it out, and Fraiser had suggested that, following the bee sting, Carter avoid caffeine for the rest of the day. Sandburg had probably drunk gallons, but he'd drunk it in the infirmary from an untainted supply when he was hanging around Ellison.
It wasn't till SG-1 and Sandburg were gathered over lunch that Daniel had snapped his fingers. "Blair, last night we had a few minutes talking to Jim--Denlin was letting him tell us about the poison because Jim couldn't really remember doing it--Denlin was trying to gloat, but I think Jim got something across before the Goa'uld could stop him."
"Really? What?" Sandburg straightened up and tossed aside the fork that had been idly pursuing his salad. Muted hope trickled into his eyes. When Daniel repeated Jim's exact words, the long-haired man scrunched up his face in a frown. "Repressed? What do you mean, he was repressed?"
"Perhaps that the Goa'uld had repressed him?" ventured Teal'c.
"Yes, but that's a given," Carter chipped in. "Jim wouldn't have made a point of that. We know that already."
"His senses." Blair's mouth fell open. "I bet he *did* repress his senses. He dialed them way down when he felt Denlin coming into him, just like we thought. That's why the Goa'uld doesn't know about them. Oh, man, that is so great. Jim can control that part of his mind. Not even the Goa'uld can override it. Wow."
"So...how does that help us?" Daniel would probably try to analyze every nuance of that, the way he did everything else around him. Drove Jack nuts, but this time maybe it was a good thing. "If he repressed them, and if he can keep the Goa'uld from knowing about them...."
"That means the Goa'uld are not as all-powerful as they would like to think. I wonder if the Tok'ra know about this." Carter frowned. "I'd like to talk to my dad about it. I wonder if he'll be back today."
"I wonder what would happen if--" Daniel began, only to have Sandburg wave his arms for attention and cut in.
"If Jim suddenly boosted his senses to the very max? Opened them wide up, every one of them?"
Carter pushed aside her plate and frowned. "He can do that?"
"He can, but he doesn't because it'd blast him. He'd be so out of control with sensory overload that it would put him into a massive zone- out and I'd have a hard time bringing him out of it. You know what can happen if he focuses too closely on any one of his senses. If he focused on all of them at once, at the very highest level, it would freak him, under normal circumstances."
"But, would it put the Goa'uld into a zone-out, too?" Jack could see there might be some advantage in that, but it wouldn't help to freak the Goa'uld and put Ellison into total brain fade if nothing came of it. "What would happen if he did that?"
"Teal'c, how much could the Goa'uld compensate for excessive sensory input?" Blair bounced excitedly on his chair. The bruise marks on his neck were so dark they looked like smears of paint. Jack ran an automatic hand across his own face where his own bruises were the most tender. Sandburg noticed and shot him a wry, sympathetic grin before he plunged on. "If we got Jim to crank it up and at the same time put spotlights on him and bring in big speakers to make major noise and maybe turned the heat up full blast and pumped in every sickening smell there was...."
Teal'c pondered the question very seriously. "The Goa'uld could compensate for minor annoyances, but it would find total sensory stimulation at such an elevated level difficult to manage." The Jaffa frowned. "I have no knowledge of such techniques working, but I recall visiting a world with Apophis once where the sunlight was so bright it was extremely painful to our eyes. Even my prim'ta failed to compensate. Apophis looked...greatly distressed. We departed that world immediately and did not return."
"Maybe we could make it so bright and hot and loud that Denlin would depart from Jim and not return." Sandburg's eyes were wistful. "God, I miss him. I know it would be rough on Jim, too, if we overstimulated his senses, but even if he zoned, I'd be able to get him back, especially since he's hooked up to those medical monitors and I could use them to judge his reaction. He's right there in the infirmary, and we could have Janet standing by. She understands all those gizmos Jim is connected to, and what the electrodes give us read-outs on."
Carter looked completely fascinated, her eyes wide. "You think it could actually work?"
Daniel pondered it, his face thoughtful. "It might work," he said. "Remember, Denlin doesn't appear to know about the heightened senses. If Jim has everything turned down all the way, wouldn't it appear to Denlin that Jim's senses are perhaps *less* than normal? The Goa'uld might have to compensate slightly to force them up to a level it would consider adequate. If Jim stopped blocking that, wouldn't the senses just overload so fast that it couldn't keep compensating?"
"Would it kill the Goa'uld?" Blair asked. "And if it died inside of Jim, would that hurt him?"
"Jolinar died to spare me." Carter's face shadowed. "Eventually my system absorbed the symbiont. I still have the protein marker from that in my system, and I have remnants of Goa'uld abilities that I haven't fully learned to understand, or control. It might be the same with Jim, too. He's learned a lot of ways to control the function of his senses above and beyond what a non-Sentinel would. Maybe he'd even be able to use Goa'uld devices more easily than I can, once it was over."
"It'd be risky, though," Jack warned Sandburg. "We nearly lost Carter-- and Jolinar was a good Goa'uld. Really sucky experience, believe me. 'Course we'd be standing by with all the right life-support stuff, just in case."
Carter nodded. "We need to get Doctor Fraiser in on this. I think it has a chance of working." Her brow wrinkled. "I've been trying to call on Jolinar's memories, to see if I can find anything that relates to the senses, but I can't. The fragmentary memories I possess are usually too random for me to access specific information like that. Sometimes little things come across and sometimes I can pull out useful facts. I don't know if hypnosis would give me more or not, although I was able to get enough to find the Tok'ra. Still, there's nothing in me that insists it won't work."
"Okay, so how are we gonna get it across to Ellison what we want to try?" Jack asked. He wasn't really hungry enough to want the rest of his dinner. Dealing with Denlin and getting rid of the sneaky snake would be a lot more satisfying than finishing his meal.
"I can do that," Blair said. He looked ready to jump to his feet and race off to the infirmary. Jack caught his wrist to keep him in place.
"Hold up there. We'll go talk to Fraiser, and we'll need Hammond's go ahead, too. Don't know if we can get any more info out of old Denny before we do it or not. Guy's out of the loop, but maybe we can find out who he was trying to reach on Chulak."
"Master Bra'tac will have that information for us already," Teal'c reminded them. "He will relay it to us when it is safe for him to come through the Stargate."
"Blair?" Daniel looked worried. "Before we try anything you have to know this is a risky procedure. It might kill Jim."
"Yeah," Blair agreed. "I know. It's gonna be rough on him--but how can that be worse than being a Goa'uld? I know Jim. Sometimes I think I know him better than I know myself. And I *know* Jim would probably take that choice before he would give in to being a Goa'uld for the rest of his life. Centuries of witnessing Goa'uld atrocities? Or centuries of being a prisoner? He was trapped for eighteen months in the jungles of Peru. He hated that. Jim's a control freak. How do you think he feels knowing he has no control? This is the worst thing that could happen to him. Jim would want us to try it. I know that."
But his face was full of shadows, and Jack knew that if it failed, if Jim Ellison died, Sandburg would blame himself for it for the rest of his life.
*Been there, done that.* If it went wrong, Jack would stand by Sandburg, and he knew the rest of SG-1 would back him, too. The last thing Sandburg needed was a tragedy he could forget for a little while but never forgive himself for.
"Even if this works, Jim will have a rough time at first," Carter reminded Sandburg. "I'll help all I can. I've been through it. I know that it wasn't Jim's fault those people were poisoned or that Daniel was shot or the Colonel beat up. But Jim's the type of man who'll take blame for it. You'll have to stand by him, Blair."
Sandburg's eyes shone with fervor. "Oh, man. You can believe it."
Jack didn't have any trouble believing it. Sandburg had called the President of the United States to help Ellison when he was in trouble the last time. Jim was lucky to have a friend like him. O'Neill could understand that. In spite of all the lousy breaks he'd had in his life, sometimes he had to stop and think and realize that he was lucky, too. How many guys had a friend who would take a bullet for them? How many guys had a team like his?
Before he could let his thoughts get any more soppy, Jack called himself to order, realizing he was grinning at Daniel like an idiot.
Daniel didn't have any trouble smiling back.
The first sign Jim Ellison had that something was going on was when Sandburg bounced into the room, his face full of hope and determination. Oh, man, he had an idea. He knew something? Had Earth's allies come through with a solution, a way of getting Denlin out of his head?
*Not a hope of that, human,* sneered the Goa'uld. *They may think they have answers, but they don't. You know already that they can't do it surgically. I read in your mind about Major Kawalsky. Surgery won't help you. And why should Earth's allies bother with you? They didn't aid Major Carter when she took in a Tok'ra. You have no hope. Remember that, when this fails."
Behind Blair came a bunch of people. Janet Fraiser was the first of them, and she was trailed by orderlies pushing in a collection of equipment. Jim didn't recognize most of it, but the first one looked like some banks of bright lights--*were* they going to do surgery? He shuddered inwardly. Brain surgery had so many risks. There would be no guarantee he'd come out of it intact. Unless Thor strolled in or one of those Nox characters, Jim was pretty sure surgery would be a bust.
The next thing looked like a massive stereo system with speakers that wouldn't have been out of place at a heavy metal concert. What was that- - He broke off the thought before he could complete it, the warning protection of his subconscious slamming the door on the thought. He'd managed to repress the subject until now; he wasn't about to give himself away. Instead, he watched people gathering. Doctor Warner was there, bent over the electrodes to check that they were attached properly. Someone brought in a crash cart--did they expect his heart to stop? He lingered on that thought deliberately, although it scared the shit out of him. Maybe it would scare Denlin, too.
*They will not kill you. This is another threat, like the coffee last night,* the Goa'uld insisted. *All this equipment is meant to alarm me and frighten me into leaving your body. I shall not do so. Tell them they will fail.*
*You can keep me from speaking, but you can't make me speak as myself-- and Sandburg will always know the difference,* Jim thought furiously. *He knows me too well to believe any of your tricks.*
*That will not matter. I am here. I stay. If I die, you die.*
Now what were they bringing in? Sealed containers of some kind. Electric heating grids? What the heck was *that* thing? It looked like a cattle prod. *Great. They're gonna torture it out of me.*
*You think to frighten me.* But Jim could hear the Goa'uld's uneasiness as it studied the preparations. No one offered one word of explanation, not even Sandburg. He just hovered at the side of Jim's bed, making deliberate eye contact. There were hidden messages in the intense blue eyes.
The members of SG-1 filed into the room and lined up out of the way against the far wall, except for O'Neill, who came over to stand at Sandburg's back. Blair shot him one grateful glance, his eyes brimming with pleasure at the support, before he turned back to Jim. O'Neill looked like he'd had ten rounds with Ali at his peak. From the way he moved, slightly hunched to favor his ribs, he probably shouldn't even be out of bed yet, and likely was only because of Denlin's victims filling the infirmary who needed special treatment--and as many beds as possible. Ribs just had to heal, and as long as O'Neill wasn't doing anything too strenuous, he would probably manage just fine.
*Until the Goa'uld defeat him,* Denlin reminded him. *The Tauri think they can defeat us, but they cannot. They are weak. Only by a fluke did you stop the ships of my lord Apophis.*
*Fluke, nothing. Good intelligence and competence stopped Apophis. We had his number. Those ships were full of hostile Jaffa--and FOUR PEOPLE stopped them. That should make you think.*
"We're ready to proceed," Fraiser told Sandburg.
Jim's guide tensed. "Hey, Jim," he said. "Here to help you out. I bet you're a lot more tired of Denlin than we are, and we aren't gonna give him the key to the city any time in the next three decades. So it's time for him to take a hike. Denlin, you can hear me. I'm giving you a chance to leave Jim now. You go, we won't even kill you."
"He's right," O'Neill said. He had a hand on Blair's shoulder. "We'll turn you over to the Tok'ra. Maybe they can even use you in a prisoner exchange or something. Best offer you're gonna get."
"I do not make deals with humans," sneered Denlin. Jim just *hated* that Goa'uld voice.
"We tried," Blair said. "You're not interested, fine. He nodded at one of the orderlies, who flipped a couple of switches. Nothing happened. Jim waited, concentrating."
"Jim, you're repressed," Blair continued.
"He knows that," scoffed the Goa'uld. "I repress him. I control him."
"No," said Sandburg with supreme confidence. "You don't. You never met a human being like Jim Ellison before, and that is going to be your downfall.
"Blair Sandburg is correct," offered Teal'c. "I know more of the Goa'uld than the humans of Earth, and I know that you will not win."
"Don't attempt to intimidate me, Shol'va. Nothing you can say will impress me."
"Yet," put in Daniel. "Wait and see."
"You, Jackson. You think to destroy me. Do not do so. I can give you Sha're's present location."
"I've had offers like that before," Daniel replied. He straightened up to his full height, ignoring the pain that caused a flicker behind his eyes. Carter and Teal'c, one on either side of him, stepped closer in a gesture of automatic solidarity and O'Neill glanced over his shoulder. Jim couldn't see the look the Colonel gave him, but it made Daniel smile. It was a crooked little smile but it acknowledged his team's support. "I'm not gonna take you up on yours. I'll get Sha're back without your deception and treachery."
"And we'll all help him," said Blair. "Jim, listen to me. He can't keep you from hearing me. But here's the deal. I want you to be unrepressed. I want you to be as unrepressed as you can possibly be. Do you *sense* what I'm saying?"
Denlin didn't have a clue. Jim felt a wave of relief at the frustration that beat at his subconscious seeking answers. The Goa'uld couldn't break into the human subconscious; as long as something was not conceptualized, it was blocked.
Jim's long experience with the issue in question stood him in good stead. He understood exactly what Sandburg expected of him. He knew what the banks of lights and the stereo system was for and a part of him cringed at it, but the rest of him, the part of him that had stood up to Denlin in the only way possible until now realized that it might be the only hope he had.
"You speak in riddles," Denlin accused.
Blair grinned. "No, I don't. You're just too stupid to understand me."
The Goa'uld's rage pumped through Jim and he struggled ineffectually against the restraints that held him in place. Jim waited, collecting himself. He tried to signal to Sandburg with his eyes and wasn't sure that he'd made his point until he saw Blair's answering nod. He got it. The Sentinel/guide bond was stronger than anything the Goa'uld could throw up against it.
Jim collected himself. *Steady. Steady.*
"Now!" cried Blair and raised his hands to pop earplugs into his ears. Behind him, SG-1 did the same. Goggles appeared from nowhere and covered the eyes of everyone in the room.
Before Denlin could react, the lights came up in a flash of searing brilliance and the speakers thudded out a cacophony of crashing noise that deafened, even without heightened senses. Heat roiled out of the portable units, and the lids came off the sealed containers to allow the putrid smell of rotting food and acrid chemicals to wash over Jim. As he threw open his senses, dialing each one of them up to the utter maximum, he saw Janet Fraiser and two of her nurses come forward, Fraiser to monitor the readings and the goggled nurses to begin applying pain in the form of acupuncture needles that they used to prod his flesh. They didn't poke him hard enough to break the skin, but with his senses wide open it was hard enough to hurt--to stab him like lances. An orderly applied the cattle prod thing and shock made his body buck.
The sensations rolled over Jim in a flood, tumbling him over and over in the full blazing force. Light, sound, heat, pain, smell, bludgeoned him with the intensity of a savage attack with cudgels. Two orderlies forced open his mouth and put something on his tongue that was the most repulsive, bitter, foul thing he could ever remember tasting. With every sense at maximum, the overload had him screaming with the agony of it. Even the Goa'uld's automatic closing of his eyes couldn't shut out the light, and orderlies pried his eyelids open. He could hear Denlin's mental screeches of incredible anguish adding to the burden that pounded him down. Everything in the universe went sideways, out of control, and he was scarcely aware of the distressed cries of the people in the room as they clapped hands over ears and squeezed eyes tightly shut. With a pair of heavy, dark goggles over her eyes, Janet Fraiser edged closer to scrutinize the monitors that displayed Jim's and Denlin's reactions.
Fraiser yelled something, but Jim couldn't distinguish it from the battering sound that thundered through the room. Jim was sure they could hear it on the surface. In the midst of the blinding white light that dazzled his unprotected eyes, he saw the orderlies wheeling the crash cart closer.
*No! NO! NO!" screamed Denlin in his mind. Even though the sound was not audible, it hurt as if it were. Jim thrashed against the restraints, helpless to do anything. He couldn't dial the senses down. He couldn't do anything but endure the agony of his lacerated sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch.
Something was happening in his head. It felt as if his brain was being ripped apart. The sensory overload? A stroke? Denlin's revenge? Jim could scarcely think, could barely focus enough to localize the new anguish when his entire being was a mass of writhing agony. This was worse than any of that, though. So much worse....
He threw back his head against the pillow and screamed and screamed and screamed....
"They're separating," Janet Fraiser bellowed over the blasts of noise from the massive speakers. "The Goa'uld is separating from Major Ellison."
"It's *working*?" Sandburg screeched back. He tore his eyes from Jim's twisted features long enough to stare at the monitor screen. Jim's heartbeat shouldn't be all over the place like that, should it? God, what if this killed him? *Shit, shit, shit.* Now the orderlies had the crash cart right up against the bed. They would have to defibrillate him. Sheer terror raced through Blair's veins. If Jim died....
"It's okay, Jim, it's okay, Jim," he chanted, but he could see no evidence that his mantra was getting through to the Sentinel. The Colonel's supportive hand was firm on his shoulder, and the rest of SG-1 crowded as close as they could without getting in the way of the medical personnel. The nurses kept on sticking Jim with the acupuncture needles, and the pungent tang of the rotted food made Sandburg's eyes water. Over the chaotic blasts from the speakers that cut through Blair's earplugs almost as if they weren't there, he could hear the doctor and her staff yelling back and forth. He couldn't do anything about that, and he couldn't even ask Jim to focus because anything like that would make it easier for Denlin. *Come on, you son of a bitch,* he thought to the Goa'uld. *Get out of him. Get out of him now.* The longer it went, the deeper the sensory overload would drive Jim into his own mind. Too intense a zone-out might force him so deep inside his mind that he could never emerge. The Goa'uld might leave and Jim would still be lost. Blair shuddered and nearly staggered at the weight of the responsibility he had assumed. Jim was dying, and they couldn't stop or it would all be to do over again. Jim was dying, dying of the overload, of the Goa'uld within him. *I'm sorry, Jim. I tried.*
"No! NO! NO!" screamed Denlin again, its voice so harsh and shaking that the sound shouldn't have been able to emerge from a human throat. Then its cries broke off to be replaced by frantic screaming. Frantic *human* screaming. There was nothing of Denlin in the agonized cries that went on and on, that cut through Sandburg's earplugs as if he weren't even wearing them. He could feel their tortured echoes through his entire body, down to the soles of his feet, and inside, to the depths of his soul. Jim's eyes scrunched so tightly shut his face twisted with it. Sheer agony ran across his features and drove a similar agony through Blair.
Even though he rarely took his eyes from Jim's face and then only to check the monitors, Sandburg noticed Janet Fraiser's flinch. She leaned in closer, not content with the readings, and began a physical examination, her fingers feeling for a pulse. She lifted one tightly- pressed eyelid and studied Jim's eye.
The Goa'uld readings on the monitor shivered away and something started happening. Jim's body lunged up against the restraints, and his wrists tore at the closures around his wrists. The desperate cries screeched up to a near-soprano explosion as Jim's body contorted, bunched, heaved.
Blair couldn't stand it. Jim was dying. He knew it. Jim was dying right now and it had been his own idea. He was killing his best friend. He could feel tears leaking out of the corners of his eyes and he didn't even try to stop them.
The Colonel's hand shifted and suddenly his arm was firm around Sandburg's shoulders. Blair leaned back against him for one blessed second, relishing the support, then he pulled away from it. He couldn't accept it, not when Jim was dying, not when he continued to scream in tortured agony, not when that horrible suffering was at Blair's instigation.
"Ready! Ready!" Doctor Fraiser's cry was so abrupt and urgent it even cut through Jim's yells, shredding the tumult from the speakers. The people with the crash cart did something with it, readying it for use. Jim's readings were even more erratic than before. He was dying. Denlin was killing him.
Then something happened that sickened Blair to the soul. The body on the bed arched up desperately, contorted against the pain, then something long and slithery and nasty slid out of Jim's ear with a hissing of rage and skittered away to the floor. It moved so fast Blair barely had time to register it before a booted foot came down upon it just below the feral head and pinned it savagely.
Blair jerked his eyes up and saw O'Neill, his face hard and angry, as he slowly exerted pressure on the struggling Goa'uld.
"Shut it down," bellowed Fraiser. "Shut it all down," and the lights and roar from the speakers cut out just like that. Lids closed over the reeking containers, the heating elements started to cool from their white-hot glow to a duller red. The acupuncture needles drew back. Fraiser had the restraints off so fast it was almost like magic. The stillness and dimness made the room appear gloomy with shadows and every normal sound muted. Urgently, Blair popped out the earplugs from his aching ears and let them fall to the floor. He whipped off the heavy goggles and stared at his friend. Everybody else removed their goggles. Jack tossed his away and they made a faint, distant clattering sound against the floor as they broke.
Blair turned hopefully to the man on the bed. "Jim!"
Ellison was still screaming.
Ready with the defibrillator paddles, Fraiser hesitated, her eyes on the readings. Jim was still yelling, still thrashing. God, there was blood on his ear. Had that thing torn his brain up on its way out? Even an animal could suffer pain, could cry out in anguish. The screams didn't mean Denlin had left him intact. Was there anything of Jim Ellison inside? A part of Sandburg wanted O'Neill to stomp the Goa'uld so hard it popped.
But the heart readings were stabilizing, steadying. Janet hesitated, then she passed the paddles to a tech and started to pump up a blood pressure cuff around Jim's arm. The doctors, nurses, and techs conferred in urgent tones while the frantic screams subsided into shuddering moans.
"Don't, sir." That was Carter, and the urgent note of her voice cut through Blair's fixation with Jim.
"Don't tell me for one second that everybody in the galaxy wouldn't benefit if I stomped this snake's life into jelly?" O'Neill's voice was harsh, unyielding.
Daniel edged up to face the Colonel, his arms curled around his chest as if he were cold, in spite of the fact that it was so stiflingly hot in the room that everyone was sweating. "We can imprison it, Jack. Study it. Give it to the Tok'ra. Even save it for bargaining purposes. We might need something to trade one day."
"This mother *shot* you," Jack flashed back at him. "It had the Jaffa beat the crap out of me, poisoned a couple dozen people on this base, and look what it's done to Ellison. You think I should cut it any slack?"
"No." Daniel hugged himself harder. The answer so astonished the Colonel that he stopped the inexorable pressure of his foot and blinked at the archaeologist as if he had never seen him before. Blair snatched up Jim's hand and squeezed it reassuringly, but he didn't turn his full attention on him, not while the drama played itself out. Jim didn't respond to the grip, not the slightest pressure of his fingers in anything but convulsive movement.
O'Neill's mouth fell open as he regarded the archaeologist. "You *want* me to squash its Goa'uld brains out?"
Daniel's face flared with savage emotion. "Yes! I want you to stomp it into the floor," he hissed. "I want you to kill it, slowly, painfully. You think it's easy for me to say no? I killed all those Goa'uld larva back on Chulak, just blasted their tank in cold blood. We know what it will do if it gets the chance. It will take over another human being-- maybe another person I care about." He was practically rocking with intensity.
"So then, what should stop me?" Jack's face was still adamant. Sandburg divided his attention between the two men who stood face to face in confrontation and the slowly stabilizing readings on the monitor. Denlin's readings were gone, and Jim's were gradually normalizing. Even the screaming had faded to muted moans and sobs, although his whole body was still curled tight, every muscle locked in pained spasms. His hand flexed in Sandburg's clasp, but there was no awareness in the grip. Blair could do nothing for him except continue the chanted, "Easy, Jim. Easy, Jim." But even though he wanted nothing more than for O'Neill's boot to come down hard on the Goa'uld and squish it into roadkill, a part of him knew that to do that was to change something inside the Colonel forever. Even wanting it to happen was changing something inside Blair. He shuddered, rubbing Jim's hand in both of his own.
He couldn't interfere, though. Not even Sam and Teal'c interfered, and none of the medical personnel or the security guards that had their rifles aimed at Denlin's writhing, hissing body did a thing except stand there frozen in place.
Sandburg curled his fingers tight around Jim's clutching hand, but he let go with the other one and touched the Colonel's arm.
Jack didn't appear to notice. He was focused on Daniel with single- minded intensity. "Come on, Daniel, tell me why I shouldn't stomp this mother-fucking Goa'uld out of existence."
"Because killing those Goa'uld did something to me, something inside," Daniel replied. "I wasn't...I wasn't as...clean as I'd been before. Jack, I know you've had to do terrible things in your career. I know it's made you harder than me. But don't do this. Not because I give a damn about Denlin. I want him dead, just like you do. But I don't want you to change the way you would if you killed him in cold blood." He unwrapped himself, reached out, and put his hands on Jack's shoulders. "Don't do it, Jack. Please."
"Daniel Jackson is right, O'Neill," Teal'c rumbled in the background. He stood there projecting rock-bottom integrity at the Colonel. "I have done...despicable things in my career as First Prime to Apophis. I have offered...to pay for them at the Cor-ai. Do not place yourself in a position where such payment would be necessary."
"Don't do it, sir," Carter urged. She didn't touch Jack, but she gazed at him urgently. "I hate the Goa'uld as much as anyone does. But this just doesn't feel right. It's wrong. We've won. Don't destroy our victory."
Jack registered them and then turned back to Daniel. "He *shot* you," he repeated almost helplessly.
"I know. And I don't want to give him any medals for it, but I'm all right." Daniel ventured a tentative smile. "Come on, Jack. He *lost*. Now he's a prisoner. Maybe he can stand trial. Maybe the Quich‚ even want him for espionage."
"Either way, he's going down," Jack snarled. "Damn it, Daniel, I want to kill him right now. I want it so bad I can taste it."
"I know," Daniel soothed. His grip tightened on O'Neill's shoulders. He lowered his eyes. "A part of me wants you to."
Somehow, those words did the trick. Jack shivered convulsively, then he reached out and clasped Daniel's shoulders in return. Daniel's head came up and a long, intense look passed between the two men, then Jack turned away abruptly. "Somebody come and grab this thing before I change my mind," he called over his shoulder.
A tech came over with a set of tongs and got a clasp on the Goa'uld just in front of Jack's boot toe. When he had it secured, O'Neill lifted his foot. The Goa'uld hissed and writhed so savagely that Blair flinched, but the tech was ready. A second later, the Goa'uld slid down into a container filled with fluid and another tech closed a lid over it and secured it with snap locks.
Everybody in the room heaved a sigh of relief.
"Shoulda killed it," O'Neill muttered under his breath. He grimaced, tightened his grip on Daniel's shoulders for a second, and then let go. Daniel gave him a small, crooked smile as if he knew that doing the right thing didn't always feel as good as it should. Jack took that for absolution and his face relaxed a little. Carter beamed and Teal's eyes warmed. For a long moment, SG-1 stood together, joined by the moment, projecting the kind of profound bonding that Sandburg had with Jim. God, that maybe he'd *had* with Jim and couldn't any longer.
Then O'Neill, who was no better at the emotional displays than Jim was, broke the moment. He turned to Sandburg. "How's he coming?"
Everyone turned to stare at Ellison.
The Sentinel's eyes were wide open, but there was no awareness in them. They were glazed with shock or pain, or maybe even the most complete zone-out Blair had ever seen. Faint whimpers escaped his slack mouth, and the blood on his ear stood out starkly.
"Janet?" Blair pleaded. He heard his voice catch and falter. At the sound of it, SG-1 gathered around him, opening up their 'family' and drawing him into it. O'Neill clapped Sandburg on the shoulder again.
"I've got brain activity," the doctor replied. "But he's in a state of shock that I haven't seen before. Is this like a zone-out?"
"It's like a zone-out the way a tsunami is like high tide," Blair replied. "I never saw him react like that. But then he never opened up his senses all the way to such massive stimulation before. Even if the Goa'uld hadn't been in the picture, he'd be massively zoned." *Please, let it just be a zone-out.* "What about...about...?" He gestured to Jim's ear.
"I think that's superficial," the doctor said. "I'd have totally different readings if the Goa'uld had...done brain damage on its way out. I think it was so panicked that it simply fled. It may have even suffered damage on the way out. We'll have to watch him for any swelling of the brain and I'm keeping him right here in the infirmary until I'm absolutely certain that won't happen. But his heart's steady and his blood pressure is returning to normal. I want you to see if you can coax him out of it."
"Do what you'd do if he had zoned out," suggested Daniel in the background.
"Okay." Sandburg collected himself, drew in a breath so deep his chest heaved with it, and let it out again. Jim still struggled faintly. "Jim," he said softly. "Jim, it's Blair. Listen to me. I want you to listen to me. I *need* you to listen to me."
Nothing. No response at all, not even a flicker in those wide-open blue eyes. Nobody home. The thought hit Blair like a sledgehammer. *Ellison has left the building.* What if the Goa'uld had done something, taken away all that made Jim...made him Jim? Janet said there were brain waves, but maybe all that meant was that he was alive, not that he was still the same person, the person who was Blair's friend.
"Jim, come on, you're scaring me here." He caught Jim's other hand and squeezed them both. "It's okay, Jim. The Goa'uld is out of you. It's gone. We've got it locked up in a jar and it can't get out. You're safe."
"It's all right, Jim," Sam said in the softest tones Blair had ever heard from her. "I know how it feels. I know how hard it is to let go. I know you feel you've been..." She trailed that off abruptly. Just as well. Jim didn't need to be reminded of the violation of his very being. Sam's teammates picked up on what she had left unspoken and closed around her in support, and she nodded faintly to reassure them before she continued. "But I know you're still in there. It's safe to come out now. It's safe to relax, to let go. You have to trust the people who care for you. Blair never stopped trying to help you. He's right here. I know how much it hurts right now, but everybody's going to help you. And I'm here any time you want to talk. Any time you need someone who has gone through it."
"See, Jim," Blair took up the conversation again. "Everybody's on your side. You didn't do anything beyond forgiving. You didn't do anything that even *needs* forgiveness. You're okay and we're all on your side."
"You called that one, Sandburg," put in O'Neill. "If I can stand here and egg you on, then anybody can."
"Indeed. We are here for you, Major Ellison." God, Teal'c could sound like the most reassuring person in the universe when he put his heart and mind to it.
"We need you to come back," urged Daniel. "I need to know the Goa'uld don't always win."
"See, Jim, it's okay." Blair squeezed the hands. "I know you're in pretty deep. I know you might not even make sense of all this yet. I really made you overload yourself. So what I want you to do is just to listen to my voice. To follow it out. Just keep listening, Jim. Just keep following my voice. I'm right here. I'll be here as long as you need me, I swear it."
"That's good, Blair, keep talking to him," urged Doctor Fraiser. "I see a response when you talk to him. He does hear us all, but I don't know that he can respond yet. He's somewhere between consciousness and coma, but closer to consciousness. I haven't had a chance to monitor a zone- out, but I think this might be along those lines."
"Is it safe to shake him a little?" Blair asked. "I won't...hurt his brain?"
"Very gently. Stop if I tell you."
Blair let go of Jim's hands to grab him by the upper arms, but before he could do so, Jim's fingers curled convulsively and he stretched out, groping, reaching for the hold he'd had. It might have been purely instinctive, but it was such a definite reaction that Blair grabbed his hands again and squeezed them tight.
"It's okay, Jim. I'm right here. I'm not leaving. I promise you that. Trust me, Jim. It's gonna be okay."
The fingers clamped down on Blair's so hard he had to bite his bottom lip to keep from crying out. He felt O'Neill's hand tighten on his shoulder to give him balance, and an edge of gratified warmth pumped through him, along with a fleeting relief that Jack hadn't broken down and stomped Denlin, then he concentrated on Jim with every fiber of his being.
"Jim, we've turned the lights down and the sound off. It's safe to listen and look. Turn the sense dials down, slowly, little by little. Don't shut them off entirely. Focus yourself. Hear my voice. We're gonna have you dial down to 'normal'. Can you do that for me? I really need you to do that for me."
Fraiser puttered around doing doctor things that Blair didn't understand. She monitored the readout, checked the electrode leads, took Jim's blood pressure again. One of the nurses cleaned Jim's ear. Sandburg was aware of it peripherally, but his entire focus was on Jim, watching the Sentinel's face. God, Jim had been through hell. Blair had never seen him look so bad.
Jim had felt doubts about belonging to the Stargate program. He'd missed being a cop. What if he came out of this and walked out? He wouldn't be safe out there, not for a heartbeat, especially if people like Maybourne found out he'd had a Goa'uld in him. He was even less safe than before. But maybe he'd have had enough....
That could wait. Getting Jim back was all that mattered. "Jim, please, you have to listen. You have to follow my voice. Focus on me, Jim. Turn the pain dial down. Turn down the senses. Focus."
He bent over Ellison and tried to make eye contact. The blurry look in the older man's eyes faded a little and he squinted tightly, then pressed his eyelids closed. He groaned heartrendingly.
"Jim? God, Jim, you're scaring me."
"Ch-chief?" The question was so faint and broken Blair wouldn't have heard it if he'd been one step further back.
"Jim! Jim, you can hear me? Jim, look at me. We've got the light dim. It's okay to look. Come on." He positioned himself carefully between Jim and the overhead lighting.
One eyelid slitted open carefully. There was awareness in the glint of blue. "S-sandburg?"
"That's right, Jim, I'm here. Denlin's gone. You drove it out of yourself. You saved yourself, Jim. You're gonna be just fine."
"Whoa. Slow...down...Chief." His voice quivered with traces of pain and a desperate hope. "...gone...?"
"Yes, it's gone." That was Janet Fraiser, crisply professional in her medical persona. "Jim, I've taken thorough readings. There is no evidence of the Goa'uld essence within you, nothing more than what Major Carter has. We've learned how to detect it since our early failure with Major Kawalsky." She cast a quick, apologetic glance at O'Neill. "It's gone. It left you."
"Gone." Jim closed the eye again and gradually the tension eased enough for his muscles to start to unlock. The death-grip on Blair's hands didn't let up, though. "I can't...feel it...any more."
"No, it's really gone, Jim," Blair reassured him. "Come on, let me work through your senses with you, make sure they're controlled. Then you can rest."
"Don't...want to...rest," Jim said with a desperate stubbornness. "Don't want...to remember."
"You don't have to remember now," Sam soothed. "Jim, it's all right. I know where you are right now. I've been there, too. Let it go. You're safe and Blair will stay with you while you rest."
Jim's eyes lingered on her a doubtful second then he sought out Blair and pinned him in an urgent gaze. "Chief? You'll...stay?"
"Right here with you, Jim. For as long as it takes."
"And that means the rest of you can go now," Janet said sternly. She made gestures to the orderlies to remove the special equipment, and shooed away all but one of the nurses. Blair noticed she didn't send the defibrillator away, and that scared him, but he tried very hard not to let it show in his eyes.
"That means you, too, SG-1," Fraiser instructed. "Colonel, Daniel, I want both of you to rest in your quarters until the evening meal. You shouldn't be up and doing. You'd still be my patients if there weren't so many other people with more claim to it."
Jim's face twisted.
Blair bent closer anxiously. "Jim?"
Ellison avoided his eyes. "My...fault."
"*Nothing* is your fault, Jim. Not one damn thing," Blair insisted.
"O'Neill.... Jackson.... I poisoned...all those people. ...choked you...."
"The *hell* you did." That was O'Neill, and he sounded angry. "The second you claim responsibility for any of that, you give that snake victory. Don't do that. You beat him. He's not gonna trash anybody else. I don't blame you, and Daniel doesn't blame you, Sandburg would never blame you for a second, and I know those people who got poisoned are gonna kick me because I didn't squish old Denny when I had the chance. But it's not your damn fault, Ellison. I mean it."
Sandburg nodded so vehemently his hair fell in his eyes and he had to toss his head to shake it back. "And you have to listen to him. He's the Colonel."
"And I'm the General." Hammond came up behind him. "Major Ellison, welcome back. We're glad to see you in one piece. "You are not to accept blame for this, and that is a direct order. Do you understand."
Somehow, that was right. Blair saw Jim's muscles finally ease into such laxness that he was on the edge of passing out. He'd stopped bracing himself against the horrible thing he believed he had done.
"Nice to know what authority I have around here," Jack muttered under his breath.
"What was that, Colonel?" the General asked him.
Jim's mouth quirked faintly in tentative amusement, and Blair blessed the two officers for their byplay.
"I said you're in charge, sir," Jack replied, all stiffly military.
Carter put on her best Majorly face and Teal'c stiffened to attention, but Daniel's mouth twitched and his eyes twinkled with amusement. Not a laugh-out-loud guy, Daniel, but Jack knew he was laughing at him.
"See, Jim," Blair told the Sentinel. "It's gonna be okay. General Hammond says so. And so do I."
"Well, if you...say so...Chief, then I hafta...believe it." Jim's hands loosened their death grip, squeezed lightly, and went lax, and his eyes closed.
"Excellent. Sleeping," Fraiser reassured Blair quickly. "You--stay. Everybody else out now." She glanced up at Hammond. "Even you, sir."
Jack rolled his eyes at the General. "Doctors!" he groused.
"Bed, Colonel. You too, Daniel."
"Dictators," Daniel muttered.
Blair watched them depart, then he dragged up a chair and curled himself into it, prepared to stay here as long as it took and guard Jim's sleep.
"You should be in bed, Colonel."
Jack whirled at the unexpected voice behind him. Busted. Fraiser looked like she hadn't slept in six months, but she also had that stubborn doctor look on her face.
"Aw, come on, Janet, you discharged me, remember?"
"I discharged you to *rest*, Colonel. Not to go sneaking around my infirmary at midnight. Dare I hope that Daniel is in bed and not lurking, too?"
"Oh yeah, he's in bed. I dragged him off there a while back. He didn't want to go but I pulled rank on him. Hafta say, he wasn't a happy camper."
"I'm glad you did that, although your injuries are actually worse than his. You'll be grounded longer than he will, and even though being shot sounds worse than a beating and broken ribs, his wound was actually very slight."
Jack grinned at the reassurance. He'd seen Daniel improving all day. Jackson was just lucky he'd had that backpack on. If he'd gotten himself shot worse, O'Neill would have taken great pleasure in really letting him have it the second he was up to it. Saving Jack's life like that....
He decided to attack rather than take it. "What are *you* doing up? I thought most of your patients were out of here already."
"I've got five left and they'll be released in the morning," Fraiser replied. "I've been keeping an eye on Jim Ellison, though."
"There seems to be no neurological damage. Him I'm keeping longer, just to be absolutely certain there'll be no delayed reaction." She frowned. "I remember Major Carter's reaction to Jolinar, so I'm more concerned about a psychological reaction than a physical one at this point. I've scheduled Jim to see Doctor MacKenzie tomorrow afternoon."
"Yeah, a shrink. Just what he needs."
"Frankly, Colonel, it's what Jim and Blair will *both* need, and I really recommend you and Daniel see him as well. I don't think you'll have any trust issues where Ellison is concerned; you didn't with Sam. But then Sam didn't commit atrocities on any of you."
Jack stiffened. "Wasn't Ellison," he muttered. "Denlin all the way. I know that."
"Will you know that the next time you see Jim Ellison in proximity to Daniel with a gun in his hand?"
Jack winced. *Ouch*. "You fight dirty, doc." He grimaced. "Look, Janet, I *know* it wasn't Ellison's fault. For me, it's okay. But Daniel jumped in and took that bullet *for me*. Think that's easy?"
"Frankly, I think you're both lucky, not only to survive, but because not everyone is fortunate enough to have a friend who cares that much." She didn't embarrass Jack by enlarging on that theme but moved right on. Sometimes Fraiser could out-MacKenzie the shrink. "That's what's going to do the job for Jim, too. Blair standing by him. He's in there now, and while he should sleep, I'm not going to send him to bed. Jim needs him there if he should wake up. Besides, I think it would take SG-3--a heavily armed SG-3--to drag him out of there."
"Yeah, I figured that. I'm gonna pop in and see him, if that's okay. Then I'll be a good little boy and go to bed." He waggled his eyebrows at her. "Wanna tuck me in?"
She gave his arm a swat. Jack couldn't help noticing that she managed to hit one of the rare un-bruised portions of his anatomy. "In your dreams, Colonel. All right, go. Sandburg respects you. I'd question his taste, but--"
"Now you're really pushing it," O'Neill groused.
She waved him toward Ellison's room. "Don't stay too long."
He paused in the doorway and studied the room's occupants, conscious of Fraiser moving away on her doctor business. Dollars to doughnuts she'd be back in five minutes to shoo him off to bed.
Sandburg was half-dozing in his chair, his chin propped on his left hand, the fingers of his right curled around Ellison's hand, the one that didn't have an IV in it. All those nifty little electrodes were still in place, and the monitors recorded a steady heartbeat and a lot of other little jiggly lines Jack didn't know how to interpret but that seemed okay, at least from his experiences watching them when one of his team was hurt. The lines of strain on Sandburg's face made him look ten years older than his actual age, and the hippie hair that hung loose only emphasized his fatigue. He was young enough to pull a few all- nighters without crashing the way Jack would. O'Neill didn't want to think about the way his bones creaked.
At the faint question from Ellison, Blair popped to alertness. "Right here, Jim."
Jack hung back. They didn't need him barging in and wrecking the moment, not if Ellison was all hung up about what had happened.
"It's gone?" The shadows in the Sentinel's face put him in Jack's age category. O'Neill winced at the hesitation in his voice.
From the way Sandburg stiffened, this wasn't the first time the question had come up. "Yeah, Jim, it's really gone. They locked it up in a container that it can't get out of, and they're still trying to decide what to do with it. They don't think they want to give it to the Tok'ra in case it gets loose or traded, because it knows too much about us, so I think they're just gonna keep it locked up here where it'll never be free again. Best thing for it. But it's definitely gone and it can't get you again. You *know* I wouldn't lie to you. It's gone and Janet was just in here. She says you aren't gonna have *any* neurological problems. You drove it out of yourself so quick that it didn't take the time to trash you. You're gonna be just fine." He gave the hand he held a little shake.
"Yeah, feels like it." The sarcasm in Jim's voice made Sandburg flinch.
"She said you'd have a headache--but that's not what you mean, is it?"
Ellison closed his eyes, but much too tightly to indicate sleep. Memories of Carter's withdrawal after Jolinar flooded Jack's mind. Okay, so maybe MacKenzie wasn't such a bad idea after all.
"Jim, listen, it's really okay." God, Sandburg had that sincerity thing down pat. He meant every word of it, too. "Listen, you did something that was just soooo incredible. You drove a Goa'uld out of yourself-- *you* did it. Don't you see, being a Sentinel was what made it work. You took it on and you got rid of it. We couldn't have done that for you. We helped, but you did it. Don't you know how fantastic that was? First of all, you felt it coming and you dialed your senses down and blocked the Goa'uld from knowing about it. Oh, man, that was great. Then you hung in there and kept it from finding out. And then you managed to get it across to me what you'd done and when we played along with what you'd told me, you did exactly the right thing."
Somehow, those last words meant something to Ellison. He didn't open his eyes but a little of the rigidity left his body. "If I did the right thing," he muttered bitterly, "why are so many people patients in here? Why does Jackson have a bullet hole in him and O'Neill look like he's been stomped on by a troop of Jaffa?"
"Because the Goa'uld are the bad guys, Jim." Sandburg hovered over him protectively. "That's what they do. Even if you are the Sentinel of Planet Earth, you're still one guy, and it took time for us to figure out how to help you get free. None of what happened is your fault. You were set up. But it only took *two days* to get free. I know those were really crummy days, Jim, but you did it."
Ellison looked away. "I choked you out."
"No." Hotly. "That *wasn't you.*"
Jim jerked away from Sandburg's clasp and held up both hands. "That *was* me, Sandburg. I could feel myself choking the life out of you. I didn't even know if you were *alive* at first." He shuddered.
"Dammit, Jim, that *wasn't you*. That was your hands, but there's a difference. Unless you say you *wanted* to strangle me, then it wasn't you. I mean it. Colonel O'Neill and Daniel have been in and out, and they're worried about you. They don't blame you, either. They blame Denlin. Oh, man, Jim, the Colonel wanted to squish Denlin so bad. When it left you, it was hissing around on the floor and the Colonel got his boot on it. He really wanted to tramp it into oblivion."
"Can sympathize with that."
"Yeah, but he didn't. Daniel talked him out of it. I'm glad, too, even though a part of me wanted him to do it. Jim, listen. What I'm trying to say is that Jack knows who to blame for what happened--and it isn't you. I know it wasn't you who choked me, and don't look at me like that. I'm not gonna freak about it or have hang-ups about it. It's just so good to have you back--that's the only thing that matters. Don't do this guilt thing. I don't know of *anybody* else who could have done what you did. Sam is free because Jolinar chose to leave her, and that Kendra on Cimmeria we heard about got free because of Thor's Hammer. But you got free because you're who and what you are. And that is just so great." He recaptured Jim's hand. "I know you feel bad, and that's okay, too, but it's gonna be all right. You'll see."
Ellison ventured a look at Sandburg, and the sheer affection on his guide's face must have reassured him. More muscle untensing. Guy would be stiff as a board from those knotted muscles in the morning.
Sandburg's voice was soothing. "Jim, the thing is, you've been used, and that's never great. But don't you see, you took back power? You were in a totally new situation. There was *no way* to prepare for it ahead of time. Not in the Army, not in the police academy, not even in any of your Sentinel experience. But you absolutely did the right thing all the way through. I remember you told me I did the right thing when Lash had me. Gotta say it still scared the hell out of me. Gave me a few really choice nightmares. It's not the same as what you went through, but it was still about being helpless and out of control. Only you took control back. You fought and you won. Jim, I am so incredibly proud of you."
Ellison scrunched his eyes shut instantly but not before Jack and Sandburg had seen the suspicious brightness in his eyes. *Bingo, kid,* Jack thought approvingly. *Best thing you could have said.*
Sandburg sucked in breath and then he leaned down and gathered Jim into a reassuring hug. Jack would have bet money that Ellison was as far as you could get from being a touchy-feely kind of guy, but even the worst hard-ass alive might need a hug when he'd been Goa'ulded. Ellison's arms went around Sandburg with a tight ferocity and he held on for all he was worth.
Jack grinned, remembering the way he'd greeted Daniel after he'd turned up, miraculously alive, after the two Goa'uld ships had blown up in orbit. There were times when nothing else worked half so well.
Smiling a mile wide, Jack turned away and went off to find his bed. He wasn't needed here. Sandburg had everything well in hand.
Daniel felt so much better the next morning that he could almost forget he'd been shot. Unless he moved too quickly or turned wrong, the wound didn't even hurt. When he ran into Jack in the mess he realized he felt far better than O'Neill looked. The colonel's bruises were still incredibly vivid. Short of a layer of pancake make up, they would prove a reminder of what had happened for days to come. Jack was sitting carefully, too, playing around idly with a bowl of Froot Loops, trailing the spoon through them as if panning for gold. Teal'c, across from him, and Carter, at the Colonel's side, divided their attention between their own breakfasts and O'Neill.
When Daniel carried his tray over to join them, they all looked up in perfect unison as if they'd choreographed it. Three sets of eyes measured Daniel carefully, checking him out, making sure he was okay. Three pairs of eyes relaxed as they saw how easily he moved. Feeling a lot better than he had even moments before, Daniel dropped into the chair opposite Jack. "Hi, guys."
"Sleeping beauty awakes."
"You're a fine one to talk, Jack." Daniel let his eyes run over the Colonel's bruises. "Guess multi-colored is the order of the day. Is this some camouflage look I never heard of before?"
"Oh, I don't know. I think I can carry it off." Jack struck a careful pose.
"It is not your best look, O'Neill."
"Oh, thanks, Teal'c. If my own team can't tell me, who can."
"Have you seen Blair and Jim this morning?" Daniel asked.
"The Colonel dragged Sandburg off to bed an hour ago," Sam replied. "We all helped. He'd been up all night and most of the night before."
"Yeah, I told Hammond he should shut the place down for forty-eight hours so we could all crash." Jack grinned at the idea. "Funny thing, Hammond wasn't that gung ho about it."
"At least they found all the poison," Sam offered. "We lost a lot of coffee and junk food but it could have been worse. At least no one died."
"Oh yeah, Daniel, we heard from the Tollans about Ellison's Goa'uld." Jack's mouth twisted wryly. "Guess what. They said they couldn't help us. Big surprise there. They said we had to handle it ourselves. Ditto with the Nox. Don't you just love having allies?"
"What about Thor?" Daniel would have expected more help from Thor.
"I think he might have found a Hammer if we hadn't already taken care of the problem," Jack admitted, "even if he didn't say so. Hammond sent a message that the problem was resolved."
"And it wouldn't surprise me if we didn't have the Tollans knocking at our gate trying to find out why." Sam had a sparkle in her eye. At the thought of seeing that Tollan guy Narim again? Or just delight that the Tauri had one-upped everybody this time?
"I take it Jim being a Sentinel is still classified as far as our allies are concerned?" Daniel asked. He forked up some scrambled eggs. This morning he was hungry again. He was glad to see that Jack had started in on his cereal again. Not your usual healthy breakfast.
"Oh yeah, goes without saying," agreed O'Neill. "They all keep their little secrets. About time we had one of our own. Secret weapon all the way."
"Will he be all right?"
"Major Ellison is a strong man," Teal'c ventured. "He has strong support from Blair Sandburg. I believe he will make it."
"Janet says he's gonna be fine, and Sandburg's hanging in there for him. Got to hand it to the kid. He's as stubborn as--as you are, Daniel."
"Me?" Daniel kidded. But he saw a flash of pride in Jack's eyes and knew O'Neill had really come around to liking Sandburg. He filled some of the empty places in the Colonel's spirit, the places that had lost a small son, had lost Skaara. The rest of SG-1 filled different places for Jack, just like they did for Daniel. Maybe he just hadn't let himself need people until Sha're. After his parents died, there had been no one, not until he went to Abydos. She was out there now, lost to him, but these people would rally around him the way Blair had been there for Jim. "I'm not stubborn," he said hastily before they could see the affection for them in his eyes.
Jack groaned. "He's *not stubborn*. What do you think, kiddies?" he asked Teal'c and Sam. "He says he's *not stubborn*. I can't believe my ears." But the same warmth Daniel felt was in Jack's eyes as he looked at his team.
"Indeed, O'Neill," Teal'c responded. "My own ears mislead me as well."
Sam twinkled with amusement. "Colonel--you know what they say."
"I'm not gonna like this, am I, Carter? What do they say?"
"That it takes one to know one."
"You sure you're up to this, Jim?" Blair fussed at Ellison's side as he left the infirmary behind. "You sure you're okay?"
"Fraiser says I am. And MacKenzie says I'm not psychotic. Back off, Sandburg."
Blair's enthusiasm damped down, just like that. Ellison frowned. "Ah, come on, Chief, I didn't mean that. Just--let me be okay." Let me be normal. He didn't say it out loud, but he knew everybody was watching him, waiting for him to explode in five directions at once. Waiting for him to break down. He was sick of being treated with kid gloves. Maybe he'd done all the right things, like Sandburg had insisted he'd done, but he still felt pretty crummy about it. That didn't mean he was poised on the edge of a nervous breakdown. He just wanted to get back to normal. Carter's experience proved it was possible. He didn't even want to think about lingering memories cropping up from old Denlin, or the possibility of learning how to use a ribbon device. Or sensing Goa'uld in people. No, that could come down the road if it ever did. He wouldn't seek it out, although he was certain Sandburg would bring it up once he had put all the trauma behind him, and start advocating for more tests. So would a lot of people on this base.
He remembered the dream he'd had before all this had started. A warning; beware of the snake. Had that been an omen, a premonition, or just something that happened because of what he did now? He didn't want to think himself capable of prophetic dreams. The part of him that had once been Jim Ellison, ordinary cop, seemed smaller every day. He'd never been 'ordinary'. Even as a child, the abilities had been there, squashed down by his father who didn't want him to be a 'freak'. But they hadn't gone away. Now there would be new ones piled on top of them, Goa'uld remnants like Carter had, like that woman Kendra had learned to use on Cimmeria. Too bad he couldn't have talked to her before she'd died, and found out how it all worked.
Jim Ellison, freak of nature. Yeah. That about covered it.
"Normal?" Sandburg blurted. "You *are* normal, Jim. You're fine; you're healthy and you're not mentally ill. They'll probably keep an eye out for post-traumatic stress, but they do that with all of us after any risky mission, anyway. Sam came through it, after all. You're every bit as strong as she is. Stronger."
"Normal?" Jim couldn't help scoffing. "Further from normal every goddam time I turn around. Fraiser says I've got some damn protein marker in my system now because it was so thoroughly integrated into my system that when it fled it left traces behind. Whatever the hell that means. The way I read it, I'm still part Goa'uld."
Blair stared at him with horrified eyes, then he grabbed Jim by the arm and utterly manhandled him into an empty office, the way he'd manhandled Jim out onto the balcony at the loft after Incacha had died. "You shut up," he hissed furiously. "You are *not* part Goa'uld. The remnants will absorb into your system. Janet said so. No problem at all. Sam's got that, and you can't say she's a Goa'uld. That protein thingy is the only good part about what happened to you, that and the fact that you're free and okay. That's something you can *use*. It's something that might save us all one day. Jim, what you're doing now is pretty simple. It's called denial. You hate what happened to you. Anybody would. It'll get easier. I promise it will. You've got me to help you, and Sam will do anything she can, and I know the rest of SG-1 will be in there pitching, too. The Colonel won't even hesitate. I know he won't. He's great."
"Sandburg's hero," Jim kidded tentatively.
"*You're* my hero, Jim," Blair blurted out then reddened. "I mean..." He was every bit as embarrassed as Jim was at the declaration. But somehow the involuntary words had washed away some of the pain.
"I know what you mean." Jim raised his eyes and met Sandburg's gaze. "Thanks, Chief."
"Jim, I've gotta know..." Once again, Sandburg looked away. He seemed to find his clenched fists incredibly fascinating. "Before this mission, for a long time, anyway, I got the feeling that--that maybe you weren't happy here. That maybe you missed being a cop so much that it wasn't gonna work."
"And you love it here so much you were scared I'd walk."
"I'd go, too," Sandburg said quickly. "You know I would, Jim. I'm your guide. We learned on the Second World that it was a lifelong bond. I'm with you, wherever you go. You *know* that."
"Yeah, Sandburg, I do know that." How could he deserve this kind of loyalty? It required total honesty in return. "Okay, yeah, I admit I've had my doubts. That they only want me here because of the senses, that I miss being a cop. A lot of doubts." He made an abrupt gesture.
"And this is the last straw?" Blair ventured in a small voice. His knuckles whitened under the tension of his grip.
"Yeah, it is." Jim saw Sandburg's face fall, and he reached out and grabbed the younger man by the shoulders. "No, Blair, you're reading it wrong. Don't you see? Now I *know* what we're up against here. I know it all through me, from first-hand experience. I'd rather be tortured for months than go through one more day of Goa'uld possession, and I know if I go out there through the Stargate, I'll risk that every time. But that's what we're facing. I *can't* turn my back on it. I can't just walk. Because you're right. I *did* beat it. Lousiest experience of my life--well, right up there with finding you face down in the fountain."
Blair's head came up and his hands untensed. His eyes shone with a kind of awe. "But that was...."
"You think it would be any easier to lose you than it would be to lose myself?"
"God, Sandburg, don't go all mushy on me." But Jim didn't really mind as much as he thought he would.
"So...does this mean you're gonna stay?"
"Hell, yes, I'm staying," Jim said. He felt as if he'd added inches to his height as he spoke the words. "I have to. Now that I know, really know, what this is all about, I can't walk away. I'm in for the duration, Chief. I mean it."
Sandburg's eyes were so bright they might have been lit with 150 watt bulbs. "That is so great, man."
The way Sandburg gazed at him sent warm ripples of contentment lapping through Jim. He might be a 'freak', he might never have that 'normal' life he craved, but he had something only he could do, as part of a team facing a threat together, and there was nowhere else on earth that needed a Sentinel as much as here.
*Yeah, Incacha,* he thought, *I'll beware of the snake. All the more so now.*
And when he looked up, the panther spirit glided into the doorway and eyed him approvingly before it melted away like smoke.
The rings deposited SG-1, Ellison, and Sandburg in the midst of a horde of cheering people. Mas Tul surged out of the eager mass and plunged to meet them, small Mara at his side and offered his hand, Earth-fashion, to O'Neill.
"Welcome. Welcome, allies. Quich‚ officially accepts a treaty with Earth. You will always be welcome among us."
"Glad to hear it," Jack replied.
"We are pleased to form an alliance with you," said Daniel, in full diplomatic mode. He always did those kind of things better than Jack did. So why did Thor think Jack made such a good diplomat, anyway?
Mara wiggled around her father and flung both arms around his waist. "Colonel Jack, I am so happy to see you."
He looked down at the elaborate braids like Skaara's, and the small, eager girl who reminded him of Merrin and found a smile that tore at his heart.
Maybe that was why.
On one side of him, Daniel took a step closer and planted himself at Jack's side, and on the other, Carter edged in. Behind him, he could sense Teal'c's unstinting presence. Solidarity. Even Sandburg, who maybe hadn't made the Skaara-Merrin connection, gave him an encouraging look.
For a half-assed diplomat, Jack O'Neill had the best team ever created.
"Your people, they are well now?" the Quich‚ leader asked as he drew his daughter back.
Carter nodded. "Every one of them, sir. The last of them was discharged from the infirmary yesterday. None of them will have any lingering problems, thanks to your people's help."
"And my people are well, too. The word that Major Ellison forced the Goa'uld from his system has finally convinced the doubters among my people that the Goa'uld are *not* gods. They would see Major Ellison for themselves." He grabbed Jim's arm and towed him into a clear space. "You see? Here is Major Ellison, and he is whole."
Jim rolled his eyes at Sandburg, who made encouraging gestures. The Sentinel braced himself. "It's gone," he agreed. "I wouldn't recommend the experience to anybody but it's gone. We trapped it." He did a pretty good jaw-clenching number. One of these days, he'd need dentures if he kept that teeth grinding thing up.
The people exploded into awed applause.
"This is *great*, Jack," said Daniel in his ear.
O'Neill looked around the colonnaded room at the enthusiastic Quich‚, then he surveyed his team. Carter and Teal'c, who couldn't be beat. Daniel, so nicely healed up that you couldn't tell he'd been shot--shot for Jack's sake--Sandburg, who'd been a tower of strength through the whole procedure, and Ellison, finding his way back from hell. And then there was Jack himself, still mottled with fading bruises, but, in spite of everything that had happened and could have happened, a damned lucky man. He couldn't save everybody; he hadn't saved Merrin, although she had 'saved' her people. He couldn't save Skaara, although the possibility still existed. But he had helped save this alliance, and he would do everything he could to make sure his own people and his planet were safe.
Sometimes, all you could do was try. Sometimes, if you were very lucky, that was even enough.
"Come, come," urged Mas Tul. "We have prepared a feast."
He drew them into the happy throng and led the way to the robing room to prepare them for the banquet hall.