Still Waters by Layton Colt

Daniel saves the day--but is the price of victory too high?

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Author's Notes: This is not a happy story, in fact, it's the single most depressing thing I've ever written (Though, in all honesty, as a primarily humor writer that probably isn't saying much).

Thanks as always to Emry, for the constant encouragement and advice-- without her support I'd have probably never finished this piece.

Time Frame: The story is set just before the episode 'Out of Mind,' you'll see why.

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Silence.

He stopped listening to the echoes of anguished screams. He shut out the sound of their pleas. And then Daniel closed his eyes to the total absence of sound.

He could feel the blood on his hands. Sticky and warm, drying even as he sat in the silence. His hand was still wrapped around the thick black handle of the knife. There was a thin glint of silver, shining out from the blood covered blade. There was so much blood.

"Daniel . . ." the voice was weak, but firm--breaking through the silence in the dank cell. But not breaking through the wall of silence erected around the young man in the middle of the room.

He couldn't see anything but blood. Everywhere. It was everywhere. The sounds of their screams ghosted around the small room. They were yelling at him to stop. Begging him to show mercy. He didn't even know if what he was hearing was real.

"Daniel . . . answer me . . ."

He didn't give in to their pleas. He didn't show even one ounce of mercy or compassion. He'd been ruthless, so blind with rage their pitiful cries had not reached him. He had to stop them. At any cost to himself, to them . . . he just had to make them stop.

"Daniel . . . Daniel, we have to get out of here."

Daniel opened his eyes slowly, and with a sharp breath he uncurled his fingers from around the knife. It slipped from his grasp, landing on the blood covered stone. Eyes stared back at him--cold brown eyes that were glassed over with death, framed by a face frozen forever in a moment of terror. Those eyes were judging him as they stared unflinchingly. The vacant stare found him guilty. What right did they have to pass judgment on him? It was their fault. Theirs. He'd had no other choice. No choice.

Someone grabbed his arm. He frowned at the touch. Who was there? Hadn't he killed them all?

"Daniel, we've got to go. NOW."

Daniel looked up in confusion. "Jack?"

Jack kneeled before Daniel, grabbing his shoulders and giving him a quick shake. Daniel looked at Jack in surprise, unsure how he had gotten there. "Daniel, we've got to find Teal'c and Carter. More guards are going to be showing up soon, we have to leave."

Jack stood up shakily, pulling Daniel with him. But as he started for the door, Daniel would not follow. Daniel looked around the room in horror, taking a step backwards in revulsion as the reality of what he had done hit him.

Two pairs of eyes watched him. Two sets of eyes promised revenge even as they stared out of soulless husks. Even the walls seemed to mock him . . . walls covered in the blood of those he had killed.

"Oh god," he moaned as he dropped back to his knees. He fell forward onto his hands, vomiting the small amount of food that remained in his stomach.

He heard Jack mutter a curse behind him. Jack probably hated him now. He knew what he was now. What he was capable of. Until today, Daniel hadn't even known himself.

"Daniel! Daniel, look at me!" Jack gripped Daniel's chin in his hand, forcing the dazed blue eyes to focus on him.

"I killed them . . ." Daniel gasped. His eyes were locked with Jack's, but it wasn't his friend he was seeing.

"You did the right thing. You didn't have a choice. You saved me, Daniel."

"There's so much blood . . ."

"I know. Look, you're going into shock, but I need you to hang on for me, alright? Look at me, Daniel," Jack said.

Daniel blinked up at Jack, trying hard to see his friend, and not one of the faces of the men he had killed.

"Good. I need you to stay with me. We're going to get out of here," Jack said firmly.

"You're hurt," Daniel whispered, noticing the bruises on Jack's neck.

"It's nothing, Daniel. You stopped him before he could do anything damaging."

Jack stood again and helped Daniel up. He left Daniel only for a moment, pulling the keys off of the belt of one of the dead guards. After opening the door, he kept a firm grip on the younger man's arm and cautiously entered the hallway.

They walked slowly through the stone corridor, the torch lights lining the walls flickering as they went. Jack stopped at one of the doors, he looked through the small barred window and grinned when he saw his two other teammates. "Teal'c, Carter," he whispered.

Sam looked up and smiled bravely. "Sir," she said.

"O'Neill," Teal'c said quietly.

Jack returned the smile for an instant, before allowing it to slip away and focusing on getting the door open.

"Sir, are you both alright?" Carter asked. Her eyes widened as she took in Daniel's appearance. "We heard . . ."

"We heard screams," Teal'c finished, just as the door clicked and Jack pulled it open.

"That wasn't us," Daniel said softly. The lack of emotion in his voice startled all three of his teammates.

"We should leave immediately," Teal'c reminded.

"Right," Jack agreed, taking hold of Daniel's arm again. "Let's get out of this hell hole."

The team made their way through the halls, each of them keeping an eye on Daniel. The prison they'd been thrown in wasn't far from the 'gate, and even though they weren't armed, there was no way they were going to be captured again. Besides, they weren't completely defenseless, Jack had hidden one of the guard's knifes in his waistband. The knife that had nearly been used to slice him open.

He looked over at Daniel. Daniel had saved him from that, but he couldn't help wonder at what cost. It wasn't that Daniel had never killed before, he'd killed during battle, he'd killed using a gun. Never before had he been forced to kill like this. With just a knife. With his victim's eyes looking straight into his soul as he delivered the final blow.

Jack knew from first hand experience, killing in close combat was never easy. How much harder must it have been when the killer was Daniel? Someone who had always tried to avoid violence--to find the peaceful answer. Jack didn't even want to know what it had taken for Daniel to be able to do what he had done.

The sounds of footsteps reached Teal'c first. He motioned his team against the wall, and Jack, trusting his judgment, immediately obeyed. He grabbed Daniel and pulled him back against the wall, Sam moved quickly beside them.

Jack pulled the knife from his waistband, and tried to ignore Daniel's look of terror at the sight of it. He moved up beside Teal'c, and saw there were three guards heading their way from the adjacent hall. He held the knife ready, but prayed he wouldn't have to use it. Enough people had died today, and he didn't know if Daniel could handle the death of one more. He didn't know if even he could.

He held his breath as they passed. The guards moved confidently down the hall, the same arrogant pose of the others--the ones that lay dead three rooms down--evident in their walk. They never glanced towards them. They never thought for a moment their weakling prisoners might have escaped.

For a moment, Jack was glad Daniel had killed them. Let their buddies find them dead. Let them see just who they were dealing with.

He brushed off the thought in an instant. Nothing was worth this price. Nothing was worth the look of horror in Daniel's eyes when he had realized just what he had done.

"We should continue, O'Neill," Teal'c said quietly.

Jack pulled back to the present, cursing himself for getting lost in his thoughts. He knew better than anyone the need to stay focused. "Right. Let's move," he said.

He saw Sam take Daniel's arm, so he took point, and Teal'c fell back to guard their six. Jack remembered the way to the exit. There might not be a flashing sign, but he couldn't forget being roughly thrust through the wooden double doors. He'd only been half awake at the time, but he hadn't allowed himself to shut his eyes.

They reached the doors quickly, and all four recognized them. The wood used to make the doors was soaked in blood, and it wasn't something they could easily forget. They still weren't sure what this place was, or what they'd done to warrant a visit, but at this point, none of them cared. Not even Daniel.

"Okay, kids," Jack whispered, "let's see what's behind door number one." His humor, as always, went unappreciated. That alone was not a surprise-- that it didn't elicit a roll of the eyes from Daniel, was worrying.

He opened the door slightly, grimacing as his hand contacted the blood stained wood. Outside the sun was shinning, and it almost felt as though this door was as much a portal to another world as the Stargate. Inside, was a world of horrible and unspeakable things. Outside, was a place of wonder, a world of green--somewhere so seemingly close to perfection he had jokingly called it 'paradise' when he first stepped out of the 'gate.

His comment had cursed them all. He should have known by now, nothing was ever as it seemed. Not even Daniel, apparently--someone he had thought was such an open book. Behind the deep blue eyes and innocence something dark had been buried. And now it was out, spreading like a disease across Daniel's soul.

"It's clear," Jack announced at last. The only things moving outside were the butterflies. "Let's go."

Jack exited first, the knife still held tightly in his shaky grasp. Nothing jumped out at him, none of the shadows rose up to engulf them all. The scene remained disturbingly tranquil, exuding the same inviting calm that had lured them into the forest at the start.

The door behind them slipped slowly shut, silencing the first sounds of another prisoner's screams. Daniel's eyes darkened one shade more, and Jack thought for a moment the young man would turn back around. Daniel had a habit of barging in where the sane feared to tread, and he wouldn't put rushing back into the dark world hidden behind those doors past him. Daniel didn't move, however. He looked over at Jack, waiting to follow his lead, not trusting his own judgment anymore--not listening to the part of him screaming that he couldn't just leave those prisoners here.

So Jack led on, and they all followed. Daniel leaving another piece of himself behind with every step they took away from the muffled screams. He could picture the scenes, he could imagine the things that had driven the unfortunate captives to make such sounds. He had seen the instruments lining the walls of the room they were held and understood the threats of their captors if not the language in which they were spoken.

The images haunted him, and he was already dealing with far too many ghosts. He pushed them all aside, forcing himself to watch Jack's feet in front of him. To step where he stepped. Stop when he stopped. SG-1 moved in synch, together as always, and slowly they went deeper into the forest.

The trees around them stretched up towards the sky, their huge winding trunks covered with purple and green ivy. Black eyes looked down on them-- the eyes of small black birds. The birds had intrigued them when they had first arrived, and Carter had wondered if they were crows, brought by the Goa'uld. Daniel had speculated that it could have been a former stronghold of the Goddess Morrigan, who was said to take the form of a crow. Daniel was sure now that he must have been right. The legacy left by the goddess of death was unmistakable.

They heard the sound of pursuing guards over the warning cries of the birds, and quickly took shelter behind an outcropping of rocks. They could hear the voices of the men now--the words came out in clipped guttural tones, and the language was coarse and unfamiliar.

SG-1 was being hunted--for sport, for entertainment. They had nothing of value for the people here, nothing but their lives. But they would not go easily. They would not go at all. Of that, all four were sure. They'd been dragged through those red doors once, and would die before they would go again.

Teal'c inched along the rock as the men grew nearer, preparing to strike. The others held back, trusting he would come through for them. Usually, Jack would have been beside him, but he was fatigued and still in pain, and he knew he wouldn't be much help.

When the first group of guards--three men--made to pass them, Teal'c made his move. He grabbed the closest man around the neck and pulled his weapon from his grasp. Aiming it at the other two, he fired in quick succession and they fell crashing to the ground in pain. Pushing the first man to the ground, Teal'c ruthlessly fired on him as well. The shots would not kill them--SG-1 had learned that the hard way. The weapons were non-lethal, but they were sure to make you wish for death--even if they would not deliver it.

The rest of the team came to stand beside Teal'c. "Nice job," Jack commented.

Teal'c nodded, the weapon in his hand still aimed at the men at his feet. His finger itched to fire again, and his friends could see it in his normally inscrutable expression. They sympathized.

"We should go," Jack said firmly. "Before another search group finds us." Jack picked up one of the other guards weapons, and tossed the third to Carter.

One man, dazedly trying to pull himself to his knees, shouted weakly at them. Jack could guess what he was saying. "Right back atcha," he said with a smirk. He fired another shot at the guard and sent him back to the ground.

Daniel watched the man fall. His hands shook as the guards brown eyes slipped slowly closed. So much suffering. It seemed everywhere he went there was suffering. And he felt for even those who had brought it upon themselves. He felt most of all for all those he had killed.

At first, he had kept count. It was his way of making sure he remembered each one, a method he used to keep himself from becoming too comfortable playing soldier. Even though the men he killed were the enemy, he had vowed to remember them as having died for their cause.

But somewhere along the line, the number of casualties had been lost. The faces of the enemy had become blurred. Somewhere along the line, he had convinced himself that those he killed were not like him, that they were not real. But he couldn't lie to himself any longer, because he knew the men he killed in that room were real--that he was covered in their blood proved it.

"Daniel, come on."

Again, Jack's voice brought him back. He followed as Teal'c and Jack headed off ahead of him, and shook off Sam's supporting hand. He didn't want comfort right now. He didn't deserve it. He walked with his team in silence, ignoring the faint sounds of orders being shouted out in an alien tongue.

Finally, they stepped out into a clearing, and the large ring stood solitary in its center, the sun reflecting off the orange lights. The sight of the 'gate brought relief to all of them but Daniel. He stared at it as though it was as stained with blood as the bone lined doors that lay behind them. As though it were as stained with blood as he was.

Sam moved to dial the 'gate, and Teal'c pulled a GDO from his pocket. Sam and Teal'c had not been searched, as the interest had seemed to lay only with the two human males. Either the Jaffa and the woman had not been worth their time, or they had been too valuable to harm.

The forming wormhole was reflected in Daniel's eyes as he stared ahead, but the fascination he had once held for it was absent from his gaze. Behind him, he could hear Teal'c entering the code on the GDO. He could feel Sam and Jack move beside him. He could even feel their concern--he just didn't care.

"Let's go home," Jack said softly. He nudged Daniel up the steps, and the younger man entered the wormhole without further prompting.

Jack motioned Sam and Teal'c to go through, and then slowly followed them up the steps. He turned around before he entered, and looked out at the picture-perfect vista. The sun was beginning to set, and shadows were spreading across the forest. It didn't look quite so inviting now--shade had turned into shadow.

He turned his back on the singing birds, and the swarms of colorful insects and went through the wormhole to join his team. Some days, he just couldn't see the allure to being the peaceful explorer in a universe filled with snakes--of both the literal and figurative kind--and this definitely qualified as one of them.

* * * *

The four of them stood at the top of the ramp. Two of them covered in blood that wasn't theirs, the other two carrying shadows under their eyes--the kind of shadows that could only have been caused by helpless worry.

Janet rushed into the 'gate room, prepared for the worst. SG-1 arriving before schedule was never a good omen, more often than not, even when they arrived on time at least one of them had been injured.

Seeing the blood and bruises on Jack and Daniel, she turned to call for the rest of her team. Jack held up a hand before she had the chance.

"The blood isn't ours," he said simply, not unlike the way Daniel had said it earlier. Jack cast a quick glance at the dazed man beside him. "But I think Daniel's going into shock." If he hasn't made it there already.

Janet nodded and moved to them quickly. She grabbed Daniel's chin, and was disturbed by his lack of focus. "Alright, Daniel, let's get you to the infirmary."

Daniel didn't speak, but allowed Janet to lead him away. His team watched him go with concern, and just as he disappeared through the doors, Hammond flew in.

"Colonel? What happened?"

Jack didn't speak for a moment. He wasn't quite sure how he could summarize everything that had taken place. "We were ambushed, sir," he said at last.

Hammond nodded, and noticing the bruises on Jack's neck he said quickly, "Get to the infirmary. We'll debrief when you're released."

Jack strode passed him. "Yes, sir," he said simply.

Sam and Teal'c only waited a moment before they followed.

They could all feel the General's eyes on them as they left. They knew he was probably wondering the same thing they were--why didn't they just bury that damn 'gate?

Of course, they all knew the answer. And there were so many answers to that question. Most had been given by Daniel. Think of all we could learn. Think of all the people we could help. Think of all the allies we could make.

Think of all the ways we could be killed. Think of all the people that could screw us over. Think of all the enemies we're bound to make.

Okay, so the last three hadn't come from Daniel. Those were Jack's. And more accurate if it was their track record they were going by.

When they entered the infirmary and saw Daniel huddled on the farthest bed, Jack could see only his answers in Daniel's resigned gaze. The spark of wonder had dimmed to the point that it was undistinguishable from the forming shadows. He didn't even look their way as the nurses pulled them to different beds.

Daniel's eyes stayed resolutely focused on his hands. Jack continued to throw concerned glances his way, even as Frazier pressed on the sore bruises at his throat. There was something about the stillness surrounding Daniel that seemed out of place. Daniel was supposed to be surrounded by energy--by life.

"Okay, Colonel, it doesn't look like this is too serious. It's going to be sore a couple days, but it should heal right up."

Jack nodded in acknowledgment, and Frazier glanced at both him and Daniel worriedly before moving onto Sam.

Jack moved towards his friend slowly. "Hey," he said.

Daniel didn't answer or even look up. He acted as though he had not heard him--maybe he hadn't.

Jack watched him nervously. He started to reach out, to place a hand on his shoulder and show him he wasn't alone, but something stopped him. He had a feeling comfort wasn't what Daniel needed or wanted at the moment--and he didn't know what else he had to offer.

"Colonel."

Jack spun around. Sam and Teal'c were eyeing Daniel with concern.

"Janet cleared us. Hammond wants us to report for debriefing."

Jack nodded. "Alright. Daniel, we'll be back in a little while, alright?"

There was still no response and with a sigh Jack turned to go. He hadn't quite reached the door when he heard Daniel's quiet voice.

"Don't make me look like a hero, Jack."

Jack paused, and turned back to look at Daniel. The younger man was watching him seriously, holding him with the same intent stare he used to translate age old writings. Jack reluctantly nodded his assent. He knew part of Daniel needed this to be wrong, that there was something inside of him that couldn't stand to believe he lived in a world--universe--where it was right.

* * * *

"When we first arrived . . . it was just like the MALP pictures--something from a postcard or vacation brochure. We saw no sign of civilization, and we were completely unprepared for the attack." Jack paused in his speech. Taking a deep breath, and trying not to relive the situation he was describing, he continued. "We went into the forest, looking for any signs of the naquaada the first survey teams picked up. Then they just appeared, all around us . . ."

Jack's voice trailed off again. He didn't want to do this.

The General eyed him sympathetically before turning to Teal'c and prompting, "And then . . .?"

"The indigenous life on this planet possessed an energy weapon," Teal'c said. "One that causes great pain-even more so than that of a zat-nik- itel."

"And this one they could fire more than once without killing us," Jack added with a tight smile, trying in vain to put the mission back in perspective. "They seemed to enjoy using them."

Sam winced at the memory. She hadn't been fired at as much as Daniel, Jack and Teal'c, but she'd experienced enough of it to get chills at the mere thought.

"Then they brought us back to their--" Jack strove for an accurate description, house of horrors, torture chamber. "interrogation center. They separated us, put Carter and Teal'c in a holding cell and took Daniel and I to have a little chat. Neither of us could understand a damn word they were saying," Jack said angrily. "Even Daniel couldn't get through to them, and let me tell you, it wasn't for lack of trying. We were, however, able to get the just of it. They wanted something from us, and if they didn't get it, there would be more pain. Pretty basic, really, they pulled all the stops.

Dark room, archaic implements whose uses were blaringly obvious hanging on all the walls . . . but I don't think they really wanted anything from us at all," Jack said, his voice going momentarily quiet. "I think the only thing they really wanted was to hurt us, and then kill us when they got bored. And I have to admit, I thought that was exactly how it was going to down.

One of them had me up against a wall, held by the throat and a knife pressed to my stomach, I thought . . ." Jack unfocused again, for the third time and Hammond grew concerned.

Colonel O'Neill always provided quick, concise overviews of his team's missions. He rarely became so emotional. The only time Hammond could remember that came close was when they had believed Dr. Jackson to be dead.

Hammond sighed and pressed him gently. "And then what happened? How did you escape?"

"Daniel . . . he killed them, sir."

* * * *

Daniel awoke to the sound of laughter. It wasn't pleasant laugher--the kind a child makes while playing jump rope. Rather, it was derisive laugher-- mocking--the kind a hyena might make while circling its slowly dying prey.

It took a moment for him to remember where he was. He was lying on cold stone, and he ached all over. There was a pounding in his head, but he still managed to hear the pain filled moan coming from the other side of the room. He looked up blurrily, the absence of his glasses causing the whole room to blend together.

He was just able to make out Jack's form pressed against the wall. There was a guard holding him there--one of the ones that had captured them. He wore black armor and leather, chain metal and a helmet adorned with black feathers. But beneath the metal masks, there was a human face.

He watched the scene in horror, and slowly pulled himself to his knees. The guard was keeping a tight grip on Jack's throat as he slid a knife tauntingly across his rib cage. Whispering words in the language Daniel had come to hate.

The other guard was watching with amusement, laughing at the expression on the face of their prey. Unconcerned about the second captive--the one who had lost consciousness after one too many shots with their weapons and wasn't entertaining them anymore--the broken toy.

They didn't notice him as he shakily pulled himself to his feet. They didn't notice when he picked up the knife on the table against the wall.

They didn't notice him at all.

So many people had made the mistake of not noticing him. Countless times he had been underestimated. He was always the hostage. The chosen victim. He was sick of it. He was tired of being the peacekeeper, tired of trying to talk reason while around him people were being hurt.

His words never seemed to get through. Jack had tried to tell him as much, but he'd been spurred on by the few times people had stopped to listen, and he'd led himself to believe he could change anyone by showing them the truth.

He'd tried to tell them they meant no harm. He'd pleaded even. But they had not listened, and it wasn't the language barrier that kept them from hearing his words. They simply had no interest in what he had to say. They didn't care.

Another sound of distress from Jack got Daniel moving again. He grabbed the guard closest to him, holding one hand across his mouth and using the other to raise the knife. He placed the blade below the man's ear and pulled it across his neck in one quick motion--without a moment's hesitation or the smallest measure of remorse.

The guilt would come later, after the red haze clouding his mind had cleared. At the moment, he was stuck in vengeance's icy grip, and its hold on him was such that he couldn't see anything beyond the need for revenge.

The man's muffled scream echoed off the dark walls. He cried out piteously, before his eyes suddenly went dark, and he went limp in Daniel's grip. Daniel let go of him then, and allowed him to drop awkwardly to the floor. The guard holding Jack turned to face the new threat angrily, he let go of his hold on Jack and raised his knife in Daniel's direction.

As the guard moved towards him, Daniel's eyes locked with Jack's and he voiced a silent promise--he'd stop him, or die trying.

But he was so very tired of dying.

So sick of watching his friends die--whether it be by a single staff blast, or just pieces of them, parts of their souls forever lost because of actions they had no choice but to take.

And now it was his turn to take action. This was one battle he could not fight with words--one time he couldn't afford to be righteous. Righteousness would get them killed.

The guard was before him now, sneering viciously as the knife was thrust forward. Daniel moved backwards--gracelessly, but quick. He raised his own knife, and gathered his resolve. He set his jaw and charged forward.

He rammed into the man's chest, and they flew together into the wall. The guard's knife flew from his grip, and clattered to the floor four feet away. The man's brown eyes watched the knife, for the first time betraying the slightest bit of panic.

Daniel held the other man down, and raised his own knife. The terror reflected back at him gave him pause, but when the man opened his mouth to scream he moved to action, silencing the sound before it could attract more guards.

The man's eyes remained open as he died. Accusing Daniel of his crimes. He tried to speak, but the knife in his throat prevented it, whatever sounds he managed to make were unintelligible. His eyes, though, they were screaming. Screaming so loud Daniel had to jump back and cover his ears.

No. No. They were dead. It was quiet now. He'd stopped them. They weren't screaming any longer. Dead. They were dead.

He stepped backwards again, his head spinning as his mind denied what he saw. He closed his eyes and fell to his knees. The knife in his hand still tightly held within his grip. Blood covered the blade. Covered him.

But he ignored it--shut it out--and let himself dissolve into the silence.

* * * *

Daniel's eyes shot open and he shot up in bed, a voiceless scream tearing from his throat. He gasped, and his hands twisted in the white sheet below him. Oh god. No. No, it couldn't be real.

It couldn't have been him.

He rubbed his hands into his eyes, and willed the images away. The sounds of the infirmary, the beeping monitors, and the gossiping nurses overwhelmed him and he wished briefly for the return of silence.

"Daniel."

Daniel looked towards the voice. Jack was sitting on the bed adjacent to his, watching him intently.

"How ya doin?" The lightness of Jack's question was lost in the concern laced tone.

Daniel swallowed, trying to gather himself before responding. "Fine," he said finally.

Jack raised an eyebrow but didn't comment. "The Doc says you can go home. I offered to drive."

"Uh, thanks," Daniel said.

"Don't mention it. You, ah--you might want to change before we go," Jack said carefully.

Daniel looked down at himself. He was still wearing the torn and bloodied uniform. Janet had not wanted to wake him after he had fallen into a natural sleep. The blood on his hands and face had been washed away, but the red on his uniform rested harshly against his skin. "Oh, um, yea, that might be a good idea. I'll go do that."

"Alright," Jack said softly. "You should probably shower first, too."

Daniel shook his head quickly. "I'll shower at home. I just really need to get out of here right now."

Jack nodded again and allowed Daniel to walk passed him and into the bathroom to change. Daniel had been asleep a couple hours, and Janet was confident that he was over the worst. She had wanted him to remain overnight, but Jack knew Daniel needed to be somewhere comfortable to him right now, and he'd talked her into letting him drive him home.

He was glad to see Daniel was already so much better. He'd known he was having a nightmare right before he'd woken, and he'd been worried how he would handle it. But Daniel was coping. Daniel always coped.

Daniel opened the bathroom door and walked out. He was wearing a pair of grey sweats, and Jack grimaced when he saw the 'property of the U.S. Air Force' printed on the sweater. That was the last thing Daniel needed at the moment.

But as he took another look at Daniel, he realized the young man probably didn't even realize what he was wearing. He may have begun speaking, and already adapted the 'I'm fine' attitude he got every time things got rough, but Daniel was a long way from well.

There were shadows under his eyes that Jack was only now noticing, and there were deeper shadows hidden beneath the pale blue irises that were far more worrying.

"You ready?" Jack asked.

Daniel looked at him for a moment as though he was unsure what he meant, then realization hit and he nodded. "Right. Yea, I'm ready. You sure you don't mind driving me?"

"Are you kidding?" Jack asked with a smile. "You saved my life today, I think I can give you a lift."

Daniel's eyes slipped away from his and Jack instantly regretted his words. Reminding Daniel of today's events was not a good idea. At least, not until they were alone.

"We should go," Daniel said vaguely. He took the lead, heading out of the infirmary and making a beeline for the elevator. Jack jogged to catch up with him.

They rode in the elevator in silence. Jack surreptitiously watching Daniel, and Daniel watching the numbers change as they climbed higher. Soon they reached the surface, and two checkpoints and countless well wishes later they were heading out across the parking lot and towards Jack's truck.

The moon was full, and it hung low in the sky, painting everything in its reach with a pale glow. A street light up above flickered and when out, throwing them into a darker shadow, and causing the moon to grow even brighter. Jack pulled out his keys and opened his door with one quick turn. He hit unlock and Daniel slipped into the passenger seat.

Daniel blended easily back into the silence, but the quiet made Jack nervous. He tapped his fingers along the steering wheel as he turned out of the last gate and onto the old mountainous road. "So, how are you?" he asked awkwardly.

They could both tell from the sound of his voice that he didn't want to know. He wanted to buy into Daniel's act. Wanted to believe it just as much as Daniel did.

"You were the one who was hurt," Daniel said impassively. "How are you?"

"Fine," Jack said quickly. "I'm fine." The two went quiet again, and Jack nearly turned on the radio, just so he could hear some sound.

Daniel sighed loudly and Jack glanced at him. He was leaning against the window, watching the shadowy scenery as they sped by.

"What's wrong?" Jack asked.

The immediate response of 'nothing' died on his lips and Daniel slouched into the seat a little further. They'd both recognize it for the lie it was.

"Daniel?"

Daniel closed his eyes. He imagined he was somewhere else. Somewhere from a dream. A dream that had lasted a year--his brief happily ever after.

"Daniel?" Jack repeated worriedly.

"Yes?" Daniel asked finally.

"I asked what's wrong."

Daniel smiled briefly. His teeth lit up by the headlights of an oncoming car for an instant, before disappearing once more. "What's wrong?" he repeated. "What isn't?"

"Touché," Jack said. "You want to talk about it?"

"What's to talk about, Jack? What could I possibly say?"

Jack sighed now, resting his elbow on the door as he steered one handed. He couldn't hold back any longer. "Daniel, don't do this to yourself, alright? Stop beating yourself up about something you were forced to do. We were backed into a corner . . . you had no choice."

"I had a choice," Daniel said softly. "I choose murder."

"Dammit, Daniel," Jack muttered. "You knew what you were signing on for. You knew what you might have to do. Your only choice was either to kill them or let me die. You choose me, and I can't say I think you choose wrong because those sons of bitches got what was coming to them. Don't blame yourself for saving my life, Daniel, that isn't fair to either of us."

"It isn't saving your life that I regret--it's taking theirs."

Jack didn't know what to say to that. There wasn't anything he could do to make this better. He could justify Daniel's actions till the sun came up and it wouldn't make a difference. It was up to Daniel. He had to see for himself what he did was right--was necessary--no one else could show him.

"If you'd just think about this--"

"Think about it, Jack? Do you really believe I can think of anything else?" The words were harsh, but the tone was resigned.

"I'm just trying to show you what you should already be able to see. Daniel, you fought for me, for yourself. They'd have killed us and then they'd have moved on to Carter and Teal'c. You've got nothing to feel guilty about."

Daniel didn't respond to Jack's words. He returned his gaze to the side window, and watched the familiar buildings go by. They were almost to his apartment, and for one panicked instant, he wished they were going anywhere else.

The truck pulled to a stop at the sidewalk, the tires an even 5 inches from the curb. The building loomed above them, tall and imposing. The hanging plants on the first balcony hung down limply from neglect, wilted and shriveled flowers littering the railing as one lone petal floated towards the ground.

"I'll come up with you," Jack said as he unbuckled his seatbelt.

"No," Daniel said quietly. "I can make it up alone."

Jack watched him dubiously, not quite as certain. "I have to use the bathroom."

"No you don't," Daniel said with certainty. "Jack, I can make it to my own apartment without any help from you, alright? I have to be alone right now."

Jack nodded reluctantly. His better judgment told him Daniel shouldn't be left alone, but he understood the need for solitude.

"I'll call tomorrow," Jack said.

Daniel nodded distantly. "Right. Tomorrow." He got out of the truck, shut the door and headed to the lobby of his building. Jack was making no move to drive off, and Daniel knew he wouldn't be going anywhere until the light went on in his apartment eight floors up.

He walked across the deep red rug on the lobby floor, wincing at the visions the color brought to his mind. Impatiently, he tapped the call button on the elevator. The doors finally clicked and slid open, and Daniel entered and rested against the back of the elevator car. As it began to move upwards, he did his best to block out the garish music emanating from the speakers in the ceiling. He needed silence.

The elevator pulled to a stop, and the doors opened once more. Daniel exited the car thankfully, and made his way down the vacant apartment hall. He pulled his keys from the pocket in his sweat pants as he went. Just like he had a hundred times before.

Daniel opened the door, and entered the apartment--the room he still couldn't bring himself to call home. Earth was still the strangest planet he had yet seen, and he had never truly belonged. Abydos was home--but it wasn't real. What he'd had there was nothing but an illusion . . . and he'd drug the Abydonians into it with him.

Don't worry, we can unbury the 'gate, nothing will harm us. Ra is dead. The evil god is gone. You're safe--you're free now.

Free. Daniel smiled at the concept. No one was ever truly free. The great Tau'ri of Earth were as much slaves as the servants of the Goa'uld. They may supposedly serve no one, but they still had to answer to themselves.

They were really nothing more than prisoners--prisoners of the dark deep within themselves. He was prisoner, as well, but for him, it was worse. For him, he had no illusions to keep him sane. The ideas of peace and freedom that had kept him going had become twisted, they'd faded into shadows, and he had nothing left.

Nothing except, of course, Sha'uri. He still had to find his wife, and try to save her. But he'd only be taking her from one hell to place her in another. Even his beautiful wife wasn't untouched. She'd lost that endearing naivety the first time he called her name and she could not answer.

Amanuet had stolen Sha'uri's innocence, and he had taken his own. Neither could go back to being the young newlyweds filled with hope. He wondered briefly, if when he saved his wife they would still fit together or if they'd both been so changed by circumstance that the other would have become unrecognizable.

Maybe Sha'uri would be unable to see through the changes in him to the man she had loved. Why should she forgive him all the blood covering his hands when he was unable to forgive himself?

The reminders of what he'd done surrounded him--unwilling to allow him to forget. The truth of his actions was in the silence--hidden away in every dark corner, locked away deep in his soul. The truth was everywhere, just like the blood.

The deep red blood that covered his uniform back at base--the one sitting in the contamination bag in the infirmary. The blood was still on him, he realized sickly. Still on his skin. He wished he'd taken Jack's advice, and showered back at base.

He quickly entered the bathroom and headed for the shower. Turning the crystal knob to hot he pulled it out, then turned to take off his clothes as the water warmed. When he turned, however, he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror and froze.

The eyes looking back at him were unfamiliar. He dropped his arms to his sides and stepped closer. Could one day have changed him so much, he wondered? Or maybe it was just a trick of light. Shadows playing across his face making his eyes darker. Making him suddenly older.

Steam began to rise from the shower but Daniel ignored it as he continued to examine his reflection. There was even blood in his hair. Daniel gasped and grabbed onto the edge of the sink. He pressed his eyes shut and dead brown eyes stared back at him. He opened them again quickly, unprepared to face the accusing eyes.

He had to get rid of the blood. The memories would never leave him, but the blood . . . he could get rid of that. He had too.

Daniel pulled experimentally at the blood that had dried in his long hair. It would take forever to get it out, and he wasn't sure if even that would be enough.

A pair of small silver scissors caught his eye and he picked them up in one shaking hand. He would have to cut the blood from his hair.

Daniel lifted the scissors to his head, and cut off the first section of hair. The strands fell down into the sink and he moved on. Steam floated all around him. The running water was the only sound he could hear, and even that was muted and distant.

He watched as the light brown hairs fell into the porcelain sink, mixing with the tears he hadn't realized he'd let fall. He reached out shakily, and turned on the faucet. The hairs swirled around the drain, eventually sliding through and disappearing from sight. Detachedly, he watched as the long hairs were slowly washed away--his innocence with them.

Then he closed his eyes.

The End.